When I'm home on weekends people talk to me about their jobs, their families and, often these days, what Washington should do to bring down the national debt.
One thing I don't hear them telling me to do is raise their taxes. Nebraskans tell me Washington should cut spending first and I always keep that in mind when I'm at work in the U.S. Senate.
That's why a letter I recently got from a handful of my Senate colleagues caught my attention. They were upset with some budget cuts I've proposed. They made an argument you hear a lot in Washington: cut spending but don't cut this budget or that program. It's too important.
If Washington follows that advice as it tries to make major budget cuts this Fall, you'll be counting the savings with pennies.
I am Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, which handles spending for Capitol Hill. This includes budgets for the Capitol Police, the Architect of the Capitol, the Library of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, and our own office budgets as senators or representatives.
Since I became chairman several years ago, I've worked in a bipartisan way to reduce Legislative Branch spending. This year, Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, the ranking member on my committee, and I put together a Legislative Branch bill that cuts 5.2 percent in fiscal year 2012. That cuts several hundred million dollars.
We made responsible and real cuts, and were pleased it got strong bipartisan backing when it was sent to the full Senate for consideration.
It wasn't a much of surprise, however, to get the letter from my colleagues raising a red flag. While they welcomed the cutting Senator Hoeven and I did overall, they singled out one agency they said should be exempt and called the proposed cuts excessive.
In my view, there will always be someone's favored agency or program that will have to do with less.
For months I've talked about the need for shared sacrifice to tackle the debt. While I certainly will listen to people's concerns, and there could be more pushback from others in Congress, I won't back down from that principle.
Too often, Washington just doesn't get it.
People in Washington say they want to cut spending, until the hard choices have to be made. I stand by our bill because I'm ready to make hard choices. Moreover, the example our bill sets can be a model for all of Washington.
The reality is the bureaucracy never wants to be cut. I learned that when we had to tighten the belt to balance the state budget all eight years I was governor of Nebraska. We always had to do what people told us we couldn't do, but we got it done anyway.
This is such a time in Washington. Washington has to cut spending in a responsible way, with shared sacrifice, by working together, and it won't be easy. Our future, the economy and jobs for thousands of Nebraskans and millions of Americans, depend on it.