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Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. NELSON of Florida. Mr. President, I commend the Senator from Oklahoma. It has been a pleasure working with him as the cochairman of our Senate prayer breakfast, and now having the opportunity this morning with 4,000 people assembled at the Washington Hilton to cochair the National Prayer Breakfast with him-which really is a misnomer because it is an international prayer breakfast. We had people from 150 nations. We had five heads of state there. Of course, we had dual speakers this morning in the persons of former Congressman J.C. Watts and Congressman John Lewis. They were both riveting. I appreciate his collegiality and considerable cooperation as we entered into this delightful once-a-year event that occurs in Washington.

I say to the Senator from Ohio, though, before he walks out the door, that as he was talking about the transportation bill providing jobs, we have a saying in the south: "Amen, brother." We need the jobs in Florida, too. Indeed, they are needed all over the country and that is why I will support this bill, and that is why I did.

I congratulate the chairman and the ranking member of the committee in how they have fashioned this bill. There are parts of this bill I would like to see improved. For years, my State of Florida has given a dollar in in tax and only gotten back about 80 cents. Over the years, my senior colleague, Senator Graham of Florida, has been working on that. Since I have been in the Senate the last 4 years, I have been working with him to improve that. We have got that ratio up to 90.5 percent that we get back for every dollar we send.

In the bill the chairman and the ranking member have crafted, over the 6-year period that will rise to 95 percent. Floridians will be very grateful for that. I wish it could rise 1 percent a year over those 6 years instead of the way it is crafted, which is that it stays at a 90.5 percent return on Florida's tax dollar and then it jumps in the sixth year to 95 percent return on the dollar, but that was part of the give and take.

I would certainly like to improve it, but I am grateful for it, because finally this battle Florida has had for ages in getting a return on its tax dollar, particularly a gas tax dollar it sends to the Federal Government, is going to get some equalization, particularly with other States that have in the past gotten in excess of a dollar's worth when they send in a dollar to the Federal gas tax trust fund. I have lots of good things to say about it, but, oh, does it make it tough in this environment in which we are, a highly charged partisan environment in an election year in which the deficit that was just announced 3 days ago is over a half a trillion dollars.

Now, deficit is a fancy word, but let me say to my colleagues simply what I think it means. It means if we are spending this much in this coming fiscal year, but we only have this much coming in in tax revenues, the difference, since we are spending more than we have coming in in revenue, is the deficit. That has been estimated, in the President's budget, at $525 billion. That is over a half trillion dollars.

Well, what does one do? Where does it come from? If spending is going to be here, but the tax revenues are only here in a given year, what is to be done? The difference is borrowed, and that difference then, when borrowed, is added to the national debt.

We can see if we are borrowing to the extent of over half a trillion dollars a year, it does not take too long to see the national debt just continue to go out of sight, and then on that debt we have to pay interest. When the interest rates go up after this year, then that is another big slug out of the Federal budget we will have to pay, interest on the national debt.

Goodness gracious. And think what we could be doing with money: $200 billion a year in interest. Think what that would buy in the programs that are being cut under this President's budget. These are programs such as law enforcement assistance from the Federal Government such as the COPS program, putting police on the beat, on the street. That is being cut. Education expenditures are being cut. Children's health programs are being cut. Environmental programs are being cut. I could go on.

Yet that creates the environment, the fiscal reality, that in times of huge budget deficits, if you are going to get that figure from here to match your revenues, you either have to cut spending or raise taxes or, in the alternative, stop tax cuts that are projected to go into effect in the future and don't let them go into effect, or both, in order to get your Federal budget into balance.

We had a chance 3 years ago. We were in a surplus situation with so much surplus projected over 10 years. We could have paid off the national debt if we had been wise and conservative in our approach. But we didn't. We went and blew it. We were like drunken sailors, spending and enacting tax cuts that were targeted to the more well off among us. The result is what the President's budget just said. In the budget that was just released, the deficit spending this next fiscal year is going to be over half a trillion dollars.

This is not conservative fiscal policy. This is wild and reckless policy. When you give a continued tax cut to the rich to be financed by out and out borrowing, that is not conservative fiscal policy. That is out of control fiscal policy.

By the way, guess where we borrow that money. We borrow it from Social Security recipients, because we are taking it out of the Social Security trust fund. Guess where else we borrow it. We borrow it from other countries and their companies and their investors. You think it is just you and I who buy U.S. Treasury bills? Some of us do. And we borrow it from us. But you would be shocked to know how much of the Nation's debt and the new borrowing that will occur is being bought up by corporations and governments in China and Japan. If they end up having a good bit of our debt that is owed to them, what does that do toward putting us in a vulnerable position in the future with regard to our foreign policy with those countries, China and Japan? If they own a lot of our debt or, put another way, if we owe them a lot of money, that is not a position in which I think America ought to be.

There are some clever little tricks in this budget, too. They are very technical. For example, one provision is that people are encouraged, if the President's proposal is enacted, to take money out of their individual retirement accounts, IRAs, or their 401(k) plans and put them over into basically a privatizing of Social Security accounts. But the little fiscal sleight of hand is that when you take it out of an IRA, you are going to have to pay taxes on it. Lo and behold, that gins up an additional $15 billion over this 5-year projection in the budget of new tax revenue, to make it appear as if there is going to be more revenue coming in than there is.

This is really not an economic document. It is a political document. Unfortunately, it is a political document that is not a conservative political document. So I am looking forward to us getting our fingers into this budget and beginning to pick it apart. But what it does when you have a budget this much out of control is it makes it so much more difficult for very important programs such as this transportation bill that will provide so many jobs, that will cause dollars to be spent and circulated and restore the economy-it causes it to be a very difficult time in which to enact this kind of legislation, particularly at the level that some of us would like.

Mr. President, I wanted to share my thoughts on this subject.

I yield the floor.

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