Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer really wants a grand bargain, and he says now, “when we don’t have a crisis breathing down our necks,” is the time to do it.
At a Third Way event at the Columbus Club, tucked into one of the more opulent corners of Union Station — the Maryland Democrat delivered an address Monday morning calling on Republicans and Democrats to come to the table and change America’s long-term fiscal outlook.
“Our economy continues to be plagued by uncertainty, and America’s position as the world’s leading power has been called into question,” Hoyer said.
“If we can’t address our own fiscal situation, how can we solve the other complex challenges we have to face?” he asked. “If we cannot fix our long-term outlook, then our economic competitiveness, our national security, and our role as a global leader will, in my view, be diminished.”
Hoyer has long been an advocate of a so-called "grand bargain," which would produce trillions of savings from raising taxes and overhauling entitlement spending. But the political concessions necessary for such a deal have kept that sort of compromise a dream.
Hoyer said America was still the “best and strongest nation in the world.”
“But we have to get serious about the problems we’re facing, and willing to make the hard choices necessary,” he said.
In his speech, Hoyer mentioned that demographic changes make it “mathematically inevitable” that a higher share of the budget will be devoted to mandatory spending, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
But he stopped short of calling for a broad overhaul of those programs. Instead, Hoyer blamed the debt on the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts under President George W. Bush and America’s recession from December 2007 to mid-2009.
And he suggested that taxes on the rich would need to be raised.
“The pressures of these demographic trends demand reforms that ask those who can afford to do so contribute more to accomplish the long-term sustainability that is essential to America’s continued success,” Hoyer said.
Still, in a question and answer segment, Hoyer said everything needed to be on the table.
He suggested that a grand bargain wasn’t so much about a dollar amount — Hoyer refused to provide a dollar figure for what a grand bargain would be. Instead, Hoyer suggested a grand bargain would be about compromise.
He said a grand bargain would probably upset about 15 percent of Democrats and 15 percent of Republicans — and please about 70 percent of Americans in the middle. He specifically mentioned the Social Security overhaul of the 1980s as an ideal of that sort of compromise.
“That’s the model that we need to follow,” he said.
Hoyer said if Congress didn’t make the “hard decisions,” it was going to be “the most vulnerable Americans who pay the price.”
While Hoyer noted that the deficit had been cut in half since 2009, from 9.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product to 4.1 percent of GDP, he criticized the budget deal between Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., as a “missed opportunity.”
And he also said that by placing so much emphasis on the discretionary side of the budget for savings, Congress was achieving short-term savings while forgoing long-term investments. “Not only have we avoided seriously fixing our long-term outlook, we undercut our ability to grow and add to our economy, making it all the more difficult to ensure fiscal sustainability,” he said.
Hoyer seemed to recognize, however, that a grand bargain wasn’t in the cards for this Congress. “Short of reaching a big deal,” he said, “we can still leverage opportunities.”
Specifically, Hoyer mentioned an immigration overhaul as a place to save money. (The Congressional Budget Office projected the Senate immigration bill would save $158 billion in the first ten years and $685 billion in the ten years following that.)
He also said tax extenders were a place to save money, though he said he still preferred a more comprehensive overhaul of the tax code.
Hoyer lauded Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., for his recent proposal, calling it “an honest one.” But he said the Camp plan failed to produce the revenue needed to achieve long-term fiscal sustainability, and he encouraged Republicans and Democrats to “redouble” their efforts.
“We owe it to our successor generations to summon the political courage, the wisdom, the common sense, and a deep sense of personal responsibility, to show that we are worthy of our offices,” Hoyer said.