Asking Washington why

Published 10:29 am Wednesday, January 27, 2016

by Randy Forbes

What do you do when your family is over budget?

Most of us first sit down and review our family’s spending habits. We open up bank statements, check the balance across savings and checking accounts, and take a look at expenses. Then, we make decisions — often difficult ones — about where adjustments need to happen. Business owners who notice their balance sheets are off do the same analysis, figuring out where to cut costs or raise revenue.

It’s a tough situation to be in. It’s a situation our country has been in for years now as federal spending has spiraled out of control. According to the Government Accountability Office, America spends billions on duplicative government programs every year. Over the past seven years, the federal debt held by the public has doubled. Those numbers are so big it’s hard to wrap our minds around them. But here is one that always hits me hard: the debt per taxpayer is about $157,000 according to the U.S. Debt Clock data from the U.S. Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve.

There is one school of thought that believes government intervention is the answer to fixing almost anything ailing our country and our citizens. And so it seems like any time there is a problem, the federal government creates another program to attempt to fix it. Meanwhile, taxpayers are left in the dark when it comes to understanding exactly where their money is going, how effective these programs are, and whether the programs are doing anything to truly move our nation forward. Instead, the result is out of control spending and a massive federal debt.

The American people understand what Washington doesn’t: we cannot keep spending without consequences. That’s why for years I have pushed for a Balanced Budget Amendment to constitutionally require Congress to balance the federal budget each year. That’s why I introduced legislation to hold lawmakers personally responsible for overspending, and voted against every bailout and stimulus under both Presidents Bush and Obama. Aggressively limiting government and cutting back on waste are priorities I will continue to fight for every day. Because, even though at times the task seems daunting, it is critical for both the future of our kids and prosperity of our country that we do not give up.

Let’s drill in on one specific tool that I believe could help our nation as we wrestle through the challenging process of restoring some fiscal sanity. I recently voted for the Taxpayers Right-to-Know Act, which passed the House of Representatives, to improve accountability and allow taxpayers to peel back the curtain on government spending.

Breaking Washington’s spending addiction starts by opening our books and examining where our money is currently going and how it is being used. We should fully expect that this process will expose government waste and create a shakeup. It may be uncomfortable. It should be. Because that is a necessary part of responsible oversight over the way taxpayer dollars are spent.

As it stands now, the Office of Management and Budget is required to post an inventory of all federal programs on a centralized website. The Taxpayer Right-to-Know Act takes that requirement a step further. The bill creates a central database for financial data and performance metrics for every federal program. It gives taxpayers access to more detail; the number of federal employees or contractors involved in each program, total amount of unspent funds, and the specific statute that permits each federal program to exist. Ultimately, it provides taxpayers the information they need to make informed decisions, as the central decision makers in our Constitutional Republic.

But most importantly, I believe this bill empowers the American people to ask — and forces Washington to answer — an important question: why? Why are we spending money on this program or that program? Why is that worth our hard earned taxpayer dollars? Why does this investment move our nation forward?

These questions aren’t just worth asking — they must be asked, because the answers to these questions will define our country’s future. It’s time we empower the American people to ask them.

RANDY FORBES represents Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. For contact information, see