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Weekly Column: Getting our Country Back on Track

As we look forward to the start of a new year, Congress and the new president will have a number of agenda items to start working on to get our country back on track. Along with executive overreach and regulatory reform, finding a solution to our nation’s fiscal crisis is one of the more important issues to address. With our debt spiraling out of control at more than $19 trillion, it’s clear that federal spending at current levels is unsustainable. According to a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in ten years, 99 percent of all revenue will go toward mandatory payments and interest on our debt. We need to begin managing our entire budget before it is too late.  

The long-term driver of our debt and deficit remains the rapid growth of mandatory payments. These include Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Already, spending on these mandatory payments, as well as interest on our debt, account for nearly three-quarters of all federal spending. Since the passage of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, Congress has not exercised oversight over mandatory programs. There is no specific committee with oversight over the efficiency of these necessary expenditures. Instead, Congress has focused on defense and non-defense discretionary spending. This makes up only about 28 percent our entire budget today. I believe now we have the opportunity to change this outdated, failing budget process.

Compare our lack of management of Social Security to South Dakota’s retirement system, in which both chambers of the legislature and the South Dakota Retirement System Board of Trustees actively manage one of the best retirement systems in the nation, every single year. Proactive management of all mandatory programs would be easier if they were voted on as part of the budget process every single year. Better management of these programs does not necessarily mean cutting them. It means making them as efficient as possible.

 When our Founders wrote the Constitution, they explicitly gave Congress the task of setting spending and tax policies for our country. James Madison called this power of the purse “the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people.”   

Currently, I am working with a number of other senators to find ways to revive the budget process here in Congress, so we can address our budget crisis once and for all. What we have been working on would open up the entire budget to congressional management, including mandatory payments. Our plan would also require the federal budget to be approved and signed into law. Additionally, there would be consequences for Congress should we fail to pass a budget in a timely manner. 

As we move forward into a new year, I will continue to encourage my colleagues to work with us to make these important changes to the budget process in Washington. The fiscal crisis isn’t coming ten years from now. The crisis is here, and we need to face it head on.