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Fiscal responsibility means owning up to costs

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dear Nebraskans,

With the call for fiscal responsibility growing louder and louder, the Senate passed legislation in January that was purported to address irresponsible spending. The bill, nicknamed "Pay As You Go" or PAYGO, was advertised as preventing passage of legislation that would be paid for by adding to our already astronomical national debt. Under PAYGO guidelines, if a bill spends $1 billion, it should produce $1 billion in revenue or spending cuts to offset the cost. However, not advertised in the legislation were numerous exceptions and loopholes rendering it relatively ineffective. Yet even with all the exemptions, supporters of PAYGO are struggling to adhere to their own rules. In just two months, supporters have twice circumvented PAYGO as well as fiscal responsibility.

The champions of PAYGO were quick to celebrate the law when it passed earlier this year. It was supposed to be proof that the days of out-of-control spending in Congress were over. Yet they neglected to mention one thing: the PAYGO provision can be ignored if enough Senators vote to do so, or if legislation is deemed an "emergency."

In February, not even a month after Congressional leaders touted the passage of PAYGO, the Senate took a $15 billion bill to the floor. They were immediately faced with the problem of how to pay for it, since the newly enacted PAYGO legislation prevented its passage without funding. Their solution? A vote to waive PAYGO and add the cost of the bill to our national debt. The notion of paying for what you spend is a laudable and common sense goal; but ignoring the rules when fiscal responsibility is inconvenient is not leadership, it is passing the buck.

Most recently, the Senate last week passed a bill with a $148 billion price tag. PAYGO was once again ignored with approximately two-thirds of the legislation's cost deemed "emergency" spending. Saying you're for fiscal responsibility but voting to waive these budget rules at every turn is not right and will not get our country's fiscal house in order.

In my short 15 months in the Senate, I've been beating the drum loudly for fiscal responsibility, a principle the state of Nebraska embodies. The premise of PAYGO is a step in the right direction, but it contains too many exceptions and Congress is too willing to ignore it when spending decisions get tough. Unfortunately, Congress is patting itself on the back for passing PAYGO with one hand and finding ways to circumvent it with the other. It is disingenuous to American taxpayers who are simply fed up with our out-of-control spending. This is unacceptable to me, and I will continue to seek the same fiscal responsibility in Congress that Nebraskans demand of their government leaders.

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This is why we need a constitutinal balanced budget amendment.

-- Posted by Chaco1 on Tue, Mar 16, 2010, at 10:20 AM

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Sen. Mike Johanns
Sen. Mike Johanns
U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns is a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Nebraska governor and Lincoln mayor.

Address: 404 Russell, Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Phone: (202) 224-4224
Fax: (202) 228-0436

You may contact Senator Johanns by emailing mike_johanns@johanns.senate.gov. If you would like to receive a response from Senator Johanns, please ensure you include your name, full address, and phone number.