As a former member of the House Budget Committee, I am keenly aware that we cannot keep borrowing our way to a better future. We must continue to take decisive action to reduce our federal deficit. However, I also believe there is a role for government in making investments to create growth and ensure economic security. We are still working our way out of a recession, and Rhode Islanders are looking for a government that lives within its means while investing in its people. I pledge to continue to work towards both of those goals.
The two-year budget deal reached in December 2015 (Bipartisan Budget Act) was a breakthrough in a difficult fiscal and political environment. The agreement provided the budget framework to roll back some of the most harmful cuts imposed by sequestration. Specifically, it provided $80 billion in sequestration relief over two years - $50 billion in FY16 and $30 billion in FY17, divided equally between defense and non-defense discretionary spending. The agreement also prevented a sharp increase in Medicare Part B premiums for certain beneficiaries in 2016; and it extended the solvency of the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund until 2022.
Unfortunately, the budgeting process has become increasingly acrimonious, with House Republicans declining to hold even a hearing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget request – the first time such a hearing has not been held since 1975. We must put politics aside and address our fiscal challenges. We must also honor the debts we have previously incurred, decisions which impact the nation’s statutory debt limit. I do not believe in playing political games with the full faith and credit of the United States. The impacts of defaulting on our sovereign debt – or even suggesting we might – could have a disastrous impact on the underlying trust that holds our economy together.
Finally, we should not impose fiscal austerity at the risk of our economic recovery, or cut just for the sake of cutting. We have a serious budget deficit, but we also have a significant jobs deficit. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate remains among the highest in the nation, a statistic that does not represent the true potential of our great state. I will continue working diligently to ensure that the federal government funds programs that help Rhode Islanders heat their homes, put food on their tables, and send their children to college, while strengthening economic development opportunities that will foster job creation and prepare our students for successful futures.
Our budgets reflect our values and our priorities. We must continue to prioritize immediate investments in education, infrastructure, biomedical research and clean energy that will strengthen our recovery, while seeking a balanced approach to deficit reduction over the long term so we can return to a strong and prosperous economy. As we work in a bipartisan fashion to create a fiscal framework for our country, we must be sure we do not turn our back on these priorities. While I review the annual funding bills to attempt to weed out excessive spending and waste, I will oppose cuts to the services we rely on to keep our country afloat.