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U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte
Sunday, April 29, 2012

Nation’s fiscal crisis requires leadership from both parties

Guest Commentary

Today marks the third year since the Democratic-controlled Senate last passed a budget for our country. With four straight years of $1 trillion-plus deficits and $15.6 trillion in debt, that’s unacceptable.

I ran for the Senate to get America’s fiscal house in order. That’s why I was so excited to be named to the Budget Committee. And to force the Senate to do its job, I joined with a Democratic senator to introduce legislation that would prevent the chamber from doing anything else until a budget is passed.

I’m also backing the “No Budget, No Pay Act” – a bill that would dock pay for members of Congress when a spending plan isn’t passed before the start of the fiscal year.

But the Senate majority leader refuses to debate a budget on the floor – and Democratic leaders have even appealed, unsuccessfully, to the Senate parliamentarian to prevent the House-passed Republican spending blueprint from receiving a vote.

Instead of doing the hard work of crafting a long-term budget, Senate Democrats have falsely claimed that last summer’s bill to raise the debt ceiling – which I voted against – includes a budget resolution. That’s a tough argument to make, seeing as the debt-limit legislation was silent on autopilot spending, including programs like Social Security and Medicare, which account for 60 percent of spending.

In the House, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., at least had the courage to put forward a fiscally sustainable budget that also attempts to save Medicare – which, unless action is taken, is headed for insolvency in just 12 years. Whether you like the Ryan plan or not, House Republicans recently debated it and brought it to the floor for a vote, where it passed, 228-191.

House Republican leaders also allowed a vote on President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for next year. It was unanimously rejected in a 414-0 vote. Not even one Democrat voted for the Obama plan. That’s a reflection of just how inadequate his spending proposal is, given the serious fiscal crisis we face.   

The president sent Congress a recycled budget that represents the worst of both worlds. It contains one of the largest tax increases in history, and it calls for more spending and more stimulus paid for with more borrowing from China. With the debt rapidly rising at a rate of $132 billion a month, the government is on a collision course to hit the debt limit again this fall. 

But you wouldn’t know it from looking at the president’s $3.6 trillion budget, which uses discredited gimmicks – such as counting already planned war savings – to falsely claim reductions.

Under the administration’s request, net interest payments alone would triple over the next decade – from $237 billion in 2013 to $743 billion in 2022. And the debt would reach an eye-popping $25 trillion in 10 years, an increase of $10 trillion from today.   

While the president has savaged the Ryan plan, his budget is silent on the main driver of our debt crisis: automatic spending, including for entitlement programs. To be clear, his proposal doesn’t include a plan to save Social Security or Medicare.

Left unaddressed, spending on entitlements will eventually grow to consume every bit of revenue we have. Without taking steps to strengthen these critical programs, they won’t be there for future beneficiaries.

Just this past week, trustees for Medicare and Social Security said trust funds for these programs are headed for insolvency as early as 2024 and 2033, respectively. In fact, Social Security’s chief actuary recently testified that individuals currently receiving benefits, or those near retirement, will experience a 23 percent reduction in benefits if nothing is done. 

And astonishingly, the administration recently violated – for the fourth straight year – a law that requires the president to submit a plan to strengthen Medicare. 

The time has come for politicians to stop kicking the can down the road when it comes to making the decisions to reduce spending and strengthen entitlement programs. That starts with putting together a serious, realistic budget that fundamentally changes our country’s ruinous spending trajectory.

It took members of both parties to get us into this mess – and it will take courage from both sides of the aisle to get us out of it. As a member of the Budget Committee, I will continue to work with members of both parties to face our fiscal crisis head on. Our country’s future depends on it.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, of Nashua, is a member of the Senate Budget Committee.