U.S. is on fiscal thin ice


WASHINGTON — Everything in Washington D.C. is about money: who has it, who doesn’t and who wants more.

There are several emerging voices in Congress, however, who are talking about money in more serious tones these days, and they sound like instructors of Finance 101: We’re spending more than we’re taking in.

“We are on real thin ice,” said U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, speaking March 13 to Ohio Farm Bureau county presidents visiting Washington D.C. “We are really fiscally irresponsible.”

Tossing out numbers like a sports fanatic memorizes stats, Voinovich says the current budget deficit is $371 billion and if you disregard the Social Security surplus that can’t be touched, the government’s operating deficit is actually $566 million.

The national debt is $9 trillion — and your individual share of the federal debt is $30,000, Voinovich said.

Task force

He urged support for a Bipartisan Commission for Responsible Fiscal Action, championed by Kent Conrad, D-N.D., the Senate budget committee chairman, and Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the committee’s ranking member.

The commission, Voinovich told the Ohioans, would examine all federal programs and agencies to identify programs that have outlived their purpose, operate inefficiently or aren’t producing results.

The task force would make legislative recommendations to Congress and the administration. To present a united, bipartisan front, at least three-quarters of the task force, or 12 of the 16 members, must agree to the recommendations before the report can be submitted.

Conrad and Gregg are also seeking a legislative “fast track” to these recommendations, meaning it has to be considered by the full House and Senate within five days, and that Congress can only vote up or down on the bill and not get a chance to open it up for more tinkering, something lawmakers are often loath to agree to.

A companion effort has been introduced in the House by Reps. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., and Frank Wolf, R-Va. To date, neither bill has seen any action.

“We’ve got to get our financial house in order,” Voinovich said. “What a horrible legacy to leave our children.”

Blue Dogs on the trail

Across the Hill in the House — and across the political aisle from Voinovich — the Blue Dog Coalition is also calling for increased fiscal responsibility.

Two of Ohio’s freshmen congressman, Zach Space from the 18th district and Charlie WilsonCharlie Wilson from the 6th, are among the 37 conservative and moderate Democrats who make up the Blue Dogs, so named because their views had been “choked blue” by their own parties up until the mid-1990s.

Turn to their Web site and you find a national debt clock, ticking the total debt and the portion “owed” by each U.S. resident. Wander through the House office buildings and you find national debt posters on easels outside the Blue Dogs’ offices.

The group, Space told the Ohioans visiting his office March 13, is a “check on the dangers of extremism,” fiscal or otherwise.

Hot water

Most recently, the coalition is watching H.R. 2421, the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007, something on the minds of the Farm Bureau presidents as they visited the Hill.
Both the House and the Senate bill, S. 1870, would delete the term “navigable’ from the Clean Water Act, something opponents like the Farm Bureau say would expand federal jurisdiction to include groundwater, ditches, farm ponds and culverts.

The bill, Space said, is a “subject of considerable concern to me” because of inconsistent interpretations.

He and enough other Blue Dogs approached House leaders to get their attention and Space told the Ohio farm leaders that he thinks the “reauthorization will be something we can live with.”

‘It’s scary’

Ohio’s Jim Jordan has only been in D.C. for 14 months, but he, too, has taken up fiscal responsibility as a battlecry.

Politicians “can’t be stupid,” he told the Ohio farm group during a Hill briefing March 12.

“We spend too much and it’s going to cause a lot of problems in the not-too-distant future,” Jordan said. “It’s scary.”

The Republican estimates the U.S. has a five- to 10-year window to address the spending issue, “or then it gets difficult.”

If he ruled the Hill, Jordan would get tough and, outside of defense spending, hold the line on all appropriations, meaning no budget increases. He also backs a commission-type effort to study programs and recommend what’s worth funding and what’s not.

“We can’t just keep kicking the can down the road,” Jordan said.

(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at editor@farmanddairy.com.)

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