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New Year, New Hope 

My resolutions for the 2011 political season.

click to enlarge Former Congressman George Nethercutt
  • Former Congressman George Nethercutt

The beginning of every New Year offers inviting opportunities to start fresh, turn over a new leaf, set new goals and work to accomplish something important. It’s a worthy undertaking for individuals, organizations, businesses — and Congresses.

This January there’s a sense of urgency for our nation to strive for public policy improvement. After all, with a new Congress now sworn-in, citizens have every reason for hope as one-party government in the nation’s capital has been replaced by a determined, Republican-led House of Representatives and a slimmer Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate. With national unemployment at 10 percent (or even higher in some parts of America), housing prices at low points, uncertainty in the business community, and encouraging, but cautious, consumer confidence, Congress and the president must set clear national goals to return the nation to fiscal integrity and enhance consumer and business confidence.

But it’s not just the economy that needs full attention. November’s elections focused Americans on the proper role of government and were a powerful expression of dissatisfaction with the Obama agenda and the performance of Congress for the last two years. In December, the Obama approval/disapproval rating in a Gallup poll stood at 46 percent.

Congress’ approval rating stood at an embarrassing 13 percent.

So the landscape is ripe for a set of New Year’s resolutions for Congress and the president. Here are mine for the 44th president and the 112th Congress:

RESOLVED, Congress and the president shall not increase the federal debt or deficit in 2011. Since 2007, U.S. total debt has soared from $9 trillion to over $13 trillion in 2010. The federal budget went from $2.8 trillion in 2008 to a staggering $3.8 trillion in 2010, and look for an even higher budget number from President Obama next month for the 2012 fiscal year budget. It’s projected that the ratio of U.S. national debt to gross domestic product (GDP) will be 100 percent by 2015, a dangerous ratio that signals insolvency problems. (The ratio that led to Greece’s financial struggle last year was 125 percent.) If Congress and the president don’t control spending this year, our country will face insecurities that will threaten our place in the world and affect future generations.

RESOLVED, Congress and the president shall not fund bailouts for financially troubled states. Like the federal government, numerous states have committed deficit spending and government indebtedness — and gotten themselves in financial trouble. Expect some state legislatures and governors (California comes to mind) to approach the federal government for bailouts in 2011, thereby punishing taxpayers from fiscally responsible states (Indiana comes to mind). The federal government should not be the banker for state officials who have been unable to exercise fiscal responsibility and now find themselves facing difficult choices for state funding. The message from Congress and the president should be, “The feds are broke, too. Don’t come to us for help.” This will be a vital — and very challenging — test of leadership for elected officials at all levels of government, but the temptation to say “yes” should be resisted.

RESOLVED, Congress should exercise responsible oversight to assure efficiency in federal agency spending. By most assessments, the federal government wastes taxpayer money. While there is much to like about federal programs (we need a Department of Defense), too much money is wasted by virtually every federal agency, by employees, via contracts with the private sector, by fraud and by abuse of programs with good intentions but poor results.

It is human nature for people in government, including elected officials, to spend other people’s money without regard for who is actually stuck with the bill. Federal overspending and wasteful spending have consequences — to you and me as taxpayers and to our nation’s integrity and security. Congress can, and should, stop it wherever possible. But most of all, pay attention to it in 2011.

RESOLVED, Congress and the president should reestablish a commitment to traditional civics in public education. By most surveys, Americans are ignorant about how government really works, about our nation’s history, about fundamental economics and about our founding national documents, which establish our system of American rights and responsibilities. If Americans don’t know the three branches of government (only 35 percent can name all three) and understand their respective roles in our lives, how can leaders perpetuate the principles that have guided our country for the last 234 years? American education, K-12 through college, should teach basic civics and American history — it’s essential to a free society, and it’s a great story for all generations to know. Read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence again — they’ll inspire you.

RESOLVED, Congress and the president should encourage citizen responsibility. Americans have much to be thankful for in our enlightened society. Charities and churches do fabulous work to assist others — the less fortunate, the homeless, the sick — but each of us has a responsibility to be good citizens and help others in need.

This year, resolve to thank people in uniform for the work they do, befriend a child (or an adult) who needs a boost, volunteer for an organization that helps make a community better. Be thankful for the freedoms we enjoy.

Happy New Year!

George Nethercutt is the former Congressman representing the 5th District of Washington. He served from 1995-2005.

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