Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Representing the 1st District of Nebraska

Fort Report: Reinventing Government; Helping America

Jun 2, 2017
Fort Report

On Memorial Day, I met a gentleman who had flown fifteen bombing missions from England to Germany during WWII. A quiet and unassuming man, he had come to the graveside ceremony in Elmwood, Nebraska to pay respects to our war dead. He shared with me that he was the last remaining member of his crew. As the WWII generation passes—the generation that figured out a way to get it done—I wonder if the complexity of our time, the advances of technology, and the ongoing news crises impede our ability to advance a few big things. Let us review a few policy areas and assert some interlocking principles.

Budget: An orderly and prudent budgetary process is necessary for the judicious maintenance of our governing systems and a compassionate civil society. We spend about $4 trillion per year at the federal level. In 1990, we spent about $1.25 trillion. A big federal government is not necessarily the best government. State and local governance matters too. More money does not necessarily mean better outcomes. Too much government can stifle innovation and creativity; too little government can lead to injustice and market fundamentalism.

Taxes: As the United States declared war on Germany and Japan, President Roosevelt, in a speech before Congress, laid out the projection of cost, which, as I recall, was $42 billion. The President also laid out how it was to be paid for. Today, we don't fully pay for our government. This year we will borrow about $600 billion. Long-term structural deficits and debt are taxes—they are just hidden from you. Any new tax proposal should be simple, fair, and progressive. If you make a little more, you pay a little more. If you make a little less, you pay a little less. Revenues should match a right-sized government.

Foreign Policy: After President Trump's trip abroad, the Chancellor of Germany remarked that Europe must find its own way. She's exactly right in this sense: for too long Europe has relied extensively on the United States for its collective security needs. The post-WWII order and the Cold War cast America into this role. However, it is no longer sustainable or fair. Currently, only five of NATO’s twenty-eight members have met their voluntary commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defense. Meanwhile, the U.S. spends close to 4% on defense. Europe's well-developed economies must meet their well-developed commitments to shared security in order to enhance our essential transatlantic partnership. A twenty-first century alliance cannot treat the United States as friend and foil at the same time. International stability depends upon refreshing shared values across the pond, and strengthening them together.

Economics: Most new jobs come from small business, not big business. Small business is hard; many don't survive. Nevertheless, our country's economic well-being depends upon persons who are willing to take a risk, make something new, and help others. We are in an entrepreneurial winter; the number of small business startups is less than those that are dying. This has not happened before in our country. Analysis shows that the two biggest barriers to small business creation and survival are regulations and healthcare. Big business may not like it, but they can absorb regulatory burdens and health costs. Small business cannot. While healthcare is a sensitive topic because it so personally affects all of us and our families, making it affordable once again will be a tremendous boost to recreating entrepreneurial momentum. With momentum comes better wages, greater opportunity, happier communities, and more revenue to the U.S. Treasury. This is a better way of relieving our fiscal pressures than repeating the same stagnant arguments over budgets and taxes.

In a movie made in the wake of WWII, a vet returns home only to realize that he has to rebuild his life. In a desolate scene, he walks through an aircraft junkyard and climbs in the nose gunner position of an abandoned bomber. Reliving a moment during the war, his mind drifts back in time when his position and mission were defined. Suddenly he is jarred back into reality, knowing that both hard work—and imagining new possibilities—is the only way out, the only way forward. It is the same for us as we confront complexity in our time.