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Cole Opening Statement at Budget Conference Committee

October 30, 2013

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) is one of four Republican House Members serving on the budget conference committee. He offered the following remarks today during the first joint conference meeting:

Mr. Chairman, the challenges we face on this conference committee are significant. According to the latest CBO long-term budget outlook, “Between 2009 and 2012, the federal government recorded the largest budget deficits relative to the size of the economy since 1946. Federal debt held by the public is now about 73 percent of...GDP. That percentage is higher than at any point in U.S. history except a brief period around World War II, and it is twice the percentage at the end of 2007.” And our nation’s debt will continue to rise, with no end in sight, if Congress does not act.

Mr. Chairman, there is a real opportunity here to show the American people that we can set aside our differences and negotiate long-term reforms. We can succeed where the supercommittee and other bipartisan working groups have failed. But, it will not be easy. My friends in the other body have a very different proposal from the House position, one that significantly raises taxes, continues funding of the Affordable Care Act, and, while stabilizing the debt as a percentage of GDP, basically accepts the over $17 trillion of debt already on the books.

At the same time, I’m sure there are a number of things in our budget proposal the Senate finds objectionable, like block granting Medicaid, premium support for Medicare and balancing the budget within 10 years.

I’m hopeful that this committee can come to agreement on eliminating the damaging, senseless cuts of sequester by replacing them with changes to mandatory spending, like those suggested by President Obama.

Mr. Chairman, we must break the pattern of living from crisis to crisis and relying solely on short-term funding agreements. It has become a dangerous, common place habit since the last time both chambers agreed on a budget in 2009.

We need to provide the Appropriations Committee with certainty, so they can craft bills that have the possibility of becoming law. And we must find ways to deal with our growing debt.

There is much work ahead to improve our economic situation and solve our current fiscal crisis. And I am hopeful that we can find common sense reforms that improve our economic outlook and provide a better future for our children and grandchildren. But negotiations and reforms don’t end here in this committee. This is the starting point that encourages Congress to acknowledge and address our debt.

As the Appropriations Committee has demonstrated, we can cut discretionary spending. In fact, we have cut discretionary spending for the last three years straight, a feat not accomplished since the 1940s. But, Mr. Chairman, with all due respect, it is time for the Ways and Means and Finance Committees to do the same. As I am sure you are aware, mandatory spending programs and net interest on the debt comprise fully three-fourths of all federal spending. At the same time, the over 200 tax expenditures amount to more than $12 trillion over the 10-year budget window. I find it quite hard to believe that every one of these expenditures is necessary or could not be limited in some manner.

Mr. Chairman, I’ve been quoted saying that “revenue should be on the table” in the course of this conference committee. And I believe that it should but not in the way some of my friends from the other side suggest. I think tax rates are already extraordinarily high for hardworking American families; however, there are a number of pro-growth policies that, if enacted, would generate significant revenues for the federal government and grow our economy. Policies like repatriation of corporate profits from overseas, expanded oil and gas exploration both offshore and on federal land, one-time federal asset sales and the like.

More revenue doesn’t and shouldn’t mean higher taxes. At the same time, I believe this committee should set forth a path to allow for expedited consideration of a tax reform package. It has been over 25 years since we have taken a comprehensive look at our tax code. In that time, the fundamental nature of our economy has changed. It is important that our tax code now reflect the priorities of the 21st century.

Americans want solutions that reduce the deficit, overhaul the current tax system, create more jobs, spur economic growth and preserve the full faith and credit of the United States.

The English statesman and political philosopher, Edmond Burke, once said, “All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.” While Republicans maintained their majority in the House in the last election, Democrats maintained their majority in the Senate. And President Obama was reelected. No one party will get everything it wants. And no side or branch of government can dictate to the other.

Sadly, “compromise” has become a dirty word in Washington; however, it is even more necessary in divided government. Otherwise, the American people are the ones who lose. Now is the time for us to show the American people that, even in divided government, we can find ways to function, achieve common ground and make all voices heard and considered.

I look forward to working with my friends in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle to find common ground where we can avoid a debt path which CBO calls “unsustainable indefinitely.”