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Heidi Heitkamp, Bismarck, column: Don't balance budget on seniors' backs

By Heidi Heitkamp BISMARCK -- The U.S. government currently borrows 40 cents of every dollar it spends. The national debt is about equal to the nation's gross domestic product. Interest on the national debt represents the third largest federal ex...

By Heidi Heitkamp

BISMARCK -- The U.S. government currently borrows 40 cents of every dollar it spends. The national debt is about equal to the nation's gross domestic product. Interest on the national debt represents the third largest federal expenditure after defense spending and programs for the elderly.

These are staggering statistics: staggering because this debt jeopardizes our children's future and, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, threatens our very national security.

Every North Dakota family knows you cannot spend more than you make or save for the future on these terms.

Twelve years ago, President Bill Clinton put our country on a path to retire the nation's debt by 2013. In the 11 short years since he left office, America has accumulated a debt of more than $15 trillion. It's simply unsustainable.

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There is nothing stopping the politicians in Washington from finally balancing the budget; but sadly, there's not much in recent history to suggest that they will actually do it.

Instead of making the tough decisions, Congress simply kicks the can down the road with gimmicks and committees.

The last failed plan was the "Super Committee." That bipartisan group of congressional representatives had more power to make progress on balancing the budget than any of the dozens of blue-ribbon committee and special commissions that went before. And still they failed.

Why? Because these days, too many politicians in Washington prefer to wage partisan, winner-take-all fights instead of coming together to solve the problem.

I'm not going to Washington to be part of that gridlock. I'm going to get things done.

We must get people back to work. We must scrutinize every budget, and get rid of the waste and excess. That's why I recently committed to cutting my office budget by 5 percent, and I will refuse any pay raise when the budget isn't balanced.

We must stop spending money we don't have on things we don't need. Cutting back on federal travel and freezing the pay of members of Congress would save more than $1 billion alone.

I also am committed to supporting a balanced budget amendment so long as that amendment protects Medicare and Social Security and provides flexibility for emergencies such as wars and natural disasters.

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I believe Medicare and Social Security must be protected because our seniors have paid into those programs for years.

It's unfair to balance the budget by gutting these programs that middle-class workers have paid into for so long.

This is not the balanced budget amendment that is supported by Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., the North Dakota Republican Party's endorsed candidate for Senate.

Accordingly, one independent analysis found that his plan would force across the board cuts of 25 percent to programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

I know not everyone feels an amendment to the Constitution is the right thing to do, and I did not come to this decision lightly. But 43 states have balanced budget requirements -- including North Dakota. If we can do it, so can the federal government.

It's time to put politics aside, put country first, and do what's right.

Heitkamp is the Democratic candidate to represent North Dakota in the U.S. Senate.

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