Carper Statement on Budget Caps Deal

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, released the following statement after voting against the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 (H.R.3877). The deal increases government spending for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021 by $322 billion, while paying for less than a quarter of that spending. This deal comes amidst an exploding budget deficit that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects will reach $896 billion by the end of this current Fiscal Year and exceed $1 trillion every year beginning in FY 2022. However, this budget deal will push annual deficits past $1 trillion even sooner.

“First and foremost, I want to thank my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee, Chairman Shelby and Ranking Member Leahy, as well as the members of their staffs, for all the hard work they have done to work in good faith to put a bipartisan bill together. They should be applauded for their efforts because the task they had before them was certainly not an easy one. In fact, it was an incredibly difficult one, and I appreciate that they were willing to work so hard to craft this package.

“However, having said that, I remain very concerned about our country’s fiscal outlook. Unfortunately, there is a lack of the political courage needed, on both sides of the aisle, and certainly also in the White House, to put this country on a fiscally sustainable path. While I support many of the important spending priorities addressed in this deal and want to ensure that we avoid default, I cannot in good conscience keep voting again and again to add billions of dollars to our country’s skyrocketing deficit with no plan to tackle it. After all, it was Albert Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Once and for all, our country needs a serious long-term plan – one that is thoughtful and balanced – that begins to rein in our massive federal deficit, raise revenues responsibly and avoid abandoning those who need our help the most.

“Back in 2013, I voted against the fiscal cliff deal because I thought it was an irresponsible deal when our budget deficit at the time was $293 billion. Today, the deficit is $745 billion. This year, it is projected to grow to $896 billion by the end of next month. With this budget deal, we may well see our nation’s budget deficit reach – and even exceed – $1 trillion in the next fiscal year. This cannot be the new normal. 

“Many people have heard me say over the years that I think of myself a ‘recovering Governor.’ Governors are responsible for setting a budget and raising the revenues necessary to fund important priorities. When I was privileged to serve as Governor of Delaware, we had balanced budgets eight years in a row, and we cut taxes in seven of those eight years. But we always balanced our budget. And before I was a ‘recovering Governor,’ I was a ‘recovering State Treasurer.’ When I was elected Delaware’s State Treasurer, the First State had the worst credit rating of any state in America. Six years later, Delaware’s credit rating had been restored to a respectable “AA.” When our country had balanced budgets in the late 1990s under President Clinton and Republican majorities in Congress, revenues averaged 18.8 percent of our GDP and spending averaged 18.2 percent of our GDP. Today, revenues comprise only 16.5 percent of our GDP, while spending comprises over 20 percent of our GDP. A more sustainable path is possible, but we have to be prepared to make the hard choices that the American people expect us to – not just shirk our responsibilities and kick the can even further down the road at every turn.

“Let’s be clear: we can make big, bold, transformative investments that improve the lives of people across this country, but they must be accompanied by earnest, bipartisan conversations about how we pay for those investments. Earlier this week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, on which I serve as the top Democrat, unanimously approved the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act, one of the most significant highway bills in history. Our bill authorizes $287 billion over five years to improve America’s roadways and bridges. As I have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance this legislation, I have also made clear that there remains a great deal of hard work ahead of us to find a way to pay for these much-needed investments. When it comes to transportation bills like the one our committee advanced earlier this week, I firmly believe that those of us who use our roads, highways and bridges have an obligation to help to pay for them. For years, I’ve advocated for a combination of user fees – whether they be a gas tax, tolling or a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) approach – to ensure everyone is paying their fair share. In years past, I have also voted against transportation bills that paid for otherwise good policies with budget gimmicks and increased our deficit in the long run. With the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act, I’m prepared to walk the walk to make sure we get a responsible bill over the finish line, and we will need the President’s leadership to ensure that we have reasonable funding to fully pay for the bill.

“Not too long ago, the idea that ‘things worth having are worth paying for’ was touted as a conservative principle. However, despite being handed an economy that had rebounded from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, added 16 million new jobs and seen the longest streak of private sector job growth on record, President Trump and Congress – both Republicans and Democrats – have managed to add over $2 trillion to our debt since taking office. As elected officials, we all have an obligation to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars. That means working together to find ways to pay for critical programs and projects, while also bringing down costs for Americans and figuring out ways to get better results for less money. That work doesn’t always make headlines on cable news, but it is critically important. My bipartisan bill, the Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019, aims to cut down on government waste and improper payments, which last year totaled $151 billion. Another bipartisan bill of mine, the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act, would curb erroneous payments to deceased individuals and save millions of dollars. A third bill, the bipartisan Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 that the Senate Finance Committee approved last week, would bring down the cost of prescription drugs and save taxpayers more than $100 billion over the next 10 years. 

“The money saved by these combined efforts can be put to good use, like funding life-saving health care programs, cleaning up our environment, investing in our decades-old infrastructure or simply reducing budget deficits. It’s unlikely that, in the near future, we’re going to hit a home run with runners on base that will fix all of our financial woes. But, by passing smart bills like these, we can begin to get our fiscal house in order.

 “Our constituents expect their elected officials, both in Congress and in the Administration, to be able to work together to tackle our long-term fiscal challenges. I hope that this intransigence will be overcome someday soon, and that the next time there is an effort to put together a budget deal, both sides will seize the opportunity to make the hard choices that we know must be made. In the meantime, I will continue to work with my willing colleagues to put principles into action.”