Last night, Congressman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) went to the floor of the House to protest the current FY 2004 budget debate and to urge the body to make better, more honest choices in using the budget to meet the challenges our country faces at home and abroad. 

Smith believes that the threat of war and the ongoing recession have brought back deficits, but that they are not an excuse to undo long-range budget discipline. To get back on track, Congress and the president must make the hard, honest choices on our nation’s priorities that are necessary right now to ensure that those deficits will be small and short-term.  Unfortunately, the president’s budget and the budget proposed by the House Majority Party duck those choices, using rhetoric to disguise inaction on critical issues.  Smith believes that with retirement of the baby boom generation rapidly approaching, failure to discipline our budget and better prioritize our spending in the coming years will have far reaching ramifications and add crushing new burdens on workers and taxpayers in the following decades.

What follows is the text of his speech, taken from the Congressional Record:

Mr. SMITH of Washington. Mr. Speaker, first I want to thank the gentlewoman from Oregon for organizing this hour to talk about a very important subject, the budget. Of the many things that are disturbing about the budget that the President has proposed and the Republicans have proposed here in the House of Representatives, I think perhaps the most disturbing, is the chatter that is coming out of the Republican side of the aisle that deficits do not matter. It used to be that a balanced budget amendment seemed to be required, and now we have sort of decided because it is inconvenient to have to balance the budget that deficits no longer matter.

They have come up with all kinds of fascinating arguments as to why that is. I think the biggest one they focus on is to say that deficits do not really affect interest rates, because that is typically one of the arguments against running deficits is that if the government is gobbling up all the money out there, it is going to drive up interest rates and hurt the overall economy. They point to various points in our history and say that, well, in the 1970s we did not have much in the way of deficits, and we had very high interest rates. In the 1980s we had high deficits and lower interest rates. That is debatable. It seems to me just as an economic matter, if you run deficits over a long period of time, eventually that is going to have a negative effect on interest rates. But even ignoring that point, it is simply true that you cannot run a deficit forever.

The biggest reason that deficits are, in fact, a problem is that they suck up all the money for the future and get us to the point as a country where all we can do is pay the monthly payment, just like someone with a credit card debt that is out of control, where they are simply trying to pay the monthly payment, and the interest keeps racking up. The amount of money that we will spend on interest will accelerate. The amount of deficits we run up on a year-by-year basis will accelerate under the President's budget. Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, we are going to have no money for any priorities, be they Republican, Democrat or whoever.

So if we can at least eliminate one notion, during the debate tomorrow I would hope that someone on the Republican side of the aisle would stand up and say that deficits matter. They are something we should be concerned about, and just because they are inconvenient, we should not turn logic on its head and suddenly say we do not care about them anymore.

The other thing that is truly disturbing about this budget is never in the history of this country have we cut taxes while at the same time going to war. The unrealism of that puts us in huge fiscal jeopardy and puts us in a position where we will not be able to meet our obligations in that war. Keep in mind, we are really about to enter our second war. Al Qaeda declared war on us years before September 11. That war was crystal clear after September 11. So dealing with that challenge was number one. Now we are about to launch a second war in Iraq and we, the Republicans, are telling the American people that we can still cut taxes by hundreds of billions, trillions of dollars.

That is hopelessly unrealistic. We have already seen the impact of it, the lack of funding for homeland security, and we are very concerned about it, the lack of funding for the war in Iraq for that matter. It has not been put on the table as part of this budget, and we know there is going to be a cost. That is very, very unrealistic.

The last thing that is troubling about this budget is it in no way stimulates the short-term economy. The tax cut that is being proposed, only 10 percent of that tax cut will come into being in the first year, right now, when the economy is in trouble. If it were truly stimulative, that is where the money would be. Ninety percent of this tax cut is at least 1 year away, which means it is going to have no impact whatsoever on our economic problems today. Presumably in 2, 3, 4 years, the business cycle will return, and we will have a strong economy, and what is the purpose of the tax cuts then? Certainly it is not stimulative.

That is the overarching problem with this budget. This budget reflects a philosophy that says fundamentally we need to cut the Federal Government dramatically. The tax cut that was passed 18 months ago, or almost 2 years ago now, was bad enough. It set us on a path when fully implemented to dramatically see that reduction. Now to pile on another trillion dollars will put us in a position where we will not be able to fund many priorities.

Again, the Republican majority is being very disingenuous about this. They come before you and they talk about the no child left behind bill, their commitment to education. They talk about a prescription drug benefit. They talk about the need to deal with health care. If you are going to cut taxes by trillions of dollars, you are not going to be able to address those issues. The no child left behind bill is already on pace to be underfunded by $12 billion from what the President said he would do as a starting point. What this shows us is we cannot meet those priorities. The rhetoric talking about them is simply empty.

So one final thing I would ask of the majority in the debate tomorrow is to make that clear to the American people, that this is the choice. Do you want simply to have the largest tax cuts possible, primarily for what they like to refer to as the investor class, which primarily means not most of the people in America? Do you want to have that, or do you want to fund these priorities? Because when the Republicans get up here and talk about a prescription drug benefit and talk about education, understand they have no plan whatsoever to fund it. To the extent it is in there, it is only in there rhetorically. We simply cannot have the tax cuts that they are talking about and fund the priorities that they are talking about.

Let us have an honest choice. Let us honestly assess what our choices are, be fiscally responsible, fund our priorities as they lay out there and not pretend that we can have it all; not pretend that in essence we can spend the same dollar three or four times.

Again, I want to thank the gentlewoman from Oregon for bringing this debate out. Tomorrow I think we will have the opportunity to talk about it further. I would urge us to reject the Republican budget plan.