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Public Statements

Amending the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I support the legislation before us today to raise the debt ceiling and at the same time curb government spending without raising taxes. The United States cannot default on our obligations, and this
bill prevents that from happening. This deal is not perfect. It is not what I would have written, and I have grave concerns about the cuts to our Nation's defense spending that may have to occur as a result of this bill's passage.

What this plan does represent is a fiscally sound path forward, and therefore I support its adoption. I applaud the courageous leadership of Senator McConnell and Speaker Boehner. They have guided Republican members on both sides of the Capitol with tremendous skill and integrity and fought hard to ensure that our party's core principles were not negotiated away. I am proud of them, and I thank them. And I would be remiss if I did not also express my gratitude to Majority Leader Reid. He has a very difficult job in this body, and he deserves a tremendous amount of credit for helping get us to this point. He fought hard for his caucus and their priorities, and I congratulate him on successfully negotiating a fair compromise on their behalf.

While I will support this bill, I have a great deal of concern about the direction this compromise takes defense spending. I have said many times, defense spending since 9/11--which was preceded by nearly a decade of drastic reductions in military personnel, equipment, and readiness--is not the cause of the economic dilemma in which we find ourselves. Cutting defense so deeply that long-term, catastrophic damage to our national security interests would result will not solve our deficit spending and debt problem.

Since this year began, the President has already asked the Defense Department to cut more than $178 billion by finding efficiencies and taking top-line reductions in proposed defense spending over the next 5 years. But this compromise deal before us will go much further, with initial defense cuts of about $350 billion over 10 years as part of the initial agreement to raise the debt limit by just over $900 billion.

The bigger threat of cuts to national security spending, however, will come not during this first round but through the actions of the joint committee this bill establishes to find another $1.2 to $1.5 trillion in cuts as an offset to the next increase in the debt limit that will be required to get us from early 2012 through the balance of the year and into 2013. If the joint committee cannot agree on a package of cuts that can be passed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and signed into law by the President, then a sequestration process would come into play that would automatically cut both defense and nondefense spending in order to pay for the next $1.2 trillion in debt ceiling increases. Such an across-the-board sequestration of defense funding levels could add another nearly $500 billion to the roughly $350 billion in cuts over the next 10 years.

At his confirmation hearing on July 26, GEN Martin Dempsey, who has been nominated to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that cuts above the $400 billion in defense spending that were already being studied would be ``extraordinarily difficult and very high risk.'' I agree. But what concerns me most about our current debate is not just the enormous size of the potential reductions but that the defense cuts being discussed have little to no strategic or military rationale to support them. They are essentially just numbers on a page. Our national defense planning and spending must be driven by considered strategy, not arbitrary arithmetic.

These defense cuts, initially about $350 billion over 10 years--but especially those that could result from sequestration that could amount to another $500 billion--reflect minimal, if any, understanding of how they will be applied or what impact they will have on our defense capabilities or our national security. While Secretary Panetta has made it clear that a comprehensive review will precede any decisions he makes on further defense cuts, the Congress currently has no specific indication of how the current debt compromise proposals would impact the size of our military forces, what changes they would require to our compensation system, what equipment and weapons would have to be cancelled as a result, or what additional risk to the readiness and modernization of our forces and their equipment we would have to accept. If Congress is to make informed decisions about our national defense spending, we need information like this, and it will have a crucial impact on how the joint committee created under this compromise goes about its work. And based on that sort of information, we must do everything we can to avoid an exercise in blind sequestration of defense funds that could come into play if the joint committee cannot find a way to find further cuts of $1.2 trillion or more that can be enacted into law.

For many months, we have been engaged in a political tug-of-war over whether we should raise the debt limit and allow the President greater borrowing authority. I joined my colleagues on this side of the aisle in our insistence that any increase in our debt ceiling be accompanied by meaningful, real cuts in spending, not just typical Washington-style smoke and mirrors. I believe we achieved our goal with this compromise. The deal before us provides at least one dollar of actual spending cuts, not gimmicks, for each dollar in debt limit increases. It doesn't raise a single dollar in taxes. By including upfront cuts, a joint committee, a balanced budget amendment, BBA, vote, the debt disapproval process and sequesters, it continues the pressure on the President and Congress to continue cutting spending through the next election and beyond.

Some of my colleagues from the other side of the aisle have described the debate on this issue as a ``manufactured crisis.'' They cite the fact that, in the past, we routinely raised the debt ceiling with little or no debate, having done so at least 10 times in the last ten years. Well, I say to my friends, you are leaving out one very critical detail in your analysis--a detail that makes our current situation anything but ``routine''--and that is this: Never before in the history of this great nation has our debt been $14.6 trillion. Never before in our history have we faced the possibility of having our creditworthiness downgraded due to our inability to control our spiraling debt, which could very well decimate the good faith and credit of the United States, which would have a severe impact on our standing in the world.

This measure represents the beginning, not the end, of what I believe will be a sustained national focus on getting our fiscal house in order. We still have a very long way to go and a great deal of hard work to do. Americans are still hurting. Unemployment remains at unacceptable levels and is estimated to continue to grow. We need to cut spending, spur economic growth, and get people back to work. These goals cannot be achieved by raising taxes on individuals and small businesses, and they cannot be achieved by expanding the size of government and massively increasing federal spending. It is time we learned from the lessons of the past, and the past has taught us that we cannot spend and tax our way to prosperity. America has been driven down that road, and we nearly plunged off of a cliff into economic disaster. I believe that this measure will begin to put us on the right track.

I urge my colleagues to seize this opportunity to put America back on a path to fiscal solvency and vote in favor of this compromise.

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