By Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) - 02/16/11 06:52 PM EST
Throughout this budget debate, it is incumbent upon Democrats to tell the truth to the American people. We cannot contribute, as Republicans have, to the myth that the only way to trim these deficits is to privatize Medicare and Social Security, or that a single slash to non-defense discretionary programs can make a meaningful dent in America’s deficit without doing great harm to our economy.
Firstly, Medicare and Social Security, the safety nets on which America’s working families rely during their golden years, are not driving today’s deficits as Republicans would have us believe. Over the next decade, the main source of our deficits will be two key Republican policies: two Bush-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Together, these two policies will require a projected $7 trillion in deficit spending over the next decade. In comparison, Social Security and Medicare barely move the dial.
Secondly, discretionary spending comprises just 16 percent of the Federal Budget. Attacking this portion of the budget is never going to substantially solve the problem of reducing deficits. What besides discretionary spending is the critical area wherein “game-changing” investments are made to ensure that America wins the future?
In order to win the future, we need to invest in the future.
In the president’s budget, the targeted investments in education get us a whole lot closer to that win. Investments in education are the key to our economic competitiveness. There is a mismatch between the skills needed for high-growth job sectors and our students’ skill sets. Recent international testing shows the U.S. slipping badly compared to our competitors in reading, math and science.
We are being out-competed because we are being out-invested. Delivering the biggest bang for the buck, the president, in response, calls for $600 million for School Improvement Grants, $150 million for Promise Neighborhoods and funding increases for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These are the kind of investments that are essential to lowering unemployment and should be common sense for every member of Congress.
Another way to win the future is the president’s call for a $53 billion investment in high-speed rail over the next six years. America’s transcontinental railroad and interstate highway system shows that a strong transportation infrastructure is vital to the health of our nation's economy. Given the rising security and financial costs associated with our energy dependence, high-speed rail is quickly becoming the future of ground transportation. Countries in Europe and Asia are already steps ahead of us and there is a legitimate fear that America is quickly falling behind. China, which began high-speed rail service in 2007, is expected to soon have more miles of high-speed rail than any other county in the world. Japan is already building its next major high-speed rail line, which will connect Tokyo to Osaka, moving their people and commerce at lightning speed.
In Silicon Valley, a region I represent, we understand three important letters: ROI, or Return On Investment. The State of California’s entire high-speed rail project, which is already armed with $9 billion in state bonds and about $3.6 billion in federal dollars, would be two-thirds towards full funding with the investment from the president’s request. To keep America competitive, our nation's future depends on a high-growth economy — and high-speed rail can take us there.
Keeping America competitive will not happen, as Republicans posit, by eroding further America’s intellectual and infrastructural future. Instead, by investing in education, energy and infrastructure, as the president’s budget proposes, we guarantee that America remains resilient, employed and prosperous. This is how we win the future.
Honda, House Democratic senior whip, serves on the House Budget and Appropriations Committees.