Déjà Vu Again and Again and Again

April 18, 2011

Eureka! A government shutdown was avoided with a last minute “deal” that worked out the details of an agreement cutting around $38 billion from the budget over the remainder of the Fiscal Year. It is true that implementing these cuts will produce further reductions in spending over the next few years, but is it enough to really make a difference? Do not be fooled by the rhetoric and the euphoria.

With the national debt fast approaching 15 trillion dollars the President and Congress had to go to the mat with a government shutdown hanging over their head to finally agree to cut a measly $38 billion in discretionary spending from the budget. This sum is not a small amount for mortals like us. However, when compared to the national debt, it is merely a drop in the proverbial bucket.

This pathetic scenario has played out before, either with the threat of a shutdown of the government, or an extension of the national debt by increasing the debt ceiling. The battle between Speaker Gingrich and President Clinton in 1995 is a notable reminder of another government shutdown clash. However, the lack of entitlement reform, trimming around the edges of discretionary spending and raising the debt ceiling are all, as Yogi Berra once said, “Déjà vu all over again.”

I witnessed it all for 18 years as a U.S. Senator and Congressman. Month after month, year after year, budget battle after budget battle, the debt and the deficit grew. I was proud to join with a very few of my conservative colleagues in those classic budget battles against moderate Republicans and big spending liberals on the Democrat side of the aisle. We fought hard to make “real” cuts and reduce the deficit and the debt and bring fiscal sanity back to our government by entitlement reform, cutting waste, fraud and mismanagement and eliminating unconstitutional and unnecessary federal programs. Unfortunately, we never had the votes to succeed.

If you really want to understand how bad things are, then consider the fact that we had to threaten to shut down the government just to achieve small successes in limiting spending. Thank God the true conservatives in Congress like Paul Ryan (R-WI), Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Rand Paul (R-KY) held their ground, or we would not even have gotten that! Elections do matter and we did make a start. But this is the beginning and not the end of the race. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reminded us that “we have saved billions with this deal, but now we have to save trillions with future reductions.”

What the American people must understand is that this is not a game that we are playing. This is about the survival of America as a great nation. The liberals in the past, and even after this most recent deal, like to crow that we cannot cut the poor and we should not give benefits to the wealthy. This is the old class warfare argument which misses the point entirely. The real argument is that if we do not get the budget balanced and the debt reduced in the very near future by making significant cuts in spending and entitlement reform, then no one wins. Rich and poor, young and old, Democrat and Republican, and most importantly, our posterity all lose.

Here is the challenge. No more Deja vus! Conservatives did a great job holding the big spenders at bay. You got the attention of the American people, the party leaders and even some on the Democrat and moderate Republican side. You won a battle, now go out and win the war.

Congressman Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, laid out a serious proposal for entitlement reforms and serious government cuts in programs to move us toward balancing the budget and reducing the debt over the next 10 years. We must not let this budget deal change our focus on stopping the runaway train of debt. Ryan, and those in Congress who think like him, need our support. Congressman Ryan calls it a “moral obligation” to reduce this debt to save this country for our posterity. We do not have to agree with everything he wants to change, cut or reduce, but join him in the big fight to get the debt under control. We can fight over priorities in spending, but we must support him on getting the debt under control. Any deal to extend the debt limit must be directly linked to a specific plan to balance the budget with significant cuts and entitlement reform with a date certain written into the legislation. It is now or never!

Congressman Ryan reminds me so much of one of my heroes when I came to Congress in the mid 1980s, Bill Dannemeyer of California. Congressman Dannemeyer would take to the floor of the House during every budget battle and lay out his own budget, appropriately called the “Dannemeyer Budget.” It included entitlement reform, spending cuts, elimination of programs and usually put us on a real track to balance the budget and reduce the debt. In those days the debt was several hundred billion dollars and today it is nearly $15 trillion. Had the honesty of Dannemeyer been taken seriously, we would not be in this mess. I was so proud to have supported those budgets along with Congressman Bob Walker of Pennsylvania and other “young conservative turks” in those days.

With every fiber in my body I urge the current crop of young conservatives to stick to their guns. You, and only you, have the capacity to save our Republic. Do not be deflected by those who say we can postpone this decision. Do not worry about defeat at the polls. You are but temporary stewards of our nation. Make the best of it.

You have won the first skirmish. Now lead the effort to win the war. Our children will thank you!

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Copyright ©2011 Senator Bob Smith

Former Senator Bob Smith (R-NH), known as “Senator Bob,” has joined Accuracy in Media as a Special Contributor. His columns and commentaries on media and politics will be available on a regular basis on the AIM website at www.aim.org. He can be contacted at senatorbobsmith@comcast.net.