Washington, D.C. – Today, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, delivered the following remarks at an event hosted by FreedomWorks entitled “Entitlement Reform: A Growing National Emergency.”
Rep. Brady discussed the roll our new tax code is playing in today’s growing economy. He also discussed Medicare, Social Security, welfare reform, and the national debt, stressing that bipartisan work is needed to ensure these programs are successful for future generations.
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you all for having me here today to talk about the important issue of entitlement reform.
“Thanks to FreedomWorks – Adam Brandon, Jason Pye, and Sarah Anderson – conservative thought leaders on the panel and in attendance today, and the Conservative Partnership Institute, led by Senator DeMint, for refocusing America on our leading fiscal challenge: our government’s unsustainable finances.
“Despite the national media’s portrayal, the concern about the national debt and persistent budget deficits has not faded for conservatives or for many Americans. It can’t. The impacts are too real and too severe. And no, it’s not too late to alter the course.
“We began by altering the course of our economy – changing the trajectory of America’s future for the better with President Trump’s pro-growth tax code and balanced regulation.
“Growth matters. What we are seeing today is an economy growing 50 percent faster than the Obama projections, record low unemployment, manufacturing jobs reborn, business start-ups skyrocketing, jobs and dollars flowing back into America at a pace many have never witnessed, and – best of all – paychecks growing at their fastest pace in a decade, principally among blue-collar and low-income working families.
“Last week’s GDP report of 3.2 percent growth, as Axios described it, ‘smashed expectations.’ The Wall Street Journal wrote that the ‘supply side of the economy is flashing strength.’ And even the liberal New York Times reported that ‘rumors of the economic expansion’s death appear to have been greatly exaggerated.’
“Growth helps stabilize our government entitlements. Since President Trump’s inauguration and the historic passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, 5 million people have been lifted off of food stamps. 5 million Americans who can now feed their own families – how must that feel?
“Filings for unemployment benefits recently fell to a fresh 49-year low. We have a million more job openings than workers, even as more Americans who had given up hope are off the sidelines and actively looking for jobs again.
“Because more people are working, and with higher paychecks, the Congressional Budget Office’s projections for payroll tax revenues have increased by $200 billion more through 2027 than projected prior to the tax cuts – and those projections are too low.
“Here is what gets me excited. More folks with disabilities are moving off the sidelines and are working today than under the previous White House.
“Last week, the Social Security Trustees reported disability applications and award rates are at a near-decade low. As a result, 20 more years have been added to the solvency of the Disability Insurance Trust Fund.
“Because more Americans are working, the overall Social Security deficit as a percent of payroll decreased – that is, it improved.
“And contrary to liberal claims that tax cuts rob from Social Security, the combined Social Security Trust Funds’ exhaustion date extended a full year and the program’s long-term deficit improved over the past year. Yes, improved.
“Growth matters. And sustained growth, which the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act provides, can help us achieve our goal of making America’s entitlements financially sound without taking more from the pockets of working families.
“But growth alone won’t get us all the way there. We need thoughtful redesigns of America’s entitlements. That’s why this event today is so important – to put these issues back on America’s radar and identify some of the innovative ways we can begin to avoid future bankruptcies of Social Security, Medicare, and our nation’s budget.
“I was proud that House Republicans, led by the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees, took the first substantial steps to address entitlement reforms in 2016 in health care and Medicaid.
“The Affordable Care Act, written in secret behind closed doors by one political party and filled with special interest loopholes, is fatally flawed and will never achieve the health care savings it promised – even as it has stabilized under the Trump Administration.
“Five years after it became fully operational, more workers opt out rather than into Obamacare – because it is coverage they don’t need and can’t afford. And health care remains the number one concern of many families and businesses.
“Instead of adding another $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the next decade, as the Affordable Care Act is slated to do, it’s time to start fresh. This time with both parties working together to truly lower health care costs and restore power to patients and workers, rather than Washington, D.C.
“In 2016, House Republicans also approved the first major structural redesign to Medicaid since its creation. It was based on common-sense principles: let Medicaid dollars flow to where the people are, rather than where high taxes are; give states the power to design health care to meet its populations of poor, infants, and elderly; focus on those who are truly needy; and place Medicaid, for the first time, on a growing but responsible budget.
“Those smart reforms would have saved over $800 billion in the first decade, helping make Medicaid sustainable for the long term. And it would have helped states who are seeing their exploding Medicaid budget squeeze out needed dollars for education, law enforcement, and infrastructure.
“Although these entitlement redesigns didn’t survive the Senate, they are proof that some in Washington clearly understand the longer we put off addressing these crucial financial challenges, the worse that future solutions must be.
“At the very least, don’t make matters worse with stunningly expensive government takeovers of health care and energy, like Democrats in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail are embracing.
“Today, House Democrats are holding their first congressional hearing on the so-called ‘Medicare-for-All’: their dangerous path to have Washington control the health decisions of every American while eliminating high-quality private health plans that 158 million working families depend upon.
“Their radical proposal will also eliminate TRICARE for our military, the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Medicare Advantage plans that 20 million seniors rely on.
“The bottom line: Washington can’t even keep the government’s doors open. Can you really trust it when your life is on the line?
“Instead of a budget-busting government takeover that will explode federal deficits, Republicans – the party responsible for creating competition-oriented health care such as Medicare Advantage and the Medicare prescription drug program, as well as the original law creating protections at work for folks with pre-existing conditions – stand ready to work together with anyone to lower out-of-pocket costs while expanding choices for patients.
“What we know for certain is that it’s time to come together to achieve thoughtful redesigns of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and welfare.
“This must be done with Republicans and Democrats working together. As proof, not once in Social Security’s history have reforms been made to the program that weren’t bipartisan.
“Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee have begun the hard work of identifying the principles of Social Security to save this program for every generation, once and for all.
“These principles include: long term economic growth by rewarding work, rather than penalizing it; providing equal treatment to police, firefighters, and educators under Social Security; protecting the most vulnerable; and avoiding tax increases that rob from local businesses and, especially, our younger workers that they never recoup through the lifetimes.
“This challenge is a bipartisan one. Going it alone on Social Security reform, as some liberals propose, is certain to fail and will only waste valuable time.
“We also believe Social Security is one of the most successful anti-poverty programs for the elderly. But Americans can’t rely on it alone for the retirement they’ve dreamed of.
“That’s why last session, the Republican House twice approved tax reforms that help workers save more and save earlier throughout their lifetimes so they are prepared for whatever life throws at them – and they can enjoy a secure retirement. To their credit, Democrats on our Committee are working with us to move these savings reforms to the House floor soon.
“Two other entitlement thoughts. Fist, in addition to Social Security reform, we must address the number one economic issue facing our country: our workforce.
“There are many gains our economy is experiencing post-tax reform that are worth celebrating.
“We are seeing record wage gains for blue-collar workers, and record low unemployment for African Americans, Hispanics, and our neighbors with disabilities.
“The U.S. job market continues to be the envy of the world. In a little more than a year and a half, our nation has gone from asking ‘where are the jobs?’ to asking ‘where are the workers?’
“Our new tax code is creating demand for workers all across the country. With a booming economy that has more jobs than workers, now is the perfect time for those stuck on the sidelines to find work and pull themselves out of poverty.
“Which is why Senator Steve Daines and I recently introduced our welfare reform legislation, called the JOBS for Success Act.
“Our bill, originally introduced last session by Congressman Adrian Smith of Nebraska as Chairman of the Human Services Subcommittee of Ways and Means, is focused on reforming the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program – a federal welfare program that offers temporary cash benefits and services to working parents. It was approved by the Ways and Means Committee last year but ran out of time as the session ended.
“The bill restores the promise of bipartisan welfare reform from 1996. It helps move families from the sidelines to the front lines of employment – making sure that our government doesn’t give up on parents who are trying to provide for the kids.
“Our bill puts the focus back on work. Since TANF’s creation, the focus on work has been lost. States have become very complacent with not engaging families on the program.
“We fix this by ensuring that all who are work capable have a tailored, individual plan to return to work. Not simply to get a job for a short period, but to keep a job for the long-term – because we know that is the surest way out of government dependency.
“All means all. No longer with there be ‘lost causes’ or families that ‘too difficult’ to engage.
“With seven million job openings, the message to those trapped in welfare should not be ‘get off your dead butt.’ Instead, our message is this: ‘America needs you. Main Street needs you. And your children need you to show them the way to earned success and the unlimited opportunity that comes with it.’
“I’ll close with this. For many years I worked to develop the MAP Act, which stands for Maximizing America’s Prosperity.
“The goal is to cap federal spending in a smart way and put America’s budget on a path to sustainable financial solvency.
“FreedomWorks and other conservative groups have been crucial in developing the proposal which caps primary – that is, controllable – spending, including both discretionary and entitlement spending, as a percentage of potential gross domestic product.
“This plan – similar to the Swiss debt brake – will help right-size the government, grow the economy, and move us closer to a balanced budget over the next 10-years.
“By focusing on spending Congress controls and basing it on potential GDP prevents future Congresses from gaming the budget. It helps restrain federal spending growth in boom years and allows for a smoother, more sustainable budget path in recessions.
“The reason I am so excited about this conference today and the many young leaders attending is this: If we don’t get our ballooning deficits and national debt under control, our children and grandchildren, especially our younger generation, will ultimately pay the steepest price.
“I applaud the work, the leadership, and the innovative ideas that are part of this conversation today. The time for entitlement reform is now. And I intend to work with you to achieve it.