Politics & Policy

Debating the Budget

Common-sense reforms should triumph over senseless tax hikes.

Balancing the people’s books is a smart, common-sense fiscal goal that the president’s budget request makes possible in the next five years. It should be a strong starting point for bipartisan discussion.

This dialogue is important, if for no other reason than that it allows us to shine a light on our strongest asset in the quest for a balanced budget, what Larry Kudlow rightly calls “the greatest story never told” — the steadily growing U.S. economy.

My favorite part of this seldom-told narrative is the prologue. If I wrote in this space six years ago that our economy could sustain several years of solid expansion after going through the dot-com bust, a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil, corporate scandals, and two wars, NRO would probably have invited me back to write a science-fiction feature.

But here we are, in a position to balance the federal budget while funding our highest priorities without raising taxes — all because of American resolve and ingenuity unleashed by well-timed, pro-growth economic policies. Now we politicians must do our part.

There are numerous reasons why the debate in Congress over the president’s proposed budget is so important. Our pursuit of a balanced budget will test whether we as Republicans can serve as an effective counterpoint to the new Democrat majority, particularly where protecting taxpayers is concerned. On no issue is there more daylight between the two parties than tax policy. The budget debate presents an opportunity to clearly define those differences.

In addition, this discussion will gauge whether we as conservatives truly intend to breathe new life into the principles that some have accused us of abandoning. For instance, strict fiscal discipline is critical to limiting the size of government. Like any family on a tight purse, government must impose serious spending discipline on itself in order to reach its financial goals.

The Congressional Budget Office made clear in their baseline report last month that the federal budget cannot be balanced unless runaway entitlement spending is adequately addressed. Here’s the problem: combined Medicare and Medicaid spending now exceeds those outlays dedicated to Social Security. Add in the fact that 77 million baby boomers are set to begin retiring next year, and you arrive at a spending problem that is quickly approaching critical mass.

Our friends on the other side of the aisle see the same numbers we do, but not the same remedy. Instead of working with Republicans to impose spending discipline, Democrats want taxpayers to send to Washington more of their hard earned money to reduce the deficit that government spending created.

That isn’t common sense, and it’s blatantly unfair. Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for the Democrats’ willful evasion of tough spending choices.

This is by no means empty partisan rhetoric. During her appearance one month ago today on Face the Nation, Speaker Pelosi made crystal clear that Democrat tax hikes were a very real possibility:

“SCHIEFFER: … Ms. Pelosi, President Bush said last week that he wanted to work with the Congress to balance the budget in five years. … Can you do it without raising taxes?

Rep. PELOSI: I think you can put many thing–everything on the table…

SCHIEFFER: But let’s go on–go back to taxes. Are you promising no new taxes for anybody?

Rep. PELOSI: No…”

Our economy has certainly proven its ability to fend off several body blows, but whether it can absorb the sticker shock of an impending Democrat tax hike and go on to be the vehicle by which we balance the federal budget is a different question altogether.

To make sure we never learn the answer, Republicans will pursue the following goals in order to arrive at a balanced budget that addresses our highest priorities without raising taxes.

‐Keep our economy growing by making tax relief permanent.

The more we can do to keep our economy strong, the easier it will be to balance the budget sooner rather than later. Extending the tax cuts, which have helped tax revenues rise above historical levels, is integral to keeping our growing workforce competitive.

‐Spend taxpayer dollars wisely.

Some spending choices will be tough, but others are no-brainers: We can readily eliminate wasteful and unnecessary spending by enacting comprehensive earmark reform and the legislative line-item veto.

‐Fully fund our troops’ efforts to combat terrorism.

Democrats should not use defense funding as a political tool. Providing the resources our brave men and women in the armed forces need is paramount to protecting our national security.

In attempting to balance the budget, which is itself a prudent goal, it would be flagrantly imprudent to do something that would harm our strong economy. The fundamental means for balancing the budget are fiscal discipline and policies which promote continued economic growth. A balanced budget should not come at the cost of a higher tax burden placed on American workers–the ones who are responsible for our strong economy–and there is no reason why it should have to.

–Rep. Adam Putnam is chairman of the House Republican Conference.

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