Grassley Challenges Congress To Exercise Fiscal Responsibility And Good Governance

Floor Remarks by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa

Ranking Member, Senate Budget Committee

“On Fiscal Responsibility and Good Government”

Wednesday, September 13, 2023


In June, Congress passed a bipartisan bill to increase the debt limit and impose meaningful fiscal controls.  

That law was appropriately titled the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Its passage marked a long-overdue step towards fiscal sanity. I assume you’ve got to go back about a dozen years until Congress has taken such a fiscally responsible step. 

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, or CBO as we call it here in town, projects the Fiscal Responsibility Act could save Americans $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. 

I say 'could save' because, for this to hold true, Congress must adhere to the spending caps it has imposed. 

The CBO’s latest long-term budget outlook shows that in 30 years, our national debt will be $11 trillion lower than previously projected. 

This is in large part thanks to this bill passed this year, the Fiscal Responsibility Act. 

While $11 trillion is certainly a large sum, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $118 trillion in debt the U.S. is expected to chalk up over those same 30 years. 

So, of course, the fiscal path we’re on is not sustainable. 

Take debt held by the public. Today, public debt is about as large as the annual U.S. economic output.     

Within six years, public debt will reach a historically high 107 percent of GDP. The previous record was set in the wake of World War II. 

Once that dismal record is broken, public debt will grow faster than the economy with no end in sight. 

When the public holds large amounts of debt, it naturally slows the economy, naturally reduces national income and naturally increases inflation. 

It also leads to ballooning interest costs, which are already at a 22-year high. 

Based on the current trajectory, here’s a snapshot of the years ahead: 

Within five years, the United States will spend more on interest than on national defense. 

Within eight years, interest payments will surpass our spending on non-defense discretionary programs. 

Over the next 10 years, interest on our debt will cost taxpayers more than $10.4 trillion.  

That’s $10.4 trillion that could be used to improve the lives of Americans. Instead, it will pad the pockets of our nation’s creditors, even including foreign adversaries like China – which considers investment in the national debt of the United States a good investment. 

Finally, within 30 years, interest payments will reach over $5 trillion a year. That would make interest the single largest annual government spend – surpassing both Social Security and Medicare.

We can’t keep swiping our nation’s maxed out credit card while we cross our fingers for pre-pandemic interest rates to return. 

Families, farmers and small businesses make tradeoffs every day to stay on budget. They have to balance their checkbooks besides staying on budget. Congress needs to do the same. 

Enacting spending caps in the Fiscal Responsibility Act was the easy part. The real challenge will be ‘walking that walk’ and sticking to those caps.

To do this, Congress must renew its focus on two things: fiscal responsibility and good government. 

Recently, you know Fitch downgraded the United States’ credit rating just last month. It named both fiscal responsibility and good government as factors in its decision. 

Congress has the opportunity and the duty to demonstrate fiscal responsibility and good government -- and do it now, as we work to fund federal agencies and programs for this upcoming fiscal year. 

Former Fed Chairman Paul Volker told Congress in the 1980s, “cutting spending may appear to be the most painful part of the job, but I’m convinced that the pain for all of us will ultimately be much greater if it is not accomplished.” 

Paul Volker’s advice is even more apt today than ever, because our national spending and our national debt is much greater than it was during Paul Volker’s time.

We need to stop governing from crisis to crisis and return to regular order, like we are today on the appropriations bills before the United States Senate.

That means restoring a key component of Senate procedure: real and robust debate on spending decisions. 

The Senate has only debated one or more appropriations bills seven times – just seven times – since 2008. The last time was in 2018. 

Otherwise, between 2018 and last year, we operated under this omnibus appropriations bill process where we didn’t give proper attention to each segment of our government. We didn’t have much chance for debate, and probably no chance for amendment. 

Last year, not a single funding bill was reported out of committee. Congress didn’t complete appropriations until December 23rd.

We must do better this year.

And we need to applaud Chairman Murray and Ranking Member Collins. They have done their part by shepherding all 12 regular funding bills through the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Now, it’s the full Senate’s turn. Let’s get to work, get the job done.