Remarks of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to NDD Community Summit

December 4, 2012

Thank you Joel for that introduction. And I want to thank all of you for being here today—and for everything you do for families and communities across America.

As we all know, when our economy struggles—it is the most vulnerable families who struggle the most—and who need some support.  I saw this myself—my own family depended on food stamps for a while when my father got sick and could no longer work, and my siblings and I all used federal grants and loans to put ourselves through college.  So I’ve been proud to have spent the last 20 years in the Senate fighting for strong programs to give families a helping hand and help them get back on track.  Programs like SNAP, WIC, the Child Tax Credit, and so many others.  I think this is not only good policy, so families don’t fall through the cracks—but it’s also the right thing to do.  Right now we have a big debate going here in D.C. That’s why you are all here today. It’s being called a budget debate, but it’s really a debate about our values and priorities as a nation.

I feel very strongly that while we certainly need to cut spending responsibly and get our debt and deficit under control—we shouldn’t do that on the backs of the families and children who can afford it least.  I believe our nation’s prosperity is built from the middle-out, not the top-down—and that our budget priorities and investments ought to reflect that. And I am convinced that—despite what you may hear every now and again here in D.C.—it was not the poorest among us who caused our debt and  deficit problems—it wasn’t our children, our disadvantaged, our veterans, or our homeless—and it is simply wrong to ask them to bear the burden of tackling this problem alone.

That’s why I’ve been fighting every day to make sure any bipartisan deal we make is balanced—and calls on the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to pay their
fair share. And it’s why I’ve been very clear as we head toward the end of the year that we cannot— we will not—tolerate a bad deal that throws middle class families under the bus—hurts our most vulnerable families—slashes investments in our children, workers, and communities—jeopardizes clean water and our environment—undermines the future growth of our nation—and continues to protect the rich from paying a penny more in taxes.

Going into the new year without a deal would be deeply damaging. Trust me—I know that. But taking an even worse deal simply for the sake of getting a deal would be deeply
irresponsible, and it would hurt families far more than sequestration in the long run. But before I talk about the path forward, I think it makes sense to take a step back and discuss how we got here. We all remember the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction last year, or the “supercommittee”—I know I certainly do. As co-chair of that committee, I made it very clear that Democrats were willing to compromise—we were willing to make some tough concessions when it came to cutting spending responsibly and tackling entitlements in a way that preserved and protected them—but only in the context of a balanced and fair deal that called on the wealthy to pay their fair share.

As we all know, Republicans didn’t just refuse to meet us halfway—they wouldn’t even step out of their corner. They insisted that seniors, students, vulnerable families, and the middle class feel all the pain—and that the wealthiest Americans—millionaires and billionaires, be protected from paying a single penny more in taxes. Well, Democrats rejected that deeply unfair approach to deficit reduction. We decided to keep fighting for the middle class rather than roll over and let Republicans lock in new giveaways to the rich and major cuts to programs families depend on. And then we made our case to the American people. We built our campaigns—from the top to the bottom—around the idea that budgets need to work for our families and communities—and that the wealthy ought to pay their fair share.

The Republican approach—the Ryan budget plan—was literally on the ballot. And Romney, Ryan, and other Republicans were not shy about telling the American people they didn’t think the rich should pay a penny more in taxes. Well, not only did Democrats win races across the country—but in exit polling it was clear that the vast majority of Americans supported our approach to deficit reduction—a balanced approach. An approach that cuts spending responsibly, invests in our families and communities, and calls on the wealthy to pay their fair share. That is the balanced and bipartisan deal the American people expect—and it’s what they deserve.

As every one of you knows—the bipartisan Budget Control Act that created the supercommittee—and that cut over a trillion dollars in discretionary spending right away—also put in place triggers to be pulled if no deal was reached. These automatic spending cuts, which we all know as sequestration, are spread evenly across defense and non-defense spending—and the goal was for them to be painful enough to make sure both sides had a strong incentive to make compromises and truly work toward a bipartisan deal. So now, if Congress does nothing, the Defense Department will be hit with immediate and painful cuts next year. And there would be deeply damaging cuts to programs middle class families and the most vulnerable Americans depend on. According to estimates by the Coalition on Human needs, if these automatic cuts go into
effect:

  • 1.5 million low-income students in elementary and secondary schools across the country would be harmed by program cuts—and more than 16,000 teachers and other staff would lose their jobs;
  • 75,000 children would not be able to receive Head Start services;
  • 25,000 children would be cut off from safe and educational child care;
  • 734,000 households would no longer receive help paying for their home heating or air conditioning;
  • 550,000 low-income adults, nearly 100,000 dislocated workers, and nearly
  • 20,000 young people who not be able to access the job training they need

And the list goes on and on, across our domestic spending. These are pretty shocking estimates—but I don’t think they are getting the attention they deserve. It’s very concerning to me that so much of the focus in D.C. and across the country has
been on the other half of sequestration—the defense cuts. And although defense sequestration is also not a good way to cut spending—and should be avoided—we can’t allow the non-defense cuts to get lost in the shuffle.

We need to make sure lawmakers and the public understand what these cuts would mean for real people—for our communities—and for our future as a nation. And we need to make sure everyone understands these programs have been cut so much already—they are one part of the budget that is shrinking, not growing—and the families that depend on them have already sacrificed enough. I am working to do that every day here in D.C. and back in my home state of Washington. And I am counting on all of you to help me here and across the country.

It’s also very important to remember that although we managed to protect some programs from the impact of sequestration—like SNAP, Child nutrition, CHIP, Medicaid, and Pell Grants….….the House of Representatives passed a bill that would stop the automatic defense cuts—and actually INCREASE defense spending—by simply slashing more from these very programs families depend on. So even those programs protected from sequestration would be at risk if the House gets
their way. But we can’t allow that to happen. We know how important these programs are for so many families. And to me, this is about choices, and about priorities. Now that the election is over, I’m hoping Republicans will finally be willing to break free from the pledge they’ve made to Grover Norquist to never, under any circumstances, allow taxes to go up on the rich—not even by a penny. We are hearing some encouraging rhetoric from Republicans who have stepped back from the pledge and are willing to work with us on a deal. And I am hopeful they will follow these words with actions.

The Senate passed a bill that would extend tax cuts for 98% of workers—and 97% small business owners. And it would let the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire as scheduled. We sent that bill over to the House. The President has said he would sign it. And all House Republicans have to do is pass our bill, and a significant chunk of the fiscal cliff will disappear for the middle class. And when that’s done, and we have some revenue on the table from those who can afford
it most—we can continue the serious conversation we need to have about our country’s budget future, and I am confident we can come to a deal to avoid sequestration and protect families and communities from damaging cuts to programs they depend on. That is what I am going to be fighting for over the next few weeks. But I need your help.

First and foremost, we all need to keep our eye on the ball. And we need to stand together behind what’s right. We can’t allow the short-term dangers of Republican intransigence to push us into a bad long-term deal that that isn’t balanced, isn’t fair, and would be devastating to families, to communities, and to the future of our country. The American people deserve better—and we need to stand together to fight for them. Second, I need your help making sure the impact of non-defense discretionary cuts is truly understood—and that the voices of the families you fight for are heard as we continue this debate. We need everyone to know that this is about more than numbers on a page—it’s about people—and it’s about our values as a nation. You all see so many of the faces of those who would be impacted. You hear their stories every day. You know the real-world consequences of irresponsible cuts to programs. And you understand the importance of a government that is there for our most vulnerable families when they need it. That offers them a hand up, And that invests in our children, our communities, and our future.

So we need to all make sure every lawmaker understands what’s at stake. And the true choices they must make between tax cuts for the rich and investments in our families. It’s not going to be easy—some people in D.C. have very different priorities and a very different vision for our future. But I believe the vast majority of families across America share these values.