Concurrent Resolution on the Budget Fiscal Year 2014by Senator Jack Reed
Posted on 2013-03-20
REED. I want to thank the Senator from Michigan for allowing me
to participate in this colloquy. I also
commend her for a thoughtful, insightful, and extremely compelling
argument about creating jobs as a way not only to give people a chance
to rise in the middle class but also to accomplish our other objective,
which is ultimately to reduce the deficit.
As the Senator pointed out, when I was here with her in the late 1990s, we reached the point where we had a projected surplus of perhaps $5 trillion over 10 years. She has catalogued the way in which that surplus has been eroded. What we need to do is focus, as she suggests, on the urgent need to create jobs and ensure our Nation's budget makes investments in growing and strengthening the middle class. We are all here as beneficiaries of the programs and policies of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, which consciously built the middle class and invested in us. Our parents invested in us. We need to do the same thing. She is absolutely correct, the investments we are proposing in this Democratic budget will be critical not only to individual success but to our success as an economy, and as a global competitor. I thank her for her words.
I am here to join her to address this pressing need to create jobs, to strengthen the economic recovery, and to underscore the vast differences between the proposal we are making, and the budget proposed by the House of Representatives, by our Republican colleagues.
Let me state what is a very disturbing figure. There are 12 million unemployed Americans, with 4.8 million of these individuals unemployed for more than 6 months. We are seeing unprecedented levels of long-term unemployment. Americans are struggling to stay in their homes, put their children through school and put food on their table.
In my State we are unfortunately among the top States in a category no one wants to be leading, and that is unemployment. The harsh reality of what we are facing in Rhode Island was brought home with a stunning article in last Sunday's Washington Post. It noted some 180,000 Rhode Islanders, over 15 percent of our population, receive SNAP benefits, supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits. Some are receiving SNAP because they don't have jobs, although they have looked from month to month to month. Some have jobs, but the pay is so little they qualify under the income limits of the SNAP program.
I want to particularly thank the Senator from Michigan for her valiant efforts to increase SNAP funding. Literally we are talking about putting food on people's tables. Fifteen percent of my State of Rhode Island depends on food support to have a healthy diet for them and particularly for their children.
When we talk about what we want to do with the budget, it is about getting people back to work. That is what they want. They don't want a SNAP benefit. They want good jobs. They want the same opportunities, from which we benefited, which helped build a strong middle class. What is their greatest fear? Not just falling out of the middle class, but that their children won't even have a remote chance of middle-class income or a middle-class lifestyle, those opportunities which we in our day took almost for granted. We must turn things around.
As the Senator pointed out, the Republican policy is focused on cutting taxes for the very wealthy. This policy has been demonstrated over the last decade to not produce good-paying jobs for middle-income Americans. However, it does produce very substantial benefits for the wealthiest of Americans.
That is not the way to grow a country. That is not what many people today and through our history have sacrificed their lives for. They are not out there serving in Afghanistan and other places so those who have much could have more. It is so those who have very little would have a chance, at least a chance. This is what we are talking about behind all the numbers. We are talking about investing in America. We need to make that investment.
The other side of the aisle indulges in what I believe is a fallacy: The only way of fixing the economy is cutting the deficit. But, instead of focusing exclusively on deficit reduction in the near term, we need to pass legislation which will put people back to work, give them a job, give them hope, and give them an opportunity, give them a sense they can make their lives and their children's lives much better.
The Democrats have proposed a series of initiatives over the last several years to do just that, such as tax incentives for small business to hire people, repairing schools, roads, bridges, or tax breaks for low- and middle-income Americans so they may have a little bit more in their paychecks. We have tried to pass these measures but have been frustrated consistently, even though we have the majority, because of filibusters and procedural delays. The American people understand that we need to create jobs. They want us to act. They want us to act to their benefit, not for the very few but for the majority of Americans.
The other approach Republicans espouse is hand-in-hand with this notion of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans is that austerity through spending cuts can grow the economy. That you can cut programs, cut everything, and that will grow the economy.
That is not reality. What we see and what history suggests, when you are cutting during an economic recovery, you are basically counteracting the recovery. You are contracting economic expansion. You are not adding to the momentum of growth, you are subtracting from the growth.
If you want a current example, look across the ocean to Europe and Great Britain. They embarked upon an austerity program several years ago. Most commentators suggest they are in worse shape today than they were 3 or 4 years ago when they started this austerity program. This is the result of cutting, cutting, cutting. If we proceed down that pathway, we will be in worse shape several years from now than we are today. We can be in better shape by investing in our future and by creating jobs.
Another aspect of this too is it is not only the question of filibustering our proposals to create jobs--but that we know in August 2011 there was a real threat to undermine the full faith and credit of the United States, to refuse for the first time in modern history to increase the debt ceiling, to pay the debts which we owed. And the majority of those debts, at least the much of the recent ones, resulted from the previous administration. And so the debt ceiling crisis triggered the whole process which has led us today to sequestration. Now Americans will have to suffer through sequestration. The Congressional Budget Office has already said if we don't reverse sequestration, we will lose 750,000 jobs. Those are the jobs middle- income Americans are expecting and hoping for. We are losing about .6 percent of growth. We will be headed where our friends across the ocean are headed, not expanding but contracting; not increasing employment but decreasing employment. We are worse off because of these austere policies, not better off.
What the Democratic budget does--and my colleague from Michigan has outlined it very well and with great articulation, that the way you should deal with these issues is through a balanced approach--a balance of revenue and spending cuts which will not harm our economy. That is what we did in 1993 and 1994 when I was a Member of the House of Representatives. President Clinton came to us and said: Here it is, we are going to cut spending and we are going to raise revenue. And we passed it by one vote in the House, one vote in the Senate--not one Republican vote, but still by one vote here and one vote in the House of Representatives. That set the stage for the later efforts that finally led not only to a balanced budget but to a surplus, and that is the approach we have to adopt today. It's an approach that works.
The Republican budget calls for a total of $4.6 trillion in cuts and would leave the sequester in place. So it would compound the damage of the sequester. The Republican budget has also been estimated to provide millionaires an average tax cut of $400,000. Once again, the big winners in this proposal are the wealthiest Americans, not those who are struggling to put food on the table, to get a job, to see their children have a better future. And, again, the Republican budget refuses to responsibly address the $1 trillion sequester. They provide nearly $6 trillion in tax cuts that, again, overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Americans, but don't address the $1 trillion sequester. So essentially their [[Page S2000]] budget is compounding the difficulties we have in growing this economy and creating jobs.