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Serious changes necessary in US budget

As appeared in Amarillo Globe-News

Washington, July 21, 2011

The long debt limit debate provoked a lot of comments about how dysfunctional our federal government is and how increasingly partisan Washington has become. There is a lot of truth in such criticisms.

It does seem harder and harder for Washington to confront the serious problems facing our country. There is certainly partisanship, and there is growing intolerance of other viewpoints, which may, as some suggest, be fueled by the Internet and media that must promote conflict in order to keep our attention.But something more than partisanship is also going on. It is deep, fundamental differences about what course is good for America.

President Obama’s election in 2008, along with large Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, led to a massive increase in government involvement in a host of areas. It also led to an unprecedented increase in federal spending. The outcome of the more recent 2010 congressional elections were in large measure a reaction against that spending, the health care bill, the stimulus measures, the “cap and trade” energy bill, and new regulations of all sorts which ensued.

That left us with a Republican majority in the House, a smaller Democratic majority in the Senate, and President Obama still in the White House. This division of government between the parties ensures a continuation of the debate over how much we want government to do for us and to us.

The debt limit fight was one battle in that bigger, longer term struggle. And there will be many more battles in the coming weeks and months. Debates about tax increases, spending cuts, and regulatory restraint are not going away; in fact, they may intensify as 2012 — an election year — approaches.

Neither side, including me, is very happy with the debt limit bill signed into law. President Obama had argued for a “clean” increase, which is an increase in borrowing authority with no spending cuts or reforms attached. Once that was voted down, he and his allies pushed for fewer spending cuts, tax increases, and a larger increase in the debt limit. Conservatives wanted more cuts, entitlement reform and more changes in the budgeting and spending process.

Republicans will continue to push for more cuts and reforms at every opportunity. But we have to recognize that it will be hard to achieve the cuts and reforms we want until there is a new occupant of the White House and a different majority in the Senate.

In the meantime, we have to make what progress we can, and make our case to the American people about how far off-track our financial condition has gone and what it takes to get us back on course.

One major opportunity will come later this year when, under the terms of the debt limit law, both the House and Senate vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. It will be the first such vote in the Senate in nearly 15 years, the last such vote being in 1997 when it failed by one vote to get the need two-thirds majority.

There are no magic fixes for our financial problems. We have to be careful with every dollar we spend. We have to get the economy growing again, which requires ending the uncertainty that burdensome government has created. We should reform our tax system so that it is flatter and fairer and allows us to be more competitive.

Some Americans are frustrated that we are not able to do these things right away. I feel the same way. But, I believe in the wisdom of the American people and that our best days can still be ahead of us. So I see the coming months as an opportunity to turn around the growth in government of the last few years and begin to right the ship.

The way to do that is by taking advantage of each opportunity to make serious and significant changes, and more opportunities are coming.

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, represents the 13th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves as vice chairman of the Armed Services Committee and as a senior member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.