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Reducing debt should be top priority

By By Sonny Callahan
U.S. Representative
Believe it or not, the budget for Fiscal Year 2001 is scheduled to begin in just a few weeks, on October 1.  
Currently, only $30 billion out of a $2 trillion federal budget separates Congress' budget from the president's n less than two cents on the dollar.
And yet, as we head into the final days of negotiations, the signs are everywhere that the White House and Congress are miles apart. Are you surprised?  You shouldn't be.
In a recent edition of The New York Times, President Clinton said he agreed with Republicans that paying down the national debt should be a priority; he just wasn't sure it should be done with the budget for Fiscal Year 2001.  
Congressional Republicans, from House Speaker Denny Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott on down, have expressed a strong, public desire to work with the White House to seek a fair, middle ground on the priorities most important to working Americans.  
In particular, we House Republicans want to achieve results, not set up roadblocks, and we have been straightforward in saying so.
Moreover, we are committed to using 90 percent of next year's budget surplus towards further reducing the national debt.  
This is not using cooked numbers and smoke and mirrors; this is a real commitment on our part and it is out in the open for everyone to see.
Thus far, because of the insistence of the Republican Majority, Congress has already paid off more than $350 billion in national debt. 
And if things keep going the way they have the past four years, we can realistically and responsibly have the national debt paid down completely by 2013.
Friends, that's nothing to sneeze at.  After all, it was just a few short years ago that the president and his side said we couldn't balance the budget in seven years. 
They said it couldn't be done.  They were wrong.
And just a couple years ago, when Congressional Republicans promised we would stop the raid on Social Security, the president and his side said it couldn't be done.  Once again, they were wrong.
Now, with congressional Republicans unified on our goal of further paying down the national debt, the president's side is once again saying it can't be done.  Sadly, we've learned that when they talk about "spending commitments," you better watch out.  That is just code language for "bigger government."
Why, can someone tell me, in this time of unprecedented surplus, should we even question whether or not it is right to pay off the national debt and provide America's children with a brighter future, free of the debt incurred from the past?
Most Americans recognize that reducing the national debt translates directly into lower interest rates on credit cards, car loans and home mortgages for millions of Americans.   
Not only should reducing the debt be a top priority, but by doing so we free up money currently being spent on interest to pay for other top priorities, such as providing prescription drug benefits to our seniors, as well as improving education for all our children.
Already, House Republicans have passed a plan to provide prescription drug coverage that is voluntary, affordable and available to all seniors.  
We believe no senior should be forced to choose between putting food on the table and the medicine they need to be healthy. Unfortunately, the administration has given this bipartisan plan two thumbs down, hoping instead to use this as a key campaign issue in the upcoming presidential campaign.  Congress has also made education funding a top priority in recent years, providing more money than ever before.  Most importantly, we've cut the checks with fewer strings being attached. 
Currently, Washington provides seven percent of the nation's education funding, but provides 40 percent of the regulations.  We have made a real dent in removing some of these onerous, bureaucratic regulations which are conceived in the marble palace of the Department of Education.
As House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas said last week, "the surplus is not the government's money.  It's the people's money."  As such, we shouldn't spend it on risky spending schemes.
The next few weeks promise to be interesting, to say the least.  I'll keep you posted with each week that passes.  
Until next week, take care and God Bless.