Videos & Speeches

Madam President, I thank the Senator from Illinois for accommodating my ability to speak on the Senate floor this afternoon on what I consider also to be a very significant and important topic.

Our country is facing significant financial difficulties and in the coming weeks, the United States will reach its $14.29 trillion limit for borrowing. Unfortunately, this is the 11th time in the past decade that Congress will vote on whether to allow the country to take on even more debt. These financial challenges that we face, if left unchecked, will have a disastrous impact upon our country today and upon our citizens in the future.

For way too long members of both political parties have ignored this growing fiscal crisis and have allowed our country to live well, well beyond its means. Delaying difficult decisions and simply increasing the debt ceiling once again should not be an option. The time to correct our failures is now.

Officials from the Obama administration warn that the failure of Congress to raise the legal debt limit would risk default. But the bigger economic threat that confronts our country are the consequences of allowing our country's pattern of spending and borrowing to continue without a serious plan to reduce that debt. Our out-of-control debt is slowing our economic growth and threatening the prosperity for future generations who will have to pay for our irresponsibility.

In the next three decades our debt very well would grow to more than three times the size of our entire economy. This level of government spending is unsustainable and cannot continue. Our Congress is engaged in a serious and significant debate now about a continuing resolution. What that resolution is, the result of the failure of the past Congress to pass a budget and to pass appropriations bills to fill in the blanks of that budget. In fact, we are now dealing with the next 6 months of spending, the end of the fiscal year which ends September 30 of this year. And we are having an argument about the magnitude of the reductions of spending to include in the final 6 months of this continuing resolution.

I certainly admit and wish to participate in the debate. I admit it is an important issue, but I think that there is more significant issues yet to come. While it is important how we resolve the next 6 months, it is even more important that we adopt a budget for the next fiscal year, fiscal year 2012; that we return to regular order and have an appropriations process in which we can determine levels of spending within that budget, establish our priorities, eliminate programs, decrease spending where appropriate, and move this country to a balanced budget.

In addition to this CR that we are debating about for the next 6 months and to next year's budget and appropriations process, there is looming the more serious consequences of so-called mandatory spending which comprises 56 percent of our entire budget. We have got to get beyond the CR debate of today and get to the spending problems of 2012 and beyond and to the issue of so-called mandatory spending that consume our budget and drives up, now and in the future, our debt.

We need to be responsible and quickly resolve the spending bill for this year and move on to these issues that will determine the future of our country, especially the economic future for the citizens of our nation today and into the future.

I think the President ought to consider in his budget--but he didn't--the recommendations of his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. And we have seen, once again, the failure of the budget as proposed by this President to include any of those provisions that his own commission recommended in getting us out of the financial difficulty that we are in.

It seems to me that often, at least throughout my lifetime, we have heard the discussion here in Washington, DC--I, as an American citizen, as an observer of the politics and the policies of our Nation's capital, have heard year in and year out about the need to reduce spending, to balance the books, to quit spending so much money, to be more fiscally responsible. Our fiscal house has to be put in order. Those are words I have heard throughout my entire adult life, and yet I am fearful they have once again just become words.

We do not have the luxury of those words meaning nothing this time around. I would suggest that there are those who may observe the proceedings of this Congress this year and say: Once again, there is a political debate going on. It is rhetoric between Republicans and Democrats. It is a battle between the House and the Senate, between the Congress and the President, without recognizing that this debate has serious consequences to the American people today and into the future.

As I said earlier, spending beyond our means is no longer an option, and the failure of us to address these issues in a responsible manner means that the standard of living American citizens enjoy today will be diminished. It means a lower standard of living for every American family. It means the increase in interest rates. It means the return of inflation. It means the increase in our imbalance of payments. It means that our trade balance is exacerbated. It means that we may follow the path of other countries in the world today that have failed to address these issues, and we will see the circumstances that many countries find themselves in, in which their credit ratings have diminished and their interest rates have risen.

If we fail to respond, if we fail to act as we should, if we let one more time this issue to pass for somebody else to solve because it is so difficult, we will reduce the opportunities that the next generation of Americans have to pursue the American dream.

This is not an academic or a political party discussion. It is not a philosophical debate. It has true economic consequences to every American. We are not immune from the laws of economics that face every country, and in the failure to get our financial house in order and borrowing under control, interest rates will rise, our creditors may decide we are no longer creditworthy, and we will suffer the same consequences that countries in our world today are suffering who followed this path.

This is the most expected economic crisis in our lifetime, perhaps in the history of our country. We know what is going to happen if we don’t act, and we would be acting so immorally and without responsibility should just we look the other way because the politics of this issue are too difficult.

Americans deserve, are entitled to leadership in Washington, DC, to confront these problems and not to push them off to the next generation of Americans, and I am sorry to say that, in my view, to date the President has provided little leadership on what I consider to be this most important issue of my generation.

My interest in public service and politics is one that has lots of beginnings, but the thing that has me committed to public service today is a belief that I and people in my generation--in fact, every American citizen--has the responsibility to pass on to the next generation of Americans the ability to pursue the American dream. Our failure to act today, our failure--to simply raise the debt ceiling one more time--means we will have abdicated our responsibilities and the burdens will fall to those who follow us. We will have lacked the morality and the courage necessary to do right.

Earlier this week, I informed the President, in correspondence to President Obama on March 22, with these words: 

Americans are looking for leadership in Washington to confront the problems of today, not push them off on future generations. To date, [Mr. President,] you have provided little or no leadership on what I believe to be the most important issue facing our nation--our national debt. With no indication that your willingness to lead will change, I [write] to inform you [, Mr. President,] I will vote “no” on your request to raise the debt ceiling.

I do that because I believe in the absence of serious and significant spending reductions, in the absence of serious and significant reform in the budget and spending process, in the absence of a constitutional amendment that restricts our ability to spend money we do not have, in the absence of statutory guidelines that tell us we cannot spend and borrow ad infinitum, that our country's future is in grave danger. I do this with a sense of responsibility to Americans today and a sense of responsibility for Americans to come. 

I ask the President to provide that leadership, to address the issues of not only this continuing resolution and next year's spending level and the so-called mandatory spending, but also to help us create an economy in which growth can occur, in which business men and women make decisions to employ new workers, and that the American people have the opportunity, when they sit around the dining room table and discuss their future, they know they have the chance to keep the job they have or to find a job they do not have.

That will require the leadership of President Obama and Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate. In the absence of any indication that leadership is going to be provided, and that we are going to be serious in addressing our problems of today, and resolving them for the future, I will vote “no” on extending the debt limit.