Senator Benjamin L. Cardin
Floor Speech on the Budget
July 6, 2011
There’s been an all-out assault on the dignity of working families in this country at all levels. I am going to talk a little bit about the budget deliberations because I believe here also we find an assault upon middle-income families. As President Kennedy said, to govern is to choose. We’ve never had a clearer choice of two different visions of America. And I want to talk a little bit about that. Because I know we’re all working hard to reach a fair compromise, and I am one of those who believe that the final agreement will not be what the Democrats want or the Republicans want. We’ll have to reach a compromise.
I heard some of the Republicans’ speeches just recently given on the floor, who are really trying to protect the very wealthy, the millionaires. In the Republican budget, the millionaires would get another $200,000 of tax cuts. At the same time, that budget would cost our seniors who live on fixed incomes an extra $6,000 a year in health care costs if their plan on Medicare were to become law.
Those are the types of choices we’re being asked to make here. We’re being asked to continue the gas subsidies, the tax subsidies for the five biggest gas companies in this country. That’s what the Republican budget would protect. They would protect those tax breaks. Let me just remind you that those five companies in the last decade made $1 trillion in profits.
During the time that we saw escalating gas prices here and our economy being hurt by it, people couldn’t afford to fill up their cars with gasoline. Yet at the same time these five oil companies had record profits.
It was just ten years ago we had these large surpluses. Then the previous administration cut taxes not once but twice, the second time using a credit card in order to pay for those tax cuts. And we’re wondering why we have all this debt today. Well, it’s our responsibility to take care of this deficit because this deficit is affecting the strength of America. And we know that we need to have a balanced approach in order to do it.
I, along with the presiding officer, are members of the Budget Committee. We’re working hard to come up with a way that we can balance the budget. The Democrats on that committee are united in our belief that there’s a better way than the Republican budget that came over from the House of Representatives.
Let me just talk a little bit about whether this is a class warfare. I’ve heard that mentioned many times. This might surprise you. I might agree with my Republican friends. I think the Republican budget is an attack on class. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said about the Republican budget, “it would produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history.” We’re asking the poor and working families to contribute so the wealthy can get more tax breaks. That’s just wrong.
What we want to see is a balanced approach, an approach that says, look, this deficit’s very serious. We’ve got to save money wherever we can to balance the federal budget. It starts with looking at our domestic spending.
We’ve been willing to say, look, programs that are not high-priority programs, we’ve got to cut back on those programs. We’re going to have to eliminate programs that aren’t working. Let’s get rid of duplicate programs. We said we’re prepared to do that. But we’ve also got to look at the non-domestic programs, our military programs, and our security programs.
We know that we’re in the process now of bringing our combat troops home from Afghanistan. That can produce savings. Let’s use that to reduce the budget deficit. There are ways that we can get this deficit down. And then — listening to one of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle talk about the so-called tax expenditures. Let me put this in context for one
moment. Our tax code spends about $1.4 trillion a year in special provisions that give special breaks to different taxpayers. I think none of us are saying that all of these should be eliminated. But we are saying that when you find tax loopholes, when you find shelters, when you find tax havens,
let’s get rid of them.
I’ve taken the floor to talk about two areas where I think there’s a broad consensus: the ethanol subsidy. We don’t need it any longer. It’s questionable whether we ever needed it. The industry will do just fine without the subsidy. But let me tell you what the subsidy causes. It causes my poultry farmers in Maryland to pay a lot more for their corn, costing jobs in Maryland. So there’s a tax subsidy that we can get rid of. We had a vote on the floor and it was quite obvious that the overwhelming majority agree with that. Why can’t we use that for deficit reduction?
I’ve also talked about the gas industry. Why are we giving them subsidies? There’s no need for that. So we can take those shelters, we can take those havens, we can take these loopholes and use that to lower the deficit. And, yes, I think there is a question why millionaires are going to continue to get a tax cut that was meant to be temporary in nature, when you need as much revenue as we can to pay off our bills. I think there is an issue here whether that’s fair. How do we tell students they have to pay more for college? How do we tell families that fewer will be able to go to Head Start programs? How do we tell our seniors they have to pay more and yet we tell the millionaires they’re going to get additional tax cuts? That’s just not fair and it doesn’t make good sense for our economy. So there’s a better way.
I know my colleague from Rhode Island is going to speak next. He also serves on the Budget Committee. Well, the Democrats, we have a better way of doing this. We know how we can reduce the budget deficit by even more than the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Commission did, where we can bring in the deficit and bring it under control to make it a reasonable amount of our economy rather than uncontrolled, as it is today. We can do that by bringing in not just domestic spending but also our defense spending in order to reduce more spending in this country. We can do that. And we can do it in a way that protects the integrity of Medicare.
We don’t want our seniors at the risk of private insurance companies. We don’t want private insurance companies telling our seniors when they can get care and when they can’t. We tried that before. We created Medicare and we know the problems that were created by that. We want to protect the integrity of Social Security and Medicare and the programs that are critically important to our seniors.
We will close the tax loopholes. We will eliminate shelters. We will make sure that everybody is part of the solution. And we can do it in a way that will help build this great nation. Let me just tell you what our objectives are, quite frankly. Our objective is to manage our deficit, bring it down, and bring it under control in a real way. We want to protect those who are most vulnerable in our community, and to invest in America’s future so that we can create more jobs and continue to build our roads, bridges, and water systems. We want to continue to invest in education. And, yes, we want to protect our federal work force and pay them decent salaries, compensation and benefits. We can do all that.
But, Mr. President, if we’re going to get the job done, Democrats and Republicans have to be honest in their debate and their compromise. And it will not be what one side wants. We’re going to have to compromise for the good of the American people.
I took the time today to share with the people of Maryland and the nation where I believe our vision should be in regards to the budget of this nation. I hope we’re able to achieve those objectives because I really do believe our children and grandchildren’s future depends upon us getting this right. And if we work together, we can pass a budget that’s in the best interest of the American people, and that allows our economy to grow and create jobs, which is the best answer to deal with our deficit.