Sen. Rick Scott: Debt will destroy our country, if we let it

August 1, 2019

Washington Examiner
Op-Ed: Sen. Rick Scott
August 1, 2019

I grew up poor. We lived in public housing growing up. My mom instilled in me the value of counting pennies, a value I utilized as a businessman for four decades before I ever thought about running for office. I had to make payroll and keep the businesses I ran profitable. My employees counted on me to never run out of cash and keep their jobs safe.

I ran for governor of Florida in 2010 because I could not stand to watch the fiscal mismanagement by politicians anymore. My state was heading in the wrong direction: job losses, higher taxes, more debt. Florida was, at that point, like a failing business. I was worried about the state that would be left for future generations.

Over my eight years as governor, we turned the state around, growing the economy by over 30%, adding almost 1.7 million new jobs, paying down almost one-third of state debt, and cutting taxes by more than $10 billion. I was the first governor in 20 years to actually pay down state debt. It can be done, but you have to make tough choices.

When presented with the opportunity to run for the Senate, I thought again about how horribly career politicians have treated America’s future in recent years. The profligate spending, overregulation, and dysfunction of Washington threatens the future of our country. President Trump has managed our economy well: low unemployment, steady job growth, and rising wages.

But over the past 30 years, Washington has fallen in love with debt. In some ways, our country is a failing business too.

I want the next generation to have the same opportunities I had to live the American dream. I’m afraid that if we continue down this path, that opportunity will be lost. At some point, the bill will come due. Robert Baden-Powell’s famous plea to “try and leave this world a little better than you found it” has fallen on deaf ears in Washington.

I voted against the most recent budget deal for one reason: It was an abdication of our moral responsibility to our children and our grandchildren.

This was a compromise bill. Compromises can often be good. Sometimes in policy-making, neither side gets everything they want. But too often in Washington, compromise means both sides get everything they want so no one has to make a choice, let alone a tough choice.

The budget deal that was just passed by Congress allowed for significant increases in our defense spending, and if that was the only thing in this bill I would have proudly voted "yes." But it wasn’t.

This bill suspended the debt ceiling for two full years, allowing for trillions of dollars in more debt to be added to our already astronomical $22 trillion national debt. The bill allowed for a significant increase in non-defense spending (presumably to get House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic caucus on board). And worst of all, negotiators didn’t even try to pay for the spending increases by cutting government waste. For the $320 billion in new spending this bill allows, there is $75 billion in what congressional leaders generously call “offsets.” The bulk of these “offsets” are budgetary gimmicks that will never go into effect.

Let’s summarize: huge debt increases, higher discretionary spending, and no corresponding budget cuts. That’s irresponsible and I couldn’t go along with it.

Let’s think about where we are: The federal government takes in about $3 trillion annually and spends $4 trillion — trillion-dollar annual deficits that are only expected to grow.

The interest alone on our $22 trillion national debt is $479 billion this year, and is slated to rise to $914 billion by 2028. That’s just the interest! That money does absolutely nothing to help the American public. We might as well set it on fire.

Medicare is running out of money. When Medicare runs out of money, either doctors and hospitals will be paid significantly less or Medicare recipients will receive less care. Social Security will run out of cash reserves by 2034. Medicaid costs are increasing by about 5% a year. And these are what Washington calls “mandatory programs,” meaning Congress has no control over how the money is spent and there’s no responsibility for their costs.

How convenient.

High levels of debt will inevitably lead to high inflation, which hurts the poorest families and those on fixed incomes. It will increase the cost of groceries, gasoline, and rent, for example, not to mention make it harder to get a student loan or a loan to start a business.

As interest rates go up, the interest on the national debt will increase faster and faster. This is what we a call a sovereign debt crisis, and we’re staring right at it.

None of this is to say I don’t have hope for our future, I do. Every time our country is faced with a challenge, we’ve shown the ability to rise above it. But it’s time to get serious. The party’s over.

As long as I am a member of the Senate, I will fight to rein in the out of control spending that is putting our country’s future at risk. I have to, so I can look my grandkids in the eye and tell them I’m doing everything I can to leave this country a little better than I found it.

Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican, is the junior senator from Florida. He is a member of the Senate Committee on the Budget.