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Yarmuth Opening Statement at Joint Select Committee Hearing

Apr 17, 2018

Washington, D.C. – Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee, gave the following opening statement at today’s hearing of the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform:

Thank you very much Mr. Chairman, and I want to thank you and Co-Chair Lowey for getting this process off to a very good start. As I said in one of our initial meetings, I think it is key that we focus on defining the problems we are seeking to fix, and from the tenor and the substance of the opening remarks that I’ve heard from our members so far, I can see where this is going. This is going to be a situation in which everything will have been said but not everybody has said it.

And I think that’s actually very encouraging because I think it shows that this committee is committed to a very serious, nonpartisan approach to solving what is a very difficult problem. And I find that very encouraging, I think it’s been said several times already that whatever we propose should not be aimed at some kind of a philosophical result or any kind of outcome, and I think that is very positive and the way we ought to approach it. I just have a couple of thoughts that occurred to me, and having been on the budget committee now for almost 10 years one of the things I think is very important is that most people, when they look at the federal budget think of it as in terms of the context that they see elsewhere, a corporate budget, a personal family budget. And I think this is a mistake.

I think a governmental budget is something that is very very different from a business budget and from a personal family budget. In the government, we have a responsibility for coming up with a budget but we’re not the managers. The managers are the voters. We’re also not the customers. The voters are the customers. We have to figure out what they want us to do, of course that’s part of our campaigns, but it’s a very different perspective when we’re trying to figure out what’s an appropriate level of spending for which categories when we’re not the ones that are actually finally ratifying our choices.

And the other thing that concerns me, and Senator Whitehouse mentioned this as well, is that in practice, revenues have been totally detached from the budget process. And, if you’re in a business, as I’ve been, when you’re thinking about what you want to accomplish in your business, other than making money, you think about first what you want to accomplish. I was in the newspaper business, I decided on what kind of a product I wanted to produce, and then I decided what resources were necessary. If there weren’t enough resources, I hired a new sales manager or a new sales representative who would go out and try to generate more income, and I don’t think we could view government quite the same way.

But we also can’t ignore the fact that revenue is a very critical part of what we do. And this process, at least as long as I’ve been involved in it, has totally ignored revenue as a component of the budget. When we put out a budget, an alternative budget, last year, and the year before that, the Democratic budget actually called for increased revenues. Of course, that led to political challenges from the other side, and I don’t expect to hear that in this process, but that, I think, is something we cannot fail to recognize. That as much as expenditures are important, we have expectations that our managers place on us. They know what they want government to do for them. And we have to figure out, not only how to allocate money for those responsibilities, those functions, but we also have to figure out how to generate the revenue as well.

So, once again, I’m very encouraged by the tenor of the discussion so far in our prior meetings and today, and I look forward to a very productive process.