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Small Business

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I watched with great interest President Obama's speech about our spending and debt crisis. That is what I would call it. He did not use as stark terms, unfortunately, but it is a spending and debt crisis.

First of all, I am at least a little encouraged that he is finally beginning to enter the debate about this crisis. It is headed to a crisis. It is the greatest domestic threat we face as a nation. At least this speech acknowledges it is a huge threat and that his own budget submitted a few months ago was a pass on all of those big issues and he needed a redo.

This is a great threat to all of our futures and prosperity. Let me try to put it in a little bit of perspective.

Borrowing right now is at least 40 cents out of every $1 we spend. So for every $1 the Federal Government spends, 40 cents of that--over 40 cents--is borrowed money. We are spending $3.7 trillion a year, but we are only taking in $2.2 trillion. Because of that, we have recently been racking up over $4 billion of new debt every day. So every day: new debt of $4 billion a day. And a whole lot of that we owe to the Chinese, more than $1 trillion. That eventually has very serious consequences in terms of our prosperity, our future, the sort of country and vision and future we can leave for our kids.

As interest rates go up--which they inevitably will if we stay on this path--that downright costs jobs. When interest rates go up 1 percent, Federal debt goes up $140 billion because the debt is so much. When those interest rates eventually go up, it makes it harder for all of us and our families to buy cars and homes, to pay tuition, to create jobs if we are a small business.

ADM Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said:

Our national debt is our biggest national security threat.

The highest ranking person in uniform in charge of our national security says our biggest security threat is not Iran or North Korea or anyone else; it is actually this domestic debt issue. Debt at current levels--which is 94 percent of GDP--economists say that is already costing us about a million jobs because our debt level is so great.

Again, at least the President, in his speech today--which is essentially a do-over of his budget from a few months ago--at least the President is beginning to acknowledge that fundamental threat, and that is good. But we need more than a speech, we need more than a vision. We need a real action plan, a detailed plan from the President, and we did not get that today.

So my first reaction to the speech was that it was just that: It was a speech. It was a nice sounding speech. It had a lot of nice themes. But it was a speech. If the President, who is so quick to criticize Congressman Paul Ryan's budget--if he wants to enter the debate, he needs to enter it on a par with that level of detail, that level of specifics that Congressman Ryan and House Republicans gave. So the President needs to submit a new budget, a new detailed proposal, not just give a speech. Then we need to engage in a real debate and come up with a plan, an action plan, to tackle this spending and debt issue. And we need to do that before we vote on any debt limit increase.

Speaking for myself, I am not going to consider increasing the debt limit, which the President wants all of us to do, unless and until there is tied to it a real plan to deal with this spending and debt crisis. So this speech today, perhaps, was a start. But my general reaction is, we need more than a speech. We need specifics. We need a new budget submission.

Then we need to engage in a bipartisan discussion and negotiation. But we shouldn't wait until May, as the President suggested. That should start immediately--tomorrow--because we need to hammer out meaningful details before any proposal comes to the floor for votes to increase the debt limit.

In terms of the general themes the President struck, I have to say I was disappointed because, to my ears, it was the same-old same-old.

The first theme was increasing taxes. He has been at that theme over and over again, and that was absolutely the first theme he hit in his speech--increasing taxes. The problem is, if we look at the level of taxation we have, it is not extraordinarily low, it is not somehow way below normal historical averages. What is way above normal historical averages is spending. So if we just look at the data compared to history, we have a runaway spending problem; we don't have a taxation problem.

The second big theme the President hit was cutting defense spending. Again, coming from a liberal, this is just the same-old same-old--a traditional, predictable theme to cut defense. I don't think that is really a new approach or a new discussion from the President.

The third big theme was to cut tax expenditures. A lot of folks, at least in Louisiana, won't know what the heck that means, so let me translate. Cutting tax expenditures means increasing taxes. It means doing away with certain deductions and certain credits. It means your tax bill goes up. I am all for Tax Code simplification. I think we need an enormously simplified Tax Code. I do think we need to get rid of a lot of deductions and credits, but that should be used to lower the overall rate, particularly rates such as the corporate tax rate, which, in the United States, is the highest of any industrialized country in the world.

In terms of the theme of real cutting, that theme was very short on specifics but very long on general statements, including that entitlement spending--things such as Medicare--would not be covered in reform in any way.

So when we look at these broad themes--and that is all there was, broad themes, not specifics--it was, quite frankly, sorely disappointing. But perhaps at least it is a start. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I hope it is a meaningful start, but to be a meaningful start and to produce fruit, we need to go from a very broad, very general speech to a detailed submission.

The President needs to resubmit his entire budget. This is a do-over, so he needs to resubmit a detailed budget which matches Congressman Ryan's proposal in the level of detail, in the level of specifics the Budget Committee chairman in the House has provided. Then we need to immediately get to a bipartisan discussion and negotiation. We shouldn't wait until May. That should start immediately for one simple reason: I don't think there is any chance of passing any increase to the debt limit without having attached to it major reform, major structural reform that ensures we are on a new path of lowering spending and lowering debt. Of course, I can only control one vote, but speaking for myself, I will say that I won't even consider those proposals to increase the debt limit unless and until there is a proposal that passes the Congress to actually decrease the debt.

Ultimately, the problem isn't the debt limit; the problem is the debt. When an individual has a spending problem or a credit card problem, the solution isn't getting a higher limit on his credit card; the solution is to deal with the spending and the debt problem, which is the underlying, core problem. The same here.

So we need to do that as we move forward in this debt-limit discussion. I hope we will all do that. I hope we will come together in a meaningful, bipartisan way to do that--to actually attack the problem, which is spending, which leads to the second problem, which is debt, and actually propose and pass real structural reform before we even have any vote on increasing the debt limit. I urge all of my colleagues to work constructively in that regard. I hope the President's speech is a start toward that, but, of course, time will tell, and actions versus words are what ultimately matter.

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.


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