108th Congress (2003-2004)
THE BUDGET DEFICIT — (House of Representatives – March 12, 2003)
In the first 180 years of this country’s history, our total spending did not amount to as much as the spending for
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this next fiscal year that we are projecting, a little over $2 trillion. So government has grown much faster than the rest of the economy. What does this mean? We have not used the world “socialism,” but I think as government is bigger and does more things and does not empower people but empowers the Federal Government, we become more socialistic. And people are expected to pay in based on their ability to pay in, and take out based on their needs.
I think what has made this country great is the fact that those that learn and apply, those that work hard and save, those that invest end up better off than those that do not. That has been part of the motivation of our Constitution, which has brought us to the best, the strongest economy in our world in our last 226 years. How do we keep people’s eyes from glazing over when we talk about going deeper in debt, and we hear justifications, that debt is manageable as a percentage of GDP? But just on a commonsense, logical basis, should we be passing this burden on to our kids and grandchildren?
How many grandmothers and grandfathers would be saying, if they understood the burden that they are putting on their grandchildren, we will do with a little less, but the Federal Government has to hold the line on spending?
Mr. BARTLETT of Maryland. Madam Speaker, the average American has little idea of how much tax they pay. The last year for which I saw data, tax freedom day was May 10. Every American citizen works up through May 10 to pay Federal, State, and local taxes. On May 10, Americans will have paid all of their taxes; but May 11, do not count on working for yourself because for the next 7 weeks, up until July 6 last year, every American had to work full time to pay the cruelest tax of all, the most regressive tax we pay, it is the worst tax for our poorest people because the poorest of the poor have to pay this tax, just like the richest pay the tax. There is no exemption from this tax, there is no deduction for this tax, and it is the favorite tax of my liberal friends who do not understand how really regressive this tax is. And what this tax is, it is unfunded Federal mandates. It is all of the laws that we have passed here that require a State or a county or a city or a business to do something that costs them money which we do not pay for in the Federal budget. It is called an unfunded Federal mandate, and that consumes the working time of every American for about 7 weeks, that is, 52 percent of your time is spent working for the government.
Mr. SMITH of Michigan. Madam Speaker, in the last few days, a lot of local representatives of local government are coming into Washington complaining about these unfunded mandates. Here is the Federal Government, since we like to not spend the money maybe and not have the debt look so bad, we simply pass a law that the State or a local unit of government has to do it.
We have to watch and guard against that as we look at a new Department of Homeland Security and the tendency of this Department to put out regulations and rules and mandates of what local governments should do. If we put out a mandate, then the gentleman from Maryland and I both agreed that the Federal Government should pay for it if we are going to demand that a local municipality or State is going to provide those services. If the Federal Government is passing a law for local units of government or companies, then the Federal Government has a responsibility to pay for it.
Mr. BARTLETT of Maryland. I think the most important thing to remember here is what we are doing here does not affect just you and me this year and our taxes; it is going to affect our kids and our grandkids.
I just cannot in good conscience continue to pass on to my kids and my grandkids this ever-increasing debt. What we are telling them is that it is impossible for us to run our government on current revenues because our needs are so important; they need to understand that we have to borrow from their generation so that we can continue to live the way we are living now in our generation.
We are telling them that, Sally and John, when it comes time for you to run the government, not only are you going to have to run the government on current revenues, but you are going to have to pay back all the money that we borrowed from your generation. Milton Friedman observed that government spends all the money you give it plus as much more as it can get away with.
Washington loves to spend money. Whenever a new bill comes up that has more money in it than we had in it last year, the question is always asked, if we spend more money, can we help more people? That is not the right question to ask. Of course if we spend more money we will help some more people. But the right question to ask is would this money help more people if we left it in the private sector than if we took it into the government and spent it? The answer to that question is almost always, except for running the military perhaps, that the money will do more good when left in the private sector.
So you listen to people here on the floor, they are always making the wrong point. They are always asking the wrong question. What they are saying is, if we spend more money, will we help more people? Yes. But that is not the right question. The right question is, if we left this money in the private sector, would it help more people than if we took it into the government and spent it? Almost every time the answer to that question is, please leave it in the private sector.
Mr. SMITH of Michigan. It is interesting that the original framers of our Constitution put in the Constitution that there would not be a tax based on income. They were looking at ways to structure a United States that encouraged effort, that encouraged work. We eventually amended that so we started saying, well, we will start out with a 1 percent tax on what you earned, now it goes up to 39 1/2 percent of what you earn. It says to a young couple that wants to do a little better for their kids, we are going to tax you so much if you go out and get a job, but if you work an extra half shift or a full shift and earn more money, we are not only going to tax that extra earning but we are going to tax it at a higher rate. It has tended to be in many cases a discouragement for the kind of productivity that has made us so great in the first place.
As we look at our tax revision and how do we make our tax more fair, how do we have a tax that encourages savings, that encourages investment, it is something that has to be done to our very complicated Tax Code, where lobbyists and special interest groups have come in and got special favors for the sectors that they represent, often to the cost and expense of so many American taxpayers.
I think the points that we want to stress as we conclude tonight’s session are, I think everybody during the next election should ask every Member of Congress that is running for Congress why they are increasing the debt that our kids and our grandkids are going to have to pay off, what they are going to do about Social Security, what they are going to do about Medicare. As the workforce goes down, the demographics, if you will, as there are fewer people working to pay all of the benefits for seniors, I think we should be asking Members of Congress, what is the honest reality of increased spending, that increased debt, and what are the unfunded liabilities of government, and there are so many unfunded liabilities, what we are eventually going to have to pay that is not considered in this budget. In fact, Social Security is the only revenue that has been taken off-budget so that you can see it on a separate line. Most of the intergovernment expenses are still considered under the budget, under the general fund.
Let me give you one example. All of the Members of Congress, all of the employees of the United States Government, there is no money that actually goes into the Social Security Administration. What happens is there is simply an IOU written for all of these Federal employees, Members of Congress, this is an IOU of how much we owe you for that 12.4 percent of the payroll of Federal Government workers and Members of Congress. There is a lot of pretense in the budget and honesty is going to be the basis and understanding how the debt is growing and the consequences of each annual deficit
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that adds into a larger and larger debt, understanding the consequences of how it affects our economic future and the future of our kids.
Mr. BARTLETT of Maryland. You mentioned our Founding Fathers. It might be instructive to seek their counsel and to look back at how we got here and their dreams for this country. Our Founding Fathers came mostly from the British Isles and the European continent. If you think back in your history, almost all of them came from a country that was ruled by a king or an emperor who claimed and, incredibly from our perspective, was granted divine rights . What that says is that the rights came from God to the king or the emperor. They were divine rights . He would give what rights he wished to his people. When our Founding Fathers came here, in that Declaration of Independence, they made a very radical statement and we read it and seldom reflect on how radical it was. They said there that all men are created equal. The country they came from did not believe that because they thought the king and the emperor was created more equal, if we can use the term from Animal Farm. And that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights . Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And what our Founding Fathers wanted to establish was a very limited government. They did that by writing into the Constitution, and I always carry a copy of it, in article 1, section 8, and these are just the words between my two thumbs. That is not much. This describes all of the powers that they granted to the Federal Government.
Just after I came here, about 10 years ago, I was given 3 1/2 minutes in debate. That is a long time in debate. It was about a land grab that I thought was unconstitutional. So I took out my Constitution and I went down it. I am not going to read every word in this, it is not much if I read it all, but I just hit the highlights of each of these little paragraphs. You can see that they are little paragraphs.
That Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes. We learned how to do that, did we not?
To borrow money. We are doing that big time.
To regulate commerce.
To establish a uniform rule of naturalization.
To coin money and regulate the value thereof. Somehow we gave that away to the Federal Reserve without amending the Constitution. I do not quite know how we did that.
Provide for the punishment of counterfeiting.
Establish post offices and post roads.
Promote the progress of science. These are copyrights and patents.
Constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court. This is our lower courts.
Define and punish piracies and felonies.
And then about a third of all of these words deal with our control of the military.
To declare war. We do that. The President does not do that.
Raise and support armies.
Provide and maintain a Navy.
Make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces.
Provide for calling forth the militia.
Provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the militia.
And then a big paragraph on the District of Columbia, to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever. I am really supportive of home rule, but I do not know how we gave Washington home rule without amending the Constitution, which I think we should have done.
When I finished doing this, I went to leave and the recording clerk that sits just behind me came up the aisle behind me and tapped on my shoulder and said, What was that you were reading from? Oh, I said, that is the Constitution.
Can I see it? I hand it to them.
Can I copy it? They took it back and copied it.
ANNOUNCEMENT BY THE SPEAKER PRO TEMPORE
The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mrs. Blackburn). The Chair will remind Members that it is inappropriate in debate to refer to other Members by their first names.
Mr. BARTLETT of Maryland. Madam Speaker, our Founding Fathers were so concerned that someone might not understand that they really meant to have a limited Federal Government, that just 4 years later, in 1791, they wrote 12 amendments that started through the process of two-thirds of the House, two-thirds of the Senate, three-fourths of the State legislatures, 10 of those made it through, we know that there was a Bill of Rights , and the 10th amendment in the Bill of Rights , the most violated amendment in the Constitution, the least referred to amendment in the Constitution probably, says very simply, the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the States are reserved to the States respectively or to the people. That is old English and that is legalese. If we put that in modern everyday language what it says is if you can’t find it in article 1, section 8, you can’t do it.
I brought this up because this is the reason that we have this problem, an ever increasing debt, because we have not recognized the limited Federal Government that our Founding Fathers envisioned for us. Were they to be resurrected today and come see what we have done to their country, they might have a heart attack and die very quickly again. But they could not have imagined that the Federal Government would be what it is today, doing all of the things, little of which, by the way, can be justified by article 1, section 8, which is supposed to define what we do. So one way of solving our problem is a return to truly constitutional government, to stop doing those things that in their wisdom they knew could be done better in the private sector. We need to keep asking that question over and over again. Where will this money do the most good? Spent by government or left in the private sector to provide jobs and resources for our people?
Mr. SMITH of Michigan. Let us make clear, left in the private sector means being left in the pockets of the people that earn it. I would like to finish up on I think somewhat of a little bit of a positive note. In spite of the dilemma and the projection for increased deficits, the Republican Conference met this morning. We talked about our determination to hold the line on spending. The Committee on the Budget that is still meeting, I think, at this hour of the night to pass out their final resolution does a couple of things. It says let us reduce spending, discretionary spending outside of defense and homeland security. Let us reduce that discretionary spending by 1 percent across the board. And then if this budget is passed by the House and the Senate, it will go to the appropriators and it will be up to the appropriators to decide how to move some of that discretionary funding around so that they end up actually reducing, for the first time in the gentleman from Maryland’s career here in Congress, in my career in Congress, because we came together in 1993, it will be the first time that there has actually been some reduction in discretionary spending outside of defense, and in this case also outside of homeland security. So a little good news. Let us hope that we have the intestinal fortitude, the determination to do what is right and at least start a beginning of being honest of what the debt is and how much it is and slowing down spending.