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Fiscal Choices

Location: Washington, D.C.

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Ross of Florida). Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 5, 2011, the gentleman from Kentucky (Mr. Yarmuth) is recognized for 30 minutes.

Mr. YARMUTH. Mr. Speaker, it is a great honor for me to come to the floor of the House of Representatives this afternoon to join some of my colleagues on the Democratic side of the Budget Committee to talk about choices. You know, government is all about choosing. It is setting priorities, and it is choosing what we are going to spend the people's money for, how much we are going to ask the people to pay to the government, and how we are going to spend those dollars. It is all about choosing.

It is also about values. This week, this issue of choices is playing itself out in two arenas in government, one in the continuing resolution battle that took place on this floor this afternoon, the idea that we have to figure out how to fund the government for the rest of this fiscal year ending September 30, and whether or not we are willing to let the government shut down tomorrow night because of the choices that we either make or refuse to make. And it is also playing itself out now in the development of the budget for the following fiscal year, 2012.

Yesterday in the Budget Committee, we considered the budget proposal offered by Chairman Ryan and the Republicans that offered some very stark choices for the American people. They are similar to the choices that we have been debating week after week after week for the last couple of months about how we are going to fund the government for the rest of the year.

From the Democratic perspective, at least I know from my perspective, the reason I have not been willing to support the Republican versions of the continuing resolutions that have come to this floor is that they make choices which don't seem very fair to me. They don't seem to represent the values that this country has always embraced, the values of fairness and justice and the idea that we are all in this great journey together and that we are trying to create a country that works for everybody and not just for a very few.

Today, the Republicans brought to the floor a continuing resolution to fund the government for one more week. These are the choices they made as to what we should cut in order to avoid shutting the government down: they wanted to eliminate $143 million for school lunch assistance programs; $187 million for education for the disadvantaged programs, school improvement funds, education innovative improvement programs, and adult education. It cuts the WIC program, nutrition for low-income families, women and their children; the Office of National Drug Control Policy. They want to cut $495 million from FEMA's first responder program.

All these things they wanted to cut; and yet when you ask them whether they want to have other people, the wealthiest people, the big corporations, the people who have done very well in this country over the last couple of decades, if you ask them, why don't we make them share some of the burden of balancing this budget, they say: Oh, no, we can't do that. We can't do that.

Let me just illustrate with this chart one of the choices that they made in the 2012 budget proposal. They chose to include, refused to eliminate, $800 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, and instead cut $771 billion from Medicaid over the next 10 years. This was a choice.

Do we want to make sure that our senior citizens have access to nursing homes, that our disabled population has access to assisted living facilities and home care? Our young, low-income, poor families, do we want to make sure that they have health care? Or do we want to make sure that the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans continue to have their cake and eat it, too? Their choice in the budget and in the continuing resolution is to let those wealthiest Americans have their cake and eat it, too, and let the most vulnerable segments of society pay the price of helping to balance the budget.

I am a big fan of political cartoons, and today's cartoon in The Washington Post I think said it all, because one of the other proposals that the Republicans made in their 2012 budget proposal was not just to maintain the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, but to increase them. They want to cut the maximum tax rate from 35 percent, which was the rate that it was cut to by the Bush administration, they wanted to cut it even further to 25 percent. In other words, a 10 percent additional tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.

As a matter of fact, I offered an amendment in the hearing to rescind the Bush tax cut for only those people making over $1 million a year, only those people making over $1 million a year. They voted it down unanimously.

But here is the cartoon by Tom Toles in The Washington Post. It has, and I won't name him, but a Republican member of the Budget Committee, offering a platter that says ``More Tax Cuts for Wealthy.'' And the ``Truly Rich Guy'' says: ``Stop!! I can't eat another bite!'' And the Republican says: ``Sorry, everybody has to share the pain.''

This is one of the choices we have. It is stark: again, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, or health care, education, nutrition for the other 90 percent of the American people who have not done so well.

So as we move through this process of choosing both how we are going to fund the government until September 30 and how we're going to fund it into the future, the American people need to know whose side the Republican majority is on and whose side the Democrats are on.

With that, I yield to my colleague, a member of the Budget Committee from New York (Mr. Tonko).


Mr. YARMUTH. I appreciate the comments from the gentleman from New York and thank him for his work on the Budget Committee as well, and standing up for all Americans as we try to recover from the greatest economic crisis we've had since the Great Depression 80 years ago.

I forgot to mention one thing earlier when I was talking about the proposal to raise the taxes of people making over $1 million a year back to the Clinton-era tax levels. And what's interesting about those Clinton-era tax levels, when the highest rate was 39.6 percent, during that time, 20.8 million jobs were created in the United States in the private sector. Then came the Bush tax cuts and took the maximum level tax to 35 percent; 653,000 jobs lost in the private sector.

I know it seems counterintuitive because the mythology has grown out there that when you lower taxes, it stimulates economic activity. The reality is quite different: 39.6 rate, 20.8 million jobs created; cut it to 35 percent, 653,000 jobs lost.

What about annual growth rates? Again, during the Clinton years when the high rate was 39.6, 3.9 percent real GPD growth over that period. When 35 percent, 2.1 percent real GPD growth. So the reality is that lower tax rates do not necessarily equate with better growth or more jobs. What they do equate with is a continuing separation of the very wealthiest Americans from everybody else.

Over the last 30 years, the percentage of all the income earned in the country by the top 1 percent has gone from 9 percent to 33 percent; 33 percent of all the income earned in this country goes to the top 1 percent. They make more and they own more than the bottom 90 percent of the people in this country.

So all we're saying is, we know that everybody is going to have to share in this sacrifice to try and get our fiscal house in order, but we're only asking the most vulnerable people to share. The people who have been doing the best in this country, we're not asking them to even have a little bit of an inconvenience.

And someone who can speak so articulately and passionately about the wrong choice that the Republicans are making is someone who has come from that world, who lives with that world every day, who represents the great city of Milwaukee, our colleague, Gwen Moore.

I would like to yield to her now.


Mr. YARMUTH. You're absolutely right. If we're going to be revenue neutral and we're going to cut the taxes of some people, then other people are going to have to pay more. And, unfortunately, in this particular proposal, it's going to be the people who can afford it the least.

I thank the gentlelady for her contributions.

I want to welcome another colleague from the Budget Committee, Allyson Schwartz from Pennsylvania, who has been instrumental in developing the Affordable Care Act as a member of the Ways and Means Committee in the last Congress and the Budget Committee and who now serves as a very prominent member of the Budget Committee.

I yield to the gentlewoman.


Mr. YARMUTH. Again, a perfect illustration of the choices that we face as a country as we move forward over the next decades.

We know we have fiscal problems. We know we have very difficult choices. The Republicans have chosen to put the cost of balancing the budget on seniors, on low-income families, on working families, and to completely spare oil companies, millionaires and billionaires, hedge fund managers, and anyone else who has made the most of America, who has done the best, and who needs the least help. The Republicans leave them without any role to play.

Just in the few seconds remaining, I would like to ask Representative Moore if she has any closing comments.

Mr. YARMUTH. I want to thank my colleagues from the Budget Committee for joining me, and thanks to the American people for paying attention to this very important process we are in now.

I yield back the balance of my time.


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