Press Item

WASHINGTON - The following is the transcript of Rep. Spratt's closing remarks on the FY04 House Republican Budget Resolution (Congressional Record, March 20, 2003, pp. H2251-H2252).

Mr. SPRATT.  Mr. Chairman, this is not just another partisan vote. This is a pivotal vote with long-lasting consequences, and I urge everybody to ponder those consequences and beg everyone's indulgence at this hour to make just a few comments. When I came to this House 20 years ago, the Government was deep in debt. Over the 1980s the national debt tripled. It took us almost 20 years to rid the Government's budget of deficits. It took Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, which passed in 1985, the Budget Summit Agreement in 1990, the Clinton Budget of 1993, and the Balanced Budget Agreement of 1997.

These efforts finally bore fruit. After we passed the Clinton act in 1993, each year thereafter for 7 straight years, the bottom line of the budget got better to the point where in 1993 for the first time in 30 years the budget was in balance.

Mr. Bush took office with an advantage few Presidents in recent times have enjoyed. He had a surplus, a big-time surplus. The Office of Management and Budget, OMB, estimated from 2002 through 2011, the surplus would be $5.6 trillion.

Based on that projection and over the admonitions of many of us, Mr. Bush requested and Congress passed $1.35 trillion in tax cuts. Now, just 2 years later, that $5.6 trillion surplus is gone. That is what CBO and OMB told us when we opened the budget season in January of this year.

OMB told us that it had overstated the surplus. Adjusting it for what we now know about the economy, they said the adjusted surplus is not $5.6 trillion from 2002 through 2011, it is more like $2.4 trillion, and, more than that, about $2.5 trillion has already been committed in new tax cuts and newly legislated spending, much of it for national defense. This means that any new tax cuts we pass will go straight to the bottom line. They will add dollar for dollar to the deficit.

In 2001, you could rationalize an enormous tax cut on the grounds that we had an enormous surplus, but you cannot do that anymore. Nevertheless, the President sent us a budget this year requesting another $1.6 trillion in tax cuts, another round of tax reduction, as large as the last, with only a few modest offsets in it. All of it goes to the bottom line. When CBO did its analysis of the President's budget, it saw nothing but deficits, on-budget deficits, totaling over $5 trillion between now and 2013.

The chairman of the Committee on the Budget and his colleagues embraced the President's tax cuts. They totaled some $1.6 trillion, but they pared them down a bit, and then they went looking for offsets. They weren't able to identify specific spending offsets, so they settled on just across-the-board percentage cuts to entitlement spending under the jurisdiction of 14 different committees. Initially they asked for $470 billion in entitlement spending. They settled later for less because they needed the votes to get it passed on their side of the aisle.

Today we have some $262 billion in entitlement cuts entailed by this budget resolution. These will come out of programs within the jurisdiction of the Committee on Ways and Means, that is Medicare; and the Committee on Energy and Commerce, that is Medicaid, $107 billion.

So if you vote for this resolution, you should know that you are still voting very possibly to cut Medicare by $62 billion, Medicaid by $107 billion, government pensions and railroad retirement by over $40 billion, veterans' disability benefits by $15 billion, school lunches and student loans by nearly $10 billion, and all of this is occasioned by the fact that you want to go forward with this tax cut of $1.3 trillion to $1.4 trillion. Because without it, the budget will be in balance between 2008 and 2010, if you just let the spending increase each year at the level of current service.

You should also know that this resolution calls for limits on domestic discretionary spending that will make it lower than inflation or current services by $244 billion over the next 10 years. It has been claimed on this House floor that these were just cuts of 1 percent, but when you provide for a big increase in international affairs, $51 billion is what the President sought over 10 years, and another big increase in homeland security, the rest of the accounts in discretionary spending have to be squeezed, and by our calculations they are squeezed easily by 6 percent.

That may not seem crippling, but look what is happening to education in this budget. Education is brought in $50 billion below inflation. At this level we will never fully fund Leave No Child Behind; we will never get close to sharing our fair share of IDEA. That is true for other programs throughout the discretionary accounts. Veterans' health care, for example, it is cut by $13 billion to $15 billion, although today right now it has more veterans than it can say grace over to care for.

Mr. Chairman, I deeply doubt that these cuts will ever be achieved. Let us not forget what happened last year. We only passed 2 of 13 appropriations bills in 2002, did not finish the last 11 until a few weeks ago, and those were hard to pass because they had spending restraints on them that are a lot less challenging than what this bill will call for.

So what happens if the cuts are not achieved? The deficit goes higher, we stack up a mountain of debt. But, unlike the 1980s, we are right now on the eve of the retirement of the baby-boomers, and that will make the task of turning these deficits around more intractable and difficult than ever, believe me.

So, before you vote for this resolution, you should ask yourself if you want to take this gamble. You should know that even if all the mandatory and discretionary spending cuts are achieved, which is very, very unlikely, this budget will not be in balance until 2012, a long time from now, and between now and then this budget will accumulate more than $1 trillion of additional debt. And in voting for this resolution, keep in mind, you are voting to raise the ceiling on the national debt.

So, what happens if we do not vote for this resolution? What happens if we vote it down tonight? Well, the default option is not really that bad. If you forego the tax cuts and you can also forego the spending cuts, you can put the budget back in balance by 2008. If you believe in balanced budget, if you think deficits are a menace, that is not a bad outcome. I suggest to you it is a lot better outcome than the budget resolution before us.

Vote no on the budget resolution. Let us go back to the drawing board.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

Contact Info: 
Rep. John Spratt (D-SC)
For Immediate Release: 
March 24, 2003