Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, there are many complex issues facing Congress at the moment, many of which have vexed us literally for years. But one issue that demands our immediate attention is the national debt because if we do not do something now to rein in our Nation's out-of-control debt, we may never be able to put America back on a sustainable fiscal and economic path. If that happens, then many of the other issues we face will be largely irrelevant.
We need to give this issue everything we have, and we need to start right now. We need to devote the same kind of energy to this issue that we devoted to other great national threats in the past. That means serious bipartisan negotiation, careful committee consideration, and, yes, tough decisions on the kinds of votes that reflect that. This work will take time. That is why I have been urging Senate Democrats to set the legislative gears into motion right away.
Last week the House passed a bill that would give us 3 months to work out an effective solution to the debt crisis we face. On Wednesday we will take it up here in the Senate. If the House bill passes here and is signed into law, the Finance Committee should immediately--immediately--begin laying the foundation for a solution. Negotiations should begin, hearings should be scheduled, and legislation should actually be marked up.
Three months, as you know, is not very much time in Congress, especially considering the fiscal deadlines we have to address in the coming weeks. Let's use this additional time to develop a plan, a serious, effective, bipartisan plan that can put the debt on a downward trajectory. Let's put together a proposal that gives new confidence to the American people in our ability to work together, with an eye toward improving their lives and their prospects rather than our own. That gives new confidence to the markets and to the ratings agencies that have warned us against doing anything that doesn't address our long-term problem, which is, of course, Washington spending.
I know a number of Democrats view this exercise as little more than an opportunity to raise taxes. What I am saying is that they need to put their preoccupation with taxes aside and focus on the root problem. Raising taxes is something you do when you lack the will or the courage to reform a government that has become entirely too expensive.
It is time to make some tough decisions for a change, and we will only do it if we get started right now, in a bipartisan fashion, through the regular order. I know my constituents are tired of seeing us careen from one crisis to another around here. Regular order is how we will avoid that. Let's avoid the eleventh-hour deals, and that means getting started right now on a legislative plan that can actually pass.
Some pundits claim that Washington is simply incapable of ever solving a challenge as big as this one. They say that our democratic institutions are broken, that divided government precludes us from passing things that matter to the future of our country. I say the opposite is true. History shows that divided government offers actually the best opportunity to finally surmount this challenge.
The President came to office in his first term with a promise to unify our country, to work with Democrats and Republicans to take on America's greatest challenges. Unfortunately, his rhetoric was just that. Four years later, polls show we are more divided as a nation than we were when the President first took office.
As I said last week, I believe the beginning of a second term actually presents a real opportunity to change course, to do the work so many have refused to do for the past 4 years. This is our chance. This is our chance to prove the pundits wrong and actually get something accomplished.
Let's be clear about something up front: Solving our debt problem isn't about austerity, it is about opportunity. It is not about austerity, it is about opportunity. It is about creating some space for businesses to grow and for our rising generation of Americans to feel as though they can look to the future with optimism rather than with dread. But that only comes after some hard work on the debt is done. Let's get to work.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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Mr. McCONNELL. As we have discussed before, and I think it is worth repeating, divided government is actually the best time to do difficult things. We have had four excellent examples in the last 25 years: Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill raised the age of Social Security, which saved that important program for another generation. Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill did the last comprehensive tax reform. Bill Clinton and the Republicans did welfare reform and actually balanced the budgets, believe it or not, in the late 1990s.
There is ample evidence that divided government is the best time to do really difficult things. When you join hands and do it, the American people understand that surely it must have been something we needed to do because these guys actually were able to agree on it.
I hope we won't miss another opportunity. Sometimes I think we are a little bit like the early Israeli Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, who said of the Palestinians that they ``never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.'' It appears as if we have rarely missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Hopefully, we won't miss this one as well.
I thank my friend from Tennessee.
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