In remarks on the U.S. Senate floor last week where he criticized the final budget of Barack Obama’s presidency, Sen. James Lankford also took some time to explore just how troubling and serious are the nation’s finances, and offered proposals he would like to see considered. They merit further mention.
Obama’s $4.1 trillion budget, Lankford noted, includes about $3.4 trillion in new taxes over the next decade and would increase spending by $2.5 trillion in that time. The U.S. had $10.6 trillion in total debt when Obama took office in 2009. That would grow to $27.4 trillion by the end of his latest budget, Lankford said.
“This is an issue for us, and it continues to accelerate,” he said. “And until this body and until the House and until the White House agrees this is a problem, it will not be solved.”
Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, offered this sobering observation: The United States’ total debt exceeds its gross domestic product. The country is on a course that in 10 years would see it spend more on interest on the debt than on defense. “We cannot keep saying we’ll add debt every year and there is no reckoning for that.”
He said politicians need to stop boasting about how much the deficit — the amount the government overspends each year — has been cut, and focus on cutting the debt. It’s often noted that the deficit has been trimmed by about $1 trillion in the past six years, which is great. “But the problem is in the last 10 years the debt has also doubled.”
That hole is so deep, Lankford said, that it would take 460 consecutive years with a $50 billion surplus for the United States to pay off its debt. Chew on that for a minute.
What to do? Lankford recommended attacking the process by going to biannual budgeting. He noted that in the past 10 years, only seven of 118 potential appropriations bills have actually been passed by Congress. “We’re dealing with trillions of dollars. We should at least do a little bit of advanced planning, don’t you think?”
He’d also like to end many of the gimmicks that are routinely part of budgeting, such as corporate timing shifts, which make the government’s ledger look better than it is. Also needed are real numbers that all sides can agree on when they go about building the budget.
Lankford would like to see a process established to cut government waste. His office and those of Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake have “all put out waste reports in the past five months detailing billions of dollars in waste. The Inspector General’s office can identify these things. The GAO can identify these areas. … And we can do more than talk about it. We can move it from just a messaging moment to solutions on our debt and our deficit.”
Lankford noted that he has proposed legislation that would avoid government shutdowns, which “always cost more money to the taxpayer than is saved.” He also asked why Congress doesn’t pass a balanced budget amendment. Good question.
“We will never get to some of these things until Congress is compelled to do the right thing,” Lankford said. “So let’s put some process in place, beginning with our budget process and real reform of how we do the budget, and real structural changes here to actually push this body to do what everyone outside of this body says needs to be done.”
It’s a worthwhile pursuit, one Oklahomans should appreciate and support.