The Long-Term Debt Reductionby Senator John Cornyn
Posted on 2013-02-25
CORNYN. Mr. President, it has been 1,398 days since the Senate
passed a budget. People wonder why we are lurching from one budget
crisis to another one in Washington. The fact is this is not the only
deadline that has been missed. This year the President failed to
submit, by February 4, his proposed budget. But the truth is even last
year when he submitted a budget, and it was voted on by the entire
Senate, it received zero votes. In other words, it was not viewed as a
reasonable and practical solution to the financial crisis that faces
our country with $16.5 trillion in debt and 40 cents out of every
dollar being spent by the Federal Government being borrowed from our
Even before we reach the upcoming crisis which is known as the budget sequester--and I suggest most Americans would not consider a 2.4- percent cut in spending to be a crisis, but even before we reach this next stage in the budget negotiations, we know President Obama has proposed the same old solution to every budgetary question; that is, to raise taxes even though on December 31, with the fiscal cliff negotiations, we saw the President get his pound of flesh when it came to spending, and that is $600 billion in additional revenue.
But this does, indeed, seem like the Washington version of Groundhog Day.
[[Page S801]] We know the President has rejected his own bipartisan fiscal commission's recommendations, the so-called Simpson-Bowles Commission recommendation, and he has rejected budget proposals put forward by the House of Representatives. Even though our gross national debt has gone up by nearly $6 trillion under his watch, and even though it is projected to go up another $9.5 trillion over the next decade, the President seems to be stuck on telling us it is only going to take a little bit more in taxes in order to solve the problem.
The American people understand we do not have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem--spending money we do not have--and the only way to reduce our long-term debt burden is through reining in that spending. And not just the 39 percent of it which represents discretionary spending; we need to reform our entitlement programs, Medicare and Social Security, in order to preserve and to protect those programs for future generations. Yet when we try to enact spending cuts or entitlement reforms, the President, unfortunately, has resorted to shameless fear mongering.
He is now warning that it will be the end of western civilization, or something like it, if we cut the Federal budget by 2.4 percent. When we consider that Federal spending has gone up over 19 percent since 2008, and when we consider how much inefficient and duplicative and downright wasteful spending there is in the Federal Government, it is hard to take this argument seriously.
For example, no one should be talking about raising more taxes from the American people on top of the $600 billion that was extracted as a result of the fiscal cliff negotiations. No one should be talking about raising more taxes when the Federal Government made more than $220 billion in improper payments over the last 2 years--that's right, $220 billion in improper payments in the last 2 years--and this is just one example of costly government waste.
The President does not appear to believe in the urgency of the moment. He does not appear to believe that our country is headed for a true crisis. We all know interest rates are at historically low levels at this time. If interest rates were to go up just 1 percent or 2 percent more, for each percentage increase it would represent more than $1 trillion in additional interest we would have to pay on our debt. It is easy to see if interest rates were to go back up to historic norms, 4 or 5 percent, that very quickly we would lose control of our financial system, and we would be able to do little more than pay interest on the debt and pay for Medicare and Social Security.
Both Senate Republicans and Democrats have shown that they understand the nature of the crisis we have before us, but we believe it is imperative that we support a budget that reduces our long-term debt.
The only way we can see a significant path forward to debt reduction is if the President joins us in these important negotiations. Unfortunately, so far, the President seems truly allergic to genuine bipartisan compromise.
Until the Obama administration, virtually every landmark domestic policy change in American history was achieved with bipartisan support. We all understand that; it cannot happen any other way. For example, both the 1935 Social Security Act and the 1964 Civil Rights Act were signed by a Democratic President and supported by large majorities of Senate Republicans. The 1996 Welfare Reform Act signed by President Clinton was backed by every single Member of the Republican Senate caucus, along with the majority of Senate Democrats.
Likewise, during the Reagan years, most Senate Democrats voted for the 1983 Social Security amendments, and a whopping 94 percent of Senate Democrats voted for the 1986 Tax Reform Act. Under President George W. Bush 84 percent of Senate Democrats voted for No Child Left Behind.
In other words, Presidents have traditionally understood that reform and results take leadership and only then will bipartisan support follow. Yet the President seems to neglect this obvious fact and instead prefers to continue what seems like a perpetual campaign and knock down straw men rather than actually doing something about our skyrocketing debt.
Real debt reduction will require Presidential leadership, the kind of leadership that President Clinton displayed in 1993 when he convinced 47 percent of Senate Democrats and 40 percent of House Democrats to defy organized labor and support the North American Free Trade Agreement. Since then, U.S. trade with Canada has nearly tripled, and U.S. trade with Mexico has increased almost sixfold.
My hope is that the President will ultimately show the kind of leadership we have seen throughout this Nation's history when we are confronted with big challenges. He has acknowledged the need for serious reform.
I believe he understands the problem perfectly: We cannot preserve and protect Social Security and Medicare unless we deal with those programs now. Yet he has never acted on his words, instead choosing to engage in the perpetual campaign.
As a result, Washington keeps spending money it doesn't have and saddling our children with more debt. Meanwhile our safety-net programs are spiraling toward a collapse that will leave the poor and elderly even more vulnerable. It is time for a change, and it is time for the President to take his rhetoric about debt reduction and turn it into real meaningful reform.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. King). The Senator from Pennsylvania.