April 19, 2014

Some Willing to Make Tough Choices on Federal Budget

The following op-ed by Robert L. Bixby was published in the Nashua Telegraph on May 20, 2012

Guest Commentary

Elected officials face some big fiscal decisions this year. Should cuts in federal income taxes and Social Security taxes be extended? Should “automatic” spending cuts be allowed to take effect next January? If not, what should take their place?

No matter what they decide, the federal debt will begin to bump up against its statutory limit late in the year. This could trigger another embarrassing showdown and harm the nation’s economy and credit rating.

Remarks by elected officials in Washington last week once again showed the deep partisan divisions over these issues.  Yet neither party has the political strength and public credibility to force through its own agenda. And even if they did, their budget plans each have significant weaknesses and omissions.

Compromise and bipartisan cooperation will be needed to get the country on a more responsible and sustainable path – one that involves significant changes throughout the federal budget, designed to spread the necessary sacrifices fairly and phased in as the economy strengthens.

It is encouraging, therefore, that some responsible lawmakers in both parties seem to understand this and are pushing for constructive action.

That includes Rep. Charles Bass, the New Hampshire Republican who this spring co-sponsored a budget resolution based on recommendations from a bipartisan majority of the Simpson-Bowles commission.

The proposal was introduced by Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., and Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio. It called for savings in all parts of the federal budget and included tax reforms designed to lower rates while bringing in more revenues by closing or limiting a range of tax preferences.

In short, everything was on the table and tough choices were made. That is what budgeting is all about.

Not surprisingly, the proposal was attacked by an army of special interests from the right and the left. Nevertheless, 38 House members – 22 Democrats and 16 Republicans – voted for the Cooper-LaTourette proposal. Significantly, it was the only plan to receive bipartisan support.

There is growing frustration with unproductive partisan bickering in Washington and growing confidence that average Americans are ready to support difficult but necessary decisions to fix the federal budget.

Ample evidence of this can be found in New Hampshire and elsewhere. The nonpartisan Concord Coalition, co-chaired by former Sens. Warren B. Rudman, of New Hampshire, and Sam Nunn, of Georgia, conducts public forums and deficit-reduction exercises across the U.S.

Over and over again, we see ordinary citizens of all ages and backgrounds discuss their different perspectives on federal budget priorities and reach common ground. Why, they ask, can’t more of their elected representatives do the same?   

It requires political courage and a firm commitment to put broad national interests above all else. Bass and the other House members who voted for Cooper-LaTourette showed such courage and commitment – even in the face of intense lobbying from special interests.

Those lawmakers deserve recognition and appreciation for their willingness to make the sorts of tough choices that many others in Washington have ducked.

The good news is that efforts are under way to build on the Cooper-LaTourette vote. Other House members have expressed interest in supporting a broad, bipartisan approach to the country’s fiscal challenges. A bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Six” continues work on another plan that would follow the fiscal commission’s lead.

Without comprehensive reform, we will leave our children and future generations with huge government debts, higher taxes, lower living standards and a diminished international role for the United States.

It is good to know that at least some far-sighted members of Congress are working to ensure a stronger and more vibrant future for our country.