Videos & Speeches
Jan 23 2013
Madam President, let me take a moment to welcome you to the Senate. I look forward to working with you and welcome you, coming from the House of Representatives to the Senate. Over the Christmas holidays most of our Nation was focused on what Congress would do to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. What was largely missing from that conversation was how to address the much greater and more damaging problem, our growing national debt.
I am not exactly sure what the definition of fiscal cliff was. I think it had different meanings to different people. We dealt with a portion of the fiscal cliff, a slight delay in sequestration, and the consequences of the so-called Bush tax cuts expiring on December 31, but the serious problem is our national debt. Last year's budget shortfall reached $1.1 trillion; the fourth straight year of trillion-dollar deficit spending. This out-of-control government spending has increased our national debt to a record $16 trillion, which is more than the entire U.S. economy produced in goods and services for the entire year of 2012.
Last week Secretary Geithner let Congress know it will reach its borrowing limit as soon as mid-February. President Obama will request that Congress raise the debt ceiling once again. This is the fifth time that President Obama has requested the debt limit be raised to allow the Federal Government to borrow and spend more money.
What is the point of even having a debt limit if Congress simply extends the Treasury's borrowing capacity each time the limit is reached? While some may say it is irresponsible not to raise the debt limit, our Nation finds itself at a point of such indebtedness that it is equally as irresponsible to extend the debt ceiling without significant reductions in Federal spending.
I voted against an increase to the debt limit two years ago and intend to vote against another increase unless we substantially change the way government does business by reducing Federal spending. In addition to it being alleged that it is irresponsible not to raise the debt ceiling, sometimes it is suggested it is not compassionate to not spend money. Where is the compassion in spending money we don't have that is being borrowed and will have to be repaid by future generations of Americans—our kids and grandkids?
Our country is facing enormous fiscal challenges that, if left unchecked, will have a disastrous impact on the future of our Nation. The simple truth is that government is spending more than it is taking in, and this pattern must not, and in fact cannot, continue.
During the last 2 years alone the government has spent more than $7.3 trillion and increased the Nation's debt by more than $3.2 trillion. We didn't get into this situation overnight. It has been years in the making. Our staggering national debt and deficits are the responsibility of many Congresses and Presidents from both political parties who have allowed us to live well beyond our means for far too long. Americans deserve leadership in Washington to confront these fiscal challenges and fight for the future of our Nation. However, to date, our President and our Congress—this Congress—has failed to provide that leadership.
We learned from the New Year's Eve fiscal cliff negotiations that our work to tackle our debt must begin now. It cannot wait until the eleventh hour when the deadline is near and the consequences are preventable. We have all heard the saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Why should we expect our fiscal situation to change if we keep doing the same thing: raising the debt limit so we can borrow more money and spend more money? We know what needs to be done. It will just take the political courage to do it. Rather than wait for another last-minute deal that gets rushed through with little input from the American people, it is time we have an open and honest debate.
I think Americans are ready for leadership that involves tough decisions. The President must come to the table with Congress and put courage and common sense before politics and that means getting serious about our government's finances. One of the best ways to rein in spending is to set a budget and live by it. No country, business, or family can operate responsibly without a budget. Crafting a budget is one of the basic responsibilities of Congress, but this Senate has not passed a budget in more than 1,300 days.
When a Kansas family meets the max on their credit card, they don't just call the credit card company and ask them to raise their credit limit so they can keep on spending. No. They cut back on spending and change their budget. Washington needs to do the same. I hope the stories the Senate is going to address a budget are true, and I hope that means the Budget Committee will meet and—in regular order—deal with a budget. I am a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. I hope we have the opportunity to do appropriations bills which matter and follow that budget.
We must take serious action to address this fiscal cliff—the real one—of $48 trillion in unfunded obligations. These programs, which represent promises made by the Federal Government to Americans, must be kept. It is not about undoing Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid, it is about making certain they are available, fiscally sound, and that another generation of Americans can receive the benefits.
Another solution, besides the budget, in getting our spending back under control is to consider and adopt many of the bipartisan recommendations put forth by the President's own Deficit Reduction Commission. The co-chairs of that Commission have warned that if we fail to take swift and serious action, the United States faces the most predictable economic crisis in history. Yet the President and Senate leadership has ignored these recommendations and continues to spend borrowed money without regard for the consequences.
The President's solution is to raise revenues to balance the budget, but those tax increases—if he got all he asked for—would only cover our spending for a few weeks. The budget the President proposed during the 4 years he has been President raises taxes. Every budget that the President has proposed in the 4 years he has been in office has raised taxes. One would think maybe that means the deficit is going down. But, unfortunately, the budgets proposed by President Obama would raise taxes, raise spending, and increase debt. To me, that suggests increasing taxes is never the solution that results in less spending and less deficits but just increased taxes and more spending.
History shows us that every time money is raised in Washington, DC, more money is spent by Washington, DC. The revenues we need to balance our books are not increases in taxes but revenues coming from a strong and growing economy. To turn our economy around and put people back to work, Congress and the administration should be implementing policies that encourage job creation; rein in burdensome government regulations; replace our convoluted Tax Code with one that is fair, simple, and certain; open foreign markets to American-manufactured goods and agricultural products; and develop a comprehensive energy policy. We are not immune from the laws of economics which 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 generated by the federal government by the year 2025. That means the money the government spends on national defense, transportation, veterans' health care, and other government programs will have to be borrowed and will drive us even further into debt.
The CBO issued a report last June which warned that unless we work to reduce our debt, we will face the increased probability of a sudden fiscal crisis that would cause investors to lose confidence in the government's ability to manage its budget, and the government would thereby lose its ability to borrow at these affordable rates.
I do not want to experience the day when our creditors decide we are no longer creditworthy and America has to suffer the same consequences as the countries that have ignored their debt crisis. We need to look no further than the current situation of many countries in Europe to see what high levels of national debt will do to a country's economic health.
Last week one of the major credit rating agencies, Fitch, warned that America risks losing its AAA credit rating if Congress and the President fail to agree to a “credible medium-term deficit reduction plan.” Fitch's warning is yet another reason we need to work together to put our country on a sustainable path for the future. We need to heed this warning and take steps now to prevent another credit downgrade.
The American people expect the President and Members of Congress to confront our Nation's challenges and not push them off to some future date. They also want their concerns and voices heard. The last-minute deals, the negotiations by a handful of people are very disturbing to me and to many Americans.
Today I am pleased to share a new opportunity which gives Kansans a voice in the debate on how to reduce spending through a new Web site called Fight for our Future . Kansans can access that site from my home page and learn more about the government's true fiscal condition. Not only can they share their thoughts on why we should cut spending, but they can also vote for a debt reduction proposal they think will be most effective. They will be able to add their name to a message that will be sent to the President and congressional leaders to urge us to put politics aside and work to save our country's future.
The debate over government spending is often seen as one that is philosophical or simply partisan bickering. All my life I heard Republicans and Democrats argue about spending, deficits, and taxes. They think that is what goes on in Washington, DC. This time it is different. Our failure to act will have dramatic consequences to the daily lives of Americans. This is about whether an American can find a job, afford to make payments on their homes and cars, and whether their kids will have a bright future.
The debt limit crisis we are facing now did not have to be a crisis. We knew the day would come when we would have to deal with the consequences of living beyond our means. Let's work together to solve this tremendous challenge.