Videos & Speeches
May 09 2013
I recently had a great conversation with an individual, August Busch, III, the longtime president and CEO of Anheuser-Busch Company. We talked about the state of the economy. We talked about the desire to get jobs created and the country back on solid fiscal footing. That conversation reminded me of the opportunities we have here in the Senate and the Congress to work together to see that we enact policies here in the nation’s capitol that would make a real difference in the everyday lives of Americans by creating jobs, by making certain our business climate is beneficial to large and small businesses. In that climate, they then would have the opportunity to add additional employment opportunities for all Americans. In this overly partisan climate of Washington, D.C., it is easy to lose sight of the fact that we should all be working toward that same goal of getting our economy back on track.
I think the number one issue standing in the way of robust economic growth is the uncertainty that continues to be there—as described, in part, by my colleague from Missouri in regard to the Affordable Care Act—with Americans in general and people making family as well as business and investment decisions about where we are headed with our national debt and our deficit spending.
As elected officials, Americans expect us to confront our Nation's fiscal challenges and not push them off into the future. But last year's budget shortfall--just to remind us of the facts—last year’s budget shortfall, reached $1.1 trillion, the fourth straight year of trillion-dollar deficits. This out-of-control too much spending we have in our government has increased our national debt to a record $16 trillion, which is more than the entire U.S. economy produced in goods and services in 2012.
The fact is our current fiscal state is the responsibility of many Congresses and several Presidents from both political parties. It is not always the opportunity we sometimes take to point fingers, but it is that over a long period of time we have allowed ourselves to live way beyond our means, and it has gone on far too long.
When I was elected to the Senate, just about three years ago, I was invited to the White House to have a conversation with my colleagues and President Obama. The conversation was all about deficit spending, the national debt, and the upcoming vote to raise the debt ceiling. Unfortunately, since that time, it has been pretty much business as usual in Washington, D.C., and almost no progress has been made. It is time for us to get beyond the conversations and the rhetoric that too often is pretty empty around here and get down to the business of making real changes in the way we conduct our business.
First and foremost, we must reduce the government drag on the private sector. Startups in small businesses—the real job creators in this country—are being held down under the weight of a 74,000 page convoluted Tax Code and $1.75 trillion worth of red tape.
Every single job creator I meet, whether it is at a townhall meeting back home in Kansas or here in Washington, DC, tells me their story and asks for our help. What they tell me is we have to reduce the massive regulatory burden. The overwhelming cost of compliance prevents many small business owners and entrepreneurs from hiring new employees, expanding their facilities, and growing the economy.
Second, in addition to the regulatory environment, we have to say no to spending and yes to pro job measures. This will help reduce the uncertainty in the marketplace, encourage business investment, help us become more competitive in the global economy and, most important, create jobs.
The President's solution is to raise revenues to balance the budget. But the President's tax increase proposals would only cover the deficit for just a few weeks. I would be pleased to be convinced that if we increase taxes, the money would be used to pay down the debt. I don't think I am overly cynical, but my view of history, my review of the facts suggests that every time there is more revenue—more money sent to Washington, D.C.—more money is spent. History shows money raised in Washington, D.C., only results in more spending in Washington, D.C.
The revenues we need to balance our books are not from increasing taxes but revenues that come from a strong and growing economy. We are not immune from the laws of economics that face every nation. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that government spending on health care entitlements, Social Security, and interest on the national debt will consume 100 percent of the total revenues by 2025. What that means is that money the government spends on national defense, transportation, veterans, health care, and other government programs will have to be borrowed money. That drives us further and further into debt.
So regulations, getting the deficit under control and on the right path toward a more balanced budget, and then, third, we must take serious action to address the $48 trillion in unfunded obligations found in Social Security and Medicare. These programs represent promises that were made to Americans and, in my view, are promises that must be kept.
Because of my family's circumstance—my parents—I pretty much know what life is like for people who utilize Social Security and Medicare and the benefits they provide for their lives at that stage in life we all aspire to reach. When Social Security was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt, the average life expectancy was 64 years of age and the earliest retirement age to collect the benefits was 65. Today, Americans live 14 years longer, retire three years earlier, and spend two decades in retirement.
So we have gone from a time in which Social Security was envisioned to be used for a short period of one's remaining life expectancy to a Social Security System that now is a source of income and support for people through a couple decades of retirement. That means we have to change the way we support Social Security in order to fit today's demographics: more people retiring, more people living longer with insufficient revenues to meet those programmed needs.
When this year's kindergarten class enters college, spending on Social Security and Medicare, plus Medicaid and interest on the debt will devour all tax revenues. Congress can and should begin today—and should have started a long time ago—to address these questions concerning the sustainability of these very important programs.
Lastly, to get our country's fiscal house back in order, Congress should consider adopting many of the bipartisan recommendations put forth by the President's own deficit reduction commission. The co-chairs of the Commission have warned—this is the Simpson-Bowles Commission—if we fail to take swift action and we fail to take serious action, the United States faces “the most predictable economic crisis in history.''
In other words, we know it is coming. One would expect that people who know something bad is on its way—an economic crisis is coming—would take evasive action to avoid the consequences. Yet the President and Senate leadership have ignored the recommendations contained in the Simpson-Bowles report and generally continue to spend borrowed money without regard for those consequences—without regard for what we know is coming.
I don't want Americans to experience the day when our creditors decide we are no longer creditworthy and we have to suffer the same consequences as those countries that ignored their financial crisis. One needs to look no further than places in Europe—Greece, Italy, Spain—to see what high levels of national debt will do to a country's economy. Out of control spending is slowing America's economic growth and threatening the prosperity for future generations that will have to pay for our irresponsibility.
Thousands and thousands of young Americans will be graduating this month. Typically, I would guess many of my colleagues will be giving graduation addresses and will be encouraging our graduates to go forth and pursue a great life. We ought to also be telling ourselves that for our college graduates to go forth and pursue that wonderful life, we need to make changes in the way we do business and get our country's economic conditions and fiscal state to a place where the American dream can be expected to be pursued and, in many cases, achieved.
I am fearful that while my parents' generation handed off a country to my generation in which the expectations were high; the belief we that we could all live the American dream was felt. I worry that my generation is failing to do the same for the generation that follows mine. We must not fail to take action now and leave it for another Congress, another year, another session, another election, if we fail to take the action we need to take today because we believe it is just too difficult; that we can't afford the political consequences of making what some people describe as very difficult decisions, we clearly will reduce the opportunity of the next generation to experience the country we know and love, and we will diminish the chances they can pursue and achieve that American dream.
I have someone in my office recently who travels the globe, and he indicated to me that every place he goes, people around the world know what the phrase “the American dream'' means, and they all want to pursue the American dream. But the reminder was that more and more the American dream is pursued outside of America because of the inability of this Congress, the failure of past Congresses and Presidents to come together and do the things that are responsible for today but, more important, responsible for the well-being of Americans in the future.
We were not elected, not one of us was elected to ignore problems. People tell us, each one of us; all the time of some circumstance or condition that is a challenge to them. I have no doubt that each one of us in the Senate tries to figure out how we can help. Well, the American people are experiencing a problem. Our country faces a challenge, and we ought to respond in the same way we respond individually to our own constituents when we say: how can we help? What can we do? We know the answer to those questions. We just need to have the will, the courage, and the desire to work together to see that we address those issues and make certain America is a place that we are proud to pass on to the next generation and that no American, because of our inability to act, is unable to pursue that beautiful American Dream.