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March 8, 2011

Government Spending

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Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, I don't think a 6-percent reduction in spending that is proposed by the House is going to cause the U.S. Government to sink into the ocean. States are making far more serious reductions in spending than that.

The language the majority leader is using seemed to me like the language of 1994--reckless Republican spending cuts, poor people thrown to the street, and that sort of thing. But what happened in 1994? The American people, through their newly elected Congress, balanced the budget in 4 years. They balanced the budget when people said it could not be done. They said the spending reductions were going to destroy America's growth and prosperity and everything else they could imagine. But it didn't happen. It helped create a period of outstanding growth.

Tuesday, we are told, we will have a key vote. It is a very important vote. It deals with the level of spending in which this country is going to participate. It is going to make a national decision that is important. We passed a 2-week continuing resolution that reduced spending by $4 billion over that period, keeping us on track to meet the House-passed goal of a $61 billion reduction in spending this fiscal year. It was a good, small, first step. But the big step will be coming up, I suppose, a week from this Friday when the CR that we passed will expire and we have to pass another one. At what level will we pass it? That is the question that will be before us.

Will we continue the trend of reduced spending that the House started us on and that the American people started us on by the election last November, just months ago, or do we continue business as usual--continue to be in denial and say no more, no mas, we can't do anymore, we give up.

Well, a vote for the Democratic plan that will be presented tomorrow will be a vote to do nothing. That is a fact. It will be a vote to say we are still in denial. It will be a vote that says deficits don't matter, we can just continue to spend, just continue to invest, and it will all get better in the end. It is a vote for more investment and more spending.

Indeed, the Budget Committee, on which I am the ranking Republican, had testimony last week from the Department of Education. They are asking for an 11-percent increase, when the inflation rate is 2. The Department of Energy asked for a 9.5-percent increase. Amazingly, the Department of Transportation came in with a 62-percent increase in spending.

Is this the way to bring this country under control? Is that what the American people expected when they voted in the last election and sent us a new House of Representatives and new Senators? I don't think so. It will be another vote for fear that we can't reduce spending because the Nation will sink into the ocean. I don't think so, and the American people don't think so in the cities, counties, and States that are facing these same situations and making tough decisions and being successful at it.

The decision we make on spending could well determine the fate of our Nation and our economy. It is that important; it really is. Forty percent of every dollar we spend today is borrowed. We will spend, this fiscal year, $3.5 trillion, but we only take in $2.2 trillion. Did you know that? Congress knows that. They are in some denial, but that is a fact. It is indisputable, and it is in the President's budget.

Over the next 10 years, pursuant to the budget--the plan the President gave us--interest on the debt will go from $200 billion last year to $844 billion in 1 year. We will double the entire national debt, the gross debt, from $13 trillion to $26 trillion. They claim they are saving $1 trillion. I guess it would have gone to $27 trillion. How can we save $1 trillion when the deficit is going up every year? The lowest single year of deficit is $600 billion. The highest single deficit year President Bush had--which was too high--was $450 billion. The lowest they will have is $600 billion, according to the President's own numbers, which he sent to us. This is not an acceptable path.

We are on the wrong road. This is a road to decline. It is the road to dependence upon foreign sources of money to finance our spending spree. It is not the road to prosperity and growth. We simply have to make tough choices. We have to make this government leaner and more productive.

We need to create growth and prosperity. The growth and prosperity have to be in the private sector. That is who pays the taxes, which allows us to continue to have a healthy government. A failure to act at this point in history, after all of the discussion we have had in the debt commission--and several have met and all have called for substantial reductions in spending. But Congress doesn't get it. This is demoralizing for our people, for our government, for investors in the United States, for businesses sitting on capital and thinking about what the future will be like, whether this is not going to be a sound economy any longer or is the Government of the United States incapable of altering its trajectory. They thought perhaps this election was that way.

Well, the House has sent a clear message. Some think it could have gone further. It proposed a $61 billion reduction in discretionary spending accounts. That is a 6-percent reduction. We have already gotten 4 off that, so it would be $57 billion. When we take these numbers--and I hope we will think about this--when we reduce the baseline by $61 billion for spending in discretionary accounts, that is far larger than some people think.

One of the things that got us in trouble is the geometrical problem of increasing spending--when we increase spending at 7 percent a year, for example, for 10 years, we double the size of government just like your bank account doubles at 7 percent interest compounded.

In reducing spending, the same thing occurs. A $61 billion reduction in the baseline, if there were no more reductions over 10 years built into the baseline, will result in about $850 billion in savings. In 10 years, that is almost $1 trillion. That is with just a $61 billion cut. It does make a difference, and it is significant.

But President Obama's plan and the Senate Democratic plan do almost nothing. He proposes, as I understand it, a $6 billion cut for the rest of the fiscal year. That is just about a one-half of 1 percent reduction in spending. The Senate Democratic plan, it appears to me, is a $4 billion reduction, which is less than a one-half of 1 percent reduction in spending this year.

Those are fake cuts; they are not real cuts. This is Washington talk. This is why this country is virtually broke. The President says he proposed a budget to the Congress--as the law requires him to do--and that budget would cause us to live within our means and to begin paying down the debt. That is what he said, and that is what his Budget Director said in testimony before the committee.

What planet are they on? The lowest single annual deficit--and if anybody on this floor wants to dispute this, I

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would like to hear it. The lowest single annual deficit is over $600 billion in the 10-year plan. They are going up in the outyears to almost $900 billion in the tenth year of the 10-year plan.

That is why experts tell us this is an unsustainable course. I wish we weren't in this fix. I will have to take some of the blame too. I voted against a lot of spending programs, but I have supported some, and we have gotten ourselves into a fix. It will be hard to get out of it. It is not impossible, but we have to take some action. It cannot be business as usual. But that is what the majority leader is proposing to do--nothing. Let the interest on our debt go from $200 billion a year to $844 billion.

Where is that money going to come from? The education budget is $60 billion, the highway budget is $40 billion--$844 billion on interest? What is it going to crowd out that we would like to spend government money on? What if we have a debt crisis? Interest rates are at 3.5 percent, but a lot of people think this interest rate is not so stable. A lot of people are afraid we could have a national or even international debt crisis. Interest rates could surge.

When I bought my first house, the interest rates were double digits. I think it was 11.5 percent. Do you think we could not have that happen? Instead of $844 billion in interest, could we have $1 1/2 trillion in interest in 10 years, crowding out all kinds of other spending? This is irresponsible. This is an irresponsible course. Everybody knows it. We can't borrow our way out of debt.

So what is going to happen? Let's pull back the curtain and talk about what the plans are. It is pretty clear if we look at it and have been around this town a little bit. The Democratic leader didn't want to have any debate. He accepted the $4 billion reduction over the 2-week period last week. That was done and nobody talked about it much. The American people assumed things were rolling along pretty well, that at least we avoided a government shutdown and things are moving along pretty well.

So now we are going to have another quick vote tomorrow--that was decided, apparently, today--on two plans: the House plan on a 6-percent reduction and a Democratic plan with basically no reduction. Then neither one will pass.

A week from this Friday, the 2-week CR will expire, and we will be heading toward a government shutdown. Secret negotiations will begin; they will start talking. Maybe the Vice President will get in there and talk a little bit, and they will move around, and special interests will be involved. The American people will not be in on the discussion. They probably will not invite me in on the discussion. I don't know who all will be there, but they will begin to negotiate and talk, and they will be seeking some toothless compromise. There will be warnings and crocodile tears will be shed and they will say we can't have a government shutdown. We have had a half dozen for short periods of time, but we certainly don't want one.

That is the way they will talk about it--we just can't cut anymore; it is going to end--schools will close, health care programs are going to close. We have heard it all before. Every State, city, and county that goes through this has the same political rhetoric out there. We can't do it. It just won't happen.

Then they are going to expect, I guess, the Republicans to cave, and the plan, of course, as it has been from the beginning, is business as usual.

Business as usual. Politicians win again. People lose. Elections nullified. Business as usual.

I do not think so. Business as usual has put us on the road to bankruptcy. The voters did speak. There is a moral responsibility of this Congress to respond to the legitimate cries of the American people. Do we not have that responsibility? I know one Senator who told me that during that election, every single ad they ran talked about reducing spending and this Senator won by a margin far more than anyone predicted. There is no doubt the American people expect us to reduce spending. They know there will be some people who will not get as much money as they were getting before, but they know we are spending too much. That is so commonsensical.

A vote for the Democratic proposal truly would be a vote for the status quo. It would be a victory for the status quo. It would be seen clearly as a victory for the big spenders. It will be a continuation of the unsustainable fiscal path we are on--the path to decline, the path to dependence, debt dependence.

The whole world is watching, just as we watched the British. They stepped to the plate and made cuts. The Germans have criticized the United States for excessive spending. The European Union has criticized the United States for our excessive spending. Canada has done a lot better than the United States in containing spending. The world is watching: What is the United States going to do? Is it going to get its house in order as the other developed nations are working to do? Have they made a national decision to reform their unsustainable actions?

Some say these $61 billion in cuts would hurt growth. I contend that absolutely is not so. In terms of total government spending, we spend $3,500 billion. A $60 billion reduction in that spending total is not going to throw this economy into a recession. Indeed, it would send a message to the financial world that the American people have gotten it, that the Congress has gotten it, and they are at least beginning to end the unsustainable trajectory this government is on.

The idea that we can borrow money, pay interest on it, and create jobs has not worked. If it were such a good idea, why don't we borrow three times as much and spread around three times as much money? It is not an economically sustainable theory. It will not work, and it has not worked.

We are facing a huge national decision. I believe many of my Democratic colleagues get it. They tell me they do. Many of them have said so publicly. But talk is not enough. Action will be needed. We will begin to take action tomorrow when we cast this vote. Party loyalty is fine. We all have to try to work with our leadership. Nobody complains about that, to a degree, but we are not to be lemmings. We do have a duty to our constituents, our country, and our future to make some tough decisions.

For example, I will share one more thought and I will wrap up. I see my colleague, Senator Roberts, an able Senator from Kansas, is here. Do not think we are cutting spending, this 6-percent reduction, from some tight baseline of spending, such as may be so in your State, your city or your county. In the last 2 years, nondefense discretionary spending has increased 23 percent, and that does not count the stimulus package money, the $850 billion, the largest expenditure ever in the history of this Republic or any other nation in the history of the world. That is on top of the 23 percent in spending.

For example, the EPA, in 2 years, received a 36-percent increase in baseline spending. They cannot take a 6-percent reduction? Plus, they got a 70-percent increase from the stimulus package, a $7 billion infusion on top of their $10 billion budget.

What about the State Department? They got a 132-percent increase in spending in the last 2 years, plus $1 billion from the stimulus package.

The Education Department asked for an 11-percent increase this year. They received an 11-percent increase previously and--hold your hat--their budget is about $63 billion now. They got $97 billion out of the stimulus package--more than their whole budget.

We borrow 40 cents out of every $1 we spend. Our debt will soon outgrow our economy. Interest on the debt, under the President's budget, will rise to $844 billion a year. The question is not whether we are headed for a crisis but whether we have time to act to prevent it.

Our character is tested by how we respond in times of great challenge. This week, the Senate faces such a test: How do we respond to the growing fiscal crisis facing our Nation that every expert, including the debt commission, has told us is real? This is a defining vote in the career of every Senator and a defining vote for the Senate. A one-half percent proposed reduction in spending by this administration is not anything. It is basically doing nothing.

We need every group, every concerned citizen to reach out to Congress,

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to tell Congress to get off this road to fiscal calamity. To every fellow Senator, I say now is the time to stand and be counted. Are my colleagues going to be the vote that helped us turn back from the fiscal cliff or the vote that pushed the economy that much further toward the edge?

I yield the floor.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from Kansas.

Mr. ROBERTS. Mr. President, I understand we are in morning business and that I am recognized for 10 minutes. I ask unanimous consent that I be recognized for 15 minutes. I will try to make it short. If it goes on any longer, I will ask unanimous consent for additional time.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. ROBERTS. Mr. President, I congratulate the Senator from Alabama for laying out exactly what we face when we have a vote tomorrow in regard to the future of the United States and whether we restore common sense to Federal spending and prevent the chaotic situation he so aptly described, not only in terms of our immediate future but for our children and our grandchildren.

That says it all in regard to we had a townhall meeting--Senator Jerry Moran, Congressman Kevin Yoder, and myself in Johnson County, KS. In that meeting, the first question out--it was 100 to 250 people who were so excited: When are you going to get control of this spending? They worry not just about themselves but their kids and grandkids.

As usual, we are going to have to dub the Senator from Alabama the watchdog of the Senate, but he so eloquently described what we face. I thank him for it.

(Senate - March 07, 2011)

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