In November 2008, Americans voted for Barack Obama because they thought he was the kind of leader who could bring Republicans and Democrats together and return America to battle-tested ideals that would stem our economic decline.

Nearly four years later, it is clear America didn’t get that leader.

This month, under President Obama’s leadership, the national debt broke the $16-trillion barrier, adding more than $5 trillion so far during his term.

The sad truth is that In Obamaworld, there is no discussion of hard choices; of living “within our means.” There is just expansion of entitlement.  President Obama talks of the wealthy paying their “fair share” but not how he will raise taxes on job creators and American manufacturers.

The party of government really thinks “they” built it under President Obama.

This is a key reason why unemployment remains above 8%.  And with many more millions of Americans who are underemployed or have given up on work altogether, we are witnessing the slowest economic “recovery” in 70 years.

Now, instead of building on the human dignity and economic lessons of successful and bipartisan welfare reform, President Obama wants to move “backwards” rather than “forward” and make work optional (and the skills development and opportunity that goes with it).

America should be going in exactly the opposite direction with policymakers building on the innovations of welfare reform and eliminating wasteful duplication to other government programs like food stamps, job training programs, housing programs, and Medicaid.  And states should be responsible for a fair share of the responsibility in this.

Barack Obama promoted himself as the purple candidate, and promised hope and change and the need to work together to solve problems.  Instead, he has overseen policies that encourage government dependency, kill job growth, and cultivate a debt and deficit that our children and grandchildren will inherit.

To be fair, the problem didn’t start on this President’s watch.  In Washington, politicians have nearly doubled their spending over the past 10 years — and by most accounts, they plan to burn through $3.7 trillion this fiscal year alone, spending around 40% more than we have.

But President Obama made campaign promise after campaign promise that he’d fix the problem.  He promised to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term.   However, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office just announced this year’s deficit at $1.1 trillion marking four straight years of $1 trillion-plus deficits.  Obama’s 2013 budget would add another $3.5 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years.  Furthermore, his policies have increased the debt by $5 trillion, swelling our total debt to $16 trillion and lowering our once pristine credit rating for the first time ever.

President Obama’s policies have come with a high price tag.  Remember in 2010 when the President promised that Obamacare would be budget neutral?  Now we find out that the health care overhaul law will add billions to the deficit.  A recent study by the Mercatus Center shows that Obamacare will add $500 billion dollars to the deficit.  Many of Obamacare’s opponents, myself included, predicted early on that the President’s health care law would devastate our economy.

When it comes to gambling with taxpayer funds, Obama has proven to be quite the risk-taker.  Case in point: Solyndra. A $527 million sham that cost taxpayers in a big way. Similarly, the President bailed out General Motors, which, as of this week, is expected to head into bankruptcy for a second time. But the biggest gamble of all was the President’s stimulus plan.  At $850 billion, the “shovel ready” program has been a colossal failure, even by the President’s own standards.

The Democrats have continued to play games and ignore the crisis.  Congress is supposed to pass a budget each year that sets overall spending limits, and then pass the dozen spending bills that actually fund basic government operations by October 1, which is the start of the fiscal year. But Congress hasn’t passed a budget since 2009 because the Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats, has failed to pass a budget for more than three years.

The United States faces its most serious financial crisis and the Senate Democrats could not be bothered to write a budget because budgets force people to make choices.  This is leadership?  It is not surprising that they don’t want a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution which would require the federal government to live within its means like states have to- when they don’t even want a budget.  We really need to change the dynamic or we will fail future generations and the promise of America.

Thankfully, a bipartisan effort in both the House and Senate looks to put our elected officials’ money where their mouths are and tracks a proposal I made on the campaign trail to hold people accountable to do their jobs called the “No Budget, No Pay Act” in their respective chambers.  Under the bill, members of Congress would forgo pay for every day after October 1 that they didn’t adopt a budget and pass all of its spending bills.  Once members approved a spending plan and appropriated the money, they would start receiving paychecks again but couldn’t collect any retroactive pay.  The premise is simple: don’t do your job and you don’t get paid. I strongly support this legislation that looks to hold Congress accountable on performing one of its most important functions and forces them to work to get paid. I don’t believe in waiving the work requirement for welfare and I don’t believe in waiving it for Congress either.

But this is only one piece of the puzzle in restoring our fiscal sanity.  During my presidential run, I campaigned heavily on entitlement reform based on my work to reform welfare in the mid- nineties.  With our government spending 40% more than it has, the time is overdue for strong fiscal leadership rather than kicking the can down the road.   We need entitlement reform that provides compassion to those in need but unshackles beneficiaries from the federal government when they are ready.

We must modernize our federal entitlement programs to meet the needs of current and future beneficiaries, and reduce the financial burden on our children and grandchildren.  In many ways our entitlement programs have been successful at protecting millions of Americans from a life of poverty.

And we can no longer be afraid of talking about Medicare in the public square.  The facts are clear.  Medicare is the fastest growing entitlement program and is the largest driver of future deficits.  It accounts for 15 percent of federal spending and is projected to increase from $575 billion this year to $1.2 trillion in 2012.  If we do not modernize and improve Medicare as it currently stands, seniors will lose access to quality healthcare.   We need to instill the power of market competition, and empower Americans with choice and control.  We need to reform Medicare with a premium-support program that offers beneficiaries choice and control over their healthcare options.  This would transform Medicare from a program run by government to a program that empowers seniors.

Finally, for America’s long term future we need to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution to help us to get out of this mess and to prevent us from getting into it again.

True leadership requires serious solutions.  Congressional Democrats are clearly not serious about addressing our nation’s financial problems, and President Obama lacks the leadership and pragmatism to turn the course.  Americans understand the scope of this problem and they expect Washington, DC to produce a budget and policies that tackle our financial crisis.  This makes this presidential election the most important in our lifetime.  We cannot afford to fall off the fiscal cliff.  We cannot afford four more years of President Obama.   We need freedom and opportunity once again for families in America.


Rick Santorum, a Republican, is a former Congressman and Senator from Pennsylvania, and co-founder of Patriot Voices.