I have been hearing from many constituents about two topics related to our economy and the federal budget. The first is requests for federal assistance to deal with the economic downturn, particularly the need to further extend unemployment benefits and prevent the impending layoffs of thousands of teachers nationwide. The other is increased federal spending and the size of the federal deficit and debt.
These are critically important issues, and I understand and share the concern for both. Many economists agree that the stimulus legislation that the Congress passed last year is responsible for stabilizing our economy, and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office credits it with saving or creating 2.8 million jobs while cutting taxes for 98% of American families. At the same time, this bill increased the federal deficit.
Much of the stimulus spending has gone directly to state governments, many of which are in economic crisis. In Illinois, the stimulus bill has kept school districts and universities operating, and in our area has been particularly important for Southern Illinois University. While we have seen some economic improvement in recent months – including three straight quarters of economic growth and the addition of over 900,000 jobs since December 2009 – unemployment remains too high. Millions of Americans are out of work and depend on federal unemployment benefits to provide basic needs for their families.
Meanwhile, our deficit has continued to increase at an alarming rate. In addition to the stimulus bill, Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) spending and the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other things, contributed to the increase in the deficit. While it is expected that the deficit will be reduced drastically in coming years, falling to $533 billion by 2013, that is still a significant number, particularly when you remember that we achieved a balanced federal budget during the second term of the Clinton administration. There is general concern that high deficits will lead to inflation in the near term, and our $13 trillion national debt is a serious burden on future generations.
As you may know, I voted against the TARP legislation (bank bailout) and opposed the Iraq War, which has cost close to $1 trillion. I voted for the stimulus bill because, given the severity of the economic downturn, it was necessary to strengthen our economy, and I believe it has accomplished that goal. However, I am concerned about significant additional federal spending to support state governments. Like the federal government, the states are going to have to make tough budget decisions.
At the federal level, we are being asked to support people who are out of work and in great need, while keeping a close watch on federal spending. These are not easy decisions, and I will continue to evaluate legislation with these competing interests in mind. Moving forward, we may not be able to provide as much assistance to people and the states as many would like, and we may not in the short term be able to fully offset the cost of all federal spending. But working together, we can continue to chart a course that builds on our economic recovery and helps those in great need while beginning to address our long-term economic problems.