On more than one occasion earlier this month I bent Congressman Joe Pitt’s aide Jesse Stoepker’s ear over Mr. Pitt’s stance on the government shutdown.
I was incensed that 20 to 30 conservative members of the House of Representatives could hold the entire country hostage with their unconstitutional demands that the Affordable Care Act be repealed.
I was pleased when early in the standoff Representative Pitts, seen above with Senator Toomey, came out against closing the government and then subsequently disappointed when he voted against ending the shutdown 16 days later. Such is Washington I guess.
After the conservative hostage takers folded their tent and went slinking back to their home districts on October 17th, I reached out to Pitts’ aide again.
After thanking Jesse for putting up with my not always friendly calls, I asked him to remind Congressman Pitts that the deficits the country is battling over didn’t just materialize out of thin air on January 21st, 2009, the day Barack Obama was inaugurated.
Rather spending during the Bush administration on two unbudgeted wars, two unfunded tax cuts, and Medicare Plan D, the largest social welfare program since the 1960’s, had driven government spending to an all-time high just as Obama was taking office.
Yesterday, I received the following response from Congressman Pitts:
Dear Mr. Knickerbocker:
Thank you for informing me of your opposition to the excessive spending of the Bush Administration. It was good to hear from you.
I agree with you. Excessive federal spending is the fault of both parties.
There is no question that the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were extremely expensive. While there is now some disagreement about the wisdom of the Iraq War, at least at the time, everyone agreed that we needed to engage the Taliban in Afghanistan, including now-President Barack Obama. As our President said in accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, “The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense.”
When I was first elected to Congress, I served for four years on the House Budget Committee. In each of those years, we balanced the budget, working with President Bill Clinton, through freezing discretionary spending and making hard choices, and we paid off billions in government debt. I know that balancing budgets in a bipartisan fashion can be done, because I have done it.
Not only did I co-author four balanced budgets, but I also have a record of voting against my own party when necessary to stand up for fiscal responsibility. I voted against President Bush’s marquee No Child Left Behind program because it cost too much and because it usurped state and local authority. I voted against President Bush’s bank bailout (the “Troubled Asset Relief Program”). I also voted against approximately one-third of my own party’s appropriations bills during the Bush Administration because they spent too much.
However, long-term, our real problem is entitlement spending. Currently, our country’s official national debt (public debt subject to the debt limit) is over $16.4 trillion, plus another $122 trillion in unfunded liabilities: $16 trillion from Social Security, and $105 trillion from Medicare (including Part D).
Regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress has approved a total of $1.283 trillion for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks: Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan and other counter terror operations; Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
Of this $1.283 trillion total, it is estimated that Iraq cost about $806 billion (63%), Afghanistan $444 billion (35%) and enhanced base security about $29 billion (2%). To put these numbers in perspective, the cost of all these wars works out to about a single year’s budget deficit under the Obama Administration.
Or, to look at it another way, the Iraq War cost about as much as President Obama’s $787 billion dollar stimulus bill, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. If we had spent zero dollars on defense in 2012, we would still have had a budget deficit of $459 billion. The Medicare unfunded liability alone is equivalent to over 100 Iraq Wars.
I absolutely agree with you that, if we’re going to solve problems of this magnitude, we’re all going to have to work together. I’m not concerned with who’s right or who’s wrong, but what’s right and what’s wrong. I will continue to work with Democrats on this and all other issues. Rest assured, I will keep your views in mind. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with me. Please don’t hesitate to contact me again in the future regarding any issue that concerns you or your family.
Member of Congress
Congressman Pitts and I could squabble over a few of his points. His estimates of the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are low in my opinion and the real cost of implementing Medicare Plan D is put at three times the $380B price tag by some experts.
But I can leave those wrestling matches for another day.
Today I tip my hat to the conservative Congressman. Its notable when a politician of Pitts’ stature says, on the record no less, his party shares the fault for the “excessive federal spending” and remind us it was President Clinton, with Republican’s help of course, who last balanced the federal budget in 1999 and 2000.
If Pitts can admit complicity, maybe, just maybe, the rest of us can do the same and begin to have more substantive, civil discussions about the real challenges like immigration, healthcare, infrastructure and defense facing the county.