Federal budget debate should be open process

Editor’s note: The following is the text from testimony delivered by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) to the Senate this week.

I’ve been here for almost six months now. But I’ve been carefully watching Washington for more than 32 years, while operating my manufacturing business in Oshkosh, Wisconsin – watching how increasingly broken Washington has become over the years.

Nothing I’ve seen in the last six months changes that evaluation.

Washington is broken and America is going broke. Our economy is in a coma; people are suffering.
America hungers for leadership, and it it’s not getting any – not from President Obama, not from the United States Senate.

We can’t afford to have a broken political process – not now – not while America is hurtling toward a financial crisis.

Under Democratic leadership, it has been over two years since the United States Senate has passed a budget, and there is currently no mark-up going on in the Budget Committee to produce one.

America is going bankrupt, and the Senate refuses to pass a budget.

The President’s budget – the one he presented several months ago to great fanfare, remember that? It was 4 ¼ inches thick, 2,400 pages long. Who knows how many thousands of man hours that document took to produce? It was going to be the solution to our fiscal problems.

But it was so unserious, it would have added over $12 trillion to our nation’s debt.

It was so unserious, when it was voted on in the United States Senate, it lost by a vote of ZERO to 97.

It was so unserious, that not a single member of the President’s own party voted for it.

Instead of rolling up his shirt sleeves and personally tackling the number one problem facing this nation right from the beginning, President Obama delegated his role in sporadic negotiations to Vice President Biden.

Now that those talks have broken down, the President is finally getting personally involved in this process.
But what kind of process is this – a few people, talking behind closed doors, far from the view of the American public? Is that the process that is going to decide the fate of America’s financial situation, of our financial future? Is this how our government is supposed to work?

I don’t think so. Of course not.

Unfortunately, this has become business as usual in Washington.

As a manufacturer, I know if the process is bad, the product will be bad. Business as usual here in Washington is a bad process.

Business as usual is bankrupting America. It must stop.

America is simply too precious to subject our financial future to Washington’s “business as usual.”
Now I’m pretty new here, and I don’t pretend to understand everything that makes the Senate work (or maybe more accurately, doesn’t allow the Senate to work). But I do know the Senate runs on something called unanimous consent.

So unless we receive some assurance from the Democrat leadership that we will actually start addressing our budget out in the open, in the bright light of day – I will begin to object. I will begin to withhold my consent.

The Senate needs to pass a budget. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Families do it every day. A husband earns $40,000. A wife earns $40,000. Their total family income is $80,000. That’s their budget. That’s what they can afford to spend. American families figure out how to live within their means.

The federal government should be no different. A budget is a number. We should first pick one number, and then a set of numbers, that won’t let America go bankrupt.

So let me start the process by throwing out a number: $2.6 trillion. This is $800 billion more than we spent just 10 years ago. That is the amount that President Obama, in his budget, says the federal government will receive in revenue next year. If we only spent that amount of money, we would be living within our means. What a concept, huh?

If we want to spend more than $2.6 trillion, Members of Congress and members of this Administration should go before Congressional committees and openly justify what they want to spend, how much they want to borrow, and how much debt they are willing to pile on the backs of our children, our grandchildren, and our great grandchildren.

They should explain just how much of our children’s future they are willing to mortgage.

The American people deserve to be told the truth. Unless that happens, I will begin to withhold my consent.
Unless there is some assurance that the Senate will take up its budget responsibilities in an open process, I will begin to object.”

Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is a U.S. Senator.

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