WASHINGTON – “How do we grab America’s attention with numbers?” Chairman Johnson asked Thursday, addressing Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Keith Hall during a hearing focused on America’s long-term fiscal situation. Before introducing Hall as the hearing’s sole witness, Johnson said he and other senators are trying to figure out a way to present the reality and depth of projected levels of future deficits and debt to the American people in a clear and understandable way.
Hall’s nonpartisan agency is charged with projecting the costs of current and proposed policies to help Congress make better decisions. It also produces long-term projections of federal spending and revenue. Johnson has used the agency’s data to describe the size of expected federal deficits, and he won bipartisan support in passing legislation that directs the CBO to summarize its projections in new, easier-to-understand ways.
“Describe reality, but describe reality for the purpose of directing action,” Johnson urged Hall, holding up a one-page income statement that outlines the factors contributing to a projected total of $103 trillion in federal deficits over the next 30 years. Major factors include deficits in Social Security and in Medicare, and interest on federal debt.
Johnson emphasized the need for Congress to start using a longer term when discussing the budget, instead of the customary 10-year window. A 30-year “Johnson Budget Window” encompasses the “demographic bubble,” Johnson said, of baby boomers moving into retirement. He stressed the significance of sharing this information with the American people – regardless of how “scary” or hard to understand the information may be.
“At some point in time America’s creditors are going to run out of patience and look at America and say, ‘You know you aren’t very serious in coming to terms with this debt and deficit.” … That’s what we are dealing with, that’s what we have got to try to convey, that’s what we have to admit.”
Committee members later discussed ways to reduce the rate of growth in federal spending. Johnson said this was a matter of choosing priorities wisely. “We should dramatically increase what we’re spending on infrastructure for a 21st century economy. … In an almost four thousand billion dollar a year budget, can’t we find 15 billion dollars of lower priority spending and let’s spend it on a higher priority?”
The chairman’s opening statement can be found here.
The full hearing video can be seen here.