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Hearing of the Senate Committee on the Budget - Transcript

Location: Washington, DC






SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D-MI): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Ranking Member, welcome, Mr. Bolten.

I'm looking forward to a broader discussion on Medicare myself. I will not spend a lot of time on it today but just to say what I would really like to talk about is how this is not a good benefit for seniors, how it locks in the highest possible prices for people under Medicare and over 10 years will begin to unravel Medicare as we know it. And so I hope we're not only talking about the numbers but what is really happening and what will be happening under this Medicare bill, which I am deeply concerned about for the seniors of the country.

There's a lot in this budget bill. It's difficult to spend just a few moments talking about it. So, Mr. Chairman, I'd like to talk in big picture numbers. And as I said in the last meeting that we had, last hearing, I think it's very important to note that with all this sea of red ink that if we were to eliminate every penny of non-defense discretionary domestic spending this year, every penny of $445 billion this year, that would not eliminate the deficit for this year of $521 billion. Isn't that correct?

MR. BOLTEN: That's true, Senator.

SEN. STABENOW: So we're looking-this is huge. So we can debate around the margins about whether or not we should have a half a percent increase in non-defense discretionary spending, or a percent or 2 percent, but you could eliminate every penny and it would not equal the deficit for this one year. So obviously there are broader issues that we need to address, Mr. Chairman, and I hope we will.

And another thing I think is important to put in perspective is of the 65 programs that we're talking about being eliminated-and I have some questions about those-they equal $5 billion, which is what we spend a month in Iraq and Afghanistan. So we're talking about trumpeting 65 programs that eliminate $5 billion. And we can debate whether they should be or not, and I'm all for eliminating things that don't work and doing new things. But that's what we are spending-we are spending $5 billion a month in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this budget does not include the funding at this point for those important issues of Iraq and Afghanistan. So this budget is not complete, which is one of the big concerns as we look at all this.

Is it true, when I look at what's been eliminated or what you're proposing to eliminate, we're looking at eliminating in education 1.412 -- basically a billion dollars in education, as I have it, education programs. And I assume these numbers are correct that we've received from you, $1.412 billion, and adding back $1 billion in Title I. So we're looking at overall there would be a cut there in terms of dollars to education. That concerns me. And the other thing, coming from a manufacturing state right now where our world is very different than the world-with all do respect, that you're describing. In terms of jobs we are losing jobs and we're losing them permanently, middle-class family wage jobs, and we're desperately concerned about it.

Everyone has agreed, the president has said, members of Congress obviously have said we need to focus on education and innovation. But we see programs being cut as it relates to technology, regional technology and education programs, as well as vocational education, as well as other kinds of tech prep education, those kinds of things. And then we see being proposed for cuts the Advanced Technology Program, which, frankly, has been a wonderful partnership in Michigan between the universities, the big three auto makers, other manufacturers, to increase our applied technologies in terms of research and being able to raise that level of innovation that we all know that we need to compete.

So I am very concerned about the choices being made here that will undercut our ability to, in fact, invest in education and innovation in jobs. Then I would add just one other thing on jobs, and that is I would commend-I don't usually commend a program on television, but Lou Dobbs has been doing a wonderful on-going series on exporting of American jobs, "Exporting of America," I believe, is what he calls it, in which he really, I believe, the other night got into the whole question of how we look at productivity now. Part of the reason that productivity numbers look as high as they are is because we're taking out of the equation the number of jobs that are being outsourced overseas, so that the numbers change. And there's some very interesting things that I got-came forward in this program.

So I'm more speaking, I guess, Mr. Chairman, than I am asking questions, except to say I'm very concerned about the choices being made here in terms of education innovation, the choices in terms of keeping us safe in the cuts in first responders and bioterrorism. And I would ask simply a question as we look at these things. We all understand that Social Security and Medicare is being included in the numbers that we see in terms of the deficit, correct?

MR. BOLTEN: Correct.

SEN. STABENOW: Unified budget. Would you also agree with a chart that our ranking member has shown us in the past regarding borrowing, the top 10 countries holding our national debt, China, Japan. By the way, China's where our jobs are going, is one of the places, and they're manipulating their currency, which makes it worse-Japan, China, United Kingdom and Hong Kong, Germany, OPEC and so on. Would you agree with the fact that we are borrowing, that we are taking Social Security and Medicare money, and then on top of that we're borrowing from other countries in order to take care of this debt at this time?

MR. BOLTEN: Well, it's certainly true that a fair amount of the U.S. debt is held overseas, yes, and that's one reason why it's especially important that we show ourselves to be fiscal responsible --

SEN. STABENOW: Absolutely.

MR. BOLTEN: -- fiscally responsible today because we need to be assuring not only our own markets but international markets as well.

SEN. STABENOW: Absolutely. So when we look at this budget and the fact that you could eliminate all education funding and homeland security and technology innovation and law enforcement and everything and not equal the deficit this year, and you look at the fact that we're taking all of Social Security and Medicare and borrowing from China and Japan, Mr. Chairman, what I find of great concern is that that money is not going back into paying our bills, that for the most part that has gone as a conscious choice to give tax cuts that you want to extend to people who are doing very, very well in our country.

So we're taking money from Social Security and Medicare, borrowing from China and Japan and other countries, giving it to millionaires in our country and then not being able to pay our debt on the war, not being able to invest in education innovation. These are choices that are being made right now in this budget and in the past several budgets, and I disagree with those choices. I believe that this budget is about values and priorities and I don't believe that right now this budget reflects the right priorities.

Thank you.

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