Alarming debt Americans can’t tune out

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The divide between Wyoming and Washington has always been wide. As we approach the one year anniversary of the Obama Administration, it’s crystal clear that both places now possess two completely different sets of priorities based on two very different definitions of reality.

In Washington, President Obama and his allies in Congress have convinced themselves that a liberal agenda funded by an imaginary, endless supply of blank checks is the best way to resolve America’s problems.  Despite 10 percent unemployment and an unprecedented deficit, they spent the last year championing a $787 billion pork-filled “stimulus” bill, expensive cap-and-trade proposals, and government-run health care.

In less than one year, the Obama Administration has run up more debt than the Clinton Administration did in eight years.

Back in Wyoming and in other states across the nation, the American people have a far different view of reality and our nation’s fiscal future.  Instead of focusing on health care reform and cap and trade legislation, most Americans are worried about finding good jobs, putting food on the table, and ensuring that their children and grandchildren have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

As each day passes, more Americans realize that the debt is the threat.

Last year’s deficit was over $1.4 trillion – three times higher than the previous record high.  This year’s budget deficit is expected to be similarly historic.  According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Obama Administration’s fiscal year 2010 budget proposals would produce deficits averaging more than $900 billion a year through 2019.  In fiscal year 2009, the publicly-held federal debt grew 30% and is now equal to 53% of GDP. It’s expected to hit 70% by 2020.

While Washington likes to ignore the fiscal warning bells, Americans can’t afford to tune them out.  They understand that new debt will be funded by their hard-earned pay checks.  They know that if the Democrats’ spending spree continues, the deficit will bury our children and grandchildren in debt, strangle economic growth and job creation, and place our financial future in the hands of foreign governments.

According to recent a Washington Post-ABC News poll, 56% percent of Americans disapprove of the President’s handling of the federal budget deficit.  Also, a recent Gallup poll reported that Americans believe that of every dollar they send to Washington, 50 cents goes towards wasteful spending – an all time high.

Unfortunately, the Administration’s previous efforts to rein in the ballooning deficit have consisted of smoke and mirrors instead of substantial spending cuts and practical policy decisions.

Last February, President Obama hosted a fiscal responsibility summit at the White House.  He pledged to “make difficult decisions and face challenges we’ve long neglected.”  The hardest choice the Administration has had to make so far is whether it should spend millions, billions or trillions on the creation of new government programs.

In April, President Obama challenged his cabinet members to cut $100 million in the next 90 days.  As Republican Leader Mitch McConnell pointed out at the time, $100 million is about the average amount we’ll spend every single day just covering the interest on the Administration’s so-called “stimulus” package.

Recently, we learned that President Obama will devote a majority of his upcoming State of the Union Address to fiscal discipline.  While I appreciate the symbolism of such an important speech, it will probably be hard for most Americans to take the President’s words seriously.

Americans deserve more than weak promises, grand rhetoric and carefully-crafted photo ops.

To prove that his words mean action, the President should propose a clear, concrete plan that will get America back in fiscal shape.  And then he should remain committed to that plan.

I believe President Obama should immediately propose across the board spending cuts for all nondefense discretionary spending.  These cuts should be based on spending levels that do not include any stimulus or emergency spending.  Reckless stimulus spending has distorted federal agency budgets.

Additionally, the President should eliminate duplicative and wasteful programs that fail to help the American people.

I also believe that he should call on Congress to pass legislation that would prevent the never-ending raises in the debt limit. Washington needs to have a mandated limit on the debt ceiling. Otherwise, it will continue to be raised on a whim, as we saw immediately after the health care vote on Christmas Eve.

There has also been talk of creating a bipartisan commission to address the national debt.  The last thing our country needs is another Washington commission that provides political cover for tax increases upon hard working Americans.  If this proposal does move forward, the commission should focus solely on identifying wasteful, inefficient spending practices.  Additionally, the commission should consist of neutral outside observers – not Members of Congress attempting to fund pet projects.

Above all, President Obama can bridge the divide between Washington and the rest of America by finally facing our fiscal reality.  Instead of delivering another speech that merely acknowledges that America’s fiscal alarms are ringing, he needs to take action to silence them.

Sen. John Barrasso is a Republican Senator from Wyoming.