It's often said that "if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." Unfortunately, this has been the philosophy of the leadership in the United States Senate, which has failed to perform one of its most basic functions - to pass a budget - in the last four years. While this mix of arrogance and incompetence is difficult to stomach, it's indicative of the mentality that too many in Washington, on both sides of the aisle, have had for far too long. The sad truth is that many in Washington forget that it isn't there their money, never has been; it's yours.
America now has a $16.4 trillion debt. Each citizen's share of that debt is $52,000, and each hardworking taxpayer's share of the national debt is now $145,000. Forty-two cents of every dollar that Washington spends is borrowed. These numbers are enormous, and they grow each day. America's maxed out credit card threatens the stability of critically important programs that Americans have paid into for their retirement, particularly Medicare and Social Security. Our debt, some of which is held by competitors like China, is also threatening our national security. In fact, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, called our national debt the "greatest threat to national security" that we face. Specifically, we face the prospect of having the smallest Navy since before World War I and the smallest Air Force since the Air Force became a service in 1947.
As a father and grandfather, the prospect of leaving our children and grandchildren buried in debt with a weakened ability to defend ourselves isn't just financially irresponsible and wrong; it's immoral. The Republican led House of Representatives has tried repeatedly to apply the brakes to Washington's runaway spending problem - which is the root cause of America's fiscal crisis - but, it requires cooperation from the President and Senate to make it happen. Last week, the House passed legislation called the "No Budget, No Pay Act." This legislation, which borrowed from a bill I authored last year called the "Pass A Budget Now Act", would simply prevent members of the House or the Senate from collecting a paycheck if their respective chamber failed to pass a budget by April 15th as required by law.
The good news is that this common sense legislation passed the House with bipartisan support: an overwhelming majority of Republicans joined a sizable group of Democrats in approving it. The "No Budget, No Pay Act" isn't a cure to America's financial troubles, but if the Senate is able to pass it, and if the President is willing to sign it, for the first time in a long time, Washington would agree on a roadmap outlining a plan to reduce the size of the federal government and stop the out of control spending. And, that's a major step in the right direction.
While America's fiscal challenges are significant, they can be solved with common sense and discipline. Hard-working families must live within their budgets; Washington must do the same. But, then again hard-working families earn their income, while too many politicians view the Treasury as their personal slush fund. I am hopeful that when those in Congress who haven't been inclined to make difficult budgeting decisions are faced with the real prospect of not being paid themselves, they'll feel a greater sense of urgency to get things done.
America's credit card is maxed out, and our economy is limping along. America cannot tax its way back to prosperity, nor can the Treasury print our nation back to prosperity. Washington is simply spending more money that it takes in, and this must change. Having Congress and the president agree on a budget, a basic fiscal blueprint, would be a good start to putting America's fiscal house back in order and preserving the American Dream for future generations.
U.S. House of Representative Bill Johnson represents Ohio's 6th Congressional District.