Lieberman Challenges OMB Nominee on Administration’s Fiscal Irresponsibility

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Wednesday challenged a key Administration nominee on the Administration’s fiscal irresponsibility and misplaced budget priorities.

At the confirmation hearing of Rob Portman, nominated as Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Lieberman criticized the Administration’s focus on tax cuts for wealthy Americans while failing to adequately fund essential programs like education and homeland security.

Lieberman – citing President Bush’s comment, that a budget is a “reflection of a nation’s priorities, its needs and its promise” – added that “a budget must also be about delivering on those priorities . . . those needs . . . those promises, or else it really is just a collection of numbers without meaning or mission or, ultimately, without responsibility. And that means it fails the American people. And it fails our best values of fiscal responsibility.”

Noting the nation’s $400 billion budget deficit and $10 trillion long term debt, Lieberman said “the obvious reality is we’re spending a lot more than we are taking in. And we are thereby placing on our children and grandchildren, an enormous debt …

“We recently passed a $70 billion tax package that showers tax breaks on the nation’s wealthiest, who don’t need the help, to the oil industry, which is enjoying record profits, and increases the already enormous national debt,” Lieberman said. “This also leads to a lack of resources to adequately fund vital programs most of us agree are essential to our nation’s priorities, needs and promise.”

“If we are going to get our fiscal house in order, we have to go back to pay as you go budgeting,” he continued. “But ultimately, tough decision making is required to balance revenues and expenditures. Everything has to be on the table – spending and taxes… You don’t solve a problem like this without doing some things that are difficult and inherently unpopular. You do it because our future requires it.”

Specifically, Lieberman said the Administration is under funding education and the No Child Left Behind Act. As a result, Title I funds – assistance for low income schools — will be frozen or cut in Fiscal Year 2007. In Connecticut, Lieberman said, 122 out of 166 school districts will see Title I cuts this year.

Lieberman also called on the Administration to devote more resources to homeland security, specifically port security, interoperable communications, and bioterror preparedness. Responding to Administration claims that it is spending more than ever on homeland security, Lieberman said that misses the point.

“The question is not whether we are spending more, but whether we are spending enough to meet the government’s fundamental obligation to protect its citizens,” Lieberman said. “Too often, the answer is no… And as we have learned all too painfully with Katrina, we are shortchanging preparedness for catastrophic natural disasters, as well as terrorist attacks.”