Freight trains carry 1.8 billion tons of cargo on more than 138,000 miles of track across the United States each year. It is amazing when you think about the amount of force railroad lines withstand to keep this massive industry on track. Without those parallel strips of steel, relatively small when compared to their burden, there would be nothing to guide the massive trains to their destination.
The federal budget is a bit like those tracks. Without them, there is no guide for federal spending. They provide the direction needed to ensure important government programs stay on course and keep federal spending levels under control. Unfortunately, senate leaders have derailed attempts to pass a federal budget for almost four years, preventing any sort of spending guidelines that reflect the current state of our nation's fiscal situation, further adding to our massive cargo of debt.
In the recent absence of a budget, our country's debt has exploded from $11.2 trillion to $16.4 trillion. Congress has made a habit of running trillion-dollar deficits each year. Americans across the country lack the fiscal certainty needed for business investment decisions that a clear federal budget would provide.
Since the last budget was passed in April of 2009, the rapidly ballooning debt has compelled Congress to raise the federal debt limit five times. We are again approaching that ceiling, and we will eventually need to raise it again--and again, and again if we don't have a budget to keep our spending from going further off the rails.
Last week the House, knowing a need to address the debt limit was inevitable, voted to suspend for three months the statutory ceiling on how much debt the nation can carry in return for a Senate-passed budget. The White House and Senate leadership have indicated they will play ball with this proposal. This bill requires the Senate to pass a budget by April 15. Congress has until May 18 to show action, before debt ceiling discussions resume.
Shelving our debt limit is not an ideal course of action, but we desperately need to get our fiscal house back in order, and that begins with a budget. It is the first step to controlling government spending and reversing the trajectory of our debt. It's also one of Congress's most fundamental obligations, required by law. Legislators have a duty to be responsible stewards of Americans' hard-earned tax dollars, and this requires a budget that reflects the current needs and limitations of our federal government.
As I have said each year that the Senate has ignored this duty, we must pass a budget this year to address the government's spending addiction.
The House got creative, recognizing that a significant cause of our spending problem has been the absence of a budget. Now Senate leadership should stay true to their word, follow the law and put forth a good-faith budget proposal that avoids tax increases and puts government spending back on track.