A picture of Senator Mazie K. Hirono
Mazie H.
Democrat HI

About Sen. Mazie
  • Continuing Appropriations

    by Senator Mazie K. Hirono

    Posted on 2013-10-09

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    HIRONO. Mr. President, our distinguished Republican whip referred to negotiations that occurred regarding welfare reform, tax reform, education reform, No Child Left Behind. These negotiations occurred, yes, but they certainly occurred not in the context of a threat of a government shutdown or the threat of government defaulting on our obligations. There is a very big difference in the context in which these negotiations occurred. That is not what we have before us today.

    This past Saturday I came to the floor to share some thoughts on the impact of this government shutdown on Hawaii's Federal employees. In those remarks, I tried to remind my colleagues that we have to think beyond the most recent news cycle. Shutting down government hurts the confidence of the American people in our institutions. It drives people away from public service and it undermines our national security and our economy. If we are going to live up to the legacy of our Nation as the world's indispensable Nation, we have to rise above zero sum politics. We have to show our allies and our adversaries that our political process can withstand grave disagreements. Our process is intended to allow for vigorous debate but to ultimately find common ground.

    Over 6 months ago, the Senate passed a budget. So did the House. A little over 6 days ago the U.S. Government shut down. How did this happen? The reason is that Republicans have blocked now 21 attempts to negotiate a Federal budget agreement in a timely fashion. That is how negotiations are supposed to happen--not with the threat of a government shutdown, not with the threat of defaulting on our obligations and debt.

    Instead, after 6 months of failing to come to the table, tea party Republicans are holding the U.S. Government--and, if we default on our debts, the world economy--hostage.

    Enough is enough. The Senate is prepared to negotiate on fiscal issues. The President is ready to negotiate on fiscal issues. We can find a way forward so we can all agree on the path. But first Congress needs to do its job. It needs to reopen the government and make sure the United States pays its bills. These are fundamental responsibilities.

    Just to be clear, defaulting on our debt would be the most irresponsible action I can imagine. It is the most easily avoidable catastrophe in history. We are not talking about a natural disaster, we are talking about a totally avoidable catastrophe. Yet some Republicans in the House believe a default would not be a big deal. In fact, one Member of the House actually said that a default would ``bring stability to world markets.'' That is an opinion that no one outside of the tea party bubble agrees with. In fact, economists, small businesses, bankers, big businesses, realtors, and nearly everyone in between have been clear: Default would be a catastrophe for our economy--and not just our economy either. Our currency, our bonds, and the full faith and credit they are backed by are the linchpin of the global economy. How a default from the world's most trusted Nation could possibly bring stability to world markets is incomprehensible.

    We have to stop the ideological games and irresponsible rhetoric, and then we can negotiate on fiscal issues and other policies--mindful of the work [[Page S7346]] we were elected to do and mindful of the people, families, and communities that elected us to serve them.

    Today I would like to share some more stories from Hawaii families and businesses about how the government shutdown is impacting one of the key drivers of Hawaii's economy--tourism.

    Each year millions of people from all over the world flock to Hawaii. Our State has so much to offer. They come to enjoy our blue oceans and sandy beaches. They come to visit our breathtaking national parks and wildlife refugees. They also come to learn and pay respect at our historical attractions, such as Pearl Harbor.

    Last year Hawaii welcomed over 8 million visitors--a record number. Combined, these visitors spent $42 million per day, of which $5 million supports State and local government activities that benefit our communities. In 2012 about 20 percent of our State's gross domestic product was generated by tourism. That economic activity supports 175,000 jobs in Hawaii.

    Due to our location in the center of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii's tourism industry relies on critical government services to keep people moving and commerce flowing. These include the work done by our air traffic controllers, our customs and TSA personnel, and agricultural inspectors. Many of these workers are on the job, but they are not getting paid right now. Thanks to them, our transportation systems are operating safely and effectively. As a result, visitors are still flocking to our resorts, our beaches, and other attractions. Even with the tea party shutdown, 2013 is on track to be another strong year for tourism in Hawaii.

    Unfortunately, at the same time, there are small businesses around the State that are being impacted by this shutdown. For the last 7 days our national parks, wildlife refugees, and historical sites have been closed to the public. These Federal sites are critical to many small businesses, particularly in our rural communities.

    Over the past week I have heard from many people--especially small business owners--whose livelihoods are being impacted by the closure of these Federal sites. One tour operator wrote to me: Our business is losing money, as do our tour guides who cannot perform the tours to the National Parks. We have to return the money to a lot of our clients because their tours have to be cancelled. Our tour guides are losing income as well, as they will not be able to do the tours.

    National parks are some of the main attractions in Hawaii. People travel thousands of miles from all parts of the world, spend a lot of money to come and visit, and then the main things that attract them are closed and they are not able to see them. For a lot of people, these trips are once in a lifetime, and if they don't see them now, they will never be able to see them again.

    A restaurant owner from Hawaii Island wrote: Well, we are in a small town on the Big Island of Hawaii. Our economy is totally tourist driven. We are dependent on people going to the National Park and stopping at our place to eat. Since the shutdown, our revenue has dropped a lot and we have had to cut hours for employees to compensate for the lack of business.

    I'm tired of all this Republican childish actions and wish all politicians would drop the partisan nonsense and do what is right for the American People.

    Thank you for your concern.

    One gentleman from Maui reminded me that private businesses don't get to pause on meeting their commitments when the government is closed. He wrote: My daughter and son-in-law have a tourist based clientele for their bicycle crater tour business on Maui. When Haleakala National Park was closed down, they lost their income and are still having to pay office expenses, etc., etc., as well as their home expenses, but nothing is coming in, as everything is going out.

    They are losing hundreds to thousands of dollars a day, their employees who have families aren't able to work with the business closed, tourists who come to Maui to have a good time, part of which was the bike ride down from Haleakala, are angry and disappointed and some even think this is somehow Maui government's fault! He goes on to say: My daughter has six children, mortgage payments. Money is going out, but none is coming in. My family are diligent middle class people who work hard, pay their taxes, vote in every election--responsible citizens who do their part always.

    If this ridiculous federal government shutdown continues for any length of time, my family will lose their business and be at poverty level in no time, as will all their employees. Everyone I know, on either side of the political spectrum, thinks the shutdown is ridiculous and unnecessary.

    I also heard about the impact of the shutdown on the visitors themselves who go to Hawaii. One person from Hawaii whose family members traveled to Hawaii to visit wrote: My family has travelled 6,000 miles on a once in a lifetime trip--sorry--no Pearl Harbor (Dad was a lifer Navy man) no Volcanoes National Park--no Puukohola--these sites are essential to our culture and tourism alike--many are without work--it is just ridiculous over a LAW that has been declared Constitutional--their antics change nothing--just hurt our country.

    Another local bed-and-breakfast owner on the Big Island shared the perspective of some of her international guests: Aloha, I have a bed and breakfast in Hilo and I feel sorry for my guests who have saved for a once in a lifetime vacation to Hawaii. They have come from all over the world to see our Beautiful Volcano National Park! These Guests do not understand how the government can CLOSE and deny them access to the Park.

    This week I have guests from Montreal, Canada; Singapore, Germany, France and Japan! They may NEVER have the opportunity to visit here again. This is Shameful for our country. Not only is this behavior bad for our Country but bad for the world.

    The tea party shutdown is also impacting Hawaiian visitors to our Nation's Capital. Yesterday I met with 81 students from Millilani Middle School on Oahu. They made the long trip from Hawaii to Washington, DC, in hopes of seeing historical sites, visiting museums, and learning about their country and our democracy. The trip was saved for and planned for months in advance. The sites and museums were scheduled. Their tickets and reservations were already paid for. They could not rebook their travel even though the shutdown has closed many of the sites they planned to visit. I took them on a tour of the Capitol myself because it was the only way they could see these halls of government. These students are here to learn about our democracy. Many of them asked me about the shutdown and how we were going to get government back on track. What kind of message will they take home with them about how our government operates? These are just some of the stories that illustrate the real impact of the tea party shutdown on communities, families, and people in Hawaii. So many of the folks whose letters I have shared work hard to earn an honest living. They go to work each day, striving to show our visitors aloha while building something for themselves and their families to be proud of. They play by the rules, meet their commitments, and do what they can to be good community members. Yet, through no fault of their own, many of these Hawaii small businesses are losing income and their livelihoods are being affected.

    It is past time for the House to take the responsible action to pass the Senate bill to keep government running and services going. It is not fair to our veterans, our students, and their families when they can't visit our Nation's historical and national treasures just because a small minority in Congress has chosen recklessness over responsibility. It is not fair that this shutdown and these senseless default threats have gone on for a week. This behavior is harming our economy and undermining our credibility around the world. We need to stop the tea party temper tantrum, we need to open the government, we need to pay our bills, and then we can negotiate on other matters.

    I yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

    Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I appreciate the time to be on the floor. I want to continue talking about what I think are the real problems with where we are today.

    What we are hearing in the press is that there is no agreement on a continuing resolution, that there is conflict and lack of discussion in Washington, that the debt limit is coming [[Page S7347]] up, yet Washington is not capable of solving its problems.

    I made some points yesterday about the reason we are not capable of solving our problems is that there is an absence of leadership. We are not only bankrupt financially, we are bankrupt when it comes to our leadership.

    I want to dispel the rumor that our problems are not insolvable. They are imminently solvable. We have $126 trillion worth of unfunded liabilities for which Americans are responsible. We have $17 trillion worth of debt, and we have $94 trillion of total assets in this country if you add what the Federal Government and everybody else owns. So the difference between $128 trillion and $94 trillion is $34 trillion, and then another $17 trillion--that is $51 trillion we are going to have to account for. What is in front of us--and by the way, the Affordable Care Act will add $6.7 trillion to those outstanding liabilities net of any tax revenues and tax increases it collects.

    So what are we to do? What are the American people to think? They see impasse, lack of conversation, lack of compromise, lack of resolution, and no reconciliation. So I wanted to take a few minutes today to kind of give a little history, first of all, and then outline what is possible--I am not saying we must do it--over the next 10 years that we could do that would put us on a pathway to where we would be solving the problems and not leaving our children an inheritance of debt.

    I made the point yesterday that the median family income in this country today in terms of real dollars is exactly where it was in 1989. We are going backward. We are going to go backward this year. What that really means is that the standard of living is declining. The American public is getting further and further behind.

    One of the quotes I use--and I don't know if it is accurate--has been attributed to Alexander Tytler, a Scottish historian. Let me read it: A democracy-- In this case a constitutional Republic-- is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It will continue to exist until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes with the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

    Where are we in that line? Is $50 trillion in negative net worth not a sign that we are going there? Is declining median family income not a sign that we are going there? What we have seen in this last so-called recovery is the wealthy have done very well but nobody else has. So what we are seeing is history repeat itself in terms of what has been outlined and observed in the past.

    Alexander Tytler was also accredited with this, but nobody can prove it: The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During these 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back into bondage.

    I think we are somewhere in here, if history speaks accurately, or at least his observation of history.

    So what we ought to be about is making sure we cheat history--all of us, together, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, Independents--we ought to be about cheating history. How do we do that? Are the problems we have in front of us so big that we can't solve them? I don't think so. Are positions so hardened that we can't think in a long-term way about solving the problems that are in front of our country? When we talk about the debt ceiling--I have been accosted a lot in the news media in the last 48 hours because I don't believe the debt ceiling equals default on our obligations in terms of our sovereign debt. It just so happens Moody's, the rating agency, agreed with me today; that, in fact, they are not the same thing and they say there should be no effect. That doesn't mean we should. I am not proposing we should. But the scare tactics of saying the Earth is going to collapse if we somehow fail on time to raise the debt limit is not true. The Earth will collapse for Americans if we don't address the underlying problems facing our country--this $50 trillion in unfunded liability and negative net worth.

    Here is what we know has happened in the last few years, and it proves the point. It is why median family income is going down. It is because our debt is growing twice as fast as our economy.

    Here is our GDP increase over the last few years: $1.199 trillion. Here is our debt: It went up $2.405 trillion. To say that another way, that is 2.4 billion millions. These numbers are unfathomable, but the graph shows it all. Our GDP has increased. So what is happening is that for every $1 in debt we go into, we are getting a deepening decrease in return in our economy, and it is continuing to go down. So the more we borrow, the less well off we are in terms of being able to grow our economy. So the problems in front of us and what we see is what I would say as careerists don't want to solve the problem because the thing that comes to the careerist's mind is how does that effect the next election.

    I don't care what happens in the next election in this country; what I care about is whether we are going to address the real problems and secure the future for the country. Whether they be Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, I don't care. We are all in this together. When our living standard goes down, we all go down together.

    So how do we solve this problem? The first thing in any addiction-- and we have an addiction to spending--is to recognize we have an addiction. We have an addiction to spending. We have an addiction to not living within our means. We just passed $600 billion in January of increased taxes on the American economy, most of that coming from the people who are doing much better during this tepid recovery. Will that solve our problems? Can we tax our way out of this? Can we have confiscatory tax policies that will not hurt our economy and get us out of this? The answer is no, and everybody recognizes it.

    What else does everybody recognize? They recognize that a big portion of the problem is entitlement spending, and no political party wants to be blamed for being the person who ``fixed'' entitlement spending unless we do it together. So we have a great opportunity to, together, modify our mandatory spending programs and make significant savings. But having spent the last 9 years with my colleague from Delaware who is on the floor oversighting the Federal Government, I can tell my colleagues there are more things we can do other than that.

    So I thought I would spend a few minutes to go over a publication I put out a couple of summers ago, and it is called ``Back in Black.'' It is not perfect. I will be the first to admit it. I know we will not ever pass $9 trillion worth of savings over 10 years. But here is $9 trillion worth of options we could look at and take half of them and actually get on the road to health.

    What would getting on the road to health look like? It would be rising personal incomes, not declining personal incomes as we are seeing today. It would be rising median family incomes. It would be faster economic growth.

    Mr. President, am I out of time? The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator has used his 10 minutes.

    Mr. COBURN. My request was for 30 minutes when I came to the floor. Evidently, that wasn't made. Is the order of the day 10 minutes? The PRESIDING OFFICER. It is.

    Mr. COBURN. I would ask for just a short period of additional time if my colleague from Delaware would allow it.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Delaware.

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