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Iowans talk gas prices and national debt

May 13, 2011
By U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa
Unlike Congress, families in Iowa can’t spend more money than they bring in year after year. At least not without facing grave financial problems.

Unlike Congress, Iowans can’t increase their paychecks by passing a law to boost their income. On the contrary, the big spenders in Washington would like to pass laws that would decrease taxpayers’ take-home pay by raising taxes.

When rising gas prices squeeze household budgets, Iowans need to figure out where to spend less to make up for the shortfall. They don’t have the luxury of a blank check co-signed by Uncle Sam to pay for basic necessities or splurging on items they can’t afford.

Visiting one-third of Iowa’s counties during a two-week road trip in April, I met face-to-face with more than 1,000 Iowans to answer questions and address issues that matter most to their families, communities and way of life.

In county after county, a sweeping majority of Iowans expressed overriding concern about keeping energy affordable. Filling up the gas tank week after week is eating up a bigger share of family incomes, increasing transportation costs for schools, farms and businesses, and squeezing profitability and savings month after month.

Policymakers and consumers need to use sticker shock at the pump as a catalyst to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The United States sends more than $400 billion each year overseas for foreign oil. Now more than ever, the United States needs to ramp up domestic production of traditional energy -- including oil, natural gas, and coal -- and expand alternative fuels and renewable energy -- including wind, solar, hydropower, biomass and geothermal. Consumers can help lead the way through conservation and choosing energy-efficient appliances, hybrid vehicles and alternative fuels. Congress needs to keep energy security on the front burner in Washington.

In the U.S. Senate, I have long championed American agriculture for its capacity to help feed a growing world population. My work also shaped public policy to give Rural America the opportunity to serve as a domestic, renewable energy resource to help displace oil imports, create jobs, grow green energy, increase competition, and strengthen U.S. energy and national security.

America imports more than 60 percent of our oil. The U.S. Treasury pays out an average $84 billion a year to defend the shipping lanes by which foreign oil reaches the United States. Those who want to isolate ethanol’s federal tax incentives and put them on the chopping block need to remember the massive tax breaks the oil and gas industries have received each year for the last 100 years. There’s an effort under way in the Senate to end ethanol’s federal tax incentives, even as oil and gas tax breaks would remain untouched. Policymakers in the United States should not be legislating to slow down domestic

energy production. Killing ethanol’s tax incentives would cost U.S. jobs, increase our dependence on foreign oil, increase prices at the pump for U.S. consumers, and keep OPEC’s stranglehold on the U.S. economy.

This week I introduced legislation that lays out a fiscally responsible path forward for the ethanol sector. No one else in the energy field has come forward in a similar way, but I hope my legislation starts a trend. Today, ethanol is the only source of alternative energy that’s substantially reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. Going forward, the sky’s the limit as we move to the next generation of advanced biofuels and cellulosic ethanol.

The mid-term elections in November sent a signal to Washington to stop overspending. Iowans who attended my town meetings in April asked what can be done to rein in deficit spending. Washington can’t afford to spend 24.7 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (and that’s what’s projected by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office for fiscal 2011) alongside two-percent economic growth without saddling future generations with a legacy of debt.

A divided government in Washington must work together to address chronic deficits and a $14 trillion national debt. Simplifying the federal tax code would help promote compliance and trigger stronger economic growth, investment and job creation. I support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would require a balanced federal budget just as 46 of the 50 states require. I don’t support raising taxes to balance the budget. It doesn’t work. Right now, Washington spends $1.68 for every dollar it collects in taxes. Since World War II, the government has spent $1.17, on average, every time Congress has raised taxes by $1.

At my town meetings, Iowans asked for measurable belt-tightening in Washington. I’ll be working to make it happen as Congress debates raising the debt ceiling and approving the federal budget for fiscal 2012. The Senate Budget Committee is expected to get to work next week. The budget resolution deserves a rigorous debate and one that takes place in a transparent manner. As a member of the Budget Committee, I intend to do what I can to make that happen.

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