I rise today to talk about two problems that are related. These two problems have been spoken about for, I think, virtually decades here in this chamber and across the political spectrum.
One relates to preserving our extraordinary entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare, our Highway Trust Fund, and the like. These programs are very much under threat because within 13 years, each of these trust funds, each of these programs, will face insolvency.
The other problem I want to talk about is the massive overspending, the deficit, and the debt that we have. That’s something which Republicans and Democrats have been speaking about for a long time, although speaking about it less frequently as of late.
These two problems are related because two-thirds of our spending at the federal level is automatic. It’s associated with our entitlement programs.
So, let me start with the debt. When I was running for president, when I had the chance also to run in the Senate, the number one issue among the people in my state was the issue of whether we would stop spending more money than we took in.
We took in about three trillion dollars last year in tax revenue but we spent about four trillion dollars. Now, there are some people who have decided to stop thinking about the deficit, to stop worrying about the debt, but as the debt reaches almost $23 trillion, it’s beginning to be a real issue.
Now, I don’t think we’re about to face a failed auction where people won’t be willing to buy our debt. We are, after all, the reserve currency of the world and people want to have American dollars. But, I’m concerned that the interest is beginning to have an enormous impact on our capacity to meet our priorities.
Last year, we spent almost $300 billion on interest on the federal debt and over time, this debt as we add to it, year after year after year, is going to mean the burden of interest payments on the American people gets larger and larger and larger.
Now, there is a small group of people who say this isn’t a problem because interest rates are so low. Well, it’s not a problem until it ceases being a problem because if interest rates start creeping up at some point it can become an extraordinary burden on the American people. If we are sending hundreds of billions of dollars to people like the Chinese and when they use those dollars to confront our military we have a real problem leading the free world.
And so, the issue is how come we can’t deal with the debt and the deficits and why haven’t we been able to do so? And there has been effort to talk about that even though more recently it has been kind of quiet. It relates to of course what I started to speak about which is our trust funds. With Medicare, with Social Security, our retirement program, Social Security, the disability programs, as well as the Highway Trust Fund, these are scheduled to run out of money within thirteen years.
And so to deal with this issue, Senator Joe Manchin and myself and Senator Todd Young, Senator Doug Jones, Senator Kyrsten Sinema have proposed something called the TRUST Act. It is designed to save the trust funds associated with these major programs. It’s designed to make sure that we have a process for finally getting balance in Social Security—both trust funds in Social Security as well as Medicare, as well as the Highway Trust Fund.
This is an effort which has been undertaken in the past unsuccessfully and a lot of people who say well it can’t be done now. But it’s got to be done now because if it’s not done now, the burden that will fall on our seniors eventually will become extraordinary. And the burden that will fall on the next generation as they don’t know where their Social Security and Medicare can be depended upon is unthinkable.
The approach that Senator Manchin and myself and these other senators have taken is pretty straight forward. We’re not laying out a specific plan to change these programs. Instead, we have laid out a process for modernizing these programs.
And so for each one of these trust funds, our Act proposes that the leaders, Republicans and Democrats in both chambers, House and Senate, both parties, Republican and Democrat, put together a Rescue Committee. So, for each trust fund, a Rescue Committee that goes to work to see if on a bipartisan, bicameral basis we can come up with a solution to get these trust funds on a solvent basis for at least 75 years.
That’s an effort that will only be successful, again, if both parties agree. If we do get that agreement, in any one, or each one, of these different Rescue Committees, on a privilege basis, their recommendation, their proposal, their act will be brought to the floor of the House and the Senate and voted upon.
On that basis we have a process for actually resolving the insolvency issue that faces Social Security, Medicare, and the Highway Trust Fund. And, we also have a pathway to finally get our budget balanced, and end the extraordinary growth in our debt, and the burden that interest payments are having on the American people today, and in the future.
And so, I look forward to hearing from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I hope we get great support of people who are willing to sponsor this effort, to be a part of these rescue committees, to go to work to resolve the impending challenges that we have in these trust funds, and in our overall financial status.
So, I mentioned the name of the senators who have been working together to put together the TRUST Act. I’d also want to mention a number of the congress people who are helping out, and are original cosponsors: Mike Gallagher, Ed Case, and Ben McAdams. So again, Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate.
Together I think we can finally save these essential programs. With that, I yield the floor.