Fiscal Responsibilityby Senator Mitch McConnell
Posted on 2013-01-23
McCONNELL. Madam President, President Obama may have been vague
on details in his inaugural speech on Monday, but I will give him this,
he couldn't have been clearer about the tone and the direction he has
in mind for the second term. Gone is the postpartisan rhetoric that
propelled him onto the national stage and into the White House. In its
place is an unabashedly leftwing appeal for more bureaucratic control
and centralized power here in Washington.
On Monday, we saw a President and a party that appeared to have shifted into reverse and jammed on the gas. For Democrats in the Obama age, the era of big government being over is officially over. And anybody who disagrees with their approach isn't just wrong, they are not just standing in the way of progress, they are malevolent, they are the bad guys, they are the ones who want to take food away from children, they want the old and the infirm to suffer, they want to choose between caring for the people who built this country, as the President put it on Monday, and investing in those who will build our future.
I don't know if the President buys all this stuff; I don't know if he believes his own caricature--I certainly hope not--but one thing I do know is that questioning the intentions of one's political opponents makes it awfully hard to get anything done in a representative democracy. As the President himself said, without so much as a hint of irony, we cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics or treat name calling as reasoned debate.
The President won the election. I congratulate him on his victory. It is his prerogative to lay out an agenda and to make an argument-- against all evidence--for the efficacy of big government, more Washington spending, and centralization. It is even his prerogative to argue--mistakenly, in my view--that America's greatness somehow rests not on its communities and voluntary associations, its churches and charities, on civil society, but instead on the dictates of Washington. But to suggest that those of us and our constituents who believe otherwise don't want the best interest of our parents or our children or our country's future is, at best, needlessly provocative; at worst, it suggests a troubling inability to view those who don't happen to share your opinions as beneath you.
To suggest, as one of the President's spokesmen did earlier this week, that both the American political system and those who belong to the party of Lincoln aren't worthy of this White House or its agenda isn't the way to get things done. It makes it impossible to tend to problems we simply have to face up to and that we will only solve together. Frankly, it calls into question the President's own belief in the wisdom and the efficacy of the constitutional system of checks and balances that the Founders so wisely put in place.
The postinaugural period is usually a chance to pivot to governing after a long campaign. It is an opportunity for Presidents to reach out to the minority and to forge compromises. But that is not what we are seeing this time around. Even before Monday we all noted the harsh change in tone, the reboot of the campaign machine, and how, instead of offering an olive branch to those who disagree with him, the President had already decided to transform his campaign operation into a weapon to bulldoze anyone who doesn't share his vision. Well, I would suggest that one thing the American people don't want is a permanent campaign. That is the last thing the American people are looking for--a permanent campaign. They want us to work together on solutions to our problems. And deficits and debt are right at the top of the list.
I wish to suggest this morning the President rethink the adversarial tone he has adopted in recent weeks. Our problems are simply too urgent and too big for the President to give up on working with us. I appeal to him once again to work with us on the things we can achieve together, and let us start with the deficit and the debt. Because the only way we will be able to tackle these problems is by doing it together.
[[Page S192]] If he refuses, if he insists on spending the next 4 years pushing a polarizing hard-left agenda instead, I assure him he will meet a determined opposition not only from Republicans in Washington but from the very people he seems to believe are squarely on his side in the push to remake government in his image.
The irony in the President's attacks, of course, is that the kind of reforms Republicans are calling for are the only conceivable route to saving the programs the President claims he wants to protect. Failing to reform the entitlement programs of the last century now--right now-- is the best way to guarantee they no longer exist in their current form. I mean, one could practically hear the ring of the cash register with every new promise the President made. At a time when we can all see the failure of such policies by simply turning on the news, he seems blissfully--blissfully--unaware of the fact that from Athens to Madrid the sad, slow death of the left's big government dream is on display for all to see. If we want a less prosperous, less dynamic, less mobile society, that is the way to go--just ``Europeanize'' America.
The President's vision of an all-powerful government that rights every wrong and heals every wound may warm the liberal heart, but it is completely divorced from experience and from reality. So today I wish to do my part to bring the President and his allies in Congress a little closer down to Earth. I know it may be hard for them to accept, but the reality is this: We have a spending problem--not a taxing problem, a spending problem.
Let's take a look at the chart to my right. The green represents historic and projected tax revenue. And we can see it goes right straight across here out to 2040. The tax increases of 3 weeks ago were delivered by operation of law. In other words, the law expired and all of the Bush tax cuts were over. The Congress, 2 hours after everybody's taxes went up--in other words, after all the Bush tax cuts expired-- restored tax relief for 99 percent of the American people, and they did it on a permanent basis to guarantee we wouldn't have another cliff, as we inevitably have. When a law sunsets, we have a cliff.
So the President was able to get some new revenue by operation of law, and that represents this dark blue line right across here. You can see that is pretty steady out to 2040.
The President, of course, said that wasn't nearly enough. He said: We need more taxes, and we will be back asking for more taxes later. So as nearly as we can tell, based on what he has said, the taxes he would like to add to the ones he got by operation of law 2\1/2\ weeks ago is this light blue line right across here.
If the President were given all the tax increases he says at the moment he wants, that would provide this amount of revenue going out to 2040. As you can see, that doesn't do anything to solve the problem because the red represents spending in the past and the spending escalation that will occur if we don't do anything to solve the spending problem.
Look at this line dramatically going up to 2040. So as you can see, there is not enough revenue we can raise without completely shutting down the economy to solve the problem. In fact, it produces a rather static and totally insignificant amount of revenue in order to deal with the massive spending problem.
So this constant demand for more and more tax increases on, I guess, whom people assume is the more successful guy down the street may be a great campaign tactic, but it doesn't do anything to solve the problem. Even if the President were able to get every bit of taxes he wants, we still have an enormous gap in spending if we don't deal with the real problem, which is spending. We have a spending addiction. I didn't make this up. This is a fact. This is reality.
So the tax issue is over. Congress has restored permanent tax relief for 99 percent of the American people. Even if the President were to get--and he will not--any more tax revenue, it is perfectly obvious that doesn't do anything to solve the problem.
So the challenge for us--and looking at the chart we can see--is revenue today is just about where it has been for the past 30 years or so. The President spent nearly his entire first term arguing that we needed to tax the so-called rich to solve our fiscal woes. He harangued Congress about it. He argued for it in rallies and debates. He threatened to push us over the cliff if he didn't get his way.
In the end, by operation of law he got part of what he asked for. And the reason he got it, as I said earlier, is because the tax relief we passed in 2001 and 2003 carried an expiration date. President Obama got some of the tax increases he wanted because the law expired. Then Congress, led by Republicans, voted to make Bush-era tax rates permanent for 99 percent of all Americans. Now, permanency is important. It has been kind of lost on the general public, but the importance is we don't have another cliff, another expiration date where all of a sudden everything changes.
Given how much time he devoted to that one topic, one would think his tax hike would have closed the deficit, eliminated the entire national debt, and left us with extra cash to spare. But do you see that tiny little blue line I pointed to right here? That is how much additional revenue he got. This blue area is the revenue he says he wants. He will not get it; but if he did, it is pretty apparent it has nothing whatsoever to do with solving the spending addiction.
So if this revenue doesn't come anywhere close to solving the problem, the real challenge, obviously, is how we are going to control all of this red. What do we do about this? Well, we are clearly spending way more than we take in. The real uptick, interestingly enough, occurs about the time the President took office. It has been hard enough to find ways to close the President's trillion-dollar deficits. But as I just pointed out, they are nothing next to what is going to hit us when tens of millions of baby boomers reach retirement age--nothing compared to what is heading our way.
I pointed out the massive slope. That is what is headed our way. Nothing short of a bipartisan effort is going to fix this problem, and there is only one way we can do it. We can't tax our way out of this problem. The revenue question is behind us. The law we voted for, as I said, made current tax rates permanent. I am pretty confident not a single Republican in the House or Senate will vote to raise any more taxes. But even if we were to do that, all the taxes the President asked for would only put us here in 2040. And look at what would be spent.
So the reality the President needs to face--and quickly--is that there is no realistic way to raise taxes high enough to even begin to address this problem. That is why Republicans are saying we need to start controlling spending, and we need to do it now. That is why if the President wants to do something good right now, he should put us out of the liberal wish list and put us out of the character attacks and join us in this great task. It is the transcendent issue of our time.
If we don't fix this problem, we don't leave behind for our children and grandchildren the kind of America our parents left behind for us. There is no bigger issue, even though it got scant mention in the State of the Union.
Now, I have no animus toward the President. I just want to see him do something about the problem because the longer we wait, the worse the problem becomes. The more we delay the inevitable, the less time younger Americans will have to plan for the reforms we make today. That is simply not right.
So the President has a choice. He can paint himself as a warrior of the left and charge into battle with failed ideas we have already tried before; he can demean and blame the opposition for his own failure to lead; he can indulge his supporters in a bitter, never-ending campaign that will only divide our country further; or he could take the responsible road. He can help his own base come to terms with the mathematical reality.
Some people over there are living in a fantasy world--a world that doesn't exist. He could reach out to leaders in both parties--and all of the members in both parties--and negotiate in good faith. We would be happy to give him credit. That is fine by me. If boosting his legacy is what it takes and it helps the country, that is all the better.
If my constituents believe they are working to help make their future a [[Page S193]] little better and a little brighter, great. But we can't waste any more time denying the reality that is staring each of us in the face. There is only one way to solve this problem, and that is to do something about this spending addiction that is going to sink this country and turn us into Greece.
Senate Republicans are ready to help the President solve this problem. I hope we have an opportunity to do so.
Madam President, I yield the floor.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from Tennessee.