BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Madam Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to speak on H.R. 807, which would result in the Congress refusing to pay obligations it has already agreed to. American families do not get to choose which bills to pay and which ones not to pay, and the United States Congress cannot either without putting the Nation into default for the first time in its history.
I oppose this bill because not only will it be bad for America, but devastating for Houston. Just as our nation's economy has begun to show signs of sustained improvement, along comes H.R. 807 to further depress the economy of the parts of Houston which have not been fortunate enough to benefit from the economic recovery. The city of Houston has a half-trillion dollar economy which is threatened if the United States economy begins to falter because of the sequester already in place, and misguided legislation like this bill.
This bill would threaten the full faith and credit of the United States, cost American jobs, hurt businesses of all sizes, and do irreparable damage to the economy. It is important to note that the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 15,000 for the first time ever, and jobless claims fell to a five-year low this week.
Why would we want to jeopardize this progress with a bill like H.R. 807, which is a step in the wrong direction.
This legislation would cause the Nation to default on payments for Medicare, veterans, national security, and many other critical priorities. This legislation is unwise, unworkable, and unacceptably risky. Earlier this year, the Congress took a sensible approach to paying the bills it had already incurred by raising the debt limit. By contrast, the proposal in H.R. 807, which chooses which bills to pay, is a deeply irresponsible approach that is simply default by another name.
Americans want a clean debt limit increase, which has been done numerous times but the normal process by which the Treasury Secretary consults with the President and Congress, seems to have hit a major roadblock. This obstructionist governing is based on a practice that seems to put ideology over pragmatism and politics over common-sense legislating.
Madam Speaker, another reason I cannot support H.R. 807 is because it gives preference to making payments to foreign bond holders such as China, Iran, and the Cayman Islands over the payments needed for critical services for our veterans, and those payments required under Chapter 31, United States Code, which insures the savings of Americans.
I would hope that my colleagues on the other side realize that these are trying times for the American people and brinksmanship is not the answer. This body must come up with a sensible solution to the pressing financial problems which plague our economy. We cannot continue to hold our Nation hostage, keeping the benefits of recipients of Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare who must have sleepless nights because they are worried about the disappearance of their monthly checks.
I support a long-term increase in the debt limit that would increase certainty and economic stability. The bill before us this morning, H.R. 807, is a short-term measure with unnecessary complications, needlessly perpetuating uncertainty in the Nation's fiscal system, and I would note that the Obama Administration is also in opposition to this woeful piece of legislation that allows China to be paid first.
My colleagues want to buy time so that they can figure out how to squeeze the American taxpayer even more by devising bone-crunching cuts and slashes to entitlement programs--all of which is driven by rabid ideology--as opposed to sitting down and working with Democrats to come up with reasonable budget reforms which do not hurt Seniors and the disadvantaged.
Madam Speaker, Social Security is currently the only source of income for nearly two-thirds of older American households receiving benefits, and roughly one-third of those households depend on Social Security for nearly all of their income. Half of those 65 and older have annual incomes below $18,500, and many older Americans have experienced recent and significant losses in retirement savings, pensions, and home values. Today, every dollar of the average Social Security retirement benefit of about $14,800 is absolutely critical to the typical beneficiary.
Contrary to some claims, Social Security is not the cause of our nation's deficit problem. Not only does the program operate independently, but it is prohibited from borrowing. Social Security must pay all benefits from its own trust fund. If there are insufficient funds to pay out full benefits, benefits are automatically reduced to the level supported by the program's own revenues.
I would add that instead of short-term management of self-inflicted fiscal crises, I truly believe we have an opportunity to strengthen the economy by putting the Nation on a sounder fiscal path. Progress has already been made towards that goal. In 2011, the President signed into law $1.4 trillion in spending reductions, not counting additional savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to seize this template and move forward--not backwards, in the direction of H.R. 807.
The fiscal agreement the President signed at the beginning of January increased revenue from high-income households by over $600 billion. Together with interest savings, these two steps will cut the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion over the next decade. We should have done more to address our revenue problem.
The President has made clear that he remains willing to work with both parties in the Congress to budget responsibly and to achieve additional deficit reduction consistent with the principles of balance, shared growth, and shared opportunity. By adding Chained CPI to the discussion it is clear that President Obama is willing to go more than halfway to meet the House Majority; but they have not reciprocated.
The President has also made clear that he will not have another debate with the Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they have already racked up through the laws that they passed. The President has made clear that the Congress has only two options--pay their bills, or fail to do so and put the Nation into default. And I am in complete agreement.
According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, spending for Medicare and Medicaid is projected to increase from 21 percent of non-interest federal spending in 2010 to 31 percent by 2020. The numbers are wonkish sounding but in terms of real dollars, the increase is mammoth. That is why we must address the spending issue in earnest but not using the paltry monthly income of Seniors to pay for yachts for millionaires.
National spending on health care has grown about 2 percentage points per year faster than GDP over time. Federal revenues, however, have not kept pace, growing at roughly the same rate as GDP.
As a result, federal deficits will be driven upward by federal health programs unless their rate of growth is tamed. This discrepancy must be dealt with sooner rather than later, but no matter how you couch it, there is no better translation than the word: b-r-o-k-e.
I hasten to add that Community Health Centers provide much needed, high-quality healthcare to over 20 million Americans. These centers are able to serve vulnerable portions of the American population, including racial and ethnic minorities, as well as rural and low-income Americans.
I want to give some pertinent facts about my district and why the uncertainty provided by H.R. 807 is a step in the wrong direction.
The Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown Metropolitan Area consists of 10 counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, San Jacinto and Waller.
The Houston metro area:
It ranks sixth among U.S. metropolitan statistical areas with a population of 5,867,489 as of mid-2009, and it covers more than 10,000 square miles, and has a gross product of $403.8 billion, according to The Perryman Group. This area recorded 2.54 million payroll jobs in November 2010, more than the job counts of 31 U.S. states, including Arizona, Colorado and Alabama.
The Houston economy has experienced a resurgence but let's remember the economic history:
The recession hit Houston in September '08. Our region lost 152,800 jobs through January '10. We began to recoup jobs starting in February that year and by October '11, the region had gained 153,000 jobs, or 101.1 percent of what we lost in the recession.
And though Houston faces some challenges in the near term, the long-term outlook is bright. The challenges are those of managing growth rather than economic stagnation. The long-term outlook for the Houston metro area is positive, and steady growth will be the norm for Houston for the foreseeable future. What Houston cannot afford right now is continued uncertainty from Washington, DC.
Moreover, given the uncertainty of final funding decisions and the possibility that across-the-board spending cuts will drag us back into a recession unless Congress and the President can reach agreement to prevent the currently scheduled ``sequester,'' it is critical that we work towards bipartisan solutions to our nation's financial woes. Given the U.S. economy is showing signs of progress, it is crucial that we continue to fund government programs without interruption.
Lastly, as a Senior Member of the Homeland Security and Judiciary Committees I understand the importance of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection mission to enforce drug, trade and travel laws in efforts to keep our borders safe; and the importance of ensuring that our nation remains safe from terrorists and others who would do harm to our nation.
In summation, I urge my colleagues to reject this poll-driven exercise in futility and give a clean debt ceiling vote so that the American people can carry-on with the business of achieving prosperity.
Doing a clean debt limit bill is not a new law, new outlay, or some random, esoteric exercise in the fulfillment of the Obama Doctrine. In fact, according to the Congressional Research Service, since March 1962, Congress has enacted 76 separate measures that have altered the limit on federal debt. Typically, the Treasury Secretary consults with the President and Congress, and the limit has been subsequently raised to accommodate our fiscal needs.
And I close with the sacred words from our Constitution. Section 4 of the 14th Amendment states clearly that: ``the validity of the public debt of the United States ..... shall not be questioned.'' And a great nation pays its debts. That is why I oppose H.R. 807.
I urge my colleagues to resoundingly reject H.R. 807.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT