Mr. LeMIEUX. Mr. President, I rise today to talk about the issues and the topics this body badly needs to get to. Just a month ago there was an election in this country, and the people of this country spoke loudly and clearly. What they said is they wanted this Congress to focus on two things: No. 1, they wanted us to focus on creating jobs. This is the most difficult economy anyone who is working now has ever had to experience.
In my home State of Florida, unemployment is nearly 12 percent. If you figure in all the people who are underemployed--who have lost their job and now must work two or three jobs to make even less than what they used to make to barely get by, to provide for their families--nearly one out of five people of working age in Florida are unemployed or underemployed.
We are in the top three in mortgage foreclosures. In the first half of the year, Floridians were No. 1 on being behind on their mortgage payments. Although there are some spots of hope and some things to look at as potentially growing our economy again, we just recently found out that in southeast Florida--which in many ways has been ground zero for mortgage foreclosures--mortgage foreclosures have gone up in the third quarter more than 25 percent over the second quarter.
Times are tough in Florida. Times are tough all across this country. So the people of this country spoke, and they sent new people to Washington who will be taking office--some have already taken office, most will take office in January--to get this country back to work. What they asked this Congress to do is to focus on job creation.
The second thing they want this Congress to do is to stop the out-of-control spending. This government is putting this country on the brink of financial disaster. We know from the Congressional Budget Office, which keeps count of spending in this country, that this last year, 2010, the Congress spent $1.3 trillion more than it took in--$1.3 trillion more than it took in. It took 200 years for this country to go in debt. Yet just this last year, this Congress went $1.3 trillion in debt.
Our national debt--the total amount of deficits that have accumulated over time--is nearly $14 trillion. In the past 4 years, the national debt has gone up $5 trillion. The American people are worried about this. When I go around Florida and talk to my constituents, they tell me they are concerned about the future for their kids, for their grandkids. They wonder whether our children are going to grow up in a country that has the same promise and opportunity that we have all experienced.
So these have been the two big issues. They are resounding. If you turn on the television and watch any of these cable talk shows, the two issues that come up are jobs and the out-of-control spending. Yet despite the overwhelming chorus from the people of this country--which manifested itself a month ago on election day--this Congress is failing to address these two primary issues.
Why in the world are we talking about a bunch of ancillary issues--albeit important in their own right--when the most pressing issues facing this country, and what the American people want us to do, is to focus on these two issues?
Part and parcel of the economic problem is the uncertainty that is being caused by Washington. For the past 2 years, instead of focusing on creating jobs, creating an environment that would allow businesses to create jobs, we have created all sorts of uncertainty for American entrepreneurs. I come from a State of small businesses. There are not a lot of big businesses in Florida. When I meet with small business, they tell me there is so much uncertainty that it is preventing them from hiring.
They cite the health care bill. How do we know if we can hire a new person? If we do we may be under some new mandate, some new penalty or fine that will make us pay more. We don't know whether we can afford that new employee. Therefore, they do not hire. No wonder unemployment is so high and has not come down.
They wonder about the financial regulatory reform bill. One business in Florida told me they will move some of their employees overseas so as to not come under the restrictions of that bill.
Most of all what they tell me is they do not know what their taxes are going to be next year. They do not know what they are going to pay in taxes. Because they can't plan, they cannot hire. Because they can't plan, they do not buy that new piece of equipment. Because they can't plan, they do not take on that extra lease space or hire the construction company to build an addition on their building or build a new facility.
So all of this uncertainty created by Washington not having its focus on what the American people want Washington to have its focus on is exacerbating the problem with the economy. So why in the world--knowing for the past 2 years that these tax cuts were set to expire--have we not addressed them?
When we voted to adjourn before the election, I voted not to adjourn because I thought it was fundamentally unfair to the businesses and job creators in this country for us to leave and not finish our work with them not knowing what their taxes would be next year. I knew that would hurt the effort to employ more people in my State. Yet here we are, the first day of December, just a month left in the time of this Congress, and we still have not addressed the tax issues.
We are talking about food safety, we are talking about the DREAM Act, we are talking about the repeal of don't ask, don't tell. However you feel about those issues--and I respect that people have differing views--that is not what the American people are focused on. We should be about the work of focusing on the issues that matter most, putting first things first. What should be first is creating an environment so that entrepreneurs and job creators can get people back to work.
Secondly, we must tackle this issue of spending. We just saw the report from the debt commission, and we are all still reviewing the good work they have done. Let me say, first of all, this is a serious proposal from serious and responsible people, and it is the kind of work that should be done in Washington. I don't agree with all of its provisions, but I am proud of the work they have done because it is serious, it is sober, and it addresses the compelling crisis that confronts us and threatens the very future of this country.
As the cochairmen of that commission--Erskine Bowles and former Senator Simpson--have said this crisis will not wait 10, 20 years. This crisis is now.
But as much as I respect the work they have done, it doesn't go nearly far enough. Realize that the proposals they have made will cut the national debt and deficit $4 trillion. That is a lot of money. It is a good start. It is being widely condemned by Democrats and Republicans. It tackles defense spending, so some Republicans don't like it. It tackles Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, so some Democrats don't like it. I think the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, dismissed it because of what it does on Social Security. But realize this: It only cuts $4 trillion out of the next $12 trillion that will be incurred in the next decade.
So let's put it in perspective. Right now our national debt is nearly $14 trillion. It is projected to be $26 trillion by 2020. If we adopted every proposal of the debt commission--every single one of them--we would reduce the projected national debt from $26 trillion to $22 trillion, and that is not enough. It is not even close to being enough.
Now, why is that the case? It is the case because we spend $200 billion a year right now in our current budgetary environment on debt service--$200 billion a year paying interest on money we have borrowed for things we should not have spent money on in the past.
Here is the truth the American people have not been told: For the past 30 or 40 years, this government has spent much more money than it has taken in.
What it did first was it took the money out of Social Security and wrote an IOU to Social Security. When the Social Security money was unable to be raided anymore by Congress, which has been just recently, then this government had to go out and borrow the money from foreign countries such as China and Japan. That is why we have this huge unfunded portion of Social Security that is tens of trillions of dollars and that is why we have this national debt that is racking up.
For the last 30 or 40 years, this Congress has spent way more than it has taken in. Now we are in a situation where we put the future of this country in peril. At the end of this decade, if we have a $26 trillion national debt--and even if it is $22 trillion if we adopted every measure from the debt commission--we will still be $800 to $900 billion in debt service by the end of the decade, $800 billion to $900 billion. When we are that far into our debt service payments--basically for the average American family this is similar to, thinking of this like a credit card, when you can't pay the minimum balance and every month the amount you owe keeps cascading more and more. That is where the American Government is headed.
When we get to $800 billion or $900 billion a year in interest payments, the government will not function. As Erskin Bowles said today, the world markets will not wait for that point. So what you are seeing in Europe right now with Greece and Ireland and Portugal and Spain will happen here, except there will not be a European Union or anybody else to bail out the United States of America.
It is a crisis. Yet this Congress is not doing anything about it. We are talking about adopting a continuing resolution because this Congress will not do an appropriations bill. A continuing resolution at its best will freeze spending at last year's level.
Some of my colleagues will say: That is good. See, we are not increasing the spending.
It is not an accomplishment, when last year we were more than $1 trillion in deficit, to freeze spending at that level.
The two issues the American people want us to deal with are jobs and out-of-control government spending. Yet we are failing to do both. There is a lot of frustration in this Chamber. I watched some of my colleagues on the other side today come speak on the floor, and they are frustrated that we are not getting things done. I am frustrated too. Two of my colleagues are proposing a change to the way the procedures of this body work. They do not think it should take 60 votes for us to do some things.
I do not agree with them, but I share their frustration because, as much as I am privileged to be here--and I am in awe of this institution--the way this Congress works and this body works is dysfunctional. The way it should work and the way it used to work, from what people tell me who were here before, is that a proposal would come up, a piece of legislation, and it would come to the floor and we would all have a chance to offer an amendment. We would all have a chance to make it better.
My constituents in Florida think I have the opportunity to offer amendments and let their voices be heard through my actions. If my proposal is not good or not worthy, then it should not pass. But it should see the light of day. This was a time when Senators stayed by their desks and listened to the proposals and amendments of other Senators and were able to quickly call home to the group that the proposal might affect. Say it was an agricultural proposal. They might call their local farmers or if it would affect banks, they might call banks to see how it would affect their constituents in their home State, and the level of discourse was better.
The people of this country expect us to get to work. They expect us to get to work on the issues that matter most. They are suffering and we should get about the work that they want us to do because the future of the country is at stake.
I yield the floor.