OPINION — Former Speaker Sam Rayburn once said that “a jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one.” For too long, Congress hasn’t been the carpenter in this analogy.
But things are changing — at least in the House, with our Democratic majority’s ambitious agenda For the People. The Appropriations Committee, which I am proud to chair, is leading this charge to give every American a better chance at a better life.
Years of kicking down the barn have left many of our nation’s most urgent needs unmet. Because of funding constraints, just one in four people eligible for federal rental assistance receives it. Water infrastructure continues to deteriorate. Education spending has declined even as other countries invest more in their students. Only one in three children ages 3 to 5 who is eligible for Head Start can actually access it.
This stagnation is unacceptable, and House Democrats are charting a new course.
In June, we passed through the House two packages of spending bills, along with a standalone appropriations bill, for the upcoming fiscal year. All 12 of our spending bills have cleared committee, while the Republican-led Senate has yet to begin the appropriations process. In contrast to President Donald Trump’s proposals for deep cuts and outright program eliminations, our bills invest in the American people.
Take, for example, the nearly $12 billion increase for Labor-HHS-Education, which supports priorities such as child care, early childhood education, job training and medical research. This funding would make it possible for more students and workers to pursue their passions and strengthen their skills, paving the way for the nation’s success in the 21st century economy.
The $5.9 billion increase for the Department of Housing and Urban Development would enable important investments — in housing that is affordable, safe, fair and resilient; in housing for the elderly and people with disabilities; and in homeless assistance.
The $1.8 billion increase in the Energy and Water Development bill is a down payment to rebuild infrastructure, tackle the climate crisis and shape a green energy future. The $100 million increase for National Infrastructure Investments like TIGER grants support infrastructure projects that create jobs and improve safety on our roads, bridges and railways.
There are many more examples of how these House-passed spending bills invest For the People. For the first time in more than 20 years, Congress has included funding in an appropriations bill — at $50 million — to research firearm injury and mortality prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. The nearly $4 billion for rural development programs includes more than $680 million for broadband service expansion to provide economic development opportunities and improved education and health care services. Other priorities include $3.4 billion for state and local law enforcement assistance, $600 million for grants supporting state and local efforts to ensure election security and protect our democracy, a $300 million increase for community development, and an increase of $207 million for vital military construction projects and services for military families.
In response to our legislation, some of my Republican colleagues have argued that we should add billions to defense spending but that our country does not have the wherewithal to invest in critical domestic programs and services.
To them I say: Where was this concern when they passed into law a tax bill that will add $1.9 trillion to deficits over 10 years while benefiting corporations and the very wealthiest at the expense of the middle class? We can invest in everything from economic development to national security for just a fraction of the cost of the Republican tax scam.
The American people have been shortchanged for far too long. The House’s fiscal 2020 funding bills are an important step to make up for lost ground.
We have shown what can be done with a responsible approach to lifting unworkable budget caps for defense and nondefense spending alike. By establishing such a framework and avoiding the devastating spending cuts that will otherwise occur, we can improve lives and our economy, keep communities safer, and restore our nation’s respect in the world.
These are goals that every member of Congress should share — and it is time for the president and congressional Republicans to work with us. And, if we work together as the proverbial carpenter, these are goals we can achieve.
Nita M. Lowey is a Democrat representing New York’s 17th District. She serves as chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.