Weekly remarks: GOP's Portman says spending must be controlled; Obama sees need for new investments
I’m Rob Portman. I am proud to represent the people of Ohio as a new United States senator. What I heard in my travels to every county in Ohio over the past couple of years, and what I continue to hear across our state, is a deep concern over jobs and the future of our economy. There is an understandable frustration with Washington's failure to address even the most basic problems.
People are looking for leadership to help create jobs and opportunity, and instead what they see is the same, tired political responses. We were told two years ago this month that the way to grow the economy was through bigger government, more spending and more borrowing.
The stimulus plan ended up costing over a trillion dollars when you include the interest on the money that had to be borrowed to pay for it. It was a grand experiment that failed.
It not only failed to produce new jobs, an economic boost the Obama administration promised, the trillion-dollar price tag, combined with higher levels of spending across government, added....
So we've had to relearn the lesson we all know in our hearts: You can't spend your way to prosperity. As American families have tightened their belts over the past couple of years and businesses have had to do more with less, the federal government has taken the opposite path, spending more, growing bigger and becoming more involved in our economy and our lives.
This historic failure to control spending directly affects our economy and the ability to create jobs. It pushes up interest rates, crowds out private investment and leaves us with three bad choices: either far higher taxes, even more borrowing, or both. Left unchecked, these mounting debts could lead to the kind of financial crises we’ve seen in Greece and other countries.
At the same time, job creators tell us Washington has added to the uncertainty by pursuing other policies that stifle job growth, including onerous new federal regulations, a tax code that expires, making it a political football, unpredictable rising healthcare costs and an increasing reliance on the Mideast and other volatile parts of the world for our energy. It’s time to change course.
There is an urgency about this that the American people get even while many in Washington seem to be in denial. We must rise to the challenge and work together to meet our economic and fiscal problems head-on by putting in place pro-growth measures and spending restraint, and we must do it now.
This means enacting new tax policies that take away uncertainty and encourage innovation and investment and make us more competitive in a global economy. It means real healthcare reform that truly reduces costs, helping working families and small businesses afford access and addressing the biggest cost-driver in entitlement programs that everyone acknowledges are unsustainable.
It means sensible regulatory reform that reverses the growing burdens on employers that drive jobs overseas. It means a national energy policy that uses our own resources to stop our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, and it means stopping the red ink that threatens to swamp our economy.
Once a year presidents are required to submit a federal budget that sets out a vision for the coming year and into the future. It is a leadership opportunity and a solemn responsibility. There was a lot of anticipation surrounding the president's budget release last week.
After all, President Obama had repeatedly and eloquently described the dire fiscal condition of the nation and he promised action. In last year’s budget proposal, he established a fiscal commission that issued a stern report in November calling for deep spending reductions to stave off a fiscal and economic disaster.
The president himself has rightly pointed out, ‘What we have done is kicked the can down the road,’ and ‘we are now at the end of the road and [are] not in a position to kick it any further.’
And, yet, the president's budget did exactly that. He rejected the dire warnings and recommendations of his own fiscal commission and not only kicked the can down the road but made the road more perilous by advocating deeper debt and ignoring bipartisan calls for entitlement reform and pro-growth policies, including tax reform and regulatory restraint.
Instead of making the tough choices all Americans know are necessary to get our fiscal house in order and strengthen our economy, the president's budget locks in the higher levels of spending over the past two years and doubles the national debt. As the Democrat co-chairman of the president's fiscal commission said, ‘It goes nowhere near where they’ll have to go’ to address our fiscal problems.
Having chosen to duck the tough choices for the coming year and beyond, the president and Democrats in Congress are now objecting to any reductions in spending Congress can control in the current budget year. This is despite the fact that this year's $1.6-trillion deficit is at record levels, and over the past two years under Democrat leadership, this type of spending has increased 24%, and over 80% if you include the stimulus.
Our goal as Republicans is to make sensible reductions in this spending and create a better environment for job growth, not to shut down the government. Getting our debt and deficits under control is the first step we can take, and the single most important step Washington can take, to get our economy moving and create the jobs we so badly need.
In Ohio and around the country, people are looking for common-sense leadership to get us back on track. They know what we Americans are capable of, the innovation, invention and millions of new jobs that are within our grasp if Washington will act with resolve to create the climate for success. But they know that we risk the American dream becoming a fiscal nightmare if we do not act, and act now, to do what's right. Thank you for listening. ####
Over the last month, I’ve been traveling the country, talking to Americans about how we can out-educate, out-innovate and out-build the rest of the world. Doing that will require a government that lives within its means and cuts whatever spending we can afford to do without. But it will also require investing in our nation’s future -- training and educating our workers; increasing our commitment to research and technology; building new roads and bridges, high-speed rail and high-speed Internet.
In cities and towns throughout America, I’ve seen the benefits of these investments. The schools and colleges of Oregon are providing Intel -- the state’s largest private employer -- with a steady stream of highly educated workers and engineers. At Parkville Middle School outside of Baltimore, engineering is the most popular subject, thanks to outstanding teachers who are inspiring students to focus on their math and science skills.
In Wisconsin, a company called Orion is putting hundreds of people to work manufacturing energy-efficient lights in a once-shuttered plant. And in the small community of Marquette, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, widely accessible high-speed Internet has allowed students and entrepreneurs to connect to the global economy. One small business, a third-generation, family-owned clothing shop called Getz’s is now selling their products online, which has helped them double their workforce and make them one of America’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies in a recent listing.
Each of these places reminds us that investments in education, innovation and infrastructure are an essential down payment on our future. But they also remind us that the only way we can afford these investments is by getting our fiscal house in order. Just like any family, we have to live within our means to make room for things we absolutely need.
That’s why I’ve called for a freeze on annual domestic spending over the next five years -- a freeze that would cut the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, bringing this kind of spending to its lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president. Just to be clear, that’s lower than it was under the past three administrations, and lower than it was under Ronald Reagan.
Now, putting this budget freeze in place will require tough choices. That’s why I’ve frozen salaries for hardworking civil servants for three years, and proposed cutting programs I care about deeply, like community action programs in low-income neighborhoods. I’m not taking these steps lightly -- but I’m taking them because our economic future demands it.
Still, a freeze in annual domestic spending is just a start. If we’re serious about tackling our long-run fiscal challenges, we also need to cut excessive spending wherever we find it -- in defense spending, spending in Medicare and Medicaid, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes.
I’m willing to consider any serious ideas to help us reduce the deficit -- no matter what party is proposing them. But instead of cutting the investments in education and innovation we need to out-compete the rest of the world, we need a balanced approach to deficit reduction. We all need to be willing to sacrifice, but we can’t sacrifice our future.
Next week, Congress will focus on a short-term budget. For the sake of our people and our economy, we cannot allow gridlock to prevail. Both Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate have said they believe it’s important to keep the government running while we work together on a plan to reduce our long-term deficit.
Given that, I urge and expect them to find common ground so we can accelerate, not impede, economic growth. It won’t be easy. There will be plenty of debates and disagreements, and neither party will get everything it wants. Both sides will have to compromise.
That’s what it will take to do what’s right for our country. And I look forward to working with members of both parties to produce a responsible budget that cuts what we can’t afford, sharpens America’s competitive edge in the world, and helps us win the future. Thanks everyone, and have a nice weekend. ####
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Photos: Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press; Alex Brandon / Associated Press (Portman); Pete Souza / White House.