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Public Statements

Budget Conference Report

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. MCCONNELL. Mr. President, from the very first days of the new administration, Senate Republicans have pledged to work closely with our new President and his Cabinet to find solutions to the Nation's many foreign and domestic challenges.

On the foreign policy front, we felt strongly about the need to work with the new administration on a unified agenda that protects the American people and furthers our interests abroad. So far, we have had two major points of convergence.

On the enormously important question of our strategies in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Republicans support the President's decision to follow, in both cases, the best advice of his military commanders on the ground.

We may part ways on a number of other foreign policy issues, some of which I outlined in greater detail earlier this week, but when it comes to the question of Iraq and Afghanistan, the President's strategy is one that most everyone can support.

Here at home, there have admittedly been fewer opportunities for agreement.

An ongoing recession and the continuing reverberations of a financial shock that began in the housing industry led both parties to come up with their own respective plans to jumpstart the economy in the short term and strengthen its foundations in the long term.

The administration's plan revolved around a trillion dollar stimulus that was neither timely, targeted, nor temporary--as well as a decision to press forward on several major, controversial legislative proposals. If the President's budget is fully implemented, it would double the national debt in just 5 years and nearly triple it in 10.

Republicans had a different approach. We worked closely with Democrats last fall to pass a financial rescue plan aimed at stabilizing the overall economy. But we refused to support a second round of funds when the administration couldn't assure us it would only be used to address the crisis at hand.

When it came to an economic stimulus, Republicans pointed out the glaring weaknesses in the Democrat plan and we offered a plan of our own that would have cost half as much and gone straight to the root of the problem, which is housing.

We also suggested that instead of spending billions on wasteful projects, we loan State and local governments money. This would have encouraged the careful use of taxpayer dollars since State and local governments would have known they would have to pay the money back when the economy improved.

We also refused to support bailouts for the auto industry, since we don't think the Government should be picking winners and losers. We said bailouts would only delay necessary reforms for long-term success. Our position was recently vindicated when the automakers came back for even more money, forcing the administration to talk seriously about bankruptcy as a means of achieving the necessary restructuring.

When it comes to protecting taxpayers and to a mounting debt that our children will inherit, the new administration has been remarkably carefree. Most of this debt is being financed by China and countries in the Middle East, which of course increases the economic leverage these countries have over the United States.

Americans are worried about this and they should be. In a time of economic hardship, we should not be borrowing money we will not be able to pay back.

The current administration seems to disagree. In just 1 week in February, the administration's acts cost the American taxpayers more than $1 trillion, or more than the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina combined.

Federal support for a single company in the financial sector now amounts to almost $175 billion over the past year alone. That is more than what we will spend this year on the deployment costs of our Armed Forces fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So far this year the most far-reaching legislation we have considered is the budget. In the middle of a recession, the same Democrats who were outraged over a $455 billion deficit last year came to us this year with a budget that would lead to trillion-dollar deficits and which saddles Americans with more debt than all the debt we had accumulated from George Washington to the present day, combined.

Hundreds of thousands of American workers are losing their jobs every month. They are concerned that all this spending and debt will not just slow the economic recovery but make it harder to keep or find jobs. These Americans may like the President, but they do not understand how a giant expansion of Government will help create or preserve jobs.

They do not think the administration has done enough to explain how borrowing money to create those programs will make America stronger, more secure, and more economically sound.

Americans are also increasingly concerned about the administration's approach to a number of foreign policy issues that are related to our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. One of the most troubling of these decisions relates to the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Shortly after taking office, the new Attorney General was tasked with closing Guantanamo by next January.

Yet 3 months later, the administration still has not provided the American people with any further details about what will happen to these inmates once the January deadline arrives. The American people do not want terrorists back on the battlefield, and they certainly do not want them released into their neighborhoods, as some in the administration have shockingly proposed, according to news accounts.

The administration has not been clear about its reason for closing Guantanamo before it has a plan for these detainees. But its reason cannot be that the facility is poorly run, since Attorney General Holder has said himself that the facilities there are good ones. It cannot be that the administration has a better alternative. If it did, we would have heard about it by now. The American people do not want trained terrorists released into their neighborhoods. They want answers. Unfortunately, the administration has only offered silence.

In the face of tremendous challenges at home and abroad, the new administration offered a burst of activity and a veritable explosion of debt. Meanwhile, Republicans have proposed responsible solutions that are meant to empower the American people and improve the quality of their daily lives.

On this front, Republicans will continue to offer sensible ideas on health care that address the concerns Americans have about the high cost of doctors visits, about finding good health coverage, and about keeping the coverage they have.

The lesson of the failed health care proposal of the Clinton era is not that Americans do not want reform, it is that any reform should reflect the needs of all Americans, not just a select few in Washington. Americans do not want a health care solution that puts bureaucrats in charge of medical decisions, delays appointments or diminishes the quality of health care they already receive.

Health care is an area where Americans expect the President and Congress to work together. The divide-and-conquer approach did not work in 1993, it will not work in 2009.

Energy is another area where Republicans have offered and will continue to offer commonsense solutions. Last year, even before gas prices hit the roof, we proposed a sensible approach of finding more and using less. Republicans are also proposing a dramatic expansion of nuclear power. This would match the high demand for energy in the world's largest economy with a growing public desire for cleaner, more efficient energy sources.

Health care and energy are just two of the areas where Republicans will continue to offer better ideas in the coming months. We hope our friends on the other side are more supportive of these ideas than they have been of our proposals on the economy.

On this point, it is interesting to know that just a few weeks ago, Democrats showed strong support on the Senate floor for Republican proposals to protect small businesses and middle-class taxpayers, as well as a proposal to keep the Nation's debt at a level we can manage. They also expressed strong support for a Republican proposal that climate change legislation not lead to higher gas and electricity bills.

Yet these Republican proposals which drew such broadspread support on the Senate floor just a few weeks ago were, for some reason, taken out of the final product that came out of the closed conference.

Democrats cannot have it both ways. Americans are suffering. They are losing homes, and they are losing jobs. Republicans have offered, and will continue to offer, proposals that put the concern of these ordinary Americans first: Democrats' overspending, taxes, and debt.

Massive spending and debt is not the answer to a recession. A one-party solution with no checks and balances is not the answer for health care. Opposing clean, nuclear power and expanded use of other domestic energy sources is not an answer for our energy needs.

Voting for tax relief before voting against it is not the way to show the American people you have their best economic interests in mind. Republicans have not been hesitant to offer our strong public support for the new administration, and, again, I commend the President on his approach to Afghanistan and Iraq. But we have not been hesitant to state our differences clearly.

That has been the story of the first 100 days for Senate Republicans and will continue to be the story for Senate Republicans: Principled support, principled opposition, and pragmatic, creative solutions to meet the challenges of the day.


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