By RICHARD A. GEPHARDT
We Can Do Better
House Minority Leader
(This text is taken from the Congressional Record for May 20)
Mr. Speaker, I rise reluctantly this afternoon to state that I will not
vote for this budget ... I would like to start with a little history of
why we are where we are. This all started, in my view, back in 1981. Congress
then, in a bipartisan way, made a decision on a budget that had certain
increases in spending and tax cuts, which many of us said at the time would
create large deficits out in the future. The prediction was that there would
be deficits of $100 and $200 and $300 billion. And unfortunately those predictions
came true. It has taken us 17 years from that basic decision in 1981 to
get on the threshold of being able to balance the budget .
In 1990, we entered into a bipartisan budget agreement, much like has been
done now, and at the time we raised taxes and we cut spending in a bipartisan
way, and we made a big step, about a $500 billion deficit reduction. We
did that again in 1993; I might add, at that time, with all Democratic votes,
not one vote from the other side of the aisle. At the time many Republican
leaders said they believed that budget we passed in 1993 would wreck the
economy and would cause higher unemployment and higher deficits.
I want to point out that because of the interaction of what we do on the
deficit and what it does with the economy, that indeed those forecasts were
wrong, that even with tax increases and spending cuts, we have had a remarkable
economic performance in the last four or five years.
In fact, in 1993, the prediction was the deficit for this year would be
$300 billion. A year ago the prediction was the deficit would be $169 billion.
In January of this year, we thought the deficit for this year would be $124
billion. Just last week CBO said it is down to $67 billion.
There is an interaction, there is an inextricable link between the deficit
and what we do and how we get rid of the deficit and what happens in the
economy. And I believe that the investments we made in education and in
capital investment and in health care that we made in the deficit reduction
act of 1993 were an integral part of helping the private sector economy
grow over the last 5 years so that we have had real economic growth and
more revenue coming into the government.
So the question then and now is not whether to do this, it is how we do
it. It is how we do it. What are the myriad of decisions, what are the texture
of the decisions we put together to try to get the budget into order.
In my view, this budget agreement is a budget of many deficits: a deficit
of principle, a deficit of fairness, a deficit of tax justice, and worst
of all, a deficit of dollars.
First, I think it is unfair. I think that when we have done these budgets
, we have always tried to have shared sacrifice. We have said to the American
people in the highest sense of patriotism that everybody has to sacrifice
in order to get the budget straightened out. That is what we did in 1990.
That is what we did in 1993. That is not what this budget does.
Recently I was going door to door in my district. I met a young couple who
had just bought a house. They were happy because the wife had just gotten
pregnant and they were expecting this new family. I asked them what their
concerns were. They said their concern was that between them they have five
jobs -- five jobs. That is kind of the way the economy is working
for ordinary Americans today. In order to make ends meet, people have to
work more jobs and more hours.
And the woman said to me, "You know, our concern is that when the baby
comes, I would like to stay home and raise the child for two or three years,
but with five jobs, I have got to quit two of those jobs to do it. And if
we do that, we cannot make our house payment.'
That is reality 1997.
On another door-to-door trip in my district I met a woman who was on Social
Security and Medicare. She said, "You know, I do not want to be a whiner,
and I do not want to complain, but I only get $450 a month. And I have got
to buy a lot of prescription drugs to stay going. I just want you to know,
I cannot pay my water bill now, and I do not have hot water. And if I have
cuts along the way in Medicare or Social Security, I may lose the apartment
I am staying in." That is reality 1997.
This budget could have done better by either of those people I have talked
about. We could have done more in this budget on Head Start, on after school
programs for that family I am talking about. We could have done better for
that senior citizen so she could get by better. But in this budget there
is structured a tax cut. And if I am reading the agreement between the parties
correctly, that tax cut will necessarily result in the top 1 percent of
taxpayers in this country getting a tax reduction of about $6,000. And when
I talk about the top 1 percent, I am talking about folks making an average
of $650,000 a year.
Is it shared sacrifice to say to them, you get a huge tax cut every year,
$6,000, but the young family who is trying to make ends meet, we cannot
help them enough? We cannot give them a larger tax cut. We cannot give them
the kind of help that they need getting through their life every day.
It is not fair. I wish it were fairer.
Second, I think it fails to invest in the future. What do I mean by that?
We are in a tough global competition. We have got our work cut out for us.
We have to really be good. I agree, we need tax cuts, but they ought to
go to the people who need them, desperately need them. And they ought to
go to the people who are working hard every day to compete in that global
economy. But we also need investments in this budget . Let me just name
three to take examples.
First, education. Everybody knows we have got to have better educated people
to compete in the global economy, to get productivity increases, to get
growth increases. Early on in the budget talks we talked about repairing
school buildings and putting money into the structures in which our children
learn. That was thrown out of the budget . We did not have enough money
to do that.
We talked endlessly in this Chamber about Head Start, about investing in
the smallest, youngest children. We talked about Head Start zero to three.
We just had a conference in the White House where we find that late mental
research proves that the more you can do with young, young, young children,
the better the result will be. But this budget does not fully fund Head
Start and does not even make a beginning on Head Start zero to three.
Let us talk about children's health, a very good part of this budget, $15
billion, to try to get half the children who do not have health care to
have health care. But in the very same budget there is about an equal cut
in Medicaid in what is called disproportionate share, a fancy name for trying
to give money to hospitals that have a disproportionate share of poverty
folks coming there to get help. Guess which hospitals get the lion's share
of disproportionate share? The children's hospitals.
We give with one hand; we take away with another. It is not good enough.
Third, investment in the capital investments. We hear about capital gains.
What about capital structures? Billions of dollars come into this budget
every year from the gasoline tax to the Federal highway trust fund and every
year we spend moneys for these needed structures, but we never spend what
comes in. And this budget does not either.
In my district of St. Louis, our city fathers and mothers got together and
said, what does this region need? They came up with $20 billion worth of
needs in St. Louis for capital investment alone. They have no idea where
it is going to come from. We can do better in investing in our future.
Third, this budget does not come into balance. I believe with all my heart
that the people who worked on it want it to come into balance. And I hope
it does, but let me say something. If we have exploding tax cuts that are
put into law and they are not met with spending cuts that will be designed
to reach them, then the numbers are not going to work.
Remember 1981 and what happened. The last thing we need to do is to advertise
this as a deficit reduction plan that will reduce the deficit and then we
do not get there. The coalition members wanted to go to the floor this afternoon
and have an amendment that had an enforcement process that said, if the
numbers do not work for any reason, because the economy does not work or
something else, that we will start cutting across the board both spending
programs and tax programs in order to see that we really get the balance
that we want and that we have advertised. That is not going to be allowed
to even be voted on.
In conclusion, I do not believe this budget is fair. I do not believe it
invests properly in the future of our country and our economy and our people.
I do not believe the numbers will work, and I do not think there is a system
in place to make sure that they do.
Let me say this final word. This is a decision and it is a hard decision
that all of us have to make. For me, as I cast this vote, I have one thing
in my mind and one thing only, and that is the people that I represent in
the third District of Missouri. I have in my mind that young family who
is working hard, real hard every day and wants to make ends meet and wants
to have a future. I have in my mind that senior citizen who wants to stay
out of the nursing home and stay in her home and live the life of independence
that she wants. I have in mind the children, the children who are the future
and the strength and the greatest resource of this country.
Each of us in our own way, as we go through this debate and vote tonight,
has to ask ourselves, what is the right thing for my constituents and for
my country? Nothing else is asked. That is the question we have to answer.
This is not politics. This is not some election. This is about the future
of the country and what in our conscience, our heart and our mind is the
best and right thing to do. I will vote against this budget . I think we
can do better.
The House approved the budget plan 333-99 and the Senate approved it
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