The Tennessean: Op-ed by Sen. Lamar Alexander: Call for Cuts Gets Louder

By Sen. Lamar Alexander

Posted on March 15, 2011

The question facing Congress today is: Will we or will we not stop spending money we don't have? Do we have the courage to make difficult decisions for the future of our country when it comes to spending and debt?

Let's look at the facts: The federal government this year is collecting $2.2 trillion and spending $3.7 trillion. Forty cents of every dollar the federal government spends is borrowed, much of it from China.

We are piling up new debt at the rate of $4 billion a day. Last month was the shortest month of the year, yet the deficit in just that month was the largest in history: $223 billion.

The Republicans in the House of Representatives have stepped up and made difficult spending decisions in their bill to fund the government, HR 1, which would have reduced spending by $57 billion over the next seven months. A competing bill offered by Senate Democrats would have saved just $4.7 billion — but by tomorrow at about this time, we will have piled up as much additional debt as they proposed to save. That's not urgent, that's not responsible, that's not dealing with difficult decisions the way people expect us to.

Both proposals were rejected by the Senate this past week, and while I might not agree with every detail of the House bill — the Senate will have its own priorities when we pass that legislation — I voted for it, because it is a surer step toward reducing the debt.

Greatest threat to U.S.

Forty-seven top economists recently said the debt is the most urgent need facing our country. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says the debt is our biggest national security threat. Economists tell us that debt at this level costs us about 1 million jobs a year.

President Barack Obama himself said in 2009: "What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road. We are not in a position to kick it any further.'' He also said, "My administration is going to seek to work with Congress to execute serious entitlement reform.''

So, I ask respectfully, "Where is the president in this debate?'' His debt commission months ago recommended $4 trillion in savings, saying, "It is long past time for America's leaders to put up or shut up.'' Their report received no support from the president, who offered his budget a few weeks ago with no plan for reducing the debt.

The House is willing to take difficult steps, the Democratic majority says that we can only find an amount that equals the debt we're piling up in one 24-hour period, and the president is missing in action. This is not leadership.

We need the president of the United States to join us in an effort to stop our country from spending money we don't have and in making difficult decisions about spending, so we can ensure the strength and future of our country.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican, is Tennessee's senior senator in Congress.