Earlier this week, I took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to make my first official remarks. A bit of anticipation surrounds the first floor speech given by a member of Congress. Some members rush right in — giving a speech just days after being sworn in. Others wait months, preferring to get their “sea legs” under them before addressing the House.
Regardless of the timing, the topic of each freshman’s speech is noteworthy, as it reveals their values and priorities. Some use their time to highlight a local sports team, others attack the other party.
I used my time to celebrate South Dakota and our longstanding commitment to fiscal responsibility.
Eight years ago, I sat in the Rotunda as then-Governor Dennis Daugaard proclaimed “in South Dakota we don’t spend money we don’t have.” I was filled with pride a few weeks ago when our new Governor Kristi Noem echoed those words. Our leaders change, but our core South Dakota values don’t.
South Dakota has never incurred any general obligation debt, and our pension system is fully-funded. Those successes don’t happen by accident. It takes decades of making prudent (and sometimes unpopular) decisions. I’m proud, through my work as chief of staff to the Governor, to have been a part of that history.
Here in Washington, the story is different. There hasn’t always been that kind of intestinal fortitude, resulting in a national debt of $22 trillion. What’s worse, the debt continues to rise.
Fiscal responsibility shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We can debate what our expenses should be, and we can debate what our revenues should be, but we should agree that our expenses can’t dwarf our revenues. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but I’m more interested in solutions. Taking our medicine — and we do need to take it — won’t be easy, and it can’t happen all at once, but I’m willing to take the tough votes.
I’m not naïve. I understand that one member can’t unilaterally impose fiscal discipline on our national government. There is an important role for me to play, though, regularly reminding my colleagues how important it is for us to act responsibly. Over time the cumulative impact of those efforts might well make a few converts and push Congress toward a better, more sustainable way of doing business.
After all, fiscal responsibility is possible — just ask South Dakota.