Earlier this month, I had the honor of attending a State of the Union address for the very first time. Amid all the pomp and circumstance of the occasion, President Barack Obama had a golden opportunity to propose an alternative to the coming sequestration cuts.
Once a proponent of sequestration, the president has become critical of the coming cuts in recent months; yet despite his criticism, he has failed to offer any plan to replace the impending sequester with other spending reductions that we so desperately need. While I remain skeptical, I do look forward to hearing how he plans to achieve the savings necessary to get our nation’s fiscal house in order.
Instead, his address was filled with familiar campaign rhetoric broken up by a handful of new “priorities.” The president claimed these new initiatives — ranging from universal preschool and an Energy Security Trust Fund to “Fix It First” infrastructure revitalization — were fully paid for. But just saying it doesn’t make it so.
The president chose to break very little, if any, new ground in discussing potential cuts in federal spending. He certainly did not propose enough to cover his new proposals, much less avert the cuts that will go into effect in a matter of days if Congress does not act.
The president characterized the coming sequester cuts as sudden, harsh and arbitrary, despite the fact that we’ve known they are coming for a year and a half.
And this from the same commander in chief who first submitted, then supported and finally approved the entire idea of the sequester during budget talks in 2011.
Congress — and the president, by signing the Budget Control Act — agreed that a total of $4 trillion in deficit reduction was necessary to get our fiscal house in order. At the 11th hour, the last Congress and President Obama engaged in the typical Washington game of “kick the can” by passing legislation to delay the start of sequestration until March 1.
American taxpayers know the federal government must follow through on meaningful deficit reduction now. I don’t dispute that the $1 trillion in sequester cuts are significant. But when you remember that the federal government is already spending $1 trillion more than it takes in every year, the cuts seem not just reasonable but necessary.
Furthermore, Congress doesn’t have to settle for the across-the-board cuts prescribed by the Budget Control Act. Many other paths forward are available. Reasonable members of Congress on both sides of the aisle can form a plan with cuts aimed at truly duplicative and wasteful federal spending while preserving the support necessary for true priorities.
If Congress regularly engaged in the normal budget and appropriations process, perhaps its members would be more familiar with opportunities for program consolidation and spending reduction. Since Congress has failed in this most basic responsibility, it should now take the time and effort to set actual budget priorities.
For example, Congress should ensure that our men and women in uniform have the resources they need to safely and successfully continue their important missions around the world by preventing further substantial cuts to the Department of Defense. We cannot and must not balance the federal budget on the backs of our servicemen and women, who make tremendous sacrifices to protect our freedom and safety.
Some think I’m being too hard on the president; after all, Congress holds the national purse strings. That’s absolutely true. And it’s equally true that federal law has required the president to submit a proposed budget to Congress since 1975. Our executive and legislative branches are supposed to work together on the federal budget, yet the president has failed to meet the deadline for sending his budget to Congress four times.
Furthermore, all appropriations measures have to be signed by the president to go into law. As long as the president refuses to put his signature on any legislation that reduces spending on his lengthy (and growing) list of “priorities,” Congress’ deficit reduction efforts will be hamstrung.
The president missed an opportunity to outline a meaningful alternative to the impending sequester cuts in his State of the Union address. Members of Congress vote on legislation, not ideas. And the president of the United States signs bills, not half-hearted rhetoric, into law.
And until the president puts pen to paper and shows how he will achieve the savings needed to make our nation fiscally solvent, his claims of fiscal responsibility will continue to ring hollow.
You can contact Rep. Collins at 513 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515, 202-225-9893; 111 Green St. SE, Gainesville, GA 30501, 770-297-3388; dougcollins.house.gov.