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Roy B.
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  • The Budget

    by Senator Roy Blunt

    Posted on 2013-01-24

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    BLUNT. Mr. President, I want to talk a little about the bill that is coming over from the House that would require the Senate to-- surprise--have a budget. I know the law already requires the Senate to have a budget, but apparently that law wasn't good enough for us to have a budget for the last 3 years. So I am supportive of the House decision to do that. In fact, I am supportive of almost any discussion that requires us to talk about what we are going to do about spending.

    You know, if you have been living outside your means, if you can't pay your bills and you go to a credit counselor, the credit counselor is highly unlikely to say: Your problem is you need another credit card. The credit counselor is going to say: You need to figure out how you are going to pay your bills, and that includes things such as having a budget, it includes things such as figuring out what you are spending money on that you can stop spending money on. That is what we need to do, and it is what we need to do with a budget.

    Somehow in the face of unprecedented spending and record Federal debt, the President and even Senate Democrats for a few years now have been saying that in Washington all we need to do is get another credit card. Our problem, I hear, is not a spending problem, it is a health care problem or it is a whatever kind of problem it is. It is clearly a spending problem.

    There is no doubt that Washington is living outside its means. The Federal debt has skyrocketed to a record $16.5 trillion. President Obama's first term added almost $6 trillion to that total. There is no reason to believe we have done anything to slow down the spending and debt path we have been on. Meanwhile, it has been 1,360 days since the majority in the Senate and the Senate itself has managed to pass a budget. In fact, I think during that 1,316 days we haven't even had the Budget Committee report a budget out for the Senate to vote on.

    Last summer Vice President Biden said: Show me your budget and I will tell you what you value. Well, let's find out what we value. Let's find out what the majority in the Senate values. When the Vice President talked about showing the budget, he was talking about the Republican budget, because there actually was one. The Republican House had passed a budget. In fact, the Senate and the House both passed a budget every single year from the passage of the Budget Control Act in the mid-1970s until 2010. In 2010, both the House and the Senate--the House with Speaker Pelosi and the Senate with the current majority--said: We don't care what the law says, we are not going to pass a budget. That lasted 1 year in the House, but it has lasted now 3 years in the Senate. In 2011 and 2012 the House came back and passed a budget.

    The Republicans have voted for serious budgets that make tough choices, and even those choices were choices that made us go out and explain what we were for. And, of course, that is exactly what the Vice President was talking about when he said: Show me your budget, I will show you your values. There was only one side that had a budget. So that was a pretty harmless position, from the point of view of the Vice President, because he was saying: Let's look at the budget the other guys have put on the table because we don't have one on the table; we have not said what we are for.

    The Senate Democrats have ignored the law, ignored their legal obligation to pass a budget, while House Republicans have now said the Senate should either pass a budget or not be paid, and I agree with that. It is a fundamental step toward planning.

    The second step is to vote on appropriations bills. We haven't voted on a single appropriations bill in the Senate in over a year. We don't have a budget, so there is no plan to try to get spending under control; and then we don't vote on how we are going to spend the money in any way other than some big continuing resolution, which basically is a bill that says we are going to continue spending money as we have been spending money, and here are the two or three exceptions. But we are not going to have the debate I think the Senate needs to have. Frankly, I believe our new Appropriations chairman, Barbara Mikulski, is going to be insisting we bring appropriations bills to the floor, and I think that is a good thing.

    The failure to have a Senate budget has too often been described as a minor procedural matter. Senator Schumer said recently: Well, the Democrats didn't have a budget because there was a budget that came out of the sequester agreement in mid-2011. Never mind the Senate hadn't had a budget that spring or the spring before that or that the Parliamentarian said the sequester deal wasn't a budget, somehow coming up with one number was supposedly good enough to come up with a budget.

    That is like sitting around the kitchen table to decide how you are going to spend your money, and here is how the discussion would go: OK, I think we ought to spend X amount of money. That is the meeting. We have just decided that is what we are going to do. And somehow that is the budget? Particularly when X amount of money didn't relate at all to the amount of money coming into your family. Nobody believes that would make sense.

    We will see whether Senator Schumer's words this weekend will produce a budget. The House has acted. The President says he wants the debt ceiling increased. Hopefully, the majority has decided to pass a budget. The new budget chairman, Senator Murray, said yesterday that her committee will draft a budget. Now let's let the Senate produce a budget. Let's have a budget drawn up, let's have a budget debated, and let's figure out what our plans are.

    Budgets lay out plans. We will see if a budget that a majority in the Senate would vote for will pass the straight-face test with the American people. We will see if this is just another budget that says: OK, here is the amount of money we want to spend; it has no relationship to the amount of money we have, but let's let that be our budget.

    The people will no longer tolerate, I am convinced, the amount of debt and taxes that that type of spending plan would require. For them to think about that, they have to have a spending plan, and so I am grateful the House passed legislation that says we have to have that plan. When the majority in the Senate--Democrats in the Senate--have a budget, we will see how they feel about continuing to attack the budget the House has been willing to come up with for the last two Congresses. Right now they can talk about the cuts that Republicans in the House want because there are no Senate cuts. There is no Senate budget.

    So let's have an apples-to-apples comparison. Let's compare what Republicans in the House would do compared to what Democrats in the Senate would do and figure out what our plan needs to be. It is often said that when you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Not having a budget is sort of the entry level of failing to plan. We have failed to do the first thing you would do if you were going to have a plan, if you were going to get your spending under control.

    My Republican colleagues and I in the Senate have--even though there wasn't a Budget Committee product--actually found ways to vote for and support the Republican-passed budget from the House and, of course, we paid the price for that. People were out there saying: Here is what you want to do about this program and here is what you want to do about that program. But we are going to move quickly from where, rather than just attacking one [[Page S243]] side that has a plan, we are talking about what the two plans are, and we will see what the American people want to do.

    President Obama and our friends in the Senate should work with Republicans in the Senate to cut spending and to pass a budget in a transparent way. Republicans have been willing to do that. Democrats may be willing to join in that. And if they are, the American people can begin to see more than a last-minute, back-room deal. I am tired of seeing this planned crisis, one right after another, and I have a feeling the people I work for are even more tired of it than I am.

    A divided government is a good opportunity to make tough choices. The President will never have more political capital than he has right now. Let's take those two things together and let's see what that formula would produce. A divided government--Republicans and Democrats both have to take responsibility--and a President with maximum political capital could equal a good and long-term result. I hope the President and the majority in the Senate get serious about working together and solving the problems we face as a country.

    I look forward to being part of that, and I am appreciative that the House of Representatives has passed legislation that appears to have forced the Senate to do its job on a budget for the first time in 4 years.


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