By Rep. James Lankford
In a few short weeks, my youngest daughter will have another birthday, which means I will have another teenager in my house. She is part of a young American generation that has no memory of our nation not at war. She has enjoyed a front-row seat to the birth of the Smart Phone and the death of drinking water from the faucet. Almost every memory she has of television news relates to unemployment rates and a sluggish economy. In her short life, the national debt has also grown from $5.74 trillion to $16.5 trillion. By comparison, from my birth to my 13th birthday, the national debt grew from around $347 billion (1968) to around $997 billion (1981).
At current pace, by the time my daughter leaves for college, our nation will pay well over $500 billion each year just in interest on our debt. That is greater than almost any category of spending in our national budget. Some have argued that our growing debt will one day affect our children, but I believe that day has already arrived.
Americans may not track daily the granular details of our economic reality, but they do understand that it is now tough to find a job that pays well, to fill up their car with gas or to save money for college or retirement. Intuitively, Americans understand that our national debt has something to do with our economic malaise. As our nation prints money or competes on the global market for investment capital to finance our debt, we crowd out private investment trying to find money to expand their company. This slows down our economy even more. Our increased spending on interest payments reduces available money for national security, education, medical research, roads and our social safety net. So we borrow more, and the debt cycle accelerates.
Democrats continue to push for increased national spending to strengthen the economy, but no one can explain how higher interest payments will benefit our long-term future. The administration also continues to claim we need more taxes to solve the debt problem, but after the January tax increase, the federal treasury is forecast to bring in the highest amount of single-year revenue in the history of our nation. Even with the estimated 25 percent increase in revenue for 2013, we will still be almost $1 trillion short. It is more obvious than ever: We spend more than we can afford.
I tell my daughter that it has not always been like this in America.
Our nation only recently bought into a false hope for economic stability through government redistribution and gave away the dream of a brighter future through hard work and personal responsibility. We did not become the strongest nation in the history of the world by government spending and centralized control. We grew strong because individual Americans had the opportunity to do something great for their families and in turn help the entire community.
In simple terms, our government has tried to do too many things, which is slowly draining our economy. When we stop trying to make every decision in Washington and start allowing states and local leaders to innovate and care for their neighbors, we will see families rise out of poverty. When we correct the rigged tax code and encourage businesses and individuals to invest, we will finally see money come off the sidelines and into the marketplace. When the dollars the federal government spends prioritize national interests over political preferences and the regulatory environment is consistent and rational, America will finally get back to work.
It may take us a decade to dig out of this fiscal crevasse, but surely we can all agree that we must find a way to balance our budget. Halting deficit spending will require difficult decisions in the current budget and for future programs, but the consequence of ignoring the rising debt will trap us in an accelerating debt spiral and further slow our economy. I am well aware that many leaders in Washington have other plans for this year, but we must stabilize our fiscal crisis first. When our families can no longer support themselves and our children have lost their future opportunity, how can we ignore our debt?