WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) lauded passage of the two-year Bipartisan Budget Agreement as a reasonable agreement that brings much-needed predictability to our economy. Cardin’s floor speech on the budget, delivered after the 67-28 vote, can be seen at this link.
The text is below.
“First, I want to compliment the leadership on being able to come together on a budget agreement. This was a good day for the United States Senate, a good day for Congress, and a good day for the American people. We now have predictable spending caps not only for the fiscal year that begins October 1, but also for the following year. This is good news. It provides the predictability we need in order to have an early process for the consideration of the appropriation bills when we return in September.
“We anticipate that the House and Senate appropriations committees will be hard at work, and we’ll have an opportunity to get our work done prior to the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1.
“I want to explain why I think this was the right vote and why I proudly supported it.
“The budget provides a reasonable growth rate for discretionary spending. If you look at the trend line over several decades, you will find that discretionary spending has become a smaller and smaller part of the federal budget. We have held back on certain spending in this country, whether it’s defense or non-defense needs. But those needs have still grown and we have not kept up with funding these programs. This budget agreement will now give us the opportunity to set priorities and be able to move forward with many important programs that are funded by discretionary spending.
“Once again, discretionary spending has grown much slower than the growth rate of our budget generally, so it is a reasonable expectation that we can meet the needs of the people of this country by allowing some growth.
“So what does it mean?
“Well, this past week, the Environment and Public Works Committee recommended a reauthorization bill for surface transportation that would grow by about 10%. I think everyone in this chamber understands that we have tremendous unmet needs in transportation infrastructure in this country. These caps give us a better opportunity for meeting those types of needs.
“Tomorrow, I will be in the City of Bowie, which is not far from here. I will be meeting with the mayor, who has requests. His drinking water pipes need major replacement. There is not enough capacity within the ratepayers in order to be able to do that work. He needs the federal partnership, State Revolving Funds, or other areas in order to help fund a modern infrastructure so we have safe drinking water in our community. These new budget caps again give us the opportunity to move forward on programs like that so the federal government can help us meet our needs.
“I’m proud that in the State of Maryland we have the National Institutes of Health located and headquartered in our state. We’re all very proud of the work they do. They are unlocking the mystery of diseases in this country. We need to fund them. At the present time, so many worthwhile grant applications go unmet and unfilled that could discover how we could deal with some of the most dreaded diseases in our country. Funding NIH is in our national interest. But we have been held back because of the budget caps that have been in place. This new budget allows us now to move forward with that priority.
“This is the year that we prepare for the census. We only do that every 10 years, take the census of our country. This budget will allow the Census Bureau to have the tools so that we can accurately count the people in this country. Why is that important? It’s in the Constitution, so it’s important. But it’s important so that we have proper legislative representation in congressional districts as well as in the state legislatures. The census gives us the numbers so that communities are properly represented and their voices can be adequately heard.
“I could go on a whole list of issues that are important. We set the priorities. Whether it’s child care or dealing with our veterans. We all want to make sure we do what is right for our veterans. We know there are a lot of unmet needs. This budget will allow us to move forward in that area.
“I’m proud to represent the state of Maryland that has major urban centers. This bill will allow us to deal with some of the challenges that we have in our urban centers.
“I also represent rural Maryland. This bill will allow us to move forward with their needs, too. We will be able to move forward in education, which should be our top priority. It’s a great equalizer in this country.
“Now the appropriators often make judgments on priorities and we’ll have to reconcile between the House and Senate and get the president’s signature. But that’s what we should be doing: setting up the priorities for our country and having a reasonable pool of money to deal with discretionary spending. We have been denied that for many years. Now we have the opportunity to really do what Congress should do and set the priorities for this country.
“In addition, let me mention the drug problems. I probably have more meetings in my state on dealing with the drug crisis — it’s in every community in Maryland and this nation — and I hope that we will see increased federal participation in that area.
“Another part of the budget agreement was to extend the debt limit for two years. Now, Madam President, this to me is one of the absurdities of what we do on debt limits. We incur debt and then we put a limit as to whether we will pay for the bills we incurred.
“You don’t default on your debt. That’s not what America is about. We have to control what we spend, but we have to pay for what we spend. We have to honor our debt.
“So our credit ratings were at risk. The Secretary of Treasury made this one of his top priorities. I agreed with him on this issue. Now, we no longer have the fear that America will not honor its debt.
“This bill also gets rid of sequestration. Good Riddance. This was put in as a placeholder for us to deal with the budget deficit. It didn’t work in that way. All it did was cause uncertainty, and in many respects would have required across-the-board cuts. That is not the way that we should do business. We have to make decisions. Sequestration could have been used for us to avoid making the tough decisions. We have to do that ourselves.
“The bottom line is the budget agreement gets rid of that and gives us a much better chance to avoid a shutdown of government, which makes absolutely no sense at all. And, hopefully we do not have to deal with continuing resolutions. Continuing resolutions put us on auto pilot because we can’t pass a budget. Now, I hope, we will be able to pass budgets and avoid not only shutdowns but continuing resolutions.
“I want to emphasize this point: discretionary spending has become a smaller part of the overall budget of this country. It’s been a shrinking sum.
“So why do we have growing deficits? We have growing deficits because — by the way, discretionary
spending is at historically low levels in this country. Revenues, unfortunately, are also at historically low levels. In other words, we’re not raising the traditional amount of revenue that is necessary to pay our bills. I come from a family that believes you have to pay your bills. I think it’s wrong for us to spend money today and then ask our children and grandchildren to pay for our current spending. We should have the courage to provide the revenues necessary to pay our bills.
“Instead, what have we done? We have cut revenues again and again and again. So our deficit today is not sustainable. We have to deal with it. But the major culprit has been these irresponsible tax cuts, the last of which went primarily to the wealthiest people in this country. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it will add $1.9 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. That’s the culprit of the deficits. And that’s what we should be dealing with. I heard a lot of my colleagues come in here and lament the budget agreement, saying it will increase the deficit. Some of those are the same people who voted for the tax cuts! We have to have the revenues to pay for what we incur in spending.
“Yes, there’s another area that we can do better in, and that’s in health care spending, much of which is mandatory spending. It’s not discretionary spending. These are bills, appropriations that have to be made. We could do a much better job of reining in the cost of health care. We had a chance to do that this week and we didn’t take full advantage of that.
“I’m a member of the Senate Finance committee. We passed a bill to deal with the escalating costs of prescription drugs. Today, in Maryland, I’ve been told one out of every four health care dollars is spent on medicine. We pay so much more in America for medicine than in the other industrial nations of the world. So we have recommended to the Senate body a bill to deal with the cost of prescription medicine. It will deal with the issue of putting a cap on how much you can see escalation of current drug prices. It will put a cap on how much out-of-pocket costs the people in Medicare part D will have to pay. That’s good.
“Those are two good things. But we had a chance to really make a difference by eliminating the prohibition in the current law that prevents Medicare from negotiating the cost of medicines. Think about that for one moment. Where else do we do that? Do we tell businesses that they can’t leverage all of their buying to get the lowest possible price? But we tell Medicare that they can’t leverage the total market that they are paying in order to get the best price on prescription medicines. What does that mean? That means we are overpaying. You are overpaying — whether you’re paying it in Part D or current premiums or as a taxpayer. We’re paying too much for medicine. It’s the primary reason why the international price on medicine is so much lower than what we pay here in America. We had a chance to deal with it this week and didn’t.
“We’ll have another opportunity when the bill comes to the floor. I hope we’ll do the right thing by removing the prohibition that’s in current law on negotiated price. So, Madam President, I’m pleased that we got the budget agreement done. No, I’m not pleased about the deficit, but I recognize that we need to deal with revenues and deal with costs like prescription drugs, which were not part of today’s vote.
“So I hope when we return in September that the goodwill we used in order to get the budget agreement done will continue. I hope the appropriators will be able to reconcile the appropriation bills before October 1 so we don’t need continuing resolutions and there’s no threat of a government shutdown. I hope we’ll have the same type of bipartisan agreement where people have expressed their outrage on the growth of the deficit to deal with the real causes of the deficit. We’ll have a chance to deal with the costs of medicine and let’s make sure we raise the revenue we need in order to pay for our expenses.”