Matheson addresses federal deficit, state of Congress

The current state of the economy has a particular degree of importance among college students who are looking at a life of paying off the debts that they accrue now, according to Congressman Jim Matheson, “and the issue is not going away.”

Matheson, one of Utah’s three representatives in the House-he is a Democrat in the 2nd Congressional District-addressed the U on Monday afternoon in the Hinckley Institute of Politics. He had the opportunity to speak locally due to the House of Representatives’ two-week Easter recess, which is now underway.

Matheson offered a brief update of what has been going on this year in Washington, D.C., with a focus squarely on the state of the economy, before he submitted his views regarding what the future holds and took questions on other issues.

Matheson emphasized the negative nature of the current economic status and took Monday’s discussion as an opportunity to promote a group of Democrats, which he co-chairs, called Blue Dogs.

This organization is a group of 38 conservative and moderate Democrats in the House who aim to bridge the gap between ideological extremes.

“I don’t know if people feel the effects of the deficit today, but we are looking at unprecedented levels of accumulation of debt-far beyond anything we have ever done in our history,” Matheson said.

This year’s contribution to the deficit will be more than a half-trillion dollars before the figures from the war in Iraq are factored in.

Although the national debt has been an ongoing problem, it has been less rampant in recent years thanks to some legislation.

In 1990, the Budget Enforcement Act introduced “pay as you go” or “PAYGO” provisions. The implementation of this policy meant that either new programs had to be “budget-neutral” or offset with savings derived from existing funds.

According to the Blue Dogs, these enforceable spending limits serve as a fiscal guardrail to restrain Congress and the president from enacting legislation that increases the debt. In a written statement, Dan Crippen, director of the Congressional Budget Office, affirmed that “PAYGO enforcement has generally promoted budgetary discipline” and said that “it can continue to be an important component of budgetary policy-making and help lawmakers to confront future budgetary pressures.”

The Blue Dogs wish to implement tough budget enforcement rules to re enforce the mission that the PAYGO provisions strayed from when the Budget Enforcement Act expired on Sept. 30, 2002.

The Senate approved new PAYGO rules that applied both to spending and tax cuts, but the House majority did not agree with the tax cut aspect of the proposal’s reach.

Opponents of the Senate’s proposal believe that allowing the PAYGO provision to move forward would seriously endanger the president’s tax cut program, which they say is benefiting the economy, according to economists and federal budgetary specialists Brian Riedl and Keith Miller.

“So that is the big debate in Washington,” Matheson said. “Issues have a lot more than two points of view…My prediction is that we [Senate and House] will not come together in budget relations.”

Aside from the potential impact of this budget debate, Matheson said he doesn’t foresee many changes in Congress this year. “Legislation is far less prevalent in presidential election years than in others, so probably not a lot is going to happen,” Matheson said.

The congressman ended the discussion by praising the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the U.

“I don’t know if people understand how lucky they are to have such a successful and beneficial resource,” Matheson said.

He said the Hinckley Institute helps support a democratic system of government that is more representative of the majority in the United States.

“Our system of government works better when more people are involved. When there are less people involved, the extremes take over.”

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Other issues Matheson discussed and their expected future

GASOLINE PRICES For the long run, encourage OPEC to increase supply and look for other energy sources. TRADESupport increased international trade.WTO isn’t behaving in an open, democratic manner. Must be more transparent, open and democratic and pursue their defined mission. Encourage reform in WTO.OFFSHORINGEncourage job-sourcing creation within the country, not outside, and improve the education system.VISAS FOR FOREIGN STUDENTS Current system of immigration is broken. Reform INS.We benefit from having those quality students in our education system.GAY MARRIAGE Marriage is between a man and a woman.Would vote for a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage.FOREIGN AID Only a small fraction of 1 percent of our budget goes to foreign aide.Overall, that money is being well-spent, even though there are some applications where it’s not.Being engaged in the world is the way to go.WELFARE Need to move from public assistance toward self sufficiency.Work requirements were made tougher in 1996 and more restrictive requirements would go too far.After 1996, total number of people on welfare dropped quite a bit.PATRIOT ACT New threat brings potential for overreaction. Patriot Act was passed in haste while the smoke was still rising from the Pentagon.Search provisions are cause for concern.Many provisions expire at end of 2005.NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND Important that every child receives every option he or she can (non-discrimination).Two desires: 1-increase classroom achievement 2 increase the quality of classroom experience.Good intent, but the implementation of act is off track on three items: 1 qualifications for teachers are unreasonable. (This year’s teacher of the year is not even qualified under current standards.)2-too restrictive in measuring achievement (95 percent of students must pass or the school is failing). Needs a process to track improvement over time.3-There are more requirements on states, but they’re underfunded by $9 billion.TURNING OVER POWER IN IRAQNo matter what, there will still be a U.S. presence.There are not enough troops or resources, and never have been.Wish we could pull out tomorrow, but it’s not in the cards. Need Iraqis to govern themselves and be accountable to the Iraqi people.More international outreach to engage the rest of the world.MEDICARE and SOCIAL SECURITY Medicare will go belly-up in 15 years.The longer we delay, the more difficult the issues will be to address. There needs to be a long transition with a deliberate approach in order for successful change to occur.Bipartisan effort is the only way to significant reform.Must look to ensure long term viability.