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Public Statements

Fiscal Responsibility

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, later today, the Senate will vote to extend Federal unemployment benefits to millions of Americans who are out of work and struggling to make ends meet in a terrible recession.

Ordinarily, this is not a controversial piece of legislation. Everyone agrees we should help people who are struggling to get back on their feet and keep food on the table. Unfortunately, the President has decided to turn this debate into a political exercise.

In his weekly radio address over the weekend and again yesterday at the White House, the President accused Republicans of doing something we have not done. In doing so, he cheapens political discourse and does a disservice to the people this bill is meant to help.

As a former Senator, the President is well aware of how the Senate works. He knew today's vote to extend these benefits had already been scheduled days before he told the Nation, in two national broadcasts, that Republicans were holding it up. He also knew it would pass. But he intentionally implied otherwise, leaving the public without all the facts.

So here are the facts: Republicans support extending benefits to the unemployed. As the President himself said yesterday, we have repeatedly voted for similar bills in the past, and we are ready to support one now. What we do not support--and we make no apologies for this--is borrowing tens of billions of dollars to pass this bill at a time when the national debt is spinning completely out of control.

That is why Republicans have proposed an alternative bill five times that would enable us to extend these benefits without adding a nickel to the debt--a bill Democrats have repeatedly rejected.

There should be no doubt as to what constitutes fiscal responsibility in this debate. Last November, the President himself described a bill to extend unemployment benefits as fiscally responsible because it did not add to the debt. So according to the President's own logic, Democrats who vote to pass this bill and add nearly $34 billion more to the national debt will be doing so in a fiscally irresponsible way, and Republicans who insist on passing it without adding to the debt are being responsible.

The fact is, this debate is not about unemployment insurance. There is no debate in the Senate about whether we should pass a bill. Everyone agrees we should. This debate is about whether, in extending those benefits, we should add to the debt.

If Democrats were as concerned about passing this bill as they say they are, they would find a way to do it without adding to the debt. After all, there is no law that says we are required to exacerbate one crisis in an effort to alleviate another. Most Americans I talk to think a $13 trillion debt is one crisis we cannot afford to put off any longer.

If Republicans have done anything wrong in this debate, it was to underestimate how committed Democrats are to spending money we do not have. Given the choice to extend these benefits without adding to the debt or allowing them to expire, Democrats chose the latter on five separate occasions. They do not seem to appreciate the fact that by adding to the national debt, they are increasing the long-term burden on everyone--the unemployed, the employed and our children and grandchildren who will have to pay for it.

The President likes to point out that Congress has added to the debt in years past. What he does not mention is we were not in the middle of a debt crisis then. We were not being lectured by the French about the need to cut back on our spending. People were not rioting in Greece. We did not have a President who came into office with a list of legislative priorities that would double the national debt in 5 years and triple it in 10.

The President also says Republicans are playing politics in this debate. But by pointing the finger at Republicans, he is attempting to deflect attention not only from his own party's unwillingness to take the debt seriously, he is attempting to deflect attention from Democrats' own fiscal recklessness and its potential consequences for our future.

None of us likes to see good people struggling to find work. We all empathize with the people the President highlighted yesterday at the White House. But let's not forget the role this administration's own policies have played in all this.

If ever there was an indictment of this administration's economic agenda, it was yesterday's press conference. The administration asked taxpayers to foot the bill on a $1 trillion stimulus that he claimed would create 4 million jobs. A year and a half later, the President is standing with three chronically unemployed Americans, some of the victims of a 9.5-percent unemployment rate, asking taxpayers for another $34 billion in deficit spending to continue paying their unemployment benefits. I think most Americans see the connection here.

The President also tried to score political points yesterday by mischaracterizing the debate over the small business bill. Here is another bill that both parties support. Yet the President would have the American people believe that somehow we are trying to hold it up just because the majority leader would rather move on to some of his other legislative priorities than have a vote on a couple of amendments to this bill that would help to create more jobs.

So either the President is misinformed about what has been going on over here or he is deliberately mischaracterizing the situation. The fact is, the Senate is already on this bill and both sides have offered improvements. If the President wants to criticize someone for slowing it down, he should point the finger at his own party for repeatedly taking it off the floor, which brings me to the supplemental war spending bill.

I will remind my colleagues the Secretary of Defense has indicated that failure to pass this bill before the August recess could actually keep our soldiers and marines from getting paid, a point he reiterated in a letter to the majority leader, sent yesterday.

So what is the holdup?

Some Democrats in the House do not want to pass this funding for our troops unless the Senate agrees to tack on billions in unrelated domestic spending. It is time for House Democrats to get serious and stop holding our troops hostage. Let's strip this unrelated funding and pass this war funding bill.

Yesterday, the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee made it clear that he recognizes the need for the Senate to pass the troop funding bill quickly and get it to the President's desk.

Every Member of this Chamber should unite behind this goal. The Defense Department finds itself in the last weeks of the fiscal year with little flexibility to meeting funding shortfalls of the operations and pay for our forces in the field. That leaves it to us to act, and I suggest we do so this week.

I yield the floor.

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