A government budget should demonstrate financial priorities, spending and policy to address our nation’s biggest challenges. Sadly, President Obama’s latest budget proposal demonstrates an attitude of “close enough for government work” rather than excellence and forward thinking.

Over the decades, presidential budgets have become more of a campaign document than an actual budget. But, it is the first legal step of the formal budget process. By law, the president’s annual budget request must be delivered to Congress each year by the first Monday in February. This allows the House and Senate budget committees to draft the congressional budget by April 15. Once the congressional budget is complete, the final budget “top-line” numbers are provided to the Appropriations Committees so they can finish their work by Sept. 30. Throughout the process, the essential needs and the long-term financial health of the country must be determined.

Recent modest economic improvements, along with relatively lower deficits, have created an illusion that our nation’s fiscal problems have been solved. This couldn’t be further from the truth. After major budget fights the past four years, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office announced that our federal budget deficit for fiscal 2014 “fell” to its lowest level in six years, $483.35 billion. That “lower” deficit is still larger than any deficit under any previous president in history. Worse still, last year’s tax revenue was the highest of any year in history, which means the treasury has more tax money than ever, but our nation spent more than ever. More devastatingly, projections show in the next 10 years, entitlement spending will increase dramatically and the interest payments on our debt will accelerate from more than $200 billion to more than $800 billion a year.

The president’s answer: raise taxes again by $2.1 trillion, increase spending by 60 percent over 10 years, increase the debt by another $8.5 trillion and never balance the budget, ever. The president has proposed seven budgets, none of them balance and none of them articulate a plan for future prosperity. Middle class families do not live like that — a nation that works for middle class families cannot either.

Over the next two months, the House and Senate should spend their time preparing a budget with a long-term focus on the future and a plan to get our nation back to balance. The fundamental changes in our world require a new fundamental look at our budget and our priorities.

Currently, our nation is so far out of balance, we cannot erase our deficit in a single year, but we must outline a step-by-step plan to get us back to balance. Global threats demand we prioritize national security. Hard-working taxpayers demand we finally deal with government reform, waste and duplication. Most people understand we must have taxes, they just want our taxes to be fair and for the government to spend our money efficiently.

The first step to budget reform is to get a clear picture of where we are and what must be done. For example, the vital national disability program will be insolvent by the end of 2016, because the program has added so many new people in the last few years, many of who do not meet basic eligibility requirements. We must reform this program by updating the appeals process, improving the application review, helping ineligible people transition back to work, and enforcing the basic requirements of the law. Pouring money into a program that needs reform is not compassion.

Our national leaders must ask difficult questions of every federal budget line item. Is it the job of the federal government to do this program? Should the federal government maintain roads off the interstate highway? Should the federal government manage health care for every state? Should the federal government oversee every small community bank and business? Could a local government be more efficient and transparent with these tax dollars? What would happen to federal spending and our national budget if we, as a nation, decided to put our federal tax dollars only to federal projects and tasks?

The federal budget is a beginning point every year for the national discussion on our future. I look forward to a robust debate about funding levels and priorities. We all want people in our nation to have every opportunity and to succeed; let’s get past our politics and focus on the path to get our nation back on track. Families across Oklahoma ask hard questions, balance their budgets and address problems that are coming down the road — Washington should be no different.