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Congressional Budget for the United States Government for Fiscal Year 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. CONRAD. I am happy to yield.

Ms. STABENOW. I thank you, as chairman of the Budget Committee, for bringing forward the ``save Social Security first'' amendment in committee. It makes it very clear in the budget resolution that we intend to come out of this hole and are committed to making sure Social Security moneys are restored.

Last night we heard from other colleagues on the other side of the aisle. Senator Sessions offered an amendment that basically would fly in the face of Senator Bunning's amendment, wouldn't you say, because it essentially would take away the ability to have a 60-vote point of order as it relates to extending the tax cuts that created the hole in the first place. Because isn't it true that essentially the tax cuts were paid for by using Social Security surplus funds?

Mr. CONRAD. The Senator is certainly right. Senator Sessions' amendment would allow all of the tax cuts to be extended without having to be paid for, without having to be offset. So it does directly contradict at least the spirit of the Bunning amendment.

I must say, I am very much in sympathy with the spirit of the Bunning amendment because, after all, it was my amendment back in 2002 when it really would have done some good because that was before we went down this path of using Social Security funds to pay all kinds of other bills.

I have said many times that what is being done here in Washington is a basic violation of any kind of the sense of the trust fund because trust fund moneys that are in temporary surplus before the baby boomers retire are
being used to pay other bills. You could not do that in any other institution. You could not do that in any private business. You could not do that in any other private sector institution. You could not take the retirement funds of your employees and use them to pay your operating expenses. If you did that, you would be in violation of Federal law. You would be on your way to a Federal institution, but it would not be the Congress of the United States, it would not be the White House; you would be headed for the big house because that is a violation of Federal law. But that is the practice that has grown up. It has been, unfortunately, the case here for 30 years, with only 2 years of exception: The last 2 years of the Clinton administration, we were able to stop using Social Security funds to pay other bills. That was one of the greatest achievements of the Congress and the administration. Unfortunately, under this new administration, they went right back the other way, using every dime of Social Security money to pay other bills. Now we are in such a deep hole that it is going to continue for some period of time until we are able to dig out.

Ms. STABENOW. If I might ask a second question of my friend. Again, I will start by congratulating the Senator. I remember, as a new member of the Budget Committee, coming in in 2001 when there were record surpluses, that the Senator was warning us about what could happen. Actually, is it not true that at that time, the Senator was suggesting a third of the surpluses go to prefunding the liability of Social Security so we would not find ourselves in this mess? Would not that have had a very different outcome on where we are today?

Mr. CONRAD. Yes. I thank the Senator for remembering that. I did have a plan. Instead of giving the outsized tax cuts the President proposed, I proposed giving a $900 billion tax cut, very large tax cuts, but to use the rest of the money to strengthen Social Security, to either prefund the liability or pay down the debt.

Instead, a different judgment was made. Social Security money that really never was in what I would consider surplus--because it is all needed when the baby boomers retire--has been taken and has been used, every dime under the President's fiscal plan, to pay other bills and to finance tax cuts. I think that was a profound mistake. That is why I offered the amendment the Senator from Kentucky has now offered, an amendment I offered back in 2002, to prevent us from ever going down this path. Now we have gone down it. Both budgets, if we are to be honest, use Social Security funds. We use somewhat less than the President's budget. It is going to take time to dig out.


Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, to add to what the distinguished Senator from North Dakota indicated, we have tax cuts built into this budget. We are in a global economy. We need to be competitive. There are a number of ways in which we need to be competitive.

My friend from South Carolina and I are working together on the question of trade enforcement. That is a critical part of it--investing in education, a skilled workforce, innovation. That is a very big part of it. That is a big part of this budget, making education a top priority.

Changing the way we fund health care, getting it off the back of businesses, addressing health care costs is a big part of being competitive and is addressed in this budget.

We say every child in a family where the folks are working ought to have access to health insurance, and this budget finds a way to do that. We address other issues. Health information technology, that Senator Snowe and I and others are working on together, is addressed in this budget. So we address a number of items, including tax cuts.

We address one of my biggest concerns, and I know my Democratic colleagues share this concern, of what is happening with the alternative minimum tax and how it is going to be shifted more and more to middle-income taxpayers and is becoming the alternative middle-class tax. We address that.

Through this Baucus amendment we say when we get into surplus, when we get out of the hole that has been dug in the last 6 years and actually begin to have a surplus, we are going to capture that $132 billion, both to make sure that children's health care is funded and to expand on investments in tax cuts, including what has been talked about in terms of extending the exemptions on the estate tax for a certainty.

We want folks to know that once you get to 2010, you can keep living a healthy life, continue, and, in fact, the same rates, at a minimum, will continue. So the Baucus amendment is about making sure we can do that. We all come together around the education cuts and making sure that we have the child tax credit and the 10-percent tax rate and other areas that are very important to working families, middle-class families. But we do this within the context of another very important value that Americans hold, and that is we pay the bills. We do it within a framework of fiscal responsibility.

In the last 6 years we have seen this tax policy, we have seen a war that has not been paid for, we have seen other spending that has been rolled over onto the national debt creating the largest deficit in the history of the country. We are now trying--and with this budget we will succeed--to dig our way out of that. But this amendment adds over $72 billion back into the hole. It keeps on digging. That is what this budget resolution is committed to stop: fiscal responsibility, and to invest in the priorities of American families and American businesses and invest in middle-class tax cuts.

I have heard on the other side of the aisle over and over that we should not pick who receives tax cuts. That is exactly what the current policy has done. If you earned over $1 million last year, you received at least $118,477 worth of a tax cut. That is more than the average person in Michigan makes in a year, and that was the tax cut.

I suggest, looking at this chart, for someone earning less than $100,000, it was $692. We can go on down. If someone was, in fact, earning less than that, those numbers go all the way down to less than $100.

I would suggest that the priority was set the previous Congress, the administration deciding whom they wanted to get tax cuts--and they have been getting them--adding to the deficit, taking away from our ability to critically invest in those things that will allow us to be competitive; investments in science and education and changing the way we fund health care and doing the other kinds of things we need to do, including balancing the budget, to be able to address the costs of interest, et cetera.

So what we are saying is this picture of who receives tax cuts is not ours. This is not ours. We reject that. This budget focuses on the folks who have not been getting the tax cuts, it focuses on the folks who not only have not been getting the tax cuts, but they have been getting the wage cuts at the same time.

The average, the real median household income has declined by almost $1,300 in the last 5 years. Folks are working harder, the gas prices are going up, the cost of college is going up, health care costs are going up, maybe they lose their pension and hope and pray that they have a job, their income is going down, and to add insult to injury, they have not received the tax cuts that have been offered.

What we are about is changing that picture. This budget resolution is about a new direction, a new set of priorities, focusing on middle-class families who are working hard every day, businesses who are investing in America and want to keep the jobs here. That is what this is about. I hope we will reject the Kyl amendment.

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