'On to 2007!'

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, November 29, 2010 | Go to article overview
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'On to 2007!'

Will, George F., Newsweek

Byline: George F. Will

An appointed senator looks back, and ahead.

Come January, the faces of 34 U.S. senators will be --wreathed with "six-year smiles"--the carefree look of those whose next election is agreeably distant. Sen. George LeMieux, 41, theFlorida Republican, will be gone then, but for now he has the smile of a man content to be going home to four children, ranging in age from 7 months to 7 years. His smile is, however, tinged with melancholy about important work interrupted.

He became a senator when Gov. Charlie Crist appointed him to complete the term of Mel Martinez, who resigned in August 2009. Crist, intending to seek that seat in 2010, picked LeMieux, his former chief of staff, as a place holder. Crist did not reckon on 2010's wunderkind, Marco Rubio, who is now senator-elect. LeMieux says leaving is "bittersweet," in part because senatorial "graciousness" survives even today's partisanship. So in 2012 he might run against Sen. Bill Nelson. This is probably unprecedented--two Senate colleagues from the same state anticipating a contest for a Senate seat in the next cycle.

If LeMieux does run, his slogan might be: "On to 2007!" That was, he says, "the last good year," and he asks: Would it result in grinding austerity for government to live for a while as it did then? He says that if federal spending were held at the 2007 level for 10 years, the budget would be balanced in 2013 and the national debt, currently $13.7 trillion, would be less than $7 trillion in 2020, with annual savings of hundreds of billions in debt-service costs. Absent action, he says, interest payments in 2020 on a debt of $26 trillion will be $900 billion.

Today, he says, the government's gross receipts are sufficient only to cover entitlement programs: "For every other function, we're borrowing." Among the conclusions LeMieux has come to during 15 months on Capitol Hill is this: "In perhaps no other place in the world is money spent by an organization without any reference to how much money is taken in." And: "I don't think anyone in Washington knows what we are spending money on." And: "There is no mechanism to know what the 100,000 people in the Agriculture Department are doing, or whether they are doing it effectively."

He is not singling out Agriculture for special blame; his point is that this department is not singular, that the absence of meaningful metrics afflicts almost all aspects of government.

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