Friday, January 28, 2011

TOP STORY > >Deficits worry Griffin

Leader executive editor

Rep. Tim Griffin says Congress must bring spending under control and balance the federal budget with across-the-board cuts, including defense spending.

He sounded a warning in Jacksonville about the nation’s financial problems, and quoting former Sen. Pete Domenici, said the U.S. will face “our next Pearl Harbor” if those problems are not solved in the next five years.

After addressing the annual Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce banquet Thursday evening, the Second District congressman was asked where he would cut spending to reduce a $1.5 trillion deficit.

Ruling out tax increases to close the deficit and reduce the national debt, the freshman Republican told The Leader he would look for waste in the Pentagon budget and elsewhere.

“We’re doing our research and homework and identifying problems,” said Griffin, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “We’ll look at the military budget and other programs. We have a tough road ahead.”

“We’ll have to make sure our national security is taken care of,” he said in the interview. “We need to continue to fund our national-security priorities, including C-130s.” He said cutting waste would mean more new C-130s and upgrading the aging fleet with modern avionics. (See story below.)

Griffin is a member of the freshman Republican class that helped take over the House of Representatives last November and wants steep cuts in federal spending.

The Armed Services Committee this week grilled Pentagon officials about this year’s proposed budget, which has still not been approved.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has proposed cutting up to $70 billion from the 2011 budget — $23 billion almost immediately if a budget is not passed soon.

Griffin said his committee is still waiting for a detailed audit from the Pentagon as required by law since 1990. He said his committee must know how every dollar is spent and then will identify any waste and recommend cuts.

He said the Pentagon “needs to provide better financial statements to make sure we’re not wasting money. We will have to do a better job accounting for the taxpayers’ dollars.”

The congressman told those attending the banquet at the Jacksonville Community Center that Republicans want to roll back spending to 2008 levels.

Solutions must be bipartisan, he said, “because we have a split government.”

He said politicians from both parties are to blame for huge deficits. “It’s important that we not only understand we’re in debt but also realize how bad it is. It’s a really serious problem.”

“We’re $14 trillion in debt—that’s $46,000 per person,” Griffin continued. “We’ve added $4 billion in debt every day last year. That’s a lot of money. We’re in a financial crisis we’ve never seen before.”

“This year we’ll spend $3.5 trillion, but with only $2 trillion coming in and a deficit of $1.5 trillion. To find $1.5 trillion, you’d have to eliminate all discretionary spending and the military and education, and you wouldn’t be halfway there.”

“The current budget doubles the debt in five years and triples it in 10,” Griffin said.

In 15 years, today’s budget would pay only for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest payments on the national debt.

“We’re paying $202 billion in interest,” he said. “We could build a lot of good roads in Arkansas with that money.”

“Spending is up, up and up, and revenues are steady,” he continued.

Huge tax increases wouldn’t even close the gap significantly, Griffin said. In fact, he favors lowering corporate taxes.

“No matter how much you raises taxes, it’s never going to be enough,” he insisted.

Since he’s against tax in-creases or slashing almost every program, he said long-term solutions must be found immediately through spending cuts.

Democrats say that’s a dramatic change from just a decade ago, when President Clinton left office with a budget surplus. But two wars, huge tax cuts and an economic meltdown have strained America’s financial standing.

As the two parties fight over spending, Griffin said there is still time to put the nation’s finances in order.

He said he voted to repeal health reform because it was too expensive and would not improve the nation’s health-care system.

Although he would not be specific, Republican lawmakers have proposed ending $167.5 million in annual subsidies to the National Endowment for the Arts and $430 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

“We have a short window to address the problem,” he warned.

“We have five years,” Griffin said. “I believe we can do it. I’m optimistic by nature. The good news is that this is America. We’ve done some incredible things against the odds. We can’t kick the problem down the road. We must keep our critical programs like the C-130s.”