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Let's Stop Punting


Location: Washington, DC

In football, you can't score by punting the ball. Punting isn't about putting points on the board, it's about field position. For the last few years, Washington has stuck exclusively to punting our nation's problems a few months down the field at a time.

I opposed a government shutdown and worked with my colleagues in the House to pass series of bills that would have prevented it. Each successive bill was an attempt at compromise. Unfortunately, negotiations broke down, positions hardened and partisanship took priority over cooperation.

Partisans on both sides thought they could "win" a government shutdown. One unnamed White House official was even quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying "We are winning...It doesn't really matter to us" how long the shutdown lasts "because what matters is the end result."

When we look at the bill that re-opened the government and raised the debt limit, we can see that nobody "won." It was just another punt. Unfortunately, our debt keeps growing and if we don't put some points on the board, the clock is going to run out.

Despite voting against debt limit increases himself as a United States Senator, President Obama quickly racked up $3.7 trillion in new debt in just his first two years in office. Not surprisingly, voters punished his party in the 2010 elections in part because of out of control spending and debt. This same issue played a roll in the Democrats winning the House and Senate in the 2006 elections.

Republicans, both those elected in 2010 and those like me who had long advocated for fixing our budget, took the mandate to control our debt seriously. In the summer of 2011, we united to only raise the debt limit with a promise that for each dollar increase in present debt we would decrease future spending by a dollar.

The 2011 agreement stipulated that a Congressional "supercommittee" would be responsible for proposing sensible reductions. The President advocated for a requirement that if this committee failed to produce a bipartisan agreement, automatic cuts known as sequestration would hit government departments like defense and education and Congress itself.

For months, the supercommittee met and tried to hash out a plan. Pennsylvania's own Senator Toomey put forward a proposal that would have both cut spending and created additional government revenue through tax reform.

We might forget now, but that was a major compromise. Most conservative pressure groups have a firm stance against creating any additional government taxes. Toomey took a big risk by advocating for such a plan. Unfortunately, Democrats wanted even more tax increases, more than $1 trillion.

Instead of engaging and trying to find a middle way between the two sides of the supercommittee, President Obama disengaged and was almost completely silent on the debate. Most Washington commentators thought he was already looking to his reelection.

The supercommittee failed and the government is living under the sequestration cuts. This is a poor way to cut federal spending as it doesn't get at the real problem: mismanaged entitlements. The trustees of Medicare and Social Security have warned us that we risk bankrupting these important programs if we do nothing. In a few short years, spending on these programs alone could consume all federal tax revenue.

I thought long and hard about how to vote on the deal to raise the debt limit and reopen the government. I thought shutting down the government over any reason, even Obamacare, was a bad idea. But increasing the debt on our children and grandchildren by hundreds of billions of dollars without a sliver of spending reform. I simply can't support us punting anymore.

Divided government is hard, but it is what the American people have given us. It requires negotiation and compromise. I don't believe the bill we voted on represented a true compromise.

I still believe that this President, this House of Representatives and this Senate can sit down together and negotiate lasting reform. It's time that we stopped thinking about the next election and started thinking about our kids.

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