Welcome all, to this important hearing on the future of our country.
Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security provide health and retirement security for millions of Americans. The principal aim of this hearing is to make clear that trying to "protect" the government's major entitlement programs by maintaining the status quo is, in fact, the surest way to destroy them.
Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are growing at unsustainable rates, building up trillions of dollars in debt and unfunded promises that jeopardize the programs themselves, the Federal budget, and -- ultimately -- the entire U.S. economy.
The longer Congress waits, the worse these problems become, leading to an inevitable crisis that will force deep, wrenching, sudden changes with profound effects on program beneficiaries.
The fundamental missions of these programs -- to ensure health and retirement security for all Americans -- can be achieved, but only through honest leadership and real reform.
By taking action now, Congress can develop gradual, prospective changes -- keeping promises to those now in or near retirement, while securing the programs for future retirees.
I thank the distinguished panel of bipartisan experts for joining us today to share their views on the sustainability of our safety net.
I am happy to see Alice Rivlin, with whom I worked on the President's fiscal commission to put forward solutions to the unsustainable trajectory of federal health spending. Few people in Washington know more about these issues and have more credibility in addressing them than Alice does.
Jim Capretta, a former associate director at the Office of Management and Budget, is also with us today. Few in my mind have made as compelling a case as Jim on the path forward to advance real reform.
Chuck Blahous is one of the nation's foremost experts in retirement security -- this hearing would not be complete without getting his thoughts on how to save these critical programs.
And we'll hear from Paul van de Water of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. While we don't always agree on the policy path forward, I welcome his thoughts to advance an informed debate on this critical issue.
For the past several months, a number of us have been saying we need to have a serious, honest conversation with the American people about these problems.
The time for that conversation is now -- and I firmly believe the American people are ready for it. They have had enough instability in their lives lately, and they deserve a federal health and retirement safety net they can count on.
If Congress wants to avoid defaulting on federal health and retirement programs, it must advance solutions that free the nation from the shadow of debt, strengthen its health and retirement safety net, and protect those in or near retirement from disruptions.
If -- and only if -- we act now, reforms can be phased in and gradual; conducive to economic growth and consistent with our historic commitment of leaving the next generation of Americans with a more prosperous and secure nation.
With that, I will yield to Ranking Member Van Hollen for an opening statement.