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The Continued Misdirection of the Country

Location: Washington, DC



Ms. SCHWARTZ of Pennsylvania. It was interesting in the Budget Committee when we talked about the principle that you are talking about, that we should know where the revenues are coming from if we are going to spend money. That is really what we are talking about.

It is basically being unable to meet their obligations. It is knowing where that money is coming from. Of course, we do budget not just for next year, but we budget out 5 years. We used to budget to 10 years. But we do see those kinds of numbers so we can anticipate what we think might be happening.

And what was interesting about that discussion in the Budget Committee is that there, in fact, is some interest, I think, on the other side of the aisle in doing this. They understand as well that, I think some of them do know, of course, they would not let that pass, but in fact I think if we really, truly could sit down in a bipartisan way and say, look, we have a responsibility to do this in a way that does not create a debt we do not even have any way of repaying at this point.

The Republicans have, of course, taken certain things off budget. That means, of course, that let's not really consider what the cost to Katrina is, for example; the real cost of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan in which some estimates in the budget this year have been $50 billion when we know that it could well get up to $400 billion.

Well, if you know that, we have to be straight with the American people. We have to be able to say, this is what we know it is going to cost us. How are we going to have the revenues to support that? Where is it going to come from? Let's have that as a serious discussion and let's make the hard choices we have to make.

We know we want to support our troops. We want to make sure that they have all the equipment they need.

That has been a discussion. Of course, we will support the troops in that. But let's be real about what it will cost us and let's be honest with the American people about how we will do that.

I think there is some interest on the other side of the aisle, but in fact if we do that, there is no way they could go ahead with the kind of budget that we will be faced with tomorrow because it does not reveal all that we need to know about what our obligations are.

And as you point out, for American families who struggle every day to figure out how do they pay, we talk about gasoline prices. That throws budgets into a real problem when you have budgeted really tight.

It is not a problem to budget really tight if you do not have any contingency, if you are not really honest with yourself that there will be an expense next month. But in fact we are making it harder on American families by not being honest with them.

And we are making it harder on them by not bringing down gasoline prices. We are making it harder on them by not helping their kids going to college. We are making it harder on them by not allowing ways for us to be sure that their business can pay for health insurance.

You can almost name any issue and we are making it harder on American families when in fact it does not have to be that way.


Ms. SCHWARTZ of Pennsylvania. There is an explanation. I cannot necessarily and I do not want to make explanations about why it was done this year. I will talk about that for a minute.

The fact is that it is reasonable for us to say that there is going to be an emergency that happens in this country that we cannot budget for. Katrina is an example. We could not have anticipated that a year ahead of time there would be an emergency as catastrophic as Katrina and the devastation it caused in the gulf States. And I have been there and many of you have been there to see the devastation.

So that is why we allow for a process that we can have a supplemental appropriations. We get an emergency appropriation, as it is called; and that is appropriate because we need to act quickly. We need to act appropriately to help Americans.

We have done it to help people in other countries as well.

That is certainly true in time of war as well. If you go to war, you did not anticipate going to war. Then you have an emergency appropriation, a supplemental is what we call it, and that is appropriate.

What is less understandable and I think that you make clear is what about a year later? What about 2 years later? Why cannot we anticipate at least in a better way what in fact the costs will be to clean up in Katrina? If we are wrong, we might need to do a supplemental.

But now to not say we are in Iraq. There is a cost; we know what it is costing us every week. We know what it is costing us every month to put $50 billion in when all the estimations are that it will be at least $200, probably $300 billion at least. It is really just not being honest about what it is going to cost us in the future.

For Katrina, again let's decide what we can accommodate to pay for and what we should. And if we have to stretch, then we have an obligation. As you point out, all of us have had to balance budgets. We should have to balance a budget here. We should be able to say, where should that money come from? Where does it come from? Are we asking Americans to all kick in? Are we going to sell Katrina bonds or something?

I am throwing out ideas. Maybe there are ways we can sit down and say, okay, we do not have all the money for this. How can we do it in a way that is fair to the American people, is fair to people of different incomes? Maybe ask them to join in and be helpful as so many Americans did after Katrina, the number of dollars we got from charities, people wanted to help dramatically.

There are ways for us to do this in a way that does not put our country into fiscal difficulties, and in fact respects the kind of budgeting that we should be doing in this country.


Ms. SCHWARTZ of Pennsylvania. I appreciate those comments. I think there are some, the term ``gimmick'' is one that I am almost reluctant to use. My staff and I discussed whether we should talk about some of these gimmicks because it is such a serious process we are in.

What we do matters in the lives of American families. I take it seriously. I know we all do. But the fact is, this is at least an accounting gimmick, if nothing else, in not recognizing some of the very serious expenses that we know we have and we have an obligation to meet.

And again, just as in American families, we need to figure out how to do it. And if we cannot do it, we need to say that too. So in some of these situations, we are not going to say ``no.'' So we should in fact meet the obligations.

Again, the example came up about veterans' health care. And I think we all go home. We all want to be respectful of our veterans, but whether in fact we fund veterans' health care or not really matters in each and every one of their lives. It is not so much about the rhetoric we have at home. It is really about what we do in this budget that allows them to get the health care that they need.

I see that our colleague has a chart he may want to talk about in terms of the national debt and the deficit and the national debt that it has led to.


Ms. SCHWARTZ of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, the gentlewoman makes an important point, and I think one of the ways to help Americans understand what this really means to them because these numbers are very big, it is sort of hard to say, well, you cut $1 billion here, $1 billion there, how does that matter in the lives of our constituents?

The other day I met with some of the school superintendents in my district, and they told me, I will say all things are really new, but they were pleading with me because they said we want to be held accountable. We want our teachers, our schools to perform at the highest levels possible. So the concept of No Child Left Behind, in fact, we support it, as do I, but the fact that they are not getting the funding for that that the government promised to them, again it is about meeting our promises, about meeting our obligations to our children.

If we said we will not leave any child behind, but then walk away, then we have, in fact, left them behind, and this is what is happening. For Americans who have children in schools, they know what that means. They are being challenged without additional resources, and it also means to all of us that our local and State taxes are likely to go up to make up for the difference.

What we have done is pass along the burden to our State and local governments, and in fact Americans are going to have to pay for it one way or the other.

I will just mention two other areas because I know I hear this a lot, and I am sure you do as well in education, and that is special education. I know when I served in the State Senate, I was the Democratic Chair of the Education Committee for a number of years. I served on the State Board of Education. We heard over and over again that there were remarkable new ways to educate children with many different needs.

More children are being identified with early childhood learning disabilities. In fact, early intervention is making an enormous difference in their being successful in school. Then, of course, there are some of the very seriously challenged students. When we passed the original legislation, not we, we weren't there then, we freshmen, but when the original legislation was passed, it was called IDEA, but when the special education legislation was passed, the Federal Government said, You know what, we want you to educate every child regardless of what their needs are and to challenge them to be the best they can be. And we are going to pick up 40 percent of the cost. Regardless of what it costs, we will pick up 40 percent. Well, they never have.

So what does that mean? Right now the Federal Government is paying about 17 percent of that cost, not even half of what was promised years ago. So what that means is that local school districts are picking up the tab. States are picking up the tab. What we ought to be doing is meeting our commitments, meeting our obligations and being honest and straightforward with the American people, that this is what we promised to do, it is what you want us to do, it is what we should be doing.

Last, you point out a college education. We talked about families already being stretched, but we are at a time when we know our young people and increasingly older people who also are being retrained or reeducated need to go to college. Sometimes it is a community college, sometimes it is a postsecondary technical college, sometimes it is a 4-year university. But the fact is that we need to be sure that the best and brightest in this country have access to higher education. And we know we are competing not just with our neighboring States or our neighboring communities or even countries who used to be our trading partners, we are just a global economy, a global marketplace, and our young people have to be prepared.

Yet what this budget does is, in fact, cut the Federal grants that so many people relied on to do their college education. So we are saying it is going to even be harder at a time when our young people should be going to college, for you to be able to go to college, be successful and to be able to not be in so much debt when you come out of college.

So, yes, could we do these things? That is what I get asked. Could we do these? The answer is, of course we could, if in fact we recognize that it is our priority, that we were honest about what kind of dollars we needed and we made it a priority in our budget instead of something else. Again, the Democratic alternative that will be available tomorrow does that.

So, again, I hope that my constituents, your constituents understand that we come again as first-term Members with a real interest, maybe that is not strong enough, but a demand for us to do it better, to do it right, to meet these obligations and to do it this year as a beginning because we can't wait any longer. Whether it is on education, on higher education, whether it is on energy, whether it is on paying down the debt. These are things we have to start working on, on security, health care. We could go on for hours. Fortunately we are limited, from our viewers' point of view, to an hour. But the fact is that we have so many opportunities for us to be building that future for Americans, American children, American families. This budget simply doesn't do it. It is why we should reject it.


Ms. SCHWARTZ of Pennsylvania. Your comments, I think, do speak to the frustrations we hear from Americans. But I hope that as we end this evening's discussion, we can also leave with the understanding that Americans, I hope, will feel hopeful. Because, in fact, you point out that if we use common sense, if we use our political will, if we sit down to work out these issues, we could do that. I think that is what the American people expect of us and it is also something that I think as freshmen we are offering back, that we want to be able to say we can do this, we want to do it, we want to be able to tackle these problems and we want all of the best ideas, and there are so many out there, to be able to offer the American people the secure Nation that they want, the opportunities for their children economically and educationally and the kind of hope for the future that they all want.

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