State of the Union Reactionby Senator Daniel Coats
Posted on 2013-02-13
COATS. Madam President, last night President Obama had the
opportunity to present to the American people a plan envisioned for how
he plans to strengthen the state of our Union.
While I am pleased he finally turned his focus back to the ongoing jobs crisis in our country, I was left feeling disappointed and frustrated that the President continued to call for higher taxes to pay for more and more government spending.
I don't believe the President acknowledges--or at least he didn't last evening--the seriousness of our debt and fiscal crisis. We are nearly $16.5 trillion in debt, and $6 trillion of that [[Page S669]] debt is from the President's spending over the last 4 years--and he now has 4 more years to go.
Yet rather than tell the American people specifically how he will reduce this unsustainable debt, he once again pulled out the same tired playbook and made it clear his basic fiscal plan is ever higher taxes. It's almost an obsession with tax hikes and telling the American people: You are just not taxed enough, when we are practically taxed to death. When you add not just the Federal but the State and the local and the sales and the excise and gasoline and the entertainment and all the other taxes that American people pay in their daily lives, it cuts into their paycheck in a very significant way each week. The real question is, Is the solution to our problems more taxes on the American people? Mr. President, you got your taxes in the fiscal cliff debate. You had campaigned for this and you won the election. These tax levels were going to expire and hit every American with a massive tax increase. We clawed back a significant amount of that to protect the majority of Americans. But you got your taxes, Mr. President. Now is the time to address the other side of the so-called balanced approach that you have been promising: spending reductions.
Sadly, last night gave us no indication that the President is committed to leading on this critical issue and fixing our economy and, more important, getting more people back to work.
Instead of detailing a plan to reduce the record-high debt, he outlined a liberal laundry list of new government programs and initiatives. I could almost hear the sound of a cash register in the background--ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching--with every new program he put forward.
Some of these ideas were worthy ideas, but we cannot afford them. How are we going to pay for them? What is the result? The President said in a most disingenuous way that none of these initiatives would add a dime to the already unsustainable debt. If they do not add a dime to the debt and you are proposing all kinds of programs that are going to cost a lot of money, there is only one way you can pay for them, and that is to raise taxes--either that or to continue to borrow money and put us in an ever-deeper hole of debt, more obligated to our creditors with each day that goes by.
Hoosiers and Americans across the country are taxed enough. Washington cannot keep asking hard-working Americans to dig deeper and pony up more money so that the Federal Government can spend more. The American people no longer are falling for that. Hoosiers tell me they want to do their part to restore the fiscal health of this country. They want to do their part to help America become a better place and a more prosperous nation for their children and their grandchildren. They are willing to step up and do what it takes to help. But Hoosiers and the American people are not willing to be enablers to Washington's spending addiction. They want to see their lawmakers and this administration reform the outrageous, out-of-control spending, not continually call for higher taxes to pay for greater spending coming out of Washington.
I have to say I was somewhat encouraged that the President mentioned he was willing to make modest reforms to programs like Medicare. Both Republicans and Democrats, including the President, agree that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security represent the biggest portion and ever-growing percentage of government spending. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently reported that spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security and the interest on the debt for that spending will consume 91 percent of all Federal revenues in 10 years. That, then, takes all the wind out of our sails in terms of those necessary functions of the Federal Government, such as preparing adequately for our national security and defense and a number of other things the Federal Government is involved in that are essential functions. But with mandatory spending eating up, in 10 years, 91 percent of all we take in, we still are not going to have the ability to pay for those programs.
With 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day, we know the status quo is unsustainable. We cannot afford to continue the way we are. These programs are in jeopardy. We are not trying to take away the programs, we are trying to save the programs. They are in jeopardy, though, if we do not take steps now to structure them in a way that will control costs and preserve benefits for current and future recipients.
Hard-working Hoosiers and millions of Americans have spent a lifetime paying into these programs, and they rely on the health and security benefits they receive from them. But these benefits will not last if we ignore the facts about the current fiscal status and insolvency these programs are careening toward and do nothing. I was glad the President at least acknowledged that we need to make modest reforms. I think we can do that.
The reason we are dealing with this across-the-board sequester and the reason we are talking about potential cuts that have to be made is we have not had the courage and the will to stand up and recognize and acknowledge that it is the mandatory spending reforms that will put us in a place of fiscal health so we can continue the effective and essential functions of the Federal Government.
According to the International Monetary Fund, to cover current obligations for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, our younger generation--our young people--will either have to pay 35 percent more taxes and receive 35 percent lower benefits. Those are the facts. Do the math, do the arithmetic. This is not ideological. This is not Republicans versus Democrats, liberals versus conservatives. This is pure numbers, pure math. It is an unsustainable course, and it is going to result in a massive decrease in benefits for those who pay into those programs over a lifetime or a massive increase in taxes on those who have to have that deducted from their paychecks and put into these programs in order to keep them solvent.
We have to deal with that problem and deal with it now. We should have been dealing with it years ago. We have seen this train wreck coming, and it is getting ever closer. Now it is time for the President, having recognized the need to address this issue--now is the time that he needs to show the American people he is willing to lead, not from behind but from the front, and offer a specific plan to reform and strengthen our health and retirement security programs.
The President said the sequester--the across-the-board cuts where everyone gets nicked--is a terrible idea. It is his terrible idea, and it is not the best way to address our spending plight. It is not the best way to deal with this because it basically assumes that every program is of equal value, that what is spent to provide security for the American people by having an adequate and strong military is at the same level as some program that has been proven years ago to be totally dysfunctional and efficient. But they would both get cut.
I will be laying out a number of things, as others have--like Senator Coburn to highlight some of those programs that need to be reevaluated. Not that we think all of these ought to be eliminated or trimmed or that they don't fall into an essential category in terms of the role of the Federal Government but there are several programs that nonpartisan agencies, such as the General Accounting Office, or even the President's own Office of Management and Budget have recommended, are not worthy of the support they receive because they are not an essential function or they are even dysfunctional programs altogether.
We do not have to delve into the across-the-board sequester, which we have no choice but to do now because we failed to live up to what we needed to do--and I will be talking about that later, as I said.
I urge us to focus on fixing the country's fiscal health. We do not do that by raising taxes, we do it by enacting broad spending reforms. We do it by reducing our debt. We do it by creating a budget so we can live within our means. And we do it by promoting growth, growing our economy. A growing economy can solve a lot of problems and get a lot of people back to work. This is how we strengthen America, and this is how we get Americans back to work.
It is time we get to work and accomplish this task that lies before us now, [[Page S670]] not later--no more deferrals, no more pushing it down the road. It is time to step up now, as the President said, putting the interest of our country ahead of our own personal political interest, rising above the political to do what is right for America.
That is the challenge, and, Mr. President, we need your leadership.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Louisiana.