EMERSON RADIO ADDRESS: Keeping Our House In Order
January 29, 2005
"After the holidays and before I prepare my tax return every year, my house probably resembles most Americans'. Credit card bills, forms for the Internal Revenue Service, and piles of advertisements and coupons... I'm tempted to shovel the whole mess into the blazing fire in my fireplace.
I don't, of course, but I can't even think about Spring until I put my fiscal house in order.
The House of Representatives, too, gets started on these matters early. In the space of a few short weeks, the president will give his State of the Union speech and submit a budget to Congress. Already, there is an $80 billion funding request on the table for our continued operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I don't quarrel with the need to fund our troops. In fact, I've worked tirelessly to make sure our men and women in the field have the equipment and attention they need to get the job done quickly and well. But on other fronts, Congress is tasked with trimming waste, fraud, and abuse from the federal budget in order to shrink the deficit, restrict the growth of government, and put the people's fiscal house in order.
Unless we restore fiscal conservatism to our philosophy of government, the agenda of the 109th Congress will be swallowed whole by a legacy of spending.
Tax bracket reform and changes to Social Security are not as important to me as slowing the growth of federal spending, if not stopping that trend or reversing it altogether. Every year we struggle with complicated legislation in which one small bad part cannot be changed without rejecting an otherwise good, but large, piece of the whole bill. For each new spending proposal, an offset must be found in an existing program. Still, the siren song of new spending is irresistible to some in Washington who view their life's work as the expenditure of public money.
We must remember that it is not really the government that is in debt, however. It is us, the American taxpayers.
The good news is that projections for the national deficit are headed in the right direction, with an expected $44 billion reduction in the deficit from 2004 to 2005. The bad news is that our national debt is still growing, and by the most optimistic projections the federal budget won't be balanced until 2011. To put it simply, the government is spending money it does not have, and the resulting burden is going to be borne by our children and grandchildren.
As long as the system pits states and congressional districts against one another in competition for money and projects, it will be very difficult to curb spending. One American's pork is another's paycheck. If I did not fight to bring my constituents the best return on their tax dollars, I would not be doing my duty as a representative of Missouri's Eighth Congressional District. The same can be said for every one of my colleagues. There are few opportunities to cut spending across-the-board, however, and that is where real savings take place.
Smart spending means we must find the fiscal fat and trim it. We need ways to identify when government agencies are over-funded and where taxpayers are getting the most return on their money. Simply put, this means honest reporting, careful actuarial examination of government budgets, and strong oversight from Congress.
It also means applying a new concept to budgetary government, so that government only spends money it actually has, not money it plans on having in the future or borrowing to cover costs. Americans exercise this kind of responsibility every day, when we sit down to balance our checkbooks. It makes common sense that we would ask the federal government to do the same.
If I don't pay my bills, the bank would be sure to visit me and, eventually, repossess my house. Republicans in Congress must take this directive seriously, or it is the people's house that will end up being repossessed."