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The Budget and National Debt

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

THE BUDGET AND NATIONAL DEBT -- (House of Representatives - February 06, 2008)

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Arcuri). Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 18, 2007, the gentleman from Kentucky (Mr. Yarmuth) is recognized for 60 minutes.

Mr. YARMUTH. I want to thank my freshman colleagues for the very insightful and compelling arguments they raised concerning our budget, the budget proposal by the President for the 2009 fiscal year.

Mr. Speaker, I will say that what we are dealing with here is a situation in which those of us who were elected in 2006, freshman Members, so known as the majority makers, came to this Congress because the American people in that election of 2006 thought that the country was going in the wrong direction, and it wasn't so much one thing, I know a lot of people think that we were elected because of the war in Iraq, and certainly that was a factor.

I think more than anything else, the American people collectively decided that the priorities that have been established by the administration that was in office, beginning in 2000, we were taking the country in the wrong direction, that we were spending money, that we were emphasizing things that did not represent the best interests of the majority of the American people. They sent us here, therefore, to set a new pattern of doing business, a new way of setting priorities.

They wanted us to put the American people first. They wanted us to recognize the true needs of this society, to recognize that government is a way of reorganizing and organizing our responsibilities to each other, that we could, as a government, actually create an economy that worked for everyone and not just for a very few, but that we could, again, set the country on a different direction, that we could use the tax revenues that were flowing to the Treasury to empower all people to make the best of their lives, to contribute to a more dynamic society. We really have set a different direction in this Congress, and I think we need to do much more.

But let's think back to 2006 and think about what the American people were confronted with when they looked at Washington. They looked at Washington and they said, we have a government there that is arrogant, that tends to favor the richest people in the country, that tends to favor global corporations, that thinks that if we allow the wealthiest and most powerful people to do as well as they possibly can financially, that there will be a trickle-down effect and it will, quote-unquote, float everyone's boat, and that this is what the proper role of government should be.

The American people said, no, we don't buy that. We've tried that. We tried it under the Reagan administration. We saw then that trickle-down economics does not work. We tried that for a few more years under the Bush administration. We found that, no, that doesn't work because, in fact, what we have seen is that from 2001 to 2006, 100 percent of the income growth in this country accrued to the benefit of the top 5 percent of the population, that, in fact, 95 percent of the people in this country did not see their standard of living increase despite the fact that they are working harder, they are working longer.

The average family has been working, the average household, 95 hours a week. That's two people working more than full time and still not getting ahead. So the American people said to us, we want to go in a different direction. We think that government can be a tool for progress, it can be a tool to create a society that distributes its benefits more broadly, and that we ought to take the position that rather than trying to let this trickle-down theory flow to everybody's boat that we ought to make a society in which everybody has a really good boat, and that everybody can swim on their own. In fact, the way to create a society that truly works over the long term is to empower every individual to be productive, to contribute to society and to have the power and the freedom and the support to improve his or her way of life.

Now we are confronted, once again, with a budget from the President of the United States which does exactly the same thing that they have been trying over and over and over again with very little success. We have a budget, deceitful in many ways because it pretends to reach a budgetary balance when it really doesn't, and they do it by very deceitful mechanisms, but it sets the wrong priorities.

It takes the money away from programs and policies that actually do empower individuals to improve their lives, to make a better society, to make a stronger economy, and it sends the money once again to basically nonproductive activities. We have, once again, a budget that minimizes and disguises the cost of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of us differ very strenuously on our priorities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We all understand that we have some serious problems in Afghanistan, and we need to focus there. We also understand that we are spending $3 billion a week in Iraq, most of which we will never see. It never represents any investment in our future. It is money that is down the drain.

When you try to compare the benefits of our tax dollars being spent again to promote a vibrant and healthy economy and to help people who need to get their feet on the ground to become productive citizens versus spending money overseas in ways that do nothing to enhance our own standard of living, that we know we have a skewed sense of priorities.

That's what we are going to talk about for the next few minutes, and I am very proud to be here with one of my freshman colleagues, someone who is passionate about the need for this country to work for everyone, someone who is as passionate about working for working families as anyone in this Congress, John Hall from New York.

I am proud to be his colleague, and I would like to recognize Congressman Hall to further this discussion.


Mr. YARMUTH. I want to thank my colleague.

He referenced the annual profit of ExxonMobil that was reported last week. And I was struck last week on February 1, when I looked at The New York Times on the online version, the list of the headlines of the day, and I thought it was striking because I think it painted a vivid picture of where we are in this world and in this country. The first story was, ``Microsoft Bids $44.6 Billion for Yahoo,'' a lot of money, two corporations vying for each other.

The next story, ``U.S. Economy Unexpectedly Sheds 17,000 Jobs,'' the worst jobs report in several years. Then, ``Dozens Killed in Worst Baghdad Attack in Months,'' then ``Kurds' Power Wanes as Arab Anger Rises'' and, then, finally, ``ExxonMobil Profit Sets Record Again.''

I think that was just an incredibly vivid picture of where we are in this world and where this economy stands and how out of whack the priorities of this administration have become. That's why I am so thankful that we are, at least, in control of this House of the Congress so that we can help to set the priorities of this country on a much more sound course.

I know that I have had so many opportunities to stand on this floor and discuss these issues with my colleague from Florida (Mr. Klein). I am proud to recognize him now.


Mr. YARMUTH. One of the things that is most disturbing to all of us is when you hear deceitful discussion of the financial situation of this country. We sat and listened to the State of the Union address in which the President said if we were to not renew the tax cuts that went into effect in 2001 and 2003, that the average tax increase for an American would be something like $1,200 a year. That is a very clever way of saying what the average tax increase would be. The problem is that the average tax increase would be very large because you are taking all of the people who are making a million, $5 million, $10 million a year, and if we reinstituted those tax rates prior to 2001, the 39.6 percent tax rate, some people at the very highest level would pay $40,000, $80,000, $100,000, $2 million a year more in taxes. So when you average that with the normal taxpayer, yes, it comes to about $1,200 a year.

If you phrased it another way, and that would be the average American taxpayer would have his or her taxes increased by, it wouldn't be $1,200, it would be like $40 or $50, because the average American working family earns $55,000 a year. And that family, if we did not extend the Bush tax cuts, would see their taxes raised by a very small amount. The people at the higher end would pay a lot more taxes. So the average tax increase, yes, it would be a lot, but the average taxpayer would not see his or her taxes increased. Of course, we are not proposing that in any event.

We have been talking that when we do revisit those tax cuts that we look at the highest income levels. But the point is, when we are getting all of these projections from the administration about what would happen in future years, as my colleague said, if we fix the alternative minimum tax and don't pay for it, and we don't have that additional revenue, yes, we can underestimate the deficit that we will be experiencing during those times. We can make the projections look good 4, 5 years out into the future, but that will not be the case.

One of the things I would like to talk about because Mr. Klein mentioned this, the cost of interest on the national debt, which has increased by an extraordinary amount. According to this budget, it would be $4 trillion just since 2001; $4 trillion based on a $5.7 trillion starting point. So we basically have almost doubled the national debt, the entire history, 220 years of this Nation, we have almost doubled the national debt just in the last few years.

But here is where we really get a vivid depiction of what this means. We are talking about interest on the national debt of $300 billion a year. The entire expenditure on education from the Federal budget is $100 billion a year. Veterans care is less than that, and homeland security even less than that. This is what has happened to the priorities in our budget because of the irresponsibility of this government over the last 7 years.

So this is what we are talking about. This is what we are confronting, and this is why I think all of us in the majority party in the Congress say we need to speak honestly, openly, and intelligently about what confronts us, about the challenges that we face, but also about what has happened over the last few years.

All we ask of the administration is be honest about what you are saying, what you are telling the American people. We will have a legitimate debate with you and discussion about where our priorities should be. But first and foremost, we need to be talking about things in absolute terms and be honest and transparent as we discuss how we are going to spend the taxpayers' dollars.

I am also proud to be joined tonight by the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Walz), the president of our freshman class and a great spokesman for the working families of America.


Mr. YARMUTH. I thank my colleague and want to yield again to Mr. Hall from New York. But before I do, I just wanted to add that, again, sitting and listening to the State of the Union address and talking about the honesty that we need to have when we have this discussion, and all of a sudden the President for the first time in this State of the Union address takes on the question of earmarks. And all of a sudden he's critical of the Democratic Congress because we had 11,000 or something earmarks. But he never said a word for 6 years while the earmarks expanded to somewhere in the realm of 16,000.

Now we can have debates over earmarks. I happen to think, as my colleagues mentioned, that there are some very valid reasons to have earmarks. And I think they have been demonized probably unreasonably. But all of a sudden the President finds fiscal religion this year under a Democratic-controlled Congress when he was silent for 6 years. And the same is true of his passion now for balanced budgets when over the first 6 years of his administration with the Republican-controlled Congress, he never issued a veto, never threatened a veto of any spending bill as we accrued $3.7 or so trillion more in debt, and he was silent.

All of a sudden now you have to suspect that the only reason is partisanship. That's what we're trying to get away from in this country, and that's what we are trying to get away from as we discuss the priorities of the country. Because, as you said, we're interested in where the rubber meets the road, programs that help the American people, doing the best for the American people and not necessarily what means doing the best for a particular party.

I think what we're seeing, as you mentioned, in the turnout in voters in primaries throughout the country is that's what American people want. They want people who are going to deal with our problems and not deal with partisanship.

With that, I will once again recognize my distinguished colleague from New York (Mr. Hall).


Mr. YARMUTH. I appreciate him mentioning the field of education because you can have, as I mentioned earlier, two forms of expenditure in government. You can have expenditures that are nonproductive, and one of those, I think, is the war in Iraq. Interest on the debt is another one, because there is no long-term payback to those expenditures. Education, investment in infrastructure, as Mr. Walz was discussing, those are the types of things that over the long run do produce increased revenues for society productivity, and they are the type of investments we need to be focusing on.

And when we look at this budget, the field of education, and I'm on the Education and Labor Committee and we are dealing with trying to decide whether to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act which is already $55 billion below its authorized levels in funding. And the President, once again, has no increases in funding for education in this budget, which means we fall further and further behind.

So while he called his act No Child Left Behind, where, in fact, we are leaving more and more children behind because we are not meeting our obligations to make the kind of investments in people and in an infrastructure that really will pay off over the long run.

And I know this is something that is an entire range of topics that Mr. Klein has dealt with and has had to set priorities in his own legislature in Florida, and I would like to yield to him to advance the discussion.


Mr. YARMUTH. It's always wonderful to discuss these issues with my colleague on the floor.

And we have just a few minutes left. We have a fundamental decision to make in this country, and it is a basic choice, and that is what the role of government is, what the role of the Federal Government is. And on the one side, I think we have those that believe the role of the Federal Government is to get out of the way and to let whatever happens happen. And the other side, and I think most of us in this room would agree, that there is a legitimate role for the government to try to promote the type of progress through investments and the proper priorities that will make this a better country, and, basically, whether you believe government has a role in setting the direction of the country or whether it is basically just to get out of the way and let the most powerful people and the biggest corporations decide what is going to happen and let kind of a Darwinian atmosphere prevail.

So I would like to allow everyone to close briefly to whatever they have to say kind of related to that fundamental choice we face or to talk about the issue of priorities as we look forward to this budget process again this year.


Mr. YARMUTH. I thank all my colleagues. And I'd like to end where we began, and that is that when these majority makers, our freshman class, was elected in 2006, we were elected because the country thought that the government of the United States had the wrong priorities, that we needed a new set of priorities, we needed a new direction. We've committed ourselves to that new direction. I think as we approach this budgetary process and all areas that we have to do, we will seek a new direction for the American people.

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