10/18/2017 — 

Mr. President,

I rise in strong opposition to the Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2018.

Let me say that consideration of this budget resolution seems surreal, not only because of the timing – coming, as it does, three weeks into the fiscal year, but also because of the real challenges the United States faces today. 

We have important work to do:

  • At this moment, three states and two U.S. territories are struggling to recover after significant natural disasters.  The resources we are providing simply are not sufficient;
  • Las Vegas just experienced the worst mass shooting in American history, breaking the record set only last year in the tragic mass shooting in Orlando, but there is no serious bipartisan and comprehensive effort to address gun violence; 
  • After President Trump’s reckless efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, Congress needs to act to stabilize private insurance exchanges;
  • Next week, the President is finally expected to declare opioid crisis a “national emergency”, but declarations mean nothing without the resources to help.  This is an emergency and we need to provide those resources now; 
  • States are already taking steps to reduce health care coverage for kids under the Children’s Health Insurance Program and services through Community Health Centers because my colleagues on the other side of the aisle failed to act in time to reauthorize these critical initiatives;
  • We face international crises in Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, which are inflamed by each Presidential tweet, declaration, and insult; 
  • Before December 8th, the President and Congress need to come to an agreement to provide relief from sequester level funding caps for defense and nondefense priorities; 
  • The President and Congress also need to act immediately to undo the crisis created by the President’s executive order on DACA, which will put thousands of “Dreamers” at risk of deportation. 

This budget addresses none of these urgent challenges.

Instead, a week after the President took steps that will cause millions of American to lose private health insurance coverage, this budget will pave the way for trillions of dollars in cuts to health care offered under Medicare and Medicaid.

But that’s not even the real goal.  The real goal is to provide trillions more in tax cuts, which overwhelmingly benefit folks at the highest end of the income scale.  

The majority will say the budget only lays out a broad fiscal plan and that none of the details have been set, but we have seen this play before. 

It starts with “tax cuts for all” but it will end with nothing short of a historic transfer of wealth from low and middle-income Americans to those who are prospering most in today’s economy. 

It starts with the promise of a balanced budget, but it will end with greater deficits. 

It will start this time when, after a long and difficult recovery from the economic crash under the Bush Administration, the economy is finally humming with stock market highs, low unemployment, and low interest rates. Nothing about our current economic situation demands massive, deficit-busting tax cuts, particularly for the wealthiest Americans.      

Indeed, it’s instructive to look back to the 2001 and 2003 “Bush” tax cuts.  These tax plans were also paid for with trillions of dollars in debt because the nation was newly at war.  These plans also overwhelmingly favored the top 1% of Americans.  We were told then that the tax benefits would “trickle down” to the working class, and “pay for themselves.” I opposed these tax plans because I didn’t believe that would occur and in fact it didn’t.  Despite the substantial benefits for those at the top, overall economic growth from 2001 to 2007 was weaker than average.  Median household income fell 2.7% while prices and poverty continued to rise.  With weak regulation and oversight, this fiscal policy ushered us into the Great Recession.

Now, the GOP is poised to do the same thing yet again.

Just for contrast, in the early 1990s, under President Clinton, Democrats took tough votes to raise revenue and rein in spending.   Despite predictions to the contrary, the economy took off in one of the biggest economic booms in history.  And at the same time, we turned budget deficits into the first surplus in a generation. 

There are lesson in that experience…There are no short cuts to restoring fiscal order.  Tax cuts do not “pay for themselves.”  And you can’t balance the budget while cutting revenue.

So how does the majority promise to turn straw into gold this time?  By pairing $5.8 trillion in cuts from basic public services, including Medicare and Medicaid, with massive deficits and rosy revenue assumptions. With these in place, the GOP says it can balance the budget and cut taxes by $1.5 trillion.  Never mind the fact that the Republican tax cuts for the wealthy will likely cost more than $1.5 trillion, and never mind that this budget assumes absurd cuts to nondefense programs and leaves spending for defense at sequester levels.

But even if the numbers are phony and built on unrealistic assumptions, won’t most Americans be getting a substantial tax windfall under this plan?  Sadly, no.

According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center’s analysis of the available information on the GOP tax plan, about 80% of the tax cuts will go to the top 1%, increasing their after-tax income by about 9%. Nearly half of that money will go to the top one-tenth of 1%.  Meanwhile, the bottom 80% of American wage earners will get the only 13% of the tax cut, and many hard working families with children could actually see their taxes go up.

Based on the Tax Policy Center’s analysis, most Rhode Islanders who would get a tax cut would see only $190 or less out of this deal.  That’s less than the cost of a week’s worth of groceries for a family of four. 

Yet most Rhode Islanders and most Americans stand to lose much more due to the inevitable cuts in investments like Medicaid, Pell Grants, Title I, health research, and public infrastructure. 

On the other hand, folks in the top income bracket would get a tax cut large enough to buy a new Mercedes.  If the recent past is any indication, they will pocket that money, invest it, or send it overseas.  That money doesn’t trickle down, and the working Americans on the losing end of this tax deal will not see it in their paychecks.  

The American people deserve a better deal than this budget resolution offers.  

I know President Trump and the leadership on the other side of the aisle are desperate for a legislative “win.” 

They have spent the entire year trying to ram through a partisan Trumpcare bill that would upend our entire health care system, kick over 30 million Americans off of their insurance, and make massive cuts to Medicaid, harming our most vulnerable citizens including seniors, children, and people with disabilities.  The process, the tactics, and the product alienated even members of their own party and Americans across the political spectrum.

After having failed with Trumpcare and with all of the other challenges we face, the majority leadership has set in this budget blueprint a deadline of November 13th for Committees to produce tax cut legislation.  All the other business we need to do must wait until we cut taxes for the wealthy.

I know there is room for compromise and that there are members of goodwill on both sides who are actively working to address many of the real challenges I ticked off earlier, but tax cuts for the rich shouldn’t be on our to-do list, let alone at the top of it as it is today

One thing we should be standing up for our men and women in uniform, by providing the revenue we need to support them.  But when it comes to providing that revenue, this resolution “takes a knee” and gives revenue away to millionaires and billionaires.   

This is a truly rigged process…it’s only purpose is to fast track tax cuts for the rich and cut funding for health care and other key initiatives that the most Americans count on.  For that reason, I will oppose this budget resolution, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.