At a Budget Committee hearing today to discuss the recent House-passed bill that raises the debt limit and reduces spending, U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) criticized the politicization of our country’s fiscal situation. He urged his colleagues to put posturing aside and come together to save the U.S. from defaulting on its debt, rein in federal spending, and address the main drivers of the debt—our entitlement programs. The $1 trillion in debt being added each year poses great risk to the U.S. economy and ultimately jeopardizes our national security.
A full transcript of the exchange can be found below the video.
Senator Romney: Mr. Chairman, thank you. And thank you to the panelists. A couple of you I know pretty well—and respect you all. These comments don’t refer to you but to us, which is I think we ought to be embarrassed. This Committee ought to be embarrassed, which is the American people expect us to work on a bipartisan basis to address the challenges that America faces, rather than holding hearings that are about preening and posturing and politicizing and trying to blame the other party. It’s really embarrassing. This is a committee responsible for setting a budget every year. We’re supposed to have already done it. We’ve never even met to discuss doing that. We don’t even have a budget.
This is a committee that could be talking about what things we could do to restrain the amount of spending we have, the debt that we’re seeing increase. That’s a real concern I think people on both sides of the aisle agree on. But we’re not doing that. We’re coming here saying the obvious, which is, of course, we can’t default on our debt. And it would be terrible if we did. We know that. We also know that every time the debt ceiling has been raised in the past, there have been questions about whether we should restrain spending and about half the time that we’ve raised the debt ceiling in the past, there’s been efforts to and there have been provisions and agreements to curb spending. We’ve got to find a way to reduce our spending and deal with our fiscal problems. But instead, we’re just preening and posturing. You know, I agree with all the people who say it would be terrible to default on our debt.
We’re not going to default on our debt. I certainly hope not—that would be awful. But don’t forget that that could have been solved a long time ago by our Democrat friends simply in their reconciliation bill, doing what Leader McConnell ask them to do, which is just raise the debt ceiling yourselves. Didn’t need a single Republican vote, not a single vote.
But they chose not to because politicking is the way of this city. And it just it makes the American people sick. Frankly, it makes a number of us who serve in these positions a little ill as well, that they were in a setting with such critical issues being faced and instead of solving them and working together, I don’t think this Committee has ever come together since I’ve been here to sit down—Republicans, Democrats—in these backrooms, we talk about, where deals are getting done. We’ve never had a backroom meeting to talk about these things, to negotiate, to talk about how we’re going to rein in spending.
Look, there’s no question but that we’re going to have to deal with our entitlements, both on the revenue side and on the spending side. We’re going to have to deal with discretionary and non-discretionary spending. But we don’t talk about it. We basically just blame the other side. And every year we add another trillion dollars to the debt. Let me let me just ask Mr. Zandi, Dr. Zandi, is it your view and Moody’s view that the amount of debt we’re adding is ultimately going to become a real problem for the American economy and for the American people and for our ability as a nation to protect ourselves and to have a robust and growing economy? Is this a problem we need to deal with?
Dr. Mark Zandi: These are my views, Senator, not Moody’s. I hear you. I hear your words. They resonate with me. And it’s very clear that we’re on this unsustainable path fiscally and it’s in our face. It’s not ten years from now. It’s not a generation from now. It’s now. And I agree, we need to address this both with regard to spending restraint, and you mentioned the entitlement programs, and tax revenue. We can’t do it with one without the other. Both have to be done. And I think it’s critical that lawmakers come together and talk about this and figure out how to do it. I don’t think it should be done or can be done in the context of a debt limit debate. I don’t think that’s possible. And I think our politics is in the place now that we are increasingly coming to the edge of defaulting, and we will default if we continue down this political path that we’re on. We just got to get off that road and come together. And I totally agree with you. We, you know, we need to stop posturing and we need to start acting.
Romney: Thank you. Mr. Riedl, good to see you again and appreciate your help some years ago. Let me ask you the same question. Is this an issue we ought to be addressing and dealing with, which is the excessive spending we have, the borrowing that we’re doing, the fiscal challenge? And I realize there are two parts of a fiscal challenge, tax revenue as well as spending. But is this something where to make an urgent priority? I saw one group, a nonpartisan group in the House called the “No Labels Group.” They said, hey, let’s just get a commission together to talk about how we can restrain spending. Isn’t this something we ought to be talking about, as opposed to just pointing at each other and saying, “You’re to blame.” “No, you’re to blame.” “And the debt went higher under Trump.” “No, it didn’t. It went higher…” It’s like it’s like, guys. Solve the problem. Don’t just hit each other with brickbats. Is this a challenge we’ve got to deal with?
Brian Riedl: Erskine Bowles years ago said this is going to be the most predictable economic crisis in history. Again, we’re on pace by the CBO to borrow $114 trillion over the next 30 years under the rosy scenario of peace, prosperity, low interest rates, no new spending, no new tax cuts—114 trillion. Who’s going to lend us $114 trillion? China and Japan have already reduced their holdings to two trillion. The Federal Reserve holds five trillion. They’re not going to monetize it. So, we are we really going to borrow $100 trillion from domestic investors over the next hundred years? And if we do so, what’s going to happen to interest rates in the economy? If Congress doesn’t deal with this, the bond market will cut us off at some point and then it’s going to be much more painful.
Romney: Thank you. I’d go on a long time, but I already have. So, Mr. Chairman, back to you.