Concurrent Resolution on the Budget Fiscal Year 2014by Senator Roger F. Wicker
Posted on 2013-03-20
WICKER. Mr. President, I thank Senator Sessions for his
I come here today as a new member of the Budget Committee, fresh from the committee process with some observations and some disappointments, but principally today I come to the floor to talk about the urgent need for budget reform and a lasting budget that will put us on a path to fiscal responsibility.
I suppose we should be delighted at least to be on the floor with a budget. After 4 years of trillion-dollar deficits and after 4 years without a budget, at least we have an opportunity as representatives of the American people to debate the financial future of this country and an opportunity to discuss putting our Nation on a trajectory away from constant debt and uncertainty and on a path toward security and prosperity, on a path that is designed to create better job opportunities for the people we represent.
Unfortunately, the budget our friends on the other side of the aisle unveiled last week ignores the spending problem that continues to drive the Federal debt skyward. Don't take the word of one Senator from Mississippi on that. Let's listen to the words of the Washington Post editorial board. Not exactly what one would call a center-right entity, they observed on March 14--and I quote the Washington Post: This document gives voters no reason to believe that Democrats have a viable plan for--or even a responsible public assessment of--the country's long-term fiscal predicament.
Those are the words of the Washington Post in utter disappointment about the product we will be debating on the floor for the next several days.
Being a member of the Budget Committee and being part of the budget markup process has certainly been revealing to me as a new member of the committee. We were given an opportunity before amendments were offered to ask technical questions--not really to debate but just to ask technical questions of the staff members about exactly what this budget does. We learned from these professionals--when we just asked them the questions, we learned these facts about the Democratic proposal for a budget for the next 10 years: It does not balance at any point during the next decade. Never in the next 10 years would this document bring the Federal budget into balance. Not only that, in propounding further technical questions to the staff, we learned that this budget puts our country on a spending path that never comes into balance. There is no plan for decades and decades to come, as far as the eye can see, for this budget ever to get the Federal Government into balance. Yet it was supported by friends of mine on the other side of the aisle who have certainly given lipservice to the idea not only of a balanced budget but of a balanced budget constitutional amendment.
I am going to predict that Democratic Members of this body who come in here and vote for this document will have coauthored a balanced budget constitutional amendment, who have actually voted for or cosponsored a balanced budget constitutional amendment. Yet they will be voting for a document that not only doesn't balance within 10 years but that never, ever comes into balance. Indeed, the document that we will be asked to support and that we are trying to amend grows the Federal Government at 5 percent each year for the entire decade. It raises taxes to the tune of $1.5 trillion over the decade. And this is important for us to realize: It doesn't raise taxes on that rich guy behind the tree who we think can afford it, it raises taxes on the middle class. There is no question about it. We can't get $1.5 trillion out of the American economy without raising taxes on the middle class, and that is exactly what this budget does. So it never comes into balance, but it does raise a ton of taxes right out of the middle-class economy of this country.
Now, we will have an amendment process, and there will be a number of amendments, but it will, in essence, give us an opportunity to slow the trajectory of growth of Federal spending.
Members of the Senate will be offered an amendment in this process to balance our Federal budget by the year 2023. We will be given an opportunity to debate that and to visit on a plan that would get us there. How does it get us there? By slashing and burning? By tough austerity in the budget? Absolutely not. I think it would surprise many people within the sound of my voice in this city and elsewhere to know that we can grow the size of Federal spending by 3.4 percent each year over the next 10 years and still balance the Federal budget by the year 2023. Let me repeat that. Federal spending is not going to be actually cut under the Republican proposal we will present as an alternative. Federal spending will go up each year by an average of 3.4 percent per year, and still we will be able to balance the budget by the year 2023. So we need not let anyone say that we are having to slash and burn in order to balance the budget.
There will be adequate funds to perform the functions of government and still we will be able to balance the budget.
I say what so many of my colleagues have said and what our distinguished ranking member from Alabama has said repeatedly: We are not in this business simply to say we balanced the budget. It is not some artificial goal like winning a game. We are in this process of trying to save our country from a mountain of debt in order to create jobs for the American people, in order to grow the economy, rather than growing the size of the Federal Government. We have an opportunity to avoid the fate that is occurring to our allies in Western Europe, even as we speak.
I have heard it said recently that: Well, we don't have a debt crisis yet. There are some people who would dispute that. But there are people in this Federal Government, the President included, who say: We don't have a debt crisis at this moment in the Federal Government. I ask this in response: Must we wait for an absolute crisis before we act? We see it coming. We see what has happened to our friends who have overspent in Greece, in Spain, in Portugal, what is happening to our allies, our NATO allies in France. We can avoid this fate. Must we wait until the absolute last moment when people are losing their jobs and we are unable to perform the necessary functions of government? So I say this: We need to act now. We need to act to avoid that crisis which is not that far down the road, and we want to act to grow the economy and create jobs.
I wish to mention three issues briefly, and then I notice there are other people who want to speak on this important issue. There is hardly a more important issue that we could be talking about, and thank goodness, for the first time in 4 years, we are going to get that opportunity. Let me mention Social Security, let me mention Medicaid, and then Medicare.
Social Security is a wonderful program. My dad relies on Social Security. We are going to keep the commitment that we have made to our senior citizens in the form of Social Security. But everyone agrees the numbers simply do not add up long term. They agree with that much, as President Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neill agreed to the very same notion back in 1982 and 1983. The numbers were not adding up long term for Social Security and something had to be done and some painful decisions had to be made in the early 1980s. To this day, we thank God for President Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neill for having the bipartisan courage to do the tough things, to make the tough decisions, and adjust an important program so that Social Security has been saved for the past three decades.
We need that kind of statesmanship out of the White House today. Frankly, we need that kind of leadership out of the White House. We are calling for bipartisan action. I think it is worth noting--and it pains me to say this--for [[Page S1996]] the first time in 92 years, we are considering a budget without seeing a plan from the President of the United States, and he announced just last week that he was going to wait in sending us his budget plan. It will be 2 months late by the time it arrives, according to the President's own timetable. In fact, this is the fourth time in 5 years that our President, that my President, has missed this deadline. But we need the same leadership out of this White House that we had out of the Reagan White House three decades ago. We can save Social Security, but it will have to be a little different.
We can save Medicaid and make it better. We are going to have an opportunity, as legislators, as policymakers, to give the States an opportunity to design their own Medicaid Program to serve their individual States better.
Let's give one State or let's give five volunteer States the opportunity to take a Medicaid block grant and see if they cannot provide better health care to their underserved population with a Medicaid block grant. Let's give them an opportunity to do that. The program does not work very well now.
Then the statement was made--and correctly--by some of my Democratic colleagues in the Budget Committee that Medicare is a promise we have made and we ought to keep that promise. I could not agree more. There is not a soul in this Senate who does not want to keep the promise we have made to American workers and to American retired people with regard to Medicare.
But the fact remains--and every Senator in this body understands this--Medicare, as it is currently written, cannot last for many more years. The numbers simply do not add up. I am glad the point is being made, and it is being picked up by the mainstream media now. An American worker pays $1 into Medicare and gets $3 back in benefits. A system like that simply cannot be sustained long term. The numbers do not add up. The math does not. It is not that flexible.
So we need to--as Reagan and O'Neill did--as responsible custodians of our Federal Government, as responsible trustees of the future of this country, make changes to a program that has served us well.
Americans are calling for leadership and bipartisan action now. There are hopeful signs: the National Commission on Social Security Reform, the Gang of 6, the Simpson-Bowles Commission, various bipartisan groups that are trying to forge an honest long-term deal to deal not only with our debt but these three important entitlement programs.
I do not see that sort of realism in the document the Democratic majority has provided to us through the Budget Committee. I hope we can amend it. Perhaps we will not in the next few days, but we are going to have to in order to be the trustees of the future, to be the responsible leaders that our voters demand and that the people who come after us would hope we could be.
I look forward to the process. I look forward, cheerfully and realistically, to making the case for our position that we could grow the government by just a little less and balance the budget within 10 years, and in so doing we can make a better life, a better future, a better ability for our people to earn a living and support their families.
Thank you very much. I look forward to the debate. At this point I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Texas.