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The 30 Something Working Group

Location: Washington, DC

THE 30 SOMETHING WORKING GROUP -- (House of Representatives - November 14, 2007)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 18, 2007, the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Altmire) is recognized for one-half the time until midnight as the designee of the majority leader.

Mr. ALTMIRE. Mr. Speaker, thank you.

We are here tonight with part of the 30 Something Working Group, and we are going to talk about what this House has been doing this week. We are here, it's late into the evening, and we have been working throughout the day on a variety of issues, and we are going to be at work tomorrow. I wanted to talk with my colleagues tonight. And we are going to have a full house. We are going to be joined by Mr. Murphy from Connecticut, Mr. Meek from Florida, Ms. Wasserman Schultz from Florida, and Mr. Ryan from Ohio. We are going to have a discussion about some of the things that this House has been doing.

We took several significant votes this week, including the vote that was just discussed on Iraq. And we are going to discuss the policy in Iraq and the vote that we took today.

I wanted to start by talking about the President's veto earlier in the week of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill. Now, the President has found his veto pen, something that on appropriations bills he had not used until this Congress. And I think it's instructive to begin this debate by reminding my colleagues, as if they needed reminding, that we are talking about an administration that took office after 4 consecutive years of record surpluses, 4 consecutive years of budget surpluses, that were forecast to continue as far as the eye can see. In fact, the 10-year projection for budget surplus beginning in 2001 was more than $5 trillion of surplus over that 10-year period.

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Well, what have we seen instead of that? We've seen seven consecutive budget deficits in the 7 years of this administration, deficits that are forecast to continue as far as the eye can see. And instead of that $5 trillion in surplus, we've seen more than $3 trillion in deficits in just 7 years.

So, this administration that's now lecturing us on fiscal responsibility and vetoing our appropriations bills, criticizing us for spending, this administration saw more than $8 trillion flip from a projected $5 trillion surplus to $3 trillion in deficit and counting. So, that's the context of what we're talking about.

So, we sent to the President the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, which includes programs like low-income energy assistance, home heating, the LIHEAP program. Now, I don't think there's anyone in this country that has not been affected by the price of oil. And home heating is something in the Northeast where I'm from in Pennsylvania, and in Connecticut where Mr. Murphy is from, and in Ohio where Mr. Ryan is from, the price of home heating has continued to skyrocket. And we're going to get into some of the numbers, but that's one of the things that's in this bill. Well, I don't think that's excessive spending, to help people who would otherwise have their heat turned off.

We're talking about funding for community health centers. We're talking about funding for Head Start, a program for early childhood education. Is there anything more important in this country than early childhood education, making sure our children get off to a good start and begin their educational careers in a way that we're able to ensure that they get off and they're positioned to have the best start possible.

Now, what about medical research, the National Institutes of Health?

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That's what we're talking about in this bill, funding for medical research. Is there anyone in the country that thinks we shouldn't be spending money to find cures and treatments for debilitating diseases across the board? That's what this bill is. That's what the Labor-HHS-Education bill funds, and the President vetoed that bill. And we're going to have a vote in this House to override that veto, and it's going to be a very close vote. We were two votes shy of having a veto override majority when the bill passed the House the first time. Two votes. That's what stands between us and overriding the President's veto.

And I would remind my colleagues as well that we were able to override the President's veto just last week. This is not something that can't be done. We had a Water Resources Development Act that had not passed in 7 full years. It's supposed to be reauthorized every 2 years. Congress after Congress, in recent years, has been unable to pass that bill, so we passed it. And we faced a Presidential veto; the President vetoed it. We were able to override that veto overwhelmingly, 300-plus votes in the House; they got 79 in the other body. And what's in that bill? That's another bill that the President, and I outlined his record on fiscal responsibility and he wants to lecture us on spending, for infrastructure improvements in this country. Building levees in New Orleans, does that sound like pork? Building flood prevention infrastructure all across this country.

There were projects in that bill in almost every congressional district in the country to prevent flooding, to help the waterways infrastructure in a way that we're investing for the first time in 7 years in flood prevention infrastructure. So we overrode that veto overwhelmingly. We do have the opportunity to do it again on the Labor-HHS-Education bill. And we're going to talk more about that.

At this time, I want to yield to my colleague Mr. Murphy from Connecticut.


Mr. ALTMIRE. I wanted to mention one other issue that was in that bill. We talked about home heating assistance. We talked about health care for children, medical research. We talked about the Head Start program, but it's the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill. And one of the programs that's in that bill that the President thought was excessive spending was additional 200,000 slots for job training for dislocated workers. And I can tell you, coming from western Pennsylvania where we know about dislocated workers and the need for job training and people to readapt when companies move and with the loss of manufacturing jobs, those are critically important programs that the President considers to be excessive spending. That's what we're talking about with this bill. That's what type of spending we're talking about.

Mr. MURPHY of Connecticut. Mr. Altmire, if you would yield for a moment.

Mr. ALTMIRE. Yes, I would.

Mr. MURPHY of Connecticut. Really, when it comes down to it, the only thing that's different here is the party that's writing the budget. I mean, really, when you look at it over time, what's different about the last six

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budgets that this Congress passed that over time expanded Federal expenditures by 50 percent and the budget that we've passed, which simply reflects the fact that it costs a little bit more to heat your home if you're a senior, that it costs a little bit more to run a school than it did last year? What's different? I mean, the fact is is that it seems like it's just base partisan politics in the end, that all that really is different is that the Democrats are writing this budget this year and the Republicans were writing the last six budgets. And it is not a coincidence that over the last 6 years we saw nary a veto from this President while his party was in charge of the Congress, and now all of a sudden we have seen a flurry of vetoes on bills that reflect many of the same priorities, we think adjusted to make a little bit more sense for our communities, many of the same priorities that were reflected in the budgets for the last 6 years. And I think to a lot of us that came here to change the culture of this place, as much as we care about resetting our priorities and putting funding back into our communities, we also were sort of hoping that there was a little bit of a message sent in this election to change the partisan rancor that has really enveloped this place, and the President, by vetoing bills very similar to ones that he has signed in the past simply because a different party controls the House, I think does a disservice to the process and a disservice to the mandates that a lot of voters sent us here with, Mr. Altmire.

Mr. ALTMIRE. And the last thing for context, before I turn it over to Ms. Wasserman Schultz from Florida, you will remember, Mr. Murphy and I both being freshman, the excitement of that first week in Congress and the things that we did that first week when we were first sworn in at the beginning of 2007. Well, perhaps the most important thing that we did was return to pay-as-you-go budget scoring, which is very simple. It's the same thing that we all do in our own checkbooks at home and the same thing every business in America has to do. It says that you have to have money on one side of the ledger if you want to spend it on the other, pay-as-you-go. If you want to decrease revenue or you want to increase spending, you have to find a way to pay for it, an offset, you have to find an offset. And every spending bill and every authorization bill that we have passed out of this House this year, every single one of them has been compliant with pay-as-you-go. It has paid for itself; it's been budget neutral.

So, the context of this debate with the President about his willingness to veto these bills and saying it's excessive spending, the American people should be aware of the fact that that's in the context of our returning to pay-as-you-go budget scoring. That's what led to the record surpluses of the 1990s that I referred to earlier. And the failure of this Congress to renew pay-as-you-go budget scoring in 2002 is what led to the record deficits that we're mired in today.

So, when you hear about the vetoes of these spending bills, please keep in mind that we're talking about bills that are compliant with pay-as-you-go budget scoring, bills that are budget neutral and that have the appropriate offsets when there are spending increases.

I would yield at this time to my good friend, Ms. Wasserman Schultz from Florida.


Mr. ALTMIRE. That is a perfect segue for what I wanted to get into right now, and we are going to, I think, conclude on this topic because this is certainly the most important issue facing the country today is the war in Iraq. I think anybody would agree. What this House did today is, as the gentleman from Florida talked about, try to get a handle on this situation and try to put a plan in place where none exists today on what our mission is going to be in Iraq.

I was going to talk a little bit about what we did today in the House, what the bill said, and I will turn it over to Ms. Wasserman Schultz to go into a little bit more detail. H.R. 4156 requires the redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq to begin within 30 days of enactment with a target for completion of December 15, 2008. It requires transition in the mission of U.S. forces in Iraq from primarily combat to force protection and diplomatic protection, limited support to Iraqi security forces and targeted counterterrorism operations.

The bill prohibits deployment of any U.S. troops not fully equipped and trained. Is there anybody who can disagree with that? Waivable with a presidential national security certification. So it gives the President the ability to waive that requirement if he feels it is necessary. It extends to all U.S. Government agencies and personnel the limitations of the Army Field Manual on permissible interrogation techniques. That means no torture, something that this House has voted on in the past. It is in the Army manual today. It just says you have to abide by what is in the Army Field Manual as it is currently written. And finally, as we discussed, it provides $50 billion to meet the needs of the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan but defers the consideration of the remainder of the President's nearly $200 billion request.

So this is a responsible course of action. The House passed it today.

I will yield to the gentlewoman from Florida at this point to give her views on this issue.


Mr. ALTMIRE. Thanks to all my colleagues who participated tonight. Thanks, especially, Mr. Speaker for the time allotted to us. Please, to continue the discussion, anyone can go to and go to the 30-Something Working Group and we can continue this discussion by e-mail.

I thank the Speaker.


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