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Column: Marching away from madness

WASHINGTON -- You know March Madness has arrived when a large share of Americans are checking on their NCAA brackets and checking off their tax returns. Traditionally, it's also the season when Congress gets in the zone to hammer out tax and spen...

WASHINGTON - You know March Madness has arrived when a large share of Americans are checking on their NCAA brackets and checking off their tax returns. Traditionally, it’s also the season when Congress gets in the zone to hammer out tax and spending policies for the next federal budget.
It’s the big dance in Washington. Key constituencies have big interest in the outcome, like fans rooting for their home team. But unlike the NCAA tournament, the federal budget is not a game even though irresponsible spending arguably creates winners and losers. In so doing, it has sent America’s fiscal house into financial straits. The gross federal debt is $18.2 trillion and climbing. The nation’s revenue forecast for fiscal 2015 is $3.2 trillion, with a funding gap expected to reach $486 billion.
Change is on the horizon. The Senate this year introduced a budget to curb Washington’s binge-spending syndrome. Ending the march to fiscal madness will help cure the Potomac Fever that over-borrows, over-spends, over-taxes and over-regulates. Centralizing authority in Washington is not the solution to lifelong prosperity for hardworking Americans.
Make no mistake. Marching away from the madness will require a bipartisan consensus between the White House and Congress. It will require discipline and sacrifice to get back on the path to prosperity. Restoring the budgeting process to regular order is a good step in the right direction. Appropriators will roll up their sleeves for the next several weeks and months to work through the committee system and allocate money in a dozen spending bills.
No doubt it takes hard work, sacrifice and discipline to excel in school, athletics and the workplace. Certainly the coaches who led Iowa’s college basketball teams into the NCAA tournament set high bars of expectation for their players.
Athletes who have their sights set on the big dance can’t afford to squander time, talent or training. Households working hard to make ends meet can’t afford frivolous spending. And America can’t afford to have big spenders in Washington march deeper into fiscal madness.
Washington’s tax-borrow-regulate-and-spend mindset digs the public deeper into a whole lot of problems. The president’s budget unveiled in February called for $1.8 trillion in new taxes over the next decade. It outlined a 10-year spending plan that never balances. Taking the path of least resistance, it largely ignored the looming fiscal challenges posed by unsustainable growth in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
By contrast, the U.S. Senate has proposed a more fiscally responsible blueprint that recognizes how the staggering national debt harms economic growth, job creation and our national security. The federal government’s number one priority is to provide for the common defense. If Washington continues to turn over the opportunity to reduce deficits and pay down the debt, a growing share of the nation’s economic output will be sidelined for interest payments on the debt. Under the president’s budget proposal, payments on interest would triple from $230 billion today to more than $800 billion in 10 year s.
Sky high spending ignores a moral responsibility to future generations when Washington borrows and spends on the backs of our children and grandchildren.
Unless Washington builds upon bipartisan teamwork to rein in runaway spending, reform unsustainable entitlement programs and overhaul the loophole-ridden federal tax code, America’s standing as a beacon of hope and prosperity is no slam-dunk. What’s more, the public’s broad approval for more spending, say, on the nation’s defense, roads, bridges, medical research and law enforcement would get benched for mandatory spending on entitlements and the debt.
Instead, Washington’s partisan parlor game monopolizes scarce resources. For the last six years, Congress has confronted fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings, resorting to continuing resolutions and massive omnibus spending bills to keep the federal government open for business. Buzzer-beater policymaking creates uncertainty for federal grant recipients and government contractors who provide public services. It also creates uncertainty for job creators, entrepreneurs and risk-takers in the private sector who factor in tax, regulatory and debt burdens to make investment and hiring decisions.
As Congress legislates tax-and-spending bills through the summer, I will work to steer Washington away from fiscal madness and advance priorities important to Iowans, including rural health care, college savings and tax fairness that reflect a commitment to fiscal discipline and economic growth.
For generations, America has thrived on policies that encourage work, savings and investment. Like the upsets and underdogs that come each year with March Madness, our system of free enterprise and economic mobility has shaped the American Dream and its inherent opportunity for fresh starts and rewards for risk-takers.
Dialing back Washington’s overreach, affirming the separation of powers and balancing the federal budget will rein in the march to madness and help restore the blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for generations to come.

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