Gregg praises Senate’s role in government
By Abbie Kouzmanoff, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Former Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who has been named the College’s inaugural Distinguished Fellow, spoke about the crucial role that the Senate will play in producing a bipartisan solution to the nation’s pressing fiscal problems to a packed auditorium in Silsby Hall Monday night. The Senate’s failure to address the debt issues will result in a diminished standard of living for future generations, according to Gregg.
Gregg, who has served as both chair and a ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, said that the Senate is the only sector of the federal government in which true compromise can take place because it still has a functioning center. Congress, the purse of the government, must be instrumental in solving the national debt, according to Gregg.
“You need to go across the aisle to get anything done,” Gregg said in an interview with The Dartmouth. “We can’t do the big issues of our society such as Medicaid reform and Social Security unless we do them in a bipartisan way, and that’s because the American people won’t accept solutions to these big issues which they don’t think are fair.”
Gregg said that the House of Representatives is not poised for cooperation because 60 to 65 percent of congressional districts are drawn based on party lines, meaning representatives must cater to their party bases.
“The one thing the base doesn’t tolerate on both sides of the aisle is compromise, and so it’s very hard for members of those districts to go across the aisle because if they do they’re undermining their chances of elections,” he said.
Gregg said that a bipartisan agreement is critical because although revenue is rising, spending has increased exponentially. The baby boomer generation, which will be fully retired by 2017, has made entitlements unsustainable, he said.
The present debt-load — what a person must earn in a lifetime to pay off the federal debt — for each person under 21 is currently about $100,000, but it will climb to $200,000 by 2017 at the present rate, Gregg said.
“Our present fiscal course will make it very difficult for your age to have the standard of living that our generation has had,” he said. “At some point, you’re going to be so busy paying off the federal debt that you’re not going to be able to buy a house or send your kids to college.”
Gregg said he believes that investors will regain confidence if Congress can reach a comprehensive agreement on fiscal policy and if the government demonstrates a serious effort to reduce the deficit. If a comprehensive agreement is not achieved, however, another financial crisis will likely take place at some point over the coming four years, Gregg said.
The nation’s increased exportation of energy, its software industry and its focus on biotechnology have poised the United States for an exceptional period of economic growth, he said.
“The one thing that can retard that is the government’s failure to address its fiscal house,” Gregg said. “Our problem is the government has created a huge uncertainty because of our debt and deficits. Nobody knows what the tax policy is, what the regulatory policy is — it’s undermining risk taking.”
The upcoming presidential election will play a vital role in encouraging risk taking, Gregg said.
“I think you’ll see people who are entrepreneurial taking risks and creating investments and enthusiasm if [Mitt] Romney’s elected,” he said. “I think if [Barack Obama is] reelected, you’re going to see a period of uncertainty on tax policy and regulatory policy, which will continue to slow the economy.”
Gregg said that Congress’ failure to pass several bipartisan efforts over the past few years is not due to increased party polarization.
“There has always been intense partisanship in Washington,” he said in the lecture. “The difference is the fact that the media and the social media has really reduced discourse to its lowest common denominator of the base.”
Gregg also noted that there are very few sources of substantive journalism left in the country.
“The megaphone of the marginal is massively amplified, and it drowns out the capacity to create rational discussion,” he said. “It has really undermined political discourse.”
The role of the Senate has traditionally been to protect the voice of the minority in the federal government, according to Gregg. He said he fears, however, that the institution is beginning to move away from this function and toward the autocracy of the House.
The right to unlimited debate has historically been protected within the Senate, while the speaker of the House has typically had more absolute power over the floor, according to Gregg.
Gregg said that the role of the Senate could be marginalized if it continues to shirk its responsibility to pass budgets and appropriation bills and if both the majority and minority parties put the openness of the body at risk by shutting down debate.
Despite this, Gregg said he did not leave Congress a cynic and still highly respects the Senate as an institution.
Edwin Yung ’15 said he thought that Gregg was slightly too optimistic in his lecture, but that his arguments were rational and adequately addressed the harsh realities the government is facing.
“I’m a Democrat, and I agreed with a lot of what he said,” Yung said. “I’m hopeful in that respect.”
Gregg’s lecture, “The Role of the Senate and the Coming Fiscal Crisis,” was this year’s edition of the annual Constitution Day Program at the Rockefeller Center. As a Distinguished Fellow, Gregg will teach, lecture and counsel both graduate and undergraduate students with an interest in government and public policy over the next three years.