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The uncertainty of the economy continues to be a drag on job creation in southern Wisconsin.  The fiscal situation in Washington has not been helpful either.  Some in Washington are calling for tax increases, but the last thing our local communities need right now is a tax increase.  It will make it tougher for hard-working families to make ends meet and stand in the way of allowing Wisconsin small businesses to maintain or create new jobs.  Rather than raise taxes, Washington needs to stop spending money it doesn’t have, and both sides of the aisle need to work together to get spending under control and prevent taxes from increasing.

A Balanced Budget For A Stronger America: The Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Budget Resolution

It has been more than six years since the financial crisis rocked our nation's economy, but the fiscal challenges our nation still faces are innumerable.  Economic growth is underwhelming, families' homes remain in foreclosure, paychecks cannot keep up with rising costs, students continue to struggle with skyrocketing tuition, and millions of hardworking taxpayers are seeing their medical costs increase as a result of President Obama's health care law.  Regrettably, the President and his party have turned to more taxes, more spending, and more regulation in an attempt to address these issues. 

The President demonstrated his inability to put forth real solutions to our nation's most pressing fiscal problems with the submission of his FY 2016 budget proposal to Congress.  Budget proposals help resolve conflicting judgments about our nation's priorities.  They also serve to help reconcile divergent views of our country's future.  In this sense, it is clear that the President's priorities are to tax more, spend more, and regulate more.  His budget calls for a $2.1 trillion increase in taxes, a $2.4 trillion increase in spending, and would add $8.5 trillion dollars to the debt between FY 2016 and FY 2025.  Furthermore, the President's budget does not balance – ever.

Conversely, House Republicans have introduced and passed budget resolutions for five consecutive years that would tackle the looming debt crisis and restore economic growth.  The budget that was introduced for FY 2016 by Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, "A Balanced Budget for a Stronger America," is a serious budget that addresses our needs and our overwhelming debt by achieving balance, repealing the Affordable Care Act, ensuring a strong national defense, and cutting waste while improving accountability.

In stark contrast to the President's budget, the "Balanced Budget for a Stronger America" would balance in less than 10 years.  In addition to achieving balance, it would cut $5.5 trillion in federal spending and call for a fairer, simpler tax code that would promote job creation.   It would also place the country on a path to pay off the national debt by growing the economy and making government more efficient, effective, and accountable.  Most importantly, it would accomplish all of this without raising taxes.

This budget also offers a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has cost millions of hardworking taxpayers their insurance and spends trillions of dollars that we do not have.   It would repeal all of the ACA's taxes, regulations, and mandates, and return the balance of power to patients when it comes to making decisions regarding their healthcare.  Lastly, it would eliminate the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a group of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats responsible for making cost-cutting decisions that will lead to restricted access to critical care for seniors on Medicare.

A priority of this budget is to ensure that our military has the funds needed to train, equip, and fairly compensate the brave men and women who serve our country, while also ensuring that the interests of the United States, both abroad and here at home, are furthered.  In a world as volatile as ours, it is imperative that our national defense has the resources it needs.  The Republican budget boosts defense spending above the President's levels while putting in place a plan to responsibly address the current spending caps and the threat of sequester.

Lastly, the "Balanced Budget for a Better America" would secure our future by strengthening Medicare.  It would accomplish this by ending the ACA's $716 billion raid on Medicare, making structural improvements to Medicare to make sure it is available for future generations, eliminating the "double dipping" of Disability Insurance and Unemployment Insurance, and preventing the President's plan to raid the regular Social Security Trust Fund.

This budget came before the House on March 26, 2015, and was passed with my support by a vote of 228 to 199.  I was encouraged that my colleagues chose to support a budget that would result in common-sense spending restraints and much-needed economic growth.  Ultimately, a budget is more than just a list of numbers: it is an expression of our governing philosophy.  This budget offers the American people a brighter future.  It would stop spending money we do not have, create jobs, and expand economic opportunity.

H.R. 2029, the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016

Like any family or business, the federal government must set a limit on what it can spend.  Each year, Congress must pass a budget agreement to set overall spending levels and 12 individual appropriation bills to fund the federal government.  As you may know, Congress passed H.R. 1314, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which the President signed into law on November 2, 2015.  This bill set the top line spending levels for the federal government for FY 2016.

With this budget agreement in place, members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees worked to draft an omnibus appropriations bill to fund the federal government.  After passing a number of short-term bills to keep the federal government funded while negotiations were nearing completion, the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY 2016 was introduced on December 15, 2015.  This omnibus bill combines the 12 separate appropriations bills in a single bill and provides funding for the government through September 30, 2016.  This $1.1 trillion appropriations bill represents a bipartisan compromise produced within an imperfect budget framework.  It is the product of a process that I have long criticized, a process that is too closed and driven by crisis and brinksmanship instead of by collaboration and big ideas.  That said, as speaker, I had a duty to take ownership of the process that I inherited and, in doing so, I worked hard with my colleagues to make the best of the situation that process created in order to produce a bill that will allow the House to return to regular order this year with a clean slate, which will allow us to put forward a bold vision for a better direction for our country.  In addition to clearing the way for a more productive legislative process, this bill lays the foundation for a stronger, more prosperous, more confident America by accomplishing numerous priorities in a variety of important areas that affect the lives of Americans, including reforms to energy, tax, health care, and military policies.

Here is a list of some of the key accomplishments of the Omnibus Bill:

  1. Repeals the antiquated oil export ban. This provision would end the 1975 ban on the export of American crude oil.  Domestic energy production is booming in the United States, and lifting the ban will help create jobs, grow our economy, reduce the world's dependence on OPEC and Russian oil supplies, and promote greater exploration of our natural resources.

  2. Increases resources for our military. The arbitrary spending cuts in the sequester have depleted the resources our armed forces need to carry out their mission.  This bill restores funding for our military to ensure our troops can confront today's challenges and defeat ISIS.

  3. Strengthens the Visa Waiver Program to protect the homeland. The Visa Waiver Program presents one of the most urgent threats to our homeland from radical Islamic terrorism.  This agreement includes the House-passed bill to tighten the security requirements under the program.  It would also deny visa waiver status to any individual who has traveled to certain terrorist hotspots, including Syria and Iraq, in the last five years.

  4. Prohibits new funding for Obamacare. The bill contains no new funding for Obamacare and continues to prevent a taxpayer bailout of Obamacare's risk corridor program.

  5. Prevents the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to American soil. The bill prohibits funds from being used to transfer terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States, and prohibits the construction or acquisition of a facility in the United States to house detainees.

  6. Blocks EPA overreach. The bill contains no funding for new or expanded EPA programs, holding the agency to its lowest funding levels since 2008 and its lowest staffing levels since 1989.

  7. Reins in the IRS. The IRS continues to act with impunity against the interests of hardworking taxpayers. This bill freezes most IRS operations and maintains budget cuts necessary to ensure this agency roots out wasteful spending and redirects resources to better serve the American people.

  8. Maintains strong protections for life. The bill maintains important pro-life provisions, including the Hyde Amendment, and prohibits taxpayer funding for abortion. It also includes a ban on FDA approval for genetically modifying human embryos and cuts funding for a program involved in abortion-related activities, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), by seven percent.

  9. Honors our commitment to our veterans. The bill ensures our veterans receive their much-deserved health benefits, speeds up VA claims processing, prioritizes modernizing the VA's electronic health care record system, and tightens oversight of construction projects.

  10. Provides critical health care benefits for 9/11 first responders. More than 30,000 first responders continue to suffer from injuries or illnesses sustained during the 9/11 attacks. The bill contains a bipartisan measure to permanently reauthorize critical health care benefits for these brave men and women—and it does so in a fiscally responsible way.

This bill is far from perfect.  It includes a number of provisions that I oppose, and it excludes a number of reforms and policy changes I would have liked to have seen become law.  While this bill provides much-needed funding increases for national defense, border security, and counterterrorism activities, a great deal of work remains to tackle the looming debt crisis and restore economic growth.  On December 18, 2015, in strong bipartisan fashion, the House passed H.R. 2029 by a vote of 316 to 113 with my support—and that of 149 other Republicans and 166 Democrats.  Also on December 18, 2015, and in bipartisan fashion, the Senate passed a larger legislative package containing the omnibus bill by a vote of 72 to 26.  That same day, the President signed this bill into law. 

When we have divided government, as we do now, no one will get precisely what they want.  However, as elected representatives, it is important for Congress to make the difficult decisions that allow our federal government to have the necessary resources to operate.  Wherever possible, we must find common ground and build consensus on how to confront the serious fiscal issues facing our nation.  

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