The Economyby Senator Daniel Coats
Posted on 2013-01-30
COATS. Madam President, breaking news. Just a short time ago the
Bureau of Economic Analysis issued its report for the fourth quarter of
2012 in terms of our economy. I am sorry to say that the report said we
have contracted--not gained, but our economy contracted--during this
fourth quarter, 0.1 percent at an annual rate last fall.
Here we are, about 3\1/2\ years from a deep recession, and in normal recessions recovery occurs at a significant rate. That is what gets people back to work. That is what gets our economy moving again. This is the growth we need to address our fiscal situation. Yet after nearly 3\1/2\ years of stumbling along and bumping along in the most tepid recovery since before World War II, we now learn that despite some of the optimism that has been projected lately that things are getting better, things are growing, and unemployment is going to start coming down, we get this distressing report that in the fourth quarter, the quarter where we all go out and buy Christmas presents and spend money at the end of the year, that fourth quarter contracted; it did not grow.
The average rate of growth following recessions is about 4 percent growth per year. Sometimes it has been 6, 7, and even 8 percent. The average rate we have had as a Nation following the previous recession has been around a 2-percent level or even a little less. So, this is not good news for the American people. This is not good news for all those hoping to get back to work. This is not good news for those hoping to raise money to pay for their mortgage or try to keep their house or provide for their children's education going forward. This is not good news for the American people. I think it says a lot about our failure here in Congress to do what most people understand we need to do and that is to get our fiscal house in order.
There is a cloud of uncertainty settled over the American economy over the last 3\1/2\ years that is destroying the hopes and dreams of young people and middle-aged people and those nearing retirement. They are worried about their savings, their ability to pay their bills, and their ability to maintain meaningful employment.
If we are going to get our fiscal house in order, we need to do some fundamental things. One, we need to summon the will to address this problem--this challenge--and define it as the No. 1 challenge facing the Congress and have the political will to do something about it. Doing something about it means we start with having a budget. It has been 1,372 days since the Senate passed a budget. That is nearly 4 years. This is completely irresponsible. To deny the American people the transparency of how we are spending taxpayers' dollars and how we are addressing this fiscal situation we are in which drives us into more debt and more deficit is totally irresponsible. As I said, it starts with passing a budget.
Every Hoosier family and every business in Indiana knows they cannot be successful and financially sound without creating a budget on which to operate. Restaurants and coffee shops have budgets, Little League Baseball organizations have budgets, and our communities, States must have a budget in terms of how much we are able to spend.
The reason a budget is so important is it forces us to determine how we spend the revenue we have in a sensible way without having to go and continue to borrow and drive ourselves more deeply into debt. There are a lot of things we would like to do. Everyone has their priorities, their interests, such as, education, medical research, more funding for social programs, more defense funding, funding for transportation needs, paving roads, and repairing bridges. It goes on and on. We all have those priorities. These are things we would like to do, but we have not faced the fact that we cannot do everything we would like to do. We have to do the essential things and prioritize our spending at a time when we don't have the revenue to do everything we would like.
It is no different than a family with financial difficulties sitting down and saying: Our annual trip to Disney World cannot happen this year. Dad's paycheck is not bringing in the kind of money it used to. Maybe they are not in the financial position to be able to do what they would like to do, therefore, they have to make some changes and adjustments. Maybe instead of Disney World, they decide to go to Brown County State Park, which, by the way, is a great place for family vacations. Priority decisions are the kind of decisions families have to make when they don't have the revenue to do everything they would like to do.
We also have a legal duty--and personally I think a moral duty--to present to the American people a budget plan indicating how we are going to spend their taxpayer dollars. Section 301(a) of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 states--and this is the law of the land--``On or before April 15 of each year, the Congress shall complete action on a concurrent resolution on the budget for the fiscal year beginning on October 1 of such year.'' When we passed that law, we didn't say Congress may pass a budget or that Congress has the ability to avoid having a budget. The word ``shall'' means we shall have a budget. Yet the failure to bring forth a budget under the leadership of this Senate for 1,372 days--nearly 4 years--has created even more dysfunction in an already dysfunctional Senate. It has helped lead to a broken appropriations process.
Last year, we did not pass a single appropriations bill through the Senate, which left us with what we call continuing resolutions. Continuing resolutions essentially fund the Federal Government on autopilot at previous levels without the type of scrutiny and oversight that would be administered through the regular appropriations process. This is no way to govern a country. We are not fulfilling our duty to the people we represent and, most important, it hinders any attempt at real spending reform.
The Republican-led House has passed a budget annually and fulfilled their duty. We have failed in fulfilling our duty. They have presented their priorities to the public. They have described how they will rein in spending, save programs from collapse, and reform the tax system. They are being heavily criticized because they have a budget out there which tells the American people what they are going to do, and some of it is painful because we don't have the money to do everything we would like to do.
People like to be able to come home and promise them everything they ask for. We don't have that luxury. Perhaps we never did, but we did it anyway. No longer do we have the luxury of being able to even think that. So all the criticism goes to the House because they want to cut this or they want to modify that or the priority decision is for one thing over another thing. In the mean time, the majority and the administration just sit back and say: We are not going to put out any numbers; therefore, you cannot criticize us. We will just go along criticizing the other team.
I know Paul Ryan is again working with Speaker Boehner on a 10-year budget plan to put our country on a path to a balanced budget. They will be heavily criticized for that, but they are stepping up to their legal responsibilities and stepping up to the moral responsibilities we have to do the job we were elected to do. I mean, that is why we were sent here. The Senate is going to have to get the will to make these tough choices, which we have been avoiding for years, or the market is going to force us to act. The more we prolong the challenges we face and the [[Page S378]] longer we wait to act, the harder it is going to be.
If we don't put a Senate budget plan together, if we don't lay out our priorities and create a long-term economic plan to reform our spending habits, we are going to face a debt-induced catastrophe that will make the economic downturn we experienced a few years ago look like child's play. The fact is our failure to seriously grapple with our runaway deficit spending is already having huge detrimental effects on our economy, and I just mentioned one of those. Sooner or later this body needs to stand and get this done and it starts with a budget.
The President has made it clear over the past few years that when he proposed his budgets, he is not serious about leading the discussions on the fiscal challenges facing us. He didn't mention it in his inauguration address, and he has publicly stated we don't have a spending problem. How he comes to that conclusion defies credulity.
Interestingly enough, by law, the administration is forced to produce a budget which has been brought before this body. It is interesting that the lack of seriousness of this is indicated by the fact that not even one Member of his own party voted for the President's budget.
I am just about ready to finish. I ask unanimous consent for 3 more minutes to finish.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. COATS. Madam President, thank you. Not one Democratic Senator voted for the President's budget in the last few years. His own party didn't support his budget. It is hard for us to take the President's budget seriously, and that is why the Senate--under the leadership of Democrats--needs to put forward a serious budget, one we can debate, amend, talk about, share with the American people, get their opinion as to whether this is an important priority program or one we can use as the basis to make tough choices and explain why we made those choices. After all, that is why we are here.
So why am I here? I am urging my colleagues in the majority to act. Let's do our jobs. Let's perform our legal responsibility and duty. One of the most basic duties in Congress is to create a budget so we can begin to get our fiscal books in order. It is our generation's duty also to repair our Nation's financing and ensure we are not leaving behind this dangerous debt burden on future generations. This is the time to act. This serious debt threatens our national security and the future of our country, and this is the challenge both sides of the aisle need to face.
Strengthening our country and putting us back on a sustainable path will not be easy. It will require some sacrifices, but these are the responsibilities we have to address. We need to be honest with the American people. We must take the first step and it starts with a budget.
With that, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The clerk will call the roll.
The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.