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Letter to Chairman Ryan and Ranking Member Van Hollen - New Mexico Priorities


Location: Washington, DC

Congressman Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico's Third District wrote to the House Budget Committee today in advance of the release of its Fiscal Year 2014 budget. In the letter, Luján called for investments in critical areas that are important to New Mexico and the nation, including education, the national labs and renewable energy, while taking steps to address the deep budget cuts from the sequester. Below is the text of the letter.

March 11, 2013

Hon. Paul Ryan Hon. Chris Van Hollen
Chairman Ranking Member
House Committee on the Budget House Committee on the Budget
207 Cannon House Office Building B-71 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515 Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Ryan and Ranking Member Van Hollen:

Thank you for your invitation to submit comments regarding the budget for fiscal year 2014. For the first time since I have taken office in 2009, this Congress has an opportunity to draft its budget without being in the midst of the financial crisis of 2008. Slowly but surely, a recovery shows signs of taking hold across the country. For the third consecutive year, real GDP rose in 2012 by 1.5 percent. Housing prices have finally stopped their free fall and actually rose 9.7% year-over-year in January, the largest gain since 2006. Just last week, the Department of Labor announced that our economy added 236,000 jobs as the unemployment rate dropped to 7.7%.

As the recovery strengthens, much work remains to maintain its momentum and protect our gains. My state of New Mexico continues to suffer from 6.7% unemployment, a rate that exceeds the state unemployment rate for the decade before the crisis. New Mexicans have given back much to our country, through the search for scientific knowledge at our national labs to the proud tradition of service in our nation's armed forces. When our county has needed us, New Mexicans have been there. The people that I have talked to in my travels around the state do not want and do not expect to be handed something for nothing. They want to work, to have a sense of purpose, to be able to provide for their families. But too often of late those opportunities have not been there for them. That is why I urge the members of this committee to come together with a focus on the concerns that are most pressing in the lives of the people we are honored to represent. With many issues needing our attention, let us not lose focus on the need to spur job creation and get our economy moving.

For the past two years, the House has devoted much attention towards the cause of deficit reduction, but at the expense of our current need to create new jobs and our long-term need to invest in education and innovation. House Republicans have conditioned the full faith and credit of the United States government upon the sequester's imposition of arbitrary budget cuts to even the most critical programs. Despite reports that the sequester could lead to the loss of 750,000 jobs and cut our economic growth by a third, the House has yet to pass a plan to prevent it this Congress and has not even publicly announced an intention to negotiate with the Senate or President Obama on a more balanced plan. Most alarmingly, the past two House budgets have asked seniors and the less fortunate to shoulder the largest burdens of deficit reduction, and House Republican leadership has asked that this be a prerequisite for ending the sequester as well.

As we all know, the nation's long-term budget deficit remains to be a concern. After a decade of raising inadequate tax revenue, fighting two of the longest wars in our history, and suffering the greatest financial crisis in almost 80 years, the nation's fiscal surplus rapidly deteriorated and the debt increased once again. As we look towards the future, there are troubling signs on the horizon--an aging population having to make do with an inefficient and expensive health care system, an economy struggling to provide opportunities for the long-term unemployed, and a resistance to making the investments we need to spur innovation and growth. For the past two years, this committee has attempted to respond to these issues with budget resolutions that avoid confronting them in favor of shifting responsibility onto seniors and low-income Americans. Instead of addressing the root causes that threaten to increase our health costs at an exponential rate, this committee has proposed benefit cuts to Medicare recipients that would make our system more expensive for everyone and weakened the support of Medicaid for low-income and disabled Americans. Instead of working to stabilize the economy and increase opportunities for unemployed workers and struggling businesses, this committee has proposed extreme and rapid cuts that sap our economy of its vitality and force the uncertainties of an unending series of "cliffs." Instead of taking advantage of historically low interest rates to rebuild America with new infrastructure and education resources, this committee has sought indiscriminate cuts to even our most vital programs in the name of deficit reduction.

As this committee prepares a budget resolution for the next fiscal year, I urge you to come together to reduce our current budget deficits in a balanced way that rejects benefit cuts to our crucial entitlement programs or budget cuts for programs that benefit the country in ways that far outweigh their deficit impact. A number of our colleagues in the House, including Ranking Member Van Hollen, have made proposals to do this, and I urge the committee to heed their advice to attain balanced deficit reductions and avoid the harmful job losses of the sequester. We must work towards a sustainable path for our federal budget, but we cannot force our seniors, veterans, military families, and least fortunate Americans to shoulder the largest share of the burdens of deficit reduction.

With the growing number of troops coming back from Afghanistan and those who have served in Iraq and past conflicts, it's important to deliver care and services to the individuals and families who have earned it. It is irresponsible to allow the sequester to threaten the quality of life for our military families while their spouses or parents are away from home to fight for our country. While much of the VA is exempt from the sequester, we must ensure that moving forward we fund the VA at adequate levels so that we can address the increasing number of troops coming home, while providing adequate care to veterans currently in the system.

The United States also must abide by its treaty responsibilities to the sovereign people of tribal nations. Under the sequester, tribes could lose almost $130 million, impacting areas such as human services, law enforcement, BIE schools, economic development and natural resources. Specifically, for the Indian Health Service, sequestration could result in about 3,000 fewer inpatient admissions and 804,000 fewer outpatient visits provided by IHS and Tribal hospitals and clinics. In addition, some key education programs could feel the impact of sequestration immediately. Many school districts qualifying for Impact Aid receive a high percentage of their overall funding from federal sources and use the money during the current school year. Sequestration would eliminate about $60 million for this program, which serves approximately 113,000 Native students. Many of these schools are counting on federal funds to meet the basic needs of students and to pay teacher salaries this spring, potentially forcing districts to make wrenching, mid-year adjustments. There are smarter and more balanced ways to achieve deficit reduction without placing this burden on the backs of those who need help, and tribal communities should not be disproportionally affected by budget cuts.

We must also look forward and invest in our nation's education system, which can mean a stronger America for generations to come. If our goal is a better economy--education is how we get there. As global competition in the development of advanced technologies increases, our country risks losing its preeminence in the global community for innovation in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering. As a Congressman from a minority-majority state, I well aware of the severe shortage of Hispanic and Native American students in science, mathematics and engineering fields. The continuing under-representation of Hispanic and Native American STEM students and the growing shortage of scientists, mathematicians and engineers require serious investment in the development of STEM education pipelines for minority communities. The higher education needs of our Native American and Hispanic students can be unique, and Tribal Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions provide vital educational opportunities for these under-represented communities. As you draft the next budget, I urge you to reverse the painful cuts to education programs that make it even more likely that New Mexicans from Tribal or minority communities or those who are living in poverty will drop out of school. These cuts to education funding are cuts to our nation's long-term future, and I urge you to hold them harmless from the sequester and future cuts.

We must protect research and development as these drive our long-term security and prosperity. In particular, our national laboratories possess unique and valuable capabilities and perform some of the most important research for the nation. The two national laboratories in my home state of New Mexico, Los Alamos and Sandia, also provide crucial national security expertise, including advanced technologies for cyber security. By directing investments towards the research and development projects done by the labs at Los Alamos and Sandia, we will reap enormous benefits down the line. The labs are working on new technologies that will make America safer, more energy-efficient, and environmentally sustainable We must invest in their research capabilities as a source of jobs today and of innovation for the future. In order to reap the full rewards of these research investments, we should fund technology maturation programs that encourage promising new technologies, often in partnership with private entities. Without this important step many promising technologies are left undeveloped.

Investments in clean energy are important to the future of our economy and the energy security of our nation. Over the past four years, the renewable energy sector has begun to expand and the cost of energy produced from renewable and clean sources has become more affordable. Despite what some critics say, the DoE's guaranteed loan program and other Federal governments programs have been successful in helping develop clean energy. In fact, the government has had a long and successful history of investing in research and development projects that spur new technologies -- the Internet being a prime example. We must continue investing in our energy future and investments in clean energy are no exception.

It is my hope that Congress passes a new Farm Bill with long term budget priorities. While we continue to operate under the 2008 Farm Bill, funding for Rural Development programs and drought insurance programs is crucial. Rural Development provides direct investments to help agricultural producers, small businesses, tribes and rural areas build local economies. In addition, many of our traditional agricultural producers in New Mexico, including acequia communities, have been impacted by drought and we must ensure that assistance is available for those who need it. During the past two years New Mexico's dairy industry has been hit hard by the flawed Dairy Product Price Support Program's pricing system. We can fix these issues by finally passing a Farm Bill similar to those passed by the U.S. Senate and the House Agriculture Committees during the 112th Congress and must not lose sight of the needs of our agricultural producers during the current budget process.

Finally, substance abuse is one of the most pressing public health concerns facing our nation. According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 22.6 million Americans aged 12 and older had abused illegal drugs over the past month. In New Mexico, our communities in particular know the impact of illicit drugs and overdose. For many years New Mexico has been among the states with the highest rates of substance abuse. A strategy to combat substance abuse must include a range of approaches including prevention, treatment, and law enforcement elements, and it cannot be done in a purely top-down approach. It will require all of us to work together to coordinate federal, state, county, and local government responses and this Committee must ensure that we have the resources for this important work. The impact of the sequester will already severely limit resources to families, communities, and organizations committed to tackling substance abuse through prevention and treatment--and additionally impacting the fight by hampering law enforcement's ability to pursue criminals who would illegally market prescription or illicit drugs. Our budget priorities must reflect our priorities for safe and healthy communities, which requires the resources to combat and treat substance abuse.

Thank you for your attention to these important issues as you craft the Fiscal Year 2014 budget. Investing in priorities that will create jobs and strengthen the middle class are critical to our efforts to build a sustainable economy and federal budget. I urge you to work to make these investments while seeking a balanced approach to deficit reduction.

Respectfully submitted,

Ben Ray Luján
Member of Congress

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