From accounting scandals to terrorist attacks, the U.S. economy has had more than its fair share of obstacles to overcome in recent years. However, the economy has since fought back and is now one of the strongest economies in decades, experiencing 17 consecutive quarters of expansion and 30 months of uninterrupted job growth. Nearly 5 million new jobs have been created in the past three years; the unemployment rate stands at 4.8 percent, lower than the average of the 1970s, 1980s, and the 1990s; and federal tax revenues are at an all-time high following three rounds of much-needed tax relief. That is the good news.
While we celebrate the good news, we should also recognize that challenges to our economy remain. Budget deficits are an annual reality, the federal government is growing much faster than the economy, and a major region of our country is trying to recover from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the United States. Therefore, it is as important as ever that Congress recommit itself to fiscally conservative principles. A good first step would be to reverse the worrisome trend of loading up emergency-spending legislation with billions of dollars for items that are not urgent and should be approved through the normal budget process. The unwieldy and opaque emergency-appropriations process inevitably causes the price tags to balloon, and any idea of fiscal responsibility goes out the window. In short, emergency spending should be limited to emergencies.
The House has an excellent opportunity to reverse the trend when it considers legislation this week to fund the Global War on Terror. President Bush has also made a separate request to provide nearly $20 billion to further fund Gulf Coast recovery efforts. The latter request–along with other extraneous spending on items such as home heating assistance–has been lumped into the war-spending bill. The fiscally responsible course of action would be to consider each of these requests separately, thus allowing members to debate and vote on these important issues on their own merits. This would give Congress the opportunity to remove any unrelated or non-critical funding. Equally important, it would allow Congress to find the necessary and appropriate offsets for much, if not all, of this emergency funding.
The need for fiscal responsibility in this process is even more apparent when we consider that American taxpayers are already heavily invested in the recovery effort. In the seven months since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Congress has approved nearly $100 billion to help the Gulf Coast region get back on its feet. The response to these two storms was vital because they constituted true emergencies. The region had been devastated, and it was imperative that we were quick to provide food, clothes, and housing for those in need. Unfortunately, reports by the Government Accountability Office show these good intentions have been undercut by the waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer money. Before allocating billions more to this effort, a thoughtful and comprehensive Gulf Coast recovery plan needs to be developed. That plan should include private-sector support, set forth realistic goals and expectations, and provide real accountability.
Although these supplemental requests will come to the House floor as one piece of legislation, there is still a chance to make sure Congress supports the Gulf Coast recovery effort in a fiscally responsibly way. I will be introducing an amendment to the bill which would remove all Katrina-related funding from the war supplemental. Should my amendment prevail, Congress will have the opportunity to restore some fiscal sanity to the recovery effort, protect a growing economy from over-spending, and reduce the burden of debt we pass onto future generations. This is a task that entails thoughtful deliberation and making tough choices, but Congress cannot shy away from this challenge. After all, it’s what we’re here for.