The United States is at a fiscal tipping point.

The national debt now threatens jobs and our economy. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the debt is a greater threat to our national security than terrorism. We can no longer just kick the can down the road, but must get our national finances in order to preserve important government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

The facts are staggering. The federal debt now exceeds $14 trillion and continues to grow at a stifling rate — almost $200 million every hour, $4 billion a day and $120 billion a month is added to the tally. The U.S. government spent $3.5 trillion in 2010, but only took in $2.4 trillion. By way of comparison, the Louisiana budget shortfall was $1.6 billion for all of 2012 — it only took the federal government eight hours to rack up that much debt. Forty-one cents of every dollar the federal government spends is borrowed. If an individual or state ran his or its finances like this, he or it would be bankrupt.

It’s foolish to even consider borrowing more money without substantial spending cuts. Two things must occur before America contemplates spending more money. The first is spending cuts. Not millions or billions, but trillions in cuts. We as a country must look at every program and every dollar spent to see if it is fiscally responsible. The second thing that must happen is overhauling the budget process with a balanced-budget amendment. When every household is required to balance its own budget, it’s irresponsible for the federal government to continue this spending spree.

The U.S. House recently passed a budget which would restore fiscal sanity, and we will be voting on a balanced-budget amendment soon. The Senate voted down the budget with almost all Democrats opposing. President Barack Obama proposed a budget of his own, which was rejected 97 to 0. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Senate Democrats felt the president’s budget spent too much.

This brings us to the current debt ceiling negotiations. There is agreement on several areas, but other disagreements remain. For example, Republicans and some Democrats, such as former President Bill Clinton, agree that corporate tax rates should be decreased. The rate is significantly higher in the United States than in other countries, which causes companies to move jobs to countries with lower rates. Another way to increase revenue would be to increase offshore drilling, which contributes royalties to federal coffers.

The challenge before our country is great. This is about the United States now and the United States we leave to our children and grandchildren. With stakes as high as this, I am confident we will meet the challenge.

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, M.D.

representative, 6th Congressional District

Baton Rouge