30-Something Working Group

By:  Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Date: Feb. 8, 2006
Location: Washington, DC

30-SOMETHING WORKING GROUP -- (House of Representatives - February 08, 2006)

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, I thank so much my good friend from Ohio. I am particularly struck by your comments and your laying out of the real significance of the problem we are facing here.

I have only been here a year now. I am a new Member, and I came from 12 previous years in the Florida legislature. The whole concept, I mean, I certainly understand what the debt limit is and the debt ceiling, and I have watched the President's brother, Governor Bush, do the exact same thing in Florida and asked repeatedly for our debt limit to be extended. So there is clearly a pattern running through this family.

But what is so foreign to me as a State legislator, and I know we have many former State legislators in this Chamber, is the whole concept of debt and operating in the red to begin with. Most States cannot deficit spend. Most States have to adopt a budget that balances. You do not borrow against next year. You spend what you have, just like the concept of PAYGO that the Democrats in the Congress have supported for years and continue to support, and then for some reason we cannot get the Republican leadership here to go back to that concept.

It is mindboggling. How does a party and a group of people who supposedly pride themselves on their fiscal responsibility not support the concept of paying as you go? I do not understand. I mean, those two concepts are opposites. Fiscal responsibility, yet five increases in the debt limit in the debt ceiling. It is really tough for me to understand.

We are borrowing away our children's future, and it is a concept that I have not been able to get my mind around. We want to make sure that we reduce the deficit, but the President talks about it in his State of the Union address. You constantly hear Republican Members of Congress profess that they have an interest in cutting the deficit in half or eliminating the deficit. Yet, the budget that the President submitted does no such thing. In fact, over the next 10 years it ensures that the deficit continues to stay significantly high, does not even come close to cutting it in half; and, actually, he presented us a budget on Monday that includes no assumption that we would spend no money on the war in Iraq after next year.

I mean, to me, I analogize the reality of the budget the President gave us on Monday to one that my first graders might sit down and write because they have about the same similarity in terms of likelihood of success here in this Chamber, the same similarity that my first graders would write to the ability to actually meet the needs of the people in the country.

You know what it really boils down to? It boils down to hypocrisy, because the same people who accuse Democrats of being tax and spend liberals, you know, and I am loathe to repeat that misnomer because it is so insulting, but if we are tax and spend liberals, they are borrow and spend. They are borrow and spend.

Because if we say that we do not think tax and spend is a good idea, which I think universally Republicans and Democrats would say taxing and spending as a way to solve our problems is not a set of solutions for the future of this country, how is borrowing and spending any different?

I mean, you are mortgaging our children's future, and that, you know, I think if we had some semblance of bipartisan here that some people profess to be supportive of, I would love to sit down around a table. Maybe Mr. Boehner, the new majority leader, will be different, I am certainly hopeful. But I would love to sit down around a table with a bipartisan group of Members and find a way to pay as we go.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Essentially what that is is a manifestation of the culture of corruption. I mean, that is how you translate the culture of corruption which shows itself in individual Members in some cases, and people who are under suspicion and investigation, although not charged. And that is how you take it, or that is how they take it a step further and translate it into policy.

I mean, when we are providing significant tax dollars for energy companies, when we are essentially ensuring that special interests have their pockets lined via people `s tax dollars, then that is the manifestation of the culture of corruption and how it impacts people in terms of the policymaking that goes on here.

And we talking about third-party validators. It would be easy for us to just say what we think standing on this floor. But, you know, it would be very easy for us to lay out, you know, progressive liberal Democratic organizations to validate what we are saying here.

I am going to read you a few third-party validators who laid out their opinion of the President's budget in the last several days. Goldman Sachs, for example. They said that the deficit forecasts that were laid out in the President's budget this week were unrealistic.

Bush's budget proposal assumes that the Federal deficit would jump from $318 billion last year to $423 billion in 2006, then slide back down to $183 billion in 2010. Those factors led Goldman Sachs economists to tell clients yesterday that the deficit forecasts are unrealistic.

Mr. RYAN of Ohio. Goldman Sachs is not a liberal organization?

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. No. And also not a liberal organization is the Heritage Foundation, who says that the budget does not deal with retirees. Brian Riedl, budget analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation, said that Bush's budget is clearly not enough to feasibly solve the most important economic challenge of our era, how to deal with 77 million baby-boomer retirees.

The Concord Coalition, also not a liberal bastion, said the White House was working off very unrealistic assumptions. Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, said of the Bush budget, when you look at the bottom line that they are putting out, it is important then to look at the assumptions. And I think there are some very unrealistic assumptions there that would probably keep the deficit much higher than the administration is showing.

When I say that my first-graders could sit down and write a similar budget that bears the same resemblance to reality, I am really not kidding.

You know, I am not just being tongue in cheek here. The President owes the American people the responsibility that he has taken when he took his oath to uphold the Constitution, a budget with realistic projections that does not just paint the rosiest picture possible so that he can coast through the rest of his term.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. To take that a step further, and, Mr. Ryan, before I do that, we have used this chart repeatedly because it is so illustrative of the stark ineptitude, for lack of a better term, of this administration, you know, compared to all of the other previous administrations combined.

I am wondering, sometimes people catch this Special Order hour, and sometimes they do not. I know we have a Website, and we have recently revamped it, and my understanding is that the charts that we use are going to be available on our Website in the event that people want to go and look at them more closely. Is that right?

Mr. RYAN of Ohio. That is correct. Www.housedemocrats.gov/30-something. And this will be the Web page that pops up, 30-something Working Group. Then you go to the bottom and it says, our posters. So you will be able to get to our posters here.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. They can peruse them at the their leisure.

Mr. RYAN of Ohio. Yeah. And they are really good, because we have taken all of the information that Tom Manatos here, who is our go-to guy with the 30-something Working Group, kind of boiled it down, and you will be able to see our third-party validators.

Now, for example, this poster here, now we have added the pictures, obviously, to help make our points to see that this is President Bush, he is responsible for the last 4 years, and all of those pictures of all of the other Presidents, Andrew Jackson, President Kennedy, there is Taft, Lincoln, they are all here. But at the bottom it says, source, where we cite our source, is U.S. Treasury. We are not making those numbers up. So go to the Website and you will be able to see this poster that our crack staff has put together.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. We have sort of interchangeably been talking about two different things. There is the debt, and then there is the deficit. Both things are startling when it comes to this administration's record. Under this President the deficit and the national debt are out of control.

Mr. RYAN of Ohio. The deficit is the annual.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Right. The deficit is the annual ongoing difference between the revenue we take in and the money we spend. And then the debt is what we have to borrow in order to stay afloat.

Over the last 5 years, it is clear that President Bush has lost control of both. Under this President we have gone from a projected 10-year surplus of $5.6 trillion to a projected deficit over the same period of $3.3 trillion, which is an $8.9 trillion reversal.

Under President Bush's budget, when omitted costs are included, we have deficits for as far as the eye can see. You have a projected rise in the deficit to $556 billion by 2016. And when we talk about omitted costs, people might say, what do you mean by omitted costs? Like the fact that this budget does not include any spending on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan after next year.

Now, I wish, oh, were that to be true, that we would now be in a position where Iraq would be, and the Iraqi people would be, able to sustain themselves without our assistance. Unfortunately, we have created a situation in which that continues to be impossible, and it is a virtual certainty that we are going to need to spend money after next year in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the President's claims.

When omitted costs are included, the President's budget does not cut the deficit in half by 2009 as he continues to claim that it will.

What continues to be mind-boggling is that we could fix this if you go back to the pay as you go rules of the 1990s, which is what turned the deficits into surpluses, tough votes that people took. Like you said, there were Members that lost their seats, but at the end of the day, it has to be more important to do the right thing than to continue to be here for each one of us, and that is something that we have to internalize. This is a good job. This is a job that we all really enjoy. I have not met a Member of Congress who does not like the job a lot, and that is why many of us, most of us, fight hard to keep it every election cycle. But at the end of the day, you have to be willing to look yourself in the mirror and say you did the right thing and be willing to walk out of this Chamber and know that you may not come back after you did the right thing.

Unfortunately, we do not have enough people who serve in this body that are willing to do that. And unfortunately, it appears to be a little lopsided when it comes to the partisan breakdown of that willingness.

This is literally the worst reversal, the worst fiscal reversal, in American history. We have never had the kind of turnaround from a record surplus to a record deficit like the one we have had. And the national debt, as you said, continues to skyrocket. They have had to raise the debt limit five times, but total combined it was $2.2 trillion that the debt had to be raised since President Bush took office. I mean, it really is astonishing.

Mr. RYAN of Ohio. What is interesting about the $2.2 trillion is that is more money than this country borrowed from the inception of the country to the beginning of Ronald Reagan's Presidency. So just in the Bush administration alone we have had to raise it $2.2 trillion, which is more than whatever the math would be from Reagan back to George Washington. This Republican Congress is setting records here on this issue.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. There is something else I want to bring up, if you do not mind. I think it is important to compare words and deeds. And we both sat in this Chamber during the State of the Union and listened to the President lay out his vision for America. I want to read out from one of the paragraphs from the State of the Union and compare it to a couple of weeks later when he introduced his budget.

He said in the State of the Union that ``our economy is healthy and vigorous and growing faster than other major industrialized nations. In the last 2 1/2 years America has created 4.6 million new jobs, more than Japan and the European Union combined. Even in the face of high energy prices and natural disasters, the American people have turned in an economic performance that is the envy of the world.''

Now, during my time in the legislature, and I spent a little bit of time in leadership in the statehouse in Florida, one of the things that the party leadership generally engages in is choosing words carefully. You choose the words as carefully as you can so that what comes out actually reflects the reality on the ground. Now, I can see why the President would have chosen to say that our economy is growing faster than other major industrialized nations, because he probably could come as close to the accuracy as possible when it comes to the economy.

But just take this AP story, again, a third-party validator that we like to use, just from January 27, which talked about the economy grows at slowest pace in 3 years. The economy grows by just a 1.1 percent pace in fourth quarter, slowest in 3 years. The annual rate in the fourth quarter of last year was 1.1 percent amid belt-tightening by consumers facing spiraling energy costs. The 1.1 percent growth rate in the fourth quarter marked a considerable loss of momentum from the third quarter's brisk 4.1 percent pace. The fourth quarter's performance was even weaker than many analysts were forecasting. Before the release of the report, they were predicting the GDP to clock in at a 2.8 percent pace. The weakness in the final quarter of last year reflected consumers pulling back, cuts in government spending, and businesses being more restrained in their capital spending.

This is not a columnist that wrote this. This is an actual story that is reporting facts on the ground.

I just feel resentful when I sit in this Chamber and I listen to the President respectfully, and I expect on behalf of my constituents to hear accurate statements, to hear a true reflection of the state of our Nation. And instead what I felt like we got was a lot of partisan rhetoric, a lot of rhetoric that was not matched up with action as I would have liked to have seen it reflected in the budget.

He turned in a budget that actually gives us $36 billion in Medicare cuts. I mean, in a State like mine, I represent the State of Florida, as you know, that is going to significantly disproportionately impact a vulnerable senior citizen population when they are already reeling in the midst of this disastrous Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit that was handed to them by this Republican leadership.

So it is just kind of one insult after another. When is it going to stop? When are we going to actually have some true commitment to back up the words?


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. And it is not like there are not Members on both sides of the aisle who have not lived under this before. I am not sure if it is the majority, but there is a significant plurality of Members in this Chamber who served in their State legislatures. And you talk to any Governor, talk to anyone currently serving in the State legislature, that is what they live every day.

Really, it is like you get to Congress, and you become a drunken sailor. You are suddenly freed from the restraints of fiscal conservatism. You do not have to think about operating in the black anymore. You can spend to your heart's content and not think about fiscal restraint and not think about how you are going to pay for it. It is essentially like, oh, I get to Congress, and I get this humongous Visa or Mastercard, and I get to do whatever I want with it. Well, that is not how it works for the American people on an everyday basis. If it does, they end up ultimately declaring bankruptcy.

Do we want to continue to travel down that path in the United States of America and be in a position where we cannot pay our debt one day? I mean, I am raising little kids. That is literally the future that we are planning for right now for the next generation.

Again, I want to draw some comparisons to words and deeds here, if you do not mind. The President again, as I said, talked about how our economy was healthy and vigorous. I do not know how you have a debt like this, bigger than any combined in the last 224 years, just in the last 4 years, and say that the economy is healthy and vigorous, but I guess we all use a different dictionary from time to time of health and vigor.

The President said that in the State of the Union, and let us just detail some facts related to the economy. President Bush, despite what he says about the 4.6 million new jobs that were created, still has the worst record on jobs since President Herbert Hoover. He added 108,000 jobs in December. He has lost a total of 2.8 million manufacturing jobs, 2.8 million manufacturing jobs. At this point in the last recovery, the economy had created about 5 million more jobs than we have seen in this supposed recovery, and millions of Americans who want to work still do not have jobs.

Now, last week I was sitting at home. I was on my couch watching CNN, and I saw the head of the Ford Motor Company announce plans to cut up to 30,000 jobs and close 14 plants. I was dumbfounded. I had just heard from the President not 10 days before that the state of our economy is healthy and vigorous, and he created 4.6 million jobs, and now Ford Motor Company is cutting 30,000. General Motors just announced plans to eliminate their set of 30,000 jobs. Adelphia, now in bankruptcy, is asking workers to accept a 55 percent pay cut. Verizon is phasing out its defined benefits and pension plans for about 50,000 management employees. We are not talking about management employees who are on the high end of the pay scale; management employees like middle management, regular people, people who are living close to if not paycheck to paycheck every single day. And IBM recently announced it would freeze pension benefits for its 117,000 U.S. workers.

In 2005, U.S. employers announced more than a million job cuts, which marks the first time since 2001 that annual job cuts increased. Now, like I said, I understand that leaders often use the words that paint the rosiest picture or paint the picture that they would like to see or that they would like people to perceive. I think it is pretty clear that the jobs record, the health of our economy, the vigor of our economy, the debt we are saddling our children with, the deficit that continues to balloon compared to the surplus that we had just 3 1/2 short years ago, there is no resemblance to the reality that President Bush has painted and the reality that our constituents are living every single day. None. It is wrong.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. I am just looking at some of the facts and figures that our staff has put together for us, and sometimes I have difficulty thinking about the size and scope of what it means to have the largest deficit in American history and a debt that combined with the previous 224 years is greater than the debt from those years. It is easier to deal with that information in nuggets, so let us talk about debt and its impact on individuals for a moment.

And since this is the 30-something Working Group and we often try to highlight the difficulty our generation is having or what our generation lives through, let us just go through some facts and figures comparatively for our generation through the years.

Since 1992-93, the average college grad student loan debt has grown from $12,100 to $19,300 in 2003, just 10 years. Over 25 percent of college graduates in 2003 had a student loan debt higher than $25,000, which is a 7 percent increase from 10 years ago. In 2002, 14 percent of young adults reported that student loans caused them to delay marriage, which is up from 7 percent in 1991. One in five said their debt had caused them to delay having children, up from 12 percent in 1991.

Forty percent reported they delayed buying a home because of their loans, compared with 25 percent in 1991. And 17 percent significantly changed careers because of their debt, about the same as 1991.

The policy decisions that are made here, Mr. Ryan, the culture of corruption that translates into special interests and the wealthiest few being at the top of the heap here as opposed to the average working family or the average hardworking recent college graduate being put first or being considered at least on the same level has caused real strife, real difficulty.

Imagine being in love, finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, knowing you want to have children, knowing that you could potentially buy that house that you would love to live in and have the dream of homeownership, essentially the American Dream, and you have so much debt that you are saddled with because your government, your Congress did not at least provide the ability for you to get a higher education because it was more important to provide tax cuts to the wealthiest few; more important to provide tax breaks for Big Oil and for pharmaceutical companies and ensure that they are first in line. That is real life. Those are the real-life decisions that real people, our people, have to make. It is just so wrong.

I used to think about this in the legislature, too. You come up to Tallahassee in Florida, which is our capital, and Washington here, and we make policy in this body thousands of miles from our constituents, most of us, except those who live right around here. Sometimes I think that is really a significant cause of the insensitivity that clearly goes on in Washington. Because we are so disconnected from our constituents when we make policy.

It is not like a city council people, who has to deal with the in-your-face aspect of that type of governing. You know, if there is a dead dog on someone's driveway, that city council person knows about it and they will have to deal with that person in the supermarket or you are right up in their face in the dais. We cannot talk to the people that come here and are sitting in the gallery, and so we are insulated from making those decisions. And perhaps that is wrong. As a result, we make decisions where the people who can get access to us, the people who have the money to pay to get in front of us, they get to be first in line; and I think that really ruins lives for people.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. I want to jump off from what you are saying in terms of America lagging behind global education standards with more emblematic examples of the difference between their rhetoric and their deeds.

The President, again in the State of the Union, talked about our one commitment being necessary above all in that we must continue to lead the world in human talent and creativity. Our greatest advantage in the world, he says, has always been our educated, hardworking, ambitious people and we are going to keep that edge. That evening he announced what he calls the American Competitiveness Initiative to encourage innovation throughout our economy and to give our Nation's children a firm grounding in math and science. He proposed doubling the Federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs and the physical sciences over the next 10 years and a number of other really lofty goals.

Let us match the rhetoric with the reality. Republicans have consistently, consistently failed to even come close to matching the rhetoric that the President laid out in the State of the Union in their deeds and actions in terms of making those words reality. Last year, Republicans provided less than one-third of the promised investment in the Math and Science Partnerships program, which is designed to increase student academic achievement in grades K through 12 in math and science. They have shortchanged the Tech Talent Act, which strengthens postsecondary education to increase the number of degrees in math, science, and engineering, by nearly 33 percent.

This comes at a time when only 36 percent of fourth graders and 30 percent of eighth graders tested proficient in math, but our twelfth graders scored at or near the bottom of math and science compared to other countries.

We could listen to the President say it until he is blue in the face, but until the Republican leadership here and the Members of Congress match what the President is saying with their votes, until he proposes a budget that actually reflects what his words said in the State of the Union, why should people believe them? They should not. They should not believe them because this is another example of how a pervasive culture of corruption and cronyism permeates itself all the way through the process and results in the reality on the ground in a budget that does the exact opposite in terms of producing the competitive talent that the President talked about in the State of the Union, because that cannot happen if you are slashing and burning the programs that accomplish that.

The American people are not stupid. They understand the difference between saying it and doing it. When I have traveled across the country, I hear from people that want to believe the things that their politicians tell them. They want to believe in us, and their confidence in this body, in Congress, in the government is so badly shaken by everything that has gone on through the culture of corruption that has gone on here. It has shaken the confidence that people have in this institution to its foundation. We have to do something about it. We have an opportunity to do something about it later this year. I hope that in my second term that I hope to serve in this Congress that things will change.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Again, I want to highlight where words did not match deeds. The candidate President George W. Bush said before the election that we would have ``universal, affordable access to broadband technology by the year 2007.'' Well, the Bush administration has had no national policy to develop a universal broadband access even though building a robust, nationwide network would expand employment by 1.2 million new permanent jobs in our country.

This is the House Democrats' innovation agenda, which is available on HouseDemocrats.gov. We have a plan laid out how, which includes how we would get to universal broadband access within 5 years, and that we would make sure that we grow the math and science and engineers that we need in this country and make sure that we can match our rhetoric with action.


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