Thanks, Fred—thanks, everybody. I’m delighted to be here. And the first thing I want to do is congratulate the man of the hour, Bill Kilberg. In the time I’ve known Bill, I’ve found him to be an incredibly smart and hardworking guy. There’s a reason they call him a “super lawyer”—which, in this town, is meant to be a compliment. And what’s most impressive about Bill is that he uses his knowledge of the law to protect and promote free enterprise. He knows better than most just how precious—how fragile—opportunity is, both to the employer and to the employee.
And you might not know this about Bill, but he actually went to college on a scholarship from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. So it seems rather fitting that, in receiving this award, he joins a long line of distinguished honorees, including the only president of a labor union to be elected president of the United States: Ronald Reagan.
But perhaps Bill’s greatest achievement is that he married up. There have been many great Bobbies in our history: Bobby Kennedy, Bobby Knight, Bobby Darin. But Bobbie Kilberg is in a league of her own. To say she is accomplished would be to put it mildly. Not too many people can say they’ve worked for a president. Bobbie’s worked for four. And no one is more generous with her time and talents. So please join me in recognizing Bill’s better half, Bobbie Kilberg.
Finally, I want to thank all of you. Like Bill and Bobbie, you all have done your part to build up a great institution. It’s amazing to think that this one university has done so much good for the world. Your scholars are making one breakthrough after another: developing a new treatment for Parkinson’s, designing a driverless car, teaching the blind to see by sound. So I want to salute Hebrew University—this testament to human progress, this beacon on the mountaintop.
I only wish the rest of the world looked so bright. Every week seems to bring news of yet another tragedy—yet another setback for the friends of freedom. And if there were any doubt about the need for a strong America, the events of this year alone should have dispelled that doubt. But I’d like to think we’ve reached a turning point. I’ve been pretty tough on this president for his lack of leadership. But in his speech last week, he seemed to set a new course. He recognized a threat. He laid out a plan to confront it—and there’s certainly room for improvement. But now we as a country should band together. We should work together to defeat ISIS and to show the world the strength of American resolve.
But as you know, we can’t be strong abroad unless we’re strong at home. And there’s no getting around the fact that our economy is in bad shape. Too many families are living paycheck to paycheck. They’re working harder and harder to get ahead and falling further and further behind. Deep poverty is near its highest recorded level. When you stop and take a look at all this, you just have to think, “We can do better.”
So for the past two years, I’ve been traveling across the country with another one of our friends who’s here tonight: Bob Woodson. Bob has been a great mentor of mine—and a good friend of the Kilbergs. He’s taught me a lot. And two years ago I went to him and said, “You know, I don’t think Washington has all the answers. I want to meet the people who do. I want to learn from people who are fighting poverty every day.” So Bob took me on a listening tour. We went to different communities all across the country—from a homeless shelter in Denver to a rehab center in San Antonio, from a high school in Milwaukee to a church in Indianapolis.
I met people from all points of view and all walks of life. Everyone had a different story, but every story had the same lesson: Deep poverty is not just a form of deprivation; it’s also a form of isolation. The poor are cut off from key sources of support: family, education, employment. And I saw the same thing time and time again: Once people found their niche and put down roots, they drew strength from the people around them, and they grew.
And government has a role to play here. But the question is, what kind of role? At what point does government stop helping and start hurting? Well, I tried to answer that question. And I began to draw on many sources: economics, history, personal testimony. And one of those sources was my own Catholic faith. I found that Catholic social teaching was a helpful lens for looking at poverty—for understanding what the problem was and what to do about it.
And in my travels, I met with many different faith-based organizations. I knew we shared a lot in common. But soon I began to realize just how much. Yes, there were different traditions. But we shared some fundamental beliefs. In Catholic social teaching, we recognize there’s no set answer to a lot of these questions of public policy. Good Catholics can disagree—and, boy, do we ever. But it’s not just us Catholics. You know, David Ben-Gurion used to joke, “Two Jews, three opinions.” And we should respect these different opinions, because all people have a right to their own “prudential judgment.” (That’s a fancy term for “wiggle room.”)
So tonight I want to talk about those shared beliefs and what they mean for public policy. Look, I make no claim to any ecumenical expertise. But sometimes the similarities are so striking that you can’t help but notice. And in forging this renewed bond, I think we can find renewed hope.
In both the Christian and the Jewish traditions, there’s a common thread running through them. And that’s the belief in human dignity. It’s the recognition that people aren’t just another factor of production—they aren’t just another means to an end. They are the end. They and their happiness are the center, the focus, the very purpose of our lives. And everything we do—every law we pass, every transaction we make—should enhance human dignity.
And the dignity of the individual rests in large part on the dignity of work. It goes all the way back to creation. The Torah says God made man “and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” Even before the fall—even before God had told us, “By the sweat of your brow, you shall eat bread”—God wanted us to work. Paradise is something more than a beachfront resort. And we are something more than spectators. We are, in the rabbinic teaching, “partners with God in the work of creation.”
So while unemployment has an economic effect, it also has a moral effect. When you cannot work, you can’t fulfill your God-given purpose. You can’t make use of your God-given talents. A healthy economy is large and expanding, yes. It’s also inclusive. It allows every person to reach their full potential—to participate fully in our national life. And public policy should promote this culture of participation.
The question is, how? In Catholic social teaching, there are two key principles to keep in mind: solidarity and subsidiarity. Solidarity is a shared commitment to the common good. It’s the belief that we’re all in this together, and we don’t let anybody slip through the cracks. Subsidiarity, meanwhile, is a prudent deference to the people closest to the problem. When there’s hardship, we first look to the people in the local community to solve it. And only if they can’t solve the problem on their own do we ask a broader authority to step in. And even then, government must work with the people in the community, not against them.
The idea is not that this is the more efficient way or the more practical way—though it very often is. (And sometimes it isn’t.) The idea is that this is the most personal way, the most humane way—and therefore the best way—to solve our problems. By keeping power close to people in need, you give them a chance to take part—to come up with their own solution, not just to follow someone else’s master plan.
These two principles work together. They reinforce each other. They both recognize the inherent worth of every person. And they both empower people to make use of their God-given talents. To use a sports metaphor, solidarity is the team spirit, and subsidiarity is the game plan.
That’s how I think about it in the Catholic tradition. And I’ve learned there’s a similar teaching in the Jewish tradition.
The rabbinic scholar Maimonides taught that there were eight degrees of charity, each one higher than the last: The first was to give reluctantly. The second was to give willingly but not enough. The third was to give enough, but only after being asked. (Bobbie knows all about those types of givers.) The fourth was to give enough before being asked. The fifth was to give without knowing whom you helped, though they knew you. The sixth was to give while knowing them, even if they didn’t know you. The seventh was to give without either person knowing the other.
And the eighth degree of charity—the highest of all—was to make that person self-sufficient—to give them a gift, a loan, or a job. I should point out that this gift was not an entitlement. It was an opportunity—a chance to make something of themselves. And when you think about it, that’s the heart of subsidiarity: the belief that every person at all times has something to contribute.
That’s how I think about these principles. And the great thing is, I’ve gotten to see them in practice. Let me give you an example. One of the places I visited in my travels was Pulaski High School in Milwaukee. They have something called the Violence Free Zone program. The school hires a couple of recent alumni to mentor their students. These are young men and women who grew up in the area. Some of them used to belong to gangs. Others have seen violence at first hand. And they don’t have education degrees or state certification. They have something more important: credibility. They can tell the students, “Don’t make the same mistakes I did.” They understand what the students are going through, and so the students listen to them.
The results speak for themselves. Fourteen gangs used to roam the school grounds. Today, they’ve all but disappeared. The school tried all sorts of things to keep students safe—more police presence, more cameras. But only this program worked.
Now I’m not saying there’s no role for government. This is a public high school after all. But in this case government helped the community come up with its own solution. Government didn’t impose a solution from on high. We could’ve passed a law that said, “Every public high school must offer a mentoring program.” The Department of Education could have hired the mentors and doled out the funding. It would have been hailed as a breakthrough. And it would have been a total failure.
The reason the Violence Free Zone program works is that it’s home-grown. And there’s something more at work here—something less obvious, but no less important. These young men and women aren’t just providing a “service.” They’re setting an example. They’re showing their community—and their country—that anyone can be redeemed. And if government were to push them aside, we would lose that example. All this potential would just be sitting on the sidelines. It would be a failure of policy and of principle.
It’s a key insight—one that we lose sight of in the constant back and forth. Far too often we look at public policy as an eternal tug of war between government and the market. But laws and markets are tools. We use them for our own purposes. They don’t have to pull in the opposite direction. In fact, they can pull in the same direction. Our job, then, is to make government and the market work together to enhance human dignity.
And I know a great place to start. Today we spend nearly $800 billion a year on 92 different programs to fight poverty. And yet over 45 million people are living in poverty today. Here’s the problem: Federal aid is fragmented and formulaic. Washington looks at each person’s needs in isolation, like food, housing, energy. It doesn’t see how their needs interact. And what’s worse, Washington looks at each person in isolation. It doesn’t see how people need to interact.
So what we need to do is coordinate assistance to families in need. Get the public and private sector working together. Respect the poverty fighters on the front lines. And along those lines, I recently put out a proposal to reform our safety net. My proposal would be budget neutral. The federal government would spend the same amount of money as before. But I would give states and communities more flexibility with that money, so they could come up with their own solutions. In short, I would inject some market competition into the federal safety net.
Now, I don’t claim to have all the answers; nobody does. The goal here is to start a conversation. And in any conversation, it’s always best to start with the points of agreement.
So in that spirit, I want to end on one more point of agreement. There’s another common thread running through these traditions. We believe there’s a limit to human ambition. Six days a week, we’re supposed to make the most of our talents—to create and build and grow. But God commanded us to rest on the seventh day—to stop working, to stop building, to stop all the hustle and bustle. That’s because we’re supposed to take time to reflect—to remember that all we have is ultimately a gift from God. And so the proper attitude toward life isn’t pride. It’s gratitude.
And on a night like this, surrounded by our friends like Bill and Bobbie, I think it’s safe to say we all are grateful. We’re grateful to God for giving us a great country—and for giving us the opportunity to make it even greater. Thank you.Read More
WASHINGTON—Today, the Census Bureau released its most recent report on Income and Poverty in the United States. The latest report finds that:
The official poverty rate fell from 15 to 14.5 percent.
In response to this report, Chairman Ryan issued the following statement:
"If this report tells us anything, it’s that we can do better. The status quo simply isn’t good enough, and this latest news should spur us to action."
To read Chairman Ryan’s discussion draft, “Expanding Opportunity in America,” click here.Read More
Hi, everybody. I want to thank Arthur, our panel, and everyone at AEI for hosting us here today.
I look forward to hearing from everybody. But let’s start with a principle we can all agree on: Hardworking taxpayers deserve a break in this country. Too many families are working harder and harder to get ahead, and yet they’re falling further and further behind. The costs of food, housing, and gas keep going up, but paychecks haven’t budged. So whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, I think we can all agree: America deserves better.
What do we want? A healthy economy. And a big part of that is having a strong safety net—both for those who can’t help themselves and for those who just need a helping hand. That’s our goal. The problem is, that’s not what we’re getting—though it’s not for a lack of trying. We spend almost $800 billion on 92 federal programs each year to fight poverty. And yet the poverty rate is the highest in a generation. Deep poverty is near record highs. When you take a step back and look at all this, you just have to think, “We can do better.”
Now, I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does. But the way I see it, we have an obligation to expand opportunity in America—to deliver real change, real solutions, and real results. And to do that, we need to stop listening to the loudest voices in the room—and start listening to the smartest voices in the room.
So I’ve spent the last year traveling all over the country—learning from people fighting poverty on the front lines. I’ve been to a high school in Milwaukee that’s eliminated 14 gangs from school grounds. I’ve been to a church in Indianapolis that’s helped hundreds of men get off drugs. I’ve been to a homeless shelter in Denver and a rehab center in San Antonio. The point is, there’s a lot of good going on in our country. And since Washington can’t fight poverty alone, then it’s time to bring in reinforcements.
So today, I want to start a conversation. I want to talk about how we can repair the safety net and help families get ahead. And then I want to talk about a few other ideas my colleagues in the House and Senate have put forward: proposals on income support, education, criminal justice, and cutting down red tape. Each idea touches on a different topic, but they all reinforce the same principle: Give more flexibility in exchange for more accountability. My thinking is, listen to the “boots on the ground”—the local leaders who are changing the status quo. Let them try unique and innovative ideas with a proven track record. And then test the results.
That’s my guiding principle. And the first place to apply it is the safety net.
Today, federal aid is fragmented and formulaic. Washington looks at each person’s needs in isolation, like food, housing, energy. It doesn’t see how their needs interact. And what’s worse, Washington looks at each person in isolation. It doesn’t see how people need to interact. The secret of our country’s success is collaboration: people working together, learning together, building together—of our own free will. What government should do, then, is encourage collaboration. Bring people together. Get them in the mix. Don’t force them. Empower them.
So what we need to do is coordinate assistance to families in need. Get the public and private sector working together. That’s how we can smooth the transition from assistance to success. The fact is, each person’s needs fit into a coherent whole: a career. And each person fits into a coherent whole: a community. So if the public and private sector work together, we can offer a more personalized, customized form of aid—one that recognizes both a person’s needs and their strengths—both the problem and the potential.
So I’d start a pilot program called the Opportunity Grant. It would consolidate up to eleven federal programs into one stream of funding to participating states. The idea would be to let states try different ways of providing aid and then to test the results—in short, more flexibility in exchange for more accountability. My thinking is, get rid of these bureaucratic formulas. Put the emphasis on results. Participation would be voluntary; no state would have to join. And we would not expand the program until all the evidence was in. The point is, don’t just pass a law and hope for the best. If you’ve got an idea, let’s try it. Test it. See what works. Don’t make promise after promise. Let success build on success.
Here’s how it would work: Each state that wanted to participate would submit a plan to the federal government. That plan would lay out in detail the state’s proposed alternative. If everything passed muster, the federal government would give the green light. And the state would get more flexibility; it would get to combine into one stream of funding up to eleven different programs—things like food stamps, housing assistance, child care, cash welfare. This new, simpler stream of funding would become the Opportunity Grant, and it would be budget neutral. The state would get the same amount of money as under current law—not a penny less.
In effect, the state would say, “Give us some space, and we can figure this out.” And the federal government would say, “Go to it—on four conditions”: First, you’ve got to spend that money on people in need—not roads, not bridges, no funny business. Second, every person who can work should work. Third, you’ve got to give people choices. The state welfare agency can’t be the only game in town. People must have at least one other option, whether it’s a non-profit, a for-profit, what have you. And fourth, you’ve got to test the results. The federal government and the state must agree on a neutral third party to keep track of progress. That’s the deal.
If approved, the state could use that money to expand state programs and to partner with local service providers. In other words, families in need would have a choice. There wouldn’t just be a federal agency or a state agency. Instead, they could choose from a list of certified providers. We’re talking nonprofits, or for-profits, or even community groups unique to your neighborhood. These groups could work with people one-on-one—and provide personalized aid through case management.
Think of it this way: Right now, you have to go to a bunch of different offices to enroll in a bunch of different programs. Under the Opportunity Grant, you could go to one office and work with one person for all your needs. That person would give you financial assistance, but could also act as a personal resource. Maybe you’re struggling with an addiction, and you need counseling. Maybe you come from a broken family, and you need a network of support. The point is, you would work together to get you from where you are to where you want to go.
Take an example. Let’s call her Andrea. She’s 24. She has two kids ages four and two. Her husband left the family six months ago, and she does not know how to contact him. Andrea graduated from high school, but her only work experience was a two-year stint in retail. She and her kids now live with her parents in a two-bedroom mobile home. Her parents can’t support her over the long haul. She’s been trying to find work for the last five months. She doesn’t have a car. She can’t afford child care. And her dream is to become a teacher.
Under this plan, Andrea would go to a local service provider. She would sit down with a case manager and develop an “opportunity plan.” That plan would pinpoint her strengths; her opportunities for growth; her short-, medium-, and long-term goals. The two of them would sign a contract. Andrea would agree to meet specific benchmarks of success, a timeline for meeting them, consequences for missing them, and rewards for exceeding them.
Andrea’s short-term goal is to find a job. But her long-term goal is to find the right job—to become a teacher. So she might find a job in retail to pay the bills. Meanwhile, her case manager would help pay for transportation and child care so she could take classes at night. Over time, Andrea could go to school, get her certification, and find a teaching job. The point is, with someone to coordinate her aid, Andrea would not just find a job; she would start a career.
And all this time, a neutral third party would keep tabs on each provider and their success rate. It would look at key metrics agreed to by the state and federal government: How many people are finding jobs? How many people are getting off assistance? How many people are moving out of poverty? And so on. Any provider who came up short could no longer participate. And at the end of the program, we would pool the results and go from there.
In short, we’re reconceiving the federal government’s role. No longer will it try to supplant our communities but to support them. In my view, the federal government is the rearguard—it protects the supply lines. But the people on the ground—they’re the vanguard. They fight poverty on the front lines. They have to lead this effort, and Washington should follow their lead.
In that spirit, I want to throw my support behind a number of ideas that my colleagues in the House and Senate have put forward. They all expand opportunity by taking decision-making away from Washington and bringing more accountability to government at all levels.
First, we should make sure that in this country it always pays to work. I’d do that by increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers. This is one of the few programs that have shown results. It encourages people to work by increasing the rewards of work. And we all know that the more people we have in the work force, the more opportunity we’ll have in this country.
So I’d roughly double the maximum credit for childless workers to $1,005. And I’d lower the minimum eligibility age from 25 to 21. This is similar to what the President has proposed, but with one big difference: I wouldn’t raise taxes. I’d pay for it by eliminating ineffective programs and corporate welfare, like subsidies to energy companies. My thinking is, stop programs that don’t work and support programs that do.
Second, we need to expand access to education. We need to give students more options—in other words, we need accreditation reform, similar to what my friends Senator Mike Lee and Congressman Ron DeSantis have proposed. Let other schools in on the action. And we need to keep reforming our job-training programs. If employers can design their own curriculum, then workers will know just what skills they need.
Third, we need commonsense criminal-justice reform. We need to give people the opportunity to earn a second chance. Luckily, my colleagues have done a lot of good work on this front. Senator Mike Lee and Congressmen Raul Labrador and Bobby Scott have introduced a bill to reform our sentencing guidelines. It would give judges more discretion with low-risk, non-violent offenders. All we’re saying is, they don’t have to give the maximum sentence every time. There’s no reason to lock someone up any longer than necessary.
We also have to tackle recidivism. About half of ex-cons are re-incarcerated within three years of release. But we know there are programs that work—that get people out of a life of crime. That’s why Congressmen Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Bobby Scott of Virginia have introduced the Public Safety Enhancement Act. We’d let low-risk, non-violent offenders exchange time in prison for time in pre-release custody—as long as they complete a program with a proven track record.
Here’s the point: Non-violent, low-risk offenders—don’t lock them up and throw away the key. Get them in counseling; get them in job training; help them rejoin and contribute to our society.
Finally, we need to cut down on bureaucratic red tape. A lot of families are trying to get ahead, but Washington’s getting in the way. So I’d propose a simple rule for all future regulations. If you’re a federal agency, and you want a regulation that would unduly burden low-income families, you’ve got to go to Congress. If they want it, they should have to fight for it—on the record. It’s your government; you deserve a voice and a vote.
All of these are good ideas, but they’re just a start. What we’re releasing today, we’re calling it a “discussion draft,” because it’s meant to start a discussion. So if you have an idea to expand opportunity, we want to hear from you. Send your idea to ExpandingOpportunity@mail.house.gov.
You know, when I went to Milwaukee or Denver or Indianapolis, nobody asked me what party I belonged to. They welcomed anybody who was willing to listen and learn. That should be our approach in Washington. Enough with the politics. Let’s talk solutions—because this isn’t a Republican or a Democratic issue. It’s an American issue.
As a matter of principle, we need to build a society where hard work is rewarded and every American has the opportunity to succeed—regardless of birthplace or background. And to do that, everybody’s got to get involved. If we all work together, we can build a healthy economy. We can fix this. We can get this done. That’s what hardworking taxpayers want—and that’s what they deserve.
Thank you.Read More
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveiled his new economic plan called, “Expanding Opportunity in America,” tonight on On The Record.
The House Budget Committee chairman told Greta Van Susteren said his goal is to change the conversation and empower local communities in order to ignite real reform.
“Instead of measuring success by how many new programs are created in Washington or how much money we spend on programs, why don’t we measure by results, by outcomes,” he said. “How many people are actually getting out of poverty?”
Ryan referenced the 1996 welfare reform which entailed work requirements, time limits, local control and experimentation in states.
He said, “There are 92 other programs that have not been reformed like that and what we’re trying to do is take those lessons we’ve learned successfully from welfare reform in 1996 and apply it to the other parts of the government’s war on poverty, because we’re in the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty and we’re not winning it.”
Calling for transparency, Ryan proposed that an independent third-party measure the government's success.
Van Susteren pointed out to the congressman that the Democratic Party will accuse his proposal of being a new code word for block grants.
“I’m used to getting partisan labels,” Ryan responded. “That comes with the territory of breaking up the status quo, with offering different and new ideas. That’s fine. Let’s get to a conversation of what’s your better idea."
Ryan charged that America's welfare programs trap people, and added that we should focus on helping people out of poverty by way of a career, not just a job.
“Everybody has a different situation in poverty. It’s not just some monolithic problem where everybody’s the same. People have different needs, people have different problems and so our solutions ought to customize that,” he said.
Watch the interview above to hear more about Rep. Paul Ryan’s economic plan.Read More
This week, our economy received some bad news: The International Monetary Fund revised its projection for U.S. economic growth this year to just 1.7%. Working families will pay the price. Real median household income is still lower than before the recession. Deep poverty in America has reached record levels over the past three years.
We need to expand opportunity in this country. And to do that, we need Washington to get its act together. Each year, the federal government spends almost $800 billion on 92 programs to help struggling families. Yet the poverty rate is the highest in a generation.
The problem with all these federal programs is that they're fragmented and formulaic. They don't see how people's needs interact. And what's worse, they measure success by how much they spend, not how much good they do. Instead, we need to measure success by results — that is, by how many people we're helping get out of poverty.
Read full article at USA Today.
Hi, everybody—and welcome. Today we’re going to discuss CBO’s long-term budget outlook. So first I want to thank Director Elmendorf and his team at CBO for all their hard work.
I have to say: Your report is sobering. Just take the first line: “Between 2009 and 2012, the federal government recorded the largest budget deficits relative to the size of the economy since 1946, causing its debt to soar.” And later: “With deficits as big as the ones that CBO projects, federal debt would be growing faster than GDP, a path that would ultimately be unsustainable.”
That’s it right there: It’s unsustainable. Our national debt is already bigger than our economy—and yet it’s going to get bigger. Our economy is already too weak to create the jobs we need—and yet it’s going to get weaker. People already can’t find work—and yet there will be even less opportunity. The average number of hours worked is shrinking.
We know what the problem is. Spending keeps growing, and our economy can’t keep up. The debt is weighing down working families. Over the next 20 years, real spending will grow by 27 percent. And I’d like to point something out: We will be taking in plenty of taxes, frankly a lot more in taxes—an even greater share of the economy than the historical average. But that still won’t be enough. We still will be spending more than we take in.
And the reason that spending is growing so fast is that our safety net is broken. Medicare and Social Security are going broke. CBO says Social Security’s unfunded liability is now 25 percent higher than before. If we do nothing, we could have a debt crisis. And if we did, the most vulnerable would be hurt first and worst.
Now, I understand some of my colleagues might not be all that concerned about the government spending more money and a soaring debt. But here’s what should concern them. If we spend all our money on entitlements, we’ll have no money left for anything else. If we do nothing, spending on Social Security, our major health-care programs, and net interest payments will take up most of the budget. And total spending on everything else will fall to 7 percent of the economy by 2039—that would be the smallest share of our economy since the late 1930s.
And here’s another serious concern: CBO warns that our growing national debt could compromise our national security. If we don’t take action now, we will have less to spend on our national defense, and we’ll be less prepared for future challenges.
So the answer is simple: Repair our safety net. Cut wasteful spending. Prepare for the future. And don’t raise taxes. The way I see it, we shouldn’t force families to pay for Washington’s mistakes. Hardworking taxpayers deserve better.
We need to expand opportunity for everyone in this country, and we can start by getting the budget under control. That’s how we can make the federal government more accountable and more effective.
With that, I would like to yield to the Ranking Member for his opening remarks.Read More
WASHINGTON—Today, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its annual Long-Term Budget Outlook, which had some sober news for the American people.
In response, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin released the following statement:
“If this report tells us anything, it’s that the status quo isn’t working, and families are paying the price. We need to expand opportunity for everyone in this country, and we can start by getting federal spending and debt under control. That’s how we can make the federal government more accountable and more effective.”
Key points from CBO’s Long-Term Budget Outlook:
Federal Debt Is Soaring: The debt has doubled since the onset of the financial crisis, and CBO concludes the growth in the debt is “unsustainable.”
Now Is the Time to Act: CBO says that prompt decisions to rein in future deficits would expand employment and economic growth.
The Economy Is Slowing Down: CBO has again lowered its projection of GDP growth, and the average number of hours worked by Americans is shrinking.
Spending Is Still the Problem: Major entitlements and interest on a growing stock of debt will cause real spending to soar by 27 percent over the next two decades.
Raising Taxes Will Cost Jobs: Taxes will exceed their historic average level this year, and they are on pace to rise even further. Yet these tax increases still never match the pace of spending, even while they discourage work, saving, and investment.
Entitlement Reform Is Key: We run the risk of breaking our promise to seniors and future generations if we don’t reform our entitlement programs soon. CBO has increased their measure of Social Security’s unfunded liability by 25 percent.
The Debt Threatens Our National Security: CBO warns that our growing national debt could compromise national security by constraining defense spending and limiting the country’s ability to prepare for future challenges.
The full report is available here.Read More
Indeed, the topic is always timely. That’s because the Declaration of Independence will always be the defining statement of the American Idea, and the greatest political statement of human liberty ever written.
Everyone knows the stories of how the American Revolution was a difficult and often desperate struggle. We forget in hindsight just how unlikely it was that they would succeed. Many times defeat seemed all but inevitable. Some despaired. Yet that small band of patriot statesmen achieved victory against a long established ruler of seemingly unlimited power and authority. They did so by remaining dedicated to America’s cause and to each other . . . fighting hard at every turn . . . knowing that their success or failure would determine whether they or any people would ever fight again for the great purpose of governing themselves.
In the past, our nation has survived its trials, prospered, and endured. And so has our liberty. I believe we are in a great period of trial again. Yet I am confident that our country can survive, prosper, and endure for many more generations. But all of this depends—as it did in the spring of 1776, or the fall of 1860, or the end of 1941—on what we do and how we act to shape the course of events.
On the surface, the problem seems obvious: We have a President who treats the rule of law more like a rule of thumb. But look more closely, and you’ll see the problem isn’t this president—or at least it’s not only this president. When he leaves office, there will be plenty of candidates like him ready to take his spot. All he’s done is to empower and embolden a certain governing philosophy—one at odds with our founding principles. And this philosophy is gaining ground by the day. The point is, our opponents see politics as a long-term project; we need to do the same.
I want to argue today that in everything we do—in every policy we propose—we need to renew the American Idea. Conservatism is not about the past. It’s not a misty-eyed nostalgia for a world that’s come and gone. And it’s not a skittish disposition to merely “go it slow”—to tinker around the edges. Nor is conservatism about blind opposition to government. For sure, government today is too big, bureaucratic, inefficient, and unaccountable. But we must not jettison the very rule of law that shields our liberty. No, conservatism is about conserving something—principles that are timeless because they are true—to be renewed and applied in our time.
Now, what is the American Idea? In short, it’s self-government under the rule of law. The American Idea is rooted in our respect for the rights with which we are each endowed, a respect that shapes a society where every person can work hard, achieve success, and advance in life.
Why is this idea so special? Well, for most of human history, a very different idea reigned supreme: the idea that people are fundamentally different. Some are born to rule and others to obey. Almost all were subjects or serfs—shorn of all distinction and firmly stuck in place.
But the Founders rebelled against this idea. They said everyone is created equal. They have unalienable rights that come from God. And government is legitimate only if it secures these rights. The Founders were the first to take these self-evident truths and put them into practice. They were the first to tell the world—and prove by their example—that the best government rests on the consent of the governed.
It wasn’t easy. Their first attempt—the Articles of Confederation—failed. So instead, they wrote a new Constitution that both strengthened and limited the federal government. It gave Congress enough power to pass laws for the common good. But it also gave the President and the courts power to push back when Congress tried to do too much—and vice versa. The very structure of the federal government was a vindication of self-government—the three branches would control each other so none of them could control the people. Limiting government and freeing up the associations of civil society would make safety and security, self-government and liberty, comfort and prosperity accessible to everyone.
So in addition to our birth certificate, the Founders gave us the blueprint for a free society: a set of unchanging principles, as well as a framework of government for a growing nation.
But it wasn’t just a set of abstract ideas and a procedural code of law. Our Declaration and our Constitution define nothing less than a way of life for a people. A free people of good character, who would labor for themselves, their families and communities, grateful to the Divine Source of their rights, and committed to providing the blessings of liberty to their posterity.
The framers themselves disagreed about many particulars in the Constitution. No sooner had it gone into effect than they added a Bill of Rights. Each generation struggled with different issues. Could Congress create a bank? Could the president buy Louisiana? Could the federal government build roads and bridges? But there was one thing on which they all agreed: the Constitution was our guide and the Declaration our North Star. And the Constitution endured because it allowed prudent statesmen to make wise decisions that preserved self-government under the rule of law.
There was one great failure: slavery. But it wasn’t a failure of the Constitution. It was a failure of statesmanship. Many of the Founders knew that slavery was wrong. But since they couldn’t end it there and then, they wrote a Constitution that would allow a future generation to do so. Unfortunately, for decades thereafter, frightened politicians north and south kicked the can down the road.
Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, saw the solution: not to depart from, but return to the principles of the Declaration and the Constitution. In the struggle of Civil War, the Declaration defined the high ground, and the Constitution proved powerful enough to reunite a shattered nation. Cleansed with three postwar amendments, the Constitution emancipated and offered citizenship to millions.
Having endured for over one hundred years, the Constitution was a victim of its own success. As our cities grew more crowded—and our economy more prosperous and unpredictable—some came to believe the Constitution was obsolete. And so, for the first time, they said we needed a wholesale change. The founding project was over, they argued, and the age of “administration” had begun. This new age called for a “living” Constitution, one whose meaning did not rest on fixed principles but which changed according to the winds—and whims—of time. In this Progressive vision, self-government had to give way to technical expertise, to professional bureaucrats governing according to their centralized plans.
The Founders believed in the ability of men and women to govern themselves, and they distrusted unchecked power, which is why they limited government and promoted robust civil society. Progressives think it better to govern men, and they seek a much larger and more active central government that reaches further and further into our lives.
Unfortunately, through fits and starts over the course of the 20th century, the Progressive approach has become a mindset at the heart of the modern Democratic Party, just as it has clouded Republican thinking as well. This is a core problem we face today.
The American Idea has not been rejected, far from it; and the Progressive countervision has never commanded a settled majority. Americans embrace some programs first championed by Progressives, but reject others. They accept many aspects of modern government, while still insisting on their rights and constitutional forms. They have never consented to be ruled by experts, and object to government micromanaging their lives.
So this raises a question: How should we proceed?
We must begin by recognizing practical reality, but always move, sometimes coaxing, sometimes pushing, toward the enduring principles to which we are dedicated. Maneuvering in the sea of politics, we are forced to tack, but always guided by and steering toward our fixed North Star.
Self-government under the rule of law is the conservative touchstone. It rests upon human equality and our equal endowment with fundamental rights. It helps us identify measures that conform to the American Idea, and those that weaken or conflict with the American Idea. There’s our sure guide for reform.
Here’s a practical distinction.
There is a difference in principle—a clear bright line—between two kinds of government programs. On the one hand, there are those that can be repaired and restructured within the bounds of limited government. Let’s review those, and as we choose let’s reform them, and even upgrade them, making them more efficient through market mechanisms, more decentralized and transparent, more fiscally sound and, more true to self government.
But there are also many programs of government that are defined by massive bureaucracies intended to direct large segments of our society and economy. These programs are centrally directed, consist of arbitrary regulations and directives that increase uncertainty and insecurity, and replace popular government by bureaucratic rule. It’s a hodgepodge of boards and commissions with uncertain responsibilities and unaccountable decision-making. This way of governing creates relationships between government and money that encourage cronyism and breed political corruption. More and more Americans are right to see these programs as threats to their freedom, their well-being, and their right to self-government. This whole approach is irreconcilable with the American Idea, and it must be rejected.
The American Idea imposes a duty to oppose those programs which subvert popular government and impose administrative rule. These programs and their administrative forms—leading examples being Obamacare and the Dodd–Frank financial apparatus—cannot be reformed and restructured, but must be ended or, if we choose, replaced by something completely different and consistent with popular consent and self-government.
No reform is possible without recognizing this problem. No reform is worth pursuing that does not turn against this rule and take us on the path of principled renewal.
Now, the progressives were right about something: The country was crying out for a national safety net, especially in light of the Great Depression. The people agreed that we should pool our resources to protect hardworking families. And yes, they wanted smart, talented people to run the federal government. But they didn’t want those smart, talented people to run their lives. They wanted to enlist the federal government in the service of self-government. They didn’t want to turn over the keys.
But progressives didn’t pick up on those niceties. Once they got their foot in the door, they stayed. And they grew. First, there was the New Deal, then the Fair Deal, then the Great Society. And in 2008, they saw what they thought was another opening. This was their chance to cement their philosophy into place. They say everything they’ve done in the past five years is a logical extension of the safety net. If you liked Medicare, you’ll love Obamacare. But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Instead, the people have resisted. And the Left is baffled. Why support the safety net but not progressivism?
Here’s the difference: Everybody understands the safety net. And everybody benefits from it. Take Social Security. We all know how it works—or at least how it’s supposed to work. When you’re working, you pay in. And when you’re retired, it pays out. It’s the same thing with Medicare—simple, straightforward. Everybody gets old. Everybody gets sick. And so everybody contributes in exchange for a secure retirement. Most people think that’s a fair trade. And I agree.
That’s the opposite of the Affordable Care Act. Nobody understands it. Everybody is anxious. If you listened to the sales pitch, it seemed simple enough: Every business with over 50 full-time employees must offer health insurance—period. Or maybe not. Maybe, you can get a delay . . . or a waiver . . . or an exemption. How do you get one? Nobody knows. The administration makes decisions on the fly, so the law changes every day. Under the ACA, an autonomous board called IPAB decides what kind of care people on Medicare will have in the future. Bureaucrats are calling the shots and running the show.
Or take Dodd–Frank. Some say it’s like deposit insurance. But deposit insurance protects the little guy. Dodd–Frank, on the other hand, protects the big guys—that is, the biggest, most powerful financial institutions in the country. The result is predictable: Big banks get bigger and small banks get fewer. More insidious is that this law vastly expands these bureaucrats’ power to simply take over the daily operations of any large financial institution they deem to be in trouble. So you can understand the skepticism. In short, the difference between the safety net and progressivism is the difference between fair play and playing favorites.
You see, the safety net jibes with self-government; Progressive bureaucracy does not. The one gives people more control over their lives, while the other takes it away. And there’s a key principle at work here. The reason you have more control is you earned it. You paid in. You made the difference. That’s the very heart of self-government: We the people are the masters of our fate. We can improve our lot by dint of our own efforts—by working together of our own free will. Nobody has to force us or oversee us. Earned success and earned security go hand in hand.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Everything wasn’t all hunky-dory until this President came to town. Social Security and Medicare are going broke—they’ve been going broke for years. The politicians made promises they couldn’t keep, and the bill is about to come due. We conservatives must be committed to strengthening these programs—because that’s what hardworking taxpayers have earned and made clear in election after election. Limited government with popular consent is the principle we’re trying to uphold.
Every idea I’ve proposed would give people more control over their future. They paid in all these years so they would have health insurance. Why not let them choose their health insurance? More choice means more control, which means more freedom. The argument for conservatism isn’t just that it’s more efficient—it’s the heart of self-government. And the problem with progressivism isn’t just that it’s more expensive. The problem is it undermines self-government.
That’s the difference. And it’s a key distinction—one we need to keep in mind—because there’s another fallacy popular among our ranks. Just as some think anything government does is wrong, others think anything business does is right. But in fact they’re two sides of the same coin. Both big government and big business like to stack the deck in their favor. And though they are sometimes adversaries, they are far too often allies.
Bureaucrats prefer to work with the big boys, instead of upstarts they don’t know. They’re more predictable—and easier to control. So government tips the scales in their favor, instead of letting competition sort things out. And big business is a willing accomplice—because regulation keeps the competition out. Many times they don’t oppose new regulations; instead, they help write them. The point is, crony capitalism isn’t a side effect; it’s a direct result of big government.
And you can see the results at work throughout our economy. It used to be that only the success stories were household names. Now the failures are: Solyndra, Fisker, Tesla. And businessmen don’t spend all their time hustling in the marketplace. They spend more and more time hustling in Washington. Both businessmen and bureaucrats take part in this culture of double standards. Just take the IRS. It tells every family to keep seven years’ worth of tax records, but it can’t keep six months’ worth of emails. It’s a disgrace.
Neither the founders of America nor of free-market economics would recognize in this stratified system a truly open market of commerce. It isn’t open. It isn’t equal in opportunity. It isn’t producing equitable profit growth or hope for those at the bottom of the ladder. It isn’t driven by satisfying the needs of people; but by experts, calculus, wealth, and preference.
My friend Congressman Jeb Hensarling has recently launched a great challenge against the crony capitalist economy, and in particular, against one of its manifestations, the Export-Import Bank. But the bank is just one example of how bureaucratic government is corrupting free enterprise through and through. Conservatives must stop defending this. Cronyism is the Progressives’ project for economic control. Let them defend it.
Finally, there is the temptation to ask courts to intervene and solve our problems for us. Some conservatives think of judges the way Progressives think of bureaucrats: technical experts with the solutions to constitutional conflicts. But judges, like bureaucrats, are often the problem. We must be mindful of this temptation. It is true the Supreme Court can be an ally in conflicts surrounding the constitution. But, it can also be an adversary. We can’t rely on the Court alone to defend our rights. Under our Constitution of self-government, the court that really counts is the court of public opinion, where the American people hand down their verdict on Election Day.
In popular government, the people are the final judge and jury. And, to come full circle, we must never forget that a people who claim the right of self-government are always on trial. This country began as a people on trial. Out of our first trial in the Revolutionary Era, we adopted the greatest, most enduring Constitution ever written. We were tried in civil war and world wars, in depressions and inflations, and we survived and prospered. Every effort to take self-government away from our people has been defeated—so far. Will we prevail again?
Nothing in history is inevitable. There are no short cuts or silver bullets. If we are to get through our current problems, as we have done in the past, we must do it by our own wits and our own efforts. In this sense, the Constitution is not a living document so much as a life-giving document. It gives purpose and direction to our way of life as a free people. Let us remain committed to the American Idea. With the inherent good sense of the American people, we can—we must—and I believe we will, get through these trials together, freer and stronger than ever before. Thank you.Read More
Hi, everybody—and welcome.
This is our fifth hearing about the War on Poverty. Over the past year, we’ve heard from a number of voices: policy experts, community groups, federal officials. And today, we’re going to hear from the people in the middle—people in the private sector who work with the public sector—people who coordinate state programs with private charity. We’re also going to hear from an especially important voice: Mrs. Tianna Gaines-Turner.
First, Mrs. Gaines-Turner. I was very happy to meet Tianna earlier this year, and I’m excited to hear her testimony. In fact, I want to quote from her previous written testimony, because I think she hits the nail on the head. She says:
Poverty is not just one issue that can be solved at one time. It’s not just an issue of jobs, or food, or housing, or energy assistance, and safety. It’s a people issue. And you can’t slice people up into issues. We are whole human beings. Poverty has to do with a whole person who is in a family, in a neighborhood, in a community.
I think this is exactly right. For too long, the federal government has treated people as numbers—instead of whole people with wholly connected needs.
That’s why I’m also excited to hear from Heather Reynolds, the president of Catholic Charities of Fort Worth. Ms. Reynolds is doing great work in Fort Worth. She’s putting together a pilot project to test how case management can expand opportunity for working families. As Mrs. Gaines-Turner urges, Ms. Reynolds’s program sees people as “whole human beings” who deserve time and care—not just another client to usher out the door. The results speak for themselves. In 2013, 90 percent of the people in their refugee program became self-sufficient within six months.
I’d also like to welcome Jennifer Tiller from America Works. America Works has pioneered two key concepts that are crucial to real reform: work-first and accountability. America Works gets paid only if they succeed. And I can’t find a better definition of success than their own. They say success “is an individual moving to employment, maintaining a self-sufficient lifestyle, and progressing in their desired career trajectory.” I think we should insist on the same accountability from our federal programs as we do from these community groups.
And one last thing. At a previous hearing, some of my colleagues kept asking our witnesses if they had received federal aid—as if that would have undercut their testimony. Look, the point of these hearings isn’t to question whether the federal government should help; it’s to figure out the best way it can help.
With that, I hope we can listen and learn from our witnesses today. And now I’d like to recognize the ranking member for his opening remarks.Read More
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