Forbes: Rebuilding the American Dream

Guest post by Rep. J. Randy Forbes

Last year, Americans lost $14 trillion in net worth. That number is painful no matter who you are – it touches everyone from families, to college students, to small business owners, to family farms, to retirees. After such significant loss in our economy and the impact that is having on our lives, there is no question that we must act to restore faith in the credit markets, instill confidence among consumers, and reignite the economic engine of our nation.

However, the most dangerous principle we can assume as a nation is to say that because something needs to be done, that anything should be done even if it is wrong. When Washington has a knee-jerk reaction to major crises, each “fix” that is a misstep causes the situation to be worse than it was before, or permanently eliminates opportunities to take a second or third effort to restore our economy.

As we look back over the past few months, many of us recognize that our actions have made matters worse rather than making them better. In short, we’ve taken a bad situation and made it an extremely bad situation. Consider the following examples.

For the past several months President Bush, Chairman Bernanke, Secretary Paulson, and, until recently, President Obama continually told the American people that we would face “catastrophic meltdown”, “virtual shutdown”, or “irreversible recession” if hundreds of billions of dollars were not spent by the federal government in a matter of days and weeks. In doing so, they created a self-fulfilling prophesy. In response to this sky-is-falling approach, consumers across the country locked-down on their spending, severely hurting businesses and retail companies. We saw straight months of record decline in consumer spending, triggering businesses to cut down on employee work hours, reduce payrolls and many individuals lost jobs. When consumer spending makes up 70% of our gross domestic product, claiming that the end of the world was around the corner was not something we could afford to do. Consumer confidence was shattered.

Additionally, we passed billions of dollars in bailout after bailout, without basic principles of accountability, transparency, and effectiveness. I am one of only 17 Members of Congress who has consistently voted against all of the bailout and stimulus packages – under both Presidents Bush and Obama – for the simple reason that I wasn’t convinced they would work. We gave money to banks, which never got to consumers for loans to buy cars, homes, and any other goods and services that keep our economy going. The most recent economic stimulus package was a $790 billion package that primarily redistributed what is left of our economy rather than seeking to rebuild our economy. On top of that, the new federal budget released last week by the White House projects a deficit of $1.75 trillion for just 2009, a shortfall for one year we have not seen since the years of World War II.

As a result of these actions, the American people have lost confidence in their government and we’ve saddled our future generations with enormous debt that will put great pressure on us in terms global competitiveness years down the road. However, we cannot allow the situations of the past year to prevent us from continuing to seek the best course of action for our economic situation.

First, we must apply the same confident and resilient attitude that has made our nation great towards our current economic situation. During his presidential address last week, President Obama finally began to provide a message of optimism towards our economy. His message that “we will recover” was drastically different from the end-of-the-world catastrophe message we have been hearing each time a President has sought congressional support for his particular bailout plan. It provided a hopeful expectation that while our economic situation is a very difficult and significant challenge to overcome, we as Americans can prevail.

Second, at the very least we must make sure that our rhetoric is matching up with our actions. Right now, the American people do not see this happening with their elected officials in federal government. We hear calls for balancing the budget, yet we still see more “stimulus” spending that will postpone any serious effort to balance the budget for a decade. The President has talked about cutting the deficit in half, but we just increased our deficit to one of the highest amounts it has been in the history of our nation. The federal government continues to ask families and businesses to sacrifice their tax dollars for legislation that no one is sure will work, while each new spending proposal expands federal budgets more and more. But where is government sacrificing? Fixing the economy will require shared sacrifice, and it is time the government started fulfilling its share by eliminating wasteful spending and inefficient programs that are not working or have no place in the federal government.

Finally, we must take an objective look at the economic situations in front of us. If ever there was a time that we needed an objective point of view, it is now. Unfortunately, the 24/7 sound-bite driven media – in an effort to drive up ratings – is providing deliberate spin instead of the doing the fact-checking the American people need and deserve. This means it is up to ordinary citizens to ask the tough questions about whether or not we are making the right decisions as we are mortgaging the future of our children and our grandchildren – whether it is in their barber shops, in their Sunday school classes, at Little League games, at work or in their grocery stores. Americans need to be asking for and demanding the facts and figures that lie behind the proposals, agendas, and budgets coming out of Washington.

We must rise as a nation with unity of purpose to protect our jobs, protect our homes, and provide health care for our families. Right now, there are two views of America’s future. Some place their hope for the future in Washington; others place theirs in the work and ideas of the American people who realize that we cannot borrow and spend our way to the American Dream, we must earn it. And it is up to you and me to determine which direction we will go.

  • Mark

    Representative Forbes,

    First, you speak of sacrifice, when you were voting to support President Bush’s budgets, and his separate war funding bills, where was the sacrifice? It is obvious to anyone who has served in the military that the only sacrifice President Bush or the GOP asked was from those of us who wore the uniform. He, and you, wanted to keep the idea of sacrifice as far from the mind of the American people as possible. In fact, I would argue that not only did your party and Mr. Bush not have any interest in asking anything hard of the American people – but you were interested in actually lifting any sense of responsibility to sacrifice from the American people by not even asking us to pay for this war – something that should have been your responsibility to ask, and our responsibility to pay.

    Secondly, you speak of balancing the budget. I agree it is a serious issue, and I, like you, have serious questions about a national debt that is only growing at a time when our national promises to the Baby Boomer generation are coming due. However, it is hypocritical at best for you, a supporter of an ever growing national debt under President Bush to turn on President Obama and now speak of fiscal responsibility. Where was your call for sanity while President Bush was increasing our debt from six to twelve trillion dollars? To note that this increase was at a time of fiscal “prosperity” is particularly galling.

    Thirdly, you speak of the stimulus package and bank bailouts, you state your concerns that they may or may not work. But, you offer only empty rhetoric above; what exactly is your solution? It has to be something other than just saying no – and offering scare tactics of your own without presenting a concrete counterplan.

    Finally, on the subject of scare tactics, it is extremely galling to read the words of one of the most loyal of President Bush’s supporters authoring a piece a central issue of which is scare tactics. If there was ever a President and a party that used fear as a policy tool it was your party and President Bush in the years following 9/11. To think that we were subject to the whims of a Presidency which saw itself as expansive and imperial at a time when the party of “small limited government” was in power, and yet that party did nothing but cheer on the Constitutional abuses, the growth and reach of Federal power including, the expansive growth of the size of the government, the terrifying reach of that power – to include warrantless wiretapping and the imprisoning of individuals captured on American soil without a trial or any legal rights, or even as we learned recently the imposition of legal opinions by Republican appointees which would have permitted a suspension of the Bill of Rights (1st and 4th Amendments) by the President. Frankly, the list of governmental abuses heaped upon the American people by President Bush and your party in the name of fear is in itself terrifying.

    Sir you, and President Bush were given eight years, six years of total control to address the hard issues. You and your party had the opportunity and the power to come to the American people – to speak of shared sacrifice and responsibilities of the American people: Sacrifices to ensure that we make the hard decisions now and we don’t leave our children saddled with a debt they can never pay back, and the responsibility to not make changes to our national structure on the basis of fear. You and your party failed on both counts.

    However, this does not mean that I don’t believe that there is a role for the GOP in the future. I hope that you continue to hold President Obama and the Democratic leadership’s feet to the fire. Ask of them, and encourage them to ask of our nation, that which you were unwilling to do while the GOP was in power – speak as you do of shared sacrifice and the responsibilities of citizenship – such as paying our fare share in taxes to ensure that we don’t leave our children in a sea of debt thanks to the irresponsible policies of the Bush Administration and the as yet unknown errors of the Obama Administration. But, in doing so, offer ideas – and turn against the fear rheteroic esposed by those who see only black and white on your side, such as Rush and Hannity. Prove that you are more concerned with the future of the nation than you are with continuing in Congress, please ask the hard questions, and ask us to be responsible citizens of this great nation going forward.

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