On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2560, the “Cut, Cap and Balance Act.” I was proud to vote against it. The House Republicans have presented us with their vision for America’s future. This is a vision in which the country turns its back on the achievements of the last century and chooses not to invest in meeting the challenges of the next century. The Republicans aim to use a crisis of their own making to hamstring future Congresses, limiting their ability to make necessary infrastructure investments, to care for the poor, aged and disabled and to respond to national and international crises.
After the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution was designed to give Congress the freedom to both raise revenue and expend funds to meet the needs of a growing nation. In Federalist Number 30, Alexander Hamilton wrote that “a complete power…to procure a regular [supply of money] and adequate supply of it, as far as the resources of the community will permit may be regarded as an indispensable ingredient in every constitution.” Tuesday we were asked to amend the Constitution after two and a quarter centuries to permanently limit the ability of our government to foster competitiveness in a global economy, to generate greater equality of opportunity, to treat our seniors with dignity and respect and to defend and define this great nation as the ever shining beacon on the hill. Let’s not sell short our people or our future.
The 18 percent spending cap mandated by the bill would return the government to spending levels not seen since the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid. The impending retirement of 70 million baby boomers means that that these spending levels are woefully inadequate unless we condemn them to a severely diminished quality of life. The bill would enshrine constitutional protections for tax cuts and loopholes for wealthy individuals and corporations, requiring a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate for the government to increase the currently unsustainably low revenue levels of roughly 15 percent of GDP. This would necessarily result in unprecedented cuts in student loans and grants, transportation, education, environmental protection and enforcement, in other words, the physical and human infrastructure of our economy.
With H.R. 2560, the Republican Majority is demanding that in return for avoiding an economically disastrous default on our debt, we make $111 billion in immediate spending cuts. These cuts seriously increase the likelihood of a double-dip recession. Last month, the economy added an anemic 18,000 jobs. In fact, the private sector added 57,000 jobs, but 39,000 public sector jobs were lost in addition to the 49,000 public sector jobs lost in the prior month. This is a continuing trend; half a million public sector employees have lost their jobs since 2008, 200,000 of them teachers (while student enrollment has increased by 750,000). Firing more government workers will only decrease aggregate demand, making it that much harder to sustain the recovery. We have witnessed this before. In 1937, President Roosevelt responded to similar pressure by significantly reducing federal spending before the Great Depression was fully in the rear-view mirror. The economy would not recover until the increased spending and hiring that accompanied the WWII armaments buildup got the country moving again. After the war, spending on education and housing for our GIs, the Marshall plan for Europe and the construction of the Interstate Highway System established a permanent middle class and sustainable prosperity.
As an appropriator I have learned that budgets are the firmest expression of our values. This is not the time for the Democratic Party to sacrifice our values, values held by a majority of the American people even in the face of opposition that has reached unprecedented levels of ideological radicalization. We must address our long-term deficits, but we must do so in a balanced manner, combining rational spending cuts and increased revenues. In the budget deals agreed to under Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton, tax increases made were balanced with spending cuts. The experience of the 1990s shows us what a rationally balanced budget looks like, accomplished not by constitutional engineering, but by legislation and compromise. The tax rates that prevailed during that period allowed us to invest in our future and meet our obligations, and we enjoyed the greatest period of sustained economic growth in our history, with 20 million new jobs created. Those taxed at the top rate of 39.6 percent brought home more after tax income than at any prior time in American history. Now, however, we are being told that even one cent of increased revenue would be economically destructive. This strains credulity and is disproved by history.