10.04.17

Whitehouse Slams “Sham” Budget, Calls for Overhaul of Budget Process

This budget ‘has the sole purpose of allowing a partisan majority to suspend regular order to pass the Trump tax giveaways’

Washington, DC – As the Senate Budget Committee begins consideration of Republicans’ fiscal year 2018 budget today, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) condemned the proposal as a means to force through trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy using a partisan fast-track process.  He also urged his colleagues to reform the budget rules to facilitate bipartisan debate and real solutions to address the $20 trillion national debt.  If the budget coming before the panel passes, Whitehouse said, it would be the best reason to date to dissolve the Committee.

“Mr. Chairman, we can do better,” Whitehouse said.  “Instead of using the Budget Committee to circumvent the regular order of the Senate, which is our sole remaining purpose as I can determine right now, we should use it as the forum for real bipartisan debate on our nation’s fiscal health. . . . We do none of that here.  A vote for the budget before us would actually move us in the wrong direction.  This budget, and this process, is a sham.  It has the sole purpose of allowing a partisan majority to suspend regular order to pass the Trump tax giveaways.”

“If it passes, it will be the best argument yet for dissolving this panel,” Whitehouse added.

Full text of Whitehouse’s opening remarks at today’s Budget Committee business meeting is below.  Video is available here.

Chairman Enzi and I have agreed that our budget process is broken and in urgent need of reform.    Our committee lacks legislative jurisdiction over the biggest parts of the budget; and appropriators can blow through our numbers with the same 60 votes they need anyway, which is probably one of the reasons that nobody is ever here in the Budget Committee, including right now when I’m looking out at so many vacant seats in the audience and everyone who has spoken, virtually, has left.  The only significant thing we still do is called “reconciliation”—and it has completely lost its original purpose.

Just the fact that we’re here doing this is peculiar.  Under the timetable set by Section 300 of the Budget Act, Congress is supposed to complete work on the budget resolution for the coming fiscal year by April 15.

In January, with President Trump about to take office, Republicans instantly rammed through a budget with no budgetary purpose—its sole purpose was to allow a majority vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 

When that failed, Republicans needed to instantly pivot to tax cuts for the rich, a favorite pass-time.  So we are at it again.  This time with that reconciliation shortcut with the sole purpose to deliver enormous tax cuts to very wealthy Americans.  Far from reducing debt and deficits, this budget resolution passes along the multi-trillion-dollar cost to our children and grandchildren. 

It’s frustrating that Republican concerns about the deficit appear to have lasted exactly as long as the Obama Administration.  The Chairman said in 2015, “We need to eliminate deficits instead of exploding them.”  And, “We [are] facing the biggest debt our country has ever owed.  That debt endangers our government, hurts our economic potential, and threatens our children and grandchildren.”  Yet here we are today to create a reconciliation pathway to grow our deficits by $1.5 trillion in the first decade alone.  We’re back to the Cheney Rule—deficits don’t matter. 

And by the way, no, tax cuts do not pay for themselves.  The deficit explosion following the Bush cuts in 2001 and 2003 squandered what was left of the Clinton surpluses.  The Kansas experiment fail spectacularly.

And I’d ask unanimous consent to add an article at the end of my remarks called, “I helped create the GOP tax myth.  Trump is wrong: Tax cuts don’t equal growth,” written by Bruce Bartlett, Domestic Policy Advisor to President Ronald Reagan, who talks about this as “GOP tax mythology” and “Rushing through a half-baked tax plan, in the same manner Republicans tried (and failed) to do with health-care reform, should be rejected out of hand.”

The late Senator Robert C. Byrd was one of the drafters of the 1974 Budget Act.  He testified before this Committee in 2009, “the reconciliation process was designed to facilitate legislation to reduce deficits.”  Chairman Conrad took that view also and he adopted a rule that reconciliation measures must reduce the deficit.  Republicans repealed the Conrad Rule as soon as they were in power.  And now here we are, passing a budget that is not a budget with the sole purpose to line up a partisan runway for deficit-financed tax cuts for the wealthy.

Mr. Chairman, we can do better.  Instead of using the Budget Committee to circumvent the regular order of the Senate, which is our sole remaining purpose as I can determine right now, we should use it as the forum for real bipartisan debate on our nation’s fiscal health, including how to address our $20 trillion national debt:  what should our debt-to-GDP ratio be, how long should it take us to get there, and what are the guardrails to keep us on course. 

We do none of that here.  A vote for the budget before us would actually move us in the wrong direction.  This budget, and this process, is a sham.  It has the sole purpose of allowing a partisan majority to suspend regular order to pass the Trump tax giveaways. 

If it passes, it will be the best argument yet for dissolving this panel.  And I concur with Senator Corker, who said in his statement that that partisan runway for deficit-financed tax cuts is, to use his phrase, “that is what it is 100 percent about.”  Thank you, Chairman.

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