Politics & Policy

The Election Excitement May Be Over, but the Federal-Debt Crisis Isn’t

(Dreamstime image: Scanrail)
The clock is ticking.

One thing did not change on Tuesday, November 8 — our unsustainable and exploding national debt of nearly $20 trillion. While America was focused on an unconventional presidential-election season, the federal debt increased $587 billion in fiscal year 2016 alone. Last year, our federal government spent $223 billion, or 6 percent of all discretionary spending, on debt interest payments. On our current track, we will spend more on debt interest than we do on our national defense within ten years.

The results of this month’s election made it resoundingly clear that the American people no longer accept business as usual in Washington. There is a clear responsibility to rejuvenate a moribund economy with expansive reforms to our overpriced health-care system, our overcomplicated tax code, and our overreaching regulatory state. Sweeping changes are on their way to Washington. The federal debt wasn’t a major focus during the presidential campaign but must be addressed if we are to create lasting economic health for the American economy.

Some view the election as a mandate for increased deficit spending. A so-called stimulus is the furthest thing from the proper prescription to our sluggish economy. If deficit spending were the key to economic growth, President Obama would have overseen the most prosperous economy in American history. Instead, his presidency will go down as the only one in a century without a single year of at least 3 percent annual economic growth; the debt that had accumulated during all past administrations nearly doubled during this one.

Under current policies, our annual deficits are projected to rise above $1 trillion by the end of this decade. The Baby Boomer generation is turning 65 at a pace of 10,000 individuals per day, which means that the retirement-age group will double in size between 2010 and 2040. Congress should have spent the last 25 years preparing for this predictable retirement tidal wave.

We need tax reform because our convoluted code, littered with special-interest carve-outs across its 74,000 pages, encourages trillions of dollars of private money from U.S.-based companies to stay overseas. We should continue to modernize our infrastructure — through measures such as the $305 billion highway bill that Congress passed last December — to facilitate connectivity and commerce in the 21st century.  But we must also focus on deficit reduction and regulatory simplification so the private sector can grow our economy. Just last year, the Federal Register added more than 81,000 pages of new regulations and federal instructions. 

There is a way to reduce duplicative and wasteful spending of our tax dollars while reining in the federal government back into its clear constitutional role. On Monday, I will release my second annual government-waste report, entitled “Federal Fumbles: 100 Ways the Government Dropped the Ball.” It will identify $250 billion in wasteful and inefficient federal spending as well as offer solutions to each example of inefficiency.

Deficit reduction and economic growth are not mutually exclusive.

Deficit reduction and economic growth are not mutually exclusive. Years of Washington-knows-best dictates must go by the wayside and be replaced with policies that allow our businesses to innovate and grow, our entrepreneurs to create startups, and our consumers to access affordable goods and services in a competitive market. This includes repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, curtailing the impacts that Dodd-Frank has had on the availability of private credit, and stopping Washington micromanagement of our businesses, which are harmed by regulations such as the looming overtime rule.

Tax reform is essential, but it is only one piece in the toolkit for genuine economic reform. In the first days of 2017, Congress should use the Congressional Review Act to put on the new president’s desk immediate repeals of the harmful “midnight regulations” that the current administration finalized in the last six months of its term. The “Affordable” Care Act has forced law-abiding middle-class citizens to choose between two unacceptable options. Do they break the law and pay a tax penalty at the end of the year? Or do they pay, every month, for health care they cannot afford? Obamacare must be repealed and replaced in the first six months of 2017. 

Washington can’t address our debt through budget cuts alone. We need strong economic growth that leads to higher incomes and more tax revenue. Future interest payments on our current debt spending equates to our stealing from the next generation’s ability to use those dollars for infrastructure, national defense, or any other essential governmental expense. 

Washington, D.C., don’t forget about the staggering federal debt — $20 trillion — and the looming, predictable debt crisis. The clock is ticking, loudly.

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