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April 13, 2011

Preserving America's Freedom

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Mr. JOHNSON of Wisconsin. Mr. President, it is my honor to represent the good people of Wisconsin in the Senate. It is an awesome responsibility--a responsibility I take very seriously.

Today it is my distinct privilege to address this historic body for the first time. It is a moment in time when our Nation is in peril. Not only do we continue to face the very real threat of international terrorism, but we also face a threat of our own making, one that challenges the very foundation of this Republic.

Our Nation was founded on the basis of God-given rights and individual liberty. The genius of our Founding Fathers' vision was rooted in their recognition that more often than not government was something to fear. Government necessarily limited individual freedom and, therefore, government itself must be limited--its potential for growth highly constrained.

During America's first century, this vision was largely upheld. The last century, however, has been an entirely different story. In 1902, the Federal Government spent 2 percent of the Nation's gross domestic product; State and local governments spent 5 percent. Government was close to the governed. The size, scope, and cost of the Federal Government was constrained by the Constitution's enumerated powers. The individual was preeminent, and government's role was modest and pedestrian.

This body played a key role in limiting Federal Government expansion. Debate in the Senate was unlimited. The cloture vote did not exist. As George Washington had said, the Senate was the saucer that cooled the tea.

All that changed in the 20th century's second decade. The Senate adopted the cloture vote and America adopted the 16th amendment. The Federal Government now had the power to tax income, and the Senate had made it easier for government to grow. And guess what. Government grew.

It did grow in reaction to real problems. Trusts had been formed that concentrated power and created monopolies that threatened free markets. Capital did exert too much power over labor. Balance was needed. As our Nation's prosperity grew, the elimination of poverty and retirement insecurity became a public responsibility. Private charity was simply deemed not up to the task. So government acted and government grew.

From 2 percent in 1902 to today, where the Federal Government spends 25 percent of our Nation's economy, and combined all levels of government in the United States now consume 39 percent. By comparison, the size of government in Norway is 40 percent; in Greece it is 47 percent; and in France, 53 percent. In the end, I don't believe Americans want to be like France or Greece. We haven't reached that tipping point yet, but we are extremely close.

There is a reason America holds 5 percent of the world's population and yet accounts for 24 percent of the world's GDP. It is because of freedom, the free market system and the American people. America became a land of unlimited opportunity because we were a nation of self-reliant people. Hard work was valued, personal responsibility expected, and success was celebrated, not demonized. I grew up in that America.

I am very sad to say what I have witnessed during my lifetime is a slow but steady drift and, I would argue, over the last 2 years a lurch toward a culture of entitlement and dependency. This is not an America I recognize. It is not an America that will work.

Even worse, we have granted entitlements and encouraged dependency with little thought as to how we would pay for it. We have racked up enormous debt, and now the bill is coming due. Time is running out.

Last week, the government almost shut down because we were arguing over a few billion dollars, but our debt and deficits are measured in the trillions. Our problem is a thousand times larger than the current debate. Most of us recognize this is simply unsustainable. Most of us know what programs need to be reformed. Most of us want to fix the problem. So let's start addressing these issues now before it is too late.

These are enormous problems and it is easy to become pessimistic, but

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there is reason to be hopeful. I have done a fair amount of traveling throughout Wisconsin over the last year, speaking to all kinds of people--Republicans, Democrats, union members, tea party folks. I talked about America, about how incredibly precious and exceptional it is, and how I fear we may be losing it.

What I will never forget is how many people came up to me after my speeches with tears in their eyes or tears running down their cheeks--not because I am a great public speaker but because people love this country. Their political affiliation makes absolutely no difference. Americans want this Nation preserved, and they are counting on us to do just that.

The good news is they will support us if we make the hard choices together. So together let's roll up our sleeves and do what needs to be done.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Republican leader is recognized.

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I congratulate our new Senator from Wisconsin, a very important addition to our caucus and to the Senate--a man who has actually run a business, actually employed people and created wealth in his State and our country. Having someone in the Senate who knows how to do that at this critical moment is absolutely essential, and I congratulate the new junior Senator from Wisconsin.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The senior Senator from Wyoming.

Mr. ENZI. Mr. President, I would like to congratulate the other accountant in the Senate. It is nice to have additional help with numbers. It will make a tremendous difference.

He has had both the business experience and the accounting experience, and he understands a lot of things that to us in the Senate are pretty simple but to the person working on the ground it is very difficult. He is good at expressing himself and, as I said, particularly good with numbers. So I congratulate him on his maiden speech.

I yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Tennessee.

Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

The assistant editor of the Daily Digest proceeded to call the roll.

(Senate - April 12, 2011)

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