I’m pleased to have the opportunity to fill in for Senator Sanders in his role today. I assume it comes with 8.8 million twitter followers and a cameo on Saturday Night Live.
This afternoon, this committee will have an important debate about fixing the federal budget. It’s a challenge that requires both sides to bring good ideas forward. I take a backseat to nobody with respect to working in this room to find bipartisan solutions on big issues. I worked for years with Judd Gregg on tax reform. I worked on comprehensive health reform with a number of Republicans who are still members of the committee. It was about putting together bills that gave everybody in America a chance to get ahead.
But Senator Sanders and I very much agree that that’s not what’s on offer today. We are strongly opposed to the proposal before the committee because of a key provision that puts budget reconciliation on steroids.
Those outside this room may not know exactly how reconciliation works, but a lot of people know how it’s been abused in recent years. The Trump tax law’s handouts to corporations and billionaires. Multiple attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The Republican majority has used reconciliation as a fast-track process to shun bipartisanship, cut off debate on unpopular bills and jam them through the Senate.
Why this committee should supercharge that process I do not know. Under this proposal, reconciliation would no longer be optional. You’d have mandatory budget cuts triggered by a system that a majority party could easily manipulate.
There are two painful outcomes that would be virtually inevitable. First, let’s talk about health care. This could pave the way for Medicare to be slashed, for Medicaid to be block granted and for the Affordable Care Act to be gutted once and for all.
This isn’t some wild hypothetical idea out of left field. Republicans attempted to repeal the ACA and slash and block grant Medicaid through reconciliation just two years ago. Dismantling Medicare has been a right-wing dream since 1965.
I don’t think this committee ought to make that any easier. It certainly shouldn’t happen on a secretive, fast-track process.
But this is not just a threat to health care. It’s a danger to people’s jobs – and the resilience of our economy as a whole, too. That’s because this proposal would likely trigger automatic cuts at the absolute worst time – in the middle of recessions, when unemployment is growing and federal revenues drop.
That’s when programs like unemployment insurance kick in. They’re designed to send a jolt of stabilizing energy into the economy like paddles on a patient in cardiac arrest. It’s also precisely when people are counting on Medicaid, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act to get the health care they need, as well as other programs that form the safety net.
If the Congress goes slashing federal programs that support vulnerable people right when the economy goes south, that’s a surefire way to turn recessions into depressions.
As the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, I’m also opposed to the way this proposal tramples all over committee jurisdictions. It is not the role of the Budget Committee to take a chainsaw to the programs other committees oversee, but that’s among the outcomes you’d have under this plan.
I’ll say this – I agree with both sides on the basic principle that the budgetary system in Congress is rotten. There are provisions in this bill I can get behind, such as the provision that would end the debt limit panics that Congress inflicts on our economy. But the Senate is not going to fix the broken budget system by doubling down on its most destructive, partisan component and supercharging reconciliation.
And I want to reiterate this one important point. If this proposal were to become law, years from now historians will look back and say today was the beginning of the end for Medicare.
Today I’ll be offering an amendment to strike the special reconciliation provision from the bill. I urge my colleagues to support my amendment.