Feb 13 2013
Chairman Murray Opening Statement at the Hearing on the Impact of Federal Budget Decisions on Families and Communities
“This hearing will now come to order.
“I want to thank our witnesses, who I will introduce shortly. As well as the ranking member Senator Sessions—and all of my colleagues for joining me here today.
“Yesterday we heard from the Congressional Budget Office Director Dr. Doug Elmendorf on the budget and economic outlook. His testimony and answers to our questions provided an extremely helpful look at the issues facing this committee at the macro level. And based on what he said about our fragile economy, it’s very clear to me that the highest priority of this committee should be broad-based economic growth and job creation—as we work to responsibly tackle our deficit and debt challenges.
“But as we work to put together our pro-growth, pro-middle class budget resolution over the coming weeks and months, I feel very strongly that we can’t just limit ourselves to discussions of number, charts, and trajectories—though those are important too.
“We need to make sure we are hearing from the families and communities across the country impacted by the decisions we make here in Washington, D.C. They need to have a seat at the table. Their values and priorities need to be represented. And their stories need to be heard. That’s what this hearing is about today. And I am going to work every day over the coming weeks and months to make sure families across the country are heard loud and clear in a budget process that is too often limited to politicians and bureaucrats.
“But before I ask others to share their stories today—I want to start off by sharing mine. Not because my story is unique—it’s not. Similar stories are told by millions of families across the country. But because it has shaped who I am and how I approach this issue—and I think stories like it need to have a place in this conversation.
“I was born and raised in Bothell, Washington, in a big, loving family with six brothers and sisters. I was one of the oldest, and we were all very close. My dad ran a five and ten cents store on Main Street, and everyone in the family helped out at the store. We didn’t have a lot, but we didn’t feel deprived in any way.
“But when I turned 15, things started to change. My dad, a World War II veteran, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. In a few short years, his illness got so bad he couldn't work anymore.
“My mom, who had stayed home to raise the kids, had to take care of him. But she also needed to get a job so she could support our family. She found some work, but it didn’t pay enough to support seven kids and a husband with growing medical bills. Without warning, our family had fallen on hard times.
“Now, fortunately for all of us, we lived in a country where the government didn't just say ‘tough luck.’ It extended a helping hand. Because our nation honored the commitment it made to the veterans who had served it, we didn’t have to worry too much about medical bills for my dad.
“But for several months, our family had to rely on food stamps. They were meager, but they kept food on the table while we figured things out.
“To get a better paying job, my mom needed more training. Fortunately, at the time there was a government program that helped her attend Lake Washington Vocational School where she got a two-year degree in accounting, and eventually, a better job.
“My twin sister, my older brother and I were able to stay in college through student loans and support from what later came to be called Pell Grants. And all of the kids were able to stay in school because we are lucky enough to have strong local public schools.
“My family got by with a little bit of luck. We pulled through with a lot of hard work. And while I’d like to say we were strong enough to make it on our own—I don’t think that’s really true.
“Today my family may have been called ‘takers, not makers.’ Others may have said the programs we used to keep our heads above the water were ‘immoral.’ Presidential candidates may have told their donors we were in the 47% who couldn’t be convinced to take personal responsibility or care for our lives.
“But I know the support we got from our government was the difference between seven kids who might not have graduated from high school or college and the seven adults we've grown up to be today—all college graduates, all working hard and paying taxes, and all doing our best to contribute back to our communities. In my book, taxpayers got a pretty good return on their investment.
“Now I don’t think government can or should solve every problem—people need to take responsibility for their actions, families need to care for each other, private businesses need to drive our economy, and communities and religious organizations need to play a strong role.
“But America has always come together as a nation to stand with families like mine. To invest in our people and our communities. To plan for the future. And to build the most robust middle class the world has ever seen.
“So this is the prism I view our nation’s budget through. And it’s what guides me as I work in the Senate and on this committee to impact the choices we make. My story—my experiences—and the experiences of people and communities across the country.
“People like Katyanne Zink—a young woman in this room today who I met just before this hearing started. Katyanne grew up in a low-income neighborhood in New Hampshire with parents who didn’t go to college themselves, but who desperately wanted the best for their children.
“She had a great public school teacher who helped guide her into a TRIO program—and only because of Pell Grants and student loans was she able to go to college, earn her degree in nursing, and give back to her community as an urgent-care nurse in her home state.
“Our witnesses today also have stories to share with this committee about the impact of federal budget decisions.
“Tara Marks will be sharing her story about the support she received to get back on her feet after circumstances pulled her and her son out of a middle class life.
“Patrick Murray is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who will tell us about the opportunities he was able to access after he sacrificed so much for his country.
“Also, Robert Greenstein from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities will share his expertise on how budget decisions impact the lives and opportunities of families across the country.
“And I will allow Senator Sessions to introduce the witnesses he’s invited in his opening statement, but I want to thank Secretary Gary Alexander from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, and Robert Woodson, Sr. from the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise—for joining us here today.
“Two weeks ago I also rolled out an online platform called MyBudget for members of the public to share their stories, ideas, and priorities with me and the committee. I’ve already received over 2,000 responses—and I encourage everyone watching today to go to our site at budget.senate.gov/democratic to weigh in.
“Because as we work to write our pro-growth budget resolution, I am going to make sure it represents the values and priorities of the people we represent. That is the most important thing we can do here in this committee.
“When I go back home to Washington state, my constituents tell me they want a budget that works for people like them. They want their government to be there when they need some support—and to help make sure they have every opportunity they deserve to succeed and do better for themselves and their families.
“In other words, they want what my family had. What Katyanne, Tara, Patrick—and millions of others had.
“Yes, our constituents want us to responsibly tackle our deficits and debt—they certainly don’t want to hand the bill to their kids. But they want that done in a balanced and fair way that doesn’t sacrifice jobs, opportunity, and broad-based economic growth.
“And at a time when so many families are still fighting their way back from the hit they took in Great Recession, when so many workers are still struggling to find work, stay in their homes, put food on their table, and when our tax code remains riddled with loopholes and giveaways for the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations—I think most families agree that while every program should be examined and made more efficient if it’s not working as well as it should be, and we should certainly make sure we are weeding out fraud and abuse in defense as well as domestic programs—it simply doesn’t make sense to focus exclusively on slashing programs that help those who need them the most. Especially the ones that have expanded to support struggling families and that will shrink to their historical norms once the economy gets back on track. And I think Americans agree that it’s absolutely wrong to call on the middle class, seniors, and most vulnerable families to bear the burden of deficit reduction alone.
“That’s how I view this issue as we work to replace sequestration in a balanced way over the coming days. And it’s how I am approaching the pro-growth, pro-middle class budget resolution we will be writing in the weeks ahead.
“I would now like to turn this over to Senator Sessions for his opening statement.”
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