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April 13, 2011

The Deficit and The Debt

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Mr. MCCONNELL. Madam President, as the Senate gets back to work this week, it is worth noting that a sea change appears to have taken place in Washington over the past few weeks. Just 2 months ago, the President proposed a vision of government that ignored the fiscal crisis virtually everyone else in the country knows we need to address. And Democrats in Congress proposed that rather than cutting Washington spending, we instead raise taxes on oil and gas companies, who, as we know, would pass it along to American consumers in the form of higher gas prices, at a time when gas prices are double what they were a mere 2 years ago.

In other words, it wasn't that long ago that both the White House and Democrat leaders in Congress were doing everything they could to ignore the Nation's $14 trillion debt and to preserve the massive growth in government that they have presided over the past 2 years. But at some point in the past few weeks, Democrats in Washington finally got the message. The ground shifted and spending reductions Democrats recently described as ``extreme'' and ``draconian,'' they are now calling ``historic'' and ``commonsense.'' The debate has turned from how much to grow government to how much to reduce it.

This is a major departure from the standard Democrat position--and it suggests one of two things: either Democrats in Washington are finally waking up to the fact that our only hope of averting the kind of disaster we are seeing unfold in Europe is by forcing Washington to live within its means, or they have made a political calculation that Americans will no longer take them seriously if they continue to pretend otherwise. But either way, there now appears to be a bipartisan agreement in Washington that something serious must be done. Which brings us to an announcement by the

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Obama administration's top political advisor over the weekend that the President will change his position on entitlement reform, the deficit, and debt in a speech he will deliver tomorrow afternoon.

According to the administration officials, the President will now propose an outline of his goals in these areas. Apparently the President is finally ready to acknowledge problems that the rest of the country has been waiting for him to address. It is unfortunate that he had to be dragged into this discussion. But those on the left and right who have been clamoring for presidential leadership on these issues have to welcome the President's long-awaited decision to engage on them.

We all look forward to hearing what the President has to say, but it is my hope that in doing so, he offers more than the outline his political adviser suggested. As we know, House Republicans have put forward a detailed plan that seeks to preserve and protect Medicare for current beneficiaries and strengthen Medicaid, in part, by giving States more flexibility to implement it. At a time when thousands of baby boomers are retiring every day, putting even more pressure on our already overburdened finances, creative solutions like these are needed.

Hopefully the President will put forward a plan that does not just pay lipservice to the commitments we have made to seniors and the poor, but which acknowledges the unique problems that this generation and a rising generation of Americans face. Too often, it seems, Democrats in Washington claim to be interested in helping those in need, when what they really seek is to protect big government. Meanwhile, Republicans are developing solutions that will enable us to keep our commitments to seniors even as we create new opportunities for the young and middle class with low-tax policies that lead to private sector job growth. Whereas Republicans see America growing its way to prosperity, Democrats seem to want to constrict opportunities for everyone, so everyone is forced to do with less--except, of course, the politically connected and those who are lucky enough to get a waiver.

But at least the President is joining in the conversation. Hopefully that conversation is an adult one, and does not devolve into the kind of unhelpful scripted, and frankly juvenile, name-calling that we saw in the closing hours of the debate over the continuing resolution last week. We all know that both sides will have to play a part in addressing the crises we face, so we would do well to leave all dishonest rhetoric aside. Both sides want to preserve what is best about America. If both sides acknowledge that up front, as we move from a conversation about billions to trillions, we will have much progress even though we have much work ahead of us.

I yield the floor.

(Senate - April 12, 2011)

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