In the next 31 days—starting today—the budget conference committee will try to accomplish something Congress has failed to do for the past four years…

Agree on a budget.

But not just any budget. This one needs to tackle the key driver of spending and debt: entitlement spending.

Think of it this way: Our house is flooded with excess spending. Should we raise the ceiling, or pump out the water?

House Flooding - Fix the Debt

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This year’s negotiations are at risk of getting sidetracked by proposals to replace the sequestration spending reductions agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). Rather than engage in another political tug-of–war, policymakers should do these three things:

1. Address Future Debt: The conferees should focus on making a sizable down payment toward the nation’s fundamental fiscal challenges through basic entitlement reforms.

2. Stick to the Budget Control Act: To honor the original intent of sequestration, conferees should recommend substantive reforms to control the growth in entitlement spending.

3. Enforce Lower Levels of Spending: Conferees should stay away from trading the sure savings in the BCA in exchange for uncertain savings in the future, except for substantive structural reforms to curb the growth in spending from Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.

The committee has a lot to consider, but it’s time to get back to basic budgeting. While tax reform is critical to putting the United States on better economic footing, it should be separate from this committee’s plan.

The committee can only accomplish so much in 31 days, and should focus on the most critical budgetary challenge: out-of-control entitlement spending. The conferees should start with stopping new entitlements from taking root through the subsidies and Medicaid expansion of Obamacare. They should also restore needed defense capabilities and resources without exceeding the BCA’s reasonable overall spending limits in the process.

Temptations in those Capitol Hill back rooms can be strong. But lawmakers should not allow themselves to fall prey to using budget gimmicks or a tax-and-spend-approach to increase spending.

In the end, no deal is better than a bad deal. If the Members can stick to these principles, they can avoid a bad deal for all the hard-working Americans paying for it.

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