Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Column: On debt and taxes, conservatives can win

Published Oct. 21, 2013

In a Gallup poll released in the middle of the government shutdown, the American people gave Congress a historically low approval rating of 11 percent. Surprised?

The last few weeks have been a microcosm of the last several years, where both parties have failed to work together and address the big issues — namely, our debt crisis and unsustainable entitlements. These failures boiled over in the form of a two-week shutdown and near-default on our debt that showed our constituents just how broken Washington is.

I often point to the tax reform of the 1980s and the welfare reform and balanced budgets of the 1990s as evidence that a divided government is the chance to accomplish big things. I have held out hope that President Barack Obama and leaders in Congress would work out an agreement to address our skyrocketing national debt. I have joined with members of both parties to push for a grand bargain that would fix our broken tax code and save our entitlement programs — Social Security and Medicare — for future generations.

Unfortunately, neither this president nor this Congress has shown that leadership. My party was not without fault. A handful of misguided senators and representatives insisted that no government funding bill include funds for Obamacare. Let me clear: I oppose Obamacare as strongly as any member of Congress. I have voted repeatedly to repeal it. However, the strategy of tying Obamacare spending to the continuing resolution (CR) needed to fund the government was doomed to fail for several reasons:

• First, most Obamacare spending is mandatory and not subject to the CR. Even if the Senate passed and the president signed a CR defunding Obamacare, guess what? Most Obamacare spending would have continued. In fact, all Obamacare spending continued throughout the shutdown.

• Second, Obama and the Democratic Senate will not approve a bill that defunds Obamacare. I'm not giving up; I'm accepting reality. Our best chance to repeal Obamacare was in November 2012. Our next best chance is November 2016.

• Third, and most important, the losing battle over defunding Obamacare distracted us from the biggest crisis our country faces — the national debt. Unlike trying to defund Obamacare in the CR, a fight to tie spending reforms to a debt ceiling increase was a fight we could have won. We could have insisted on long-term tax and entitlement reform. We could have worked for a bipartisan deal that closed tax loopholes in exchange for the kinds of reforms to Medicare and Social Security proposed in the nonpartisan Simpson-Bowles plan, like means-testing. Unfortunately, we fought the wrong one of two battles and lost both — badly.

The bill that eventually passed was essentially the "clean" CR and debt ceiling increase that the president had requested all along. It included no meaningful changes to Obamacare and no serious steps to address our debt.

At the end of the shutdown, we achieved none of the policy goals that are important to conservatives like me, and we suffered severe — and largely self-inflicted — political consequences. Everyone knew we would get blamed, and we did — to the tune of an all-time low approval rating for the Republican Party. This was entirely avoidable had our party's leadership not followed those who falsely claimed that we could somehow defund Obamacare through the CR, and instead focused on achieving meaningful deficit reduction.

(By the way, there's a better way to repeal this law that's already driving up premiums, costing us jobs, and forcing people to lose the plans and doctors they like: Do nothing. No delays, no exemptions. If Obamacare is as bad as we believe it is, it will collapse under its own weight, as the exchange website rollout has confirmed. Faced with the full force of Obamacare with no delays and no fixes, the American people will hate it. They'll vote for a Senate and president who pledge to repeal it.)

To my fellow conservative colleagues, to the outside conservative groups who have been running political ads on these issues, and most important, to the conservative voters in my district across the country, I implore you: We have a chance to do something big for the future of this country. Let's not squander it by fighting amongst ourselves about the best strategy to repeal a law we all agree is terrible. Instead, please join me in working to reduce our national debt. Please insist on tying real tax code and entitlement reforms to any effort to increase the debt limit, so we can address the long-term drivers of our debt crisis.

This is the most important battle we face. It's the battle we can win, and it's the battle worth fighting.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, represents Florida's 17th district, which includes part of Hillsborough County, and serves on the House Intelligence and Appropriations committees. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. This photo provided by Florida Department of Corrections shows Cheryl Weimar. Weimar, an inmate at a Florida prison is suing the state corrections agency, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019, saying she was left paralyzed after being beaten by four guards. Weimar, and her husband, Karl, said in their lawsuit that her civil rights were violated when she was nearly beaten to death by guards at the Lowell Correctional Institution last month. (Florida Department of Corrections via AP); Photo of Lowell via Florida Department of Corrections Associated Press
    The brutal beating of a mentally and physically disabled inmate at the state’s largest women’s prison raises new concerns. The Department of Corrections says it needs more money to pay guards.
  2. University of South Florida undergraduates gather at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa for the fall commencement ceremony.
    Here’s what readers had to say in Monday’s letters to the editor.
  3. The American flag flies in front of the U.S. Capitol dome at sunset on Capitol Hill in Washington.
    Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
  4. Here’s what readers had to say in Sunday’s letters to the editor.
  5. Editorial cartoon for Saturday/Sunday Andy Marlette/Creators Syndicate
  6. Stock photo. MORGAN DAVID DE LOSSY  |  Getty Images/iStockphoto
    I’m a new mom -- again -- and please remember that many mothers would welcome government policies that make it easier for them to stay home with their kids than returning to work. | Column
  7. Josh Hensley, 43, was found in the waters of Kings Bay in Crystal River. He was known for dressing as Jack Sparrow. Facebook
    Here’s what readers had to say in Saturday’s letters to the editor.
  8. David Colburn was the former provost and senior vice president of the University of Florida. JAMIE FRANCIS  |  Tampa Bay Times
    He believed that diversity is our strength, and that the way to overcome division is to shine light in dark corners, writes Cynthia Barnett.
  9. Adam Goodman, national Republican media consultant
    With Washington once again failing to embrace reforms following mass shootings, it’s up to Americans to create a movement to demand change. | Adam Goodman
  10. Couple, Lewis Bryan, 36, (back left) and Amber Eckloff, 33, pose for a portrait with their children, (From left) D'Angelo Eckloff, 14, Rasmus Bryan, 4, Ramiro Bryan, 10, Lothario Bryan, 6, and Alonzo Bailey, 17. The family has been living at the Bayway Inn on 34th St S. Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 in St. Petersburg.  MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    When about 40 percent of city households are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, something has to change.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement