Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, spoke Feb. 21 in Boise as part of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Speaker Series. His comments here are condensed from a transcript prepared by chamber PR Director Caroline Merritt.
GREAT JOB, TRYING TIMES
I really enjoy doing this job. I tell people that I kind of wish I was there at a different time, because it is a great job. But the condition that we're in today financially is frightening.
I serve on none of the committees that have jurisdiction on this. [Mike] Crapo is on all of those. I'm on the Intelligence Committee, which is incredibly fascinating, and I can't talk about it. I'm on the Ethics Committee, which I hate, but you have to give and take. There's three Republicans, three Democrats. I hate doing that, but somebody's got to do that.
I'm on Foreign Relations, which I really do enjoy, and I'm also on Energy and Natural Resources, and I'm also now the ranking member on the Small Business Committee. I've got really good committee assignments. But I'm going to talk about nothing that has anything to do with those.
OUR FISCAL PROBLEMS ARE WORSE THAN YOU THINK
If I asked you, "Are things bad in D.C.?" everyone would probably say, "Yeah, things are probably pretty bad there." I can tell you, without reservation, as bad as you think things are back there, you have no idea. They are substantially worse than what you think they are.
When I got to Washington, D.C., the national debt was at $10 trillion. The federal government spends $3.8 trillion every year and again, I don't know, $3.8 trillion, I don't know what that is. When I was governor, the annual budget for the state of Idaho was about $3.5 billion. We spend about half of it on public schools, about two-thirds of it on education overall, including colleges and universities, and then we have a big chunk of what's after that is Medicaid, and then we run the rest of the government.
WE BORROW 42 CENTS OF EACH DOLLAR SPENT
The federal government spends about $11 billion a day. The federal government today is twice the size it was in the year 2000, both in employees and the amount of money that's spent. We only take in $6.5 billion a day. They need $4.5 billion of new money every single day. So where do they get it from? They borrow it. It's 42 cents out of every dollar.
Let's take the $6.5 billion that comes in and let's pay our priorities and see how far we get. No. 1, Social Security. No. 2, Medicare. We need to pay those. Those are obligations. No. 3, the interest on the national debt so people keep loaning us money. Next is: Stop. You're out of money. Those three things are all you can pay for with the $6.5 billion that comes in every day.
If you want to defend the country, there's no money for ag, no money for education, no money for anything else but those three things.
That's all good news. The bad news is: There is nothing in play to date to change this.
Let's, first of all, look at the Republicans, my side. My side says, "Hey, this is really simple. You don't have money, you don't spend it." Well, of course, you can't stop it all at once. You do have this enterprise we've got going on with $3.8 trillion a year, borrowing 42 cents on every dollar. You can't say we're going to cut spending 42 percent. And there is room to cut. Not nearly enough to get this ship upright.
Let's take the Democrats' proposition. The Democrats' view is: "Well, this is really simple. The government doesn't have money? We go get it from the people. Start with the rich people." So Barack Obama said, "Well, here's what we're going to do. We're going to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire on everybody who makes $200,000 or $250,000 for a couple in a year."
He didn't get that done, by the way. We pared it back to, I think it was $400,000, $450,000. But if he had gotten that done, the $200,000, $250,000, how would that have gotten us out of the ditch we're in? That amount would have raised enough to run the federal government for eight days.
REPUBLICANS ENABLED BIG SPENDING
We Republicans love to say Democrats got us here. They love new spending programs and all that sort of thing, which is true. But they couldn't have done it without the Republicans getting in bed with them and compromising every single year. And it's compromise that got us here. It's compromise that got us to a $3.8 trillion expenditure every year.
Not once has the United States government ever spent less than they did the year before. We Republicans have done it since World War II. We've increased programs, increased spending along with the Democrats.
AMERICANS ARE POLARIZED
No one handed this to us. We did this to ourselves.
We are polarized. There are two very different views of what America is and what America should be. I want a limited government. I want a government that leaves me alone. I want a government that does what it has to do and no more.
On the other hand, you have people who have a vision for America who truly believe that it is their responsibility to shift assets from people who have them to people who don't have them, and to make it as painless as possible, but nonetheless kind of neutralize everything, so that everybody's doing well. And they will use the power of the United States government to do that.
MY IDEA: CUT 1 PERCENT A YEAR
If we would spend, every year, just 1 percent less than we spent the year before, just do that every year, just cut back 1 percent, you know, can't we do with just 1 percent less? Because, I'm telling you, we're going to have a catastrophe before this thing's over, but if we eased it back every year, we could do it, we could do it relatively painlessly, and we could get through this. They tell me it wouldn't take many years before we actually would have a balanced budget in America.
Look what's happening right now: the sequester. The federal government, the bureaucracy, is going to make the sequester as miserable as they possibly can, because you hear the president saying every day, "Well, you know, it's these Republicans, they won't roll back the sequester." I heard him deny this, but the sequester was his idea. It was the way he got people to vote for an increase in the debt ceiling. He said, "We're going to have this supercommittee, they're going to get together, they're going to cut $1.6 trillion." And so I said, "They're not going to cut $1.6 trillion. Nobody's ever cut $1.6 trillion."
I tell you what we're going to do. We're going to have automatic cuts that go into effect that affect both the Republicans on defense and the Democrats on the social side of it so it will never happen. Well, guess what? It's going to happen. March 1st, there's going to be a sequester.
Now, watching the way things happen in Washington, D.C., I suppose they'll get together and they'll kick the can down the road again and put it off. But, as of March 1st, it's going to happen. How long it stays in effect, I can't predict.
In the short term, I'm incredibly pessimistic. In the long term, I am incredibly optimistic, because we are Americans. We know how to handle problems. We know how to handle crisis. We don't do so well until we get crisis. But Americans are really good at dealing with crisis. Even the United States Congress is good at handling the crisis. So we'll rise to the occasion.