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Letter to the editor: We need real leadership, statesmanship in Washington

By Robert W. Harms, Bismarck

With the government shutdown behind us, we need a hard look at what happened — to avoid repeating it.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp recently called for more “political courage” in Washington. We could couple political courage with more statesmanship and less name calling. There is enough blame in Washington for everyone.

So, how did the U.S. get in this mess?

First, we have a divided government. Democrats control the Senate and White House, and Republicans control the House. Our government is built on checks and balances. No one body can impose its will upon another. For a president to declare “I won’t negotiate” or for the Senate to refuse to appoint conferees to resolve differences is unconscionable.

Second, our legislative process is being abused. The Senate considered one appropriations bill in the two years. Obamacare was rammed through by Senate Democrats under arcane reconciliation rules that former Sen. Kent Conrad said were inappropriate (he voted for the bill, then retired). The president is unilaterally picking and choosing which federal law to enforce or delay. Governing by continuing resolution — and ignoring constitutional process — isn’t working. The rule of law applies to everyone.

Third, mandatory spending is out of control. Discretionary spending is one-third of the budget. The Budget Control Act (sequestration) reduced that spending by $630 billion. Yet we continually butt up against the debt ceiling. Why? Because mandatory spending (the other two-thirds) has been off the table. We won’t solve our budget problems if we don’t consider modest changes to Social Security and Medicare. Every budget should be scrutinized to find savings and reforms.

Fourth, our national debt is skyrocketing. It was $10.6 trillion when President Barack Obama started; it’s now $17 trillion. It’s one of the greatest threats our nation has ever faced. How much more debt will we pile on young Americans, for our lack of courage today? Any increase in the debt ceiling must be balanced by equal spending reductions. If we can’t stop running annual deficits, we’ll never solve our national debt.

Fifth, our economy is still struggling. The uncertainty caused by repeated fiscal crisis, strangling regulations and implementation of Obamacare has kept it in neutral. Democrat Senate leader Harry Reid says any budget deal must include tax increases. That would slow an already weak economy. Instead of increasing taxes, we can raise revenue with policies that encourage growth, simplify the tax code and eliminate loopholes.

Political courage? Bring it on. We need real leadership, statesmanship and political courage in Washington. So far, those in control in Washington have only led us from crisis to crisis.

It’s time to start making hard decisions, quit avoiding tough issues, and do what’s best for the American people — not for the next election.

(Harms is chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party)