By John Dingell
Springtime is a busy time. It is a time to plant seeds, take action, and work together to clean out clutter in our house. While our Congress needs some spring cleaning, it is important to remember that we are still in session, and I challenge my colleagues to be both legislators and the statesmen this country behests us to be.
This spring I am committed to fight to pass important, bipartisan legislation that will help to preserve and promote our flourishing heritage here in Michigan and across our country.
As our nation’s economy continues to recover, we must balance deficit reduction with policies that support economic growth and middle class families. Unfortunately, I believe the Ryan budget plan fails this important test. Instead of making important investments in infrastructure, education, and clean energy, all of which would help the middle class, this budget instead continues to support the richest of rich by recklessly cutting taxes for the wealthiest among us.
Oil companies would get to keep their tax loopholes, which they have been exploiting for years, and the wealthiest Americans would get an average tax cut of $150,000 according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Following this outline will not get our economy back on track. Rather, this follows the same failed blueprint of the Bush years which ended up driving our economy into the ditch.
Even worse, I believe the Republican budget plan destroys the sacred promise we have made to our nation’s seniors by ending Medicare as we know it. What the Ryan budget plan does is raise out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries while preserving tax cuts for the wealthy. According to the Congressional Budget Office, costs will rise for Medicare beneficiaries by $2,200 in 2030 and $8,000 in 2050. This is not the treatment our seniors deserve, and I know we can do better for them.
The principle of shared sacrifice should guide us in our discussions about the nation’s budget and our economic recovery. Publicly available Internal Revenue Service data show our tax code is riddled with loopholes that allow nearly a quarter of all millionaires to pay lower effective tax rates than middle-class families. That same IRS information also shows that the top-earning 400 Americans, each making an average of $270 million, paid an average effective federal tax rate of 18.2 percent in 2008.
As we search for ways to address our country’s mounting debt problem, I believe it’s important for all Americans to shoulder their fair share of the load. That’s why I’m very proud to be a co-sponsor of H.R. 3903, the Paying a Fair Share Act, which would ensure that the highest-earning Americans pay at least a 30 percent effective tax rate. H.R. 3903 would make the so-called “Buffett Rule” the law of the land, so that millionaires never pay less in taxes than their secretaries.
The bill also makes great economic sense. If the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of this year, H.R. 3903 would reduce the deficit by $46.7 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. In short, H.R. 3903 is equal parts social justice and fiscal responsibility.
As Congress continues to explore ways to grow and strengthen our economy, we must ensure that higher education is affordable and attainable to all. Our country is on the verge of another debt crisis due to the rising interest rates on student loans. In late 2012, the total amount of student debt in our country surpassed $1 trillion, according to Reuters.
This problem is further exacerbated by the recovering economy and the difficulty graduating students are having finding employment. Whether graduating from a technical school, community college, or a four-year college or university, we need to make sure students are not saddled with unnecessary debt before they can establish themselves in the workforce.
As the financial crisis grew in 2007, Congress passed, with my support, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act which reduced the interest rate on Stafford Loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent until July 1, 2012. As that date nears, according to the Department of Education, nearly seven million students face increased loan payments that may prevent them from buying that first home, new car, or starting a family. I am a cosponsor of H.R. 3826 which would permanently keep Stafford loan rates at 3.4 percent.
We need to ensure that graduating students can get off to a running start rather than being dragged down by burdensome loan debt, but House Majority Leaders have chosen to pay for a one-year extension of the 3.4 percent interest rate by eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund which invests in innovative programs, practices, and treatments to prevent cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
We should not have to choose how we are going to invest in our country’s future; how do you decide to cut investments in the education for the workforce of tomorrow versus the health of that very same workforce? I hope that the House leadership will allow a vote on a commonsense alternative so students and their families aren’t left paying for higher interest rates to go to school.
Investing in our nation’s public health also includes ensuring that our public health agencies are equipped to respond to threats in our families’ medicine cabinets and community pharmacies. One of the pressing items on Congress’ agenda this spring is the reauthorizing of the prescription drug and medical device user fee agreements, and the creation of the generic drug user fee agreement and the biosimiliar user fee agreement. Industry and FDA have negotiated agreements that will provide the agency with the funding and personnel needed to approve new, innovative and safe medical products, while ensuring industry can get their products to market in a timely manner.
More importantly, I have been working tirelessly to ensure that FDA also has the authorities they need to ensure the safety of our drug supply chain. We must ensure FDA knows who is importing drugs into our country, parity in inspection between domestic and foreign drug manufacturers, require manufacturers to notify if their product has been counterfeited or stolen, permit FDA to detain or destroy products they know to be adulterated, among other things. American families deserve to know that the drugs in their medicine cabinets are safe to take. I have been working closely with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle and feel confident that we will be able to have a final product on the President’s desk by the end of summer.
Finally, Congress must consider legislation that will create immediate construction jobs this summer. Our nation’s roads, bridges and highways are crumbling and rather than pass a long-term bill to rebuild and rehabilitate our infrastructure, the majority has proposed extension after extension. Our state and local governments, as well as the transportation industry need a long-term surface transportation reauthorization. Short term extensions serve no purpose except to waste Congress’ time debating every three months how we should invest in our country.
We need to make the hard decisions about how we will fund transit projects that will move our communities in to the 21st century, and how we will continue to invest in high-speed intercity passenger rail that will allow us to compete with our neighbors abroad.
As this debate continues you can rest assured that I will fight alongside my colleagues in the Michigan Congressional Delegation to ensure Michigan is getting its fair share of funding as well. Our infrastructure is in dire need of fresh funds, and it is Congress’ responsibility to make absolutely certain that our great state receives the proper amount of funding. A long-term surface transportation reauthorization is a commonsense way to create jobs, increase our nation’s competitiveness, and improve our communities ability to attract and retain industry.
Throughout my time in Congress, I have been an advocate for the betterment of the American people, whether it is though my work on the landmark health care reform legislation, cleaning up the environment, or making sure that American companies create American jobs here on our shores.
The state of Michigan is going through a transformation, and in order to complete that transformation for the better, we must work to ensure our infrastructure is sound, our citizens are receiving the health care they deserve, our students aren’t buried under mountains of debt, and experimenting with creative, yet common-sense, ways to improve our economy and encourage people and businesses to stay in the state. In a time when cuts need to be made to ensure the solvency of our nation, it is the government’s responsibility to make the responsible choices regarding where the cuts will come from, and it is not a job I take lightly.
I can say with the utmost integrity that I will continue to work tirelessly for the people of Michigan, as I have ever since I took my dad’s seat in Congress in 1955.