Weekly Column by U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.): We Must Reduce Spending and Meet Our Financial Obligations

Posted on July 22, 2011

As Congress continues the important debt ceiling discussion, we have two goals before us: first, to take a significant step to reduce our federal debt and stop Washington from spending money it doesn't have; second, to do so in a way that honors the financial obligations of the United States of America, the most creditworthy country in the world. 


There is every reason in the world to regard the debt ceiling decision we have to make as an opportunity to take a significant step to reduce the debt. We can do that while still honoring our financial obligations, and we should. 


Republicans have offered several major ideas for taking a significant step toward stopping Washington from spending money it doesn't have and I support a number of these different proposals.  


This week the Senate began consideration of one of these proposals, the “Cut, Cap, and Balance Act,” which passed the House with 234 votes. The bill had 37 cosponsors in the Senate – I am proud to be one of them.


The Cut, Cap, and Balance Act was introduced by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) and I especially commend him for his work on putting this bill together and doing it in a way that would attract the largest amount of support. 


Unfortunately the Senate Majority voted to shelve this proposal, which aims to control spending in a government that borrows 40 cents out of every dollar it spends, a government that economists tell us is costing our nation one million jobs because of the high level of debt.


This plan also offered a good way to meet our two urgent goals: it takes a significant step to reduce our debt and does so in a way that honors our financial obligations. 


As I think about these goals, I think about a friend of mine in Tennessee who pays his bills out of a cigar box. When a bill comes in, he puts it in a cigar box.  Another bill comes in and he puts that one in the box.  Next week some money comes in and my friend reaches into to his cigar box, pulls out a bill, and pays it.  When a little more money comes in the next week, he pulls out another bill, and pays it. 


Now what happens when my friend goes down to the local bank and says: “I would like to borrow some money in order to pay my bills”? The banker would likely say: “I am sorry, but we are reluctant to loan money to you because we don't know whom you are going to pay.  You might reach into your cigar box and pay the whiskey store instead of the bank.  You might pay the grocery store instead of the principal on your loan.  You might pay the service station before you pay us.  Because you selectively pay your bills out of your cigar box, you are not a good risk.  We are going to charge you more to borrow money or we are not going to loan you money at all.”


That is the risk we take if we play around with this idea of the United States of America -- the most creditworthy country in the world -- selectively paying its bills. What if, after August 2--when we are told sometime in that month we will begin to not have enough money to pay all our bills-- we decided  not to raise our debt ceiling and that we would pay our bills out of a cigar box? 


We are perfectly capable as a country of fiscally disciplining ourselves. We are capable of reducing our debt and of stopping spending money we don't have and, at the same time, avoiding turning the most creditworthy nation in the world into a country that pays its bills out of a cigar box.


Although Senate Democrats have shelved the Cut, Cap and Balance Act, our job is still to get a result. And that’s what I am working to do. The American people expect us to do that. They have to do that in their everyday lives.


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