While President Barack Obama’s record fundraising schedule means that he’s “too busy” to come to Wisconsin, I was pleased to join Mitt Romney in Janesville on Monday as he laid out his vision for returning economic health to the private sector. That’s the top priority for working Americans, who know that Washington can’t spend us out of a recession and who don’t share the president’s view that the private sector is “doing fine.”
After adding more than $5 trillion to the national debt, it would be refreshing for Obama just to admit the truth – it didn’t work – and that he will try a fresh approach to strengthen our economy and fix what’s broken in Washington. Instead, he insists on staying the course. Does America really want to double down on his policies and accept four more years mired in the economic doldrums?
When the president was inaugurated, he promised to cut the deficit in half. Instead, government has grown and the deficit has increased. The United States will add $5.3 trillion in debt during Obama’s four-year term, driving our debt to over $16 trillion. Every American’s share of that debt has ballooned from almost $33,000 in 2008 to over $50,000 today. The president calls these trillions of dollars in deficit spending an “investment.” It’s fair to ask what all this borrowing has bought us.
The Federal Reserve just reported that between 2007 and 2010, families’ median net worth fell by nearly 40%. This is a depressing reality. And the Obama administration has no plan to reverse these enormous losses. Unemployment is on the rise. And while the White House boasts of creating 4 million private-sector jobs, the working-age population has grown by 6 million. We’re losing ground. Hard-working Americans are being left behind.
The problem is not a reduction in government payrolls. The federal workforce has grown under this administration. Between 2007 and 2010, total federal wages and benefits increased by about 13%, while wages and benefits in the private sector fell by 6%. Nobody wants to underpay government workers for their efforts, but we simply cannot afford to overpay them. Governments at all levels need to benchmark public-sector compensation against that of the private sector.
Wisconsin’s leaders were elected in 2010, at the depth of the recession. Facing an annual deficit of $1.8 billion, they put in place reasonable reforms to limit spending and to control the growth in compensation for government workers. The steps taken in Wisconsin were not easy; they took political courage. They were enacted in the face of an extraordinary level of intimidation from opponents of real reform.
But these reforms are working. State and local governments have been able to balance budgets, some even producing surpluses. Government employees now have the freedom to choose whether to pay to join a union. Many are choosing to keep their hard-earned money.
The reforms were designed to give state and local governments the flexibility they need to balance their budgets without having to lay off workers. Wisconsin is open for business again. Private payrolls are growing. We all should be proud that the citizens of Wisconsin decided to support these reforms with their votes.
Wisconsin and America cannot afford another four years of increasing debt and growing government. Yet that is all Obama knows, and it is all he is able to offer. We need leadership to reduce the rate of growth of government spending and leadership that recognizes that growing government is not the solution; growing the private sector is.
Ron Johnson is a Republican U.S. senator from Wisconsin.