First, balance the budget by 2014 without raising taxes. There's only one way to do that: Cut federal spending dramatically. Economic growth requires pro-growth tax relief. Pro-growth tax relief requires that spending be in check. This isn't easy ? every program that receives federal funds has supporters who will fight to keep the funds coming. But it's not complicated, either. It requires growing a backbone and saying no.
Next, freeze discretionary spending for 2005. President Bush's 2005 budget is a promising step in the right direction here. But discretionary spending has grown 39 percent between 2001 and 2004 and is expected to increase another 7 percent this year. Do all these agencies really need another 7 percent? Couldn't they at least wait a year for another huge increase?
Congress and President Bush must do what responsible American families do every year: Set priorities (like homeland security) and reduce spending elsewhere.
The next step for Congress is to reform entitlements. Given that "required" spending consumes two-thirds of the budget now, it's a fantasy to think of balancing anything without also reforming the system. Entitlement programs ? Medicare, including the 2003 drug bill, anti-poverty programs, the subsidy-laden 2002 farm bill ? are expected to grow 6 percent per year for the next decade. We can't balance the budget in 2014 if this trend continues.
The final step, as Riedl points out, is to fix the budget process: "The current budget process provides no workable tools to limit spending, no restrictions on passing massive costs onto future generations, and no incentive to bring all parties to the table early in the budget process to set a framework." Instead of digging, Congress should start building real, meaningful, concrete spending caps and start filling up all the loopholes.
America has fallen into a hole that we've helped Congress dig. It's time to throw down our own shovels, and start ranting and raving until Congress also stops digging and starts figuring out a way to get us out of this mess.
We all must acknowledge up front that getting out of the hole will be tough, dirty work. Every program has a constituency, and every cut will offend somebody. Special-interest groups will whine and complain ? they've been experts at demanding government handouts while decent Americans have remained politely quiet as we fall deeper and deeper into the sinkhole. Like my 2-year-old up to his eyeballs in a hole, we've got to start screaming bloody murder.