Representative Fred Upton

I’d like to begin by thanking Mr. Elmendorf for joining us today to examine the history and drivers of our nation’s debt and the threat this debt poses to our long-term economic health and stability.

So why are we here? Why was this committee created? In my view, it is ultimately a question of jobs. We need jobs to get our economy growing. We need jobs to improve the fiscal outlook and bring in more revenues because more folks are working.

We hear from job creators all the time who tell us the long-term debt burden and uncertainty about spending and entitlements are keeping them from investing and growing. When I am home in Michigan, where families have faced double-digit unemployment for 32 straight months, people are crying out for an economy they can count on, and that begins by getting our fiscal house in order.

Our nation’s fiscal future is on an unsustainable path. If job creators lack confidence in our economic policy, that means they lack confidence in our economy. And that lack of confidence means they’re not hiring.

Deficit reduction is a pro-growth strategy. Reducing our deficit by cutting spending and reforming entitlements will help restore that confidence. And that is why we are here.

We need to look at the spending side of the ledger, and especially at the health care spending and entitlements that continue to grow at an unsustainable rate. I expect we will hear from Mr. Elmendorf this morning about the unique challenges when it comes to both containing health care spending and accurately estimating the impact of policy changes on such spending. The combination of an aging population and ever-rising health care costs means that health care is going to consume more and more of our budget each year.

Left unchecked, this would force us to choose among several unacceptable options. The massive tax increases that would be required to pay for these costs would send our economy into a permanent downward spiral, which would only worsen our long-term fiscal outlook. Dramatically reducing benefits becomes more likely as time passes without action. The only remaining choice would be to disinvest in other national priorities as health care consumes nearly every dollar we take in. None of these are welcome choices.

So what do we do about it?

That is the question the JSC was created to answer. And the solutions are not a mystery. We need to reform entitlements and begin to tackle the rising cost of health care. We need to shrink the size of government so we are living within our means. We need to enact policies that spur investment and economic growth.

With passage of the health care law, Congress dramatically expanded the entitlement state and made an already-unsustainable fiscal challenge significantly worse. I can point to three new entitlements in that law – premium/cost-sharing subsidies, an unprecedented expansion of Medicaid, and the unsustainable CLASS program – three programs that are not benefitting a single American today, yet they will cost trillions in the long-term.

President Obama promised Medicare and Medicaid reform in his address to Congress last week. While I am disappointed we have not yet received his entitlement reform or deficit reduction proposals, I am eager to see them so they can be viewed alongside his proposals for new spending. I’m also eager for Mr. Elmendorf to score the entirety of the president’s plan, so we know what he is asking to spend and how he proposes to pay for this spending. But as we review the existing Medicare and Medicaid programs, we should also look to potential changes in the new entitlements when we weigh the difficult choices about what we can afford.

As the president said, we need entitlement reform – I have consistently argued we need to address the rising cost of health care if we want these programs to serve future generations and not simply bankrupt them. I look forward to hearing Mr. Elmendorf’s thoughts on our fiscal picture as a whole, and particularly his views on the role of entitlement spending and where we are headed.