Thompson sounds off on federal budgeting process
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson Wednesday addressed the continuing budget process currently underway in Washington, D.C.
He explained the House of Representatives has the dual duty of amending a continuing resolution to fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, which will conclude Sept. 1, while at the same time reviewing President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for the Fiscal Year 2012.
Efforts to sustain government under continuing resolution
Members of the House of Representatives are in the process of voting on more than 500 amendments to a continuing resolution, Thompson said. A continuing resolution (CR) is a piece of funding-appropriations legislation that is enacted when a formal budget is not ratified.
Under a CR, agencies are typically funded at the rate that was previously approved or at a reduced rate. Adjustments to the previous funding legislation can be made through voting on proposed amendments.
“A continuing resolution is no way to do business,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t provide the information and security of funding that agencies require.”
Funding according to the appropriations of the CR will take affect March 4, and will carry the government through Sept. 1. The CR was introduced and placed under open rule, which means it is subject to change. Thompson has established the goal of cutting $100 billion from the proposed CR in order to begin reducing the national debt.
“The biggest crisis facing our nation is the national debt,” he said. “We are more than $14 trillion in debt, and 60 percent of that debt is held by other countries, most notably China. That is costing us jobs. One-hundred-billion dollars sounds like a lot of money, but when you’re looking at just this year’s budget, adding $1.5 trillion to the deficit, $100 billion is a tiny portion.”
Of course, Thompson and House members disagree on how money should be cut from the CR. Each of the 500 amendments is voted on under open rule. Thompson said the House members were voting until after midnight Tuesday and began voting again early Wednesday morning.
“We need to make the right decisions,” he said regarding voting on funding amendments. “It will be a process that takes a while, but this is the process that our founders wanted. In my first two years in office, there was not an open rule.”
Approving amendments can be a tricky business, Thompson said, because he wants to see the $100 billion spending reduction realized, but at the same time, he wants to ensure funding on items that he views as priorities.
“Through (the) amendment process, we have restored $298 million for local law enforcement,” he said. “Another amendment restored $510 million for firefighter assistance grants for personnel. I supported both of those. When you look at the Constitution, safety and security is the foremost responsibility of the federal government. Both of those (amendments) speak to those aims.”
Thompson also opposed cuts to workforce training spending, and specifically to training funds allocated to individuals who recently lost their jobs.
“Not only do I not support that, I think it is just wrong,” he said. “That money is used to train people to be qualified for family-sustaining jobs.”
When asked where funding should be reduced, Thompson said, “I think, when you look at the size of government, we could probably put everybody on a diet by a percentage. I am certainly OK with reducing the size of government. We need to systematically look at where there are duplicates and eliminate those.”
Thompson identified one specific duplicate that was eliminated earlier Wednesday. He said the CR called for $450 million to manufacture an alternative airplane engine. That spending was eliminated.
“That plane is already manufactured with an engine,” Thompson said. “The alternative engine is a duplicate. The Air Force has said they do not want it, and they have no place to store it. That amendment passed, and that money won’t be spent. That will go toward reducing the debt.”
Thompson also supports major cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I certainly don’t want to reduce the EPA to zero (funding), but the EPA budget has been tripled in the last three years,” he said. “A lot of that spending has been on non-scientific things, and they are supposed to be a scientific agency. I think they can certainly afford to take quite a cut and go back to that baseline level.”
On Obama’s proposed budget
Thompson said he reviewed President Barack Obama’s proposed budget, and said frankly that the president did not supply good leadership. Despite drastic cuts in some areas, his budget actually calls for increased spending.
He said Obama’s budget is simply a proposal, and the Constitution endows the House of Representatives the power to construct the spending bill.
“We do not traditionally follow the president’s budget,” Thompson said. “This is where he exercises leadership from a policy perspective. I think he missed the opportunity for leadership, because it makes some significant cuts in places where I don’t agree cuts should be made, but overall, it raises spending.”
He said much spending is labeled as “investment,” such as investment in high-speed rails or investment in education.
“Until you do the balance sheet and tally up all of the things that he is ‘investing’ in, you don’t see that he is (proposing) increasing spending at a time when the American people are rejecting that.”
Thompson said the national deficit is the “biggest threat to our future.”
“His buget will raise the deficit $1.3 trillion this year,” he said. “Projected 10 years, it will add $13 trillion to debt. By 2021, the deficit would be at $27 million. It really ducks the whole issue.”
Thompson said Obama’s proposed budget is additionally frustrating because most rural agencies that receive federal funding will notice sharp spending cuts. Thompson represents many rural communities and also is the co-vice-chairman of the rural caucus.
“It is his priorities,” he said. “How soon do you think a high-speed rail will run to Punxsutawney? We aren’t going to see that.”
He said rural areas are “badly discriminated against,” especially concerning education.
“The formulas are bias toward big cities,” Thompson said. “Even the competitive grants are. Our rural schools, they don’t have professional grant writers. Usually, it is the superintendent or an administrator writing the grant, so we are at a disadvantage even when it comes to that. The president’s priorities are where they are at, and that is not going to change.”
Thompson also said changes in the federal government’s tax structure may be necessary.
“Fewer than 50 percent of Americans pay taxes to the federal government,” he said. “Something like 46 percent pay taxes, and they are funding America. Our tax code is too complex and has too many loopholes. I’m optimistic that we can make progress on that in the next couple of years.”
Thompson said the president’s budget also cites job growth, but that job growth “comes from expanding the IRS. That is not the kind of job growth that we want.”