A third approach to reducing debt: a growing, thriving economy

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Washington, DC, April 12, 2013 | comments

Springtime in Washington usually means budget time, and Congress recently engaged in a debate on fiscal policy for the nation. It is an arcane process that doesn’t get the attention it probably deserves and can cause the average person’s eyes to glaze over when discussed in the detail.

San Diegans may not follow every step of the budget process but they should see the impact on their lives. Especially with the mindless across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, starting to kick in.

Though sequestration is upon us it is not too late to stop it before it does serious damage. For the sake of our economy, we need to end sequestration and replace it with meaningful spending cuts that don’t harm our economy or national security.

Over the past few months, my colleagues and I have been calling for a balanced approach to reducing the debt through new revenues and reduced spending. How about a third approach to reducing the debt: growing our economy?

It worked in the 1990s during the Clinton Administration. There was a tax increase on the upper income individuals. A pay-as-you-go spending policy ensured key investments and didn’t add new spending to the nation’s credit card. This coincided with an incredible economic boom that created 20 million jobs generating increased revenue. For three years – 1999, 2000, and 2001 – we had a balanced budget.

Let’s replicate that. We have already asked the wealthiest in the country to pay a little bit more. But sequestration, which calls for cuts from just about every federal agency and program, is risking our ability to make the key investments. Sure it cuts wasteful spending, as it should, but it is also cuts programs proven to help grow our economy.

I am hearing from federal employees in my district, including defense civilian employees, who are being furloughed or have lost their jobs entirely. Just as we recently witnessed our region’s unemployment drop from 9.4 to 8 percent, sequestration could send that number soaring again.

Improvements to the San Ysidro Port of Entry, a project to expedite border traffic and generate commerce, have been stagnant. Budget cutters raided an infrastructure account that once contained $1 billion for such projects. This bi-national venture would mean billions of dollars for our region and be a job creator. Mexico has completed construction on its side of the border. They are waiting for us to complete our half.

No new housing vouchers have been issued this year leaving more than 30,000 San Diego families on the waiting list wondering if they will ever get assistance. The Navy is on the verge of delaying critical ship repairs risking layoffs at our local shipyards. Towers at regional airports are being closed. And this is just the beginning unless we act.

Instead of addressing this threat to our economy, the majority party in the House passed a budget proposal that doubles down on sequestration.

Their budget prioritizes billionaires and big corporations over middle-class families. It would increase tax breaks for the wealthiest, lowering the top tax bracket a whopping 15 percent at the expense of middle-income taxpayers. It slashes education spending and key investments in scientific research and innovation.

It is tone-deaf to the realities of today’s world and designed to score political points with their base. Needless to say, I voted against it.

The President’s budget was released this week. It is a forward-looking proposal committed to strengthening the middle class. It would create jobs here at home, equip our people with the skills they need, and ensure that hard work leads to a good living. It recognizes the importance of investing in education and a quality future for our children.

The next step is for these proposals, including the Senate Democratic budget, to be merged into that seemingly elusive compromise.

We could have the best of all worlds if we were to take a serious approach to fiscal policy. We could put ourselves on a path to a robust economy with a strong middle class that will bring in the revenue to bring down the debt. All it takes is for us to step up to the plate, work together and make the tough budgetary choices that were sent to Congress to make.

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