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A Scalpel, Not an Axe


Location: Unknown

By Rep. Todd Young

Not many years ago, President Obama proposed making cuts to our federal budget "with a scalpel, not an axe." It was an admission of four things that most Americans recognize: Washington has a spending problem; spending must quickly be brought under control; not all government programs are created equal; and public leadership requires setting spending priorities among competing interests.

Since I entered Congress in 2011, the House has passed an annual budget. It sets priorities. It proposes solutions. Most importantly, it balances. Meanwhile, our President has yet to produce a single budget that actually balances, and for four years running our Senate hasn't even bothered to draft or pass a budget.

In order to avoid a Greek-like fiscal crisis, Washington must begin to set spending priorities that bring spending in line with revenue. An intelligent, bipartisan plan can and must be developed to this end. First, though, everyone must come forward with constructive ideas--not just shallow criticisms--committed to paper.

When ideas are not presented, policy options become limited. We begin to rely on ill-conceived gimmicks instead of thoughtful solutions. A powerful example is the impending "sequester," or across-the-board spending cuts, which are scheduled to hit most federal departments on March 1.

The sequester emerged in 2011 during negotiations between President Obama and Speaker John Boehner over raising our nation's federal borrowing limit. During that negotiation, the President insisted on raising the limit for what was, historically speaking, a longer than usual period of time--incidentally, a timeframe which would allow the President to avoid resuming negotiations until his reelection campaign was over.

The Speaker agreed on the condition that each dollar of new borrowing would be offset with at least one new dollar of cuts. The solution proposed by President Obama was the sequester--essentially, cutting our budget without setting specific priorities. Put another way, he decided an axe was easier to use than a scalpel. In typical Washington fashion, the hard work of trying to find targeted cuts to avoid the sequester was delegated to a special panel. The panel failed, and the sequester remains in effect, despite the President's repeated reassurances to Americans that we would avoid this predicament.

Now, the President and others in Washington--fresh off a round of new tax increases--are threatening to allow the sequester to go into effect if taxes are not allowed to go up even further. Many of us refuse to give in to such threats, and demand that those who argue for further tax hikes at least present to Congress their comprehensive plan to balance our budget.

It is unclear exactly how detrimental the economic effects of the sequester will be, especially when combined with these new tax burdens. It is crystal clear, however, that neither across-the-board cuts, nor higher taxes, constitute optimal approaches to controlling spending while creating jobs and growing incomes. When combined, the policy mix is especially bad. But it is an even worse idea to ignore the challenges and potential damage presented by our spending-fueled debt crisis. Something in the President's position has got to give.

As the deadline for the sequester looms, our politicians need to show leadership. We need to work together to salvage our nation's creditworthiness, grow our national economy, and maintain our national security. And we must not exacerbate the impact of the sequester by giving in to those who would hold any of these things hostage to their demand that Americans pay more in taxes.

A scalpel, not an axe. We should build on this common ground and negotiate in good faith to avoid the sequester.

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