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The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform's "adult conversation."

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Simple Answers Missed

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform’s “adult conversation.”

We should all remember that ultimately the cost of government is what it spends, not what it taxes. Using history as my guide, when tax increases have been called for in the past to be coupled with spending restraints, the tax increases usually materialize and the spending restraints do not.  

In large measure that is why I chose not to support the Commission’s final report, the Bowles-Simpson Report, because at its core it calls for a massive tax increase without fundamentally addressing the largest, long-term driver of our nation’s spending crisis – rising health care costs . 

Despite the fact that I was unable to recommend the findings of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to the President and Congress, I consider the effort to have been worthwhile. The Commission’s deliberations have been one of the few bipartisan “adult conversations” to occur recently in Washington, and were useful as a sounding board for practical budget ideas and as a means of defining just how far the parties might move toward a solution to our spending, debt and deficit crisis.

So, solving our spending problem means health care will continue to be a contentious debate in Washington and one in which Democrats will have a great deal of trouble coming to grips with the facts.

In this vein, I think it is instructive that the Congressional Budget Office, which gave the health care plan its most glowing score, did not change their long-term cost estimates . And if you talk to the actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, they say it will actually increase the national health care bill .

You cannot change the ruinous spending path of our government if you leave the recently passed health care law virtually untouched and leave out fundamental reform of Medicare. In fact, through the proposed repeal of the employee health care exclusion, the Commission proposal would actually double down on ObamaCare and drive more Americans into government-run health care, thereby increasing future federal government health care spending. 

If you believe, as I do, that the nation has a fiscal crisis because the government spends too much, not because the American people are under-taxed, the bottom line is that Congress can play all the CBO scoring and baseline manipulation games it wants, but until we change the architecture of ObamaCare and reform Medicare for future generations, there is no road to fiscal sanity, because federal spending on health care will not decrease.

Again, using history as my guide, when tax increases have been called for in the past to be coupled with spending restraints, the tax increases usually materialize and the spending restraints do not.  So, if tax increases are on the table, as they were in the Commission plan, fundamental health care reform and a total spending cap must be put on the table as well.  In the Commission plan they are not.

In the course of the Commission deliberations much was made of Republican resistance to cutting defense spending.  Can we cut defense spending? Sure.  However, I am concerned that arbitrary levels of cuts to defense spending proposed in the Commission report could endanger our national security. 

I believe the Constitution makes clear that the first responsibility of Congress is to provide for the common defense of the American people, thus we should spend every penny necessary to defend our nation.  However, at the same time, like any other government agency, spending in the Department of Defense is not immune from waste, fraud, and abuse.  I believe that we should scrutinize every penny of spending across the entire federal budget – including the Pentagon – to ensure that taxpayers’ money is not being wasted.

As a participant in this rare “adult conversation” in Washington, I, along with others who could not vote for the final report, brought solutions, not just criticism.  I advocated for the adoption of H.R. 4529, Paul Ryan’s Roadmap for America’s Future; H. J. Res. 79, a Spending Limit Amendment to the Constitution co-authored with Mike Pence of Indiana and John Campbell of California; and H.R. 3964, the Spending, Deficit, and Debt Control Act, which would impose binding caps on spending, establish biennial budgeting, and many other budget process reforms to ensure that the federal budget does not grow faster than the family’s budget ability to pay for it.  Regrettably, very few of these ideas found their way into the final report.  

As I noted above, there is a great deal of utility in having an “adult conversation” about our spending, debt and deficit crisis.  But history shows us that in past grand bargains where tax increases have been coupled with unenforceable spending restraints, the tax increases usually materialize and the spending restraints do not.  We are now at the point where budgetary smoke and mirrors, good intentions and wishful thinking won’t cut it.  If we want to preserve the American Dream for future generations the answer is pretty simple – we have to stop spending.

Written By

Congressman Jeb Hensarling (TX-05) is the Chairman of the House Republican Conference and was one of three House Republican members of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

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