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Sen Byrd Speech -- Sham of Federal Budget Resolution / 04-11-03

Senate Remarks by Robert C. Byrd

April 11, 2003

The Sham of the Federal Budget Resolution

With the final passage of the Fiscal Year 2004 budget resolution, I expect that many in Congress will congratulate themselves for a job well done. I expect a flurry of press releases to emanate from Washington about who is or is not a friend of the taxpayer, and who is or is not a friend of the President.

Those characterizations underscore just how ridiculous this budget debate has become.

The economy is floundering. Economists are warning that it could begin to contract in the months ahead, raising the risk of a disastrous double-dip recession. The airline, manufacturing, and tourism sectors are already in outright recession.

More than 2 million jobs have been lost nationwide since January 2001, and 3.5 million workers are drawing unemployment benefits.

During that same time frame, the Dow Jones Industrial Average -- a symbol of the retirement holdings of millions of Americans -- has declined by a disastrous 23 percent.

Budget deficit projections are soaring, with some private-sector projections for the current fiscal year topping $400 billion.

The trade deficit remains disturbingly high, with the economy losing tens of billions of dollars every month in growth to other nations.

The dreaded twin deficits plaguing the U.S. economy have raised alarms around the globe, with the world's economic leaders pleading with this Administration to reverse its policies and trim its deficits.

Now, the Senate is on the verge of passing this budget to authorize over a trillion dollars in new tax cuts before the American people can even begin to come to grips with just how badly our fiscal position has deteriorated. This budget deliberately obscures from the American public the mounting levels of deficits and debt we are accumulating.

Have we no shame?

This budget resolution is a sham. The spending and deficit numbers it contains are phony; and I doubt that there is a member in this body who believes the assumptions included in this budget.

We haven't even figured out yet how we are going to pay for the war -- a war that began three weeks ago, and that this Administration has been eyeing since it took office two years ago. The budget is in deficit. Under this so-called balanced plan, the national debt will almost double in just 10 years, reaching $12 trillion by 2013. That's trillion, with a capital "T". We are borrowing hundreds of billion of dollars and exhausting the Social Security surpluses to just finance the current operations of government.

The Congress will soon pass a roughly $80 billion supplemental, but those funds are just a down payment on the war and post-war reconstruction that is likely to cost hundreds of billions of dollars. This budget resolution includes only $75 billion for the war in Iraq, and pretends that not budgeting for this effort will not have long-term consequences for our troops and humanitarian relief efforts.

The economy is faltering. The budget is deteriorating. And all this Administration says is that tax cuts will save us. They have pinned their hopes to ideological rhetoric. Meanwhile, the poor, beleaguered American taxpayer gets stuck with bigger debt and more interest costs.

The Congress has struggled for weeks about whether to endorse the President's tax cut proposals. For a while, there appeared to be a glimmer of hope on the horizon. A number of Senators, despite immense pressures from the White House and their party leadership, voted their conscience. Tax cuts were trimmed so that funds could be set aside to pay for the war, for deficit reduction, and for the other priority needs of the nation.

What's more, the Senate sought to create parity between emergency designations for homeland security and defense spending.

This budget resolution effectively erases those decisions, and replaces them with a lot of nonsense that has already been rejected by this Senate.

We haven't the funds to pay for a war, let alone a massive new tax cut. Our only option is to go deeper and deeper in debt. How deep we are going to go is anybody's guess, but one thing is sure: Our children and grandchildren will still be paying the tab many years hence.

We hear the cry for stimulus through tax cuts. I say bunk! Economic stimulus is a code word for covering your political backside. The economy of this nation has been mismanaged by those who put protecting their political base instead of enacting sound economic policy. If all we had to do was to pass massive tax cuts every time the economy began to stumble, if it was just that simple, we would have done away with recessions in the last century.

President Ronald Reagan had the common sense to recognize the consequences of long-term deficits and the courage to repeal portions of his own 1981 tax cut. President George Herbert Walker Bush likewise recognized the dangers of long-term deficits and signed legislation to increase taxes in 1990. But this Administration refuses to recognize how badly its economic policies are failing. They can only stubbornly argue for more of the same, more tax cuts.

It was unwise, unfair tax cuts which helped to push the budget into deficit in the first place. The much touted stimulus to the economy did not happen. The only thing these tax cuts will stimulate is campaign contributions from fatcats.

The budget process is supposed to provide this Congress with a road map that will guide us toward reasonable spending and tax policy. But under this budget resolution, the war and post-war reconstruction will not be paid for, deficits and debt will continue to pile up, and the American taxpayer won't even know that the nation has veered off the road until the economy is on its back -- spinning its wheels -- deep, deep inside of the deficit ditch.

In The New York Times on Wednesday, Sam Nunn, Warren Rudman, Bob Kerrey, Peter Peterson, Robert Rubin, Paul Volcker -- Republicans and Democrats, moderates and conservatives, former Federal Reserve and Treasury officials -- they all joined together to warn us not to do exactly what we are about to do. They urged us not to rely on unrealistic budget assumptions, not to ignore the deteriorating long-term fiscal outlook, and not to enact these fiscally irresponsible proposals.

This budget makes promises to the American public that we know we cannot keep. It piles years of interest and debt payments on the public, and then tries to obscure them with the promise of economic stimulus.

I oppose that kind of manipulation. I oppose not being forthright with the American people. I oppose this budget resolution.



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