Government Spending and Free-Trade Agreements

Floor Speech

By:  Mitch McConnell
Date: March 9, 2011
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, later today Senators will have an opportunity to take a position on government spending. At a time when Washington is borrowing about $4 billion a day, Democratic leaders want to cut about $4.5 billion in government spending for the rest of this fiscal year and call it a day. In other words, they want to take what amounts to a day-and-a-half long holiday from their out-of-control spending and then return to the status quo for the rest of the year.

Let me add that paying lipservice to the threat caused by the deficit is not a substitute for responsible leadership and that the job-destroying tax hikes on small businesses and American families are not the answer to out-of-control Washington spending. At a time when increasing gas prices are already threatening our economic recovery, a minivan tax that some on the other side have proposed will not solve our Nation's fiscal crisis. But I will tell you what it will do. It will destroy jobs and impose a real burden on families every time they fill up at the pump--at a time when people are looking for relief instead.

Democrats' steadfast refusal to cut another dime from the bloated Washington budget has left them no choice, it seems, but to propose raising taxes on American families and small businesses so they can continue spending at unsustainable levels. Republicans, on the other hand, have made a serious proposal to rein in wasteful spending. To me, at least, the choice before us is pretty clear.

As we approach today's vote, it is worth noting that even if we were to pass the biggest spending cuts that have been proposed so far in this debate, it would not even put a dent in the fiscal problems we face as a result of the growth in entitlement spending. Think about it. Democrats have been waging war this week over a proposal to cut $4.7 billion. Meanwhile, the amount of money we have promised to spend on programs such as Social Security and Medicare--money we do not have--is about $52 trillion.

This week's debate is just a dress rehearsal for the big stuff, and so far Democrats are showing they are just not up to it. They either lack the stomach or the courage, and the President, as members of his own party point out, is nowhere to be found on this issue. I have talked about this leadership vacuum repeatedly this week on the entitlements and how their unchecked growth threatens to bury all of us in red ink before we know it. We can argue about whether to cut $5 billion or $60 billion in day-to-day expenses all we want, but the fact is, even if we hit the bigger number, we are still staring at a catastrophe. And the President appears to be totally uninterested--uninterested--in leading us to a bipartisan solution the way Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton did the last time we faced a crisis of this magnitude.

When it comes to another crisis, the jobs crisis, the President is not just failing to lead, he is flatout barring the door with a mountain of stifling new regulations and calculated inaction on outstanding free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama.

This morning, the U.S. Trade Representative is set to testify before the Finance Committee to voice the administration's support of a trade agreement with South Korea. While we support the administration's position on South Korea, the lack of leadership on these two other countries which signed free-trade agreements with us more than 3 years ago is completely disheartening. The reason for inaction is stunning. Union bosses do not want to see them passed. For some reason, they seem to think that expanding the market for U.S. goods into Colombia and Panama somehow hurts them, which is absurd, absolutely absurd. The administration has previously expressed tepid support for these deals, an acknowledgment that expanding markets for U.S. goods can only help U.S. workers and that the picture in Colombia is better than the labor bosses would have us believe, but they have failed to follow through.

The irony of union opposition to these trade deals is that an expanded U.S. presence in Latin America can only help the workers there by exporting U.S. business standards and practices, and, of course, more exports for U.S. firms means more jobs for U.S. workers in the United States.

In the last few weeks, company after company has come before Congress to testify how important accessing Latin American markets is for their future and to create jobs right in America. According to the chamber of commerce, failing to pass these trade agreements, along with the trade agreement with South Korea, could cost us 380,000 U.S. jobs.

While we dither on these agreements, Colombia has moved on. Having been stiff-armed by the United States, it is finding other trade partners. Naturally, Colombia has turned to other countries and, worse, still is warming relations with Hugo Chavez in neighboring Venezuela. Last week, Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos was quoted referring to Chavez as his ``new best friend''--a man who just last year accused Santos of plotting to assassinate him.

At a time when nearly 14 million Americans are looking for work, the President should be listening to those of us who come to him with ways to create jobs. And this is one of them. The administration has no excuse for failing to act on these trade agreements. It is in the interest of our country to approve them. It would create jobs at home at a time when we desperately need them. I am confident Congress could pass these on a bipartisan basis today.

I urge the administration to act today, and not just on South Korea but on Colombia and Panama. I, for one, am prepared to do everything in my power to pass these agreements, all of them together, this year.

Madam President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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