Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, last night, the President, to his credit, reiterated what the American people have been saying for weeks: that the Democratic health care proposals we have seen so far aren't where they need to be. I couldn't agree with him more. President Obama also said that rising health care costs are an imminent threat to our economy and that any reform must reduce these long-term costs.
The problems the President highlighted are real and, here again, Republicans agree with him. Unfortunately, the solutions to these problems are not in the Democrat plans now working their way through Congress. In fact, the bills we have seen would make these problems even worse. The director of the Congressional Budget Office has said that these proposals would increase overall health care spending, not reduce it. All of us want health care reform. But we want reform that brings down costs and long-term spending, not a so-called reform that makes things even worse.
The President also said health care reform must not increase the national
debt. Republicans agree with that too. But, again, both Democrat bills we have seen would saddle Americans with hundreds of billions of dollars of additional debt, making the situation even worse. Just yesterday, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve warned that unless we get serious about spending and debt, we are endangering not only our recovery from the current recession but also endangering future economic growth. That is why he said any health care reform must get control of costs. Otherwise, it could bankrupt both our government and eventually our entire economy.
So the last thing we need is a flawed health care bill that adds to the national debt and increases long-term health care costs. Instead of trying to rush through proposals that don't work, we need to take the time to do it right and make the reforms the American people are asking for--reforms that won't put us on the road to bankruptcy.
DEBT AND SECURITY
Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, earlier this year I came to the Senate floor and outlined a number of foreign policy principles that have served our Nation well in the past and which I believe would serve us well in the future. In doing so, it was my hope that these principles would serve as the basis of steady bipartisan cooperation between the Senate and the new administration. These principles transcend party; they are time-tested; and they can be summed up in a single sentence: the cornerstone of U.S. National security policy lies in maintaining a strong and ready defense and in keeping our alliances strong.
As the Senate continues to debate the Defense authorization bill, I would like to take the opportunity to reiterate the importance of this fundamental principle of action and to highlight something that seriously endangers our ability to uphold it. I am referring to our Nation's staggering National debt.
The national debt threatens our way of life; it threatens the value of our national currency; and it threatens our ability to pay for entitlements that millions of Americans depend on. Yet, just as importantly, the national debt also endangers our position in the world, the long term capabilities of our military, and the long-term viability of the all-volunteer force that is currently serving us so ably and courageously in two very challenging wars. And that is why it is increasingly urgent that we focus on this growing threat and do something about it.
Let us put the current situation in context. The story of the American military over the past century reflects what historians have described as a feast or famine approach to defense. The pattern goes back at least as far as our entry into World War I and extends through our involvement in World War II, the Korean war, and Vietnam. In every case, the U.S. military underwent an abrupt expansion of manpower and armaments only to be followed by calls for a drawdown in the size of our force and a reduction in defense spending. This pattern, though not always well-advised, may have been understandable in some cases in the past. But the nature of our current threats and position in the world makes it indefensible today.
With developments in weapons technology, America no longer has the luxury of isolation. And September 11 showed us that we can no longer leave ungoverned territories unwatched. The demands on today's military are constant. We are either on offense, or we are at risk. Feast or famine and isolationism no longer work.
And this is why our ever-growing national debt is so perilous--because even those who believe as I do that a strong and ready defense is the cornerstone of our security will not be able to guarantee it if current fiscal trends persist. Put simply: if we do nothing to pay down this debt and address the needs of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, then America risks finding itself so weakened financially that some day in the not-too-distant future we just will not have the resources we need to equip and maintain our forces in the places they are needed most.
Consider the fact that the Federal Government is now spending an average of $100 million a day just to pay the interest on a single piece of legislation, the $1 trillion stimulus bill that Congress passed earlier this year. Or that it is estimated we will pay $347 billion in interest on just this one bill over the next 10 years. At current rates of spending, that is enough to provide health care for our Nation's veterans for more than 5 years. It is enough to cover the salaries and benefits of all our active-duty and reserve forces for 2 1/2 years. Or it is nearly $350 billion we could put back into the pockets of the American people at a time when they could really use it.
And that is just one piece of legislation. Now imagine what it costs to finance our entire national debt. By the end of the decade, it is estimated that under the President's budget we will spend nearly $800 billion a year just to cover the interest on the national credit card--not reducing what we owe, but just keeping the creditors from knocking on the door. Here is the frightening part of where we are: by 2017, the amount of money we are expected to spend on interest alone will exceed the amount of money we are expected to spend that year on all of defense.
The implications of this for our national security are clear. More and more, our ability to deploy forces with state-of- the-art weaponry is in competition with our financial obligation to the countries that hold our debt, and we get closer to the day when countries that hold large amounts of U.S. debt, such as China and Saudi Arabia, could directly influence the foreign policy decisions of a future President.
We also get closer to the day when our allies and partners will rethink the value of a relationship with the United States.
Sooner or later, we will have to face the fact that we are on a path that leads to some very unpleasant choices. Either we default on our debts, which we will not do, print more money to cover those debts and tempt a massive inflationary spiral, or be forced to withdraw from our security commitments, just as Great Britain did at the end of the Second World War.
America's all-volunteer force costs a lot of money to maintain. Indeed, one of the major reasons we have been able to avoid conscription in this country since the Vietnam war has been our ability to maintain recruiting and retention policies through an attractive retirement system, recruiting bonuses, incentive pay and sensible housing allowances. In current dollars, military personnel costs have increased from $69 billion to $131 billion a year over the past decade.
But these necessary expenses will soon be crowded out by the growing cost of long-term entitlements and the growing principal and higher and higher interest payments on our debt. And spending increases we now regard as necessary may no longer be possible. The choice is clear: in order to provide for the common defense, we must reform entitlement programs that are consuming a larger and larger share of our budget and reduce the national debt.
Cutting $100 million here or there in discretionary costs will not do the trick. In 1965, discretionary spending accounted for 62 percent of the budget. Today, it accounts for just 38 percent. As discretionary spending has become a smaller and smaller part of the pie, mandatory spending on entitlements and debt has become a bigger and bigger part of the pie. In 1965, mandatory spending and interest accounted for 38 percent of the budget. Today, they account for 62 percent or nearly two-thirds of the entire budget.
This means that in order to face our problem head on, we will have to address the problem of entitlement spending. And the only serious option on the table is the Conrad-Gregg proposal which would provide a clear pathway for fixing these long-term challenges by forcing us to get debt and spending under control.
I have had a number of good conversations about this proposal with the President. Based on those conversations, I am hopeful it will be given serious attention. For the safety and security of our Nation, the Conrad-Gregg proposal deserves broad bipartisan support.
Every Secretary of Defense must confront the tension between America's near-term readiness and future investment. But some future Defense Secretary will no longer be able to make either choice if we do nothing to address the problem of long-term debt. Regardless of the global threats we face, we will be forced to field a smaller and less capable force. The money will not be there.
When most Americans think about threats to our security, they come up with a standard list. But few people include our growing national debt. They should--because it is real and it is serious.
Based on current trends, it is quite possible to imagine some future Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff walking into the Oval Office one day and informing the Commander in Chief that he has no choice: he can either protect the sealanes in the Persian Gulf or he can protect the sealanes in the Sea of Japan, but he cannot do both. On that day the United States of America will no longer be the guarantor of the international trading system, sea lines of communication, the security of our allies, or even our own independence.
All of this should matter to Members of the Senate. Americans trust our Nation's intelligence and uniformed personnel to protect them from distant threats. But it is incumbent upon the men and women of this body--those of us who control the purse strings--to make sure the Nation's resources are managed in a way that enables these forces to do their work. The men and women of the Senate must look beyond the narrow demands of a single political term in office or the next election to the long-term security of our Nation and, indeed, the world. No one else can protect the American people from the diminishment of power and capability that come with our dangerous and ever-increasing national debt.