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Tax on Bonuses Received from Certain TARP Recipients--Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I know this Nation is in a fiscal crisis. Anybody who is paying attention to the details understands that. We have to get serious about deficit reduction. I believe that in order to do so, we have to look at the full picture. We can't just look at discretionary spending.

I thank the President for saying he wants to freeze discretionary spending. It is going to be an unpopular decision, but we need to start taking steps like that. I also thank Senators SESSIONS and MCCASKILL because they have offered an amendment that is going to be voted on in a few minutes that freezes discretionary spending and puts a cap on it. It is for fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013. I voted for that on a couple occasions and still support the concept.

But in order for us to get serious about getting our fiscal house in order, we have to put everything on the table. That is the bottom line. When we do the fiscally responsible thing, it is going to be hard. It is going to be difficult politically. It will take determination and political will. But we have to put everything on the table.

The multiyear discretionary spending caps were a key part of the 1990, 1993, and 1997 deficit-reduction packages. However, one of the differences in those packages and what Senators SESSIONS and MCCASKILL are offering today is those deficit-reduction packages looked at all spending, mandatory and discretionary, as well as revenues. That is what my amendment, the Reid-Pryor amendment we will also vote on this afternoon, does. It puts everything--almost everything on the table.

We have to get serious about fiscal discipline and restoring fiscal order in the United States. There is a story in yesterday's New York Times--I am sure it was widely reported--that Moody's is considering downgrading our bond rating from AAA down to something lower because of the enormous national debt we have.

By establishing limits only on discretionary funding sources, we greatly reduce the likelihood of any bipartisan agreement we can make in this Chamber to fix our long-term deficits and long-term debt problem.

I think for us to fix this and to get our fiscal house where it needs to be, we have to approach this in a bipartisan way. My concern is, if we just do discretionary spending, we will never get to a bipartisan agreement.

The other thing about this: If the Reid-Pryor amendment were adopted today, I think the markets would like it. I think Wall Street and the global markets and all these folks such as Moody's and all these other people who are watching would see this as a very positive signal and it would help the U.S. economy in many ways beyond just the pure numbers in the budget.

I trust the members of the President's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. I trust they will provide very viable options and solutions. I look forward to their hearings and all of their suggestions as they go through this year and try to address some of the fiscal challenges we have.

The Senate has six Members on this commission: Senators BAUCUS, COBURN, CONRAD, CRAPO, DURBIN, and GREGG. All of these people bring great experience. They all bring to the commission great depth of knowledge on these issues. I am afraid if we do the cap on discretionary spending, as we talked about before, it might actually serve to undermine the commission's very challenging work.

I have a chart here that lays out a few things. This actually comes from CQ Today, from Tuesday, February 2, so it is a little more than a month old. But it paints a couple of pictures that I think we need to emphasize today as we compare these two amendments.

The first picture shows these pie charts. I do not know if the cameras can pick these up for the folks back home, but, as shown on these two pie charts these are the 2011 revenue estimates and the 2011 proposed outlays.

One thing that I think is critically important is that when we look at the Sessions-McCaskill amendment--you can see this purple slice of the pie right here. You can see it is much less than half of the Federal budget. You can see that very easily. But in the fine print here--this is discretionary spending--that is nondefense and national defense right there. Of course, they are carving out for national defense. So my guess is, they are only talking about, I will guess, 20 percent of the Federal budget. I am not quite sure how much. So they are trying to fix all of our problem with just about 20 percent of the budget.

What our proposal does is it actually includes almost everything in this pie, instead of saying 20 percent, probably 80 percent, 85 percent, 90 percent of the Federal budget will be included in trying to address the fiscal challenges we have.

There is another thing I want to point out on this chart. It has been around a long time. I have seen it in many publications. On this chart, you can see our deficit spending, starting with the Jimmy Carter administration, going through the Reagan years, the George Bush years, the Clinton years, the George W. Bush years, and the Obama years. You will see that, of course, the Obama years are mostly projections.

But what you see in these purple lines, all down here--under zero--those are our deficits. Then they actually go up during the Clinton years above zero. We go into surplus spending for the first time in a long time, paying off national debt, trying to be fiscally responsible, making tough choices. Not everybody was happy about that. We were trying to do that. Then you see what happened after 2000, where our numbers plummeted.

This yellow line--that maybe is hard to pick up on television--is the percentage of GDP. But, nonetheless, you see on this chart a sharp dropoff, and then you see this other sharp dropoff. So we have to understand, when this President came into office, President Obama, he did inherit a lot of problems, a lot of fiscal problems. But it is also because of the recession, because of the near global economic collapse, because of two wars and just because of some of these fiscal policies of the previous administration and because of the stimulus and because of some of his priorities. But you see the numbers going way down.

To President Obama's credit, he is moving the purple lines back up, and that is great. But it is not enough. It is not enough. We need to move these lines on up here, and we need to get above zero. We have to get back to surpluses in this government so we can pay off the national debt, and do this before our children and our grandchildren are stuck with us living beyond our means.

I think that is the bottom line. I think the Reid-Pryor amendment is the amendment that does that. We can talk about how we have an annual deficit this year of--I think it is $1.2 trillion. I have forgotten the number. We can talk about the national debt of--I think it is $13 trillion, and growing every single year. We have to get that turned around. We are on an unsustainable course. We have heard the chairman of the Budget Committee. We have heard the ranking member of the Budget Committee. We have heard people who care about this issue say time and again: We are on an unsustainable course.

I would ask my colleagues to look at the Reid-Pryor amendment. In some ways, it is structured like what Senator Sessions and Senator McCaskill have offered. Again, I voted for previous versions of that. They changed it a little bit this time. But I think the greatest liability for the Sessions-McCaskill amendment is it does not take in the whole picture. Like the pie chart, it takes in a little bit of this pie chart but not the whole thing.

If we are going to get serious--get serious--about fixing our fiscal equation, we have to put everything on the table. That is discretionary spending, mandatory spending, as well as revenues. We have to put it all on the table, and we have to work through this together, hopefully in a very bipartisan way.

I do not think we can fix this overnight. Even if our amendment were to pass this evening, it does not mean we are out of the woods yet. What it does is set the table for the deficit commission and others in future Congresses to come in and do the things we need to do and get us back where we need to be.

The last point I want to make about this chart right here is, if you look at this purple line, this chart is basically a graph of political courage. That is what this is. Because the easiest thing in the world for a politician to do--the easiest thing for a politician to do--is to cut taxes and raise spending. That is exactly what you see on this chart. You see tax cuts coming in at various times, and you see spending going up at various times. These purple numbers get way out of balance when Congress and the White House take the easy way out, and that is exactly what you see on this chart.

That is why we are in this situation today. It is not one President's fault. I do not want to blame it all on this President or on the previous President. This has been going on for a long time. It is not one Congress's fault. It has been going on for a long time. But we have to have the political will to change the way we do things around here.

I hope tonight will be a very important step in that process. I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will look at the Reid-Pryor amendment that contains all three fixes--and that is discretionary spending, mandatory spending, as well as revenues--and try to get this passed tonight and get us moving in the right direction.

I say to the chairman, I think we are waiting on Senator Inouye. So until he gets here, all I wish to say is, what the Pryor amendment does is to freeze all discretionary spending caps at the levels proposed by President Obama for fiscal year 2011. It freezes all discretionary spending caps for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 at 40 percent of the difference between President Obama's budget proposal and last year's budget resolution. The reason we do that is because Senator Sessions and Senator McCaskill used last year's budget numbers, and it may be fair under the circumstances this year. We are splitting the difference there.

The third thing is that these two freezes will reduce discretionary spending by at least $77 billion over 3 years--

reduce discretionary spending by $77 billion over 3 years--a pretty substantial cut.

When we talk about discretionary spending, we are talking about mostly the popular programs the government has. It may be things such as auto safety. It may be things such as child product safety. It may be things such as the Federal Trade Commission and some of the oversight they have to keep consumers safe. It could be the EPA. There are a lot of things--clean drinking water, clean air. That is what we are talking about when we talk about discretionary spending. So we are doing cuts there. Those are going to hurt. Again, people are not going to be happy about that.

It also requires the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to find at least an additional $77 billion of deficit reductions over the 3 years to close the gap between the projected revenues and entitlement spending. It basically says they have to find some spending cuts as they do their work.

It also requires Congress to enact the debt commission's recommendations by January 2, 2011, for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 discretionary spending caps to go into effect. It has a sense of the Senate that the total amount of deficit reduction by the debt commission shall be at least equal to the reductions in discretionary spending.

One of the differences between the Reid-Pryor amendment and the Sessions-McCaskill amendment is theirs is just about spending. And listen, spending is important, and that is half of the equation. We are spending too much money, and I recognize that, a lot of other people recognize that. I know a lot of people in Arkansas recognize that. But that is only half the equation. The other half is how much we are taking in, and can we do better and smarter all around the board and put everything on the table to try to fix this.

The real problem we face, in my view, is not spending alone but it is the spending that is leading to these enormous deficits every year and this enormous national debt. So I think our approach is more comprehensive. I think it is fairer. I hope many of my colleagues, once they see the language of the legislation, will consider voting for it.

With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

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