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It’s not news to say that we are living through challenging times: The worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. A credit crisis that has made that downturn worse. And a fiscal disaster that has accumulated over a period of years.
In the year 2000, we had projected budget surpluses in the trillions, and Washington appeared to be on the road to fiscal stability. Eight years later, when I walked in the door, the projected budget deficit for this year alone was $1.3 trillion. And in order to jumpstart our struggling economy, we were forced to make investments that added to that deficit through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
But as surely as our future depends on building a new energy economy, controlling health care costs and ensuring that our kids are once again the best educated in the world, it also depends on restoring a sense of responsibility and accountability to our federal budget. Without significant change to steer away from ever-expanding deficits and debt, we are on an unsustainable course.
So today, we simply cannot afford to perpetuate a system in Washington where politicians and bureaucrats make decisions behind closed doors, with little accountability for the consequences; where billions are squandered on programs that have outlived their usefulness, or exist solely because of the power of a lobbyist or interest group; and where outdated technology and information systems undermine efficiency, threaten our security, and fail to serve an engaged citizenry.
If we’re to going to rebuild our economy on a solid foundation, we need to change the way we do business in Washington. We need to restore the American people’s confidence in their government — that it is on their side, spending their money wisely, to meet their families’ needs.
That starts with the painstaking work of examining every program, every entitlement, every dollar of government spending and asking ourselves: Is this program really essential? Are taxpayers getting their money’s worth? Can we accomplish our goals more efficiently or effectively some other way?
It’s a process we have already begun, scouring our budget line by line for programs that don’t work so we can cut them to make room for ones that do. That means ending tax breaks for companies shipping jobs overseas; stopping the fraud and abuse in our Medicare program; and reforming our health care system to cut costs for families and businesses. It means strengthening whisteblower protections for government employees who step forward to report wasteful spending. And it means reinstating the pay-as-you-go rule that we followed during the 1990s — so if we want to spend, we’ll need to find somewhere else to cut.