We Shouldn’t Wait 20 Years

Congressman Joe Pitts

Every homeowner knows the threat that termites play to a home, especially one with a wooden frame. When termites are discovered, the best thing to do is to get rid of the problem immediately. While the infestation could go on for months or years before the house would collapse, it is much easier and less expensive to deal with the problem as soon as you know about it.

Our federal government is like a house with termites, our debts haven’t eaten away the beams supporting the house, but they are going to get there if we do nothing. The sooner we act, the easier it will be to fix these problems.

Not everyone agrees. In a recent interview with MSNBC, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was asked about whether he would consider any changes to Social Security to keep the program from going bankrupt in 2037. His reply, “Two decades from now I am willing to take a look at it.”

Social Security is a vital program for retired Americans, who have paid into it with every paycheck. The government created a trust fund to hold these payments, but borrowed money out of it every year for decades. While it will be years before the fund is drained, in the meantime more and more general revenue will be needed to pay benefits.

Last year, for the first time in decades, Social Security took in less in revenues than it paid out in benefits. Since general revenue fell short of government expenses by more than $1.6 trillion dollars, Social Security was just one of the many programs contributing to the national debt.

We could wait 20 years to do anything, but waiting only makes it harder to ensure that Social Security will be there for every generation of Americans.

Right now, House and Senate negotiators are trying to hammer out an agreement on funding the federal government for the rest of the year. So far, only the House has passed a plan, one that would cut $61 billion from current spending.

Over the course of two short-term bills, Congress has already cut $10 billion. Many of these cuts had broad support, but also demonstrate just how foolish the federal government is when it comes to spending. The Census Bureau budget was reduced, but since they don’t actually have to perform a full census next year there is no reason why their budget for this year ever should have been as large as it was. We also cut funding for the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial celebrations, all of which occurred last year.

Many have noted that even the $61 billion in cuts passed by the House pales in comparison to the deficit. Monthly deficits will average over $200 billion this year. I know we need to do more, but by cutting now we save much more down the road. The House Republican plan reduces the baseline budget figures for many agencies. Over the coming years, this initial savings would grow to more than $400 billion.

House Republicans aren’t the only ones who are serious about tackling problems now. This week, Blue Dog Democrats in the House introduced a plan to cut the deficit by $4 trillion over the next ten years. The co-chairs of the President’s Debt Commission, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, have remained engaged in the debate even though the President has not embraced their recommendations. A group of Senators known as the “Gang of Six” are trying to reach an agreement on debt reduction based on these recommendations.

Many in Washington know that waiting is not an alternative. I believe that most Americans know this to be true also. Here in Washington, we have a responsibility to honestly and openly debate the problem and solutions. We also must have a commitment to stop ignoring the termites.

We can’t remove politics from this process, but we can remove pettiness. We have a divided government, but we should not be a divided nation. Now is the time to fix our budget problems, waiting until the house collapses will only make it harder to put the pieces back together.

Congressman Joe Pitts represents the 16th Congressional District of Pennsylvania.