Before I recognize Chairman Murray, I want to share a few thoughts. You’ll notice there are three senators for every congressman—so it’s an even match. I like to think quality beats quantity. But in all seriousness, we’ve got some important work ahead of us. And it’s not going to be easy. So today, I want to talk about why we’re here and what we need to do.
We’re here because we want to get an agreement. We want to get something done. For too long, both parties have ignored our growing national debt—and the threat it poses to our country. Democrats didn’t create all these problems—and neither did Republicans. Everybody was part of the problem, so everybody has to be part of the solution. But you’ve got to make an accurate diagnosis before you can fill out a prescription. We’ve got to recognize what we’re dealing with.
Debt held by the public has doubled in just five years. And it’s only getting worse.
Ten thousand baby-boomers are retiring every day. Health-care costs are rising. Medicare and Social Security are going broke. The Congressional Budget Office says if we don’t act, we’ll have a debt crisis. And if that happens, the most vulnerable will suffer first and worst. This debt weighs down our economy even today. But right now, we’re not doing much about it. We can’t kick the can down the road anymore. We’ve got to get a handle on our debt—now.
And from my perspective, taking more from hardworking families just isn’t the answer. I know my Republican colleagues feel the same way. So I want to say this from the get-go: If this conference becomes an argument about taxes, we’re not going to get anywhere. The way to raise revenue is to grow the economy. We need to write a tax code that encourages economic growth—not stifles it. And luckily, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate are working together to do just that. Today, our tax code is full of carve-outs and kickbacks. We need to get rid of them—and those bipartisan talks are just the way to do it. So let’s do all we can to encourage that effort. And let’s focus our energy on the task at hand: a budget that cuts spending in a smarter way.
Our goal isn’t to grow the federal budget; it’s to grow family budgets. And to do that, we need to help put people back to work.
Over 90 million Americans are “on the sidelines.” Over a third of the unemployed haven’t had a job in over 6 months.
Household income is down significantly. We may disagree over why the economy isn’t growing as it should. But I hope we can all agree the status quo is unacceptable. So let’s work together to provide some real relief for families. If we get control of our debt, we’ll help the economy grow. We’ll restore confidence in Washington—and in our economy.
Today, the Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates unusually low. If we lock in structural reforms now, we will help keep interest rates low, which will boost our economy. But this opportunity won’t last forever. Once interest rates rise, debt payments will eat up a bigger slice of the federal budget. In fact, those payments might grow so large that they bankrupt us. Structural reforms are crucial to economic growth, and we should act now to get a down payment.
Nobody has to abandon their principles. Instead, we need to find out where our principles overlap. We all agree Washington isn’t working. We all agree there’s a smarter way to cut spending. And we all agree our economy could be doing a lot better. We won’t resolve all our differences here. We won’t solve all our problems. But we can make a good start. And we should—because we owe it to the country.
So let’s focus on achievable goals. Let’s find common ground. Let’s make a down payment on the debt. And let’s get this economy growing again.
With that, I want to recognize Chairman Murray for her opening remarks.