Op-Ed: Nation’s financial crisis is why I went to Washington

One year ago, I decided to step up to the plate and run for the U.S. Senate. I made that decision because I believe that for too long, elected officials from both parties have not told the American people the truth. Their intentions may have been good, but many simply did not understand the long-term consequences of their actions. They took an oath to defend the Constitution, but ignored a primary purpose of that document – to define and limit government.

In 1902, the federal government spent an amount that was equal to about 2 percent of the size of America’s economy at that time. This year, federal government spending will account for over 24 percent of our nation’s economy. We will borrow 40 cents for every dollar spent, and add $1.5 trillion to our nation’s debt.

This was not our Founders’ vision. This is not limited government. It is irresponsible and risks our economic future. Government programs were created with little thought as to how they would be sustained over succeeding generations.

The population bubble of the baby boom generation, together with significant gains in life expectancy, simply were not accounted for.

According to the U.S. Debt Clock, the unfunded liability (the amount of money we need today to honor the promises made) of the three largest entitlement programs is larger than the entire asset base of the United States ($113 trillion vs. $78 trillion).

We have already amassed a mountain of debt ($14.3 trillion) that will crush the hopes and dreams of future generations unless we take action now.

We are committing intergenerational theft by mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren.

That is immoral. It has to stop. This is not a pleasant reality that I am describing.

But it is a reality that we must face. Returning fiscal sanity to our nation will not be easy, but the steps we must take are relatively straightforward.

The most important component of a solution is economic growth. But in order to get our economy moving, we need to restore confidence by developing a credible plan to control spending.

Any family that has successfully dug themselves out of personal debt understands the need to cut up the credit cards and stop digging a deeper hole. This should be our nation’s first step as well.

One of the reasons our federal deficit is almost 1,000 times larger than Wisconsin’s annual deficit ($1.5 trillion vs $1.8 billion) is because, unlike our state, the federal government does not have a Constitutional requirement to balance its budget. We should amend the U.S. Constitution to cap spending and produce a balanced budget. We also need a budget statute that will limit spending immediately, before a Constitutional Amendment can take effect.

Once these controls are in place, Washington will be forced to prioritize spending.

It is also important that everything (defense, entitlements, and other mandatory spending) be on the table, and that every program has an honest accounting and justification. This shouldn’t merely be a political option. If our nation is going to get federal spending under control, it needs to be the law.

Reforms like these seem pretty basic – at least to me. Most Americans live their lives within budgets, and they re-examine their spending on an ongoing basis. The fact that the federal government doesn’t do the same thing shows how broken Washington really is.

My work as an accountant and manufacturer taught me the importance of these basic disciplines. The need for reforms like these is why I came to Washington. One year later, it remains my top priority.

Ron Johnson is a Republican U.S. Senator from Wisconsin.

Herald Times Reporter