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Proposing a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ENGEL. I thank my friend from New York.

I rise in strong opposition to this piece of legislation.

With all due respect, I always enjoy listening to my Republican friends lecture us about fiscal responsibility. May I remind them that when Bill Clinton left office we had record surpluses, and in 8 years of George Bush, record deficits. And may I remind my Republican friends that for 6 of those 8 years, during the Bush years, Republicans controlled both Houses of the Congress. So if we were going to do the right thing and attempt to balance our budget, we could have done so then. But what did we do then? We fought two wars on the credit card; we had tax cuts for the wealthy, which we're now paying for in terms of our deficits now; a prescription drug program unpaid for. And so it seems to me that if we have the resolve to do it--you know, I love people who have newfound religion, but when they controlled the place, we went from massive surpluses to massive deficits.

Now, this Congress needs to work with the President in passing a jobs bill. This Congress should be passing a robust transportation bill. This Congress should get out of the business of attacking our labor, attacking seniors, and attacking women, and do what the American people want us to do: Put people back to work.

A balanced budget amendment will ultimately lead to either draconian cuts in the social safety net for some of our Nation's most cherished programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, or significant tax hikes on the Nation's middle class. This is nothing more than a gimmick to garner headlines while avoiding the tough decisions that the people have asked us to make. You know, there may be times in the future when we need to run a surplus, there may be times when we need to run a deficit to stimulate the economy. This amendment handcuffs us and puts us in a straitjacket where we have nowhere to move.

I care and my constituents care very much about preserving Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. I think that if we're going to get our budget to balance, it's not only cuts in programs that we need, although my friends on the other side of the aisle fret about defense cuts. We need to cut spending, yes. We also need to raise taxes on those who can most afford to do it, the 1 percent. I think that's something we should consider.

So while we think this is one size fits all, and we can all go home and say, well, we tried to save the Republic, what I think this does is handcuff us for generations to come, makes it impossible for us to stimulate the economy, and makes it impossible for us to continue those social service programs that the American people have come to rely on--Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. I think we need to meet in a sensible center, not have something like this that's draconian.

Let me finally say, what's truly absurd is that we require only a simple majority to send our men and women in uniform into harm's way, and yet the Republican majority would require a supermajority to raise the Nation's debt ceiling. We all saw how close our economy came to disaster with only a simple majority vote to raise the debt ceiling the last time.

So I would say to my colleagues, vote ``no.'' Let's do the job that we were elected to do. Let's make the tough choices. We don't need a balanced budget amendment.


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