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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, later today Senate Democrats will show where their legislative priorities truly lie.
At a moment when the American people are reeling from the slowest economic recovery in modern times, and just 5 1/2 months away from the culmination of tax hikes and spending cuts already being referred to around the world as America's fiscal cliff, Senate Democrats want us to waste our time on the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that has only two discernible purposes: to create the impression of mischief where there is none, and to send a signal to unions that Democrats are just as eager to do their legislative bidding as ever.
Think about it. We have had 41 straight months of unemployment above 8 percent. It has been more than 3 years since the Democratic Senate passed a budget, but this is what they want to do.
For months Republicans have been urging Democrats to do something about the approaching fiscal cliff now, before it is too late. The American people don't expect us to see every crisis that comes around the corner, but they should be able to expect us to do something about the problems we do see and that we know are coming. Yet last week President Obama signaled that he and his campaign advisers think it is good politics to keep the threat of these looming tax hikes on everyone right on the table as supposed leverage in an effort to raise taxes on nearly 1 million business owners right now.
As the Washington Post reported this morning, not only do Democrats in Congress agree with him, they are ready and willing to go right off the fiscal cliff if they don't get their way. In their near fanatical crusade to inflict even more pain on American businesses, Democrats are now openly admitting that they plan to wait until this debate reaches full throttle and Americans are panicked about the outcome to do anything because they think it will make it more likely they will get their way. And if they don't, then so be it. They are ready to accept the economic and fiscal consequences. They see a crisis coming, and they don't want to waste it.
The Congressional Budget Office has said that not doing anything and walking off this fiscal cliff would lead to a recession. The IMF chief says it would threaten the global economy. Yet Senate Democrats today are announcing they are perfectly ready and willing to accept all that if Republicans don't allow them to raise taxes on the very businesses we are counting on to create the jobs we need.
This is what passes for governance among Democrats these days: Put the American people up against a wall, pick their pockets, and then hope that in the midst of the scuffle they will blame it--and the recession that would follow--on the Republicans.
Now, let's make no mistake. What the Democrats are proposing today is an entirely avoidable high-stakes game of chicken with the single-minded goal of taking more money from those who earn it for government to waste. The President made it very clear over the weekend that he doesn't think entrepreneurs are responsible for their own success. They owe it to the government. Successful entrepreneurs owe their success to the government. That is the attitude driving everything this President and his Democratic allies in Washington are doing right now. Their one-point plan for getting America back on track is clear: You earn, we take. And if they don't get to impose it, then they will welcome a recession.
They are so single-mindedly focused on taking the earnings of others for themselves and spreading it around--in the President's famous phrase--that they are recklessly ignoring any proposal to prevent the coming crisis in order to achieve it.
Last week Senate Republicans proposed a legislative solution which ensures that no one sees their income tax go up--no one--at the end of the year, legislation that creates a path for the kind of fair, broad-based comprehensive tax reform members of both parties claim they want and which would give individuals and businesses the certainty they have been asking us to give them since the very beginning of the administration.
We could have passed this completely reasonable proposal last week and put the anxiety of millions of Americans at ease with a single vote, but Democrats, of course, refused. They would rather keep the crisis unresolved, keep it looming out there on the horizon. They think it gives them a political edge. They think it is good politics. And they should be ashamed. They should be ashamed.
Consider this: It has been nearly 1 year since the President demanded $500 billion in automatic cuts to defense at the end of this year. Yet with the date now fast approaching, we still don't know how he intends to handle it. The President's campaign wants people asking whether his opponent is hiding something on a 10-year-old tax return. How about what this President is actually concealing about his plans to slash defense? With just a few months to go before these cuts devastate communities all across the country, the President has yet to outline his plans.
Republicans in the House have already passed, and Senate Republicans have proposed, concrete plans to avoid these devastating cuts to our national defense. Our uniformed military deserves the certainty that their operations, training, support, and weapons systems will be fully funded. Meanwhile, the President hasn't demonstrated the least bit of interest in this issue--no interest whatsoever. He hasn't said a thing. He is apparently more interested in blowing smoke about his opponent's tax returns than in talking about the tax hike he actually plans to impose on the very businesses we are counting on to create the jobs Americans need--not some other day but right now.
He would rather spend his time raising unfounded suspicions about a guy whose entire professional career has been a dress rehearsal for bringing order to a government that has become so bloated, so inefficient, and so bureaucratic that it is crying out for the kind of leadership and reform Democrats simply refuse to provide. He would rather attack a guy who has succeeded at just about everything he has ever done than propose a solution himself. And the reason, of course, is perfectly clear: Washington Democrats are worried he might succeed at reforming government too. They don't want to give him the chance.
Think about it. The economy is flat on its back, millions are struggling to find work, and Democrats aren't outlining a solution. They are plotting about how to take advantage of it to advance an ideological agenda most Americans oppose and to cast doubt about anybody who poses a serious threat to the crony-capitalist bureaucratic favor factory right here in Washington.
Where the rest of us see the worst economic recovery in modern times, Democrats see another opportunity to use a crisis to grow the government, and that is what they are focused on--not on providing hope and relief for already struggling Americans but providing more tax dollars for the government to waste and misdirect. In the meantime they will waste our time with bills like this one which they know will not pass but will give them a chance to make a fuss about a problem that doesn't exist--and blow a kiss to the unions for good measure.
But if we are going to have to vote on proceeding to this bill, I would like to take a moment to explain why it is not only exhibit A in how completely irresponsible Democrats are being right now, but why it is such a terrible idea in itself.
First, a point on process. When the history books are written, the 112th Congress may well be known as the Congress of irrelevant committees--the Congress of irrelevant committees. There once was a day when committees held hearings on bills, debated them, offered amendments, and reported them out for full Senate consideration. Now it is find a bill, put it on the calendar, move to proceed, file cloture, lose, and repeat. That is today's Senate. Committees are not being used to generate good legislation. In other words, they are viewed as an obstacle to overcome in the effort to make a point in front of the cameras on the Senate floor. The latest such effort is the DISCLOSE Act, a bill aimed at doing something about people exercising their first amendment rights to participate in the process.
My question is, do something about what? Do something about races which previously would not have been competitive but now are? Do something about individuals and organizations criticizing unpopular positions and policies? Do something about groups advocating on behalf of their members to promote or oppose the very positions for which their members joined? As George Will has pointed out, the political process is not a private club with the parties and the candidates controlling membership. Under the Citizens United decision of 2010, independent groups are now able to speak, again, under the first amendment regardless of who, when, and about what they are speaking. This is something Democrats should be celebrating, not excoriating.
The Founders envisioned a nation in which speech would be promoted as widely as possible. That is what the first amendment is all about, particularly when it comes to the political process. The purpose of this legislation is totally clear. After Citizens United, Democrats realized they could not shut up their critics so they decided to go after the microphone instead by trying to scare off the funders. As Senator Schumer put it during debate on an earlier version of this bill, `` ..... the deterrent effect should not be underestimated.'' That was Senator Schumer on the real purpose of this bill: ``The deterrent effect should not be underestimated.''
Just as with the DISCLOSE Act of 2010, this amounts to nothing more than member and donor harassment and intimidation and is all part of a broader government-led intimidation effort by this administration. There are parallel efforts going on at the FCC, the SEC, the IRS, the DOJ, and the White House itself to silence its critics.
The creation of a modern day Nixonian ``enemy's list'' is currently in full swing and, frankly, the American people should not stand for it. As I have said before, no individual or group in this country should have to face harassment or intimidation or incur crippling expenses defending themselves against their own government simply because the Government does not like the message they are advocating. But that is what we are seeing.
My own view has always been, if you cannot convince people of the wisdom of your policies, then you need to come up with some better arguments. Instead, the left has resorted to tactics such as the pending legislation. This legislation is an unprecedented requirement for groups to publicly disclose their donors, stripping a protection recognized and solidified by the courts. As a result of this legislation, advocacy groups ranging from the NAACP to the Sierra Club, to the Chamber of Commerce, all of which already disclose their donors to the IRS, would now be forced to subject their members to public intimidation and harassment. Why? For supporting organizations and groups whose goals they agree with.
Predictably, unions are exempted from the kind of disclosure Democrats now want to impose on everybody else. The so-called stand by your ad provision in an earlier version has done a David Copperfield and entirely vanished.
I am not advocating for the provision but simply to note its absence, which proves the primary goal of this bill is not good government or transparency but targeted speech suppression. That is what this is about--targeted speech suppression.
I have to give the authors credit, whoever they are. They actually list labor unions as a covered organization in the bill. However, through an elaborate scheme of thresholds and triggers, they might as well have saved the ink, since unions are largely given a free pass by this bill, despite the fact they are, by far, the biggest players in political campaigns in our entire country. No one else comes close--almost all of it, of course, on the Democratic side.
As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, labor unions spent a total of $4.4 billion on campaigns from 2005 to 2011, a staggering amount of money and perfectly within their rights, I would add, under the first amendment.
Let's be clear. The other side may be able to whip the media up into a lather over the increased participation of individuals and groups that do not like the direction this President has taken our country, but the big money is coming from the left in the form of mandatory dues to labor unions. To the left, big money from individuals and corporations is a problem. But the nearly $800 million spent by unions in 2008, oh, that is just fine and dandy--as long as nearly 100 percent of it goes to their own campaigns.
As supporters of this legislation have readily admitted, the real target of this bill is to protect themselves from criticism over their wildly unpopular policies and positions. This is precisely why this legislation has been opposed by business groups from coast to coast and opposed by everyone from the NRA--which is key voting this vote--to the ACLU, to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. I greatly appreciate all the effort these folks have put into educating and advocating on this issue.
I will certainly do everything in my power to protect the first amendment rights from DISCLOSE, the sequel, and I ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join with me in voting no. We have many serious problems in this country. Too much free speech is not one of them.
Democrats can call this bill whatever they want, but they cannot conceal its true intent, which is to encourage their allies and discourage their critics from exercising their first amendment right to speak their mind. If Democrats do not like the level playing field ensured by the first amendment and reaffirmed by Citizens United, they should do a better job convincing the American people of the wisdom of their policies and focus on real problems instead of inventing ones that do not exist. To this point, I once again urge our friends to put the political games aside and do something now about the fiscal cliff that is approaching before it is too late. Our Nation has been mired in an economic coma for years. More people signed up for disability last month than found a job. The number of Americans on food stamps continues to climb. It is all about to get worse, and we have a President who is on a single-minded crusade to punish business owners even more.
Republicans have proposed serious, concrete ideas for addressing the problems we face, but we cannot do any of it if the President and his Democratic allies in Congress refuse to join us. Unfortunately, that is where we are. Democrats have made their priorities perfectly clear and, sadly, the American people they were elected to serve appear to be very much at the bottom of the list.
I yield the floor.
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