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Question: How do you burn down your house? Answer: Get distracted and forget about the pan on the stove top.

Our nation is focused on very real concerns with terrorism, education, immigration, energy, our economy and much more. But in the middle of the chaos, if we forget about our national debt, the most vulnerable among us will suffer the most.

The federal government overspends (deficit) around $450 billion annually, putting our nation $19 trillion in total debt. To put it in plain terms, under the current budget plan, if we finally move from deficit spending to an annual budget surplus of $50 billion a year, it will take us 460 years of consecutive budget surpluses to pay off our debt. That is only twice as long as our country is old.

A recent a report released by Sen. Lankford identifies federal waste, duplication, and regulations well outside the purview of the federal government — many of which slow down the economy and drive up costs to consumers.

The report, “Federal Fumbles: 100 Ways the Federal Government Has Dropped the Ball,” represents $105 billion in federal spending and about $800 billion in regulatory impact to the nation’s economy. These “Federal Fumbles” aren’t an exhaustive list, but provide a starting point toward a balanced federal budget.

From 2011 to 2014, the Department of Defense Task Force for Business and Stability Operations spent $43 million to build a compressed natural gas station in Afghanistan after failing to ensure there was even a demand for such a facility. The station is no longer being used.

The report also includes the $375,000 spent this fiscal year by the National Science Foundation to study the dating habits of senior adults. How does that study meet the basic grant requirements for national security or economic development?

Last year, the federal budget included a budget gimmick that both spent and saved the same $8 billion. It may have looked fine in Washington, but in real life it added $8 billion in debt to our children.

Every dollar wasted by government comes from hard-earned money that was taken from the taxpayer. Every additional dollar of debt increases the interest payments on the debt, which reduces the amount of money available for critical national priorities, like national defense and our safety net. The most vulnerable get hurt when our debt builds and the economy struggles.

Oklahomans are not anti-government, they just want a restrained and efficient government. With $450 billion in federal deficit spending, now is the time for policymakers at all levels to tackle the budget and highlight inefficiencies, budget gimmicks, duplication and wasteful spending wherever they exist.

This is no longer simple; the debt is too big. There is no way to fix our deficit and debt in a year, but there is a way to fix it. It requires a plan and a commitment from all of government to solve our building debt crisis. The problem is, Washington D.C., is distracted and convinced everything will work out no matter what. They are ignoring the “pan on the stove.” 

Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, is Oklahoma’s junior U.S. senator. Small is executive vice president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org)