Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2014

Floor Speech

By:  Chris Coons
Date: March 22, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. COONS. Thank you, Mr. President.

We have heard a great deal about balance in the debates on the Senate floor. As we move toward voting on a budget resolution, I just want to remind all of us in this Chamber today to keep in mind that a balanced path forward has broad support across all of America. Folks are looking for us to take a path toward steady and responsible deficit reduction, investing in growing our economy, investing in helping our private sector grow good jobs, while still honoring the pledges we have made to America's veterans, to our seniors, to those who rely on some of our most important and most treasured Federal programs--Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

There is a sharp contrast--and that contrast will be clear and clearer as this day goes on--between the values embedded in the Ryan budget, passed by the House, and the budget led ably by Chairman Murray and the Senate Democrats in the Budget Committee that will be taken up later today. We will be considering dozens, perhaps hundreds, of amendments that will touch on a very wide range of issues--from paycheck fairness and gender equity, as referenced by Senator Mikulski just a few moments ago, to issues very widely ranging--ones that I have helped champion on the Budget Committee that would increase investment in manufacturing, making sure that our manufacturing sector is more competitive; ones that allow us to strengthen our R&D sector, strengthen our education sector; ones that ensure we preserve and protect these valued Medicare and Medicaid programs that I referenced.

More than anything, at the end of the day I think the challenge to all of us is to help the American people understand the fundamental difference in values reflected in these two different budgets.

I know I will be joined in just a few minutes by colleagues who are coming to speak to that point, to help lay out for the American people the fundamental difference between these two budgets. But if I might, sort of at the highest level for a moment, I want to remind folks who might be watching, folks in the Chamber, that a budget resolution is quite different from the budgets that, Mr. President, you might have been used to as a Governor, that others of us were used to from the private sector or from State or county or city governments.

A budget resolution does not have every single item to be spent by this government in great detail. As State budgets are submitted to general assemblies or legislatures, they typically have exactly how the State will spend its funds in the year ahead in enormous detail. This budget resolution sets a framework. It sets sort of top-level spending targets and then directs the committees of jurisdiction to achieve either changes to the Tax Code in the Finance Committee or changes to vital programs in other committees, whether Defense or HELP or others.

So when we talk often about the values embedded in a budget resolution, that is, in part, because a budget resolution is just the beginning of a regular order, healthy budget process. It then has to be complemented with authorization bills and with appropriations bills.

But if you compare the budget resolution that has already been adopted in the House, and that was rejected by a vote on the floor last night, with the budget resolution that has come out of the Senate Budget Committee, I think you see a few simple, stark differences. Both budget resolutions raise a significant amount of revenue through tax reform by closing so-called tax loopholes or cutting spending through the Tax Code. This is spending that is not reviewed every year. This is spending that often has been stuck into the Tax Code through the efforts of the wealthy and well-connected powerful interests in our country, that does not get reviewed every year. It is time for us to look seriously at our Tax Code to make it leaner, easier to understand, easier to enforce, more efficient, and to make our country more competitive.

But a core question we have to address is, To what end do we put the revenue raised through changes to our Tax Code? In the House budget resolution, they raise, if I remember, roughly $5.7 trillion over the 10-year budget period--all of which is dedicated to reducing the tax rates on the wealthiest Americans and on the most profitable corporations, reducing rates on corporations and individuals.

The much smaller amount raised in our budget plan--$975 billion over 10 years, through cutting spending through the Tax Code--is dedicated to deficit reduction.

The balanced path we have talked about--that balances reduction in the deficit through new revenue raised by reforms to the Tax Code with comparable spending reductions across all areas of our budget--is the sort of balanced plan that was on the ballot, that was a critical part of the 2012 election process, and that I frankly think the American people have broadly embraced.

We have put forward a budget that meets the values agenda that our Democratic Budget Committee stands behind: to invest in critical areas of our economy, whether infrastructure, education, or R&D; to help lift the private sector and help grow jobs again; to keep our most vital commitments to seniors and to veterans and to those most at risk in our society, while still making responsible, steady progress toward reducing our crippling deficit and debt. We get the deficit down to less than 3 percent of GDP. At the end of the 10-year period, we stabilize our publicly held debt at 70 percent of GDP. These are the targets broadly agreed on by every major bipartisan group that has looked at the challenges facing the United States, our economy, and our budget.

I will remind you that the Bowles-Simpson Commission--a bipartisan commission--came up with a rough target of $4 trillion in savings over a decade. This plan, this budget resolution, would achieve--in fact, would exceed--that target in a way that has balance and, I believe, is responsible.

I would be happy to talk further then, if I might, Mr. President, about some of the other issues contained both within our budget resolution and, in contrast, within the budget resolution coming over from the House.

As a number of my colleagues have spoken about movingly on the Senate floor in recent days, one of the most important differences is in the future of the fundamental entitlement programs that are a part of the progressive legacy of FDR and LBJ and that were put in place with both Republicans and Democrats over many years, strengthening and sustaining them. We see a fundamental difference in direction between what has happened in the House and what we have proposed in the Senate.

To put it simply, in the House they would change Medicare from a Federal guarantee, from a program that provides health care to millions of Americans, to a voucher program, one where what the Federal Government provides is not a guarantee but premium support, a voucher, something that would shift costs onto seniors, onto States, and onto communities. In Medicaid, in my view, even worse--because it supports the most vulnerable in our country--they would turn it into a block grant. This would shift more than $800 billion onto the balance sheets of States.

To talk further about these important differences and the values between the House and the Senate budgets, and to talk about its impact on the future of the United States, I yield 7 minutes to my colleague from the State of Rhode Island, Senator Whitehouse.

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Mr. COONS. If I might, I simply wanted to reassure those who might be watching in the Chamber the Democratic budget and resolution which is pending on the floor reflects some of our most fundamental values and makes responsible progress toward reducing our deficit. We have already done more than $2.4 trillion toward deficit reduction since the time the Bowles-Simpson Commission suggested an overall target in reduction of $4 trillion in Federal spending. With this additional $1.85 trillion, we will get to about $4.25 trillion. We are making responsible progress.

As my colleague from Vermont and many others have come to the floor and spoken about, we need to do this in a way which still keeps our commitments to America's seniors, America's veterans, and the most low-income and vulnerable in our communities. We need to do it in a way which both stabilizes our deficit and debt, makes critical investments in growing our economy, and preserves the core of the programs on which Americans rely.

This is not just about numbers, it is also about values. It is also about priorities.

If I might, before I yield to the full committee chair, I wish to say I am grateful to Chairman Murray for everything she has done to bring us to this point. In the 3 years in which I have served in the Senate as a member of the Budget Committee, we have not had a budget resolution on this floor.

The very difficult and very long process we are about to go through may be a reminder of how challenging legislative compromise can be. It is my hope we may engage in a thorough and vigorous debate and yet by the end of this legislative day we will have a budget out of the Senate.

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