BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. HATCH. Mr. President, right now the Federal deficit stands at roughly $16.4 trillion. I don't know how anyone can hear that number and not be appalled, nor do I believe there will be, over 10 years, $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction. In fact, I don't see any deficit reduction except, perhaps, bringing our soldiers back, but that is not particularly deficit reduction since it looks as though we are going to have difficulty maintaining the military with the strength it has had in the past.
Think about it, $16.4 trillion. It is incredible. The Federal Government is currently operating with just $25 million of so-called headroom underneath a statutory debt limit which, to be more precise, is $16.394 trillion. We are told that we reached the debt ceiling at the beginning of the year, and in order for the government to pay for obligations without further borrowing, Treasury has been using so-called ``extraordinary measures,'' such as changing the finances of certain Federal savings plans.
Sadly, the use of such measures has become the norm under this administration and under this Senate majority, where budget and debt decisions are continually made through last-minute, closed-door deals. I don't think the American people can stomach another cliff scenario. I don't think they want to turn on the news and see another clock counting down to the latest in a string of perfectly avoidable crises.
There is a better way to legislate. I am not talking about some novel or unheard of approach. I am talking about doing things through the regular order. Anyone watching the Senate operate over the last few years probably doesn't know what I am talking about. There is a process that has been established to facilitate compromise and move even controversial pieces of legislation over the finish line.
Under this process bills are assigned to committees where they are debated and discussed in hearings and markups. Committees are able to consider and process proposals before legislation is brought to the Senate floor. While this system isn't perfect, moving a bill through the committee greatly improves its prospect for passage in a divided Senate.
This isn't meant to be a civic lesson. I know my colleagues understand how the committee process works. As we debate yet another major piece of legislation that hasn't gone through a committee, I don't think a reminder is out of order. We need to return the Senate to regular order, which includes processing budgets through the Senate Budget Committee and processing the debt limit through the Senate Finance Committee.
We are told if we pass this legislation, the administration will be able to borrow to be able to pay off incoming obligations until May 19. Then, presumably, we will be back to the use of ``extraordinary measures,'' which as I understand it will get the government through the end of July before we are once again talking about a possible default.
That is not the way to run a government. Prospects of more debt limit impasses and threats of future defaults serve only to elevate uncertainty among the American people about whether the Federal Government will honor its financial obligations. Unfortunately, this administration has continued to play on this uncertainty for political purposes. Rather than working with Congress to resolve our fiscal mess, the President throws out suggestions that Social Security recipients would not receive their benefits or that our troops would not get paid. Indeed, it seems that the President is more interested in engaging in political fights and manufacturing straw men than he is in eliminating threats to the fiscal security of our Nation's seniors and our troops.
At the same time, we wait for the first Senate budget in 4 years. I was heartened when I heard the news that the Democratic leadership plans to move forward with a budget this year. However, I am disappointed by indications that no effort will be made in the budget to rein in our unsustainable entitlement programs. I hope that is not true because, to borrow a phrase from the President, ``We can't wait.'' Entitlement reform can't wait.
Even the trustees of Social Security and Medicare have stated that the entitlements are unsustainable, and they urge quick action. Those trustees include senior officials in the Obama administration who could hardly be viewed as deficit hawks.
These are the problems our Nation faces. Our fiscal and economic well-being literally hang in the balance of these debates. If the Senate is going to be up to the challenge of fixing these problems, we are going to have to start doing things differently. We shouldn't wait until the Nation's finances reach yet another cliff sometime this summer before we start talking again and addressing our unsustainable fiscal situation. That is not what the American people want to see, and that is not the direction in which we should be going.
I believe my colleague from Montana feels the same way; that we can start the talks now in committees and do the things we should in committee and report bills to the floor. Even if we can't support them, at least they will be done the right way. A return to regular order would provide a potential solution, but it wouldn't require that we begin work immediately; that we don't just wait until the last minute and have these decisions made in the office of the majority leader.
Even if we were to pass the stop-gap debt limit suspension measure before us, there is precious little time for us to act. I have suggested and will continue to suggest that the Senate Finance Committee begin to engage now on a longer term debt limit solution. The bill before us would only eliminate the prospect of Federal default until sometime in the summer. That means if we go through regular order, we have only a few months at best to debate, have hearings, process proposals, and make decisions.
I am not under any illusions this process will be easy. If we want to avoid another cliff scenario in late July, this is the best way to go forward. It is the best path forward.
We don't need any more last-minute deals to avoid going over cliffs. We certainly don't need any more countdowns or threats of default and downgrades to our Nation's credit rating. Of course, we don't need to wait in the hopes that President Obama will finally break his string of failures to arrive at a so-called grand bargain. We have the tools at our disposal to address these problems, but, as I said, we need to start now, immediately.
As the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, I am committed to working with my colleagues on the committee--those on both sides of the aisle--to reach a long-term solution on the debt limit. I believe this process can put us on a path to tax and entitlement reform, which is the key to righting our Nation's fiscal course and putting us on a better economic footing.
The measure before us is not a long-term solution to the debt ceiling or our fiscal predicament, nor is it intended to be. I am convinced that if we want a long-term solution, and if we want to avoid facing yet another cliff, we need to restore regular order in the Senate. I think anything short of that is not going to work.
We have good people on both sides of the floor, people who love this country, people who really can work together if they will. We have committees set up to take care of these problems, but they are being bypassed. We must find ways of working through the committees.
We have a number of people on both sides who need to deal with the uncertainties, the problems and the difficulties in these fiscal matters. I have confidence in our chairman and in his leadership, and I know this is not his fault. I think he would prefer regular order, as would I. It puts a lot more burden on us as committee members, but that is where it ought to be. We ought to be able to face these problems.
We have excellent people on both sides on the Finance Committee. I would like to see the Finance Committee do its work and have the confidence that we should and get this done in a proper manner, in the right way, before we go off the fiscal cliff again or before we need to be faced with the fiscal cliff.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. HATCH. Mr. President, the debt limit alone, under the current administration, had been increased by over $5 trillion. That is simply unsustainable.
Not to worry, I have recently been told. We have made massive progress toward promising deficit reduction. I hear this even though we have not seen any significant actual reduction.
I have been hearing bold claims by my friends on the other side of the aisle about having attained trillions in budget ``savings'' and deficit reduction in just the past couple of years alone. They have gone so far as to say that we have had $2.4 trillion of deficit reduction legislated in the past 2 years. Of course, the deficit reduction has not been realized. It represents promises and plans that even Democrats seek to undo. It is amazing to me that they make these claims.
I have heard bold claims that we have somehow legislated deficit reduction totaling as much as $3.6 trillion from my friends on the other side. I have heard that deficit reduction that has been promised can be broken down to an 80-to-20 ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes.
While I often applaud creativity, I have to say these deficit reduction claims and the ratio of spending reductions to tax hikes is more than creative. It is more like Enron accounting, and if you were running a company in the private sector and made such claims, you would probably end up in jail.
Let me make a few brief comments on the Democrats' Enron accounting of deficit reduction.
First, the so-called spending cuts they identify have not yet been realized, and even they are working hard to undo some of them, if not all of them.
Second, the so-called spending cuts are only cuts if you are selective in the starting point you use to measure whether spending is being cut. Relative to what spending levels would be, had we not had a Democrat spending spree, spending has increased even if you include plans put forward in the Budget Control Act, which have not yet been realized.
Third, the spending-cut-to-tax-hike number thrown around by my friends on the other side of the aisle counts only one discrete tax hike--the one associated with the fiscal cliff bill.
Why do Democrats want to entirely ignore the massive tax hikes associated with ObamaCare that have already gone into effect, with more to come?
Fourth, spending cuts that my friends on the other side of the aisle are banking on when they devise their Enron accounting have not yet been set in place. Until fiscal year 2013 comes to a close, those spending reductions have not actually occurred, and Congress has a long history of promising cuts without delivering.
It is ironic to me that my friends on the other side of the aisle fight tooth and nail against any true reductions in the outsized spending of the current administration. Then when budget realities force consideration of reductions, and legislation is passed promising reductions, Democrats boast of having cut spending to reduce deficits.
Finally, when it comes to actually implement any spending cuts, Democrats want to undo them and replace them with yet more taxes. That is what we are hearing from the other side with regard to the sequestration.
I believe our country faces a large spending problem and that our debt is too big and grows too fast. I believe presenting a picture of our finances that would pass muster only in the Enron accounting department is a disservice to the American people. If my friends on the other side of the aisle want more tax hikes to pay for more spending, then they should just say so. And some of them do, by the way, and I compliment them for doing that, even though I think it is crazy. Cloaking their desires in manufactured claims that we have somehow cut spending 4 to 1 relative to tax hikes is simply dishonest. And I do not think I have been wrong in calling it Enron accounting.
Frankly, I am getting a little sick of it because they throw these figures around as though they are really tax cuts, and they are not tax cuts, and they never will be according to my friends on the other side in what their actions show. So it is important that we get rid of the fuzz and get rid of the buzz and get rid of the phony stuff and the Enron accounting and start realizing that we need to have some real tax reductions.
Frankly, we need to have some real spending reductions. Even if we cannot get tax reductions, we ought to all be working on spending reductions. We ought to be looking at every aspect of this economy, every aspect of our budget, every aspect of our legislation, and we ought to be looking for as many spending reductions as we can find.
Spending is out of control. Even today, you know they are going to be spending well over 22 percent of GDP, according to the best of estimates. The economic results of yesterday that were in the paper of this slow growth ought to be waking up everybody on both sides of the aisle that we are not doing our job. The reason we are not doing our job is because we phony up these numbers that are not really spending reductions, and then we act like everything is hunky-dory, when, in fact, things are not hunky-dory.
We are in real trouble in this country, and it is inexcusable to let the greatest country in the world have to go through this type of charade because we are unwilling to face the music that every individual family in this country has to face on balancing their budgets and on balancing ours.
I think it is time to cut the charade and quit talking about spending reductions that do not materialize and amount to nothing but Enron accounting.
Mr. President, I ask that both sides be charged equally for the time we are in a quorum call.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT