The Founding Fathers entrusted Congress with the "power of the purse," because the legislative body was viewed as the most accountable to the people. This responsibility demands honesty and candor about the nation's finances.
Unfortunately, Congress last week passed a dishonest budget. At a time when the nation is challenged on more fronts than ever, the budget recommended by President Bush and approved by Congress fails to address many urgent priorities. It saddles future generations of Americans with mounting debt.
We can do better but only if we are candid about the fact that the policies we've been pursuing haven't worked. The deficit is $521 billion this year -- a record high. We're borrowing more with little to show for it. More than 2 million jobs have been lost in the last three years, and only 21,000 were created last month. College tuition is up; gas prices are at an all-time high; and property, sales, and other local taxes are on the rise.
Hospitals are closing, 44 million people don't have health insurance, and the Bush administration intentionally withheld the actual cost of the Medicare bill from Congress and the American people. Principals and teachers are working harder to achieve the goals of the No Child Left Behind act, but they don't have the tools they need. Nearly half of the schools in Tennessee are falling short.
America needs a new set of priorities. The first priority is security. Money for our troops in Iraq was not included in this year's budget even though many troops lack body armor and other essential equipment. Money for our troops should be provided up front in the budget. In addition, our military is overstretched like never before. To relieve the burden on our military and lessen our reliance on the National Guard and Reserves, we should expand the active-duty military by 40,000. And we should honor our nation's veterans by giving them the benefits and health care they have earned through service.
At home, we should fully invest in homeland security. The tragic attacks in Spain have underscored the need for better rail security. We should protect our ports, chemical plants, and other potential targets.
Next, we have to invest in our schools. The No Child Left Behind act promised $10 billion more for schools than the president's budget requested. We need to fully fund education so that schools can hire more teachers, reduce class sizes, and make other investments to help kids learn.
New policies are needed to create jobs and grow the economy. Deficits threaten to crowd out private-sector investment and stifle economic growth. If we're not careful, deficits will force interest rates and mortgage rates upward. That's a tax on families and the economy.
It's not smart to raise taxes on small businesses or middle-class families as the economy recovers. That is why we should lower taxes on businesses creating jobs in America and providing health care for their workers. We should cut taxes for families earning $200,000 a year or less.
Let's be honest. We can't afford all the Bush tax cuts. And we can't close the deficit by reducing spending alone. The hard fact is that even if we cut out all nondefense spending, including education, health care, housing, and law enforcement, the budget would still not be balanced.
We should suspend the tax cuts for the top bracket and reform the estate tax so that small businesses, family farms, and all estates under $20 million are exempted, but we can't afford to eliminate it entirely.
American people deserve and want us to be honest about the money we have and where it's going. Unfortunately, the budget passed by Congress last Thursday fails that test.
U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, a Memphis Democrat, represents the 9th District of Tennessee.