I take this time to talk about the budget issues and the debt ceiling vote that is approaching. It is
a serious issue that we need to deal with.
First, I think it is important to know how we got here. I say that
because we don’t want to repeat the mistakes we made in the past. It
was just 10 years ago when we had not only a balanced budget, we had a
budget that looked like we were going to pay off all of our privately
held debt. I was part of the Congress that moved us toward that
balanced budget and surplus. It was the Democrats who were prepared to
do what was necessary to balance the Federal budget in the 1990s, and
we got there. We didn’t have a single vote from Republicans, but we
balanced the budget in the 1990s. It was the right thing to do for our
economy. As a result, our economy picked up and did extremely well.
We also know that the previous administration cut taxes twice, in
2001 and 2003. We also went to war in Iraq–a war that was one of
choice–and we went to war in Afghanistan, and we didn’t pay for either
one of those wars. It was these unpaid-for wars and tax policies that
led us from a surplus to a deficit. Our economy then turned, and we now
have these large deficits. I say that because we need to pay attention
to how we got here to make sure we have a credible plan to get us out
of this deficit.
I think it is very important that this country move toward a
manageable debt. It is very important for our economy, and for job
growth, that we manage our deficit and bring it down.
Let me give you what I think needs to be done in any plan that is
presented to us for consideration. I hope we all agree that we need to
raise the debt ceiling. That is after the fact. We have already spent
the money. Now we have to pay the bill. We also would like to see a
plan to bring our deficit under control. To do that, we have to have a
credible plan, one that really does bring us within the realm of a manageable deficit.
Secondly, it has to be fair. I notice that my Republican friends ask
our children to give up some of their help for a college education.
They want to cut the Head Start Program, and they want seniors to pay
more for health care. How about the well off? Should they not be part
of the plan? I think we need to have a fair plan in order to accomplish
Third, we need to allow our Nation to move forward with economic
growth. Jobs are critically important to deal with the deficit. As we
create more jobs, we help our economy grow, it brings our budget into
I am for a credible plan. To me, a credible plan needs to get the job
done. Managing our deficit needs to be fair, including all elements of
government spending, and it includes tax expenditures. It has to allow
for economic growth. If we are going to get the job done, we have to
bring down spending–we all acknowledge that–on the domestic side and
the national security side. We can do better in bringing our troops
home from Afghanistan and save military dollars.
There are things we can do, and we need to do that. But we also have
to deal with the revenue side. Quite frankly, we can’t get the job done
without dealing with the tax loopholes and shelters that we have in the
Tax Code. I am concerned that the Republican leader said we could not
consider any revenue. Well, I have heard from a lot of my Republican
colleagues who disagree with that. We need to include revenues in a
credible plan or it can’t get done. We cannot manage the deficit
without closing those loopholes and eliminating those shelters.
Yesterday, I talked about one of those–the ethanol subsidy. We have
nearly $3 billion that we can save there. The ethanol subsidies are not
needed. The market is there. More damaging, it is hurting our economy.
I have the honor of representing the people of Maryland and the
Delmarva Peninsula. The poultry industry is suffering because of the
ethanol subsidies. It is costing more to produce poultry, making the
industry less competitive. We can save and create jobs by eliminating
the ethanol subsidy, which will help us in balancing the budget.
Today, I want to talk about another tax shelter and loophole that we
can deal with, and that is the section 199 manufacturing tax break used
by the oil and gas industry. It is very interesting. We have seen
gasoline prices rise, and we have seen the negative impact of that on
our economy. But guess who is benefitting from the increase in the
gasoline prices? You are right; it is the oil and gas industry. Their
profits are up, while our economy has been suffering.
In the first 3 months of this year, the gas and oil industry, the
five largest companies, had record profits of $35.8 billion. Big Oil
benefits from a variety of subsidies, including section 199, that
amount to some $4 billion annually. So we are subsidizing the Big Five,
who are on course to make a projected $140 billion profit in 2011, with
$4 billion in taxpayer contributions. It is not needed. These funds
could be used to help reduce our deficit instead.
The worst part is that section 199 came about as a result of our
Foreign Sales Act. What was that about? We wanted to put American
manufacturers and producers on a level playing field for international
competition. We tried to do that with a direct subsidy to help
exporters, but the World Trade Organization held that to be illegal. So
then we came back with this general manufacturers’ credit, section 199,
to try to help our exporters.
The gas and oil industry are not manufacturers exporting a product.
They should never have qualified for this taxpayer-funded subsidy. I
asked that question in the Senate Finance Committee when we had the Big
Five oil companies’ chief executive officers (CEOs) before us. Not one
of the CEOs could justify the fairness of this subsidy going to the oil
and gas industry. Their only answer was: Well, everyone else is getting
We need to reduce unnecessary government spending, whether it is on
the appropriations side or the tax expenditure side. With regard to the
oil and gas industry, repealing section 199 and the rest of the $4
billion or so in subsidies these companies receive each year could help
us balance the budget.
But the minority leader says we can’t even consider that. He says we
can’t consider any of the revenues. To me, it is not a fair proposal,
not a credible proposal, unless we tell the most wealthy and those
companies that don’t need the subsidies that they are going to be part
of the plan to bring our budget into balance.
There are many more provisions in the Tax Code we can look at where
we can get the savings. I have just mentioned two. If we are going to
have a credible plan that will allow for economic growth and allow us
to create jobs–and the best way to deal with the deficit is to create
more jobs–then we have to have a fair approach. So I urge my
colleagues to get together on this.
Look, I understand it is not going to be the budget the Democrats
want, but I will tell you this: it will not be the budget the House
Republicans want either. We have to work together, Democrats and
Republicans. I think we can find common ground. Earlier this year, I
think 62 Senators signed a letter saying, let’s use the framework of
the debt commission. So I think there was that willingness. Let’s get
back to that.
Let’s get the Democrats and Republicans working together in true
compromise. We don’t have to compromise our principles. We can get the
job done, and that job means let’s get our debt into a manageable
state, let’s do it in a way that is fair, so the well off also are part
of a solution that includes revenues, and let’s do it in a way that
allows America to do what President Obama said we can do–out-educate,
out-innovate, and out-build our competitors so we can create the jobs
that won’t just help us balance our budget but will keep America
That is our charge. That is what we need to do. Let’s get on with the