Time to ask questions about debt

Published 6:50 pm Saturday, January 23, 2016

What do you do when your family is over budget?

Most of us first sit down and review our family’s spending habits. We open up bank statements, check the balance across savings and checking accounts, and take a look at expenses.

Then, we make decisions about where adjustments need to happen. Business owners who notice their balance sheets are off do the same analysis, figuring out where to cut costs or raise revenue.

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It’s a tough situation to be in. It’s a situation our country has been in for years, as federal spending has spiraled out of control.

According to the Government Accountability Office, America spends billions on duplicative government programs every year. During the past seven years, the federal debt held by the public has doubled. Those numbers are so big it’s hard to wrap our minds around them.

But here is a number that always hits me hard: the debt per taxpayer is about $157,000 according to the U.S. Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve.

There is one school of thought that believes government intervention is the answer to almost anything ailing our country and our citizens. And so it seems like any time there is a problem, the federal government creates another program to attempt to fix it. Meanwhile, taxpayers are left in the dark about where their money is going and how effective these programs are. The result is out-of-control spending and a massive federal debt.

The people understand what Washington doesn’t: We cannot keep spending without consequences. That’s why for years I have pushed for a balanced budget amendment to constitutionally require Congress to balance the federal budget each year. That’s why I introduced legislation to hold lawmakers personally responsible for overspending and voted against every bailout and stimulus under both Presidents Bush and Obama.

Aggressively limiting government and cutting back on waste are priorities I will continue to fight for every day. Even though the task seems daunting, it is critical for both the future of our kids and prosperity of our country that we do not give up.

Let’s drill in on one specific tool I believe could help our nation as we wrestle through the challenging process of restoring some fiscal sanity. I recently voted for the Taxpayers Right-to-Know Act, which passed the House of Representatives, to improve accountability and allow taxpayers to peel back the curtain on government spending.

Breaking Washington’s spending addiction starts by opening the books and examining where money is going and how it is being used. This process will expose government waste and create a shakeup. It may be uncomfortable. It should be, because that is a necessary part of responsible oversight over the way taxpayer dollars are spent.

The Office of Management and Budget is required to post an inventory of all federal programs on a centralized website. The Taxpayer Right-to-Know Act takes that requirement a step further, creating a central database for financial data and performance metrics for every federal program.

It gives taxpayers access to more detail; the number of federal employees or contractors involved in each program, total amount of unspent funds and the specific statute that permits each federal program to exist.

Ultimately, it provides taxpayers the information they need to make informed decisions, as the central decision makers in our Constitutional Republic.

But most importantly, I believe this bill forces Washington to answer an important question: Why? Why are we spending money on this program or that program? Why is that worth our hard-earned taxpayer dollars? Why does this investment move our nation forward?

These questions aren’t just worth asking — they must be asked, because the answers to these questions will define our country’s future. It’s time we empower the American people to ask them.

Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at forbes.house.gov.