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John C.
Republican TX

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  • The National Debt

    by Senator John Cornyn

    Posted on 2013-01-24

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    CORNYN. Mr. President, in 2008, a prominent Democratic politician said that adding $4 trillion to the national debt was ``irresponsible and unpatriotic.'' In 2009, this same politician said, ``I refuse to leave our children with a debt they cannot repay. We cannot simply spend as we please.'' Again, in 2010, this same individual said, ``It keeps me awake at night looking at all that red ink.'' Then in 2011, he echoed the statements of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ADM Mike Mullen, when he said, ``The greatest long- term threat to America's national security is America's debt.'' And then finally, in 2012, this same politician said he was running for reelection ``to pay down our debt in a way that is balanced and responsible.'' Well, you might have guessed who this was. These are statements made by President Barack Obama.

    Unfortunately, the President's actions have not come close to matching his own rhetoric. Since he took office, the gross national debt has increased by nearly $6 trillion. Indeed, the President has served at a time when we have accumulated far more debt than any other President in American history.

    After spending his first term maxing out America's credit card, the President is demanding yet another increase in the debt limit. The President argues he is merely asking lawmakers to pay the bills that have already been racked up. And he continues to blame others-- certainly not himself--for trillion-dollar annual deficits and skyrocketing debt. But he fails to acknowledge that his stimulus bill borrowed more than $1 trillion, increasing the debt by that amount; and, secondly, that Obamacare will spend more than $2 trillion in its first decade.

    Those on this side of the aisle, Republicans, have shown our willingness to pass a budget that stabilizes our public finances. Indeed, I applaud the reaction of the White House and of Democrats in the Senate saying that for the first time since 2009 they are willing to take up and pass a budget in the Senate--the first time since 2009. It is long overdue but welcome news.

    Likewise, we are willing to make compromises--not on principle, but we are willing to find common ground, and we are willing to take tough votes. Indeed, that is part of the budget process because we know-- whether it is a family budget; whether it is a small business; whether it is a county, city, State or the Federal Government--priorities have to be established in a budget because we know they always involve tough decisions: What is the most important? What do you have to have? What are the things you want but you need to delay because you don't have the money to pay for it now? What are the things you would like to have but you simply cannot afford? Those are decisions that are made by every family in America on a daily [[Page S237]] basis, and the Federal Government, particularly the Senate, has not been willing to make those sorts of hard choices since 2009.

    In this cloud I guess there is a silver lining. Finally, we are going to see some movement in the Senate which is long overdue. The only way, though, to get the real spending cuts we need to bring our budget into balance and real deficit reduction over the next 4 years is if the President takes the lead. This is not something Congress can do without the President. We need the President's leadership and, indeed, that is something that many of us on a bipartisan basis have been looking for since the Simpson-Bowles Commission report came down in December 2010. I am still astonished that rather than embrace that bipartisan commission report--not all of which I agree with, by the way, but at least it was a start. The President could have done something important that had bipartisan support, and it actually would have enhanced his chances of getting reelected because people would have seen it as statesmanship and leadership.

    We have had an unfortunate set of experiences here as recently as the end of last year, New Year's Eve, because we approached a manufactured crisis, a deadline known as the fiscal cliff. But I don't think anybody in America, certainly not anybody in this body, wants another 2 a.m. Senate vote--not because it is inconvenient, but because it is not a good thing in the people's House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, to be voting in the dark of night when people are not able to watch. Nobody wants another cliff hanger that weakens public trust in our government or in our willingness to meet our responsibilities. Most of all, no one wants another credit downgrade. This is important.

    The President talks about the importance of lifting the debt ceiling because he said we do not want to suffer another downgrade in our credit standing. But, indeed, one of the reasons we have already suffered a negative response to our credit rating is because we have not dealt with the real problems that confront our country, the $16.4 trillion in debt, and we have not come together in a bipartisan way to save and preserve Social Security and Medicare and to keep the promises that we have made to our seniors. That has caused the credit downgrade.

    Most of all, what Americans want, I believe, is a serious, good- faith, open, transparent discussion over America's long-term budget strategy. They want both parties to work together. Ironically, the best time to actually do that is when we have divided government, like we have. They want both parties to demonstrate that we are capable of having an adult conversation about balancing our budget.

    Unfortunately, the President has given very little indication that he is prepared to negotiate on these important issues. Indeed, his inaugural speech, eloquent as it was, barely mentioned the preeminent challenge facing America today; that is, our $16.4 trillion debt and millions, tens of millions of Americans either unemployed or underemployed. The President barely touched on those issues.

    Instead, at a recent press conference the President suggested that certain unnamed Republicans really do not care about poor children, the elderly, or medical research. Rather than taking the high road of Presidential leadership, unfortunately, the President chose the low road. This is the same President who frequently bemoans the poisonous atmosphere and toxic partisanship of Washington, DC.

    When President Obama is ready to quit slandering his opponents and quit knocking down straw men, when he is ready to make serious arguments and serious compromises, we might finally be able to work together to make some real progress on long-term fiscal consolidation. Americans are yearning for that kind of leadership. They are yearning to see real solutions to the challenges that face our country. They are looking forward to seeing concrete proposals from the White House that cut spending and reduce our national debt.

    The President said he wanted a balanced approach. He wanted revenue to go along with the cuts and the reform of Social Security and Medicare. The President got his pound of flesh in the fiscal cliff negotiations. Unfortunately, because of the expiration of a number of temporary tax provisions, taxes were going to go up in the $3 trillion- plus range, if Congress did nothing. We were able, fortunately, to mitigate some of that and to eliminate tax increases on the vast majority of Americans and to make many temporary provisions permanent. But it is going to require genuine leadership from the President, which I hope he will provide soon, because Americans cannot afford to wait much longer.

    I yield the floor.

    The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from Indiana.

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