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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. McCASKILL. Mr. President, like my colleague, I appreciate the work he has done on this issue. We have been talking about this for a number of weeks. Our staffs have been hammering out the details.

I will be candid. As I left my office, some members of my staff said: OK, good luck walking that plank. We will see how it works out for you. Because this is politically risky, what the Senator and I are trying to do. As I was riding over here on the tram to make this speech, I got a text message from one of my kids. All of a sudden it became clear to me what this is like. This is like saying no when you are a parent. It is so easy to say yes to your kids. When they want something, when they want to do something we think is risky, the easiest thing in the world to do is to say yes.

When they want money, when they want to have a new car, when they want to borrow your car, when they want to go spend the night at a friend's you do not know very well, when they want to stay out later, when they want this, that, when they want to go to the mall, it is so easy to say yes. It does not take a lot of time. It makes them happy. You feel good. But there is always that voice in your head that says: If I am going to be a good parent, sometimes it is more important to say no.

Well, we have a bunch of people in Congress who have made a lifetime career of saying yes. I understand it. We run for office around here. We want everyone to be happy with us. We want everyone to love us. We do not want to disappoint anyone. We do not want there to be controversy about the decisions we make. So how do we avoid the controversy? We say yes. We say yes. And we have said yes and yes and yes until we find ourselves at this point in our history where our unwillingness to say no, our unwillingness to embrace controversy and political risk, has led us to an economic brink, a place where if we do not do something that is going to make some people angry, that is going to cause some negative ads to be run against us, then we are not doing our job as stewards. That is all we are here. We are passing through. We are not entitled to these jobs. We borrowed these jobs. They belong to the American people, and we have a responsibility as stewards to say no now, to say no.

I remember when I used to tell my kids: It is so much easier for me to tell you yes. And they would say: Well, it is easier for you. It was easier for me. I would say: The right thing to do is for me to say no. And they would say: Well, that is not easier for us.

That is beginning to be what is happening around here. I have noticed some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle saying: We are going to cut, cut, cut, cut. Now it is all bubbling up, with all the people saying: No, you can't cut our subsidy; No, you can't cut the oil company subsidy; you can't cut a farm program; you can't cut this; you can't cut that. Everyone is coming out of the woodwork to protect the spending that is embraced by our bad habit of saying yes.

So that is why this bill is necessary. This is like telling Congress: You have to be better parents, and if you cannot muster the courage to say no, these cuts are going to happen anyway. It is like a discipline for us. And I do not go here lightly. I do not go here without understanding the political risks involved. But I go here because I deeply believe it is necessary for our country. We cannot get control of the deficit if we do not control spending.

Let me talk for a minute about debt and deficit because as I go out and talk to people, there are a lot of people who use those two terms interchangeably. They do not understand. There is a big difference between the debt and the deficit. The deficit is like your monthly budget and not having enough money to come in to meet your monthly expenses. We talk about the deficit on an annual basis: How much money is the government bringing in and how much money is going out. When more is going out than coming in, we have a deficit.

What happens to that deficit every year? It goes on our debt. It is like a family's mortgage. But instead of us paying down the mortgage every year, we keep adding to the mortgage every year. That is why we now have a $1.4, $1.5 trillion deficit this year. We are going to spend that much more than we take in this year. We have $14 trillion in debt. That is the long-term mortgage our country has right now that we owe someone that we have to pay. So we have to get hold of this debt.

I want to compliment the President of the United States because the short-term spending stuff is important. And I want to compliment Senator Sessions. He and I have worked on short-term spending caps for over a year. But now it is time for us to look at long-term discipline and what we can do to get our country on a glide path where we no longer are precariously on the edge of not being the strongest economic power in the world.

Our deficits are unsustainable and our debt is out of control. This bill takes a very measured approach, gives us time to figure things out. It is not like the ridiculous proposal over in the House where we are going to cut $2.5 trillion this year. Anybody who thinks that is going to happen, I have a tutu you need to wear down the hall tomorrow. That is a ridiculous proposal. That is impossible to do. But this bill is possible and responsible. This puts us on a glide path to say to the American people that our spending is going to be capped at a certain percentage of our economic activity in this country. That is possible, and it is responsible, and we should do it.

Who is to blame? Let's be honest about how we got here. The biggest factor in our deficits the last 2 years is our poor economy. I know, I know; you would think it is the stimulus. You would think it is TARP. It is not. Political cheap shots but not true. The biggest fiscal hole we are facing is because of the poor economy.

The biggest increase in spending in the last 2 years? You would think it was the auto bailouts or you would think it was the bank bailout or you would think it was the stimulus. It was not. Do you know what the biggest increase in spending was over the last 2 years? Unemployment benefits because of our bad economy. That was the biggest increase in spending over the last 2 years. Our fiscal hole has grown primarily because of a bad economy over the last 2 years.

But there also have been bad decisions by both parties over the last decade. When Clinton left office, our debt--he may have been running a surplus in terms of the deficit, but our debt was $5.7 trillion. When Bush left office, he had doubled it from $5.7 trillion to $10.6 trillion. And today it is $14 trillion.

Over the past decade, we have had two wars we did not bother to pay for, a brandnew Medicare entitlement--brand spanking new--that was not means tested. We are buying Warren Buffett's prescription drugs. Go figure. Like we are busted and we are buying multihundred-million-dollar billionaires prescription drugs, and we did not bother to pay for it. We have had increases in discretionary spending by both parties that increased our deficit and exceeded inflation.

I want to talk a minute about the boogie man of the TARP and the stimulus. I am so sick of that being blamed. It is so wrong and factually incorrect. We have tax cuts that go on forever that have contributed to this. We have wars that we are fighting that have contributed to this. We have entitlement programs that are not paid for. But the stimulus was a one-time expenditure. It is not something that goes on. It has no tail.

Anyone who understands economics and understands the balance sheet of the U.S. Government knows this problem was not the stimulus. One-third of the stimulus was tax cuts. The last time I looked, unpaid-for tax cuts were the way of the world. One-third of the stimulus was tax cuts. Another third of it, almost, was unemployment benefits. That is not the problem. And TARP? Let's be honest. It was a genius decision in many ways because it stabilized our financial sector, and it has cost us a mere fraction of the money that was used on a temporary basis to make sure our economy did not twist down the drain, as it was likely to do had President Bush not intervened with his economic team to ask us on a bipartisan basis to do something that was in the best interest of our Nation.

We can move on as to who is to blame because now we have to talk about tomorrow's problems. I am proud the President is dealing with short-term spending by his freeze. I am proud he is working on earmarks and all of the other things that are a symptom of the disease around here. But our challenge is long-term spending. In the long term, spending is going to drive the debt up even higher. Medicare and Medicaid cuts are going to double by 2021. Social Security is going to increase by 70 percent by 2021.

We have to look at those issues and make sure on a bipartisan basis we do what is responsible. We have to make sure these programs--Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security--are stable and secure for my children and their children. If we cannot agree even on the modest measures such as the 3-year discretionary spending cap Senator Sessions and I have been pushing for over a year, I question whether we have the discipline to do the hard work. Getting control of spending is very hard, but we have to do it, and we have to do it now.

First and foremost, we need to focus on eliminating the waste and mismanagement. That is what drives Americans crazy. It drives people crazy that we are spending money on duplicative programs and we are not even checking to see if they work. It drives them crazy when the Federal Government runs huge deficits and we are paying out $55 billion in improper payments at Health and Human Services and $12 billion of improper payments by Treasury to people who do not even qualify.

It drives Americans crazy when we do not make the reforms our auditors recommend. The Defense Department has 1,200 suggestions that have been made by our government auditors about how it can manage its money and its programs better, and they have not acted on almost 1,200 of them. It drives people crazy we are running deficits when we have Departments such as the Agriculture Department and Homeland Security that get failing management grades for 8 straight years. And it drives people crazy when we are running deficits and we are passing appropriations bills with $15 billion worth of earmarks.

I have been working hard to try to clean up all this waste. We have been working on contract management. I have never requested an earmark. I voted against every omnibus appropriations bill that has come to the floor since I have been a Senator, and I have worked hard for the last year with Senator Sessions to cap spending. Now I look forward to working hard with Senator Corker and many of my friends in the Republican Party to work on the Corker-McCaskill bill to put a cap long term on spending in the Federal Government.

As I say, this is a bold step. It has risks. And if this bill is distorted and twisted, it could cost me my Senate seat. I will say that again. If this bill is distorted and twisted, it could cost me my Senate seat. But it is a price I am willing to pay. It is a price I am willing to pay for my country and, more importantly, it is a price I am willing to pay for my grandchildren.


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