07/23/2013 06:45 pm ET Updated Sep 22, 2013

Put Away the Pom-Poms: Tackling Spending, Debt Still Needed

The Obama administration's has a strange proclivity for patting themselves on the back for "achievements" that anyone else would be ashamed of. Their reaction to this month's revised budget deficit projection is a case in point.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reported on July 8 that the projected budget deficit for this year would come in at $759 billion -- $200 billion less than projected. In the 1600 Pennsylvania bubble world, this modest progress is to be counted a rousing success.

For example, on the OMB blog, Director Sylvia Matthews Burrows suggests the lower (but still gigantic) deficit projection proves the wisdom of the current course, and that we should thus accept the president's entire spending plan: "The [administration's] 2014 budget demonstrates that we do not need to choose between making critical investments necessary to help grow our economy and support middle class families and continuing to cut the deficit in a balanced way," she writes.

Well, okay. A smaller deficit is welcome, but we're nowhere close to a responsible fiscal course, and the president's ever-expanding spending plans -- and desires to hike taxes even more -- won't get us there either.

According to recent estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. is on track for a steady stream of deficits every year between now and 2023 -- which means another decade of fiscal policy that will continue adding to our nearly $17 trillion debt.

The president has had almost five years to make "critical investments necessary to help grow our economy," and yet we're still stuck in a jobless "recovery" that stretches the definition of "recovery." Unemployment remains high -- the topline rate of 7.6 percent obscures the fact that millions of Americans have dropped out of the workforce entirely or are underemployed in part-time jobs.

Meanwhile, quarterly growth estimates remain sluggish, with economists recently scaling back their expectations for future growth. These are not the hallmark signs of a vibrant economy, and no amount of cheerleading from the president's admirers -- who have convinced themselves that a surging stock market is the same thing as a healthy economy -- will change that fact. It seems, to them, the difference between Wall Street and Main Street only exists in election years.

If the president and his Washington allies truly want to grow the economy, reduce the deficit, and restore proper budget prioritization, how about starting with something they can control -- enacting spending and tax reform that will restrain the growth of government, reduce our $17 trillion national debt, and incentive businesses -- especially on Main Street -- to invest in the future of their workforce and this country.

That was the consensus view at a presentation on the "The Need for Spending Reform" that Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) hosted in Washington on July 11, where a bipartisan group of speakers and panelists emphasized the need for fiscal responsibility.

Not all agreed on the best path toward that goal -- but all agreed that Washington can't afford to be complacent when facing down our historic debt burden. Unfortunately, the news of slightly smaller deficits -- coupled with mindless spending cuts under sequestration -- appears to be feeding into that very sense of complacency.

Fortunately, there are opportunities on the horizon to restrain spending -- and one of the event's keynote speakers, Senator Marco Rubio, highlighted that fact. Senator Rubio said the following about the forthcoming debt ceiling debate:

"We should refuse to raise the debt limit by one single cent unless we pass and the president agrees to sign a budget that shows us how we're going to get to balance in at least 10 years. This is not an unreasonable request. They will say that it is. But it is not. They will say 'oh, you're going to risk default.' The $17 trillion debt is the risk of default. The lack of any plan to fix it is the risk of default."

Senator Rubio is right to tie raising the debt limit to spending reform -- as he says, we can't afford to maintain the status quo. In some fashion, the debt limit debate will be a legitimate leverage point to demand spending reductions at least equal to any debt limit increase. These reductions should be reforms that put federal spending on a sustainable path while putting safety-net programs -- like Medicare and Social Security -- back on sound fiscal footing.

Early in his first term, President Obama agreed with Senator Rubio -- and seemed to understand we couldn't afford to shirk our fiscal responsibilities. At his much-heralded Fiscal Responsibility Summit in February 2009, the president's disdain for deficits and debt seemed clear: "Contrary to the prevailing wisdom in Washington these past few years, we cannot simply spend as we please and defer the consequences to the next budget, the next administration or the next generation," Obama declared.

Wise words -- but unfortunately there was no substantive follow-through, and in the intervening years the president has pursued virtually every avenue available for more government spending and found every reason not to implement much needed reforms to bloated bureaucracies.

Is it too much to ask that the president read back over his old speeches and strive to rediscover something of that old Obama, who spoke of deficit spending and debt as if they were dread diseases to be beaten back?

Perhaps then he'd be prepared to take on the challenge of reforming entitlement spending, as he pledged to do in January 2009. Yet four years later, spending for Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid has continued to command a larger share of the federal budget without a serious attempt from this president to make them solvent for future generations. Yet again, the president's approach has been all talk, lots of demagoguery, and little action.

Over the last decade, across two consecutive presidential administrations, our nation's leaders have failed to lead on fiscal issues. The resulting mountain of debt is the clearest manifestation of that failure. Now it's time for our leaders in Washington to make meaningful, credible efforts to return our nation to a sustainable fiscal path.

Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, and the former executive director of Vets for Freedom. Pete is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.