CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - The Millennial Debt Commission on Wednesday, September 16th held its first public meeting and discussed America’s debt crisis with U.S. Representative Dan Crenshaw and Senators Mike Lee, Joe Manchin, and Tim Scott, as well as leading fiscal policy experts. Key excerpts of the commission meeting follow. The full meeting can be watched in its entirety below.
Weston Wamp, Founder of the Millennial Debt Foundation
"The challenge of our nation’s unprecedented experiment in deficit spending caused this commission to organize and is one that’s not going away. It’s one we believe is generational. And we think today’s conversation, frankly, is one of the most important conversations that has taken place about the fiscal future of America in 2020.”
U.S. Senator Tim Scott
“One of the most important ways for us to deal with our debt, A, is to stop spending. Turn off the spigot, as we say, in the South. And B, we have to continue to grow our economy. You have to do both. If you’re not doing both, you’re really not tackling the debt.”
“It’s an existential threat to economic mobility. Think of it this way. If our government is spending $4 trillion, we’re bringing in $2.5 to $2.8 trillion, even though it’s a little higher right now, but the bottom line is if you’re spending 30 to 35 percent more than you’re bringing in, at some point that debt accumulates and then your service payments to that debt only continues to erode.”
“It’s a strong threat to who we can be. And in my opinion, the way you get around that is by making sure that the conversations around debt reduction is a part and parcel of the future principles that the conservative party must embrace.”
“The other thing I would say is that I am not opposed to opting in and opting out conversations on some of our mandatory spending, mandatory benefits… My mother is 76-years-old and she loves going to work, but it would… be lovely if our private health insurance companies were able to keep the folks on their health benefits longer than 65. There’s this mandatory requirement that you switch from a private health care to Medicare at a certain age. Why not give our seniors options?”
U.S. Senator Mike Lee
“We can’t really talk seriously about getting our debt under control without addressing a few drivers, including and especially some of the main causes of the excessive accumulation of federal debt. These include the major spending programs: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and obviously our national defense costs, and our interest on the national debt, which is itself significant.”
“While a long-term fix for Social Security, for Medicare and Medicaid, is absolutely necessary, that doesn’t excuse us from having to address the so-called discretionary side of the budget. That is those things that are not part of entitlement programs, those things that are not already provided by law and funded by law. We have to have a both of the above strategy.”
“If you talk to most members of Congress in either House in either political party, nearly all of them will acknowledge that spending at this level in excess of what we bring in every year - year after year just as part of a default plan - is a problem. That it is not sustainable, that it's going to cause problems. Where you see a lot of divergence of opinion is when they start talking about what to do about it and especially if you start talking about things that could be done right now. You'll hear a combination of a lot of responses of how to get around it. The most common perhaps is, ‘That sounds great. Let's wait ‘til we get past this next election cycle because this next election cycle is going to determine whether we can do those things.’ And so it's always kept just a day or two out in to the future. It reminds me of a joke that my brother used to tell me when we were little kids….he'd say, ‘You know, how do you keep an idiot in suspense?’ And I'd say, ‘I don't know, how?’ And he’d say, ‘I'll tell you tomorrow.’ That's very much the approach that Congress seems to be taking.”
Former U.S. Representative Trey Gowdy
“The reason we have deficit spending is because it's really, really hard to say no. And even folks who represent themselves as being fiscally conservative, they want other people's stuff to be cut, but they don't want their own stuff to be cut.”
“I was OK in a courtroom at convincing people of things. I was an abject failure at convincing even conservative voters that we needed structural entitlement reform because they did not want it to impact them. So, you know, why do we spend more than we bring in? Because folks want to cut everything except what impacts them… I posed the question last night to a college class that I teach, ‘How many of you want a balanced budget?’ But then when you explain to people, if you want to balance the budget next year, what that means, what you're actually doing with spending, then they lose interest in that. They want to balance the budget 20 years from now but not next year. So, why do we have deficit spending? Because that's really what the voters want. They just don't tell you that.”
Former U.S. Representative Reid Ribble
“The American people are going to be discouraged to hear this, but the budget is fake. I mean, that's why they don't pass budgets anymore. I had written a piece of legislation to fix that problem. I wrote it with Paul Ryan when he was chairman of the budget committee. And yet my last year in Congress, we had 237 co-sponsors in the House, 35 percent Democrats, so 65 percent Republicans. We had 60 votes in the Senate. I had a letter from President Obama saying he would sign the reform. It included bi-annual budgeting and included enforcement triggers on Congress to do the appropriations the way Senator Lee said. Members across the board wanted it and neither Speaker Boehner or Speaker Ryan, who is a cosponsor on the legislation, helped me write the legislation, would even let it come to a vote.”
Maya MacGuineas, President, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
“I want to thank all of you. And, Weston, I want to thank you in particular for building this whole important effort. You guys are going to have a real impact. Once we get through this moment of fighting the recession, we are going to have to pivot really quickly to debt reduction and you all are going have a voice that we have really been lacking for quite some time.”
U.S. Representative Dan Crenshaw
“Millennials intuitively understand this, that boomers have voted themselves increased benefits for decades now. Instead of demanding that those get reigned in and put on a sustainable trajectory, millennials unfortunately, have instead gone a different direction. They've demanded their own benefits. This is where you hear the nonsense about canceling student debt and free this and free housing and free health care, all free everything, right? Because if they got free stuff, I want free stuff.
“It goes back to the culture, though. When you think like that, that's a cultural problem...and it's manifested in a universal way in our country where we've become a country full of people asking what the government can do for us, as opposed to asking what we can do for our country. You know, the old JFK line. That's the cultural problem. That's what's causing our debt. It's not some gridlock in Washington. It's not some inability to think through the policy. It is very simply a cultural problem. Americans have to actually want it. So, I appreciate what you guys are doing because that's where the conversation has to start. People have to actually care and refuse to be bought off by false promises of more stuff. And de Tocqueville said, ‘The end of our Republic would be when politicians figure out out they could buy people’s votes with their own money.’ And it turns out that politicians figured that out a long time ago.
Brian Riedl, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute
“I lecture a lot on college campuses, and I talk to a lot of students, and I tell them that the baby boomers are eating your lunch. While you guys focus on a lot of symbolic issues, you are having your pocket picked in what is the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in world history. I mean, the reason the budget is essentially going bankrupt and the reason it's going to squeeze all the priorities of millennials, whether it be social spending or tax relief, is because all of the money is going to senior citizens. And I say to these people, don't you realize what they're doing to you? They're distracting you on symbolic issues while they're robbing you blind. And unfortunately, the younger voters I talk to just don’t get that.”
“The important thing is the government does not lock in low interest rates. The government is mostly funded on short-term borrowing. So, even if interest rates are low today, if they rise a year from now, we’re going to have to pay the higher interest rates on our current debt. And my worry is you don’t want to lock in permanent long-term debts based on temporary low interest rates. Because if interest rates rise, again, you get to the point where every point interest rates goes up it costs $330 billion. If we could lock in today’s low interest rates for 30, 40 years, I would be a lot less worried about making certain investments in certain policies, but we’re not locking in low interest rates, so we are totally exposed and vulnerable.”
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin
“You can’t even have a conversation anymore and have good dialogue. You can’t sit down and agree to disagree and walk away as friends. You can’t go to a family gathering and talk politics anymore because it’s so toxic. This is crazy, gang. Your generation cannot tolerate that anymore.”
“What are we doing to your generation? What are we going to do to your children’s generation? We have a chance to turn it around. You can’t carry this heavy a debt, gang. You can’t carry it. You understand we’re going to hit. When we hit the wall, it will be so critical. The only things keeping us a foot right now is the rest of the world’s in shambles too.”
“Please don’t ever lose your focus right now of fiscal responsibility of each and everyone of us. My grandfather would tell me this. He’d say, “Joe, unencumbered debt, unmanaged debt, we’ll make cowards out of the decisions you’ll make. Unmanaged debt will make cowards out of us all.”
About the Millennial Debt Foundation
The Millennial Debt Foundation was created in mid-2019 to lead a generational conversation about fiscal stewardship, the role of the federal government and America’s deficit spending crisis. Inspired by the work of its early supporter, former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D., the foundation’s first major project is the Millennial Debt Commission. The commission is made up of 16 millennial business leaders from across the country working toward a framework for long-term deficit reduction. The Millennial Debt Foundation is a Tennessee-based 501(c)(3) funded by private donors and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.