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Public Statements

Concurrent Resolution on the Budget, Fiscal Year 2014

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COONS. Mr. President, at its heart a budget is a statement of values. Last week I joined with my colleagues on the Budget Committee to pass a budget resolution firmly rooted in our values.

With appreciation to the chairmanship of Chairman Patty Murray, the budget we passed reduces our deficit and stabilizes our debt in a balanced, responsible way, relying on an equal mix of spending cuts and cuts to spending through the Tax Code, which is a balance of cuts and increased revenue through tax reform.

This first chart briefly shows we have made significant progress toward the Simpson-Bowles goal of $4 trillion in reduced Federal spending over the next 10 years. Our budget relies on these two next pieces, reducing loopholes, tax expenditures, and spending cuts. This is the balance I believe the American people called for in the last election.

Our budget promotes economic growth and job creation in the short term, makes critical investments in our competitiveness for the long term. It does all of this while putting a circle of protection around the most vulnerable in our society: children, low-income seniors, and the disabled.

Unfortunately, in my view the budget resolution passed by the House Budget Committee, led by Chairman Ryan, does not reflect these same values or this same balance. It is wildly unbalanced, relying only on spending cuts in order to achieve claims of enormous savings.

Yet when you look closer--and we will turn to this in more detail later in this colloquy--the Ryan budget actually relies on a whole series of deceptive gimmicks, impossible arithmetic, and unrealistic assumptions. The only way to make the Ryan budget add up is to increase our deficit or to raise taxes on the middle class by as much as $3,000 a year.

In my view, the House Republican budget either fails the test of deficit reduction or fails the test of basic fairness. It also, I believe, fails the test of economic growth and would put us on a fast track to austerity.

Let me turn now, if I might, to my friend and colleague from the State of Maryland to ask for his further comments on the contrast between the budget we have adopted here in the Senate and the budget offered over in the House.


Mr. COONS. I thank the Senator for his comments and for his leadership in the Budget Committee and his hard work in the Chamber over many years.

The budget we are bringing forward to this floor today is one that invests in growing the American economy; that gives us a real path forward toward out-educating, out-innovating, and out-building our competitors globally; and one that is focused on job creation but also on deficit reduction in a responsible and balanced way. In my view, the Ryan Republican budget, if adopted, would give us a cure worse than the disease.

To talk about the budget's impact on America's treasured entitlement programs and the promises we have made to our veterans and our seniors, I am grateful to turn to my friend and colleague, Senator Boxer of California, who has joined us.


Mr. COONS. I thank my good friend from California and the other members of the Budget Committee who have worked so hard to pull together this proposal, this package, this budget resolution that comes to the Senate floor today.

I think this is a great week for the Congress. We are at last, in stark contrast, presenting to the people of the United States a budget path forward adopted by the Republican-led House and a budget path forward adopted by the Democrat-led Budget Committee. Hopefully, this will not just be debated but adopted in this Chamber this week.

Let me briefly summarize the main points made by my colleagues. First, as the Senator from California emphasized, one of the core elements of the Ryan budget plan that gives us real pause and concern is that it doesn't keep our promises to our seniors, to our veterans, and to our most vulnerable populations.

It block grants Medicaid, it repeals the health care law's expansion of Medicaid, it repeals the health care's law exchange subsidies, and, more important than anything else, it turns Medicare into a voucher program. These are fundamental changes.

When Chairman Murray began our deliberations as a budget committee, she laid out three core values she wanted us to keep in mind; that our budget resolution should, first, help grow the economy and help the private sector create jobs, and I believe it does that by prioritizing critical investments in infrastructure, in education, and in R&D; second, to keep our promises to our seniors, to our veterans, to those in our country to whom we have made commitments over decades--something I would add, that we also continue to respect and embrace a circle of protection for the most vulnerable in our society; and last, that we make credible progress toward reducing our deficit and debt but in a sustainable way that allows us to continue to grow our economy from the middle out.

Let me turn for a few minutes to some criticisms or challenges that many of us on the Democratic side of the Senate have of the Ryan Republican budget. Briefly, it relies on outlandishly rosy assumptions about revenue and spending levels. It counts $716 billion in Medicare savings from the very health care reform law it says is repealed, and that tension within the Ryan budget is irresolvable.

Third, $810 billion in Medicaid savings are just cost-shifted onto the State governments. As we know, States all across this country are struggling to balance their budgets today. These costs are not trimmed. They are simply shifted from the Federal Government onto the States.

Fourth, Ryan relies on $800 billion in undefined savings in mandatory programs, significant cuts that would have dramatic and negative impacts on our country and on our economy. There is $800 billion in cuts that he doesn't specify out of his total $962 billion in overall savings to so-called other mandatory spending.

Last, Ryan claims his tax cuts for the wealthy--which cost more than $4.5 trillion--wouldn't add to the deficit. To give some visual sense of the likely impact, it is anything but balanced. While Ryan claims his budget plan would balance the budget--and I challenge that assumption, given all these different mathematical and programmatic challenges--it is also doing it in a way that is fundamentally unbalanced and that doesn't respect our core values. To double down on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, to give an additional tax break of more than one-quarter million dollars a year to the very wealthiest Americans while shifting that tax burden onto the middle class doesn't make sense. It doesn't meet the test of fairness and it doesn't meet the test of sustaining economic growth in a balanced way.

Last year, the independent Tax Policy Center analyzed the Ryan rate reduction, the proposal to reduce rates on the wealthiest Americans to 25 percent, and estimated that unless those costs were offset with corresponding tax hikes, it would add $4.5 trillion to our deficit.

So which one is it? Does the plan shift tax burden to middle-class Americans as was described in some detail by my colleagues or does it actually add to the deficit and fail the test of balance?

Let me move then to the question of revenue and how our budget package achieves some contribution to balance going forward. One of the things that I think is important for folks watching the difference between these two plans to grasp is that both plans make significant changes to what my colleague from Maryland talked about as spending through the Tax Code.

We spend almost as much as we receive in revenue through a Tax Code that, in the many years since 1986, has become riddled with loopholes, exemptions, and special treatments, particularly for the wealthiest and best connected. Both plans--the Ryan plan in the House and the Democratic plan in the Senate--both close tax loopholes. Out of an estimated $14 trillion in these tax expenditures over the next decade, the Ryan plan actually cuts $5.7 trillion. The Democratic plan that we are moving forward today only cuts 7 percent of these tax expenditures. That is how I think we can credibly say it would not cut into those tax expenditures relied on by the middle class--things such as the home mortgage deduction, the deduction for employer-provided health care, the deduction for charitable contributions. This 7-percent reduction in tax expenditures is much more modest than the significant amount of revenue raised in the Republican plan.

The more important contrast, though, is to what end. What do we do with these two significant differences in revenue raised through closing tax loopholes? As I said a few minutes ago, the Ryan plan would dedicate it almost exclusively to reducing tax rates for corporations and the wealthiest Americans while, in our balanced plan, this is half of the total contributions we make toward deficit reduction.

Let me move toward a close with a few conclusory comments. There are reasons to say the House Republican plan makes cuts that will grind our economy to a halt, makes cuts that are unduly focused on just those areas that we think deserve investment: research and development, infrastructure, education, public health. In my view, it wipes out the chance for us to continue to expand high-tech manufacturing to ensure that we have a more competitive economy, to cure life-threatening diseases, and to bring America's economy fully back to health. It relies on budget gimmicks and on faulty assumptions. In my view, the plan we move forward today is a more balanced and responsible path forward to keeping our promises to seniors and veterans, to protecting the most vulnerable in our society, to dealing with our deficit and debt, and to moving this country forward.

The future that our budget plan would move us toward is the kind I envision for my kids, for my State, and for our country--one where we can grow our economy but continue to respect our most basic values.

Even though the Ryan plan, in my view, fails a basic test of values, it also fails a basic test of balance. We have a budget that this body will take up and consider today and I hope we will pass. As it passed out of committee with the strong leadership of Chairman Murray, I am confident it will pass out of this Chamber today. From that passage, it is my hope that people of the United States can see us begin to work together on a balanced bipartisan plan that will responsibly deal with our deficit and debt, grow our economy but continue to respect our most fundamental values.


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