Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I take this time to talk about the budget deficit and what we need to do in order to bring our budget into balance to have a credible plan to deal with our future growth in this Nation.
I start off by saying the budget deficit is an extremely serious issue for this Nation. We do not have a sustainable budget. You cannot sustain a budget that creates debt at 10 percent of our gross domestic product and a gross debt that equals 100 percent of our GDP. We need to bring down our deficit in order to have the type of economic growth that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy a better economic circumstance than this generation.
First, before we talk about where we need to go, we have to understand how we got here. I am not going to harp on this, but I wish to make sure the people of Maryland and the Nation know how we got to these large deficits so we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.
During President Clinton's administration, we balanced the budget. I might say, we did that--the Democrats did it--without a single vote from the Republicans. We were on course to retire all of our debt, and that was just 10 years ago.
Then, under President Bush, we cut taxes twice without paying for it. We went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan and did not pay for it. To date, the war in Iraq has cost $770 billion. That is money we had to borrow in order to fight that war in Iraq.
We had chosen, under the previous administration, that it was more important to cut taxes than it was to balance the budget, and that was a mistake. President Obama inherited a huge deficit and an economy that was hemorrhaging 700,000 jobs a month.
Well, it is time now to move forward. We have turned our economy around. It is growing, but we need to do it in a way that does not jeopardize our economic recovery. But it is absolutely essential we start to move our budget back into balance and we take aggressive steps to do it.
Today, in the Budget Committee, we heard from Erskine Bowles and Senator Simpson from the debt commission, and I think we were all impressed. If we are going to get a credible plan--which is critically important for our Nation--to balance the budget, we need to follow the example of the debt commission. It does not mean we have to agree to everything the debt commission did. But the debt commission recognized we could not balance the Federal budget by cutting discretionary domestic spending alone; that we need a game plan which brings all the major components of the budget together: discretionary domestic spending, military spending; we need to deal with entitlements, and we need to deal with revenues. We are only going to get this done if Democrats and Republicans work together for a credible plan. That is what we need to do in order to bring back our economy.
The only specific proposal we have had come over from the House of Representatives to date--H.R. 1, their budget--I believe does not follow the example of the debt commission. I believe it is extremely harmful to the process of trying to work out a plan where we have a credible effort to balance the budget with shared sacrifice because the House-passed budget, the Republican budget in the House, gets all its savings from 12 percent of the Federal budget, from discretionary domestic spending, and it jeopardizes our recovery. Mark Zandi, the economist from Moody's, said we would lose 700,000 jobs if the House-passed Republican budget were enacted into law.
Let me give you some examples as to how it would affect the people of Maryland if the House budget became law.
First, let me talk a little bit about some of the budget cuts themselves.
About 10 days ago, I was at the Greater Baden Health Center in Prince George's County, MD. They are expanding that health center to include prenatal care. The reason, quite frankly, is that the infant mortality rate in Maryland is way too high. We rank 29th in the Nation. That is unacceptable. In the African-American community, the infant mortality rate is 260 percent of that of the White community. The problem is, we have too many low birthweight babies. Some die and become part of the infant mortality statistics. Others survive and have complications throughout their lives.
It is in our interest, from every perspective, to bring down that infant mortality rate and to provide prenatal care for women so we have healthier babies. I hope we would all agree to that. We are doing something about that in Maryland, using moneys that were a part of the Affordable Care Act. The Republican budget would eliminate that funding. That community would not be able to expand with prenatal care to do something about the health of our citizens.
Mr. President, 2,900 community health workers would lose their jobs in Maryland--2,900 community health workers would lose their jobs in Maryland--if the House-passed budget, H.R. 1, became law.
I have taken the floor on several occasions, and a little earlier today, to talk about the Chesapeake Bay and the Federal partnership. We have had a Federal partnership in cleaning up the bay. It is the largest estuary in North America. It is a body of global significance, and it is in danger because too many pollutants are entering the bay as a result of population growth, development, and farming practices.
Well, we have a game plan to do something about it. But the budget that passed the House would cut the Chesapeake Bay program dramatically--$25 million--making it extremely difficult for us to move forward on our remedial efforts. Making it even worse, there is an environmental rider that was put on H.R. 1 that says none of the funds made available under this act may be used to implement the bay restoration plan now underway.
What does that mean? It means each one of the States that are in the watershed of the Chesapeake Bay--the States of Maryland; Virginia, the Presiding Officer's State; Delaware; New York; Pennsylvania; West Virginia; and the District of Columbia--they all rely on improving their wastewater treatment facility plants in order to reduce the pollutants going into the bay under the State revolving fund. Well, if that rider became law, the States could not participate in that program. They would not be able to implement one of the major features of their plan in order to reduce the pollutants going into the bay to make it a cleaner body of water.
I could talk about the watershed grants that go to schools and civic associations--eliminated under the Republican budget--or I could talk about how the State gets money to operate its water funds--eliminated under the House-passed budget.
The Environmental Protection Agency sees their budget reduced by over 30 percent. Plus, there are additional environmental riders that make it very difficult for the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the environment.
In Maryland, we would lose $150 million toward the Federal Government's commitment to the Washington Metro system. This affects the entire area, including Virginia and the District. This is the Nation's Metro system that allows the Federal workforce to get to work. We entered into a 10-year commitment with the local jurisdictions, including Maryland, Virginia, and the District, that the Federal Government would be a partner--$150 million a year--toward those costs. The House budget eliminates those transit funds.
The Republican House budget would cut Head Start by $1.1 billion. Mr. President, 157,000 children would be affected, 2,300 in the State of Maryland--2,300. These are children who are getting a better start in life because of this program, and the budget passed in the House, H.R. 1, would eliminate those services for so many of our children.
Pell grants, to allow families to be able to afford a college education, are reduced by $5.7 billion. It affects 9.4 million students. What does it mean for the people of Maryland? It means those who have Pell grants today could see their grants go down by as much as $650. I can tell you, there are many families in Maryland who cannot afford that extra $650. Without a college education today, it is difficult to be able to be as competitive as you need to be in order to take advantage of our economic opportunities.
The WIC Program that helps women and infants and children is cut by 10 percent under the House-passed budget. NIH funding is down $1 billion.
Research--and not just at NIH, located in Maryland, but also at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Medical Center--would be disrupted if the Republican-passed budget, H.R. 1, were to become law.
Our challenge, as President Obama said in the State of the Union Address, is that we have to outeducate, outinnovate, and outbuild our competitors so that America will be able to compete in the 21st century globally. That is our challenge. H.R. 1, the Republican budget, doesn't allow us to do that. There is a better way of doing it, and, as the President said, we need to do it in a fiscally responsible way. How do we do that?
We need a credible plan to balance the Federal budget--a credible plan that will bring in more deficit reduction than H.R. 1, the Republican budget, because you need to allow America to grow, yet move toward a balanced budget. The only way is to include all sectors, not just discretionary domestic spending. You need to include military spending, you need to deal with entitlements, and you need to deal with revenues. President Obama's budget starts us down that path by freezing discretionary domestic spending over 5 years. We have already gone further than that in the continuing resolution we have passed. We are going to go back to 2010 numbers or even below that.
We have already put on the table dramatic reductions in the growth rate of discretionary domestic spending, but we need to include defense. Iraq and Afghanistan need to come to an end; those savings will be dramatic. America cannot continue to have a growth economy where we spend so much more than any other nation on our national defense. We have to protect the people in this Nation, but we cannot take on the burdens of the world. There have to be adequate burdens among our allies, which will bring savings to the U.S. taxpayer.
In entitlement spending, we need to bring down costs. We took a major step forward in doing this in the Affordable Care Act. One of the areas in which I agree with some of our Republican friends who are criticizing the CBO is that their numbers are off. We are going to get more savings, not less, than what the CBO estimated.
I am convinced that when you deal with people in preventive health care and use better information technology, when you manage people's diseases, when you deal with readmissions so people understand what they need to do to stay healthy, when you put all that together, when you expand our community health centers, as I said earlier about what happened at the Greater Baden center on prenatal care, when you do all that, it will bring down the rate of health care costs.
America spends more than any other nation, any way you want to calculate it, on health care. We don't have the health care results to demonstrate that type of commitment. We can bring down the cost of health care, and when we do that, by implementing the Affordable Care Act and making sure we get those savings, we will bring down the Medicare costs and we will bring down the Medicaid costs, which will save taxpayers even more under our entitlement spending. We can get those savings.
By the way, we are going to save middle-income families in this country by also reducing their costs for health care. That is what we need to do to make our economy stronger.
We can do something about entitlement spending, and there are other areas we need to look at. The farm subsidy programs need to be reviewed, and the debt commission made recommendations in that regard that I think are worthy of our review.
Then there is revenue. Yes, I think we need to take a look at revenues. Our current income tax structure cannot be justified, as has been pointed out frequently. We hemorrhage as much revenue in our Tax Code as we raise. If you eliminated all the special provisions, you could cut the tax rates in half. Since we had tax reform in 1986, we have added so many new loopholes and provisions and special interest provisions in the Tax Code. In 1986, we attempted to lower the rates and make sure everybody paid their fair share. Well, it is now 2011, and we are out of balance, and we need to look at tax reform.
I urge, in looking at tax reform, that we should look at consumption-based taxes. I know the criticisms of that, but I will start by saying that if we had consumption-based taxes to deal with some of our income tax revenues, we would be more competitive internationally. If you are an export company and you are choosing whether to locate in America or in another country, you pay income taxes here that cannot be taken off the price of your product when you put it in the international marketplace. If you locate in another country that uses consumption taxes at a higher level than we do--we don't use it at all--but a higher level than our income taxes, that country will allow those exporters to take the tax off when they put their products into the international marketplace. That is acceptable under the World Trade Organization, putting American producers at a disadvantage.
We need to save more as a nation. We have heard over and over the point made that America, during the height of our economic progress, had one of the lowest savings ratios in the world. We need to save more as a nation. Our Tax Code should encourage savings much more than it does today.
I want to make it clear that I am totally committed that in tax reform we should make our Tax Code more progressive. I don't believe it is progressive enough. Progressive means that it is based, at least in part, on the ability to pay. Wealthier people will pay a higher percentage of the tax than lower income people. Today, under our income tax system, many people do not have to pay income tax now. We can design a consumption tax, so they won't have to pay a consumption tax and there is no new tax burden. There are proposals out there that can take more people off the tax rolls.
By the way, this is a zero-sum game on revenue. Let's decide how much we need and then raise it in a cost-efficient way that will allow America to grow.
That is the type of reform I hope we will be able to get. If we do, it will mean not only bringing our budget into balance by a credible plan that deals with discretionary domestic spending and military and entitlement and revenues but does it in a way that allows America to grow by investing in our future--in education, in energy, in our transportation infrastructure and transit and all those areas that we need--so that we can meet the challenges of the future but do it in a way that is fiscally responsible.
How do we get this done? We get it done by coming together and listening to each other. I don't think anybody here has a monopoly on what is right. For the sake of our Nation, let's listen to each other and try to get this done in a way where we have a credible plan. It has to be a credible plan. These are not Democratic or Republican or Independent problems; these are American issues. We have to put our Nation first.
I hope we will step back a little and listen to the debate and use the debt commission as a model of civility. Again, I am sure we will have different views on it, but at the end of the day, I hope we can achieve at least the deficit reduction of the commission. I think we can. The people of Maryland and the country want us to do this. Working together, I think we can accomplish those goals.
With that, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT