Transcript: Q&A w/ Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on the CBO’s 2014-2024 budget & economic outlook

Partial transcript of Q&A with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) on the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) 2014-2024 federal budget and economic outlook. The Senate Budget Committee hearing was held on Feb. 11, 2014:

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island):
…We are having an ongoing discussion in the Senate about extending unemployment insurance. In Rhode Island, I – just flying down – sat next to a lady who has a friend who sort of meets the profile that we’re talking about. She has worked all her life, and she was not able to retire, and she lost her job, and she’s in her 50s and it’s very hard for her to find employment. It’s through no fault of her own whatsoever. She’s constantly looking for work.

In Rhode Island, we still have a 9% unemployment rate, and if you put the number of people looking for work against the number of jobs, there’s just no way you can make it fit.

And we’re also hearing that if you extend unemployment insurance that will have an unhelpful effect on our employment numbers because really these are lazy people who are out there goofing off and if they just got a good solid swat from having their unemployment insurance benefits cut off, then they’d get back to work.

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office:
That is not what our analysis shows, Senator.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island):
Indeed, your analysis seems to show the exactly contrary. Can you tell us what your analysis shows of what the effect of extending unemployment benefits would be on national unemployment levels?

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office:
Senator, our analysis suggests that if the emergency unemployment benefits were extended through this year, that would raise real GDP by two-tenth of a percent [0.2%] at the end of the year and would increase full-time equivalent employment at the end of the year by about 200,000 positions.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island):
So put the other way, to reverse what you’ve just said, the Republican insistence on blocking even a paid-for unemployment insurance extension is costing this country a 0.2% GDP growth and will cost 200,000 jobs if it isn’t resolved.

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office:
Senator, I can only repeat our analysis. Your attribution of consequences to particular people is beyond the scope of my position.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island):
But it does have that effect. Those are the effects that you’ve quantified.

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office:
The effects that we wrote about in a letter to Congressman Van Hollen in December remain our estimates and we repeat some of them in the report we released last week.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island):
On the strength of that, I take this opportunity to urge my Republican colleagues who came within one vote of doing this – we’re one vote away from adding 0.2% of GDP and 200,000 jobs by doing the right thing for people who are out of work through no fault of their own – and how we’re in a place where that isn’t something we can bring together to get done I think is a sad commentary on politics in Washington.

My time is running out so let me close – I hear my colleagues on the other side talk about the debt and the deficit and say how, this is – to use words that were used today – this is a problem that needs to be fixed. And the enthusiasm and the passion and the militancy with which our colleagues on the other side pursued the debt and the deficit problem, I think, is commendable. What concerns me is that that passion and that militancy and that determination evaporate as soon as we’re talking about benefits that go out to wealthy folks and to corporations through the tax code. We are, I think, more than happy to work to reduce our debt and deficit, but it is impossible for me to look at adding to the cuts we’ve applied to middle-income families and to investments like infrastructure and to scientific exploration and innovation and at the same time be protecting the right of the hedge fund billionaire to pay a lower tax rate than a brick mason in Rhode Island.

And my test of what our colleagues are going to be actually serious about the debt and the deficit is when it’s no longer less important than protecting carried interests for hedge fund billionaires. As long as the primary thing is to protect that tax benefit and a horde of others that go to high-end and corporate politically influential people, you can’t put those two to me side-by-side and say that we’re actually really all that serious about the debt and the deficit. You’re only as serious about the debt and deficit as you are putting it in relation to other things, and putting it in relation to protecting hedge fund billionaires paying lower tax rates than brick masons to me puts into context that claim.

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