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Congressman Tom Cole

Representing the 4th District of Oklahoma

The Need To Reform The Drivers Of Our Debt

February 19, 2018
Weekly Columns
There is no question Congress must put our fiscal house in order. The debate surrounding spending cuts and increases, fundamental budgetary reform, and raising revenue will only intensify in the face of an exploding debt.  
 
Each February, the President submits a budget to Congress outlining spending proposals for the upcoming fiscal year. The President has just submitted the budget for fiscal year 2019 to Congress and the document includes some shared goals with the Administration, such as fortifying our borders, investing in infrastructure and combating the opioid epidemic just to name a few. Republicans have also supported the President’s goal for increased defense spending and improving our national security. The budget caps agreement recently passed by Congress allows for $700 billion and $716 billion respectively for defense in the next two years. This provides the necessary funding to restore readiness and improve war-fighting capabilities. President Trump’s recently submitted budget advocates for $686 billion for the Department of Defense, which is in line with the recently agreed-upon budget deal.
 
However, in light of our country’s mandatory spending and massive interest payments on the debt, I do have concerns long-standing on the budget. The White House budget proposal, sent to Congress last Monday, is projected to have $3.1 trillion in outlays in mandatory spending, including interest, out of the $4.4 trillion budget for fiscal year 2019. The Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney says erasing the budget shortfall in a decade isn’t realistic, and our national debt continues to grow, eating into other budget areas.
 
We can all agree that we should make necessary cuts to programs that contribute to wasteful spending, but the only solution is to recognize and address the real drivers of our debt – major entitlement spending. Without reforms, areas like the Social Security Trust Fund will be depleted by 2034 according to the latest Social Security Trustees’ Report. 
 
My colleague Congressman John Delaney of Maryland and I have introduced bipartisan legislation to create a national, bi-partisan commission composed of 13 members from both the Executive and Legislative branches with the goal to reform Social Security. The commission’s purpose would be to develop solutions that could achieve 75-year solvency within 1 year of enactment and force Congress to consider it under expedited procedures. Appointed by leaders in both parties, any recommendation by the commission must reach a 9 out of 13 vote threshold. The, Congress would vote up or down, without amendment the commission’s recommendations. Every year that we delay addressing the issue, the solutions become more expensive and more painful, and continue to put our children and grandchildren even deeper in debt.
 
Last week, the House Budget Committee held a hearing to discuss the President’s budget with Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. In his testimony, Director Mulvaney stated that the federal budget was just a ‘messaging tool.’ Indeed, the President’s budget requests have some good intentions, but Congress will have the final say with its own budget release in the coming months. It is in our hands to take the first step and finally do something about spending reforms and tackle the debate on debt. The long-term sustainability of mandatory spending programs like Social Security and Medicare is in danger if we do not make necessary reforms. Furthermore, it is imperative that any budget moving forward addresses the realities of mandatory spending and balances itself in the long term.