Politics & Policy

The CAP Act

The fiscal straitjacket America needs to rein in spending

Over the past year, 55 audiences across Tennessee have seen my presentation, complete with charts and graphs, illustrating America’s unsustainable spending habits. Most of these gatherings — town-hall meetings, civic-club luncheons — begin with respectful and sometimes even boisterous applause. They often end in silence. Perhaps it is my lack of rhetorical flair — I’m a businessman, and flowery speeches aren’t in my wheelhouse — but I don’t think so. I believe audiences grow quiet because the numbers begin sinking in, our country’s dire financial predicament hits home, and they realize the cost of doing nothing may affect them and their families directly — not just future generations.

To be sure, there is plenty of blame to go around; both Republicans and Democrats are responsible for how we got here. But the finger pointing must end, and action to rectify this looming disaster must begin. Too much spending is the issue, and forcing Congress to live within its means is the solution.

The only real way to place America back on a path to solvency is by imposing what amounts to a fiscal straitjacket. To that end, colleagues from both sides of the aisle and both houses of Congress have joined me in offering the CAP Act, legislation that, for the very first time, would establish an across-the-board, binding cap on all federal spending. A real cap on spending tied to a percentage of gross domestic product is a responsible way to impose fiscal discipline and achieve smaller government while incentivizing lawmakers to pass policies that promote economic growth. The CAP Act would result in $7.6 trillion less spending over ten years, fundamentally change the way Washington does business, and finally put America on a trajectory toward fiscal sanity.

Specifically, the bill would put in place a ten-year glide path to bring all federal spending down to a 40-year historical average, 20.6 percent of GDP. It would also put all federal spending on budget and make it subject to the cap, finally allowing for a complete, accurate, and honest assessment of federal outlays. If Congress failed to meet the annual caps, the Office of Management and Budget would be required to make evenly distributed cuts throughout the federal budget to get us down to the pre-determined level. Only a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress could override the cap.

Congress will soon be asked to raise the debt ceiling for the eleventh time in ten years. With the previous ten votes, we have ignored the spending explosion, allowing our national debt to more than double without a plan to pay it off. While some have suggested it will be catastrophic if Congress does not vote to increase the debt ceiling, I believe it will be more damaging if Congress allows this seminal moment to pass us by without finally getting our fiscal house in order. Before the debt ceiling is raised, Congress must put in place an enforceable mechanism to slash unsustainable spending.

But we cannot stop there. The CAP Act is step one, but Congress must ultimately pass a constitutional amendment to ensure that a future Congress does not fall off the wagon and put our country back on a path toward fiscal oblivion.

I believe in American exceptionalism. Americans have always risen to the occasion, and we always will. That is who we are. Americans, including the thousands of Tennesseans I have met at town-hall meetings in every corner of my state, are signaling a willingness to make short-term sacrifices for the long-term good of our country. But there is also anger and palpable frustration, and why shouldn’t there be? Congress has failed. The time to act is now. The debt-ceiling debate is the opportunity. An across-the-board, binding cap on federal spending is the answer.

— Bob Corker represents Tennessee in the United States Senate.


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