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Mr. LeMIEUX. Mr. President, it occurs to me that when I address this august Chamber tonight--and I follow my colleagues who have served here for a very long time and with distinction; I am new to this Chamber--I have a different perspective.
But my comments tonight are not meant without respect because I have a great deal of respect for those who have spoken in opposition to this amendment, but I have a differing view. I am new to the Senate, as you know. I came here last year, in 2009. I did not have a specific position on earmarks before I got here. I knew that there was a problem with Federal spending. But I had not yet made a decision as to whether I would support earmarks.
When you hear about a project for your home State, whether it be for a hospital or for a road or for a bridge or for a sewage treatment plant--and for the folks who are at home who are watching this, if they have not yet found Monday Night Football on their television and may have stumbled across C-SPAN, these projects all sound very good, and a lot of them are very good.
I hear from a lot of people in my State wanting me to support a particular project via an earmark. An earmark is a Member-driven appropriation, where a Member of Congress says: I want this specific spending for my home State or for an issue or project that I think is important.
They come to me and they say: We need this project. We need this funding. We need this research. It all sounds good. I think in a world where our financial house was more in order, there could be a role for those earmarks, if transparent.
But I cannot support them in the situation we are in. The chairman of the Appropriations Committee, just a few moments ago in his speech, raised the point that this Congress in last year's budget was $1.3 trillion in deficit.
It is our constitutional responsibility to appropriate. That is what article 1 says. The power of the purse lies in the Congress. Congress has not been doing a very good job--$1.3 trillion in debt, in deficit, in just 1 year. It took 200 years for this country to go $1 trillion in debt. We just incurred a $1.3 trillion deficit.
Those who are in favor of continuing earmarks and who are against this prohibition say: Look, it is just a small percentage; it is $16 billion.
In light of a $1.3 trillion deficit, what is a mere $16 billion? Frankly, that argument doesn't ring true with the people of Florida. When one talks to a Floridian and says there is $16 billion in spending, that is still a lot of money to regular people.
But it is more than that. When I came here and started to vote on appropriations bills, in the first few months of 2009, I noticed those appropriations bills were 5, 10, 15, 20 percent more than the last year's appropriations bills. No wonder the country is so far in debt, nearly $14 trillion. It is estimated that by the end of the decade, it will be 26. We spend $200 billion a year on interest now, the debt service on programs we couldn't afford in the past. It will be $900 billion by the end of the decade because the appropriations bills go up and up and up.
I believe, sitting here, with all due respect, and listening to my colleagues, part of the reason those appropriations bills get support is because there are Member projects in them. You can't vote against the bill once your hometown project is in it. It is the engine that drives the train. So it is not losing weight by shaving, as my distinguished colleague analogized. It is, as Senator McCain said, the gateway drug. It enables the spending we can't afford.
We have to solve these spending problems. The future is in jeopardy. We can't afford $900 billion in interest payments. What will this Congress do when the interest payment alone is $900 billion? This is not 20 years from now. This is not 40 years from now. This is 10 years--really 9 years from now. I contend this government will not function with a $900 billion interest payment.
Maybe this is emblematic, but I believe it is more than that. If we can't do the easy things, how is this Congress going to do the hard things? How is it going to cap spending? How is it going to cut spending?
The President announced today a moratorium on pay increases for Federal employees. That is a good start. But there are 270,000 new Federal employees since this administration took over, according to the Cato Institute, 270,000 new employees with average salaries of about $70,000 a year. We can't nibble around the edges, not with a $1.3 trillion deficit this year alone, and not with $26 trillion staring us in the face by the end of the decade.
The future of the country is at stake. Our Founding Fathers gave this Congress the power of the purse, but with that power comes a responsibility not to run the country into the ground with deficit spending.
This is an important step. It is a first step. It needs to be done. What needs to be tackled next is much more difficult--the across-the-board spending cuts that will have to come, tackling Social Security, tackling Medicare and making sure those programs are there for our seniors now but are reformed in a way that will save them for the future and not run this country into a financial hole it can't get out of. My friend from Colorado, who was courageous to talk on this issue tonight, said: When you are in a hole, stop digging. This is the first step. If we can't take this easy step, I don't know how in the world Congress is going to take the harder steps that must happen if we are going to save this country.
I yield the floor.
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