The Republican co-chairman of the supercommittee charged with finding more than a trillion dollars of federal cuts assured Newsmax.TV on Wednesday that entitlement programs do not have to be cut by a penny to meet that demand.
Instead ways have to be found to prevent Medicare, Medicaid and social security from growing, Rep. Jeb Hensarling said in the exclusive interview.
“You cannot have programs that are growing at 5 and 6 and 7 percent a year when great economic growth might be 3 percent,” the Texan Congressman said. “You cannot spend money you do not have otherwise you are borrowing from future generations.”
He said the committee’s main task is to “figure out a way to bend the growth curve” on the entitlement spending that is driving the fiscal crisis.
Hensarling was speaking just hours before the committee, made up of six Republicans and six Democrats – three of each from either House – met for a rare open session amid claims that it is having difficulty coming to any meaningful agreement. The committee has to make its report by Nov. 23, just four weeks away.
“I understand politics. I understand the political tactic of Mediscare is alive and well,” said Hensarling, the chairman of the House Republican Conference.
“But I’ve got to look my 8-year-old son and my 9-year-old daughter in the eye one day and be able to tell them I did everything I could to preserve their future, their American dream.
“So when you ask how much these programs have to be cut, let me be very clear, they don’t have to be cut by one penny. What has to happen is you have to cut the rate of growth.”
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Hensarling said that the GOP budget put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin in April would solve the problems.
“Medicare, Medicaid and social security will grow each and every year under our budget. We have a different system that we think allows there to be quality healthcare and quality retirement security for seniors, at a price that doesn’t bankrupt our children.”
He said Republicans have come up with a comprehensive solution for the problems of increased Medicaid costs. “Medicaid is crowding out just about every other state priority. It’s going to start coming out of the education budget, the law enforcement budget – it’s just completely eating up state budgets and, at the same time, many Medicaid patients can’t even find a doctor that will see them.
“It’s a system that’s fouled up beyond belief.
“In our Republican budget, we put forth a system that would allow states to tailor-make their own Medicaid systems and cap the federal share of that. Many states want to do that. They can do a better job than the federal government.
“It’s what Republicans are bringing to the table. How it’s ultimately going to be received by six Democrats on this joint select committee for deficit reduction – you may have to wait ‘til midnight on November 22 to find the answer to that question."
Hensarling said the committee has a punishing schedule getting through its work.
“We are meeting hours, every day,” he said. “We are negotiating in good faith and I continue to have high hopes and tempered expectations.”
He said the threat of the so-called “nuclear option,” – that cuts, including $454 billion from the defense budget would automatically be triggered if the committee cannot come up with acceptable proposals – is constantly in his mind.
“I don’t think the cuts aimed at defense are significant, I don’t even think they’re serious. I think they’re Draconian,” he said. “I do not believe that this nation will sit for what could prove to be a 17 percent cut in national defense at a time when we continue to live in a very dangerous world.
“The defense cuts would be ugly,” Hensarling added. “But I’m not either going to have a club to my head or a gun to my head to somehow either have a massive tax increase on America’s jobs creators or to kick the can down the road and refuse to do what has to be done to save America from bankruptcy. That is to deal with our entitlement spending programs that are growing at two to three times the rate of the economy.”
Although he would not discuss the views of the individual members of the committee, he admitted there are philosophical hurdles that need to be overcome.
“There are those who are still trying to raise taxes on struggling American families and on America’s job creators but we fundamentally don’t have a debt crisis because Washington is undertaxing the American people.
“It is no secret that every Democrat I have met wants to increase taxes,” he added. “It’s pretty evident through statements that the president has made; statements that Nancy Pelosi has made; statements that Harry Reid has made.”
And he added, “What’s interesting is even if you gave the president every single nickel of tax increases on small businesses and American families that he is demanding, that’s about $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years… that’s roughly 10 percent of our existing national debt.
“In many respects, talk about taxes is a huge diversion from what has to be done and that is finding different ways that we can get quality retirement security and quality healthcare at a price that will not bankrupt our children.”
Hensarling said his ultimate goal would be to overhaul the tax code completely but doubts that the super committee will be able to do that given its timetable.
“I would like to pick up the Internal Revenue Code by its roots and throw it into the nearest trash can. Having said that, realistically, that’s probably a bridge too far for this committee,” he said.
“But I haven’t given up hope that at least on the business entity side, we might see some fundamental tax reform since we have the single highest corporate tax rate of any industrialized nation in the world and it’s at least one of the reasons… that many jobs go overseas.
“By making the tax code fairer, flatter, simpler and more competitive, we’ll bring in more tax revenue. I want more tax revenue,” he said. “I just want to raise it through pro-growth policies.”
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