In this fiscal environment, Congress cannot spend money lightly. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this year’s deficit will total more than $1.34 trillion. This year, I’ve voted against a number of bills funding seemingly worthy government programs because they increased our already historic deficit.
I believe that in a time of such large deficits, Congress needs to make tough decisions about how we are spending taxpayer money. The longer we wait to get control of the federal budget, the greater the burden on future generations.
Over the past nine weeks the House has been in session, Republicans have offered more than $120 billion in cuts to wasteful government programs. These cuts could have paid for extensions of unemployment compensation, COBRA health insurance assistance and state Medicaid assistance — and there would have been tens of billions of dollars left that could have gone toward reducing the deficit.
All of these cuts were offered as part of the YouCut program, an effort to include the American people in the fight to cut government waste. Each week that Congress is in session, Republican Whip Eric Cantor hosts a poll on his website. The poll offers five different government programs that could be considered wasteful.
Participants can vote for the cut they support by voting online or sending a text message from their phone. The cut receiving the most votes is offered as a motion on the House floor and every Member has to decide whether they support the program.
What type of cuts have been winning polls so far?
One of the first cuts offered by the program was a freeze in federal civilian wages, which would save $2 billion. Employees in the private sector and seniors on Social Security have seen their wages and benefits remain level because of the recession and low inflation. Even Congressional pay has been frozen for the past two years. However, federal employees received a 3.9 percent raise in 2010 and a 3.5 percent raise in 2009.
Another winning YouCut measure was legislation to require an expedited process for selling unneeded federal property, with 80 percent of the revenue going toward deficit reduction. The federal government is the largest property owner in the U.S. While much of this land is valuable wilderness areas, national forests and national parks, the Office of Management and Budget estimates that the federal government is holding $18 billion in real property that it does not need.
The winning cut in week six aimed to stop taxpayer support for union activities. Some federal employees currently spend their entire workweek on union activity. Federal employees should be doing the business of the people, and union membership fees should be used to compensate workers for performing union organizing and lobbying. It’s estimated that in a single year $120 million is spent paying federal employees who are doing union work.
The ideas for YouCut don’t strictly come from Republican members. The latest winning entry was proposed by four Democratic Congressman who have started a working group to reduce the deficit. The Advanced Earned Income Tax Credit allows certain taxpayers to receive a portion of their earned income tax credit throughout the year in their paychecks. An audit found that 80 percent of the recipients did not comply with all of the program’s requirements and that the program is rarely used. Eliminating it would save $1.1 billion over ten years.
Each of the nine winning cuts has been offered by Republicans as a motion on the House floor. While none of these motions have passed, many have attracted bipartisan support from Democrats who are also concerned about our growing national debt.
Our debt isn’t a Republican problem or a Democrat problem. Both parties have increased the deficit in recent years and it will take both parties working together to balance our budget and get our country back on a stable fiscal footing. I’ve proudly voted for each YouCut measure and so far more than 1.4 million votes have been cast in the weekly polls. A new poll is up on the website right now and I invite you to join the effort to rein in government waste: www.republicanwhip.house.gov/YouCut.
Joe Pitts represents the 16th Congressional District of Pennsylvania.