Bucks County Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick said if changes aren't made now to lower the national debt, control government spending and solve the Medicare and healthcare crisis, "this country can't survive" and will quickly fall behind China as the world's largest economy.
Speaking before the members of the Newtown Business & Professional Association, Fitzpatrick had some sobering words for the future if politicians are unable to resolve the current issues facing the nation.
"In the 230 year history of our country, the great thing about the United States of America is that every generation has given to the next a greater standard of living, better quality of life. We're on the precipice of handing to the first generation a lower standard of living, a lesser quality of life," he told the association members.
Fitzpatrick asked how many people in the room felt like they had a better quality of life than their parents. Almost every hand in the room went up. Then he asked, "How many believe the same will be true for their children?" This time there were no hands in the air.
"Our obligation is to make sure your grandparents are taken care of but so are your children," said Fitzpatrick. "To bury our head in the sand, we would not be doing our job."
The nation faces a $1.5 trillion annual budget deficit and a $14.3 trillion national debt, which means every boy and girl born in the United States in 2011 "will have an automatic "birth tax' of $43,000," said Fitzpatrick.
Forty-two cents out of every dollar is borrowed, most of it from the Chinese, said Fitzpatrick, and the country is handing the bill to its children and grandchildren.
"That's not the America I was raised in. That's not what our parents gave to us. And that's not what I intend to leave your children and my grandchildren," he said. "I have the same significant investment in this country as you do. Their names are Katie, Maggie, Molly, Jimmy, Mick and Tom, my six children," he said.
"I'm not going to Washington just to kick the can down the road and come back to Bucks County and look my six kids in the eye and say, "You know what, guys. I tried. But I couldn't get it done.' I'm not going to do it.
"If we want to grow the economy, if we want to make sure we're in a real race with China for the largest world economy, we have to reduce the national debt. We have to reduce the size of government. We have to get government spending under control. And we have to put private businesses, most notably small businesses, back in charge of the American economy," said Fitzpatrick.
To do that, he said, politicians must reduce the nation's debt, which is draining money that could be used to invest in small business, which he said wants to put people to work. "If we're going to get out of this economic malaise that we're in," said Fitzpatrick, "we got to put people back to work, not have 8 or 10 percent unemployment."
Fitzpatrick said the country must also address Medicare and be brave enough to make the changes needed to keep the program solvent.
"There's going to be a rough debate in this country on Medicare. We need it. I voted for a plan that significantly reforms Medicare. It's a framework. It's not the law yet," he said. "In doing that, I realize there are going to be attacks. The next step will be that folks are going to start scaring seniors by saying Fitzpatrick wants to take away your Medicare. What I would say to current seniors is that their Medicare is safe. But what I tell seniors is if we don't make some changes, there won't be Medicare."
Under the proposal Fitzpatrick supports, seniors who are 55 and above wouldn't be impacted. "If you're over 55, they have lived their life on a set of promises of what the government would provide to them and you can't change that, which is why we have to draw the line somewhere. But I have to tell you, in the long term it's unsustainable."
For the first time in a long time, said Fitzpatrick, the American public is paying attention and saying "these are the decisions that have to be made. They expect the federal government to do what they do in hard economic times. They want us to tighten the belt and reduce expenses. You do it in your small businesses," he said.
"This is a great country. I think we know what we need to do. And we have to get it done and put this country back on the right path," said Fitzpatrick.
During a question and answer session with the Congressman, Tina Leck, whose family operates Leck Trash Removal in Ivyland, asked what the "real reason" is for gas prices and how it can be addressed.
Fitzpatrick said there are basically two reasons -- supply and demand and speculation.
As countries like China and India modernize and grow, their need for fossil fuels increases, which boosts the price. At the same time, supply is going down due to the turmoil in the Middle East where the oil is drawn from the ground.
There are also the guys on Wall Street who are speculating as to where the price is going, he said. "That, probably more than anywhere else, is where Washington needs to step in," he said, agreeing with President Obama's move to investigate speculation in the industry.
Fitzpatrick said his solution is that rather than permit any individual to buy an oil future and sell it five minutes later on margin, they could increase the margins. You'll have fewer speculators and fewer speculators will reduce the price of people buying on margin and speculating."
Another business owner wanted to know what small business owners and individuals can do to make a change happen.
"One person can do a lot," said Fitzpatrick. "You can listen, talk to your fellow workers, pay attention to what's happening, be informed and cast an informed vote. "
Another attendee asked about the government's tax structure.
"I'm not proposing a completely flat tax, but I think we need a much flatter tax -- the elimination of the deductions and loopholes out there," said Fitzpatrick.
He'd also like to see the corporate tax rate reduced from 35 to 25 percent and the elimination of deductions except the mortgage interest deduction and the charitable dedication "so we don't see another headline that says G.E. made $14 million and paid no federal income tax."
Answering a question on energy independence, Fitzpatrick said he favors an all-in strategy that includes nuclear, oil, wind and solar.
"We need nuclear. We haven't' built a nuclear plant in 10 years. We haven't built a new refinery in 30 years. We should support companies like Gamesa, but we have to do it equally. You cannot say you're a winner and you're a loser.
"I think Bush was wrong and I believe Obama is wrong on energy," he said. "Bush loved the oil industry. Five years later, President Obama is in the White House. He denigrates the oil industry and all the tax rates are for wind and solar. And I'm as green as the next guy, but there's no way to power this country on wind and solar.
"We need an all-in strategy," he said.
The final question had to do with the part the military plays in reducing the size of the deficit.
"It should play an important role," said Fitzpatrick. "I voted to cut some defense spending, but I think we can do more. But we need to be careful. Like any social program, you can cut too deep.
"Like our energy policy, when we go to balance this budget it has to be all in," said Fitzpatrick. "Defense is going to take a hit. Social programs are going to take a hit.
"And when I make those tough decisions and you agree, you can tell me. If you disagree, send me back to Middletown and I'll go back to practicing law. But I'm not going down there to kick the can down the road and look my six kids in the eye and your children and say, in our defining moment, we failed and refused to do the right thing."