Ranking Member Steve Womack Opening Remarks at Hearing Entitled: Reexamining the Economic Costs of Debt

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

 Thank you, Chairman Yarmuth, for holding this hearing. I believe it is an appropriate continuation of the conversation we began last week when Federal Reserve Chairman Powell testified before the Committee.

Last week, I likened Chairman Powell’s assessment of the economy to a check-up with your doctor – and we received an encouraging bill of health. Our economy is strong, and the forward momentum continues thanks to the pro-growth policies enacted last Congress and under this Administration. Americans are confident, and rightfully so.

We should certainly celebrate this historic economic prosperity, but we cannot ignore the fact that we continue to face serious long-term fiscal challenges, particularly the ever-increasing federal debt.

Simply put, the debt is on a completely unsustainable trajectory. The national debt is $23 trillion, and it is projected to grow to more than $34 trillion within a decade. Soon thereafter, on our current path, the federal debt will reach the highest level in American history as a percentage of the economy.

CBO also projects that by 2049, the federal debt will equal $248,000 per American – almost a million dollars for each family of four. After that, it will continue to grow.

Interest payments will increasingly crowd out the other federal spending that is directed towards programs many Americans rely on. CBO projects interest payments on the debt will amount to $390 billion in fiscal year 2020, which is 11 percent of federal tax revenue.

Mr. Chairman, your hearing title provocatively asks us to reexamine the debt, and I suspect we will hear from some voices today that suggest we should not worry too much about it – or we will hear it’s the wrong time to deal with it.

Allow me to underscore just how irresponsible this is. The way our government is operating is the same as an American family trying to make difficult financial decisions about mortgages, health insurance, and bills when they must first direct a significant portion of their family budget just towards paying the interest on a growing credit card balance.

Not only is the way we’re doing business fiscally irresponsible and unsustainable, CBO also found that a growing federal debt has a negative impact on business investment, productivity, and economic growth. It simply does not make sense to champion our present economic successes while ignoring the long-term challenge that is the debt.

I hope we can have a realistic discussion today about the scenarios that are in front of us in the future. We could do nothing. We could try not to make things worse. We could spend even more and add new mandatory spending programs, as many in this institution are proposing. Or, we could work together and address the debt. What happens to the economy and the financial future of our children and grandchildren under each of these scenarios? I certainly don’t want my grandkids to see the crisis scenario, in which the interest rate on the debt will skyrocket abruptly because investors will no longer have confidence in our government’s ability to pay its bills.

That’s why I am seriously concerned that it seems today as though many lawmakers have shifted from a willingness to address the debt with real bipartisan solutions and instead are buying into Modern Monetary Theory, which tells us that the debt doesn’t matter because we can essentially just print more money.

This notion is absurd. We cannot simply wish our problems away. Last week, before this very Committee, Chairman Powell made that point himself when he said the idea that the debt doesn’t matter is wrong. Yet, our colleagues serving in this House use this Theory to justify the cost of the Green New Deal.

So, at this point, I cannot help but wonder how many neutral outside experts Congress needs to hear from before we wake up and act.

Congress must come together in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion to reduce the debt, deliver on our Article I duty, and make good on our responsibility to the American people who have to balance their own budgets each month.

Finally, I would like to congratulate my friend Mr. Burchett from Tennessee, the former mayor of Knox County, and Mr. Case from Hawaii, for working together to introduce a new bipartisan idea to address the national debt.

I am often asked at home: when are you guys up there going to get together and do something instead of fighting with each other? H.R. 5178 suggest creative approaches for how Congress could look at the debt in a bipartisan way, involving the House and the Senate. I’m proud to support this bill authored by Mr. Burchett and Mr. Case.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back the balance of my time.