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Chairman Yarmuth Opening Statement at Hearing on Need to Raise the Budget Caps

Feb 7, 2019

Washington, D.C. – Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, gave the following opening statement at today’s hearing, entitled “Investing in America’s Economic and National Security,” on the need to raise the discretionary budget caps.  Remarks as prepared are below:

Once again, welcome to our witnesses. Thank you for joining us today to talk about the critical need to raise the budget caps for 2020 and 2021.

Put simply, we face $126 billion in cuts to defense and non-defense discretionary spending next year. These caps were never supposed to take effect.  They were deliberately set at destructively low levels to force an agreement on a comprehensive deficit reduction plan. That effort failed, and we have dealt with this problem ever since. We reached bipartisan agreements to raise the caps in 2012, 2013, 2015, and again in 2018.  If we do not act again, investments that are vital to our economic and national security will face devastating cuts.

I reject the idea that we must pit defense and nondefense discretionary against each other, as proposed by the Trump Administration in previous budgets. We all understand the importance of paying our troops; funding training and military operations; maintaining bases here at home and overseas, and designing and building weapons systems. And, we all appreciate the important role that a strong military plays in our security.  But we cannot discount the important role non-defense discretionary also plays in building our economic and national security.

As you can see on the screens today, we have listed just a sample of the programs that fall into what we call “non-defense discretionary” spending. They range from homeland security, veterans’ health care, law enforcement, hazardous waste cleanup and natural disaster preparedness. Then there are programs that provide economic security in the form of Pell grants, Head Start and even mortgage insurance. I could easily spend my entire opening statement just running through examples.

These non-defense discretionary programs represent about half of all discretionary spending. And like defense spending, they are also at risk if we do not raise the caps.

The President’s unprecedented 5-week shutdown had one useful side effect: his shutdown reminded all of us that non-discretionary investments are security investments. During the shutdown:

  • American families were worried about food safety with the Food and Drug Administration’s suspension of inspections;
  • Travelers were delayed at airports and worried about aviation safety due to employee shortages at the Transportation and Security administration; and
  • We all were concerned about the consequences of more than 5,000 FBI employees being furloughed and their forensic and other investigative work being impeded.

Beyond these examples, CBO reported that this shutdown resulted in a permanent loss of $3 billion from our economy. It left us less safe and less prosperous – and hurt a lot of American families in the process.

Next week, we face another deadline to keep the government open and funded through 2019. I hope the President has learned that no one wins when he shuts the government down, and that we can avoid this self-inflicted crisis, particularly when we already have another one on the books to resolve.  As I said at the beginning of these remarks, $126 billion of defense and non-defense discretionary spending cuts are currently scheduled to take effect next year if we don’t act. Our witnesses are here today to talk about that. They are experts on the topics of education, public health, as well as defense and national security – and they will help walk us through the importance of these investments and the consequences if they are cut to this degree.

I would also like to enter into the record a letter from NDD United sounding the alarm about severe cuts “affecting investments that touch every sector of our economy, from health care to infrastructure, scientific research, and education — as well as for defense” if we don’t act. They represent hundreds of national, state, and local organizations calling for a balanced approach to spending decisions.

Before we get started, I want to raise two other major factors that will impact deliberations to raise the caps.

Our veterans’ health programs need an additional $10 billion or more per year starting next year because of the VA MISSION Act. This new program is now an unfunded mandate because Congressional Republicans were happy to make a promise to our veterans for expanded health care access, but couldn’t find the courage to write the check.

Second, the constitutionally mandated Census will be conducted in 2020, requiring up to $6 billion more funding next year.  Failure to adequately fund the Census would lead to an undercount and misallocation of a broad range of federal spending.

So we need to come up with funding for the VA Mission Act and the Census out of a pot of money that currently faces austerity-levels cuts.

Clearly we need to raise the caps, for both defense and non-defense spending. We have done so in a bipartisan manner in the past, and we must do so again now. Thank you.