Senator Rob Portman

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) a member of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, today made the following opening remarks, as delivered, during the Committee’s hearing on “The History and Drivers of Our Nation’s Debt and Its Threats."

Thank you, Madame Chair. And welcome Director Elmendorf. As you all know, this Committee is going to be relying heavily on your analysis and for your scoring. And to you and your colleagues behind you, I thank you in advance for the many hours you will put in. Our success or failure will depend in large measure on your good work, so we need you and look forward to your responses to our many requests.

I listened to my colleagues’ comments this morning and I must say I’m delighted you’re here today because we need to have a little objective analysis of how we got to where we are and I know you’ll provide that. I hope you’ll also talk a little about the appropriate baseline for us to use to look at our proposals. It’s always going to be compared to what? Whether it’s a spending issue or a revenue issue. And as you know, I have some concerns about the current law baseline because I don’t think it’s realistic. And I want you to address that today if you could. Is that closer to realistic or is the current policy baseline or is there another one like the long term extended baseline, alternative fiscal scenario – all these are going to matter greatly in our work.

We have a $1.5 trillion-dollar task over the next ten years. This of course is a huge challenge but I’d also like your analysis of how that compares to what you see as the real fiscal challenge over the next ten years and the real economic challenge we face. As many of the colleagues on the committee have mentioned this morning, obviously our economy is directly linked to what we do. And we hear about this today from you as we’ll see how we got in the situation we’re in, largely because of economic conditions. Just as in the late 90’s because of the growing economy we were able to come to a unified balanced budget faster than anyone expected.

Using your data and the current policy baseline, as I look at $1.5 trillion I think it’s about 4 percent of projected spending over the next 10 years. So in that sense it seems like it’s something realistic. It’s also as I look at it, based on again your data, and the current policies, less than 20 percent of the projected increase in the deficit over the next 10 years. So 1.5 seems to me to be something we should be doing at the very least. Again I look forward to your insights on that and what is the most realistic baseline.

I hope you and your colleagues will also help us better understand the impacts of policy choices over the coming decades. As I look at your projections, it seems to me that deficit and debt levels would be devastating to our economy over the second, third and fourth 10 years if we don’t do something about the longer term impact. So while we could, within this budget window, find ways to 1.5, it will not be something that markets will react to well in my view unless we’re also looking at long term impacts. And we’d love to have your view there.

The long-term budget estimates are so unsustainable, that your alternative budget scenario simply stops calculating the national debt after 2036, because it is so unsustainable. We will have crossed into totally unchartered territory.

Clearly, entitlement spending is driving these long-term deficits to impossible levels. I’m interested in hearing what reforms you think can protect those in need, which we must do while at the same time modernizing these programs and placing them on a sustainable path for future generations.

Again, thank you for being before us and more importantly, thank you for all the hard work you’ll be doing with us over the next several weeks.