Videos & Speeches
Mr. President, I am humbled to deliver my very first speech on the floor of the Senate and to discuss a topic of vital importance to our country's future – our nation's fiscal health.
It is a privilege to join the distinguished Members of this Chamber and to work alongside my friend of nearly 40 years now, Senator Pat Roberts. We met some time ago when I came to Washington, D.C., as a summer intern in the summer of 1974 and Watergate, for a Congressman named Sebelius. My colleague, Pat Roberts, was his Chief of Staff and has been my friend since.
I am also humbled to follow in the footsteps of Gov. Sam Brownback and the many who came before him and whose names are etched in this desk where I now stand. I am mindful of their service and particularly that of Senator Bob Dole who served Kansans for nearly three decades in this seat.
During nearly 36 years on Capitol Hill, Senator Dole became known as the leader who worked relentlessly to forge alliances in order to pass significant legislation. Today he serves as a role model for those who have dedicated their lives to public service. I thank Senator Dole for his call yesterday wishing me well today, but I thank him more for his distinguished service to our country and to Kansans. I know the love and respect the people of his hometown of Russell have for him and I will work to honor his legacy.
I grew up just down the road from Bob Dole's hometown in a smaller town, Plainville, a place where folks know their neighbors and look after them. Much of what I know about people I learned early in my life by working at the local hardware store, the swimming pool, the drugstore, and on my paper route. I learned there is good in every person and that satisfaction in life comes from what you do for others rather than what you do for yourself. I learned that each family's joys and sorrows are increased and diminished when they are shared with their neighbors and friends. And I learned what it means to put others first, as my mom and dad always have.
I was fortunate to grow up with loving parents who taught me the value of hard work, the importance of education, and the necessity of integrity. In fact, they once made me return the 3 cents I had found when I turned in a pop bottle from my neighbor's back porch.
My dad, a World War II veteran, worked in the oilfields of Western Kansas, and my mom, who grew up in the Depression, was the lady you paid your light bill to. They were my Sunday School teachers and my Boy Scout leaders, and they always encouraged me to do my best. My parents worked hard, avoided debt, paid their bills, and wanted to make sure my sister and I would have the chance to pursue our dreams.
I was also fortunate to have many teachers who instilled in me a love for learning and a desire to explore the world beyond our city limits. As a kid, I enjoyed reading about politics and history and government. People such as my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Pruter, helped me to develop an interest in our country and public service. Because of my teachers' interest in me, I am part of the first generation in our family to attend and graduate from college.
Nothing in my background would suggest I would have the opportunity to serve as a Member of the Senate. That says something about our country and the opportunity we as Americans have to dream big and to pursue those dreams. It also says something about my home State and the special way of life we lead.
The pioneering spirit of those who settled our State 150 years ago and tamed the West lives on in Kansans today. We work hard, we come together to find commonsense solutions, and try to make a difference in our communities, our State, and our Nation. We also strive to provide a better future for our kids and grandkids so they can pursue their dreams and reach their goals. This is the reason I got involved in public service, and it is the reason I remain involved today.
Since coming to Congress in 1997, I made a priority to stay connected to the Kansans I represent, so I return home on the weekends. Whether I am at the grocery store, attending church, or filling the tank with gas, the conversations I have with Kansans matter to me and impact the work I do here in Washington. When I served in the House of Representatives, I held annual town hall meetings in each of the 69 counties in my district, following the lead of my predecessor, then-Congressman Pat Roberts. I have continued this tradition as a Senator and have begun traveling throughout all 105 counties in our State to hear directly from Kansans. I am committed to making sure their voices are heard in our nation's Capital.
Last spring in Kansas, I watched our oldest daughter walk across her college graduation stage and it was another defining moment for me. Our country is facing enormous fiscal challenges and if we fail to act, our children's future is at risk. I believe all Members of Congress, and in fact every American, has the responsibility to be a good steward of what has been passed on to us. So at that moment – at that graduation event – I renewed my commitment to do my part to turn this country around.
I am one of many voices to express this concern. In 1985, President Reagan took the podium during his second inaugural address and spoke about one of his greatest concerns: our Nation's deficit spending. He told the American people that 50 years of deficit spending had finally brought our nation to a time of reckoning. He said: “We've come to a turning point, a moment for hard decisions. We must act now to protect future generations from government's desire to spend its citizens' money and tax them into servitude when the bills come due.”
I am here today, 26 years later, to issue, unfortunately, the same warning. We are again facing a turning point in our country's history and we no longer can delay difficult decisions. When President Reagan stood and spoke those words, our national debt was $1.8 trillion. Today, that number has soared to $14 trillion – slowing our economic growth and threatening the prosperity of future generations who will have to pay for our irresponsibility.
Our government borrows 40 cents of every dollar it spends and half our national debt is held by foreigners, many who do not share our interests. The simple truth is our nation's debt is the responsibility of several Congresses and Presidents who have allowed us to live well beyond our means for way too long. Members of both political parties have ignored this growing fiscal crisis and left it up to others in the future to deal with.
In my travels in Kansas I am often asked: “How can Washington continue to spend and borrow so much? What will our country be like for our kids and grandkids?” I join Kansans in voicing these concerns. In the last 2 years, government spending has grown nearly 25 percent and we have had record trillion-dollar budget deficits. This year, the Federal Government will spend $3.7 trillion and collect $2.2 trillion. That is a shortfall of $1.5 trillion. Common sense – Kansas common sense – tells us that pattern cannot continue.
Some will say we need to raise taxes to get us out of this mess. But the reality is we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. Experience shows us that money raised by Washington, D.C., results in more spending in Washington, DC.
The debate about government spending is often seen as a philosophical, academic, or partisan issue, but the truth is out-of-control borrowing and spending has very real consequences on the daily lives of Americans. When we continue to fail to balance the budget, it means increasing inflation, higher interest rates, and uncertainty in the economy, which results in less business investment and fewer jobs.
This is not an academic discussion. It is not a partisan discussion. It is about the future of our nation. We were not elected to ignore these problems but rather to confront them. Congress can and should do what Kansans do: Make decisions based on solid values and be held accountable for those decisions.
Just a few weeks ago, the International Monetary Fund issued a report outlining how serious our financial situation has become. America wasn't the only country that came under scrutiny by the IMF. Japan, for example, has also fallen behind in its deficit goals. To make matters worse, Standard & Poor's downgraded Japan's credit rating out of concern for the country's ability to tackle their debt. If we do not face the reality and take serious steps now to confront this challenge, we will find ourselves in a similar position. The impact will be disastrous, just as it has been in Greece and Portugal and Ireland.
Unfortunately, this reality has not yet sunk in in enough places in Washington, DC. President Obama asked Congress to increase the debt ceiling – allowing our country to take on even more debt. But it would be irresponsible to allow more spending without a serious plan in place to reduce the deficit.
Americans are looking for leadership in Washington to help create jobs and get our economy back on its feet. But lately, all they have heard is a lot of partisan rhetoric, and all they have seen is more government spending.
It is time for our government to change direction and to change dramatically. We must work together to restrain spending and to put in place pro-growth measures that create jobs. By saying both “no” to more spending and “yes” to pro-jobs measures, we will reduce the uncertainty in the marketplace, encourage business investment, become more competitive in the global economy, and most importantly create employment.
The best way to get our spending under control is to get a budget and stick to it. One of the basic responsibilities of Congress is to produce an annual budget, yet we are once again operating under a temporary spending measure called a continuing resolution because the Democrat leadership failed to pass a budget plan last year. Congress has taken virtually no step to address this deficit spending. We have to come together and see that we do so, and we must pass a commonsense budget that reduces our deficit this year, next year, and well into the future.
Last month, President Obama sent his 2012 budget message to Congress. Instead of moving toward fiscal responsibility, the proposal contains more of the same “borrow and spend” mentality. It proposes $8.7 trillion in new spending, $1.6 trillion in new taxes, and doubles the national debt by the end of his 4-year term. At no point during the President's 10-year budget projection would our government spend less than it's taking in.
Rather than spend more, we must close the gap between what the government takes in and what it spends. Last month, I introduced the RESET Act to rescind $45 billion in unspent stimulus funds and direct those dollars toward paying down the deficit.
Another commonsense measure I have long supported is a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget. Unfortunately, when Members of Congress are not required to prioritize their spending, they simply borrow more over a long period of time. This proposal, this constitutional amendment, would limit Federal spending to 20 percent of gross domestic product and require a two-thirds majority of Congress to raise taxes. By forcing Congress to be disciplined, to live within a budget, we will turn away from record deficits and back to fiscal responsibility.
In addition to living by a responsible budget, we must also address our long-term unfunded liabilities, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Last year, mandatory spending made up 56 percent of our entire budget. This percentage will only increase in the years ahead as more Americans retire and fewer workers are there to replace them. Already, Social Security pays out more than it collects and its total debt will increase over half a trillion in the next 10 years. Medicaid spending consumes nearly a quarter of state budgets and will further burden states that are now required to pay for the vast Medicaid expansion found in the recent health care reform law. Furthermore, Medicare's unfunded liabilities are $37 trillion. This staggering sum is nearly three times the amount of our current national debt.
This challenge cannot be ignored any longer. We must pursue change and reform, but it will take the leadership of President Obama and the willingness of both political parties. We are ready to have that conversation with the President and we expect his leadership.
Finally, history shows economic growth starts with the private sector, so Congress must create an environment where entrepreneurship and business can flourish. Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy and have generated 65 percent of the new jobs over the last two decades. They also employ half our private-sector workers. Clearly, small business is the engine of job creation and critical to our country's economic success.
As I tour plants in Kansas, business owners will say: “What next? What next harmful thing is Washington, DC, going to do that puts me out of business?” For too long, Washington has increased the regulatory and tax burden on businesses at the expense of jobs. Mountains of government regulations and higher taxes are undercutting any efforts to create jobs and erode our global competitiveness, especially in the manufacturing, agricultural, and energy sectors. Rather than hiring new workers, businesses are spending their resources on complying with ever-changing regulations and increased taxes or, worse, those businesses are leaving our country.
We need to be doing all we can to put people back to work and grow the economy, and that includes replacing our convoluted Tax Code and eliminating bureaucratic intrusion into our free market economy.
Maintaining a strong business environment at home must be coupled with opening new foreign markets for American goods and agricultural commodities around the world. In today's global economy, we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines while other countries move forward. Each day that passes, we risk losing more of our markets and our market share to competing nations.
Across our country, thousands of Americans depend upon exports for jobs, including more than one-fourth of all manufacturing workers in Kansas. By increasing our nation's exports, we will create jobs and opportunities for all Americans, without raising taxes or increasing the Federal budget. While our nation's unemployment rate hovers between 9 and 10 percent, it is simply inexcusable to not do what we know we can do to create jobs in America.
One commonsense way to open more markets is to pass trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, which have been stalled in Congress. While Congress dithers, Colombia has moved forward on trade deals with Canada, Chile, the EU, Brazil, and Argentina – to name a few of our competitors. Comparably, tariffs have caused American farmers to lose nearly 20 percent of total agricultural markets in Colombia over the last 5 years. It is past time to pass these trade agreements and create more markets and more jobs for Americans.
For the United States to remain competitive in a global market, Congress must also develop a comprehensive energy policy that allows for an ample energy supply which is both affordable and reliable. Rising gas prices and recent events in the Middle East have demonstrated once again the importance of having access to a reliable energy supply. No simple form of energy can provide the answer. To meet our country's energy needs we must develop traditional sources of oil, natural gas, and coal, encourage the development of renewable energy sources such as biofuels, wind, solar, geothermal, and hydropower, expand the use of nuclear energy, and encourage conservation.
Lastly, we need to repeal the flawed health care law and replace it with commonsense changes that reduce increasing costs and promote choice in our health care system, such as increasing competition in the insurance market, giving states the flexibility to address the health needs of their unique populations, enacting medical liability reform, and enabling small businesses to pool together to offer coverage at lower prices. These ideas have bipartisan support and are backed by the American people because we know they will work.
Congress should be an ally of the people, not an adversary. Congress has a responsibility to create an environment where the free market can succeed, so business can move forward with confidence and start creating jobs again.
In Washington, DC, it is often easy to forget what is most important in the midst of all the talk of partisan politics, the next election or the latest poll. When I need a reminder, I will take a walk from this magnificent Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. Between those two points, I pass the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Wall, and on the way back I will walk by the Korean War Memorial. These memorials to our citizen soldiers help put everything in its proper perspective. Our freedoms are so important that our nation's sons and daughters were willing to risk their lives to defend and protect them. These brave men and women didn't sacrifice for Republicans or Democrats; they gave their lives for the greater good of our country and to ensure their children and grandchildren would also experience American freedom and liberty.
We have before us an opportunity – an opportunity to set aside the game of politics and to work together to confront the enormous challenges before us. Whether we have the courage to tackle our fiscal crisis now will determine the course of our country for the next generation.
I stand ready to work with my colleagues in this chamber to do what it takes to get our economy back on track. Americans are known for their enterprising spirit and strong resolve, and our country will recover when we begin to live within our means and create a pro-growth business and jobs environment.
Last month, we recognized the 100th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan's birth. It was a fitting time for all Americans to honor the memory of a man whose leadership guided our country through many challenges. Our 40th President believed in the greatness of America. He believed in the principles of individual liberty, self-government and free enterprise. And he believed there “are no limits to growth and human progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams.”
It is with that same optimism and hope for the future that I stand before you today. I didn't come to Washington for personal glory. I came to Washington because I believe we have the responsibility to be good stewards of what we have been given and to pass on to the next generation the life we love and lead. We know what American can and should look like.
When I took the oath of office, I pledged to support and defend the United States Constitution and to faithfully fulfill the duties of this office – so help me God. I will continue to seek His help and His guidance in the days ahead, knowing that in Him all things are possible.
As I humbly begin my new responsibilities, I remain committed to leading with Kansas common sense, and to making the tough choices necessary today, so that tomorrow – and every day thereafter – our children and grandchildren can live in an America that provides them the opportunity to dream big and pursue those dreams.
If I am successful, I will have fulfilled my responsibilities as a parent, just like my mom and dad, and as an American who believes our country's better and brighter days lie ahead.
I yield the remainder of my time.