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Public Statements

Opposing the American Taxpayer Relief Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my extreme disappointment and frustration with the agreement Congress reached to prevent automatic tax hikes and the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. After tenuous negotiations which skirted the entire legislative process, the agreement, officially known as H.R. 8, the American Taxpayer Relief Act, is neither balanced, nor comprehensive. Instead, it adds nearly $3.97 trillion to the national debt while leaving some of the most pressing tax and spending issues facing our country unresolved. For these reasons, I opposed H.R. 8. I will continue to work hard in the hopes that my colleagues can be persuaded to avoid a repeat performance less than two months from now.

H.R. 8 fails to address our unfavorable fiscal situation, and merely delays important decisions that should have already been made. Thus, I have grave concerns that its enactment will result in other fevered negotiations by the few that will produce new ``compromises'' that are harmful to middle class families. With both the debt ceiling and sequestration still looming, I share Sen. Harkin's concern that the passage of H.R. 8 may put pressure on achieving deficit reductions through spending programs that Americans have earned. As Sen. Harkin stated, ``Every dollar that wealthy taxpayers do not pay under this deal, we will eventually ask Americans of modest means to forgo in Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits.''

I am also absolutely appalled that the legislative process has been completely ignored throughout this process. We have known for 24 months that Bush-era tax cuts would expire at the end of 2012. We have known for 17 months that the indiscriminate, across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration would take effect at the beginning of this year. Yet for all intents and purposes, serious negotiations did not start until after the 2012 election, leaving just under two months to craft a solution to a massive and complex set of problems. To make matters worse, essentially five elected officials--first President Obama and House Speaker Boehner, and later Vice President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Reid, and Senate Minority Leader McConnell--negotiated the so-called compromise, even though it affects every American across this nation. Our constituents deserve to have their interests represented by their Congressional Representatives and Senators--the officials who they have specifically chosen to represent their individual interests. This is a dreadful way to legislate, and I sincerely hope that the process is not repeated.

I am extremely frustrated that H.R. 8 is yet another unbalanced and ineffective attempt to bring our fiscal house in order. I have long maintained that the solutions to our nation's fiscal problems must be comprehensive and fair. It is the only way we can truly provide a sound economy and future for the next generation. H.R. 8 accomplishes neither of these goals. While the law will raise an estimated $620 billion over ten years compared to what the tax code would have generated if we had simply extended all of the Bush-era tax cuts, it will ultimately add $3.97 trillion to our debt over the next ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Achieving $620 billion in new revenue while adding nearly $4 trillion to our debt is not effective or proportional.

I also object to this law because it does nothing to reduce spending. When our budget was balanced and we had surpluses for four years under President Clinton from Fiscal Year (FY) 1998 to FY 2001, spending represented around 18.5 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP), the overall size of the economy, and tax revenues represented around 20 percent. In 2012 however, spending represented an estimated 22.9 percent of GDP and tax revenues represented 15.7 percent. Clearly, these two extremes cannot continue if we are to balance the budget and provide for a sound economy for future generations. While we do not currently have Congressional Budget Office estimates on how this law will effect spending and revenue as a percent of GDP for FY 2013, we do know that it will increase spending by over $332 billion, pushing us even farther in the opposite direction of where we need to go. Additionally, while I do recognize the law will increase tax revenue by $620 billion over ten years--not an insubstantial amount--the effort was done with little apparent regard to the limited impact this decision will have on the trillion dollar deficits we face. I urge my colleagues to have the intestinal fortitude to make tough decisions regarding federal spending and taxes, and to take our cue from the 1990s in order to truly put this country on the right path.

Beyond spending and tax issues, I am further frustrated that the agreement is incomplete, kicking the can down the road on a number of issues. For example, it only extends Farm Bill provisions for an additional nine months. Additionally, while I am pleased that the law prevents a 27 percent cut in the Medicare reimbursement rate for doctors, the provision expires in one year. I have been working to find a permanent solution to the current formula used to determine doctor reimbursements under the Medicare program for over a decade. I am abjectly disappointed that Congress has again missed an opportunity to permanently address this important issue.

Another failure is the law's inability to permanently address the indiscriminate automatic spending cuts known as sequestration by making discrete value judgments on the cuts that need to be made. The law only delays sequestration for an additional two months, and partially pays for this delay by requiring Congress to find an additional $12 billion in unspecified discretionary cuts. Specifically, the law lowers the discretionary cap Congress previously agreed to by $4 billion in FY 2013 and by $8 billion in FY 2014. We are now three months into FY 2013 and this is the third change we have made to our spending allocations. As an appropriator, I am dismayed.

In conclusion Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed in the Congress for agreeing to a woefully inadequate measure that fails to meaningfully address our structural deficit. As in the past, I am committed to working to ensure a balanced, thoughtful approach, and I encourage my colleagues to join me in being actively engaged to ensure such legislation is all-encompassing. It is paramount that we come together as a country to make the substantive and difficult decisions that are necessary to provide for a strong nation, a robust economy, and a bright future for the next generation.


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