Washington, D.C.– Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks today on the Senate floor about the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Today the House will consider legislation that would force the nation to default on our financial obligations for the first time in history unless Congress adopts a radical new constitutional amendment.
That amendment would impose arbitrary, reckless budget caps that would – without a doubt – force massive cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other crucial benefits. At the same time, it would constitutionally protect wasteful loopholes and tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.
To meet an arbitrary spending cap frozen at 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product, it would shrink benefits and services back to levels not seen since 1966. In 1966, Medicare was one year old and there were 100 million fewer people in this country.
For those who think rewinding 45 years is a good thing, consider how much America has changed since 1966. For example, life expectancy is 9 years longer today than it was 45 years ago.
Medicare has allowed Americans to live longer, healthier lives. This legislation would roll back that progress.
And it would enshrine in the Constitution a set of priorities so backward, even Republican advisors to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have called it unwise.
In the first decade alone, it would mean more than $3,000 a year in cuts to each senior’s Social Security check. It would slash our social safety net, decimating Medicaid and cutting Medicare benefits by $2,500 for every senior.
In fact, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says that within 25 years, it will slash government benefits and services in half. That includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits and every other government service, no matter how essential.
Yet it would make it almost impossible to end even the most wasteful tax breaks and loopholes already in place, such as handouts to oil companies making record profits, corporations that ship jobs overseas, and rich people who buy yachts or and private jets. It would require a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress to raise even a penny of new revenue.
Meanwhile, it does absolutely nothing to protect our economy from the kind of recession from which we are beginning to recover. In fact, if the economy wasn’t already in a recession, experts say this legislation would quickly produce one.
Bruce Bartlett, an economic advisor to President Reagan and a Treasury official under President Bush, said the kind of rapid spending cuts called for in this House legislation would “unquestionably throw the economy into recession.”
This legislation goes beyond the draconian budget that Republicans passed earlier this year. That budget would have ended Medicare as we know it. It would also have cut clean energy by 70%, axed education funding and cost hundreds of thousands of private-sector jobs.
This is worse. It would attack all the same programs, but its cuts would be deeper. And it would slash Social Security as well.
This legislation is so restrictive, Republicans’ own budget – the budget they passed this year – would not meet its standards.
It is so restrictive, not one year of either the George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan administrations would meet its standards.
Of the last 30 years, the only two years that would make the cut were during the Clinton administration.
As the Washington Post said, “Every single Senate Republican has endorsed a constitutional amendment that would’ve made Ronald Reagan’s fiscal policy unconstitutional. That’s how far to the right the modern GOP has swung.”
Bruce Bartlett, the economic advisor to Reagan, said this about the legislation:
“This is quite possibly the stupidest constitutional amendment I think I have ever seen. It looks like it was drafted by a couple of interns on the back of a napkin.”
And that, in my opinion, is being awfully hard on the interns.
Bill Hoagland, a budget advisor to Republican Congressional leaders for 25 years, described it best when he labeled this legislation a “misleading political cheap shot.”
A balanced budget is something we can all get behind. But this legislation isn’t really about balancing the budget. It’s about scoring political points.
But based on 30 years of evidence and Republicans’ own measuring stick, the stunt falls flat.
After all, who do you think helped President Clinton balance the budget during the only two years of the last 30 that actually lived up to the restrictive rules outlined in this legislation? It was Democrats in Congress.
Today, Democrats are trying to rein in spending again. We’re also trying to avert a catastrophic default on our nation’s financial obligations.
Republicans are the ones standing in the way of a deal to avert default, refusing to move an inch despite our offers to cut trillions from the deficit.
As conservative columnist Ross Douthat wrote in the New York Times yesterday, we could already be on the way to a deal if, “more Republicans had only recognized that sometimes a well-chosen concession can be the better part of valor.”