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Public Statements

The Budget

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. I thank the gentlewoman from Tennessee for yielding, and I also very much thank her for organizing this Special Order, to be able to have the opportunity to come to the floor tonight.

As we have said, the bottom line up front, how much we take in and how much we spend. The American public must sit home and wat ch this and read the papers and live in a frustrated state, realizing that so much of their hard-earned money comes to Washington, and what we have here is a Byzantine system of archaic rules and what-have-you wrapped around policy statements, what-have-you, that the American public doesn't oftentimes get a clear picture to understand just where their dollars go.

And that's what the purpose is here tonight and in subsequent weeks I believe as well, to try to remove that shroud of mystery behind the syst em that we have here, to shine the light of day, as we are oftentimes saying, on the budgetary process, to give the American public a clear picture of exactly where their dollars go to. And we do this with not just an educational point in mind or a goal but to also allow the American public and the voter and the taxpayer to be in a better posture to decide among themselves just where they want their Government to go in this election and future elections and of course over their lifetime as well.

It was just this past week when we were back at home in the district work period and I was able to sit at my dining room table. Around this time of year, April 15 is coming up, tax time, and my wife said now is the time to start getting the paperwork out, Scott, and begin to look at it and getting all the stuff you need to send to the accountant to do our taxes, because I had given up, quite candidly, years ago trying to figure out myself, as I imagine most Members of Congress have, to try to figure out the Byzant ine Tax Code that we have created for the American public as well.

So I began the process of collecting all my documents. And, of course, some of those are some of the basic ones, like your W-2 to show you how much you've earned over the last 12 months, over the last year. And then there's one of those little boxes, I think box 8 or 9 on there, that also begins to show you just how much money has been taken out of your paycheck week after week. You don't see it so much, especially nowadays because so many people have direct deposit and it goes right into their checking account or bank account. You don't see how much is actually taken out.

But at the end of the year you sure do. At the end of the year you get that W-2 and you look at that box, and I say, oh, my gosh, that's how much money. In payroll taxes and income taxes, you put them out all together, and it's in the five digits for a lot of middle-class Americans.

I come from the great State of New Jersey where middle-class America l ives and works hard to make a paycheck and pay their bills. They would be astounded if they looked at their W-2s, as I did and maybe you should as well, to see how much taxes are taken out and sent down here to Washington.

The Government took in $21,992, almost $22,000, in household taxes. Now, mind you, those $22,000 are all household taxes. I believe that also includes payroll taxes alike. So your income taxes and payroll taxes, $22,000. The government spends $24,000 per household. So that's very ea sy math, and it's basically telling us that we are engaged in deficit spending. But look at that number: $22,000 taken out of the average middle-class American's paycheck.

When the average household income in some parts of the country is around 40-some-odd-thousand dollars, half of that money, figuratively speaking, is going in taxes. I know it doesn't come out of that tax rate for that particular family, but that's enough for some Americans to live on entirely in certain parts of this country with a li ttle bit of assistance on the side. And that's how much is being paid per household in U.S. taxes.

For some of us, we think that's just too much. The numbers have been projected with a little bit of varying degree of certainty on this, but on average the American household, the American family, a middle-class American works starting on January 1, just a month or so ago, and works all the way to sometime in mid-May just to pay their Federal taxes, State and local taxes as well. And then if you want to ad d onto that all the burden and the costs of all the Federal regulations and everything that also is a burden on us as well, you have to work almost all the way until sometime in the summertime, the beginning of July. So think about that. You're working almost the entire half of the year just to pay your taxes and the burden of the Federal, State, and local Governments.

And where do those dollars go? Well, that's something that we're talking about here. On average, first of all, the burden falls around 1 8.3 percent of GDP. What does that mean? The historical average of all the revenue coming into the Federal Government from the 1960s all the way up until the present time varies up and down, some years more, some years less. But on average as a percentage of GDP, it's around 18.3 percent.

Now, what this means is that at certain times the tax rates and the burden on the American family is greater than others; sometimes it's less than others. But we're here to point out where those dollars go and what can we do to make sure that that tax burden does not continue to creep up higher and higher and higher so that the American family sees even more of their tax dollars go to that level and to purposes that they can only fathom a guess at.

If you have listened to the debate on this floor in past times, you've heard talk about earmarks and waste, fraud, and abuse. Earmarks are part of the problem, but they are only a small, small percentage of where our tax dollars go. The gentleman who was just speaking befo re spoke a little bit about the entitlements, Medicare and Medicaid, a much larger percentage. Let me fall someplace in between. As I sat there at my dining room table looking at the double-digit numbers as far as what my family has to pay in Federal taxes, I realize, as most Americans do, that we have an obligation to pay taxes into our Federal Government to provide for such things as national defense and homeland security, and we don't begrudge the Federal Government for any of those things. But as I also sat back, being a Member of Congress, knowing about the waste, fraud, and abuse and the unnecessary expenditures, that's when I and middle-class America begin to be concerned.

For example, nobody has to think back too far about all the dollars that we spent mistakenly in the area of Hurricane Katrina and the waste in portions of that spending. I had folks sitting in my office who did independent investigations on Katrina to see where those dollars were going to. Granted, there was a lot of necessary co st down there. But the waste, fraud, and abuse down there is telling. Fraud related to Hurricane Katrina spending is estimated to top $2 billion. One of

the areas that the investigators who spoke to me were talking about was the debit cards, debit cards that were issued repeatedly to the same people. That means over and over again, even though they should hav e applied and qualified for one, in some cases debit cards and checks were being sent out to people regardless of need. In other cases, cards being sent out to people even though they did not live in the area, to be used for all sorts of things, from a Caribbean vacation to NFL tickets and so on and so forth.

Likewise, auditors discovered that 900,000 of the 2.5 million recipients of emergency Katrina assistance provided false or duplicate names, addresses, and Social Security numbers. And the interesti ng thing there, and I will make this last point on Katrina, is that even though the fraud investigators found out about this and they told FEMA about it, FEMA continued to issue those cards.

The other side of the aisle sometimes makes the case with regard to corporate welfare, and I agree with them. The Federal Government spends too much of wasteful money with regard to corporate welfare as well. According to some statistics, Washington spends $60 billion annually on corporate welfare versus $43 billion on homeland security. So note that we are spending more money on corporate welfare to some of the largest corporations in this country and the world than we are on homeland security. Likewise on corporate welfare, the Advanced Technology Program, which sounds like an admirable program, spends $150 million annually subsidizing private businesses, and 40 percent of that money goes to Fortune 500 companies.

So as middle-class America sits at home saying, where are my tax dollars going, that's some of the places where it's going.

I will yield back and maybe speak again in a moment on some other points. But let me just close on this: I have the honor and privilege of serving on the Budget Committee, the committee in which we have the opportunity to sit back and look at the entire Federal budget, the big picture overview, and I have had the opportunity to do this now for 5 years. And during that time, many of these examples come before us; and during that time we have, let's call it, partisan differences f rom the other side of the aisle and ours on what we should be doing about it.

But mind you, in the 5 years that I have served on this committee, the 5 years that I have served in this House, not one time do I recall anyone from the other side of the aisle suggesting that the solution to taking the burden off middle-class America is to reduce their tax rate and to do so by actually reducing tax expenditures. On the contrary, everything I have seen over the past 5 years, and as has been pointed out by the gentleman from California right now, has been in the opposite direction, an increase in Federal spending and, as we have seen now with the mother of all tax increases, an increase of the tax burden on middle-class America as well.

Those are the points that I believe the American public has got to understand. As they pay their taxes April 15, where are their tax dollars going? It's going to, if the other side has its way, increased Federal spending on programs like these and other programs as well and a n increased burden on middle-class America, things that those on this side of the aisle vehemently oppose and are doing our best to rein in.

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