MARBLE FALLS — The national debt and deficit are two of the most crucial challenges facing the United States, but U.S. Sen. John Cornyn remains optimistic about the future.
That’s the message Cornyn, the former Texas attorney general, told a rapt audience Aug. 18 during a luncheon address to the Marble Falls Noon Rotary Club.
Even as the nation struggles with recession and a jobless rate at more than 9 percent, the Texas Republican believes America still has a bright future, he said.
“We have challenges that confront our country, but I don’t believe America is in decline,” he added. “I am still optimistic about America.”
Cornyn focused mostly on fiscal issues during his address to the club earlier at River City Grille, 700 First St.
Because of federal overspending and soaring debt, every American man, woman and child owes Washington about $46,000, Cornyn said.
“We are in for a big problem. The worst thing we can do is ignore it,” he added.
Also, about 40 cents of every dollar going to Washington comes from money borrowed from other countries, including “Communist China,” the senator said.
“That means we are at their tender mercies — and their (China’s) interests may not coincide with ours,” he added.
Economic analysts estimate the national deficit is about $1.5 trillion, and the cumulative national debt is about $14.4 trillion, Cornyn said.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen recently cited fiscal woes as America’s “biggest national security challenge,” the senator added.
Cornyn sits on several key Senate committees, including Armed Services, Budget, Finance and Judiciary, as well as subcommittees on energy, natural resources, infrastructure and health care.
Recently, President Barack Obama and Congress negotiated a deal to raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion through the next two years.
“I think it was the best we could do under a bad set of circumstances,” Cornyn said. “Frankly, we need to do much better.”
As part of the debt-ceiling deal, Congress recently appointed the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, with six Senate members and six U.S. House of Representatives members evenly divided by party, Cornyn said.
By Nov. 23, the committee must find a way to reduce federal spending by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, he added.
“But that number is really small when you’re talking about $14.5 trillion in debt,” Cornyn said.
Also, the senator criticized the Obama health-care reform program as a “huge, unfunded mandate.”
The program will cost about $27 billion at the state level, Cornyn said.
However, Democrats and Republican alike have contributed to the deficit and debt during recent years, he added.
A balanced budget amendment to the Constitution can stop the flow of red ink, said Cornyn, a former Texas Supreme Court justice and ex-Bexar County state district judge in San Antonio.
“I think we need to put Congress under the same strategy a business or family must live under,” he added.
The Senate failed to pass a balanced budget amendment by one vote 14 years ago, Cornyn said.
In 1997, the deficit was $107 billion, he recalled.
“How much more compelling is a balanced budget amendment today when the deficit is $1.5 trillion?” Cornyn asked.
Under a balanced-budget amendment, the United States could have enough money to spend during wartime, provided lawmakers adopt certain “triggers” and the “right threshold,” Cornyn said.
Other means to control federal spending include the adoption of reasonable regulation, incentives for small businesses, tort reform and other polices that have been or can be adopted in Texas, he added.
“We are going to create a predicable business environment in Texas, and I am trying to do everything I can to make Washington more like Texas,” Cornyn said.
During a talk with reporters after his address, Corny praised Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican, who recently announced his presidential candidacy.
“I would be pleased to see Gov. Perry do well, and I think he will do well,” Cornyn said. “We know he is a good campaigner. I think the most important part (of the Perry campaign) is to show the policies we have in Texas are policies that can be translated to the federal level and create more employment.”