Weekly Columns

Changing the Debate

Senator John Boozman's Column for the Week of April 25, 2011

Apr 25 2011

For far too many years, the budget debates in Washington have focused on how much we spend on programs, rather than where we can rein in federal funds.  Programs, regardless of the degree of success, seemed bound to get some money every year.

Today, instead of arguing over how much to spend, Washington is focused on where to cut. While some call this a sea change, I call it a return to common-sense.

Just a few years ago, the President and his allies were taking to the airwaves touting their “stimulus” bill as the answer to our nation’s economic woes.  In their minds, we could spend our way to prosperity by giving money to a variety of pet projects.  At the time the “stimulus” was signed into law, the national unemployment rate was 8.2%.  Today, a full two years later, we are yet to see a national unemployment rate that is below pre-“stimulus” levels.

President Obama is not likely to acknowledge the failure of his free-spending approach anytime soon.  However, the public’s message of “enough” has clearly resonated in Washington, and has forced a dramatic shift in the President’s tenor.  There is no talk of another “stimulus” bill coming from the White House; President Obama has finally joined sides with those of us who support a ban on earmarks; and, perhaps the most telling sign that the debate dynamics have shifted, the President agreed to funding a  continuing resolution that reduces spending by $38 billion through September of this year. 

The cuts in the continuing resolution set the groundwork for the battles that lie ahead: the 2012 budget and the president’s request that we raise the debt ceiling.  The only way will we get a handle on this situation is to reform the manner in which we budget and allocate federal dollars.  It is time we demand a balanced budget amendment to our Constitution, or a similar mechanism, to stop the government from spending beyond its means.

If we fail to act, our country will end up in financial trouble like Greece, Portugal and other European nations whose unsustainable debt crises have forced the international community to bail them out.  This is not an option for us.  We have to address this long-term problem with a long-term solution and I believe we may finally be on the way.

This year may yet be the year that Washington turned the corner.  We are pushing conversation in the right direction and getting support from those who resisted change for the longest time, including the President himself.

This is a battle that will be won in measured steps, not leaps.  However, the fact that the dynamics of the debate have turned 180 degrees in our favor is a monumental change.  Now, we must take that momentum and finish the job.