Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. for the Hearing on the “Federal Government on Autopilot: Mandatory Spending and the Entitlement Crisis”

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Once again, in its 7th hearing to date, this Task Force is considering old wine in new bottles.

Unfortunately, today’s hearing is just the latest in a decades-old line of attack by conservatives on America’s longstanding commitments to aid the elderly and the poor. 

As we consider the arguments made today, we should keep a few points in mind.

To begin with, efforts to curb “mandatory spending” and stopping the so-called “entitlement crisis” are really intended to slash programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

These programs comprise the great majority of mandatory spending in the federal budget.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, Medicare and Medicaid alone made up 40 percent of all mandatory spending in fiscal year 2015.

And, Social Security, Medicare, and the federal share of Medicaid – the largest mandatory spending programs – comprised 50.6% of all federal spending.

The budget deficit and the future solvency of the trusts that fund Social Security and Medicare are important issues that merit discussion.

But instead of putting forth a serious proposal that would help raise revenue, the Majority proposes to funnel these and other important social safety net programs through the annual appropriations process, a process that often becomes mired in partisan division.

And while the Majority may protest that they would leave Social Security and Medicare alone, keep in mind that the other important social safety net programs such as Food Stamps (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) only account for approximately 10 percent of mandatory spending.

If the Majority’s plan for reducing the federal deficit relies on cuts alone, you cannot do so simply by cutting funding for these other important social safety net programs through the appropriations process. 

Subjecting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid recipients to an annual appropriations process threatens to harm the basic economic well-being of seniors and working people in need.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, without any government income assistance, either from safety net programs or programs like Social Security, the Nation’s poverty rate would have been 27% in 2014, almost double the recorded rate of 15%.

Imagine the harm it would do to the most vulnerable members of our society if the funding for these programs were held hostage to yearly budget negotiations or benefits were withheld because of a government shutdown.

Unfortunately, given the Majority’s track record, this scenario is entirely possible, if not likely.

Finally, Mandatory spending provisions are not an historical accident whereby Congress gave away too much power to the Executive.  Rather, they reflect Congress’ commitment to the American people to care for the elderly after a lifetime of hard work and to aid the working poor.

Mandatory spending for programs like Social Security and Medicare is based on the need to ensure stability in these and other vital programs so that the most vulnerable in our society can be assured of minimum income levels to meet their basic human needs.

Proposing to subject these and other programs to the annual appropriations process is not a serious proposal. 

It is merely another attempt to denigrate the working poor and the elderly as undeserving “takers,” something with which I will not abide. 

Nevertheless, I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today and I thank them for their participation.

Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

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