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March 30, 2011

Financial Troubles

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Mr. NELSON of Florida. Mr. President, I wish to talk about our Nation's financial troubles. Over the years, I have supported a balanced budget amendment, spending caps, and spending cuts. Recently, we had a proposal to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, and I voted against it because I felt we needed to do more than the amendment proposed.

The fact is, we need to do much more. I agree Congress should cut expenses. But taking whacks at only 12 percent of the budget--that part of the budget that is the so-called discretionary spending portion outside of Defense, that is not part of the mandatory spending, such as all the entitlement programs, and that is only 12 percent of the budget and includes funding for education and roads and bridges and medical research and NASA and environmental research--even if we whacked all that, it is still not going to solve the problem.

Cutting this domestic discretionary spending alone is barely a bandaid, let alone a real cure.

What we need is a comprehensive long-term package. For example, when American families fall on hard times, they just do not cut back on eating out or going to the movies. The American family is forced to make wholesale lifestyle sacrifices. Or take, for instance, when a company, a corporation, faces the threat of bankruptcy. They do not only cut salaries or stop buying office supplies, they go in and restructure entire delivery schemes and future investments.

In the same way, we just cannot focus on slicing what is the conversation that is going on down in the House of Representatives right now, slicing one small part of the budget, which is discretionary spending, because that is not going to reduce the annual deficit and get at the national debt. We have to do more.

Even if we cut huge swaths of discretionary spending, including the programs that help those who need it the most, our expenses for all the other programs in government, mandatory programs, are still growing exponentially. So everything has to be on the table.

Now, how in the world are we going to do this in the next few days? By the time the clock runs out on April 8, where we are faced with funding the government for the remaining 6 months of this fiscal year, how are we going to do it? What would it look like if our debt keeps growing?

Well, the Federal Government is going to have to start writing huge checks to our creditors. Who is a creditor? China is a creditor, and we are having to write for them huge checks on interest payments alone. We will not have anything left to pay for things that we promised to our people, and no one else will want to lend us any more money.

The money people have spent their lives paying in to Social Security may not come back to them unless we can solve this budgetary crisis. Bonds that have been bought and held for decades will go down in value if we cannot meet our debt obligations. Of course, if we do not get to the point that we can pay our debts, then the stock market could even have a worse crash than we had last time.

So if we do not address this pending debt crisis now, our children and grandchildren could be sorely affected by the financial condition of this country in the future.

Every economist we have listened to lately has said that we need to provide certainty to our creditors and to the markets. In other words, they need to know that we will get our debt under control before interest payments skyrocket and overwhelm our obligations. No one knows how long we have before our creditors get nervous and start to make it harder for the United States to borrow money. But they all agree we have to put into place a long-term plan instead of waiting to act until the crisis is upon us. The crisis is coming. It is coming on April 8. That is the first crisis.

Assuming that we can get through this and get the government funded for the remaining 6 months of the fiscal year--until the end of September--the next crisis that is coming is the debt ceiling--probably in early June--that has to be raised in order for the government to pay its obligations.

And then we are going to have to have a plan for next year's budget, the fiscal year that starts October 1, in order to get the votes to increase the debt ceiling. So between now and June, first in a couple of weeks, and then in a couple of months, we are going to have to devise a comprehensive plan.

I am going to support cuts across the board. I am going to support cuts in discretionary spending. But I also want

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to see cuts in what we call tax expenditures, which are equivalent to spending, but are nothing more than outrageous tax breaks to big corporations that make billions of dollars in profits each year. For example, some of the royalty payments that are not being paid by oil companies for their privilege of extracting oil from Federal lands, particularly those lands in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. There are corporations that ship massive amounts of jobs overseas, and they get tax breaks for it.

There is also money made by U.S. citizens that is being held offshore in foreign accounts, which is not reported to the United States, and tax is not being paid on that income. So there is plenty of opportunity to tighten up.

Another place that we can tighten up is to implement the changes that we made in the health care bill that cut the fraud that plagues programs like Medicare and Medicaid. It is costing us billions and billions of dollars.

So there are tireless efforts that are being made by a lot of Senators right now trying to work together to draft a comprehensive plan. I came to the Senate to fight for my State and for our country, and if we continue to allow a debt crisis to happen when, in fact, we had the opportunity to avoid it, it is going to be far more reckless than casting a vote that is going to be disliked by some. I am ready to stand and have that fight. Yet we should not have to. We should, as the Good Book says, ``Come, let us reason together.'' Then we can find a comprehensive solution to this budgetary crisis.

I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

(Senate - March 29, 2011)

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