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The Risch tele-town

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President Obama must wield his authority to minimize the harm inflicted by the looming $85 billion in federal “sequestration” budget cuts set to take effect on Friday, March 1, Idaho U.S. Sen. Jim Risch said Monday night, Feb. 25, during a “Tele-Town Hall” meeting.

“I hope the president of the United States who is in charge of implementing the cuts and whose idea it was will do so reasonably,” Risch said. “The president has the ability to move those cuts around and make them as painless as possible. I hope he does that.”

Recently ranked by the National Journal as the most conservative U.S. senator in Congress, Risch said the nation’s financial condition is the most prominent issue confronting Washington and all states.

“If you think it’s pretty bad, the bad news is you wouldn’t be exactly correct. It’s much worse than what every American knows,” the former Idaho governor said. “The facts of where we are right now are not debatable.”

The federal government has been spending $3.8 trillion annually for the past four or five years – or about $11 billion a day. “Unfortunately, on average, the federal government only takes in $6.5 billion a day. … The federal government borrows a little over $4 billion every single day just to meet its bills that night.”

Contrary to what is commonly believed, the government is borrowing the money to pay the difference, primarily from China, not printing it. The U.S. Treasury used to borrow once a month to pay its bills, then once a week. After the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was enacted as a $787 billion economic stimulus, borrowing had to be done on a daily basis. Now, it’s done multiple times a day, he said.

Treasury tells the Bureau of Public Debt how much to borrow. “We also borrow between $50 billion to $70 billion a day to refinance the debt.” If the $6.5 billion in daily revenue were spent on priorities, it would only pay for Social Security, Medicare and the interest on the national debt, but nothing on defense, education, agriculture, parks or anything else, Risch said.

“This also helps underscore how difficult the situation is and how badly the government is pinched,” he said. “The bad news is there’s nothing in play right now to turn this around or change this.”

Congress and the White House have kicked the can down the road by passing legislation every 90 days to keep the government running. The debt ceiling is hit every six months. When Risch took his Senate office in 2009, the national debt was $10 trillion. It now stands at more than $16 trillion.

When the debt ceiling was hit last August, a “Super Committee” was created to find up to $1.6 trillion in spending cuts. When committee members were not able to reach agreement, automatic spending or “sequester” cuts were set to take effect on March 1, after November’s presidential election.

Entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare are exempted from the sequester cuts, which will come entirely from discretionary spending programs, which comprise 40 percent of the total federal budget.

“There has been a lot of talk and misinformation and fear mongering” about the impact sequestration will have on the nation, Risch said, noting that when he served in the Idaho Legislature, the governor had the authority to make holdbacks in times of financial setbacks. He would work with legislators to ensure crucial programs were spared.

“We all worked together to make it as painless as possible for Idahoans,” Risch said. “We worked together to make it work in the best interest of the people.”

When asked by a man in Buhl why senators don’t just go home and let others work on passing a budget after four years of not enacting one, Risch responded by saying only the majority party can bring a budget forward, and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has refused to do so.

“We have urged him over and over to do it,” Risch said, referring to his Republican colleagues. “I’m absolutely and totally astounded Congress will not follow the law or adopt a budget. It astounds me that an institution that spends $3.8 trillion does so without a budget. I’m outraged by it, and most Americans are.”

When a woman from Grangeville expressed concerns about the Federal Aviation Administration threatening to close airport control towers in Lewiston, Idaho Falls, Twin Falls and Pocatello, Risch said the FAA’s budget under sequestration would be rolled back to its levels four years ago.

“In 2009, the FAA was able to operate all of those towers without any difficulty at all,” he said. “One of the things that astounded me when I got to Washington D.C. was how archaic and cumbersome the process is. … It’s incredibly frustrating to deal with a system like that.”

Risch said it’s ridiculous to project budgets 10 years out so cuts are targeted for the eighth, ninth and 10th years, not immediately. Since 2000, the federal government has virtually doubled in number of employees and money spent, he said.

It is up to the executive branch of government to execute the budget and appropriations enacted by the legislative branch. “It will be up to President Obama and his administration that executes the holdback,” Risch said, adding the list of cuts put out by the White House appears painful and punitive. “You can’t help but get the feeling, it’s all political.”

Risch warned the United States is heading toward a financial catastrophe like Greece if exorbitant spending continues unabated. “In some cases, our credit card has a higher limit than Greece’s does,” he said, lamenting the predominant cavalier attitude toward spending in Washington.

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