Ferguson: The big lie we tell ourselves in the budget process
Like many Americans, before I ran for and was elected to Congress, I could not comprehend why our nation’s leaders could not seem to balance the federal budget. Any family or business owner must do this every year, so why was Congress failing?
When I became a member of the Committee on the Budget, I saw firsthand how the Congressional budget and spending process enables Congress to avoid the true drivers of our annual debt and deficit. No matter the party in the majority, the results always seem to be the same.
A budget resolution is essentially a blue print of how we determine our long-term priorities, while the appropriations process determines how those priorities are funded in the short term. Because of our mandatory spending obligations, automatic federal spending not subject to annual oversight, there is no vehicle to resolve our long-term priorities and our short-term necessities. Currently 70% of anticipated revenues must be reserved for mandatory spending programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. This leaves just 30% of the budget for the rest of our obligations like national defense, highways and education.
Because of this discrepancy, it is impossible to balance the federal budget in one year. Instead, Congress lays out a blueprint that shows the policies required to balance the budget in ten years. This plan can include a combination of cuts, revenue growth and mandatory spending reforms. Often, this is viewed more as a vision than as a concrete policy plan, and year after year, these policies are not enacted.
What we need is the legislation courage to follow through on a realistic policy plan to balance the budget and curb our out of control spending.
To solve this problem, the usual political rhetoric must be put aside if we are to avoid a fiscal crisis. Otherwise, any idea put forth by one side will be vilified by the other and we will find no middle ground. This solution will certainly be difficult and even politically uncomfortable, but the alternative is a string of broken promises and a burden on future generations.
Changing the Congressional budget and spending process is fundamental to addressing the potential fiscal crisis facing America. This is not ultimately a conversation about numbers and money, but one about the Americans who are relying on the commitments we made to them.
As a member of the Committee on the Budget, I will continue to urge my colleagues to have the courage to change the tenor of political discourse and take action to keep our promises to the American people.
Drew Ferguson is the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 3rd congressional district. He formerly served as the mayor of West Point.