Rep. Frank Wolf today submitted the following statement to the Congressional Record in support of the FY14 budget proposal offered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan on behalf of the House Republican Conference:
Mr. Chair, I will vote today for H. Con. Res. 25, authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, because we have a duty to address our nation's looming fiscal obligations. As I have repeatedly said, we cannot continue to kick the proverbial can down the road.
I want to be clear: I would prefer to vote for a bipartisan budget modeled off the Simpson-Bowles plan. It could be improved by incorporating changes in existing law and other proposals, such as the discussions between the president and Speaker Boehner, and plans offered by Alice Rivlin and Pete Domenici, and Rep. Ryan and Sen. Wyden. Like the Ryan plan before us today, I do not agree with every line in the Simpson-Bowles plan. However, I continue to believe that a budget based on this model is the only plan that can put our nation on a sustainable, long-term path to replace sequestration and reform our nation's entitlement programs so they will exist for future generations.
For more than six years, I have forcefully spoken out about the dire need to get our nation's fiscal house in order. I have made thoughtful and serious recommendations for a way forward and have voted for substantial legislation to get our nation back on solid financial footing.
When I came to the floor to vote for last year's budget, we were $15.5 trillion in debt. Today, we are over $16.7 trillion in debt. It's projected to grow to $26 trillion in 10 years -- that's a $10 trillion increase. Our unfunded obligations and liabilities are now projected to be over $71 trillion. We've just had our fourth straight year of trillion dollar deficits. Four straight years.
And while this year's deficit is projected to be about $845 billion, that's still unsustainable. The reduction in the deficit can be mainly traced to new tax revenues from the "fiscal cliff" deal versus new spending restraint. I opposed this measure because it failed to seriously address government spending -- in fact, it contained new spending -- and did not include reforms to strengthen and secure entitlements. While the measure addressed many immediate issues, its adoption is making it more difficult to make needed, comprehensive reforms to our long-term obligations and liabilities and to stop sequestration.
The amount of debt we owe is staggering. Consider that this past August, the Congressional Budget Office predicted we'd be spending $570 billion on interest payments to service the debt in 2022. However, the February picture is shocking: $795 billion to serve the debt in 2022. Let me repeat -- in August, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that we would be spending $570 billion to service the debt in 10 years. Their updated February numbers predict we will be sending $795 billion out the door in 2022 to service the debt, a $225 billion increase within six months. In six months, the projections have changed to reflect that the Congressional Budget Office thinks we will be spending close to $11 billion in interest payments per week to more than $15 billion per week. Fifteen billion dollars each week. And they predict that in 2023, 10 years from now, we will be sending $857 billion out the door. That's roughly $16.5 billion dollars per week.
What accounts for these changes? We have been borrowing at historically low levels. I have repeatedly noted my concerns that interest rates on our debt load could increase, and the Congressional Budget Office predictions are starting to reflect this.
That is money that could be invested in our national defense, repairing our roads and bridges or life-saving cancer research.
Notably, this debt is increasingly held by foreign countries. In 1970, 6 percent of debt held by the public was in foreign hands. In 1990, it was 19 percent. But today, 48 percent of our publically held debt is in foreign hands.
Just who are our bankers? Nations such as China, which is spying on us, where human rights are an afterthought, and Catholic bishops, Protestant ministers and Tibetan monks are jailed for practicing their faith, and oil-exporting countries such as Saudi Arabia, which funded the radical madrasahs on the Afghan-Pakistan border resulting in the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Quite frankly, this borrowing is unsustainable, dangerous and irresponsible.
And what does this mean for individual Americans? Chairman Ryan points out that a 1 percent increase in the interest rates would mean an extra $400 per year in interest payments for the average family.
That is why I have been urging the president and Congress to make the hard choices to ensure a better future for our children and grandchildren.
That is why I have been working with my colleagues, through my assignment as chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the departments of Commerce and Justice, to cut $95 billion in federal spending during fiscal years 2010, 2011 and 2012, including more than $11.5 billion from my subcommittee alone.
That is why I repeatedly voted against the payroll tax holiday, which stole directly from the Social Security Trust Fund. The 2012 extension took $93 billion and brought us nearly a month closer to the statutory debt limit. With that one vote, we practically wiped out all the $95 billion in savings from the cuts enacted during the last Congress.
That is why I also do not and never will sign pledges to lobbyists. My loyalty is to the Constitution, to the people of Virginia's 10th District, and my family.
I have been speaking out about the need to get our nation's fiscal house in order since President George W. Bush was in office.
In 2006, I introduced legislation to create an independent, bipartisan commission to address our debt and deficit. I called it the SAFE Commission, short for Securing America's Future Economy. It said everything should be on the table for discussion: all entitlement spending, all domestic discretionary spending, including defense spending, and tax reform, particularly changes to make the tax code more simple and fair and to end the practice of tax earmarks that costs hundreds of billions of dollars. Congress would be required to vote up or down on the commission's recommendations, just as was done in the base closing process.
I was glad to have been joined in this effort by my good friend and colleague Jim Cooper of Tennessee. Our legislation served as the blueprint for the president's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly referred to as the Simpson-Bowles Commission.
Last year, I spoke in support of and voted for a full substitute amendment, offered by Mr. Cooper and former Representative LaTourette, to the budget that was based on the commission's recommendations. While I was disappointed that this amendment did not pass, I still believe a plan based on this model is the most appropriate and realistic path forward, and I am committed to finding bipartisan solutions.
Last month, I offered a bipartisan amendment to H.R. 444, the Require a PLAN Act, that would require the president to incorporate the Simpson-Bowles recommendations into his budget submission to Congress. This amendment received 75 bipartisan votes.
The Simpson-Bowles Commission produced a credible plan that gained the support of a bipartisan majority of the commission's 18 members. Called "The Moment of Truth," the commission's report made clear that eliminating the debt and deficit will not be easy and that any reform must begin with entitlements. Mandatory and discretionary spending also has to be addressed, as well other "sacred cows," including tax reform and defense spending.
Had just three more members of the Simpson-Bowles Commission supported the recommendations, this plan likely would have passed the Congress and be law today. I was disappointed that the president, and his administration, walked away from the commission. The president failed the country. And the Congress has also failed. This town is dysfunctional. If the plan had advanced, we would already be on our way in getting our nation's fiscal house in order.
We have to find a solution to this debt crisis. Failure is not an option.
Congress and the president must be willing to support a plan that breaks loose from the special interests that are holding Washington by the throat and return confidence to the country.
Congress and the president also need to be honest with the American people and explain that we cannot solve our nation's financial crisis by just cutting waste, fraud and abuse within discretionary accounts. The real runaway spending is occurring in our out-of-control entitlement costs and the hundreds of billions of dollars in annual tax earmarks. Until we reach an agreement that addresses these two drivers of our deficit and debts, we cannot right our fiscal ship of state.
Absent a bipartisan budget, I vote for the Ryan budget today because it is a credible path forward, if imperfect.
Like last year's proposal, this budget blueprint calls for significant reductions in discretionary spending, for reduced tax rates and for the repeal of the costly health care reform law.
Further, it proposes a balanced budget in the next 10 years. I have consistently voted for a balanced budget amendment to the constitution every time the measure has come before the House -- in 1982, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995 and, more recently, in 2011.
The Ryan plan also points out that we can no longer ignore the trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities that consume our budget. There may be disagreement on the significant changes in Medicare and Medicaid entitlement programs that he proposes, and while his plan is again silent on changes needed to reform Social Security entitlements, it does recognize that need. Mr. Ryan continues to pull back the curtain on the mandatory spending "elephant in the room," which we can no longer ignore.
I do not agree with everything in this proposal, and will work to improve future legislation that may be considered as a result of its adoption. For example, I regret that this proposal does not offer more on ways to address Social Security and tax reform.
I am also troubled that this resolution unfairly targets the federal workforce. While there are many federal employees in the capital region, it is worth noting that more than 85 percent of the workforce is outside of Washington.
It is also worth noting that more than 65 percent of all federal employees work in agencies that support our national defense capabilities as we continue to fight the War on Terror. The first American killed in Afghanistan, Mike Spann, was a CIA agent and a constituent from my congressional district. CIA, FBI, DEA agents, and State Department employees are serving side-by-side with our military in the fight against the Taliban.
Let's also not forget the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who are working to stop the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs across our borders.
Or the medical researchers at NIH working to develop cures for cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and autism.
Or the VA doctors and nurses treating veterans from World War II to present day.
Or the FDA inspectors working to stop a salmonella outbreak. These are all federal employees.
Mr. Chair, enough is enough. It is simply wrong to claim, as the Ryan budget erroneously continues to do, that these public servants "have been immune from the effects of the recession."
This budget also could be improved by providing for the needs of the most vulnerable in our society. As the Congress deals with the budget, we must always do so in a way that does not neglect the needs of the poor. Scripture (Proverbs 19:17) tells us, "He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord." And in the New Testament Jesus talks a lot about the poor. Matthew 25 says that if we ignore the poor and hungry, it is the same as ignoring him. But this budget resolution is an outline for future action, not an enacting piece of legislation that carries the weight of law.
The budget also seeks to shore up our defense capabilities by finding alternative savings to prevent the across-the-board cuts (sequestration) resulting from the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction's bipartisan failure of leadership, which, regretfully, represents the larger failure of the President and both political parties.
For the first time in four years, the Senate has proposed a budget resolution. While I do not agree with their proposal, and therefore voted "no" on the Mulvaney amendment to demonstrate my opposition to it, it is good for our country that the Senate has finally put forth a written document. Its voice in this debate is needed. I am disappointed that the president has failed to even offer his own budget. This abdication of responsibility has not been seen since the Harding Administration.
This budget recognizes that our fiscal challenges must be dealt with in a timely manner. It is a first step in the process. This is a blueprint that can be molded and changed, but it is a blueprint that committees will use to get to work. I hope this outline will spur the authorizing committees to move forward on comprehensive tax and entitlement reform legislation.
The Appropriations Committee has already led the way in enacting legislation cutting discretionary spending. Only 16 percent of federal spending this year will be non-defense discretionary. Two thirds of our spending is on autopilot, and reforms are urgently needed. We must reform our nation's spending habits to ensure America has the ability to nimbly respond to crises and is able to make the investments needed to spur private growth and American ingenuity.
We, as elected representatives, have a duty to lead. We have a duty to put forth ideas within the public sphere and engage in debate. I'm ready to make the tough choices today. I vote for the Ryan budget so that the House can get to work.