The Wrong Targets

CRFB has been calling for policymakers to set fiscal targets for some time. Apparently we haven’t been clear enough on what that means.

Unfortunately, some in Congress have put a bullseye on the few legislators courageous enough to offer ideas to reduce our mounting debt. The Hill today reports on leaders within the House Democratic caucus tearing into four junior members who were naïve enough to offer a measure to moderately reduce spending.

Congressmen John Adler, Gary Peters, Jim Himes, and Peter Welch were castigated for introducing an amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development spending bill that would have cut a few programs totaling $1.4 billion, out of a $126.1 billion spending bill. The four Democrats came under intense pressure from their own party and ultimately withdrew the amendment.

This episode not only proves how we got on an unsustainable budget path, but also underscores the utter dysfunction of Congress and why it is so difficult to change course. The overbearing reaction to a modest proposal to trim spending is completely irresponsible.

The U.S. faces a difficult situation. We must support a fragile recovery in the short term while keeping an eye on the long-term debt trajectory that threatens to precipitate an economic crisis somewhere down the road if left unchecked. True leadership and cooperation on sensible solutions will be required to overcome these challenges. Slapping the “stimulus” label on favored spending and tax cuts and brow-beating those brave enough to put reasonable ideas on the table is not leadership; it is the business-as-usual that got is into this predicament.

“The whole point of putting specific cuts on the table was to start a discussion. And boy, did we ever start a discussion. Discussion is maybe a euphemism for some of the pressure we came under,” The Hill quotes Himes. He is later quoted in the piece, “[i]n a sense, [the] experience has only reinforced what we believe, which is that we have a long way to go toward a sane discussion about fiscal responsibility.” Sadly, that is true.

The article also quotes Adler, “[w]hat I advocate, and what I think some other members of both parties advocate, is a more rigorous review of our current spending to eliminate unnecessary programs, or even programs that may be useful, but that aren’t vital right now, and aren’t stimulative to our economy but might end up just increasing our deficit in ways we can’t sustain.” Is this really such a revolutionary concept?

The four Congressman are also sponsors of the REDUCE Acts, which propose to cut the deficit by $70 billion over the next decade. Maybe they should bring bodyguards to the next caucus meeting.

When we call for fiscal targets, we mean that policymakers must set goals for reducing the debt and act within those goals; not set their sights on those willing to be fiscally responsible. Kudos to the four lawmakers who proposed modest measures to get the ball rolling on reducing the debt; let’s hope the terribly disappointing response from their colleagues is not a sign of what we can expect when we start talking about the much larger types of changes that will be necessary to fully deal with our debt problems.