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Bill Foster on the national debt

Updated: December 26, 2010 4:36PM

The question

From Norman Kuhman of Yorkville: “History shows the national debt at $1 trillion on Sept. 30, 1981; $2.8 trillion on Sept. 30, 1988; $4.4 trillion on Sept. 30, 1993; $5.8 trillion on Sept. 30, 2001; and $11.6 trillion on Sept. 30, 2009. I am 73, I have four children and 12 grandchildren. How will you cut spending and increase taxes to cut the ever-growing debt?”

The fact-check

Foster says he voted against the Democratic budget every time it has come up. This is true.

In May 2008, Foster voted against his party’s budget. In April 2009, Foster was one of 20 Democrats to vote against the budget plan for 2010. Congress has not yet voted on the 2011 budget.

Foster says he voted against $3.7 billion of specific wasteful government spending and earmarks in 2009. His office supplied a list of amendments the representative voted against in 2009, which they say totals $3.7 billion. The list, linked above, includes 23 amendments Foster voted against, including items costing as much as $197 million to as little as $100,000.

The total also includes an amendment that Foster voted for, which would have reduced a discretionary spending in the Hiring Incentive to Restore Employment Act by 5 percent. That 5 percent was equal to $3.2 billion, Foster says.

Of course, while Foster did vote to reduce spending in the amendments he deems “wasteful,” he’s voted for bills that include billions of spending on thousands of projects. Those projects can be considered vital or wasteful by different groups of reasonable people.

For instance, Foster supported $6 million in funding for two Northern Illinois University programs that will focus on treatment and research for fighting cancer. Citizens Against Government Waste identified this project as political pork. Foster said the center could create jobs and save lives.

A list of Foster’s 2010 appropriations requests are available on his website, linked above.

When Foster says he co-sponsored a bill to cut legislators’ pay, he is referring to House Resolution 4720.

Foster was one of 34 co-sponsors on the resolution — known as the Taking Responsibility for Congressional Pay Act — introduced by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, an Arizona Democrat, in March. It would have reduced pay for all members of Congress by 5 percent on Jan. 1, 2011.

On the day it was introduced, it was sent to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where it has never re-emerged for a full vote. Similar bills have been introduced.

Foster also refers to voting for a cap on all non-essential spending. He is talking about House Resolution 2920, the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act. The resolution would have capped discretionary spending in fiscal years 2011, 2012 and 2013. It also would have required the Congressional Budget Office to disclose the effects of legislation on the federal debt.

Foster voted for the resolution, which passed 265-166. The resolution was then sent to the Senate and referred to the Committee on the Budget in August 2009. No vote has been taken in the Senate.

Foster says he is a strong backer of the Bipartisan Debt Commission. The commission was created by President Barack Obama to balance the nation’s primary budget (not including interest on the national debt) by 2015.

There are 18 members — 10 Democrats and eight Republicans — on the commission. The co-chairmen are former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, who was President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff.

You can read more about the commission at the Washington Post story linked above. The committee has already been criticized as partisan, as you can read in the Slate story, also linked above.

- Matt Hanley

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