The United States is teetering on the brink of fiscal ruin unless the daily partisan fights in Washington can be turned into trust and cooperation, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Monday.
In remarks at the Brookings Institution Monday afternoon, Hoyer said stabilizing the country's fiscal foundation requires "bipartisan trust, presidential leadership and a public spirit that many assume is beyond America's reach in the year 2010."
Hoyer said it would be "a waste of time" to hand out blame for the fiscal woes but went on to do exactly that.
"So then, what do the facts say about why we're in this hole?" asked Hoyer. Citing a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Hoyer blamed "the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the economic downturn," saying the combination of those factors can account for "virtually the entire deficit over the next 10 years."
He added that lawmakers, themselves, had a role in creating the mess. "The most important lesson we can draw from the years of recklessness is this: When it comes to budgeting, what is politically easy is often fiscally deadly," Hoyer said.
Hoyer suggested options for a bipartisan budget deal on both spending and revenues that he said could help America avert a debt crisis, including changes to entitlement spending. The possibilities include increasing the retirement age over a period of years or tying Medicare and Social Security contributions to income "while strengthening the safety net for low-income Americans."
Hoyer also praised House Budget Committee ranking member Paul Ryan, R-Wis., for offering a plan outlining his approach for tackling the deficit. But while Ryan's plan doesn't raise taxes, Hoyer said it would significantly alter Medicare.
"That strikes me, as I think it would strike most Americans, as very much the wrong solution," said Hoyer. "But Congressman Ryan deserves respect for his honesty, for being one of the few members of his party, or of either party, to tell the public exactly what he'd cut. That's far better than pretending that the solution to higher deficits is simply lower taxes and wishful thinking."