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Heidi Heitkamp, Published May 09 2012

3 ways to fix budget

The U.S. government borrows 40 cents of every dollar it spends. The national debt is about equal to the nation’s gross domestic product. Interest on the national debt is the third-largest federal expenditure.

We can’t stay on this path. Twelve years ago President Bill Clinton put us on course to retire the nation’s debt by 2013. But since he left office, America has accumulated a debt of more than $15 trillion. It’s unsustainable. Here are three things we can do:

The process

There is nothing stopping the politicians in Washington from balancing the budget, but recent history suggests that they just won’t get it done. These days, too many politicians in Washington prefer to wage partisan fights instead of coming together to solve problems.

Instead of actually making the tough decisions, Congress simply kicks the can down the road with gimmicks that fail to produce meaningful solutions. The bipartisan “Super Committee” had more power to make progress on the budget than dozens of blue-ribbon committees that went before. And still they failed.

Fiscal discipline won’t come by itself. That’s why I am committed to supporting a balanced budget amendment that doesn’t put Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block.

Unfortunately, this is not the amendment supported by my likely opponent, Rep. Rick Berg. An independent analysis found that his plan would force 25 percent cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Get economy moving

The recession is a major source of our deficit. That’s why I’m focused on getting people back to work. I’ll continue to push for construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would invest billions of dollars in our economy and create thousands of family-supporting construction jobs. Putting people back to work means we’ll also crawl out of our budget hole.

Balanced approach

When people have to tighten their belts, government should, too. I’m focused on a balanced approach to cuts so we can make investments in education, our infrastructure and technology innovation.

For example, I’ve committed to not taking the automatic pay raises when the budget isn’t balanced, and the rest of Congress should do the same – a move that would save $6 million. And allowing Medicare to negotiate for prescription drugs, like the Department of Veterans Affairs does, would save $200 billion.

I also believe those who earn more than $1 million a year should do their part to reduce the deficit. Only 645 North Dakotans would be affected by this change, and it would generate $46 billion for deficit reduction. Yet Berg, who is the 14th-wealthiest member of the U.S. House, has voted to give himself a $265,000 tax cut – on top of his already low tax rate.

Heitkamp is the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate from North Dakota.