"Preserving Our Freedom by Getting Out of Debt"
By Kelly Ayotte, Special to the Union Leader
On Independence Day, we celebrate the birth of our country and the bedrock principles of freedom for which this nation stands - our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
While the colonists earned America's independence by triumphing in the Revolutionary War, the fight to protect our cherished freedoms is a daily battle. And right now in Washington, the debate that's occurring about America's out-of-control spending will significantly impact the future of our economic independence.
Because all Americans have a stake in the outcome of debt reduction negotiations that are underway on Capitol Hill, it is important to understand the reality of the challenges we face. The decisions that are made in the weeks ahead will have a direct bearing on the kind of country we leave behind for future generations.
At this time, nearly half of America's debt is foreign-owned. That includes more than $1 trillion held by China. A generation ago, 5 percent of American debt was held by foreign nations. By spending beyond our means, we're rapidly ceding our fiscal autonomy to Chinese bankers and foreign financiers, many of whom don't share our priorities or values.
The further we sink into debt, the more enslaved our children and grandchildren will become to foreign governments - threatening American liberty. This year, we are projected to spend $196 billion on interest payments to our debtors. If we don't change course, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates debt payments will grow by more than 300 percent (over $800 billion) in the next 10 years.
Astoundingly, even with three consecutive years of $1 trillion-plus budget gaps and more than $14 trillion in gross debt, it has been nearly 800 days since the Democrat-controlled Senate last passed a budget.
When the Senate Majority Leader recently said it would be "foolish" for his conference to propose a spending plan, I led Senate Republicans in an effort calling on him to initiate an open, honest and serious budget debate.
Of even greater concern, the United States will reach its statutory debt limit as early as next month. Without conveying a serious plan to significantly reduce federal spending, the President has asked Congress to once again raise the amount that our country can legally borrow. As a reminder, then-Sen. Obama voted in 2006 against raising the debt ceiling, saying that Washington was shifting "the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren."
With the deadline looming, the President and Congress have an historic opportunity to end the federal government's harmful addiction to deficit spending. Now is the time to significantly reduce federal outlays and pass meaningful budget reforms - without which I cannot in good conscience vote to raise our debt ceiling.
One of the most important steps Congress can take to force Washington to tighten its belt is to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. In the weeks ahead, my Senate colleagues and I will be pushing for a vote on this key spending reform, which would require the President to produce a balanced budget each year and help ensure that Congress lives within its means.
Congress also needs to put in place a strict cap on federal spending. I am supporting bipartisan legislation that would establish a 10-year path to cap all spending - discretionary and mandatory - to a declining percentage of the country's GDP, eventually bringing spending down from the current level, 24.1 percent of GDP, to the 40-year historical level of 20.6 percent. This is a commonsense proposal that should be passed.
Finally, the President needs to take a leadership role in presenting a plan that preserves our entitlement programs. Medicare and Social Security are headed for insolvency as early as 2024 and 2036, respectively. Both parties need to come together now to put these programs on a sustainable trajectory for current and future beneficiaries.
It has been said that "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance." As we celebrate the birth of our nation, it is important for all Americans to realize that preserving America's economic freedom will require tough decisions and shared sacrifice. Our liberty depends on it.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., lives in Nashua and is a member of the Senate Budget Committee.