U.S Rep. Chuck Fleischmann testified on Wednesday before the House Budget Committee, and asked its members to address the national debt “in a real and meaningful way.” Rep. Paul Ryan chairs the committee, and is a key figure in debates on federal spending. Republicans are divided on whether to include entitlement reform measures in a budget proposal.
Below are Congressman Fleischmann’s full remarks.
Chairman Ryan, Ranking Member Van Hollen and members of the Budget Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify regarding the 2012 budget. I appreciate the hard work ahead of you and wish you the best during this challenging process.
I will keep my comments short because I am not here to ask for additional funding in certain areas or spending that might help with a pet project or a campaign promise. Rather, as a recently elected Member of Congress, I want to stress the problems of our massive debt and uncontrollable spending, encourage you to set us on a path to fiscal sustainability, and stress my desire to help with this process.
As you know well, the current fiscal outlook is bleak, and it has gotten dramatically worse over the last few years. A few key facts:
· Our current national debt is $14 trillion which amounts to $45,000 per every U.S. citizen.
· The total national debt held by the public is $9.5 trillion, and it has increased 43% in just the last 2 years.
· Our public debt is on a path to being 100% of our GDP in just a few years, and 47% of that debt is owned by foreign sources.
· Currently, the federal government is borrowing more than 42 cents for every dollar it spends.
And the cause of this problem is increased spending, not a lack of revenue:
· Since 1970, federal government spending has grown 8 times faster than median household income.
· Since World War II tax revenues have averaged about 18 % of the economy, and these revenues are predicted to remain at about that level for the foreseeable future. During this time spending has averaged around 20% of the economy. However, recently spending has gone well above this 20% average, and it is now predicted to explode to nearly 80% of the economy in future years – a massive and unsustainable increase.
The effect of this massive debt is more than simply depressing numbers. There are real world consequences. In the short term, the debt drives out private investment, worries financial markets and slows economic growth. In the long term, it pushes us to financial instability and threatens our global leadership financially, politically and militarily. It even threatens our national sovereignty as foreign governments buy our debt and puts at risk important programs like Medicare and Social Security. Every day we wait to address the problem, it only gets harder to solve.
Of course, other parts of big government, like excessive regulations, also contribute to a stagnant economy and our high unemployment rate, but the debt is certainly a key contributor.
The American people, certainly the people of the 3rd district of Tennessee, understand the problem. They may not know every fact and every figure, but they know the federal government has gotten too large and the current fiscal path is simply unsustainable. Mr. Chairman, there is a very real sense that we might be the first generation of Americans to pass along an America in worse shape than the one we inherited, and the massive debt is the main reason.
However, there is good news. There is, as always in America, reason for hope. Simply put, the public is ready for action. I hear it in every town hall meeting and in almost every constituent discussion – “please make the tough decisions now so that we can pass along a better America to future generations.” With the American people ready for meaningful action, it seems like we, as Members of Congress, should seize this opportunity and begin the long, hard process of putting our fiscal house in order.
I sincerely think that H.R. 1 was a good start in addressing this problem. Congress showed that we are ready to have a robust and honest debate about spending priorities; and, in the end, we are willing to make the tough choices. But this critical legislation was just one small step in the right direction. We obviously have a long way to go.
Mr. Chairman, again, I wanted to use my time today to stress the need to address the debt in a real and meaningful way. I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I want to be part of the solution. I look forward to working with you and members from both sides of the aisle in the coming months to make the hard choices and put us on a financially sustainable course. Thank you.