Transcript: Sen. Patty Murray’s opening remarks on the CBO’s 2014 budget & economic outlook

Partial transcript of Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-Washington) opening remarks 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:

…Now, recognizing the findings and the challenges that the CBO budget outlook identified, I think we should move forward in two ways.

First, we need to work to ensure every family has the opportunity to succeed in America. At the same time, we need to address our long-term fiscal challenges fairly and responsibly. Those two goals go hand-in-hand because the best way to tackle our long-term fiscal challenges is to invest in broad-base and long-term economic growth.

Before we get into the details of the CBO’s outlook for the next decade, it’s helpful to take a step back and see where we’ve been.

When President Obama took office, we were facing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The country was losing more than $700,000 jobs a month. Families were losing their homes and parents were losing confidence in what the future would be like for their children.

We have made significant progress since then. We’ve had 47 consecutive months of private sector job gains. Economists believe economic growth is poised to accelerate this year. The housing market has improved, though we can’t forget that a lot of families are still struggling.

And of course, even though these are good signs, the road to recovery hasn’t been nearly as fast or as strong as any of us would like. Last Friday’s disappointing jobs report is just the latest reminder of that.

So while we are moving in the right direction, Congress can and must do more to boost this economic recovery.

In the past few years, we’ve also made significant strides in tackling our fiscal challenges. Since 2009, we have cut our deficit in half. CBO projects it is on a path to decline further this year and the next with the debt stabilized as a share of the economy through the end of this decade.

But, as with the economic recovery, we have more work to do. And I look forward from Dr. Elmendorf about the long-term deficit challenges – challenges we cannot ignore.

To be clear, discretionary spending – by which I mean investments in priorities like national security and infrastructure and research and education and programs that fight poverty and provide economic security – that’s not driving our fiscal challenges. In fact, CBO projects that discretionary spending will continue to decline as a share of GDP through 2024.

In the 1970s and ’80s, discretionary spending averaged about 10% of GDP. Last year, it was at 7.2% of GDP. And by 2024, those investments will represent just 5.2% of GDP.

This decline is alarming because limiting discretionary spending means limiting investments in innovation and cutting edge technology that actually sparks job growth.

It also means threatening our efforts to care for our service members, veterans and their families. Those lifetime investments will be critical over the next few years as more military families transition from the battle front to the home front.

And limiting discretionary spending will roll back efforts kids and families the education and job training opportunities that they need to succeed in a global economy.

I want to be clear in another point in the CBO report that caused a lot of confusion last week.

For too long in this country, leaving a job also meant leaving behind your health care coverage.

In 2008, Harvard University conducted a study that found 11 million workers wanted to change jobs but felt locked into their current job simply to keep their insurance.

One of those workers is named Christine Lane [sp]. She’s from my home state of Washington and a year ago, Christine dreamed of quitting a job to start a small business. But her family relied on her health insurance that she received through her employer. The Affordable Care Act has changed that for her. In January, she retired from her old job and now plans to launch her own business later this year.

By expanding access to health care, more people will also have the opportunity to retire early. More entrepreneurs will have the chance to start a new business without giving up access to health care.

And CBO’s report makes it clear that the Affordable Care Act is good for parents. That’s because it will give more parents the choice to stay home and raise their family, and the choice to reduce hours to take care of an aging parent or a family member. It does not mean that unemployment will go up. In fact, CBO found that on balance, the Affordable Care Act will actually boost demand for goods and services over the next few years, and that’s because when people have access to affordable health care, they’re able to spend more of their earnings on other family needs.

But the latest outlook makes clear we have some areas to work on. The CBO projects mandatory spending for programs like Medicare and Medicaid will continue to rise over the next decade.

The solution isn’t to shift those growing costs onto seniors and families, as we’ve heard Republicans proposed. We need to work on ways to bring those costs down responsibly.

The good news is health care costs have slowed significantly in recent years. From 2010 to 2012, the cost of health care grew at its slowest pace since the government started tracking it in the 1960s, according to the Council of Economic Advisors.

The CBO reports the cost of Medicare “will be slower than usual for some years to come.”

So, we need to follow through on the reforms in the Affordable Care Act that reduce costs and increase access to quality care, and we need to work together to build on them.

Bringing down health care costs is just one part of the solution. We also need a balanced approach to tackle our deficit – one that reduces spending and raises new revenue fairly and responsibly.

As CBO reports in 2014, federal spending through the tax code is the single largest item in the budget, costing taxpayers more than Social Security, Medicare, or defense.

While some of those tax breaks go to important investments and the middle-class and low-income working families, the Treasury loses hundreds of billions of dollars to tax loopholes and carve-outs that benefit the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations.

Big businesses shouldn’t get to write off expenses associated with shutting down a plant in the U.S. and moving it overseas. It’s wrong that corporations can claim massive tax breaks by deducting the interest on loans used to finance foreign operations before they pay tax on their foreign income.

These unfair tax giveaways only incentivize corporations to move jobs abroad, and they make it harder for U.S. businesses without foreign operations to compete.

The list of egregious loopholes and special interest giveaways goes on, and it would be unfair and unacceptable to protect every last one of them and have seniors and families to bear the burden of deficit reductions alone.

In recent years, many in Congress have had almost a singular focus on reducing the budget deficit. While important, that has left us with deeper deficits in other areas. Our roads and bridges are crumbling. We aren’t making the investments we need in education and job training.

While other nations are investing in innovation and research and development, we scaled them back. We have a serious jobs deficit and a serious opportunities deficit, and we would be doing families today and the next generation a great disservice if we let those deficits continue to grow.

Addressing these deficits isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s good economic and it’s good for the budget.

When we invest in job creation and innovation, small business owners create new products and technology the rest of the world wants to buy. And with more growth, more people can find jobs and incomes increase. As broad-base prosperity increases, our long-term budget challenges become easier to tackle.

That point that these two challenges go hand-in-hand is riveted by the latest CBO report.

As I read it, Dr. Elmendorf, the biggest change in the deficit and debt projections relative to last May result from changes in CBO’s economic projections. Those changes lower revenues and, on net, increase deficits and debt by $1.2 trillion. To put that in perspective, $1.2 trillion is twice the amount of revenue that Congress elected to raise by allowing a portion of the 2001 and 2003 tax relief to expire for upper-income taxpayers at the end of the last Congress.

So, we need to put in place a credible plan that reduces spending responsibly, that raises revenue by closing wasteful and egregious tax loopholes and invests in and grows our economy today and pays dividends for generations to come.

But to do that, we will have to build on the bipartisan foundation we built with our two-year budget deal. That deal was a good start. It showed that Republicans and Democrats can come together to put families and the economy first. I hope we continue that work and tackle our long-term fiscal challenges fairly and responsibly and expand opportunities for our workers and our families, because I think if we can do that we can move forward together and build a future of shared prosperity for generations to come…


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