COLUMBIA —With the national debt hovering around $13.5 trillion and projected to grow quickly — and with Congress struggling to assemble a budget for a fiscal year that began almost a month ago, the federal budget continues to be a growing concern for many Americans.
It also is an issue at the forefront of the four 9th District Congressional candidates' minds. The candidates express their views on the current budget, proposed changes and department budget cuts.
Ron Burrus, write-in Independent
Although Burrus said President Barack Obama's stimulus plan was a step in the right direction, he called it just a "Band-Aid" on the economic crisis the nation is facing.
Burrus said that when free-market activity is deregulated as it is now, the nation is headed toward a lack of competition among businesses. The government should begin "reasonably regulating and increase competition," which in turn will help the country, he said.
One of the ways to get the budget under control is to cut some of the military spending overseas, such as in Afghanistan, Korea and Germany. That would allow the government to reallocate that money toward special forces, covert operations and the development of military technology.
Burrus said he supports letting the tax breaks on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans expire so the government can collect more money to begin paying off the nation's debt.
As the federal government begins to make budget cuts, tax revenue will start coming in, the economy will improve and unemployment will decrease, Burrus said. At that point, the government could start examining where it can cut taxes.
He said there needs to be more investment in programs such as highways and other infrastructure that he said have been ignored in the past few years.
"In the Bush years things had been left untouched," Burrus said. "Infrastructure is a problem, and now we have to pay the piper."
Burrus lists banking and schools as other problems that need to be addressed.
Burrus said if America does not want to bail out banks again, then they must be re-compartmentalized and regulated. This would also increase competition.
Schools need to have an increase in funding from the lowest level of education to the highest, he said.
"When you have a well-trained population base with strong skills, your economy thrives," Burrus said.
Jeff Reed, write-in Democrat
Reed said the federal budget at this point "is a giant mess."
Reed said there are some federal programs that should be cut while others should get more money. He cited the Department of Defense as one that should be cut because it "ties up so much money" that could be used elsewhere.
"We need to start making money" to provide for programs that benefit the nation, Reed said.
He said taxes eventually will have to go up to help stimulate the economy because right now "it is unsustainable."
"I was raised by a single mother," Reed said. "She provided money and clothes for me, and if we had any left over we would go on vacation." Today, a single mother would struggle to do that, he said.
Reed said he would like to see the nation return to the tax system under former President Bill Clinton, a time when he believes the economy and the middle class were "in better shape."
Reed said Moberly, a town of 14,000 people, lost 300 jobs in a span of just a few months in late 2007 and early 2008.
"There used to be strong manufacturing jobs," he said of the town 30 miles north of Columbia. "It is just not like that anymore."
Reed said infrastructure such as highways and bridges cost money and must be maintained.
"I enjoy driving on roadways that are not falling apart, and I enjoy driving across bridges that are not crumbling into the rivers," Reed said.
The Department of Veteran Affairs is another that should have increased funding, he said. "We need to take care of the people who have served this country."
Blaine Luetkemeyer, Republican incumbent
The lack of a 2011 federal budget right now is a big concern for the nation, Luetkemeyer said.
"In a time where we need to restrain spending, we go without a budget," he said. "This is terrible."
Luetkemeyer said one of the most important things the government needs to do is get the budget under control, decrease the national deficit and get the economy moving again.
To do this, he supports the Balanced Budget Amendment, which would require the government to balance the amount it spends with estimated revenue.
"We need to get our spending under control and stop the huge problem we are creating for our kids and grandkids," he said.
Luetkemeyer also favors returning to 2008 spending levels and further cutting departments and programs from there. This return is a provision under the Pledge for America, which was created by the Republican Party to form a new governing agenda for the nation.
He said that every single department in the government could be cut because it is "spending money like gamblers."
When deciding which programs to fund, Luetkemeyer said the government needs to first look at places where it has a constitutional responsibility to provide funding and then prioritize spending in other departments based on their importance to American sustainability.
He said the government needs to "look at the cost benefit of the program versus what it can do and what it should do, then make a decision of whether it is worthwhile."
Luetkemeyer said the government has a constitutional responsibility to fund the Department of Defense.
"If we do not allow military to have funds to do their jobs, then you endanger Americans and people serving," he said.
Christopher Dwyer, Libertarian
Dwyer said that as a Libertarian he believes that ultimately the American people should have the power to decide where their money goes within the government. He said he is also for "across the board reduction in spending" and a balanced budget.
"I believe the bigger the government gets the more intrusive it gets," he said, "whether it is your personal life or business life."
Dwyer said he believes the Balanced Budget Amendment is one way to help shrink the deficit and pull America out of its financial crisis.
"Whatever the costs are and whatever the pains may be, it is imperative to the country to balance the budget," Dwyer said.
Dwyer cited the departments of Energy and Education as agencies that could be eliminated. Although he's not opposed to the goals of the energy department, he noted that it was established under former President Jimmy Carter to decrease the nation's dependency on foreign energy. More than 30 years later, the country still relies on foreign oil.
Dwyer believes America "needs to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining."
He also said the Department of Education should be completely dismantled, allowing states to decide how to pay for education and to create programs that best suit the needs of the students.
"I'm open for other people's views, however, we need to get things done and get the budget under control, and that is my opinion," Dwyer said. "It is imperative to our country."