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Harms: It’s time for some political courage

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opinion Dickinson, 58602
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

By Robert Harms

With the government shutdown behind us, it’s time we take a hard look at what just happened — not to assign blame, but to avoid repeating it. But, you can’t be in the middle of a political brawl and then pretend you have no responsibility for the fight.

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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., recently called for more “political courage” in addressing our nation’s challenges. We could start solving those problems by showing more statesmanship and less name calling of those who disagree with us. There is enough blame in Washington for everyone.

So, how did the U.S. get in this mess?

First, understand we have a divided government. Democrats control the Senate and White House, Republicans the House. We can’t allow that to become an excuse for gridlock. Our government was built on checks and balances. No one body can simply impose its will upon the other. For a president to declare “I won’t negotiate” or for one body to refuse to appoint conferees to resolve differences is simply unconscionable.

Second, our legislative process is being abused. The Senate has considered only one appropriations bill in the last two years. Obamacare was rammed through in the dead of the night under arcane reconciliation rules that even former Sen. Kent Conrad said were inappropriate (he voted for the bill and then retired).

The president is unilaterally picking and choosing which parts of federal law to enforce or delay. Governing by continuing resolution — and ignoring constitutional process — isn’t working.

Third, mandatory spending is out of control. The discretionary portion of the budget — the argument over which led to the shutdown — is only one-third of total spending.

The Budget Control Act has reduced that spending $630 billion. Yet we find ourselves continually butting up against and then blasting through our debt ceiling. Why? Because changes to mandatory spending (the other two-thirds) have been off the table. Every federal program should be scrutinized to find efficiencies and reforms. We won’t solve our long-term budget problems if we don’t even consider modest changes to entitlements like Social Security and Medicare.

Fourth, our national debt is skyrocketing. It was $10.6 trillion when Mr. Obama took office; it’s now $17 trillion. It looms as one of the greatest threats our nation has ever faced. We take in about $2.6 trillion of revenue annually, while interest alone is $250 billion. How much more debt are we willing to pile on tomorrow’s generations to fund our lack of political courage today? Any increase in the debt ceiling needs to be balanced by an equivalent reduction in spending. If we can’t stop ourselves from running annual deficits, we will never get a handle on our national debt.

Fifth, our economy is still struggling. The uncertainty and confusion caused by repeated fiscal crisis, strangling regulations, and botched implementation of Obamacare has kept it stuck in neutral. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, says that any budget deal must include tax increases, stating “everyone” is willing to pay more. That would be the death blow to an already weak economy. Instead of raising revenue by increasing taxes, we can raise more funds by enacting policies that encourage economic growth, by simplifying and streamlining the tax code and by eliminating carve-outs and loopholes.

Political courage? I agree. Bring it on. We need real leadership, statesmanship and political courage in Washington — not in words but in action. So far, the actions taken by those in control in Washington have only led us from crisis to crisis, with more effort put into assigning blame and making excuses than finding solutions.

It’s time to start making the hard decisions, quit avoiding the tough issues and do what’s best for the American people — not for the next election.

Harms is the chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party. To contact him, visit www.ndgop.org.

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