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Public Statements

Recognition of the Minority Leader

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, we were originally looking today to begin the presentation of the budget that came out of the Budget Committee, produced by the Democratic majority. It passed on a party-line vote. It was drafted by the majority in secret. It was produced and brought to the floor.

I see the distinguished floor manager of the bill is on the floor today. I certainly have no intention of interrupting the Senator's debate, but I was using the opportunity to speak in morning business, if that is all right.

Under the Congressional Budget Act, we need to produce a budget by April 15. There are 50 hours allowed for debate and an ability to offer unlimited amendments to that most important document. That is where we are. I had hoped we would start today. Now it looks as though we have floor disputes and things are dragging out.

I want to say how this can be handled. If the floor debate is not shortened, I would suggest we could come back the week of April 8 and complete our work by April 15 easily. That would be my suggested way to deal with the most important issue we face as a Nation, our financial future and the debt course we are on. That would be the right thing to do. If the majority leader is determined to move forward even into the weekend, we will be here. We are not going to concede any of the time that is set aside for debate, because this is the first budget that has been to the floor of the Senate in almost 1,500 days, over 1,400 days--4 years. We need to talk about where we are, where we are going as a Nation. So I want to say there will be no yielding of time on this side with regard to the opportunity to discuss the financial future of America.

The American people need to know about this. It should be done publicly. They need to know the choices we are dealing with, how tough they are, but what an opportunity we do have to get the country on a sound path without doing damage to the programs we value in America. We need an open process. The American people need to be engaged with it. But I have to say, it has absolutely been the policy of the majority in the Senate to do just the opposite. Senator Reid said it would be ``foolish'' to have a budget. He has held that view for 4 years now.

The law requires us to have a budget by April 15. He has refused to do so because he did not want to be responsible for laying out a financial path for America. Those are the facts.

The House passed legislation that said: No budget, no pay. Now the Senate is moving forward with a budget, at least to get it out of the Senate and pass it out of the Senate, and then probably we will get paid.

It is important that the budget be moved. It should not be a pro forma act but a very serious evaluation of where we are. I want to say this to my colleagues as we confront the difficult choices facing our country: This is so important to me. I believe, based on a series of important studies in recent months, all of which having come to the same conclusion, that the debt level the United States has today is already pulling down economic growth. It is one of the reasons--maybe even the largest reason--that we have had such little economic growth.

Our debt to GDP ratio--the gross debt to GDP ratio--is over 100 percent. According to the Rogoff-Reinhart study that has been out there for a number of years, which was widely praised, which Secretary of Treasury Geithner told us was a very important study, and which maybe underestimated the risk our Nation faces, but has been universally praised--they say, when debt exceeds 90 percent of GDP, based on their studies of economies all over the world that have gotten into financial trouble, the result is a 1, maybe 2-percent drop in growth. The lack of growth of 1 percent represents 1 million jobs in America. So the difference between 2-percent growth and 3-percent growth is 1 million jobs. The difference of 2-percent growth and 4-percent growth is 2 million jobs, people unemployed, not getting work. Why? Because of the debt overhang that is out there, for a whole lot of factors too complex for us to discuss at this moment, but which are out there that begin to pull down growth.

So one of the reasons we need to decrease deficits in America and balance the budget is to create growth, create jobs, and create prosperity, whereas my Democratic colleagues contend the way to create jobs and create growth is to borrow more money and spend it on a stimulus package. In fact, they have got another stimulus package in the bill they passed out of the Budget Committee, another tax, another borrow-and-spend plan, $100-plus billion.

This is a big difference in where we are. We cannot keep borrowing, to spend, to create some temporary sugar high. It all rubs off in the end. There are the studies out there. I mentioned Rogoff-Reinhart. That has been out several years and has been a topic of great discussion among economists and throughout the field. But in recent months, the International Monetary Fund, certainly not controlled by frugal Republicans, the European Central Bank, and the Bank for International Settlements, all have independently done studies.

And those studies say that debt begins to slow growth. That is what they conclude--that debt slows growth.

Now if that is true, we have a problem, because they say you can carry a certain amount of debt and it does not slow growth, but if your debt reaches 90 percent of your economy, at least according to Rogoff and Reinhart and the numbers they were using--and, by the way, they were using gross debt, it is absolutely clear in their papers, and not the public debt--then you have slow economic growth.

Let us take a minute to discuss growth in public debt. The public debt is external debt of the United States and it is about 76 percent of our economy. The size of our growth of public debt amounts to almost the size of the economy--three-fourths of it. But if you take the gross debt of the United States, including borrowing from Social Security and Medicare and things like that, it is over 100 percent. What I want to say to you is that people have misinterpreted the Rogoff-Reinhart study over the last several years. They thought the debt figure they were referring to was the public debt.

The $16 trillion we see on the debt clocks that show how it is increasing every year--the $16 trillion, almost $17 trillion now in debt--that is the gross debt, and it is over 100 percent of the economy. And they say growth slows every time--it slows relentlessly--we as a Nation run up too much debt and it gets that high. So the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, the Bank for International Settlements may come at it slightly differently, but they all conclude that when debt levels reach as high as we have in the United States, growth slows.

Jobs are lost when growth slows, tax revenue is lost when growth slows, and people are not going to pay taxes if they are not working. Businesses that are not making profits are not going to pay taxes. If businesses are not expanding, not growing, not investing, not hiring, the economy is hampered and the tax revenue to the Federal Government is less, as a matter of fact. But most importantly, people are not working, jobs are not being created, and more people are on welfare. More people are dependent on the government--unemployment insurance--and that is not good.

Are we making some progress? Yes, we are making some progress. The economy had virtually no growth in the fourth quarter of last year--a stunning development. They are predicting a slow growth the first quarter of this year. Last year we were well below predictions. Last year our growth, I believe, was about 2.2 percent. Two years before that, the Congressional Budget Office predicted growth for last year would be around 4 percent. They were predicting 2 years ago that growth for 2013 would be over 4 percent, maybe 4.6 percent. That is what the prediction was. But now, as we enter 2013, it looks as if we will be lucky to get much over 2 percent growth.

I am not saying I know with an absolute certainty that the debt is the factor they have to consider when they calculate our growth out of this recession. I don't know for sure. But I am telling you that Rogoff-Reinhart, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, the Bank for International Settlements--all of those--have concluded when debt is as high as we have in the United States it will slow growth. So I ask: What should we do to get America on a sound path to increase growth at a time we are discussing the budget? We should balance the budget and get on a course to reduce the debt significantly, and we should do it now. If we get that back down, which we can do, we will see more growth. We will see more jobs.

The idea that we should keep borrowing from the future to spend today in order to create growth only has to be said to understand how bogus it is, how irresponsible it is. Why don't we borrow three times as much and spend three times as much if this puts us on a sound path? It doesn't. It weakens us.

The Congressional Budget Office said--when this Congress, and not with my vote, voted for $787 billion for the stimulus package--yes, if you borrow $787 billion from the future and spend it today, you will get economic growth for a few years, but it quickly goes away. The money has been spent. The little lift in the economy is over very quickly. What is left then? CBO now estimates that we are carrying a total of $830 billion, plus interest, from the stimulus, so now we are at $1 trillion in new debt that we have to pay interest on every year and the growth benefit is long gone.

Now hear this, colleagues: Back when the President took office and he pushed through the stimulus package, they said over a 10-year period we would have less growth if we had a stimulus package than if we didn't have a stimulus package. Did you hear that, my colleagues? That is so important for us to understand. You cannot get something from nothing. Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could, as Julie Andrews sang in the ``Sound of Music.'' Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could.

So we borrow the money and spend it today and it is always with us unless we have a plan to pay down the debt, and we have no plan. So already we are about at the point where all the benefits of that stimulus of 3 years ago are gone and we are beginning to have the burden of carrying the debt indefinitely. I think the American people understand that. The people who don't understand that are the Paul Krugmans and the people who have been driving the agenda in the Senate and in this Congress to borrow and spend. We have to get our heads together on that subject.

Finally, I will point out that the budget that has been produced is totally promoted improperly. This budget came out of the committee, and it claims it reduces the deficit by $1.85 trillion, but that is not accurate. It took me a long time, and I had to stay on the staff people for the Democratic majority, but eventually, when confronted with the facts, they had to tell the truth and they told the truth. The sequester cuts--that 60 percent of the Budget Control Act we agreed to 18, 20 months ago--is wiped out. Those cuts are eliminated. But they were really not cuts. They were reductions in growth of spending. But that reduction saved us about $2.1 trillion, and the sequester part is $1.2 trillion. So that is the $1.2 trillion that is wiped out. That means we are going to increase spending $1.2 trillion, and it is not scored in their budget as an increase in spending to offset the $1 trillion in tax increases they have.

When you consider all of that, you will find this budget, with other gimmicks included in it, barely reduces the deficit at all--at best, maybe by $300 billion. And over 10 years that amounts to about $30 billion or $40 billion in deficit reduction a year, when last year our deficit was $1.2 trillion.

So this budget plan increases taxes, it increases spending over our current rate, and it does nothing to change the debt course of America. We need a plan that can balance the budget. We can do that and still increase spending every year. It will balance in 10 years if we stay disciplined, but that is not the plan on the floor right now. Our colleagues need to study this budget and should not be voting for a plan that makes no change in our debt course, that does not create growth, but simply borrows more.

I see my colleague, the Democratic whip, I will call him, on the floor, but I appreciate the opportunity to share these remarks.

I yield the floor.

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