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Public Statements

Legislative Program

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HOYER. Every Republican President with whom I've served, Madam Speaker, every Republican President has increased the debt as a percentage of GDP higher than either Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. Bill Clinton was the lowest, 37 percent. This President is a little over 40 percent of GDP. It's just like saying the minimum wage now is $7.25, which is so much higher than it was in 1970--which is not the case. Now, as a dollar, a nominal figure, it's higher, and the gentleman knows that very well. He is my friend and I have great respect for him. But this bill is unfortunate. This amendment is--I won't characterize it as harshly as I feel about it.

We have to stop playing games. We have to be serious. We need to come together and adopt a big plan that's balanced, that can pass and will put this country on a fiscally sustainable path; and, in the process, we ought to pay our bills because we incurred them. We incurred them honestly for objectives that this House, this Senate, and the President of the United States signed for.


Mr. HOYER. I appreciate the fact that you're encouraged. Frankly, our side has not heard an encouraging word. In fact, we continue to hear discouraging words, as the song says.

I'm very hopeful we can bridge the gap that exists, which is about $100 billion, as the gentleman knows. The Senate marked $1.058 trillion, which of course was consistent with the Budget Control Act that we agreed upon, we voted on, and passed. The President signed the Budget Control Act, including that figure for the fiscal year '14 budget. The Ryan budget, as you know reflects a $966 billion 302 allocation; that is, general discretionary spending levels.

I'm wondering when you say you're encouraged, do you know whether there's been any progress toward trying to bridge that gap? Obviously, as a former appropriator, many times it's 50/50 you come to the middle, which would be about $1 trillion or a little more than that. I'm wondering whether or not the gentleman knows whether any progress has been made on that? And I yield to my friend.


Mr. HOYER. I thank the gentleman.

Just let me observe that on our side we think it would be useful if the American public had the opportunity to, in effect, see the discussions in a conference. I've been here long enough to remember when we had conferences on the Appropriations Committee. They were open to the public. They were reported on. We had discussions about the differences that existed, as one would expect, from people elected from different parts of the country and with different views. But we think it would be very helpful if those discussions were held, because the differences are pretty profound and pretty significant, that it would help the public to have a better understanding of the process.

In addition, as the gentleman knows, of course, there was some discussion about the President's coming down late with his budget. We should have been through the budget process by now so that the Appropriations Committee could proceed with its allocations to its 12 subcommittees.

In that context, I would ask the gentleman, does the gentleman have any idea when the appropriations bills might be marked up and brought to the floor? As you know, under regular order, for the most part, we have brought appropriations bills to the floor starting in mid-May or the last week in May so that we could get through that process in June and July and send those bills to the Senate so that we might have conferences and complete our work by October 1.

And I yield to my friend.


Mr. HOYER. Well, I appreciate that and I look forward to the consideration of the appropriations bills on the floor.

I want to say that for the most part you have followed open rules, which we did as well in 2007 until we just couldn't get the bills done in a timely fashion. Hopefully, we can do that, because I think that, again, it gives the public the opportunity to see the priorities of not only each Member but both sides moving forward. I think that's appropriate in a democracy. I appreciate the fact that the majority leader intends to bring those bills to the floor starting in June. I'm not sure whether we can finish all 12 in June, but perhaps finish those in July.

We did not bring, as the gentleman knows, the Labor and Health bill to the full committee in the last cycle, much less to the floor. That bill will be tough.

Chairman Rogers--I know the gentleman is on a committee that he believes is more important. He and I may differ in that perception. He's a member of the Ways and Means Committee, I was a former member of the Appropriations Committee. But, nonetheless, Mr. Rogers has made the observation, in terms of the dollars allocated in the Ryan budget for discretionary spending, both on the defense side and nondefense side:

I suspect there will be some who will be shocked. I don't think people yet understand how severe the numbers will be.

Those numbers refer to the $966 billion in discretionary spending, which will require deep cuts in almost every program on the national defense side and on the discretionary side.

So, the sooner we get to that, because I think it's going to be a difficult process, the better. And I appreciate your information with reference to the majority leader's intent to bring them to the floor.

Now, I also did not see on the schedule, Mr. Brady, anything that deals with the sequester. I do see the Affordable Care Act repeal on the floor next week, which has been, of course, on this floor some 33, 34, 35 times before, to repeal it. We're having another repeal vote coming up. I think honestly you believe, as I believe, that that bill is not going to go anywhere, other than perhaps through the House of Representatives, but, beyond that, it won't go anywhere.

However, the sequester continues to be an ongoing challenge to our country, to our government, and to our people. We dealt with it in a sort of surgical fashion dealing with the FAA, but we have not dealt with any of the other concerns. As the gentleman knows, I have concerns about the fact the sequester may result in 70,000 children not being on Head Start. They are only 3 or 4 years of age once.

The Social Security Administration may have to furlough payments, which will slow down payments of Social Security. There are 4 million fewer Meals on Wheels for seniors. There are 600,000 people who have been dropped off the Women, Infants, and Children program. There are 125,000 fewer HUD rental assistance vouchers for people who are homeless or who are struggling to keep a home. Unemployment insurance has been cut 11 percent for 2 million out-of-work Americans. We now have no safety net for them. The FDA will have 2,100 fewer food safety inspectors--that's down 18 percent--obviously, putting at risk our food safety; and we will furlough an equivalent to 1,000 fewer Federal agents, FBI--we know from the Boston Marathon bombings how critical the FBI was--and border security. One-third of combat air units have been grounded.

I mention all of those simply in the context of those consequences of the sequester. I see it's not on next week, and we have a week after that that we'll be in session. Does the gentleman have any information with reference to whether or not we will deal with trying to ameliorate these adverse consequences of sequester before we leave here for the Memorial Day break?

And I yield to my friend.


Mr. HOYER. I thank the gentleman for his comments; but I do want to observe that the President of the United States has offered a budget which eliminates the sequester and gets to a budget deficit reduction and fiscal sustainability in an alternative way which we think is much more positive.

I would also remind the gentleman that Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member of the Budget Committee, offered an alternative which gets rid of the sequester, which all sides agree is an irrational process in that it cuts the highest priority and lowest priority the same. The sequester, as the gentleman knows, was put in a bill to force action with the specific belief and premise that the sequester was so bad, so irrational, so lacking in common sense, so negative in its impact that it would never be adopted. Sadly, it was adopted.

I want to say also that the gentleman and a lot of his colleagues like to mention that this is the President's suggestion. With all due respect, Jack Lew brought it up with Mr. Reid, and everybody has read about that in Mr. Woodward's book. He brought it up, however--and the gentleman probably recalls this--days after sequester, as a policy, was included in the Cut, Cap, and Balance bill for which 229 Republicans voted for as a policy. I want to tell the gentleman just for his future information, on our side, we are opposed to the sequester. We want to see the sequester changed.

Mr. Van Hollen not only offered a budget, but he offered four amendments. Each time we considered the CR and other legislation, four times he offered an amendment to substitute the same savings so we would get to those budget deficit reductions to which the gentleman spoke, but would not do so in the irrational, across-the-board fashion that sequester requires.

So I want to make it clear, if there was any confusion on your side of the aisle, we are not for the sequester. I voted for the CR to keep the government open, but I voted against the CR, when it left this House, which had sequester in there. I, frankly, thought shutting down the government was even worse than the sequester, but I think the sequester is having a harmful effect, not only on government, but a harmful effect on our economy. I think it's a drip, drip, drip. It wasn't a ``shut the door.'' It wasn't black and white. It wasn't overnight, but it is a drip, drip, drip that is harming our economy.

I understand what the gentleman has told us, but I would hope that we would seriously consider trying to see if we could reach agreement either outside the context of the budget conference or inside the context of the budget conference that would give us an alternative which would be more rational, more positive, and more helpful to our economy.

The next subject is simply the debt ceiling. We just passed a bill on the prioritization. We unanimously opposed that on our side. We think that is not a good policy. Obviously, there is a disagreement on that. May 19 is the date that the debt ceiling extension expires.

Can the gentleman tell me whether there is any proposal to act in the near future other than on debt prioritization, which will have no chance in the Senate and is roundly opposed by many Republican economists, as the gentleman knows, and by the former economic adviser to the Bush administration, who said that it would not work, should not work? Can the gentleman tell me whether there is any alternative plan, before we leave here for the Memorial Day break, to give confidence to the economy and to creditors and to the American people that we will deal responsibly with the debt limit extension?

And I yield to my friend.


Mr. HOYER. I thank the gentleman. Of course, we did have a balanced budget, as you'll remember, for the last 4 years of the Clinton administration. Now, there was a Republican-controlled Congress; but in the next 4 years, there was a Republican-controlled Congress, a Republican-controlled Senate, and a Republican President, and we went deeply into debt.

We escalated the debt during the Bush administration by 87 percent of GDP more than this President has escalated the deficit. In nominal terms, as Mr. Camp observed before, the dollars are higher. That's true. It's because we are bigger, spending more money, making more money as a country. GDP is up.

During the Reagan administration, we increased the debt as a percentage of the national GDP by 186 percent; 55 percent under George Bush; 37 percent under Mr. Clinton; and some 40-plus percent under this President today.

So I think the gentleman and I agree that we need to get a handle on the debt and the deficit, but we disagree on how this happened. It happened because we didn't pay our bills, and we jettisoned PAYGO in 2003. As a practical matter, we jettisoned it in 2001.

Not paying for things is what creates debt, not buying. If I buy things and I pay for them, I don't have a debt. If I buy things and don't pay for them, I have a debt.

So it's not a question of what I buy, although clearly we need to restrain buying and we need to constrain spending, as I've said, all across the board--the gentleman has heard me--including entitlements, including discretionary defense and nondefense spending. But what we ought to do is manage our finances in a way that does not give pause to the American people or to the economy.

I want to just read for you a quote. Keith Hennessy was George Bush's National Economic Council director who disagrees with your proposition that this prioritization will in any way stabilize--I don't think the gentleman disagrees with me that that bill is not going to pass the Senate. Here's what Keith Hennessy said:

Payment prioritization doesn't stop payments; it just delays them. Then the aggrieved party sues the government and probably wins, and it turns into a bloody mess.

Tony Fratto, who was the spokesman on economic policy in the Bush administration said this:

Prioritization is impossible. Is the government really going to be in the position of withholding benefits, salaries, rent, contract payments, et cetera, in order to pay off Treasury bondholders?

We refer to this, of course, as the Pay China First bill. And China ought to be paid. We borrowed money from them; we ought to pay them.

Here's what he concludes of the prioritization bill:

That would be a political catastrophe.

I suggest it would be an economic catastrophe, as well, to say to our armed services personnel, We're not going to pay you, but we are going to pay China for our debts.

The fact of the matter is the United States is the most creditworthy Nation on Earth. We ought to pay all of our debts and not on a priority status. If we owe you as the United States of America, we're going to pay you. That's our proposition. We should not prioritize paying simply bondholders, but paying smaller contractors we are doing business with who offer us services and products and we don't pay them until after we pay our bondholders. We ought to pay everybody. That's what America is about.

So I would hope that we could revisit this because your debt prioritization is not going to pass. You know it's not going to pass. We need to get to a responsible way of dealing with the debt-limit extension.

Both parties, I will tell my friend, have demagogued on this issue. We demagogued on it when we had a Republican President; you've demagogued on it--not you personally. I cast no aspersions. But both sides have demagogued on it when the President was of the other party. It's a shame. It's not been good for our country.

Ronald Reagan said that Congress continues to run us up. And we ran us up so close last time that for the first time in history, the United States of America was downgraded by one of our rating agencies. I would hope the gentleman who serves on the Ways and Means Committee and I and others could work together so this doesn't happen again, that we make sure that the American people and that all of our creditors and people around the world know that the United States of America can and will handle its finances in a responsible fashion.

If the gentleman wants to say anything further, I'll yield back to him; if not, I yield back the balance of my time.


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