When it comes to the generation-defining challenge of our time - the explosive growth of our national debt - the president has failed to lead. His budget proposal doubles the debt, raises taxes by $1.6 trillion and locks in spending at historically high levels.
We can do better. The American story is a cherished story of opportunity, made possible because each generation, applying our timeless principles to the challenges of the day, has worked to ensure that the next generation would inherit an America that was stronger, more prosperous and more secure.
Our generation now faces its moment of truth. The existential threat posed by our crushing burden of debt can no longer be ignored.
The president has framed his budget as "living within our means while investing for the future." But borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend isn't living within our means, and leaving a crippling burden of debt to the next generation isn't winning the future. The stimulus was also sold as an investment. Not only did it fail to deliver on its promises of millions of jobs "created or saved," but it also left us hundreds of billions deeper in debt.
Whether branded as stimulus or rebranded as investment, government spending is no substitute for private-sector job creation. All this spending is borrowed money - a pileup of debt that is fueling uncertainty for businesses and job creators, who know that today's deficits are tomorrow's interest rate and tax increases.
This is why House Republicans remain committed to cutting spending now and reducing barriers to economic growth while keeping the government operating for the rest of the fiscal year. We remain hopeful that the president and his party can join us in taking responsible actions to cut spending.
As we work to clean up this year's budget mess, we must not lose sight of our larger fiscal challenges. In three decades, our debt - much of which is owed to foreign governments - will grow to more than three times the size of our entire economy. This trajectory is catastrophic. Our economy cannot sustain this explosive growth of government.
The president's budget did not provide the leadership we need to get this debt under control. Right now, our health and retirement security programs are on an unsustainable course, and politicians who say otherwise are offering nothing more than empty promises to our citizens. Social Security's annual cash deficits are now permanent. Medicare's unfunded liabilities are in the tens of trillions of dollars. Unless we update these programs for the 21st century, they will go bankrupt, breaking promises to current retirees and depriving younger workers of a secure future.
House Republicans have pledged to lead where the president has failed. As we draft our forthcoming budget, four key principles will guide our work:
Make no changes to those in or near retirement. Government needs to reorient its policies without forcing citizens to reorganize their lives. Reforms must be gradual, with no disruptions for those in or near retirement.
Improve our health and retirement safety net. We must make our health and retirement security programs not just sustainable but better - ensuring real security, less waste and greater access to quality, affordable health care.
Lift the crushing burden of debt. The shadow of our spiraling debt is discouraging job creators today. We should change our fiscal trajectory and save our country from bankruptcy.
- Spur economic growth and prosperity. Economic growth, not deficit spending, is the key to higher wages, more jobs and rising standards of living. We should build our budget on strong foundations: low taxes, sound money, reasonable regulations and spending restraint.
The consequences of inaction are not just theoretical: Millions of working families suffered when similar health and retirement arrangements broke down in big business. In some of our proudest industries - airlines, autos and steel - unfunded, open-ended commitments to retirees caused many companies to go bankrupt. Some retired workers were saved when their companies were bailed out by the government. But the U.S. government is "too big to bail" - and at companies that didn't get bailed out, retirees lost critical benefits they were counting on.
These commitments are more than just matters of dollars and cents: They are promises to families that speak to issues of trust and security. Americans deserve more than empty promises from a government that is going broke. We deserve real leadership that delivers real security.
Our forthcoming budget will address the drivers of our debt by strengthening critical government programs - giving real security to today's seniors and to future generations. We must couple these repairs to our safety net with an agenda that restores the foundations for economic growth. That is a plan that fulfills the promise of our exceptional nation and charts a path to prosperity.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is chairman of the House Budget Committee. He represents the 1st Congressional District.
View online at Milwaukee Journal Sentinal