The Peterson-Pew Budget Commission met from 2009 to 2011 to make recommendations about how to improve the nation’s fiscal future. This site is historical and not regularly updated.

Op-Ed: Quit Digging the Federal Spending Hole

Star-Telegram | Dec. 28, 2009


Here in Texas, we have a saying: When you find yourself in a hole, the first rule is to quit digging.

As I learned from my 26 years in the House of Representatives, that’s not always easy advice to follow. Members of Congress like to deliver projects and programs back to their districts. And for a while, we were all told that deficits didn’t matter. As we’ve learned, they do matter. We may have not been able to avoid deficits in the past two years as the government tried to fix the economy, but I’m not worried about two years. I’m worried about the path that our debt is on, even after the economy gets better.

We’ve been on a path of reckless spending that seems never-ending. If only Congress and the White House could make changes like the folks in West Texas have had to do during this economic and financial crisis, then we could get out of our fiscal mess. The situation is bad and will only get worse if we don’t stop digging and do something.

If we do not lower our government debt, we will see interest rates go up, wages stagnate and our standard of living decline. Our grandchildren and their children will be left with the burden of paying for today’s borrowing and spending. This will mean large tax increases and large spending cuts.

The increased federal debt will make it more expensive to borrow for housing, education and business investments. If people are unable to borrow money, they will not be able to buy a new house or send the kids to college. It will really hit home for the American people when they go to the bank and cannot borrow any money. Or the interest rates will be so high that they can’t afford the loan. Higher interest rates will stop investment and hurt the creation of new jobs, something we desperately need.

While there is no silver bullet when it comes to fiscal responsibility, the bipartisan Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform has come up with some reasonable targets. In "Red Ink Rising — A Call to Action to Stem the Mounting Federal Debt," a report we just released, we describe six steps to solving the debt problem.

We recommend that Congress and the White House develop a fiscal framework that includes promising to stabilize the public debt by 2018. The commission offers a path for getting there, annual debt goals with an enforcement mechanism and a plan to reduce the debt over the longer term. Waiting too long could fail to reassure our government’s creditors.

I’m a farmer in real life, and I understand that my banker has a lot to say about what we can or can’t do. As a former member of Congress who worked and, occasionally sparred, with both parties, I know that having this bipartisan group of policymakers agree on a plan is quite a feat. Enacting our proposal will be tough in this political climate. But it’s crucial that leaders in both parties make the tough choices. As elections approach, my Democratic and Republican friends in Congress need to remember that this is an issue for all Americans so that we can keep our standard of living and avoid a crisis.

Washington needs to commit soon to a clearly defined plan that changes the way it taxes and spends to show the world that the U.S. is serious about debt. Average citizens have tightened their own budgets and begun to live within their means, and now Congress and the White House have to follow suit. The public is ahead of the politicians on this one. As a farmer, I am an optimist. And I believe that policymakers can put aside their individual political interests to find a solution that is in the best interests of our nation and our children’s future.

Copyright 2009, Star-Telegram

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