In Congress

‘Answer My Question’: Sen. John Kennedy Grills Biden Treasury Secretary On ‘Unsustainable’ Debt

Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana grilled Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen Wednesday on what level of debt was “unsustainable.”

“So, what the president is saying is — these are my words, not his — because of his budget, we’re going to have three heart attacks and a stroke instead of four heart attacks and a stroke,” Kennedy said during a Wednesday hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee, noting that the federal debt was slated to climb by $18 trillion over ten years.

President Joe Biden released a proposed budget for fiscal year 2024 March 9, which included over $5 trillion in new tax increases, including a 20% hike in the capital gains tax rate and a 7.6% increase in the top income tax rate.

“Well, I would not agree that we’re going to have three heart attacks and a stroke because we have a very large economy, and while the numbers that you cite are very big numbers, the size of our economy is also extremely large,” Yellen said in response. “And I think a better metric for assessing what the impact of the budget is on our economy and whether or not it’s manageable is real net interest on the — the real net interest payments that we have to make relative to the size of our economy.”

Kennedy noted that the debt would rise to $51 trillion from the current level of about $33 trillion, and Yellen claimed that the level of debt was “sustainable.”

“Well, how much debt is too much? Tell me that,” Kennedy said.

“Well, I — I just gave you the metric that I think is best for assessing fiscal sustainability,” Yellen said.

After further back-and-forth, Kennedy, who stumped judicial nominee S. Kato Crews with a question about the landmark case Brady v Maryland Wednesday, appeared to lose his patience with Yellen.

“Could you just answer my question, Madam Secretary?” Kennedy asked. “What percentage of — what percentage of our debt of our GDP is too much?”

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Harold Hutchison

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Harold Hutchison

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