Maya MacGuineas: George Voinovich's remarkable legacy of fiscal responsibility

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and head of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, wrote an opinion piece that appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It is reposted here.

The news of the passing of Sen. George Voinovich was stunning to everyone across the country. The people of Ohio lost their beloved former mayor, governor, and U.S. senator. The country lost a distinguished public servant – a man of integrity and humility who worked relentlessly to push the country to be more fiscally responsible. For those of us who worked closely with him at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Campaign to Fix the Debt – where he served as a member of our board of directors – we lost a great friend, a true mentor.

Sen. Voinovich embodied everything noble about public service. He was a selfless statesman. He consistently put his country ahead of his own self-interest. His courage and willingness in Congress to take the lead on tough issues and work with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle was exemplary. That is why it's no surprise to see and hear the kind words and outpouring of emotion from his former Democratic and Republican colleagues alike.

Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown called him "a man of strong conviction, yet he was always willing to listen to the other side of an argument and put what he believed was best for our state and country ahead of partisan politics." Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur said it was a "privilege to work with him, on a bipartisan basis, and always find common ground, in the public interest." Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland called him a "true public servant" and a "great leader." Gov. John Kasich said he was "a unifier who thought outside the box, never gave up and worked hard for the ideas he believed in up until the very end of his life."

All of these words accurately describe the man I knew. But what I want to focus on is his remarkable legacy of fiscal responsibility. Known by his colleagues as a "debt hawk," Sen. Voinovich consistently fought for fiscal responsibility, even challenging his Republican colleagues on the issue. He spoke out against President George W. Bush's tax cuts in 2003, arguing that a $550 billion cut would be "fiscally irresponsible ... with the debt we're carrying." Two years later, in a speech on the Senate floor, he stated: "Contrary to what some of my colleagues seem to believe, tax cuts do not pay for themselves."

That same year in 2005, Sen. Voinovich introduced the "Truth in Budgeting Act," which sought to, among other things, move the federal government towards biennial budgeting and push Congress to focus more on our long-term fiscal health by extending discretionary spending caps and pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rules for five years.

He stated: 'Contrary to what some of my colleagues seem to believe, tax cuts do not pay for themselves.' He understood the need to adopt fundamental tax reform and strengthen entitlement programs for future generations. So he introduced his Securing America's Future Economy (SAFE) Commission Act in 2006 to establish a national commission to develop legislation that addresses the unsustainable growth of our debt and ensure the solvency of entitlements.

What's even more remarkable is that he stayed devoted to these issues even after leaving office. There is something about governors; they're doers, not posturers. He was one of the most dedicated members of our board. We still spoke three times last week in the days leading up to his passing, as we discussed how to encourage the Democratic and Republican platform committees to adopt fiscally responsible policies. He was willing and eager to do anything possible to push the 2016 presidential candidates towards fiscal responsibility, including writing an op-ed to draw attention to the issue.

I'll always remember the special moments I shared with him. We both headlined a Rotary Club of Cleveland forum last year – "Debating the National Debt During the 2016 Presidential Campaign" – just ahead of the first GOP presidential primary debate on Aug. 6, and we also took part together in an editorial board meeting with the editorial board of and The Plain Dealer, where he discussed his time in the Senate and efforts to address the debt. It was really special for me to spend that day with him in Cleveland – a city I fell in love with – and to see the city through his eyes and also to spend time with his wife, Janet. Those are memories that I'll always cherish.

Sen. Voinovich was my friend and mentor. Our organization is better because of his invaluable contributions. Our country is better off because of his service

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.