The federal government is beginning its new fiscal year for 2013, but there's no reason for a New Year's celebration of any kind in Washington. Once again, the budget deficit has crossed the $1 trillion mark.
In fact, the fiscal 2012 deficit marks the fourth consecutive budget year of $1 trillion-plus deficits, pushing our total national debt over $16 trillion -- a milestone that is almost impossible to comprehend.
What does $16 trillion look like? Well, it's hard to picture, but 16 trillion one dollar bills would weigh nearly 16,000 tons. That's more than 70 Statues of Liberty stacked one on top of the other.
It might be easier just to think of our $16 trillion national debt as a bill of $50,700 sent to every man, woman and child in the United States. And every day we delay fixing our finances the bill just gets bigger. And it's choking our economy.
But what do you think Congress did in September instead of addressing these problems? It adjourned until the election so members could campaign. I implored my colleagues to stay and work on a permanent fix to our budget problems. Instead, they passed yet another temporary spending measure so everybody could catch their planes out of Washington to go home and campaign while the government limps along.
Still, it didn't surprise me that Congress wouldn't listen to commonsense and instead passed another temporary spending measure -- known as a "continuing resolution" -- and rushed out of town for the election. After all, it was the 13th continuing resolution we've been asked to pass since I came to the Senate almost two years ago. And a "baker's dozen" was just too many for me.
The people of West Virginia did not send me to the Senate to go along just to get along. They sent me here to help fix our budget problems with bipartisan, commonsense solutions, the way we did when I was their governor.
We didn't pull these kinds of stunts in West Virginia. We stayed on the job until the work was done, even if that meant pulling an all-nighter or working through the weekends. We came together and made decisions that moved our state forward.
It's time we do the same thing in Washington and stop putting off the hard decisions to get our fiscal house in order. We need to start thinking more about the next generation rather than the next election, or the next news cycle, or the next flight out of Washington.
I know everybody expects we'll come back after the election for a lame-duck session and rush to fix all our fiscal problems at the last minute. But I've lived long enough to know that betting on Congress getting religion after an election is a risky gamble. But what we're gambling with is America's future, because if we don't come up with a budget fix after the election, we face a fiscal cliff right after the real New Year's celebration that could throw the American economy right back into a job-killing recession.
We know how to fix the budget. Congress has done it before. In the early 1990s, our economy was faltering because deficits and debt were freezing capital. But Congress and the White House, working together, set us on a course to the first balanced budget in a generation. The markets responded, and the result was the longest economic expansion in history, the creation of over 22 million jobs and unprecedented wealth in America, with every income bracket rising.
We can get back on track if we follow a simple formula, roughly the same one that the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform recommended in 2010: curtail spending, cut the fat and create a tax system that not only is fair to everyone but frees American business to do what they do best: out-produce and out-innovate competitors all over the world.
Just give the American people the facts and show them the options, and they will do their part to get this country back on the right path. They always have. That's what makes this country great.
They're looking to us to do our job. And I intend to do that to the best of my abilities.