House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) warned Monday afternoon that debt crises like the one gripping Greece will inevitably hit the United States if leaders fail to cut deficits, and he urged Republicans to join President Barack Obama’s fiscal commission and develop a package of budget cuts and revenue hikes by the end of the year.
“If we don’t change course, it will happen here,” Hoyer said at the Brookings Institution.
Hoyer said he’s never seen “a public so outraged by deficits and debt” and said that anger could be channeled into action.
“They’re really ticked,” he said.
Hoyer said he’s hopeful the fiscal commission, authorized by an Obama executive order, will be able to bridge partisan differences.
“I hope Congressional Republicans will take the work as sincerely and seriously as the [commission’s] chairmen take it, that they will come to the table without preconditions, ready to contribute their ideas and not just their criticism from the sideline,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer urged Republicans to be open to revenue hikes, not just budget cuts, to reach a compromise.
“If need be, I am hopeful that both parties will agree to look at revenues as part of the solution — not as a gateway to higher spending, but as part of a compromise that cuts spending and balances the budget,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer said a higher retirement age as well as adjusting Medicare and Social Security benefits to make them more progressive could also be part of a deal.
And he pointed to the Clinton administration’s record of producing surpluses, which he noted had a bipartisan origin.
There was a “Republican Congress that didn’t want to spend and a Democratic president who didn’t want to cut revenues,” Hoyer said.
Ultimately, however, Hoyer said the situation was a defining question of character.
“Our willingness to put the welfare of our children ahead of our own — to plant seeds for them whose fruit we may never taste — is a powerful test of our character,” he said.