“Painful, Unglamorous, and Indispensible Work of Fiscal Discipline”
Those were some of the words uttered by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) today at the Brookings Institution as the latest political leader to warn about the crushing weight that our deficits and ballooning debt would bring to bear on future generations. Hoyer’s bottom line was that if nothing is done soon, in the not so distant future, our entire economy will not provide enough to pay for all the promises that have been made by the federal government. Among others, he pointed to CRFB co-chair Bill Frenzel as a bipartisan compatriot on this issue – noting that though they hail from opposite sides of the aisle, they are not on opposite sides of this issue. Both believe lawmakers need a lot more fiscal discipline. Hoyer’s prepared remarks are available here.
The consequences of failure are dramatic enough to concentrate the mind of even the most dedicated cynic. It is enough to see that by the time my grandchildren and great-granddaughter are in college, our debt will exceed our GDP: we will owe more money than the value of our entire economy. It is enough to realize that, by then, our government will exist to do only two things: pay for entitlements, and pay interest on our debts—with essentially nothing left over for our nation’s defense, for our children’s education, for innovative scientific research, or for any of the other critical investments that keep America a home for freedom and opportunity.
The Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform recently released a report showing that, under reasonable assumptions about which policies are likely to be extended, federal debt held by the public will exceed GDP in 2022.
Hoyer did not sugarcoat the difficulty faced by politicians in efforts to climb out of the spending hole that has been dug, and that will keep growing if nothing is done. And he acknowledged that there weren’t a lot of political points to be scored by telling the public that they are probably facing both cuts to entitlement programs and increased taxes, and that what is “politically easy is usually often fiscally deadly.” At the same time he noted that the public has some responsibilities as well.
Washington’s behavior will only change when the incentives change: when voters demand more responsibility, and when the political price for easy choices rises sharply. As I said, I’m hopeful that just that is happening. But the public has a responsibility, too: to educate itself about the sources of the deficit and the range of realistic solutions—not to demand that government continue to escalate entitlement payments and lower the deficit at the same time.
Although he noted that that he completely disagreed with Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) recent proposal to rein in deficits, Hoyer commended Ryan, the ranking member of the Budget Committee, for actually putting forth a proposal that showed the difficulty in getting to a balanced budget.
Hoyer ended by saying it was going to take a bipartisan effort, political pain, and a lot of Bill Frenzels, Alice Rivlins, Barack Obamas, and leaders on both sides of the aisle and Capitol Hill to get our deficits and debt under control.