Floor Speech: Bipartisan Budget Agreement

Posted on July 25, 2019

On Monday, President Trump and congressional leaders announced a two year budget agreement that provides strong support for our military and increases funding for domestic priorities including scientific research at our 17 national laboratories and the National Institutes of Health.

There has been a lot of chest beating about how this budget agreement adds to the deficit, and it is appropriate to be concerned about the deficit.

But, what's inappropriate is blaming our $22 trillion national debt on funding for our defense, national parks and national laboratories. The problem is mandatory spending on entitlements, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  

What this new two year agreement does is important.

First, it suspends the debt limit – the amount that the United States can borrow – in order to avoid a global financial crisis.

Second, it raises the defense and non-defense discretionary budget caps—or the amount of money that the appropriations committee can spend on our national defense, our veterans, national laboratories, biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health, and national parks.

Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated “…no enemy in the field has done as much harm to the readiness of U.S. military than the combined impact of the Budget Control Act’s defense spending caps, worsened by operating for 10 of the last 11 years under continuing resolutions of varied and unpredictable duration.”

In 2018, Congress avoided sequestration and increased defense discretionary spending for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Reaching that agreement meant that last year was the first time in nearly a decade that the Department of Defense received its budget on time and the Department of Defense received a record funding level for research and development.

This new two year budget agreement will continue to rebuild our military by providing $738 billion for defense discretionary spending for fiscal year 2020, and $741 billion for fiscal year 2021.

This increased defense funding also allows us to fulfill the commitment we made as part of the New Start Treaty in December 2010 to modernize and maintain our nuclear weapons stockpile and improve the facilities to do the work.

Now that Congress has reached a budget agreement, the Appropriations Committee can get to work so appropriations bills can be considered before September 30.

Passing appropriations bills on time is important to our military.  When I met with then Secretary of the Army Mark Esper, now our new Secretary of Defense, we talked about what it meant to have an appropriations bill signed into law by September 30 instead of a continuing resolution.

Some of the benefits of passing a Defense Appropriations bill on time are:

  • Keeps large projects on time and on budget;
  • Keeps equipment maintenance on schedule which saves money;
  • More research and development for new technologies;
  • Speeds up modernization of our current military forces, which makes them better equipped on the battlefield;
  • Keeps military training on schedule, which means soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are properly prepared for combat and prevents accidents.

This new two year agreement also helps our veterans.

In June 2018, President Trump signed the VA MISSION Act, which the Senate passed by a vote of 92 to 5.

The VA MISSION Act gave veterans the ability to seek medical care outside the Department of Veterans Affairs and see a private doctor closer to home.

This budget agreement ensures that we have enough funding to keep the promises Congress made to our veterans.

It is important that the American people know that the Republican majority in Congress has worked together with Democrats to provide record levels of funding for science, research, and technology.

In April 2016, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, told the Appropriations Committee that with adequate and consistent funding he could make 10 bold predictions of what might be able to happen in the world of medical miracles over the next several years.

Since fiscal year 2015, the Appropriations Committee has increased funding for the National Institutes of Health by $9 billion, or 30 percent, per year – from $30.3 billion in fiscal year 2015 to $39.3 billion in fiscal year 2019.

In April of this year, Dr. Collins came back to the Committee and I asked him if he was ready to update those 10 bold predictions.

He said: “There were some things that I did not put down in 2016, that I could now be pretty enthusiastic about…”

“Some of the things we put down at that point, I thought we were a bit overly optimistic, and yet maybe I underestimated how quickly things would go.”

An example of one prediction that was on Dr. Collins’ 10 bold predictions, that we have already accomplished is the artificial pancreas – in 2017 FDA approved the first one.

According to Dr. Collins, we are also close to a cure for sickle cell disease and a new non-addictive painkiller.

With this new two year budget agreement, Congress could increase funding for NIH for a 6th consecutive year to continue its life saving research.

Last year the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee that I chair, provided the fourth consecutive year of record funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

With this new budget agreement I will work to make sure that we provide a 5th year of record level funding.

The Office of Science provides funding for our 17 national laboratories, including the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which are America’s secret weapon -- no other country has anything like them. 

Funding for our national labs is important because it helps keep us first in the world in supercomputing.

China had the top two supercomputers two years ago.

But now, the United States has the two fastest supercomputers in the world. And the Exascale Computing Project will deliver the next generation exascale system starting in 2021.

This accomplishment is the result of not one year of funding, but of ten years of bipartisan effort through three different administrations, Democratic and Republican, to try to make sure America is first in supercomputing in the world.

Today, too many of our National Parks are in bad shape and American families spending their vacations in our National Parks are often shocked to find that so many of the roads, picnic areas, trails, campgrounds, and visitor centers are in such bad shape or even closed.

This new agreement means that we can continue to fund our national parks and begin to reduce the maintenance backlog at our 418 national parks so Americans can enjoy them.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that this new budget agreement that increases spending for our national defense, national laboratories, national parks, and the National Institutes of Health is not the part of the federal budget that is driving our $22 trillion federal debt.

Discretionary spending – which is what Congress approves every year in the 12 appropriations bills – is only 31 percent of all money the federal government spends each year.

Discretionary spending has gone up at about the rate of inflation for the past 10 years.

This part of the budget is under control.

The real driver of our out-of-control federal debt is mandatory or entitlement spending—which is Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and interest.

Even after this new budget agreement is signed into law, discretionary spending will still only go up at about the rate of inflation.

What is increasing is mandatory spending on entitlements.

Mandatory spending, including the interest on the debt, will increase from 69 percent of total federal spending in 2018 to 78 percent in 2029.

As spending on mandatory entitlements and interest grow, there will be less money for national defense, national laboratories, and the National Institutes of Health. 

According to the Congressional Budget Office, over the next ten years, discretionary spending will decrease from 31 percent of total federal spending to about 22 percent in 2029.

Congress cannot balance the budget with cuts to discretionary spending.

The United States is experiencing robust economic growth.

  • Over 6 million new jobs have been created since President Trump was elected.
  • We have near the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years, at 3.7%.

Before Congress passed the first major tax reform in 31 years, GDP was projected to be 1.9% over the next 10 years.

  • For the first quarter of 2019 actual GDP was 3.1 percent.

Higher GDP and lower unemployment leads to higher family incomes and more revenues for the federal government.

I urge my colleagues to support this new two year budget agreement, and to those who are worried about the federal debt as much as I am, the problems are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and entitlements, and when someone has the courage to do something about that, I'll listen to them.