Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) and the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on the Economic and Budget Outlook for Individuals, Families, and Communities. Majority witnesses included Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, Edith Kimball, Elementary School Food Services Professional at Lee Elementary School, and Courtney Johnson, High School English Teacher at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High school.

In her opening statement, which was submitted for the record, Murray highlighted that many families are still struggling in the aftermath of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and she advocated for responsible investments in economic growth, job creation, the middle class, and those working to break into the middle class. At the hearing, Murray heard stories from Americans on how they are affected by the federal budget, and listened to their views on how the budget should invest in them.

Edith Kimball, an elementary school food services professional from Lee, Florida, explained that if the minimum wage were raised, it would provide her family with more stability and opportunity, “I know that Congress is talking about raising the minimum wage. For me, in my job, that would mean an increase of $200 more a month for my family. That would help give us a just a little more in our budget. It could help me open a college savings plan for my children for their future…I know other families in my town that would be helped by an increase in the minimum wage too. And I think it would make more people want to work. It is my prayer that you will think about towns like mine and families like mine when you make major decisions here. We should not be forgotten and left by the wayside.”

Courtney Johnson, a high school English teacher from Columbus, Ohio asked Congress to help in creating economic and educational opportunities, to ensure that all families have a chance to succeed, “We can create a world where kids can have hope that they can move out of poverty and into a strong middle class. You can work on investing in jobs and ensuring job creation in my state and in my community. You can raise the minimum wage. You can make education the great equalizer by providing formula-based funds to the public schools where they are needed most. You can make college affordable.”

Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress highlighted that a thriving middle class is critical to America’s economic growth, “There is no silver bullet to get our economy working again and to roll back decades of rising income inequality. But there is no doubt in my mind that a rising, thriving middle class is the true engine of America’s economic growth – not just a consequence of it.”

Key Excerpts From Chairman Murray’s Opening Statement, As Submitted For The Record:

“The simple truth is, across the country today, the recovery isn’t reaching enough people nearly fast enough.  Across the country, too many parents sit at their kitchen table, wondering how they’ll be able to send their kids to college, or save for retirement. And Congress hasn’t been making nearly enough of the kinds of investments students need to get ahead.”

“Without investments in early learning and education, our kids won’t have the tools they need to compete – and to lead – in the 21st century. Across the country this morning, millions of moms woke up early, got their kids ready for school, and went to their job. But despite their hard work, they worry about paying the bills and putting food on the table…From the high cost of child care, to unfair pay, there are some major barriers for women and families who are trying to get ahead and trying to raise their kids.”

“Our two-year budget deal was a strong step in the right direction. It wasn’t as far as I would have liked to go. But it was a compromise deal that paved a path forward for Republicans and Democrats to work together. And now we need to build on that bipartisan foundation. I was also pleased earlier this month when Republicans eventually joined Democrats to raise the debt ceiling, with no strings attached. By backing down on their debt-limit demands, we avoided another needless crisis. But those were only first steps.”

“Expanding opportunity isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s good for the economy. And it’s a good solution to our long-term fiscal challenges. That’s because when more people have the chance to get ahead, our economy will grow. When our economy grows, more Americans will be able to contribute. And more growth and prosperity will help us to close our long-term budget deficits.”

“I want to make sure that the same investments in opportunity this country gave me are there for this generation and the next. So let’s work together, on a bipartisan basis, to create jobs and grow the economy. Let’s invest in a strong middle class.  And let’s expand opportunity for more Americans.”

Full Text Of Chairman Murray’s Opening Statement, As Submitted For The Record:

“This hearing will now come to order.

“Welcome everyone. I’d like to thank Ranking Member Sessions and our colleagues for joining us this morning.

“And I want to extend a special thanks to all of our witnesses for taking the time to be here today: Edith Kimball, Courtney Johnson, Neera Tanden, Robert Doar, and Scott Winship.

“At our committee hearing a couple of weeks ago, we heard from Dr. Doug Elmendorf, the director of the Congressional Budget Office.

“Dr. Elmendorf’s testimony showed that we’ve made progress in recent years to bring down our deficit in the short term.

“And the CBO report underscored the need to tackle our long-term budget challenges, which I believe we can do in a fair and responsible way, while also growing our economy.

“That hearing provided an important discussion on our economy from the macro level.

“But it’s just as important to me that this committee also examines the micro level.

“I believe we need to hear from people across the country about how the federal budget affects them, their families, and their communities.  And we should listen to their views on how they’d like the federal budget to invest in people like them.

“So, I’m especially glad that our witnesses could join us here today. 

“Edith Kimball joins us from Lee, Florida. She is a mother of three and works as a food service professional in the cafeteria where her children attend school.

“Courtney Johnson is from Columbus, Ohio. She is a high school English teacher and has a son in second grade.

“Neera Tanden is the president of the Center for American Progress. She will share her expertise on how budget decisions in DC touch the lives of families across the country. 

“I hope hearing their remarks will serve as a reminder to all of us that we have work to do to expand opportunities to more Americans.

“The simple truth is, across the country today, the recovery isn’t reaching enough people nearly fast enough.

“Across the country, too many parents sit at their kitchen table, wondering how they’ll be able to send their kids to college, or save for retirement. 

“And Congress hasn’t been making nearly enough of the kinds of investments students need to get ahead.

“When I travel back to Washington state, I talk to parents, teachers, business leaders, sheriffs,  and even military leaders.

“They all agree early learning is essential to our nation’s future. But according to a report from 2012, more than half of 3 to 4-year-olds don’t attend state or federally-funded preschool programs.

“One kindergarten teacher told me that on the first day of class, three-quarters of her students don’t know how to turn a page in a book or hold a pencil.

“Without investments in early learning and education, our kids won’t have the tools they need to compete – and to lead – in the 21st century.

“Across the country this morning, millions of moms woke up early, got their kids ready for school, and went to their job.

“But despite their hard work, they worry about paying the bills and putting food on the table. 

“Women get paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. And, women make up two-thirds of minimum wage earners.

“The cost of child care alone can eat up a significant portion of a parent’s paycheck.

“For low-wage working families, who earn less than $1,500 a month, child care took up half of their income, according to Census Bureau analysis.

“From the high cost of child care, to unfair pay, there are some major barriers for women and families who are trying to get ahead and trying to raise their kids.

”And across the country, I know people worry how our country’s long-term fiscal challenges will affect their children’s and grandchildren’s future.

"Relative to 2009, the deficit is on track to have fallen by roughly two-thirds. But we still face long-term fiscal challenges.  Taken together, those challenges build up. They leave families falling behind. And they offer too few opportunities for people to get ahead.

“To correct that course, I’m hopeful we can build on some of the progress we’ve seen in the past few months.

“Late last year, Chairman Paul Ryan and I sat down together and compromised to reach a two-year budget agreement, the Bipartisan Budget Act.

After years of lurching from budget crisis to budget crisis, from fiscal cliffs to a government shutdown, Democrats and Republicans finally came together and reached a bipartisan agreement. 

“Our bipartisan deal restored some certainty in the budget process. It rolled back devastating cuts from sequestration. It prevented government shutdowns. And it set budget levels for the Appropriations Committees to do their work through 2015.

“By restoring automatic spending cuts, in counties like Snohomish County in Washington state, families no longer have to worry if they’ll receive their housing assistance this year.

“For defense personnel, it restored funding so those families won’t have to worry about furloughs and layoffs.

“It expanded early learning programs so more kids will be prepared to start kindergarten on strong footing.

“And so much more.

“Our two-year budget deal was a strong step in the right direction. It wasn’t as far as I would have liked to go. But it was a compromise deal that paved a path forward for Republicans and Democrats to work together.

“And now we need to build on that bipartisan foundation.

“I was also pleased earlier this month when Republicans eventually joined Democrats to raise the debt ceiling, with no strings attached. By backing down on their debt-limit demands, we avoided another needless crisis.

“But those were only first steps.

“I hope we can continue this bipartisan work to create broad-based economic growth and expand opportunities for more families.

“I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle can come together to address our jobs deficit, the shrinking middle class, and the lack of financial security that too many Americans face.

“Over the next few weeks, the Senate will bring a bill to the floor that raises the minimum wage. Right now, a full-time, minimum-wage worker earns just $15,000 a year. That’s not enough to pay the bills, much less raise a family.

“If you work hard in a full-time job, you should earn enough to make ends meet. Raising the minimum wage would increase incomes for 16.5 million Americans. 

“But that alone is not enough. We also need to create more opportunities for families to break into the middle class. 

“We can do that by making sure more people have access to education and job training. More young learners need access to preschool.

“I’ve co-sponsored a bill that would significantly expand access to quality early learning programs. So far, we haven’t had any Republicans join us. But I’m looking forward to hearing their ideas.

“Congress needs to act, so more kids start kindergarten, ready to learn.

“More workers need the opportunity to go back to school or get the skills they need to move up the economic ladder.

“More parents – especially moms – need access to affordable child care.

“And we should close the pay gap, so we can level the playing field for hardworking women across the country.

“We also need to invest in innovation so American ideas turn into the products that the rest of the world wants to buy.

“And we should invest in manufacturing so we can make more of those products right here on our shores. 

“Expanding opportunity isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s good for the economy. And it’s a good solution to our long-term fiscal challenges.

“That’s because when more people have the chance to get ahead, our economy will grow.

“When our economy grows, more Americans will be able to contribute. And more growth and prosperity will help us to close our long-term budget deficits.

“I know firsthand how investments in opportunity can make a big difference in people’s lives.

“When I was 15, my dad, who had fought in World War II, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Within just a few years he could no longer work. My mom found a job. But it didn’t pay nearly enough to support seven kids and a husband with a growing stack of medical bills.

“Without warning, our family had fallen on hard times. But this country didn’t turn its back on us. For several months, we relied on food stamps. It wasn’t much. But we were able to get by.

“With the help of a government program, my mom attended Lake Washington Vocational School, so she could get a better paying job to support our family. My older brother, my twin sister, and I were able to stay in college  because of student loans and support from what we now call Pell Grants.

“We had lost our footing, but because of this great country, we didn’t lose hope we’d have the opportunity to live out the American Dream.

“I want to make sure that the same investments in opportunity this country gave me are there for this generation and the next. So let’s work together, on a bipartisan basis, to create jobs and grow the economy. Let’s invest in a strong middle class.  And let’s expand opportunity for more Americans.

“I’m looking forward to hearing from our witnesses, but I will first turn to Ranking Member Sessions for his opening remarks.”

 

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