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Public Statements

Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2014

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. REED. I want to thank the Senator from Michigan for allowing me to participate in this colloquy. I also commend her for a thoughtful, insightful, and extremely compelling argument about creating jobs as a way not only to give people a chance to rise in the middle class but also to accomplish our other objective, which is ultimately to reduce the deficit.

As the Senator pointed out, when I was here with her in the late 1990s, we reached the point where we had a projected surplus of perhaps $5 trillion over 10 years. She has catalogued the way in which that surplus has been eroded. What we need to do is focus, as she suggests, on the urgent need to create jobs and ensure our Nation's budget makes investments in growing and strengthening the middle class. We are all here as beneficiaries of the programs and policies of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, which consciously built the middle class and invested in us. Our parents invested in us. We need to do the same thing. She is absolutely correct, the investments we are proposing in this Democratic budget will be critical not only to individual success but to our success as an economy, and as a global competitor. I thank her for her words.

I am here to join her to address this pressing need to create jobs, to strengthen the economic recovery, and to underscore the vast differences between the proposal we are making, and the budget proposed by the House of Representatives, by our Republican colleagues.

Let me state what is a very disturbing figure. There are

12 million unemployed Americans, with 4.8 million of these individuals unemployed for more than 6 months. We are seeing unprecedented levels of long-term unemployment. Americans are struggling to stay in their homes, put their children through school and put food on their table.

In my State we are unfortunately among the top States in a category no one wants to be leading, and that is unemployment. The harsh reality of what we are facing in Rhode Island was brought home with a stunning article in last Sunday's Washington Post. It noted some 180,000 Rhode Islanders, over 15 percent of our population, receive SNAP benefits, supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits. Some are receiving SNAP because they don't have jobs, although they have looked from month to month to month. Some have jobs, but the pay is so little they qualify under the income limits of the SNAP program.

I want to particularly thank the Senator from Michigan for her valiant efforts to increase SNAP funding. Literally we are talking about putting food on people's tables. Fifteen percent of my State of Rhode Island depends on food support to have a healthy diet for them and particularly for their children.

When we talk about what we want to do with the budget, it is about getting people back to work. That is what they want. They don't want a SNAP benefit. They want good jobs. They want the same opportunities, from which we benefited, which helped build a strong middle class. What is their greatest fear? Not just falling out of the middle class, but that their children won't even have a remote chance of middle-class income or a middle-class lifestyle, those opportunities which we in our day took almost for granted. We must turn things around.

As the Senator pointed out, the Republican policy is focused on cutting taxes for the very wealthy. This policy has been demonstrated over the last decade to not produce good-paying jobs for middle-income Americans. However, it does produce very substantial benefits for the wealthiest of Americans.

That is not the way to grow a country. That is not what many people today and through our history have sacrificed their lives for. They are not out there serving in Afghanistan and other places so those who have much could have more. It is so those who have very little would have a chance, at least a chance. This is what we are talking about behind all the numbers. We are talking about investing in America. We need to make that investment.

The other side of the aisle indulges in what I believe is a fallacy: The only way of fixing the economy is cutting the deficit. But, instead of focusing exclusively on deficit reduction in the near term, we need to pass legislation which will put people back to work, give them a job, give them hope, and give them an opportunity, give them a sense they can make their lives and their children's lives much better.

The Democrats have proposed a series of initiatives over the last several years to do just that, such as tax incentives for small business to hire people, repairing schools, roads, bridges, or tax breaks for low- and middle-income Americans so they may have a little bit more in their paychecks. We have tried to pass these measures but have been frustrated consistently, even though we have the majority, because of filibusters and procedural delays. The American people understand that we need to create jobs. They want us to act. They want us to act to their benefit, not for the very few but for the majority of Americans.

The other approach Republicans espouse is hand-in-hand with this notion of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans is that austerity through spending cuts can grow the economy. That you can cut programs, cut everything, and that will grow the economy.

That is not reality. What we see and what history suggests, when you are cutting during an economic recovery, you are basically counteracting the recovery. You are contracting economic expansion. You are not adding to the momentum of growth, you are subtracting from the growth.

If you want a current example, look across the ocean to Europe and Great Britain. They embarked upon an austerity program several years ago. Most commentators suggest they are in worse shape today than they were 3 or 4 years ago when they started this austerity program. This is the result of cutting, cutting, cutting. If we proceed down that pathway, we will be in worse shape several years from now than we are today. We can be in better shape by investing in our future and by creating jobs.

Another aspect of this too is it is not only the question of filibustering our proposals to create jobs--but that we know in August 2011 there was a real threat to undermine the full faith and credit of the United States, to refuse for the first time in modern history to increase the debt ceiling, to pay the debts which we owed. And the majority of those debts, at least the much of the recent ones, resulted from the previous administration. And so the debt ceiling crisis triggered the whole process which has led us today to sequestration. Now Americans will have to suffer through sequestration. The Congressional Budget Office has already said if we don't reverse sequestration, we will lose 750,000 jobs. Those are the jobs middle-income Americans are expecting and hoping for. We are losing about .6 percent of growth. We will be headed where our friends across the ocean are headed, not expanding but contracting; not increasing employment but decreasing employment. We are worse off because of these austere policies, not better off.

What the Democratic budget does--and my colleague from Michigan has outlined it very well and with great articulation, that the way you should deal with these issues is through a balanced approach--a balance of revenue and spending cuts which will not harm our economy.

That is what we did in 1993 and 1994 when I was a Member of the House of Representatives. President Clinton came to us and said: Here it is, we are going to cut spending and we are going to raise revenue. And we passed it by one vote in the House, one vote in the Senate--not one Republican vote, but still by one vote here and one vote in the House of Representatives. That set the stage for the later efforts that finally led not only to a balanced budget but to a surplus, and that is the approach we have to adopt today. It's an approach that works.

The Republican budget calls for a total of $4.6 trillion in cuts and would leave the sequester in place. So it would compound the damage of the sequester. The Republican budget has also been estimated to provide millionaires an average tax cut of $400,000. Once again, the big winners in this proposal are the wealthiest Americans, not those who are struggling to put food on the table, to get a job, to see their children have a better future. And, again, the Republican budget refuses to responsibly address the $1 trillion sequester. They provide nearly $6 trillion in tax cuts that, again, overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Americans, but don't address the $1 trillion sequester. So essentially their budget is compounding the difficulties we have in growing this economy and creating jobs.

Ms. STABENOW. I wonder if my colleague would allow me to ask a question.

Mr. REED. I will be happy to yield.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Michigan.

Ms. STABENOW. Did I hear correctly that the Republican budget would give an average of $400,000 in additional tax cuts?

Mr. REED. Those are the estimates I have received, and I believe they are reliable. Many commentators have looked at the budget and concluded that this represents a remarkable reduction in taxes for the wealthiest Americans.

And once again, it shouldn't come as a surprise because, as we recall--and I was here in 2001, when I voted against the Bush tax cuts--the mantra back then was that they are the job creators; just cut those taxes and those jobs will grow. But we saw during the Bush administration one of the poorest private job creation records of any President since World War II. And here Republicans are repeating the same line, as they say, deja vu all over again: Cut the taxes, and magically the jobs will grow. But, you grow jobs by having a balanced approach and through investment in human capital and physical capital, such as roads and bridges, and also by having the revenue to be responsible so you pay your way.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Michigan.

Ms. STABENOW. I thank my colleague, the distinguished Senator from Rhode Island. When I think of him, I think of his advocacy for our men and women who make up our troops--and I know our budget chair as well--and his strong leadership on veterans issues.

I think about $400,000 being an average tax cut for a multimillionaire under this budget versus what will happen to our veterans or folks coming home from the war and now trying to get a job, trying to do what they need to do to get back into the community and society and so on, and I wonder--the Senator has been such a leader on this and, of course, has experience with his own distinguished career in the military--if he might speak about those issues, his own experience with people coming home. Are they getting the $400,000 tax cut?

Mr. REED. Well, no. In fact, there was a front page story today, I believe, in one of the major newspapers declaring the fact that they are home from the battlefront and are now in the unemployment line. So we are seeing a remarkable number of veterans who are unemployed. And these are men and women in their twenties. They certainly want to work. They worked very hard defending this country, yet now they are coming home and have significant levels of unemployment.

That is one of the real problems, as well as our need and our obligation to support veterans health care, particularly mental health care, to support the Veterans' Administration.

The irony, of course, is that we are seeing even higher levels of unemployment, in some cases, among young veterans than we are in the population at large. That is particularly bitter and ironic for those people who have served and sacrificed and are continuing to serve and sacrifice.

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Mr. REED. I would like to reemphasize the point the Senator from Michigan has made and Senator Murray has made, which is that we have been down this road before. We can't simply cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans to magically create jobs. What it produced in reality was a huge deficit, along with two unfunded wars. But that seems to be the message again from the other side--let's just cut taxes and then, of course, cut spending too. That is not the balanced approach we need in the Nation. That is not the balanced approach that in the 1990s, as my colleague pointed out, got us to a surplus, got us to a sense that we were really moving forward and that the middle class had a chance, that their children would have a better life. And that is what we have to do again.

When I look at my State of Rhode Island, I can cite a myriad of examples of the harm that would be caused by the Republican budget. The budget they are proposing, which leaves the sequester in place would result in about a $4.5 million cut in Federal support for our public schools. I can tell you that every city and town in Rhode Island is struggling just to keep the lights on. If they lose $4.5 million of Federal aid, that is going to make it even harder. And do you know what happens? Well, guess what happens to property taxes. They go up. And not just Rhode Island, all across the country because one of the ironies here is that every mayor understands that ultimately they have to balance their budgets, and so they will raise taxes and they will cut spending. But they will do it, hopefully, in a balanced way, similar to what we are espousing in our approach to the budget.

Now, we also have a situation where, if we look at the Republican budget, there are all sorts of abstract cuts--nondiscretionary domestic spending, et cetera--that translates into real harm, and that affects real lives. For example, there is an estimated $3.3 trillion in cuts to programs that benefit low- and middle-income Americans. Of that $3.3 trillion, $2.6 trillion are cuts to Medicaid and subsidies that help modest-income American families across the country to get health insurance. As I mentioned before, there is a projection--and the Senator is an authorizer for this program--of $135 billion being taken out of the SNAP program.

Again, let me go back to last Sunday's Washington Post story. Fifteen percent of the people in Rhode Island depend on this to help them get just adequate nutrition including children--and we are going to cut $135 billion out of this? And on the other side of the spectrum, we are giving a $400,000 tax cut or more to the wealthiest Americans? That is not fair, and it is not good economics. We can't have a generation of children who have been deprived of good nutrition, who have been deprived of good housing; if we do, we are not going to have the productive workers who will lead this Nation forward in this century and beyond. These spending cuts and tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans just do not make any sense. It doesn't balance the books, and it doesn't keep our obligation to the majority of Americans to give them a fighting chance.

Our budget, in contrast, has $100 billion in projects to put Americans to work and repair the worst of our crumbling bridges and roads. There is not one of our colleagues who can't find some 20 or even more bridges in their State that require repair right away, and that would put hundreds of people to work productively and would increase the economic efficiency of our Nation.

Let me give an example. We had a major portion of I-95, the north-south road in Rhode Island--north-south right past Providence-Pawtucket, RI. for several years being rebuilt. The good news is that it is being rebuilt, but before we could rebuild, we had to divert truck traffic, which meant they couldn't efficiently deliver their loads. We had to station State police 24 hours a day to prevent the trucks from going there. So we had to engage all those individual law enforcement officers because the bridge couldn't support basic travel. We are now close to completing the whole project so we should no longer have to have State troopers out there 24 hours a day, and truckers no longer have to take a 20-mile detour to deliver their loads. When we talk about infrastructure, we are talking about economic efficiency as well as putting people to work. The Democratic budget does this.

I think we have also made very difficult choices--tough choices--in making sure that we are paying our way, that we are paying down the deficit and doing it in a way that doesn't cost us the recovery and creating the jobs we need right away.

I commend Chairman Murray because she has done a remarkable job of shepherding this bill through, of balancing so many complicated issues and making sure we have kept faith with the Americans who sent us here. They just want a chance. They just want to be able to think that their child is going to have a better life than they have had. I think this budget goes much further than our colleagues' to give them that chance, to give them that hope, and to give them that opportunity.

With that, I yield back to the Senator from Michigan.

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