These aren’t just practical questions. These questions have moral implications as well. And since we meet today at America’s first Catholic university, I feel it’s important to discuss how, as a Catholic in public life, my own personal thinking on these issues has been guided by my understanding of the Church’s social teaching.
Simply put, I do not believe that the preferential option for the poor means a preferential option for big government.
Look at the results of the government-centered approach to the war on poverty. One in six Americans are in poverty today – the highest rate in a generation. In this war on poverty, poverty is winning. We need a better approach.
To me, this approach should be based on the twin virtues of solidarity and subsidiarity – virtues that, when taken together, revitalize civil society instead of displacing it.
Government is one word for things we do together. But it is not the only word.
We are a nation that prides itself on looking out for one another – and government has an important role to play in that. But relying on distant government bureaucracies to lead this effort just hasn’t worked.
Instead, our budget builds on the historic welfare reforms of the 1990s – reforms proven to work. We aim to empower state and local governments, communities, and individuals – those closest to the problem. And we aim to promote opportunity and upward mobility by strengthening job training programs, to help those who have fallen on hard times.
My mentor, Jack Kemp, used to say, “You can’t help America’s poor by making America poor.”
This President’s failed economic policies have driven poverty rates to record highs, and the mountain of new debt he’s helped create, much of it borrowed from China or simply printed by the Federal Reserve, has made America poorer.
Those unwilling to lift the debt are complicit in our acceleration toward a debt crisis, in which the poor would be hurt the first and the worst.
Our budget lifts the debt, fosters a growing economy, and ensures that government programs make good on their important promises.
Instead of letting our critical health and retirement programs go bankrupt, our budget saves and strengthens them so they can fulfill their missions in the 21st Century.
The President likes to talk about Medicare. We welcome the debate. We need this debate.
What the President won’t tell you is that he’s already changed Medicare forever. His new health care law puts a board of 15 unelected bureaucrats in charge of cutting Medicare.
We should never turn the fate of our parents and grandparents over to an unaccountable board and let it make decisions that could deny them access to their care.
My mom relies on Medicare. We owe her and all of our seniors a better program – a program they can count on.
Our budget keeps the protections that have made Medicare a guaranteed promise for seniors throughout the years. It makes no changes for those in or near retirement.
And in order to save Medicare for future generations, we propose to put 50 million seniors, not 15 unaccountable bureaucrats, in charge of their personal health care decisions.
Our budget empowers seniors to choose the coverage that works best for them from a list of plans that are required to offer at least the same benefits as traditional Medicare.
It sets up a financial support system designed to guarantee that they can always afford coverage.
And it says that if a senior wants to choose the traditional Medicare plan, then she should have that right.
Our idea is to force insurance companies to compete against each other to better serve seniors, with more help for the poor and the sick and less help for the wealthy – or, as the President calls it, “Social Darwinism.”
Of course, we disagree with that characterization. Our plan offers the best way to guarantee quality, affordable health care for all of our nation’s seniors for generations to come.
The President also likes to talk about taxes. We welcome the debate. We need this debate.
The President remains committed to taking more and more from the paychecks of working Americans – not to pay down the debt, but rather to chase ever-higher government spending.
We believe there is a better way forward. A world-class tax code should be fair, simple and competitive. The U.S. code fails on all three counts.
We propose a total overhaul of the code. We lower rates across the board. But revenue goes up every year under our budget, because we propose to close those special-interest loopholes that go primarily to the well-connected and the well-off.
When we lower tax rates by closing special-interest loopholes, we’re saying we in Washington don’t need to micromanage people’s decisions through the tax code.
Let people keep more of their hard-earned dollars. Let them decide how to spend it.
The Path to Prosperity budget passed the House earlier this spring. The Senate has gone another year without a budget, and the President has hunkered down into campaign mode.
People are right to look at how polarized our politics have become and wonder if we’ll ever fix this mess.
The political class feeds the pessimism. The voices of cynicism have given up on American renewal. They say America’s time for leading the world has passed, and our most important task is now to manage the nation’s decline.
I reject such defeatism. America has been here before. We didn’t give up then, and we won’t give up now.
Maybe the cynics don’t remember 1980 – another moment when so many in Washington had given up on the American people.
As Ronald Reagan put it, “They expect you to tell your children that the American people no longer have the will to cope with their problems; that the future will be one of sacrifice and few opportunities.”
But America did something that we as a people are famous for – we refused to listen to our “betters.”
We voted for a man, but more than that, we voted for an idea – the idea that if we took power from bureaucrats and returned it to the people, that Americans working together could restore the principles of American exceptionalism and build a future they and their children could be proud of.
These principles are not exclusive to one party. The patient-centered Medicare reforms and pro-growth tax reforms we have advanced in the House have a long history of bipartisan support.
Medicare reforms based on choice and competition have their roots in the Clinton administration’s bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare.
And in recent years, I’ve worked with Democrats to advance these same kinds of reforms.
Tax reforms based on lowering rates and closing loopholes go back to the Reagan administration, when Democrats served as the congressional co-sponsors of the landmark 1986 tax reform law.
More recently, the chairmen of President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission put forward a plan for lower rates and a broader base as the best means to simplify the tax code and spur economic growth.
It makes sense that these ideas have attracted leaders in both parties. Patient-centered Medicare offers the only guarantee that Medicare can keep its promise to seniors for generations to come.
And pro-growth tax reform, by lowering rates for all Americans while closing loopholes that primarily benefit the well off, can eliminate unfairness in the tax code and ensure a level playing field for all.
The coalition for reform must attract Americans from all walks of life. But progress will require the removal of certain partisan roadblocks: a flawed health care law that must be replaced, and an insistence from some in Washington on tax hikes and tax gimmicks instead of tax reform.
Only with the right leadership in place can we move forward with ideas that renew the American promise of leaving our children a stronger nation than the one our parents left us.
Look, it is rare in American politics to arrive at a moment in which the debate revolves around the fundamental nature of American democracy and the social contract. But that is exactly where we are today.
One approach gives more power to unelected bureaucrats, takes more from hard-working taxpayers to fuel the expansion of government, and commits our nation to a future of debt and decline. This approach is proving unworkable – in Congress, in our courts, and in our communities.
This path fails to do justice to either subsidiarity or solidarity. It dissolves the common good of society, and dishonors the dignity of the human person.
Our budget offers a better path, consistent with the timeless principles of our nation’s founding and, frankly, consistent with how I understand my Catholic faith.
We put our trust in people, not in government. Our budget incorporates subsidiarity by returning power to individuals, to families, and to communities.
We draw inspiration from the Founders’ belief that all people are born with a God-given right to human flourishing.
Protecting this equal right of all persons is required for solidarity – trusting citizens, not nameless government officials, to determine what is in their best interests, and to make the right choices about the future of our country.
The choice before us could not be more clear: Continuing down the path we’re on would mean becoming the first generation to break faith with the American legacy of leaving the next generation with more prosperity and greater opportunities than our parents left us.
If there’s one thing you hear me say today, hear this: This will not be our destiny.
Americans won’t stand for a shrunken vision of our future.
We will get back on a path to prosperity.
It is not too late to get this right.