Democrats and Republicans met for a rare joint briefing on March 8 to hear a briefing from the Congressional Budget Office on the outlook for the nation’s financial health.
The news, though sobering, was intended to form a common understanding of the facts that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) hopes will lead to bipartisan cooperation in attacking what he calls one of the greatest problems facing the country, the national debt.
“I went to [Minority] Leader Kim Jeffries (D-N.Y.) to get us together to learn the dire straits that we are currently in and to work together. No one party can solve this. The country wants us to work together,” McCarthy said.
The CBO report indicated that three federal trust funds, Highway, Medicare, and Social Security, will soon become insolvent. Over the next decade, Americans will pay $10.5 trillion in interest on the national debt, which is more than all interest payments made over the last 80 years combined, McCarthy said.
At the same time, income to the federal government is higher than at nearly any time in the nation’s history, according to the speaker, but unchecked government spending is driving the country deeply into debt.
“What I wanted to accomplish with this is a series of discussions so we can sit down in a professional manner, the way America wants us to, to be responsible, to be reasonable, and to stop the runaway spending and put us on a path to a budget that will reduce inflation,” McCarthy said.
The bipartisan briefing was held the day before President Joe Biden intends to release his 2024 federal budget proposal, which is expected to reduce the federal deficit in part by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and large corporations.
“I do not believe that raising taxes is the answer. I’ve had this discussion with the president,” McCarthy said.
The president and the speaker met to discuss the national debt on Feb. 2, a meeting that both described in positive terms but which produced no resolution.
“I believe we could find common ground. It won’t be new taxes,” McCarthy said. “Raising taxes in a low-growth economy like this will only hurt us more and put us into recession.”
House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) said the nation has reached an inflection point with the national debt.
“We cannot defy the laws of economic gravity forever,” he said.
“We will triple our interest payments over 10 years, from a half-trillion to one-and-a-half trillion. We will pay more to service the debt than to pay for all of the United States’ National Defense,” Arrington said.
The national debt is currently at $31.4 trillion, which is the statutory limit known as the debt ceiling. Biden and prominent Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), have called on Congress to pass a “clean” debt ceiling increase with no corresponding reductions in federal spending.
McCarthy and at least one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), have called on the president to agree to cut spending to reduce the growth of the federal debt.
‘What the speaker did today,” Arrington said, “helps all of us diffuse the emotions behind this, the politics behind it, and say, ‘We can agree to disagree on our vision, and our plans and, our strategies to … put us on a sustainable path and to save the country from a debt crisis. But what we can’t do is disagree on the math.’”
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