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Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, the Senate is sort of wrapping up its business, if you will, until after the election. It is ironic, in a way, that there are so many big issues in front of us as a nation--so many challenges--yet we are talking about things I am sure are important, but, once again, we are punting, kicking the can down the road on all the big crises in front of us as a nation.
I have to say that never before has a President and a Senate done so little when the Nation's challenges are so great. People have talked about the fiscal cliff repeatedly, and people have talked about the fiscal crisis in which we find ourselves in terms that I think ought to frighten all Americans. It certainly ought to frighten Members of Congress when we talk about the most predictable crisis in American history, probably in human history. It is not like it is any surprise what is going to happen. We are repeatedly reminded by all of the experts that if we don't deal with this issue of the fiscal cliff, it will have devastating, catastrophic impacts on our economy, on our national security, on our country, and on the American people. Yet we are not addressing it and doing what we should be doing to avert the disaster ahead of us, the fiscal cliff that faces us on January 1 of this next year.
It is not as though there isn't already a lot of evidence that we have big problems. We just crossed the $16 trillion level in terms of our debt. We have added over $1 trillion of debt every single year now for the past 4 years, since President Obama has taken office. That is $50,000 for every man, woman, and child in America. Everybody in America--man, woman, or child--now has $50,000 as their share of Federal debt. So it is a fiscal crisis unlike anything we have seen before, and it has, as I said, been predicted.
The Congressional Budget Office has said if we don't deal with the fiscal cliff, it will plunge the economy into recession. They have suggested that it will reduce by 2.9 percent the size of the economy. We actually will have a contraction of the economy in the first 6 months of next year.
They have also projected it will drive unemployment above 9 percent. Granted, we are over 8 percent today. We have been at 8 percent now for 43 consecutive months. That is the longest stretch in history. In fact, if we go back to the time the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping unemployment data and we add up the data for the 11 Presidents from Harry Truman through the end of the George W. Bush administration--about 60 years--there were 39 months where the unemployment rate exceeded 8 percent. That is 11 Presidents in about 60 years of history where we have had unemployment above 8 percent.
We have now had unemployment above 8 percent for 43 consecutive months. So 39 months in the first 60 years since they started keeping data, and 43 months now in a row under the current administration.
We have the Federal Reserve telling us if we don't deal with our fiscal crisis, the economy is going to soften next year.
We have ratings agencies such as Moody's suggesting that if we don't have a plan in place not only to deal with the sequestration that is going to occur at the end of the year in a way that is paid for but also to deal with the longer, structural problem--the debt and deficits crisis we have in this country--we are facing a downgrade in our credit rating.
You had the World Economic Forum come out just recently with their assessment about the world's most competitive economies. Back in January of 2009 when President Obama took office, the World Economic Forum found that the United States had the No. 1 most competitive economy in the world. In terms of global competitiveness, the United States was ranked No. 1. Now we have dropped. We had dropped to fifth, and this year, just recently, as I mentioned, when they came out with their current rankings, the United States had dropped down to seventh. So in a short 4-year timespan, we have gone from first in terms of global competitiveness down to seventh. That does not speak well for the steps that are being taken here in this country to make America competitive in the global economy, to deal with the problems of spending and debt and the fiscal cliff that is ahead of us.
It is interesting to note that at the World Economic Forum--what did they point to in terms of their analysis? Why did they come to the conclusion that the United States had fallen from first in January of 2009 when the President took office to seventh here this year? Well, they pointed out spending, debt, taxes, regulations, redtape--all the things that come from Washington, DC; all the things that are controlled by policies here in Washington; the regulations that continue to spin out of various government agencies that drive up the cost of doing business in this country, that make us less competitive; the higher taxes that are being assessed on our economy in so many different ways; and, of course, all the taxes that are going to take hold, take effect as part of ObamaCare, the health care law that was passed a couple years ago, that begin to kick in. So you are going to have higher taxes. You have the redtape associated with doing business in this country and the bureaucracies, the mandates, the requirements that are imposed on our small businesses and our job creators. And then, of course, as I said, you have this massive amount of debt that hangs like a cloud over our economy. These are all factors that contribute to this assessment that has basically downgraded the United States from the No. 1 position in terms of global competitiveness to No. 7.
So the question before the house is, What can we do? What should we be doing to avert that crisis? Well, it strikes me, at least, that it starts with having a plan and working together, having the President step forward with a plan that would make sure our economy does not go into a recession next year; that makes sure the defense cuts that would occur under the sequester--which are terribly disproportionate relative to the size of the defense budget as a percentage of our total budget--do not harm our national security interests; figure out ways to solve that problem; reduce spending in other areas to redistribute the cuts. Defense represents only 20 percent of the entire budget, but it gets 50 percent of the cuts under this across-the-board sequester that would take effect on January 1 of next year.
Our national security experts and our military leadership have said that if these cuts take effect, we will have the smallest Army since the beginning of World War II. You have to go back to 1940 to find a time when we would have had an Army that is that small. You have to go back to 1915, before World War I, to find a time when we would have had a Navy that is as small as it will be if these cuts take effect in the number of ships we have at our disposal. And we would have the smallest Air Force, literally, in the history of the Air Force.
That is what our military leadership is telling us will happen if these devastating cuts take effect. You have had the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, the President's own Secretary, say that this would be catastrophic, that these cuts would be disastrous. You have the service chiefs saying the very same thing.
So we have all this right in front of us, staring us in the face, and instead of dealing with that crisis we are putting bills on the floor that really do not have near the consequence--as I said, I am sure important; I am not denigrating at all any of the legislation the Senate is considering, but it seems to be right now geared a lot more toward the election than it is about saving the country and doing the things that are necessary to avoid this cliff that is ahead of us and all the disastrous consequences that come with it.
Now, just again, a point of fact, and I mentioned this before. We have had now 43 months of 8 percent unemployment or above. We have 23 million Americans who are either unemployed or underemployed. We have seen that the data continues to suggest how sluggish our economy is, the impact it is having on the middle class in this country. In fact, middle-class Americans are continually hit by continued bad news.
You start with the fact that since President Obama took office, average incomes have gone down almost $4,000. Added on top of that is the fact that fuel prices have literally doubled in that timeframe--now more than doubled. In fact, we hit, in the month of September--this month--the highest fuel prices ever for the month of September. That is a cost that is borne by middle-class Americans. One of the biggest costs, biggest expenses in their lives is dealing with getting their kids to and from school, getting to work, taking care of the day-to-day activities for which they are responsible. The cost of fuel is a very important pocketbook issue for middle-class Americans. Then you have news the Kaiser Foundation came out with that says health care premiums have gone up by 29 percent. That is despite all the assertions when ObamaCare was being debated that it would drive health care costs down. In fact, the President, as he campaigned for office 4 years ago, talked about bringing the premium for an average family down by $2,500. Well, the opposite has happened. According to the Kaiser Foundation, health insurance costs have gone up by 29 percent. Instead of coming down by $2,500 for the average family, they have gone up by over $3,000 for the average family. So whether it is health care costs, fuel costs, tuition costs, which, by the way, have gone up by 25 percent, or average incomes that have gone down, you see this worsening picture for average Americans. All of that will be dramatically complicated by what is going to happen on January 1 if we do not take action to avert that crisis.
What happens on January 1? As I mentioned, you have an across-the-board cut. It is across the board in the sense that everything gets hit, but not everything gets hit proportionately. Defense, as I said, gets 50 percent of the cuts although it represents only 20 percent of the budget. You are going to have all these cuts that take effect that
hurt the national security budget and the jobs that go with that, but you also have taxes going up. Tax rates go up on January 1, which will absolutely devastate job creation in this country if they are allowed to take effect. In fact, the total amount of tax increases that will hit us on January 1, if Congress does not take action, over a 10-year period is about $5 trillion--about $5 trillion over a 10-year period in additional taxes.
Even if you say, as the President does, that you want taxes to go up just on people who make more than $200,000 a year or couples who make more than $250,000 a year, you are harming almost 1 million small businesses--the very people we are looking to to create the jobs to get the economy moving again--almost 1 million small businesses that file income tax returns. They are passthrough entities or flowthrough entities organized as subchapter S corporations or LLCs; therefore, they file their business income on their individual tax returns. And they would see their taxes go up--almost 1 million small businesses that represent 25 percent of the workforce, hire 25 percent of the workforce in this country. So that is a huge tax increase that is facing job creators in this country come January 1 of next year.
These are things on which the House, the Senate, and the President of the United States ought to be focused. Yet we are not getting that focus. In fact, it is hard to get even information from the President of the United States about how he would implement the sequestration proposal. We had passed legislation earlier this summer which he signed into law in August which required him to submit to the Congress a proposal for how he would implement sequestration. We finally, after a delay--he missed the deadline--received that last week, but, again, it lacks specificity, it lacks detail. Congress asked to have that on program, project specific areas, and we did not get that. So as a consequence, again, we are still operating without the information that is necessary to do something to replace that sequestration.
I have to say that the House of Representatives has attempted--they passed in their budget--in the subsequent reconciliation bill that went with it--a replacement for this sequestration so that we would not have this $ 1/2 trillion cut in our national security budget and all the attendant problems and risks that come with that. Yet that was not picked up, that was not acted on here in the Senate.
So, unfortunately, we are where we are, which is we are going into the election season now. We have not dealt with the across-the-board cuts, the sequestration. We have not dealt with the issue of taxes going up on January 1 on the people who create jobs in this country. For that reason, we have all
these analysts--independents analysts, government analysts--concluding the same thing; that is, we are headed for a train wreck. That is what we ought to be focused on right now.
Frankly, that is not going to happen unless we get some leadership from the President of the United States. We have to have the President engaged, involved in these discussions if we are going to try to solve this problem. I would hope the leadership here in the Senate would be a partner to that as well. I know there are Republicans here who have tried to get votes on ways to replace the sequestration or come up with a substitute for the defense cuts that it includes. We have tried and actually gotten some votes on actually extending the tax rates at the end of the year, but that was voted down here. But the Democratic leadership in the Senate has to be a party to discussions, as does the President of the United States, in order for us to do what is necessary to avert what we know is going to be a calamity come January 1 unless we change course.
As we begin to conclude this particular session of the Senate--I see that my colleague, the Senator from Wyoming, Mr. Barrasso, who is a physician, a doctor, is here. I know he has spoken at great length about the impact of many of the policies that are coming out of Washington on our small businesses, on our middle class, and I certainly would want to give him an opportunity to make some observations about that as well. But I want to conclude by saying I hope that before this catastrophe hits us, we have the foresight and the willingness and the courage to take on these big issues. You cannot solve big issues in this city without leadership. It is going to take leadership from the President of the United States. It is going to take leadership in the Senate. As I stand here today, we have not seen that. We have not passed a budget in 3 years. We have not dealt with any of the long-term problems that are posed and raised by the fiscal cliff that hits us on January 1 of next year. I hope that changes. I hope to see that leadership. And I hope we can get this country back on track.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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