Feature:Opinion

Watch out Washington — now it’s personal

J.C. Watts Contributor

House and Senate members have left Washington to head back to their homes, many campaigning for reelection in the face of angry voters. Let’s hope they listen to what we are saying — your policies stink — and heed our words before they go back to their old, dangerous spending ways in the almost certain lame-duck session.

My friends, Americans’ passive irritation with big-spending Washington increasingly has been replaced with alarm — even outright anger. The reasons are clear: each day the fiscal fiasco we have dug ourselves into directly affects our daily lives — from mortgages and taxes, to crumbling roads and uncertain funding for schools, to helping those in our society that truly need help.

The dismal economy clearly has played a key role; but a new poll sponsored by Public Notice and conducted by the Tarrance Group and Hart Research show this underlying anger. The bipartisan, ten-state survey of “likely” voters confirmed that 71 percent of Americans believe government spending is too high — and this concern wasn’t isolated to any region, income bracket, or political party.

Equally striking is that 68 percent now believe government spending affects their own financial situation. Of these respondents, a plurality of 40 percent said government spending was “very much” a factor in their own financial situation.

Those polled chose controlling government spending, at 21%, second only to creating jobs and growing the economy, at 40%, as the issue they say should be the top economic priority.

In other words…it’s become personal.

I say it’s about time. Where we are in America today is unsustainable, as we have changed from being contributors to consumers. Today, for example, 58 percent of the American people depend on some government benefits.

Regrettably, the poll also found that Americans are losing hope about the nation’s fiscal future: only 40 percent believe they will see another federal budget surplus in their lifetime.

This cynicism is well founded. They say our deficit is about $14.7 trillion right now but we have no clue what the deficit really is. I would say that whatever they say it is, add 60 percent on that at least. We add $1 billion per day in interest alone on the national debt. We’re on course to spend $1.70 for every $1 we collect.

Americans understand that every dollar government spends must be taken from the private sector through taxation or borrowing. This leaves fewer resources in the productive part of the economy and makes it even harder for businesses to stay afloat — let alone invest, expand, or hire new workers.

Those concerned about high unemployment and the still-stalled economy recognize that government’s finances are inextricably linked to not only the nation’s long-term economic prospects but, of course, their own.

Americans also know that as government stretches the limits of borrowing, lawmakers are certain to push for higher taxes. While politicians vehemently argue that they would only raise taxes on someone-other-than-“you,” voters know that the effects of higher taxes ripple through the economy, sparing no one.

People are sick and tired of the spending. I don’t know how this will play out in November, but one thing is clear: They better start listening and start acting responsible. When the Washington establishment wonders why their candidates lost, the answer should be clear.

J.C. Watts is chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, a business consulting group. He is former chairman of the Republican Conference of the U.S. House, where he served as an Oklahoma representative from 1995 to 2002. His e-mail address is JCWatts01@jcwatts.com.