With the nation's debt topping $16 trillion earlier this month, candidates in Congressional District 2 agree something must be done, but have slightly different ideas what that should be.
Democratic Congressman Ron Barber favors targeted spending cuts, with no agency above scrutiny, and eliminating waste and fraud.
Republican challenger Martha McSally agrees with those basic premises, but would add layers of government doing more to foster economic growth to bring in more revenue.
At a meeting with the Arizona Daily Star's editorial board on Monday, the pair concurred that looming sequestration budget cuts are not the way to go. Sequestration refers to cuts that would total $1.2 trillion over a seven-year period starting in 2013, including about $500 billion in defense cuts. They begin in January if Congress doesn't act.
Instead, the candidates offered:
"We have to be smart enough to listen to the people running these agencies," said Barber, who is serving the remainder of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' term. "And also ask tough questions about whether they are protecting things that shouldn't be protected."
He supports much of the plan set out by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Simpson-Bowles commission), which suggested areas for budget cuts, with some exceptions, particularly its reference to Social Security and Medicare cuts.
"But I think it's a great starting point," Barber said.
He said he's already discovered in his three months in Congress there are opportunities to cut fraud and waste. He said the government spends an estimated $115 billion yearly in overpayments.
"We've have to have a much tighter fist on the procurement of governmental service," he said.
He also said the government should negotiate the price of Medicare beneficiaries' medications with pharmaceutical companies. Veterans Affairs does that and pays 48 percent less for similar medications, he said. "We've basically given away the shop to pharmaceuticals," he said.
Congress must also search for duplication of efforts in government programs and cut down on Medicare fraud. With defense spending, he said there should be analysis of which weapons systems are needed.
Congress must help create a "pro-growth" environment so businesses can thrive while also targeting waste, fraud and abuse in spending, said McSally, a retired Air Force colonel.
McSally said she would look at the entire "pie chart" of federal spending and sit down with other members of Congress to devise a plan.
Defense spending should be adjusted to fit the current threats as set out by a strategy established by the secretary of defense. She said the doubling of defense spending since 2001 was appropriate due to the two wars but that the agency is now due for some trimming.
"We're always fighting the last war we were in in the military," said McSally, and "we need to be forward thinking … There are savings that can be gained in the Defense Department."
For nondefense departments, she doesn't suggest cutting any department but said "If the federal government is not responsible for doing it, then we need to give the money back to the taxpayers or give it back to the states."
Funding, for example, for the U.S. Education Department should be more closely scrutinized, she said. "I believe in locally driven education."
On Social Security and Medicare, she said both political parties recognize they are good programs that are facing insolvency, and that Congress needs to find bipartisan solutions to protect them for seniors and future generations.
"There (are) ways to do it," she said. "Let's stop yelling at each other and putting 15-second commercials of who's throwing grandma over the cliff … and actually just acknowledge that this is about future generations."
Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @BradyMcCombs.