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Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COATS. Madam President, I was puzzled earlier today when the Senate majority leader came to the floor to propose a unanimous consent request that we move forward with this continuing resolution. He is right, we should move forward with this. But I was puzzled by the fact that he said we have been standing around here looking at each other and we are not doing anything. We have not done anything on the Senate floor for the past 36 hours while we are trying to figure out who has the right to offer an amendment and whether that amendment will be agreed to in part of this unanimous consent request limiting the time. The problem here is that we came to the Senate believing each Senator had the right to offer an amendment. That is what we are here to do, debate that amendment, then take a vote on that amendment and pass the amendment. It is not a question of I will not offer my amendment unless it passes. Let's debate it, see how each of us votes, and then go forward.

But the majority leader has essentially said he would decide how many amendments will be offered and which amendments will not be offered, denying Senators the opportunity to bring their amendment to the floor. There is an objection to the majority leader's request to move forward, because Senators have been denied that opportunity. That is not what the Senate is all about. That is not what people elected us to do. We have been in an empty Chamber talking to no one, or at best to each other, and not moving forward with funding this government for the next 6 months in this fiscal year. We are all ready to go forward, but we wish to have the right, particularly as the minority, to offer our amendments to this resolution which provides for this funding. I do not know how I am going to vote on all of these, because on some of them I am not sure what would be brought forward. But we are here to evaluate those, to make our best judgment, to vote our yeas or nays, to be able to explain to the people back home why we voted that way.

Apparently the majority leader has problems with some of these proposed amendments. Maybe he does not want his Members to have to vote on them because it is a tough vote politically. Well, what are we here for? We are not here to find consensus on everything that goes forward. We have different points of view. We will not always have consent to pass everything that is brought forward. We ought to be debating that. There are different visions here about how we ought to go forward. The solution to the problem of moving forward and getting this spending bill in place, which we obviously have to do, is to simply give Members the opportunities to propose their amendments, debate, vote on them, and move on.

Over these last 36 hours, how many of these amendments could we have been debating and voting on? We probably could have cleared out all of the amendments that were proposed by various Members in half that time or much less.

And that is why we are here. We are a divided government, so there are going to be two sides to each issue. Standing around and having one person, the majority leader, decide whether he will subject his Members to a vote because he thinks that might put them in a difficult political situation. His side can offer their amendments, we can offer our amendments. Hopefully, we are offering amendments for the good of the country and not for some political gain or ``gotcha'' amendments. But nevertheless, that is the right of a Senator, to offer whatever amendment he or she deems best in his or her own estimation.

We are sitting here facing a serious debt crisis. Some have said this debt crisis isn't here yet so we have more time to deal with it. I reject that. If $16.7 trillion in debt isn't a crisis, I don't know what is. And at the rate we are going here in Washington, we don't have more time to waste.

But don't take my word for this. Just last week, we had a hearing in the Joint Economic Committee on the debt crisis. In the hearing, we found widespread agreement from witnesses across the ideological spectrum on a variety of issues, including the vital importance of dealing with our long-term debt in a timely fashion and reforming health and retirement security programs to rein in spending and preserve much-needed benefits. I am going to relate some of their testimony, because I think it's important to establish that there is some consensus here on how to move forward. Former Senator and former Senate chairman of the Budget Committee, Judd Gregg, who now serves as the co-chair of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, stated this:

On our current path, this nation goes bankrupt.

A similar statement to the one made by Judd Gregg, a Republican, was made by a Democrat, Erskine Bowles, who headed up the President's own fiscal commission, former Governor Bowles and former Chief of Staff to former President Clinton. He said about the looming debt crisis:

This is the most predictable financial crisis in the history of the country.

That was several years ago and nothing has gotten better since then. We just careen closer and closer to that tipping point. Senator Gregg says on our current path this Nation goes bankrupt. He also noted that mandatory spending is the primary driver of the debt when he said:

Unfortunately, all of the measures put in place have ignored smart entitlement reforms to control spending over the long-term and comprehensive tax reforms to make the tax code more efficient.

We have all heard that before from people all across the political spectrum. There is a growing consensus these elements must be addressed if we are to address our long-term debt problem.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former Director of the Congressional Budget Office, noted:

The level and projected growth of federal debt is a drag on current U.S. economic growth and a threat to future prosperity. ..... the Nation, despite claims to the contrary, remains on a damaging debt pathway.

Dr. Holtz-Eakin countered arguments that reducing the debt is not urgent because the crisis is a distant threat by pointing out the following:

..... the U.S. is already paying an economic price for the excessive federal debt.

He was referring to terms of slow job creation and growth. He went on to say:

The obvious conclusion is that additional deficit reduction is needed to avoid debt-driven economic stagnation.

He called for the following action:

..... a strategy that shifts the focus of spending control to the needed entitlement reforms and shifts the debate on taxes away from harmful higher marginal tax rates in favor of pro-growth tax reform.

Alice Rivlin, the first Director of the Congressional Budget Office and co-chair of the Debt Reduction Task Force for the Bipartisan Policy Center as well as a former resident of Indiana, insisted on the importance of a long-term budget plan that will halt the projected rise in debt. She said:

The prospect of debt growing faster than the economy for the foreseeable future reduces consumer and investor confidence, raises a serious threat of high future interest rates and unmanageable Federal debt service, and reduces likely American prosperity and world influence.

She stressed in her testimony the urgent need to act now to get the Federal debt under control before events overtake us.

A sense of urgency was unmistakably present during this hearing. We read about it in the paper every day. We read about it from columnists and hear it on the radio and television: Why can't you get together and get this thing solved and resolved so we can move forward? You are holding down the growth of the economy. You are keeping people out of work. We are at stagnant growth--half our historic average coming out of a recession.

We all know a significant percent of the money we spend here has to be borrowed from China, Saudi Arabia, from foreign entities. This is no way to sustain and maintain a healthy fiscal situation in this country.

Our final witness at the hearing, Simon Johnson, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, called for significantly more long-term debt reduction than has been contemplated in many of the proposals thus far, suggesting that the U.S. should aim at a national debt in the range of 40 percent to 50 percent of GDP.

Let me repeat that. Simon Johnson said that more long-term debt reduction than has been contemplated in many of the proposals so far needs to be looked at, suggesting the United States should aim at a national debt in the range of 40 to 50 percent of GDP rather than our current 90 to 100. When discussing how much time we have to act, Dr. Johnson said:

We have no idea ..... We should start now.

We absolutely should start now. We should be spending each day here working on a long-term debt reduction plan, because unlike the haphazard, rushed legislation we have seen over the past few years, a real, credible, long-term fiscal plan cannot happen overnight. It requires bold spending reforms. It must include a way to restructure programs like Medicare and Social Security so we can prevent them from going bankrupt and preserve benefits for current and future retirees.

Let me state that again. Those of us who have stood up and taken a stand on dealing with these so-called political suicide issues--Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security--are saying we need to do something now to prevent these programs from becoming insolvent, to prevent benefits from having to be reduced or massive tax increases on the next generation to be imposed in order to keep them solvent. We want to deal with that now so we don't undermine these programs.

Those who say we should not touch Medicare are not being truthful with current and future beneficiaries of that program. The same is true for Social Security. They are saying, we don't want to make the tough decision now to address some of these problems and make sensible reforms. We will be gone when this comes undone. What they are saying to people is that we are going to turn our heads to the plight of future beneficiaries, and even to current beneficiaries of these programs by not doing anything.

It is time we worked together to find a solution to this. I think there is a consensus that comprehensive tax reform--an area that I believe both sides can find common ground. Comprehensive tax reform is absolutely essential, as our witnesses all stated, to providing the growth element so this country and this economy can begin to grow. Additional revenue will come in from a more prosperous nation and from a greater rate of growth, and that will help us reduce our deficit spending, it will help us move toward a balanced budget, and keep us from continuing the plunge into more debt and more deficit.

Comprehensive tax reform is the best way to reduce the debt, grow the economy, and make America more competitive. Grow the economy--not more government. That is what makes us more competitive and puts more people back to work. That is what puts us on a path to American prosperity.

These things will not be easy. It will require time and it will demand political will courage. So let's get moving. The Senate majority leader needs to stop wasting time, allow Members to offer and vote on amendments so we can get to regular business of the Senate done and focus on the larger priority--growing this economy. Your Members, our Members--ones we like, ones we don't like. We are sent here to make the tough choices, to make our yes or our no and represent people back home. That is what the Senate is all about.

So instead of standing here speaking to an empty Chamber and letting the clock run down so these amendments can be closed out and never offered under this bill, we should be debating these issues. In doing so, we can get to the point where we will have our final vote and, hopefully, we will be funding the government going forward. It is called regular business and that ought to be our focus.

Growing this economy and strengthening it for future generations is the challenge before us. It is the challenge of our time. We need political will and courage and boldness to go forward, but it is absolutely essential for the future of this country. I suggest that instead of standing around doing nothing, we begin to address these issues.

Madam President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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