October 30, 2013

Kaine Urges Budget Conference Committee To "Surprise The Cynics"

During first full meeting, Kaine says House, Senate budgets “closer than we might think”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During the first full meeting of the bipartisan Budget Conference Committee today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, one of 29 conferees, called on his colleagues to "surprise the cynics" and accomplish what bicameral legislatures all over the United States do each year, compromise and agree on a budget. Since passage of the Senate budget in March 2013, Kaine has consistently called for a budget conference between the House and Senate in hopes of returning to normal budgetary order and replacing the damaging sequester cuts that have severely impacted Virginia.

"The budgetary dysfunction has hurt us dramatically in Virginia. The combination of shutdown and sequester, hurting defense, hurting other key priorities, we feel it," said Kaine. "We haven’t done a budget conference in true regular budget order in many years. Isn’t this an embarrassment that we here should resolve to put behind us? Are state legislatures more talented or more public spirited than members of Congress? Let’s surprise the cynics who say we can’t do this. I know we can."

The Budget Conference Committee will seek to resolve differences between the House and Senate budgets before December 13 to achieve a compromise on budget issues, including allowing Appropriations Committees to write their bills with agreed-upon compromise spending levels by January 15.  The next meeting of the committee will take place on November 13.

Full text of Kaine’s opening statement is below:

Chairman Murray it’s good to be with colleagues on this. There’s a lot of things we want to do. One of the things I want to do is confound all the cynics who have such low expectations of us. There’s been years of budgetary dysfunction and there has not been a budget conference in a divided congress since 1986. So we start with a low expectation bar and I think we should confound cynics. The budgetary dysfunction has hurt us dramatically in Virginia. The combination of shutdown and sequester, hurting defense, hurting other key priorities, we feel it, I know you all feel it. In the spirit of compromise I wanted to focus on four areas, where I think we are closer together than we might think, as an encouragement to finding compromise. 

First, and maybe the most controversial thing I’ll say is this, we should acknowledge that our 2014 budget numbers really aren’t that different. Now that sounds heretical. The Senate sets discretionary 2014 spending at 1.058 trillion, the House number is 967 billion and that’s a difference of 91 billion dollars. That’s a lot of dollars, but the federal budget is 3.6 trillion dollars. The difference is about 2.5% and I think you’d argue really, it’s smaller. The Republicans would argue that the Senate number might be artificially high because we’d assume there would be no continuation of sequester and we assume the House number is artificially low because you can’t write appropriations bills to match the budget number. So I think the real difference between these two budgets in 2014 is about 1.5%. I can’t believe that we’re going to miss an opportunity to do something right for the nation, for our economy, because we can’t close a difference in 2014 of 1.5%. So we’re closer than we might think in 2014. 

Number two, and this has been covered a lot. We should all agree that growing the economy should be the primary goal. The major test of a successful budget isn’t ink on a page and it’s not even GDP-to-debt ratio. It’s whether a government spending plan helps produce a growing economy where people in all regions and in all stages of life can have a path to economic success. That is what we tried to do in the Senate budget and I look forward to more meetings with House conferees to talk about how the House budget accomplishes economic growth. That should be the goal. 

Third we all recognize that sequester is a bad idea. Senator Warner talked about this. When it was passed, those who voted for the bill said, ‘don’t worry we’ll never get to sequester because we’ll make a deal.’ And those who voted against it largely said ‘I’m voting against it because a sequester is a bad idea.’ So everybody agreed at the time it was a bad idea. And now in the Senate, Senate Armed Services bipartisan has said we need to replace it, House Armed Services bipartisan has said we need to replace it. So if everybody thought it was a bad idea at the time and everybody still thinks it’s a bad idea, then there’s no excuse for finding a better path forward. I hear some people talking in an almost impotent way, ‘well we just can’t do anything about it.’ That’s a cop out, we should be able to fix it. 

Fourth, we all want to replace sequester with reductions in spending. The Senate has made a significant concession to the house on this. We do not propose increasing any tax rates. We think you’re right – we need to make targeted cuts in spending in the discretionary side. We put in targeted cuts in spending on the mandatory side but we believe strongly, as others have said, we have to be willing to look at tax expenditures. 

The recognition that tax expenditures have to be reined in is bipartisan. President Obama, Speaker Boehner, Chairman Ryan, Martin Feldstein, CEA Chair under President Reagan, Mark Zandi at Moody’s – all have said we should do this. Why would we reform Medicare affecting millions of seniors and not consider scaling back tax breaks to Exxon Mobil? Alan Greenspan said those tax breaks are tax entitlements every bit as much as Medicare might be an entitlement.

If you put it in the tax code, it’s an entitlement. We ought to be willing to look at all the tax expenditures. And as Senator Coons said, if we just reduce the tax expenditures in the budget by 5 or 6 percent it would create enough revenue coupled with an equivalent amount on the spending side that we can do significant work to replace sequester and draw our deficit down.

All of my comments have basically been about one thing - I don’t view finding a compromise as impossible. To the contrary, it’s just doing our job. When I was governor, my houses – I had divided houses for two years and two Republican houses for two – always passed very different budgets. But we found compromise that kept our government open and kept us with a AAA bond rating and other states do exactly the same.

So my last question is this: if bicameral legislatures all over the United States can do this year in, year out, then why can’t we? We haven’t done a budget conference in true regular budget order in many years. Isn’t this an embarrassment that we here should resolve to put behind us? Are state legislatures more talented or more public spirited than members of Congress? Let’s surprise the cynics who say we can’t do this. I know we can. 

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