Robert Hurt: House focused on national debt

robert hurtWhen I came to Washington in 2011, we were in the midst of a historic level of fiscal irresponsibility that threatened to drive us into a borrowing crisis like those experienced by Greece and Spain.  President Obama’s policies generated the highest deficit levels in our nation’s history and our national debt exploded.  Thankfully, with a new House of Representatives in 2011, so too came significant fiscal reforms that halted the stampede toward bankruptcy.  We were reminded of both our successes and our continuing challenges as we began the annual appropriations process this week.

The deficit has decreased in each of the last five years, with the most recent deficit level coming in at nearly a trillion less than the 2009 deficit.  We actually cut government spending for two straight years for the first time since the 1950’s.  If you compare actual spending levels to spending projections that President Obama estimated back in 2009 based on his policies, we have spent $2.5 trillion less than what he intended to spend.  We enacted the first significant entitlement program reform in nearly 20 years with hundreds of billions in savings.  We permanently prevented what would have been the largest tax increase in American history for 99% of the American people.

While we are by no means out of the woods, these are tangible policy successes, especially considering that Congress has been negotiating with a President that has very little interest in reducing spending or reforming broken programs and would rather spend far more.  While we have made progress, if we truly want to eliminate the debt, we have many years of continued work ahead.  It is important to consider how we achieved these outcomes.

Back in 2011, the new House immediately demonstrated its focus on fiscal reform by banning the practice of earmarks as its first act.  Earmarks were a symbol of everything wrong with the spending culture in Washington, and their prohibition for the last six years has promoted a more responsible fiscal policy focused on reducing spending rather than grabbing your piece of the pie.  We also reestablished the practice and importance of crafting budgets, which had been abandoned altogether in the previous Congress.  It’s astonishing to think that the Senate went six years without passing a budget under the Harry Reid regime.  Budgets and the process of crafting budget blueprints are a basic yet vital responsibility of any government because they represent the country’s priorities and values.  The budget marks an opportunity to examine our short and long-term fiscal strategies, which is essential if we expect to pay down our $19 trillion debt.

The House has adopted a balanced budget in each of the last five years, and the House and Senate came together last year to adopt a joint budget that balances, the first time such a budget was adopted since 2001.  It is disappointing that we have not yet hammered out a budget this year, but I remain hopeful that we will find agreement on a framework that achieves a balanced budget without increasing taxes, but rather by reforming our spending programs that are on unsustainable trajectories.

Although we have taken some positive steps in recent years to cut spending and reform unsustainable government programs, deficits will go back up and the debt will continue to grow if we do not continue to focus on fiscal reform.  We must take further action to rein in the programs that represent trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities for future generations because this burden will bankrupt our country if we do not act.  If we address these issues now, we can improve our prospects for economic growth and build a stronger future for our children and grandchildren.

If you need any additional information or if we may be of assistance to you, please visit my website at or call my Washington office: (202) 225-4711, Charlottesville office: (434) 973-9631, Danville office: (434) 791-2596, or Farmville office: (434) 395-0120.

Robert Hurt represents the Fifth District of Virginia in Congress.

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