Statement of Senator Michael B. Enzi
Senate Budget Committee
Markup of the FY2014 Budget Resolution
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Madame Chairwoman. This is the first markup of this kind in more than 1,400 days and it shows. It shows in the $16 trillion debt figure. It shows what deal-making instead of legislating gets us. It shows what happens when we ignore a problem or avoid one for fear of harming our political future. The Senate has been out to lunch. Today it’s back. Let’s make up for lost time.
With a budget that would recognize our most significant fiscal problem – out-of-control spending – and address that problem in a serious and thoughtful way, we could begin to right our nation’s fiscal ship.
I’m concerned, though, that the budget that the chairwoman will release later today will not do that. Instead, I imagine it will call for raising taxes yet again and won’t fully address the primary driver of our growing debt – that is, without changes, bankruptcy for Medicare and Social Security. I believe the path forward should include pro-growth tax reform that lowers tax rates and broadens the tax base, plus reforms for future recipients of mandatory spending programs so that they are there for those who need them the most in the future, and smart spending cuts so that we can begin to dig ourselves out of the fiscal hole we’ve gotten ourselves into.
Our nation’s debt is over $16 trillion. It’s projected to grow by another $9 trillion over the next 10 years. Our debt per person is now almost $53,000. For the first half of our current fiscal year (October 1st through February 28th), our nation’s deficit is almost $500 billion – we’re already half a trillion dollars in the hole this year! Spending must be reduced! Unfortunately, we won’t even see the majority’s plan to address this problem until this evening. And the President’s budget proposal is still missing in action, even though it was required to be delivered to Congress last month. Nevertheless, I have low expectations that either will truly address out-of-control spending; instead, I have a feeling that both will look to raise taxes and even start new programs when we don’t adequately fund ones we now have that work well.
The President has repeatedly called on “the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share,” and that doing so will solve the budget crisis. But what is a fair share? Even without the tax hikes that occurred at the beginning of this year, the “wealthy” are paying a larger share of the federal income tax burden than they did during the Clinton Administration. I’m an accountant. In 2009, the top 20 percent of earners made 51 percent of pre-tax income, and paid 94 percent of all federal income taxes paid. So I ask, when is it enough? Many of those earners that I just referenced are in fact small business owners who plow those earnings back into the business to expand and create jobs. This era of “tax more to spend more” has to stop. Our citizens and small businesses deserve better. The last time Congress tried to tax the rich, the alternative minimum tax was created. Now that tax hits almost everyone, so it was significantly scaled back.
I would ask the majority party if they are certain that absolutely all the wasteful spending that occurs from Washington has been identified and eliminated. If not, shouldn’t that be done before even thinking about asking the public to send in more of their hard-earned money to the government? Let’s not forget – it’s their money, not the government’s money. Government has grown during the recession. It’s time to grow the economy instead of government.
Earlier today, I introduced a bill that would cut spending by just one penny for every dollar the federal government spends – no exceptions. I call it the Penny Plan, and it would balance the budget by 2016. At a time when families are still tightening their belts to make ends meet, we should do the same. Cutting one penny from every dollar we spend will put us on a sustainable fiscal path. It’s simple, effective, and real – quite a rarity in Washington, D.C.
In order to get current and future spending, deficits, and debt under control, Congress has to take some common-sense steps to implement fiscal discipline. For example, we’ve got to stop paying for spending with revenues that may (or may not) materialize over ten years to do one- or two-year projects. Instead, we need to start paying for the spending in the years that we are doing the spending.
If we’re serious about cutting our deficits and debt, then we should ensure that any legislation for new programs should be required to include offsets that are at least twice the size of the spending increases. In this way, the spending is paid for and we’ve helped to reduce the deficit.
We know that natural disasters like floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes will strike. And the federal government has a role to play when that happens. However, it is important that Congress BUDGET as best it can for such disasters so that federal funds are available when those disasters occur. Congress should do a better job of proactively planning for disasters and include funds in the budget to assist in the aftermath, not just run up more unplanned deficits.
We should also require that each federal agency identify and prioritize its activities and services so that when federal budget cuts are implemented, agencies can start by cutting the “worst first.” By doing so, we can maintain what we do well and cut what we don’t. We can and should identify the least-harmful, least-painful spending reductions, rather than cut the high-profile services that are sure to cause public outcry. If we don’t get serious about cutting spending soon, the programs that people enjoy and rely on won’t be there in the future.
The time for making tough choices has come. If we don’t make cuts now, all the scenarios down the road are worse than what we’re facing today. A little pain now is better than a lot of pain in the future.
I look forward to seeing the chairwoman’s mark, and I remain hopeful that it will propose reigning in spending and getting a balanced budget in the near term. I’m an optimist with experience, and experience tells me that the chairwoman’s mark will not live up to my expectations. Therefore, I’m looking forward to the amendment process tomorrow so that we can improve the budget resolution. And I’m looking forward to a continued debate on these important issues for the country.
Thank you, Madame Chairwoman. I yield the balance of my time.