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Lightfoot: The national debt. Does anyone care?

Debt snowballing

Now that we have the Democratic debates underway, it’s time to turn our attention to carefully listening to what the potential candidates have to say.

Are they talking about issues that are really important to the nation? Or are they talking about proposed plans and schemes that will get them elected? Out here in the real world much of what we hear is a bit confusing and difficult to understand.

Let’s try to shed a little light on the most important issue facing us today: our country’s debt. Unfortunately, no one in either political party is talking about or offering solutions to solve it or at least slow down its growth.

The federal appropriations and spending process is a bit complicated. However, if you dig into it there are a few items you can monitor that will tell you what is going on.

As an ex-member of the House Appropriations Committee, I can assure you that the rules called “Regular Order” are not being followed and have not been for the past several years.

There are 12 sections to the federal budget. A subcommittee handles each section. Each of the subcommittees has yearly hearings with representatives from the agency they have jurisdiction over. The agency offers its request for funding. The subcommittee asks for justification for the various requests made by the agency.

After the hearings the subcommittee will meet and go over the budget proposals. After much discussion the subcommittee will have a vote. Once the subcommittee has worked its magic the proposal then goes to the full committee.

The full appropriations committee will then have debate over the subcommittee proposal. Changes can be made during this debate. Once the full committee has worked its will, the proposed budget will go to the House floor. The proposed budget will then be open for discussion by the full House membership. Depending on the Rules Committee, members may or may not be allowed to offer amendments to the proposal. (A discussion of the Rules Committee is an entire new story.)

The entire House then votes on the proposed budget. If it passes, the bill will go over to the Senate. It will go through a similar process as it did in the House, with committee votes and etc. If the bill passes the Senate it will then be “conferenced” by the House and Senate. This requires a series of meetings between the House and Senate to iron out any differences between the two bodies.

Once the conference is completed the House and Senate will have separate votes with the entire membership of each. Should the bill pass both houses, it will go down to the White House for the president’s signature to be signed into law.

According to the rules, this process is supposed to be completed by the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

It happened once while I was there. Other years all the wrinkles were usually ironed out before the end of October or the first of November.

Two words we hear bandied around are debt and deficit. There is an interrelationship between the two but it is important to know the difference.

Debt is the amount of money a country borrows from various sources, including other countries. That figure currently stands at more than $22.03 trillion.

Deficit is the difference between money spent and money received. Currently the figure is $779 billion.

One other important number to fit in the equation is the ratio between revenue generated by the civilian economy and the government debt. Today that ratio is 106.1%. This means government debt is 106.1% of revenue generated by the private sector.

The lowest that ratio has been was 31.8% in 1981 and the record high was 118.9% in 1946. We had just finished a huge war, if you recall.

Within these numbers the government is borrowing from itself (primarily the Social Security Fund), shifting revenue from one agency to another and a practice wherein money is borrowed off the books and is nearly impossible for the Congress to control.

So, when will we hear someone running for election or reelection start talking about our huge debit and ways to reduce it? Congress is our board of directors. If they will not listen to the people that hired them, well, they need to go.

— Jim Ross Lightfoot, a resident of White Oak, is a retired member of the U.S. House of Representatives who served Iowa from 1985 to 1997. He is an occasional contributor to the News-Journal.

Today's Bible verse

“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Psalms 63:1

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