US Senator Mike Rounds’ Weekly Column: A Better Way to Decide How Congress Spends Your Tax Dollars

Rounds Logo 2016 MikeRounds official SenateA Better Way to Decide How Congress Spends Your Tax Dollars
By Senator Mike Rounds 

Determining how the federal government spends your taxpayer dollars is an important responsibility. Congress, in conjunction with the president, is tasked with deciding how to fund federal programs and various agencies through careful debate and consideration. Unfortunately, that is not happening today. Instead of thoughtful debate, too often in recent years Congress has passed spending bills that largely maintain the status quo and fail to bring about any meaningful discussions about whether federal programs and policies are working effectively and responsibly. It is broken and inefficient.

This was evident when Congress passed a short-term bill to fund the government past the end of the fiscal year, once again barely meeting our deadline as concerns about a partial shutdown of government services loomed. Many of us in Congress, along with the American people, are rightly frustrated by this last-minute reprieve. It is a reminder of our broken federal budget process – and why we can no longer afford to continue down this dangerous path.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report earlier this year that forecast a grim future for the U.S. if we fail to get our federal budget in order. The report found that by the year 2026, just 10 years from now, deficits will double as a share of GDP to 4.9 percent and more than triple in dollar terms to $1.37 trillion. It also found that in 2026, 99 percent of revenue will go to mandatory payments and net interest spending, leaving no room to pay for roads, healthcare, our armed forces or education.

The report concluded that the driver of this rising debt is largely from growing mandatory payments– Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – as well as interest on our debt. Yet, here in the Senate, when we work through the appropriations process to determine the best way to spend Americans hard-earned taxpayer dollars, we don’t even vote on mandatory payments —programs that account for nearly three-quarters of all federal spending.

All the funding bills we debate in Congress, including the continuing resolution we recently voted on, only cover approximately 28 percent of our annual spending. Yet the CBO report, just like many other projections and reports have concluded in the past, the biggest driver of spending isn’t the $1.1 trillion we actually are able to amend and debate in Congress, it is part of the other $2.7 trillion dollars that is on auto-pilot, and it is growing at an alarming rate. In other words, our fiscal crisis will continue to grow if we do nothing about these auto-pilot programs which we in Congress do not debate and consider. It is another symptom of a broken system and another example of the importance of reviving the federal budget process.

I have been working with other senators to come up with some serious proposals on how to change the budget process so we can have thoughtful debate on how and where all federal money is spent, not just one-quarter of it. Doing so will help make government more efficient and bring long-term stability to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and the people these programs are meant to benefit. 

We owe it to every American to be responsible stewards of their hard-earned money. We can no longer afford to kick the can down the road.


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