Concurrent Resolution on the Budget Fiscal Year 2014by Senator Jeff Sessions
Posted on 2013-03-20
SESSIONS. Mr. President, I thank Chairman Murray for her good
work. It has been 4 years since we have had a budget in the Senate.
This is her first year as chair of the committee, and we have gotten a
budget moved forward to the Senate floor. I congratulate her on that.
I note Senator Conrad, her predecessor, would have loved to have moved a budget forward, but the leadership somehow decided that was not the right thing to do. Indeed, they said it would be foolish to have a budget. So this is progress, and although we would have liked to have had more time in committee, Chairman Murray set up this system in a way that she was clear about, and gave us full time all day Thursday of last week to debate and make the points we believed were important, and so did our Democratic colleagues. They got to speak out. I thank her for having an open hearing and being respectful of those of us who had different views and were anxious to share them.
My colleague uses the phrase ``responsible and balanced.'' But what you have to know, I say to colleagues and [[Page S1992]] friends and Americans, is that this budget is anything but balanced. It never comes close to balancing. It never balances over the entire lifetime. It does not put us on a trajectory that would ever balance. It is not a budget that in any sense balances the amount of money coming in with the amount of money going out. It just does not. And we need to talk about that.
I think the American people want a balanced budget. I believe they asked for that. I think they expect that of us, and will be disappointed to find out that the leadership in the Senate, unlike the leadership in the House, does not produce a budget that is balanced.
Today we begin debate on the budget resolution. This is the first budget resolution on the Senate floor in 4 years, crafted by our Democratic majority. We are required to produce a budget, but over the last 4 years, in violation of plain statutory law in the United States Code that requires the passage of a budget by April 15--by April 1 it should be produced in committee, we have not acted. It has been disappointing. I have had many of my constituents say: How can they not produce a budget when the law says you should have one? Senator Reid said it would be foolish to have a budget. That was his excuse or reason for not bringing up one--foolish to have a budget when we have the largest deficit this Nation has ever seen, and we face the greatest systemic debt threat we have ever seen.
I do not think we can have a greater symbol of an arrogance of power than the refusal to produce a budget resolution over the last 4 years. It was a decision to place--as I have said before, and I have been clear on this--political ideas and values over the American interests.
Our friends in the majority speak of their deep concern for struggling Americans. Yet year after year there has been no plan produced that will actually help them. America has never been in a more perilous fiscal condition, never needed a sound budget plan more than today. So what has changed? Why are we moving forward? The answer is a simple one. The House of Representatives passed legislation. It said: No budget, no pay. So now we have a budget. Hopefully, we would have had one anyway, but I am glad that one is moving. Our colleagues probably like to get paid.
Today we know the Senate majority resisted offering a plan for these years. The budget before us today is a bankrupt vision that will bankrupt the country. It is a jaded tax-and-spend budget that surges the Nation's debt and achieves no reduction in our annual deficits. It is a budget that never balances--never.
I think this quote sums it up well: In short, this document gives the voters no reason to believe that the Democrats have a viable plan for or even a responsible public assessment of the country's long-term fiscal predicament.
That is not my analysis but I agree with it. That comes from an editorial of the Washington Post after this budget was produced.
Senate Democrats have made no attempt to make the government leaner or more productive. Their proposal goes to extraordinary lengths to shield failing government programs from reform. Just add more money. It grows the government at the expense of growing the economy. It enriches the bureaucracy at the expense of the people. It has no plan to help discouraged workers move from dependency on the government to independence. Its surging debt and taxes will crush American workers, close American factories, and depress American wages.
I ask the American people to answer this question: Do you believe the government is wasteful; that it needs to do a better job of saving your money? If your answer to that question is yes, then consider this: The Democratic budget does not achieve a single penny in net savings. After 4 years they have failed to identify any way to save money through real reform of government spending, not a solitary cent.
So any Senator who votes for this budget apparently believes the budget is perfect and needs no reform. Any Senator who votes for this budget is saying to the American people: Washington is not the problem, you are the problem. They are saying: We have managed your money well, we have done it all right, we did nothing wrong. The problem, see, is you. You have not sent us enough money. In fact, this budget says: Send us another $1.5 trillion in more taxes. Send more money.
They also say: But don't worry, you will not have to pay those taxes. We are just closing loopholes. But closing loopholes does not come close to getting this many taxpayer dollars--it just does not. When they talk about the closing of loopholes, what that really means is it is slashing popular deductions to pay for more Washington spending-- charitable deductions, home mortgage, or other exemptions. That is where the money is in the deductions. You will not raise much money with loopholes.
Let's take a moment to look at the numbers in this budget and what it claims to do. First, I would like to examine the claim that this budget reduces the deficit by $1.85 trillion. That is a significant sum of money. It is not nearly enough to balance our budget, but it is a significant sum of money--over 10 years, the claim is. When many Americans hear this they might think it means the budget authors are proposing to reduce America's debt by $1.85 trillion. Not so.
According to their own budget tables our Nation's debt will climb another $7.3 trillion over 10 years, passing the $24 trillion in total Federal gross debt that our Nation has accumulated. It does not reduce the debt, not even close. The Nation's debt grows by $7.3 trillion.
Their promotional materials, however, claim $1.85 trillion in deficit reduction--they claim that. This claim refers to an alleged reduction in the size of the projected debt increase. So the debt is going to increase, but we are going to reduce the increased rate of the debt-- that is what we are going to do--by almost $2 trillion. But even that $1.85 trillion claim is totally false. It just is. It is a fabrication. It is not so. Several accounting tricks are used to create this number.
The biggest of these tricks is that their budget completely eliminates the savings that have been placed in law by the sequester, but it fails to count the elimination of the reduction in spending in the sequester as a spending increase. We voted 20 months ago--Congress did, August 2011--to reduce the growth of spending $2.1 trillion in order to obtain a raising of the debt limit by $2.1 trillion over 10 years. That is what it would be. And 60 percent of that $2.1 trillion-- $1.2 trillion--is the sequester. They would eliminate the sequester but not count the fact that they have increased spending of the current law that is in place, and it is not going to be changed except to be modified so it is more rational in where the cuts fall. But they would wipe it out and not count that as increasing spending.
This is how the country goes broke. This is how America confuses what it is doing--I would say deliberately--to try to convince the American people they are acting responsibly when we are acting irresponsibly.
I asked Chairman Murray's fine staff about this at the hearing. They didn't want to talk about it, I have to say. But when pressed, like good staff people do, and the question was put to them plainly, they gave an answer--the correct answer, I think.
Sessions: Relative to current law, under your plan if it is enacted, how much deficit reduction will occur? The staff answer: Again, if you want to go straight to CBO baseline that we started when I was talking to Mr. Johnson it would be about $1.75 trillion. If you want to make the adjustments and take out the sequester-- And of course we should--and the disaster, yes, obviously it's much less. I think the total deficit reduction is about $700 billion in the plan.
Mr. President, $1.85 trillion claimed in reduction. If you count the sequester you are at $700 billion. $1.2 from $1.9 leaves $700 billion. But there are more gimmicks than that which take us down to zero deficit reduction, really.
So I asked this question again to the staff of the majority in the committee: Can you honestly say that under this budget you can achieve $1.85 trillion in deficit reduction and eliminate the sequester with only $975 billion [you claim] in new taxes? And the answer was, ``No.'' Of course you cannot, but that is basically what they were saying. That is what they said in their promotion of this budget, that it achieves $1.85 trillion in deficit reduction. Any American [[Page S1993]] who heard that would assume it means we are going to reduce the amount of deficit being added by $1.85 trillion, relative to current law.
Once again, we have this obsession, it seems, in Congress. We are trying to maneuver numbers around so we can spend more money while claiming we are not. They claim they are reducing the growth in our debt by almost $2 trillion, but it is not so. It does not happen under this budget. If anyone wishes to know more details, we will share those as time goes by.
There are other gimmicks in this budget too. The budget fails to account for the cost of continuing the stimulus tax credits and fails to offset the doc fix, as well as the physician payment fix, which we have to do just like we do every year. It should be scored. We know we are going to have to make that expenditure.
Chairman Murray's budget, which the committee voted on and passed, only includes $75 billion to fund the war on terror for 10 years. How much did President Obama say the War on Terror, when he submitted his last budget, would cost over 10 years? He said it would cost $494 billion. So they just waltz in and say: We will spend $75 billion in the first 2 years and zero on the War on Terror over the next 10 years.
The Ambassador was in my office this week. He negotiated an agreement for a reduction of forces in Afghanistan. We are planning to be there for years. We have drone attacks going on. We have special forces around the world fighting al-Qaida, with whom we are at war, and that is what has been funding that--this account--and they assume it is going to end. It is not going to end. But if we assume it is going to end, we save, according to the President's projection, some $400 billion. They can claim to save $400 billion by assuming we are not going to spend money that we are going to spend.
So if we add up all of these items--not scoring the sequester, the doc fix, the new stimulus money, the manipulation of the war costs-- then there is zero deficit reduction. We raise $1.5 trillion in new taxes, and there is a zero-deficit reduction because spending has increased. So this budget also means there is a net spending increase above the projected growth of spending. We are on track to increase spending every year even with the Budget Control Act and the sequester--that is going up every year--but they want to spend even more than that. They want to increase the unsustainable debt course we are on now more than the current law calls for.
This budget breaks the spending limits we just signed into law with the Budget Control Act. We told the American people, who were reluctant to raise the debt ceiling--and a lot of Members of Congress were reluctant to raise the debt ceiling--because we were so irresponsible around this place. But an agreement was reached recognizing that it would be disruptive, to a significant degree, to raise the debt ceiling $2.1 trillion, that we would reduce spending over 10 years by $2.1 trillion.
We have already run up another $2.1 trillion in debt. We already hit that. In his budget last January, the President--less than 6 months after he signed the Budget Control Act and eliminated a little bit of the growth in spending--is proposing to eliminate the sequester part of it, which is $1.2 trillion, or 60 percent.
Here are some other figures the American people should know about this budget. It has a 60-percent spending increase over 10 years, which would increase spending by over 60 percent. It has over a $162 billion increase in spending next year--another stimulus bill. There will be $7.3 trillion in new Federal debt that will be added under this budget over the next 10 years; a $1.5 trillion tax increase; an 80-percent increase in Federal welfare and means-tested poverty spending. All the poverty programs--means-tested programs--would increase 80 percent. There is no reform for those programs, but a big increase.
So the question of whether to balance the budget is one of the central features of this debate that we are having now. If the American people take nothing else away from this debate, it should be that the party running the Senate--the Democratic Party--is spending taxpayers' dollars and refusing to ever balance the Federal budget.
By contrast, the Republican-led House, with Senator Paul Ryan and his team, has a plan that they will vote on today which will balance the budget. They have passed a budget every year. Our colleagues in the Senate, while refusing to pass a budget, have delighted in complaining about the leadership and the responsible action of the House by blaming everything they can think of, and more, on unkind Paul Ryan who wants to push the old folks off the cliff, and that is not true. He has good plans; he has growth plans. What I would say to everyone is: This Senate has done nothing by being critical of everyone else. We have had several budgets come up, and I voted for several of them. My Democratic colleagues have voted for not one. They voted against the Ryan budget, they voted against the President's budget, they voted against the Toomey budget, and they voted against the Rand Paul budget. They voted against them all. Yet, they don't seem to be the least bit hesitant to attack everybody else.
I think we have a moral duty to balance the budget. It is not right to continue to spend and enjoy borrowed money today that someone else will have to repay tomorrow. We also have an economic duty to balance the budget, and I wish to talk about that. We need to balance the budget to prevent a future financial crisis, as Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson told the Budget Committee a couple of years ago. We are facing the most predictable financial crisis in our Nation's history if we don't get off this debt path. We need to act now to deal with the present danger that is occurring to our economy.
Our massive public gross debt is hurting growth today. Our economy today is being damaged by it. It is destroying jobs today. Massive Federal debt is creating poverty and joblessness right now. The debt is pulling down economic growth right now--not tomorrow, now. People are not getting jobs today because of this debt. People are not getting promotions, bonuses, and wage increases as a result of this debt that is hanging over the country.
Well, some might say: How do you prove that? The famed economists Rogoff and Reinhart testified before the Budget Committee a year or two ago. They released a paper last April that concludes when gross debt-- not public debt, which is somewhat less--the $16-plus trillion that we see on the debt clock in public--reaches 90 percent of GDP, then the economy slows between 1 percent and 2 percent. The economy begins to slow. Our gross debt is now 103 percent of GDP. Some may not be aware-- and my colleagues need to know this--that the International Monetary Fund, the Bank for International Settlements, and the European Central Bank have all independently done studies of this kind and reached very similar conclusions.
The other studies with different approaches all find that our current debt load in the United States--which is now almost $17 trillion--is causing a drag on our economy. A 1-percent decline in growth costs 1 million jobs, according to Christina Romer, who worked in the Obama White House as a top economic adviser.
We know that for the past 3 years, growth in America has fallen well below what our experts, the Congressional Budget Office, have predicted. These studies show our debt is hurting the economy now and that increased spending and more debt must end now. It cannot be contended any longer that it is good for America to borrow more and spend more. We cannot borrow more to spend more. Somebody compared that to taking a bucket in the deep end of the swimming pool, filling it up, and going to the shallow end and pouring it in. If truth be known, when you borrow to spend, you drop some along the way. We must grow the economy, not keep growing the government, and certainly not keep growing the debt.
I believe we all know this. I think the American people know it, and we in Congress have a responsibility to honestly confront this challenge and put our country on the right path. As we learned, we actually don't have to cut spending. All we really need to do is allow the spending to increase, but allow it to increase each year at 3.4 percent and not 5.4 percent. If we increase it at 3.4 percent, as Congressman Ryan has done in his budget, the [[Page S1994]] budget balances in 10 years. We don't have to slash spending. We can even allow spending to increase, but we have to manage the growth of it. We can do this.
The recovery we are seeing from the 2007 recession is the slowest since the end of World War II and slow growth is expected to continue. The Commerce Department reported last month that the economy barely grew in the fourth quarter of 2012. We had virtually zero growth in the fourth quarter. That was a surprise. CBO expects the U.S. economy to limp along in 2013 at about 1.4 percent after inflation is taken out. That is a muddled, slow-growth, economy well below what they were predicting 2 years ago, which was a growth of about 4.6 percent, as I recall, for 2013. So no one disputes that this is the slowest recovery since 1945.
Why is it so slow? It certainly is not because the government has spent too little of the taxpayers' money. It is certainly not because we borrowed too little and spent too little. Total Federal spending has gone up 30 percent since 2007, and our annual deficit today is 7 times greater than the annual deficit was just 5 years ago. So as a consequence of huge annual deficits, our debt has grown by 73 percent since the beginning of the recession, over which time we added $6.6 trillion in new debt.
It seems quite clear that a substantial reason our recovery is slow is because of the depressing effect of high debt, big spending, a burdensome tax code, and regulations that are unnecessary. But every time Republicans have tried to reform the government, they meet the same response from our Democratic leaders--from the President to Senator Reid to Chairman Murray--attack the reformers.
Majority Leader Reid said of one Republican reform effort that it was ``a mean-spirited bill that would cut the heart out of the recovery we have in America today . . . it goes after little children, poor little boys and girls.'' I think that is an unkind thing to say. I don't think anybody proposed any legislation that would have that effect or ability or intent to do anything like that.
Chairman Murray said: I will not agree to a deal that throws middle-class families under the bus . . .
Well, we are not throwing middle-class families under the bus. We want economic growth. We want prosperity. The real truth is that the debt increases borrowing, and spending has not worked. The debt is already so high and we have irresponsibly run up so much that it is pulling down the economy because it is over 100 percent of GDP. We don't need to be attacking people who disagree over solutions in harsh personal terms, but we do need people to focus honestly on the disagreements and the challenges we face.
The real victims we are seeing here today are the millions of people trapped in poverty by failed government programs. The real victims are Americans who are being denied help by those who would defend the Washington establishment at all costs and won't reform. The real victims of the left's rhetorical assaults are the communities out there that are thirsting for growth and opportunity but denied any policies that would create more jobs and actually create better and rising wages. The real victims are the millions who lost or can't get jobs, and they are out there--we have fewer working today than we had in 2000--or those who didn't get a pay raise because the debt has pulled down economic growth.
So I think this budget shows no really effective concern for Americans living in poverty, struggling to work, trapped in a stale bureaucratic welfare state. There is no reform that will actually work to help them. That is what I am concerned about.
Look at a city such as Detroit, governed by liberal policies for decades--a city once rich with business and commerce and opportunity. More than half of all Detroit children now live in poverty. Look at our Nation's Capital, another major city locally governed for decades by very liberal policies, a city filled with finance and deep-pocketed businesses. Washington, DC, is flowing with Federal funds. No city gets more from the Federal Government than Washington. Yet, despite this cash, one in three youths in our Nation's Capital lives in poverty. Two in three live in single-parent homes--two in three.
So this budget perpetuates the misguided policies that are causing social and economic harm in every State, in every region, in every part of this country. That is my view. Others may disagree, but I am prepared to defend it, and I think that empirical data and observations show it is correct. Compassion, if we care about people who are hurting, demands that we change, does it not? We need to grow the economy, not the government, and do it for all Americans in every State and city.
We need to create rising wages and better jobs without just borrowing money and handing it out through some government check. That is not working. It is over. We need to understand that. We need an economic policy that provides our children with more jobs, not more debt. We need jobs. We don't need to be burdening our children for the rest of their lives with an unconscionable debt so we can live high today.
We need to reform and improve ineffective government programs so they help more Americans actually achieve their financial goals. How can we do this without running up the debt? Is there something we can do? Don't we have to have government investments? Don't we have to borrow more money? We don't have any. Any new money we spend is all borrowed. We are in debt. Aren't there some things we can do? Absolutely there is, and they are things that do not cost money. How about this: create a new tax reform system that creates growth, revenue-neutral but simpler, more pro growth-oriented and fairer. Can we do that? Yes.
What about more domestic American energy production? Produce more energy here instead of sending our money abroad, creating jobs here, creating tax revenue for our States, cities, and counties.
Let's make the welfare office--which gets from the Federal Government today hundreds of billions of dollars in spending--a place that restarts lives, that helps people rejoin the workforce, not trapping them in government benefit programs year after year.
Let's defend American workers from unfair foreign trade practices-- and there are a lot of them. It is time we stood up to it.
Let's make government leaner and more productive. A leaner government, a more productive government is good for America. I don't see any reform effort there.
Let's eliminate every burdensome Federal regulation that isn't needed. Those are job-killers. If a regulation promotes safety and is economically viable, that is OK, but if it is not--and many are not-- let's eliminate it. It is a drag on growth and prosperity.
Let's enforce Federal immigration laws, and let's protect American workers and legal immigrants from those who care only about importing more and more cheap labor.
Let's balance the Federal budget. As I said, balancing the budget and reducing the debt of America over time will get our debt down so it won't be a drag on the economy.
The American people have heard a lot of rhetoric from their elected officials and a lot of buzzwords about financial discipline this week. Rhetoric will be matched against reality. Every Senator will have to stand and be counted. I encourage the American people to tune in to C- SPAN and see where their Senator stands on the great issues of our time: Do we balance the Federal budget? Do we reform the bureaucracy or just keep spending more money? Do we keep sending even more money to Washington through more taxes? Do we embrace our great constitutional inheritance of freedom or do we let it slip away? These are questions of our time.
The budgets reflect where we stand on these issues. I would say the Democratic budget represents more government and less commitment to efficiency--not the kind of change and progress we need. We need to have a budget that balances, that is oriented toward growth and prosperity.
I look forward to the debate today. It will be an interesting challenge throughout the next couple of days. I have been very passionate here today, very frank here today, but I know we have great colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
In our debate in the Budget Committee, we had some great Senators on [[Page S1995]] both sides of the aisle who have different views and expressed them ably. Chairman Murray is so articulate and wonderful to work with, but we do disagree.
It is time for change in this country. It is time to understand that our goal must be to promote prosperity and job creation and higher wages, not more government. That is what the debate is about. I urge my colleagues to be engaged in it, and let's begin to change the direction of our country and put it on the road to prosperity.
I thank the Chair and yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Mississippi.