Feb 4 2014
Opening Statement of Senator Patty Murray, Budget Committee Hearing: The 2014 Outlook: Moving from Constant Crises to Broad-Based Growth
“This hearing will now come to order.
“Welcome, everyone, to the first Senate Budget Committee hearing in 2014. I’d like to thank Ranking Member Sessions and my colleagues for joining me here today.
“And I want to thank our witnesses: Dr. Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics; Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; and David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist of Gluskin, Sheff and Associates.
“Right now, as many of you know, the Congressional Budget Office is sharing its baseline numbers and economic outlook for the next decade. We’ll have a hearing with CBO Director Doug Elmendorf on that outlook next week.
“But for our hearing today, I want to take some time to look back at where we’ve been, and how I’d like to see this committee and Congress move forward in the years ahead.
“There is no question that Congress has spent far too much time over the past few years lurching from budget crisis to budget crisis, from one artificial deadline to the next, and from one partisan battle to another. That’s had a real impact on our economy and on families across the country.
“Last March, I was in Lakewood, Washington where I met a man named Matthew Hines. Matthew and his wife both work at the Joint Base Lewis McChord.
“When the across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, hit, both he and his wife were furloughed. Together, they stood to lose 40 percent of their income. Because of irresponsible budget cuts in DC, Matthew worried his family would miss their mortgage payments.
“He was working hard—serving his country—doing the right thing. But because Congress was mired in partisanship and gridlock, his family was being forced to pay the price.
“I think that’s just wrong.
“We were sent here by our constituents to solve problems, not create them. To work together, not tear each other apart.
“So I am hopeful that we, here in this committee, and all of us in Congress, can build on the foundation of the bipartisan budget deal we brokered last December, and on the progress we’ve seen since then.
“Now is the time to move away from governing by crisis, and move forward, by investing in priorities that help families and communities all across the country.
“The senseless across-the-board cuts didn’t just hit defense workers like the Hines family. They also took a toll on education and Head Start programs.
“In years past, the Denise Louie Education Center in Washington state had a waiting list for preschoolers. But last year, because of those cuts, the school had to start dropping kids from the program.
“Across the country, more than 50,000 young learners weren’t able to attend Head Start.
“Severe cuts also slashed other important investments in medical research, in infrastructure, and in military readiness. And it didn’t end there.
“At a time when families across the country have been reeling from the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, brinkmanship in Congress infused uncertainty into the economy.
“Last September, the Budget Committee had a hearing on the detrimental impact of political uncertainty on jobs and the economy.
“In fact, one of our witnesses today, Mark Zandi, was at that hearing. He told us that since 2008, political uncertainty reduced real GDP by nearly $150 billion and increased unemployment by 0.7 percentage points.
“I’m glad Dr. Zandi is here again to share his outlook on the economy today. Because since then, Congress has made some significant progress.
“Late last year, after the government shutdown and debt limit scare, Republicans dropped their demands and joined with Democrats to re-open the government, prevent a catastrophic default by raising the debt limit without preconditions, and finally allow the budget conference that many of us here on the Budget Committee spent seven months fighting to start.
“When Chairman Ryan and I sat down together in the Budget Conference, we faced a lot of skepticism that we would be able to get anything done. Every bipartisan budget group that had met over the past few years had ended the same way: with gridlock and inaction. And coming so soon after the partisanship and bitterness surrounding the government shutdown, many people thought there was just no way Democrats and Republicans could work together for the good of the country.
“We came into our budget conference knowing we weren’t going to agree on everything.
“We came in with very different budgets, very different ideologies, and very different values and priorities.
“But we also came ready to listen to each other, put partisanship aside, find some common ground, and make some compromises.
“Many of us wanted an agreement, not a fight. We aimed for what was attainable, and we were able to reach a deal that showed the American people that the dysfunction of the past few years was a choice made by a minority, not an inevitable fact of our divided government.
“That two-year deal, the Bipartisan Budget Act, prevented a government shutdown and set bipartisan spending levels through the end of 2015.
“It replaced almost two-thirds of this year’s across-the-board cuts to domestic investments. And it prevented another round of defense cuts that were scheduled to go into effect earlier this year.
“The bipartisan budget deal was a step in the right direction. But it was only a step. It wasn’t exactly the deal that Democrats would have done on our own. And I know it’s not what Republicans would have done on their own.
“But the agreement moved us away from the dysfunction that has defined Congress in the past few years. It proved that bipartisan work was possible. And now we all have a responsibility to keep that work going.
“Congress has now built on that bipartisan success. After laying the groundwork in the budget deal, Chairwoman Mikulski worked with House appropriators. And together, they were able to make critical investments in our country.
“The bipartisan omnibus bill we passed last month expanded access to preschool. More two, three, and four-year-olds will get the tools they need to start kindergarten on strong footing.
“For our national defense, the bill eliminated the threat of civilian furloughs in 2014. That means more hard-working Americans won’t have to worry if their next paycheck will be enough to make ends meet.
“And it made critical investments in transportation projects that put more people back to work, and that help make our roadways and transit systems safer and less congested.
“In addition to that important legislation, just last week, under the leadership of Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, our colleague here on the committee, an agreement was reached on a bipartisan Farm Bill.
“So, we have bipartisan momentum right now.
“We should build on that by investing in broad-based economic growth and expanding opportunities for families, small-business owners, and communities across the country.
“That doesn’t mean we lose sight of or ignore our long-term fiscal challenges. Of course not.
“Since 2009, the deficit has been cut in half. We need to build on that work, fairly and responsibly.
“I know Democrats are at the table ready to do that. And I am hopeful that this will be a year that Republicans are ready to join us and make some compromises.
“But we also need to make sure we don’t let the reality of our long-term fiscal challenges prevent us from addressing the reality of our short-term economic challenges.
“Families are struggling today. Workers are fighting to get back on the job—or barely keeping their heads above the water with the jobs they’ve got.
“Our country isn’t making the investments we need in education, in research, or in innovation to compete and win in the 21st century global economy.
“Our infrastructure is crumbling, and we are not doing what we need to do to leave a stronger country for our children than the one we got from our parents.
“So we need to get to work.
“For starters, we should increase the minimum wage.
“One of our witnesses here today, Robert Greenstein, testified last week before the House Budget Committee. I’ll echo a point that Mr. Greenstein made there.
“Raising the minimum wage would boost the upward economic mobility of low-wage workers. A pay increase to $10.10 would help families make ends meet and it would expand opportunities for them to get ahead.
“Last week, in his State of the Union address, President Obama stressed that early childhood education is one of the smartest investments we can make.
“I couldn’t agree more.
“As a former preschool teacher, I know the difference it can make in a child’s life.
“Preschool offers young learners the building blocks they need to go to kindergarten, ready to tackle the curriculum. The path to greater opportunity in this country starts with a quality education.
“So I’ll be working hard to make sure more students have access to preschool, to world-class grade schools, and to higher education.
“These are just a few examples of the work we should be doing.
“But divided government requires that Republicans and Democrats work together. That’s the only way we’ll enact policies that solve problems and help families and businesses by creating broad-based economic growth and increased opportunity.
“Just when we have the opportunity to make progress on investing in the future, some members of Congress are falling back into their old habits and planning to manufacture a crisis over the debt limit.
“And just like last time, they can’t seem to agree on which ridiculous demand to make in exchange for ensuring the United States pays its bills.
“Secretary Lew had an important message for these members yesterday: time is running out.
“And the longer Republicans take to dream up empty debt limit demands, the more economic uncertainty and harm they’ll cause for workers, families, and businesses.
“So I hope those Republicans who are engaging in brinkmanship will listen to Secretary Lew and to our discussion today.
“And I hope they’ll do right away what they have ultimately done twice in one year—give up their demands and raise the debt ceiling without any strings attached, and then work with Democrats on the real challenges we face.
“I recently got an update from the Hines family. And it reminded me what’s at stake here. Matthew said he and his wife survived last year’s furloughs. He just hopes they never have to go through that again.
“Thankfully, because of our bipartisan budget deal, his family and his coworkers won’t have to worry about layoffs and furloughs.
“When Congress gets serious about putting families and communities first, we can solve problems. We can help people like the Hines family. And we can move the country forward.
“I invite all of my colleagues – Democrat and Republican – to join me this year in building on the bipartisan work we’ve done and investing in our national priorities.
“Together, we can move forward, beyond the constant crises of recent years, to make sure businesses can grow and communities can thrive.
“Together, we can expand opportunity so all Americans get the chance they need to succeed.
“Before we hear from our witnesses, I’ll turn to the Ranking Member, Senator Sessions, for his opening remarks.”
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