PROVIDING FOR CONSIDERATION OF H.J. RES. 68, CONTINUING APPROPRIATIONS, FISCAL YEAR 2006 -- (House of Representatives - September 29, 2005)
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Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman from California for yielding me this time. Mr. Speaker, I cannot support a closed rule, although I do understand the need for prompt action on the continuing resolution. As my good friend from Florida has pointed out, the Senate's slowness in acting on appropriations bills means that the continuing resolution that we are discussing here today is necessary.
However, as we prepare to provide the funds to keep the government running, I think we need to consider the larger budgetary picture. It is essential for us to respond to the devastation brought by hurricanes Katrina and Rita but, as we do, we should consider and respond to the fiscal and economic risks we have been running.
I think there is an urgent need for both the administration and the Congress to face hard reality and not continue with budget policies based on laws that defy the laws of fiscal gravity. For too long, there has been a dearth of both presidential leadership and accountability in this area.
That is why later today, along with the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Chabot), the gentleman from Arizona (Mr. Flake), and perhaps the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Putnam), I will introduce a bill that I think could promote both. The bill is called the Stimulating Leadership in Cutting Expenditures Act, or the SLICE Act for short. It would do two things: First, it would authorize the President to identify specific items in Federal spending that he thinks should be cut; and second, require Congress to vote on each of those items.
The bill would apply both to appropriations and to spending items in the recently signed transportation bill. It would set deadlines for the President to propose cuts and for Congress to act on them.
Under the bill, Congress would have to vote on each proposed cut. We could not ignore those proposals, as can be done under current law, and if a majority approved the cut, it would take effect.
The President has said we should pay for responding to Katrina and Rita through spending cuts alone, but the President's own party and the majority in this House are divided on what to cut.
We may disagree on budget and tax priorities, Mr. Speaker, but one thing is certain. It is past time for a serious debate about specific proposals for ways to dig ourselves out of the deficit hole. This bill is intended to jump-start that debate.
I hope all of our colleagues will join us in this crucial effort to restore fiscal sanity to our Nation's Capital.
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Mr. Speaker, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita not only brought death and destruction across a wide swath of the Gulf coast. They also delivered a blow to the Federal budget and sounded a wakeup call about the fiscal and economic risks we have been running.
A full response to these natural disasters must include more than emergency repairs, humanitarian relief, and community rebuilding. We also need to consider serious questions about the limits of government, the wisdom of wartime tax cuts, and our national capacity to look beyond short-term political priorities.
If anything good can come from these terrible storms, maybe it will be recognition by both the Bush administration and Congress that now we need to face hard reality and not continue with budget policies based on defying the laws of fiscal gravity. It's about time.
Even if Katrina and Rita had taken less destructive paths and the New Orleans levees had held, the problems would have been serious because the Federal budget was already on a dangerous course marked by tidal waves of red ink and towering piles of debt. Since 2001, the budget surplus that President Clinton and a Republican Congress bequeathed President Bush has been erased and our country is now in debt to the tune of $8 trillion, or $25,000 for every American man, woman and child.
This was the result of several factors, of course, but the size and scope of the Bush tax cuts must bear a large part of the blame.
Several parts of those tax cuts--for example, eliminating the marriage penalty, fixing the 10 percent bracket and extending child care tax credits--were good. They gave a reasonable boost for the economy and increased the fairness of the tax laws. But having campaigned on giving back most of the budget surplus in tax cuts, President Bush insisted on much more, and Congress went along.
Many of us warned against reducing the surplus so recklessly, and urged the administration and Congress to remember the need to be ready for future emergencies. Our pleas for restraint were ignored. And then came the attacks of 9/11 and with them the need for increased spending on homeland security, a military response in Afghanistan, and a war in Iraq. The budget nosedived from surplus into deep deficit.
Even in the face of national emergency, neither the President nor Congress has seen fit to call on Americans for any sacrifice, and instead of temporarily scaling back tax cuts, the President has insisted on making them permanent even as Federal spending has skyrocketed.
So now we are putting the costs of war and everything else the government does on the national credit card--but the debt is owed not just to ourselves (as in the past), but to China, Japan and India.
Why have we allowed things to get so far out of hand?
Part of the answer is that budget and tax policy in Washington has been so captive to very partisan and extreme ideological voices that it has been hard to find common ground and moderate consensus.
Even in this time of war, extremists in the Republican Party view tax cuts as almost a religious calling, while some in my party reject any spending cuts except in defense. And the Vice President dismisses complaints by saying ``deficits don't matter.''
So, it not surprising that the appropriations process has not been marked by fiscal discipline. Unless the President or Congressional leaders proclaim a need for restraint, let alone sacrifice, why would Members of Congress not work to meet the transportation and infrastructure needs of their districts and seek funding for other valued purposes?
But all this cannot go on forever. Sooner or later, something has to give. And, if the result is a new sense of responsibility, sooner is better--because there is an urgent need to rethink and revise our budget policies, including both taxes and spending.
It could be that, just as they revealed the problem, Katrina and Rita can provide a catalyst to beginning that overdue job.
The President has said the Federal Government will undertake to help rebuild the communities left devastated by the storms--and has said that spending for other purposes should be reduced to offset the costs.
I have serious doubts about the adequacy of that approach, about the desirability of whatever spending cuts the President may propose, and about the readiness of Congress to seriously consider any cuts at all.
But I am hopeful that maybe at last the time has come for a serious debate about specific proposals for ways to dig ourselves out of the deficit hole.
To help begin such a serious debate, earlier this year I introduced legislation that would give the President authority to require Congress to vote, up or down, on specific appropriations items the President deemed unworthy of funding--a workable and Constitutional
alternative to the line item-veto legislation that the Supreme Court struck down in 1998.
Now, I am introducing an updated version of this bill that focuses directly on the President's suggestion that disaster response costs be offset with spending cuts.
The bill is called the Stimulating Leadership In Cutting Expenditures or, ``SLICE'' Act.
That name fits because the bill would promote Presidential leadership and Congressional accountability on proposals to reduce other spending in order to offset the costs of responding to the recent natural disasters.
Toward that end, it would authorize the President to identify specific items of Federal spending that he thinks should be cut and would require Congress to vote on each of those items.
The bill would apply not only to regular appropriations, but also to the transportation bill that was passed and signed into law earlier this year.
The bill would establish a two-phase process: the President would have until November 1st to tell Congress which, if any, of the spending in the transportation bill should be cancelled. And he would have until the end of this year to identify any items in fiscal year 2006 appropriations bills we wants to eliminate.
In each case, if the President proposes a cut, Congress would have to vote on it--we could not ignore the proposal, as can be done under current law--and if a majority approved the cut, it would take effect.
Mr. Speaker, as our budget situation has grown worse, there has been a lot of talk about ``earmarks,'' meaning funding allocations initially proposed by Members of Congress rather than by the Administration.
Some people are opposed to all earmarks. I am not one of them. I think Members of Congress know the needs of their communities, and that Congress as a whole can and should exercise its judgment on how tax dollars are to be spent. So, I have sought earmarks for various items that have benefited Colorado and I will continue to do so.
At the same time, I know--everyone knows--that sometimes a large bill includes some earmarked items that might not be approved if they were considered separately, because they would be seen as unnecessary, inappropriate, or excessive.
Dealing with that problem requires leadership and accountability. My bill would promote both.
Presidents are elected to lead, and only they represent the entire Nation. The bill recognizes this by giving the President the leadership role of identifying just which other spending he thinks should be cut in order to offset some of the amounts the Federal Government will be spending in response to recent natural disasters.
And, under the Constitution, it is the Congress that is primarily accountable to the American people for how their tax dollars will be spent. The bill respects and emphasizes that Congressional role by requiring a vote on each spending cut proposed by the President.
I do not know exactly which spending the President might propose to cut, so I do not know whether I would support some, all, or any of those proposals.
But I do know that we should stop wasting time in theoretical debates about whether we should make spending cuts and start debating specific proposals.
My bill is intended to get that debate started now.
For the benefit of our colleagues, here is an outline of the bill:
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Stimulating Leadership in Cutting Expenditures (SLICE) Act
The purpose of the bill is to facilitate Presidential leadership and Congressional accountability regarding reduction of other spending to offset the costs of responding to recent natural disasters.
The bill would amend the Budget Act to provide as follows:
The President could propose rescission of any budget authority provided in the recently passed transportation bill or an appropriations Act through special messages including draft bills to make those rescissions.
The President would have until November 1, 2005 to propose canceling spending items in the new Transportation Act and until January 1, 2006 to propose rescissions from FY 06 appropriations bills.
The House's majority leader or minority leader would be required to introduce a bill proposed by the President within two legislative days. If neither did so, any Member could then introduce the bill.
The relevant Committee would be required to report the bill within seven days after introduction. The report could be made with or without recommendation regarding its passage. If the Committee did not meet that deadline, it would be discharged and the bill would go to the House floor.
The House would debate and vote on each proposed rescission within 10 legislative days after the bill's introduction. Debate would be limited to no more than four hours and no amendment, motion to recommit, or motion to reconsider would be allowed.
If passed by the House, the bill would go promptly to the Senate, which would have no more than 10 more days to consider and vote on it. Debate in the Senate would be limited to 10 hours and no amendment or motion to recommit would be allowed.
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