U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake: Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare are real drivers of federal spending

Matt York

While the media would have you believe the "fiscal cliff" signaled the greatest impending economic catastrophe our country had ever faced, in reality, it may as well have been a "fiscal blip" on the larger radar of our economic troubles.

While averting huge tax increases on most American wage earners was a good thing, I opposed the fiscal cliff deal because it only exacerbated our country's spending problem. Until Congress reins in our debt and deficit and restructures our entitlement programs, the country will continue to teeter on a fiscal cliff.

Comprehensive tax reform that permanently reduces marginal rates for all income earners and strips the code of credits, deductions and loopholes will grant taxpayers and businesses greater long-term stability, encouraging job creation and thus economic growth. To further allow businesses to create private sector jobs, Congress must reduce the U.S. corporate tax rate - the highest in the world - and taxes on capital gains and dividends.

But economic growth alone won't fix our debt and deficit. Congress must drastically reduce federal spending first and foremost by passing a serious federal budget that gets us back on the right track. And once Congress returns to regular order by passing spending bills individually, we can use the power of the purse to rein in federal agencies that impose massive, and often unnecessary, regulatory burdens on small businesses.

To get at the real drivers of our federal spending, Congress must tackle entitlement reform. Spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, coupled with the interest on our national debt will exceed all tax revenue in just about 13 years. If Congress enacts reform soon, those in or nearing retirement won't be affected. But the longer Congress stalls, the greater the chance that benefits for those who rely on these programs will be jeopardized.

As a border state, Arizona pays a heavy burden with our broken immigration system, but we stand to reap great benefits with substantive immigration reform. Obviously, we need better border security. We also need a temporary worker plan to help provide the labor required to allow for economic growth, along with a realistic mechanism to deal with those working here illegally.

Immigration reform doesn't just affect the southern border, nor just low-skilled labor. Providing means for high-skilled foreign workers, like those with advanced degrees from U.S. universities, to participate in our economy will ensure that we can compete in this global economy.

The new Congress provides many opportunities to make good on the promises we've made to future generations; to spare them the burden of our fiscal irresponsibility, and to equip them with economic and immigration systems that will continue to make our nation prosperous.

Jeff Flake, a Republican, was elected to the U.S. Senate in November.