Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Rep. Cooper Withdraws Amendment, but Effort Was Not in Vain

Apr 15, 2011 | Budgets & Projections

Last night, Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN) withdrew from consideration his substitute amendment to the FY 2012 budget resolution that will be voted on today. His remarks submitted for the Congressional Record (presented in full below) explain his reasoning for withdrawing the measure and make the case for bipartisan, comprehensive action. Rep. Cooper is to be applauded for stepping up and improving the budget debate while building more momentum toward bipartisan action on the debt and deficit.

M. Chairman, I believe that America should solve its biggest problems in a bipartisan fashion. It takes Democrats, Republicans and Independents working together to find the best solutions. This is particularly true of budgets, which determine so much of the future of our great nation. Unfortunately, budget season is one of the most partisan times in Congress, despite the fact that the public has been demanding that we stop the bickering.

I have been working hard to offer this House the chance to vote on a budget that is modeled on the President’s Fiscal Commission, known as the Bowles-Simpson Report. I support this approach to budgeting because it is, so far at least, the only serious, bipartisan plan for reducing our runaway federal budget deficits. The Bowles-Simpson Commission received the support of Commission members as diverse as the liberal Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and the conservative Republican Senator Tom Coburn. The Commission received such widespread support because it did three things:

• Cut the deficit by $4 trillion over the next ten years;

• Shared the sacrifice: put every federal program on the table; and

• Provided a balanced approach: 2/3 spending cuts and 1/3 tax reform.

While there are many other important features of the Bowles-Simpson Report, it is important to understand that budget resolutions never include detailed recommendations of any reform plan. Budget resolutions only include a broad framework and mandate that the committees of jurisdiction figure out ways to achieve the necessary savings and reform. That’s why the Cooper Substitute makes House committees reduce the deficit by as much as Bowles- Simpson recommends, but does not tell them exactly how to do it.

I am proud to have the full support and vote of my Republican colleague, the gentleman from Virginia Frank Wolf, who worked with me to pass the Cooper-Wolf SAFE Commission Act to form a Fiscal Commission last Congress. The SAFE Act became the model for the Bowles-Simpson Commission. Frank Wolf has worked harder than any member I know to get the leadership of both parties, in both houses, and the White House, to take our budget deficit problems seriously and to act promptly in order to reduce their burden on future generations. Frank Wolf is a true leader, and he is, in my opinion, a genuine American hero on fiscal responsibility.

I appreciate the Rules Committee making the Cooper Substitute in order. I hope that this return to more open debates in the House becomes the norm so that the best ideas, not just the most partisan ideas, can reach the House floor. Chairman Dreier has already taken important steps in this regard so that the House can once again work its will, regardless of politics or party.

M. Chairman, I had hoped to offer my Substitute tonight, even though the hour is late, not believing that it ever had a ghost of a chance of passage, but believing that the votes deserved to be counted on this important proposal. The timing is not right, however, for several unforeseeable reasons.

Yesterday, the President made an important speech on the budget that, temporarily at least, has inflamed partisan passions on both sides of the aisle, making a vote tomorrow less likely to be a reasoned one. I think the President should be complimented for moving the debate in a positive direction, regardless of the spin that each side has given it. For example, if the President had called for $4 trillion of deficit reduction as recently as two months ago, he would have been denounced by many people. Yesterday, he was more favorably received. I give Republicans, particularly my friend, the gentleman from Wisconsin and Chairman of the Budget Committee Paul Ryan, credit for having moved the debate so far. Mr. Ryan, just like the President, has been unfairly vilified, which does nothing to reduce the debt burden on future generations. Finger-pointing does not solve problems.

Another crucial development is the sensitive nature of the quiet Senate negotiations on deficit reduction, particularly the so-called Gang of Six. We all realize that, because the other body is less partisan than today’s House, a comprehensive solution is more likely to originate in that chamber. The fact that Senators ranging from Durbin to Coburn have already supported Bowles-Simpson is proof. I do not think it is wise to risk doing anything to derail or impair those behind-the-scenes negotiations, which I am told by key senators in both parties could be the result of a premature House vote.

The day will come, probably with the necessary debt ceiling increase this summer, for a comprehensive, bipartisan solution to our deficit problem. For that to happen, the partisan passions of this budget debate must burn out. Members must go back home and brag about their favorite budget before they get realistic and agree on a spending plan that can actually pass the House and Senate and be signed into law by the President. Every day we wait to solve these problems costs us dearly; by some estimates, as much as $8 billion a day. I wish that this cycle of additional politics were not necessary – and I have done everything I can to avoid it – but there are no shortcuts in a democracy.

The time spent on the Cooper Substitute has not been wasted. Countless members in both parties have learned the contents of the Bowles-Simpson Report because they thought they might have to vote for a budget that embodies spending cuts of such size and tax reforms of such nature that it would actually make a difference. Nothing so concentrates the mind as the fear of voting. Numerous members of both parties have told me that they intended to support Bowles-Simpson either on a stand-alone basis or in addition to supporting another budget of their choice. I appreciate the interest and genuine goodwill that so many members have shown in asking questions, comparing alternatives, and making the tough decisions that are required by budgeting. I think that the work that I, and my allies like Frank Wolf, have done is important for laying the groundwork for an eventual bipartisan budget that will be required, no later than this summer, in order to start solving our nation’s deficit problems.

M. Chairman, this Congress must act very soon indeed to start solving our nation’s fiscal problems. I wish today were that day. I voted today for $38 billion in cuts to appropriations for the remaining few months of this year, but that is only a tiny beginning and only affects 12% of our federal budget. Serious reform means getting the House to pass something as large, as important, and as bipartisan as Bowles-Simpson-sized reforms. Bowles-Simpson is not the only solution for our problems, but it is the fastest, fairest, and most feasible solution that we know of today. As soon as this House is able to consider it calmly and sensibly, the House must do so.