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Public Statements

Government Shutdown

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, that is sort of an indication of the kind of problem we have around here, which is the ability to accommodate a simple request that used to be accommodated around here all the time.

Let me say very quickly, what the Senator from South Dakota just said is a massive oversimplification of what is happening. The President of the United States made it very clear, we are not going to fund the government week to week to week to week to week. It costs more money. It is a completely incompetent way to fund the Government of the United States of America. People need to make plans. People need to let contracts. People need to be able to know how much they are going to be spending, how much can they hire, who can they hire. That is an incompetent way to manage the United States.

The President made it clear, we have already done two short-term fundings of the government, and he said we are not going to do it again. It is time to reach an agreement. It is time to show the maturity and the capacity to be able to do the business of our Nation. They are just asking for another delay. But they are not just asking for that, they have also put their ideological wish list into that particular request.

This is a dangerous moment for our economy and for our country. Frankly, it is an embarrassing moment for the Congress of the United States. It is an embarrassing moment, I think, for the American people, who have to watch their Congress struggling to do what we were sent here to compromise and find a way to do the business of our country.

There is a reason we are standing on the precipice of this argument. I believe we can still get an agreement in these next hours. I believe we may well get that agreement in these next hours. But what a show to get there. How extraordinary it is that for the first time since the 1990s, when, incidentally, the Republicans ran the House--does it ring a bell? That is the last time we had a shutdown in the U.S. Congress, and here we are back again with the same threats, the same need to do brinksmanship that puts an ideological wish list on the table, that you cannot pass any other way, to try to force it down the throats of Americans at the last minute by threatening to shut down the government.

I have to tell you, in China, they have to be laughing at us right now. They have to be clapping. How terrific that the United States of America cannot make a decision. Boy, does that send a wonderful message to businesses all around the world: They can't make a decision. They can't decide an energy policy. They can't decide an infrastructure policy.

They can't fix their schools. They can't do anything, and now they can't even get a budget. That is a hell of a message around the world. While we are running the world preaching the virtues of democracy, people have to be scratching their heads and saying, That is what we are going to get?

This is not because both sides of the political aisle cannot agree about a plan for cutting the deficit. This is not about the deficit. We only have to listen to Speaker Boehner and to the President, the majority leader and others, and add up the math. It is beyond dispute that Democrats have agreed to make the largest budget cuts in American history in discretionary spending. It is also beyond dispute that we have agreed to travel far more than halfway. We are at about 73 percent of what they requested in terms of spending reductions.

Last night, the President of the United States sat with Speaker Boehner and said, I agree to your number. This is not about the number. We agree with the number, providing we can also look beyond discretionary spending and look to the larger budget, which is the way we ought to be doing budgeting for the United States. We have compromised. We have agreed to well more than what is reasonable with respect to some of these reductions.

So this is not about making cuts to the deficit. That is not what it is about. America needs to understand that. In a negotiation, there is always a back and forth. There is a give and a take. But we are at this extraordinary moment in American history where a small group of people seems to be intimidating their own leadership.

I keep hearing about what a tough position the Speaker is in. He is not in a tough position. He is the Speaker of the House of the United States of America. It is a job he always wanted. It is a job he wants to have. He asked for it. His position is no tougher than anybody else here who has to make a cut on these kinds of issues. What are you for? But he is allowing this small group, a minority within a group--maybe a minority of a minority, I don't know--to dictate and they are saying, Oh, we have to do this. We have to take America right up to the brink, right up to the edge, and show the world we are not able to do our business in a quiet and responsible and thoughtful way.

Rigid ideology is threatening to shut down the Federal Government of the United States. Let's not play games and pretend with some short-term stopgap measure when the President has said we are not going to do that anymore. It is no way to run the government and it costs more money. They are doing this with impunity because all the voices of moderation and common sense--all the voices on the other side of the aisle who say we don't want to shut down the government--and they really don't. I know some of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle. They get it. They don't want to do this. But either they are not being listened to or something has happened over there where there is a level of anarchy within the institutional process of the Congress that is dictating where we are.

So why is it that 100 percent--100 percent--of the cuts we are being asked to make are coming from only 12 percent of the budget? There isn't an American who will sit there and say, What do you mean? You mean only 12 percent of the budget is up for grabs, and they are taking 100 percent of their cuts from the 12 percent of the budget? That doesn't make a lot of sense. It doesn't make a lot of sense. Defense spending at the Pentagon: Are you telling me that every system we are buying over there, the procurement process of the Pentagon is so perfect that we can't make some cuts? But they are not trying to cut defense. That is not on the table.

Everybody knows the big items of our budget deficit are Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Those aren't on the table. They are not being considered. How can they say this is not ideological when the only things that are being cut in their proposals are the very things some people have been trying to cut for 40 years? They have opposed them as a matter of principle their entire political life and they can't get them any other way, so now they are trying to jam them down the American throat by saying we are threatening to shut down the Government of the United States.

This isn't about the budget deficit. If it were, we would have made the largest cuts in American history because we have agreed to those cuts. Every single one of us understands why we are in the predicament we are in. Yes, we have a huge budget deficit and huge debt. I can't get over how quickly my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are able to forget about how we got here. When President George Bush became President, we had a path toward a $5.6 trillion surplus. We had balanced the budget. We did what we needed to do. Then they came in and passed two huge tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country that they didn't ask for and didn't need, and all of a sudden we had a deficit. Of course, it was because they gave tax cuts on the credit card. Then we had two wars, one of which was a war we never had to have--the war in Iraq at a cost of $1 trillion. That is our deficit. Then they had all their cronies guarding the financial system with the foxes guarding the chicken coops. The result was Wall Street ran away with American economic interests, and we had the housing crisis and the Wall Street crash--the greatest loss of wealth in modern times. As a result was the deficit and the debt went up. When President Obama came into office we were losing 750,000 jobs a month. They forget that. They forget their complicity in that.

So we are where we are now. The fact is this fight--do my colleagues know what they have been trying to do? They have been trying to shut down the government if they don't get Environmental Protection Agency restraints which they weren't able to win otherwise. They have about 65 different ideological wish list items now being reduced, but that is what the fight has been about for these last weeks. Folks, we had that debate. It is fresh in our minds.

This week the Senate debated Senator McConnell's amendment to cut off EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act. It lost. Three other amendments with similar approaches had up-or-down votes. Each one of them failed. The process worked. Amendments were debated and votes were counted.

So now it is do it or we will shut down the government. I don't remember a lot of Americans voting for dirtier air or water they can't drink or longer droughts for farmers but now they are saying the government is going to be shut down if we don't handcuff the EPA.

We have been here before. In December 1995, one of the reasons that the Federal Government shutdown was the Republican attempts to include a ``..... excessive number of anti-environmental riders.'' And here we go again. The Budget Committee chairman, Senator Conrad, reports that last night in the middle of the night, the other side put mountaintop mining riders on the table. What does that have to do with reducing the deficit?

And that is just the start of this ideological excess. Planned Parenthood, we are fighting over whether Planned Parenthood can get any money from the Federal Government for cancer screenings for low-income women.

We had that debate over here. We voted on the House budget to kill Planned Parenthood. It lost. It lost overwhelmingly. Senate Republicans opposed it. So now the gang from the House say defund Planned Parenthood or we shut down the government. Strip Planned Parenthood of money it uses to provide lifesaving, preventative care to millions of women each year or we shut down the government.

Is this about abortion? No. They want to prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving any Federal funds, including Medicaid--a proposal that would cut 1.4 million women off from their health care provider.

This isn't even good fiscal policy--the preventative care saves taxpayers dollars in the long run. Every dollar ends up saving $3.74 of health-related costs to Federal and State governments.

We are talking about women like Jennifer, a woman from Boston who credits Planned Parenthood with saving her life. She had little money and no doctor. She went to Planned Parenthood for a checkup, and the doctors found a precancerous condition of the uterus. She says now, ``Because of Planned Parenthood's early intervention, I was able to have two children and a healthy life.'' But today, here we are--here is the choice they are ramming down our throats: defund that care or shut down the government.

Last year, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees did their job. However, in December 2010, the Republicans objected to even considering this year's budget and forced us into this situation.

That is ideology that has nothing--nothing--to do with balancing the budget.

So if a small ideological group shuts down the government over all this, what happens? What happens?

Well, for all the talk here about jobs and the economy, you would think somebody might be thinking hard about that, especially now that our economy is starting to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs every month.

So just yesterday, one of our leading economists said: ``The economic damage from a government shutdown would mount very quickly. And the longer it drags on, the greater the odds of a renewed recession.''

Goldman Sachs analysts say a shutdown will cost the economy $8 billion every week. The Business Roundtable, whose companies account for $6 trillion in annual revenues, forecast increased sales and hiring by businesses over the next 6 months, but they say even a short shutdown would put that in jeopardy. ``I don't think any of the CEOs would welcome a government shutdown,'' said Ivan Seidenberg. Even Speaker Boehner says, ``if you shut the government down, it'll end up costing more than you'll save.'' The Republican economist Mark Zandi, says a shutdown would not only ``disrupt a wide range of government operations and significantly cut the output of government workers, but the hit to confidence could be serious ..... it could easily undermine confidence as questions grow about policymakers' ability to govern. This would be fodder for a new recession.''

A new recession because ideologues continue to object to the compromises necessary to pass a budget? But here we are hours away from shutting down the government over abortion.

And folks, that is the big danger--that the actions of these ideologues will stop the recovery.

But it has a human face too.

Just yesterday I read an e-mail from a constituent of mine named Tim. He lives in Norwood, MA, and he is a Federal employee at Homeland Security working in Boston. On March 26, he and his wife moved into their first home. Now, if the government shuts down, he will be furloughed. He is worried that he won't be able to pay his mortgage and he is terrified about the consequences this will have on his credit rating.

I have no idea whether Tim is a Democrat or Republican, but I know he didn't vote in November to not be able to do his job or pay his mortgage.

But that is what he is worried about this morning. He is one of 800,000 families that will not be able to go to work and do their jobs. I heard one of them asked yesterday about it and about all the talk that after the shutdown she will get paid, and she said, ``Tell my two-year-old he can eat retroactively.''

But why isn't the job getting done? Because of issues wholly unrelated to the deficit.

And what does it mean to the country?

Well, the last time we had a government shutdown, they told us that at the NIH the scientists doing the research on cancer and cures had to go home. They couldn't work. The only person deemed essential was the guy who came in to feed the lab rats so they would still be alive when the government came to its senses.

Did anyone vote last November for us to stop researching cures to diseases? I don't remember that being a part of the tea party platform. Bu here we are.

At the height of filing season, IRS processing of tax refunds for returns could be suspended. So families who have been waiting for their refund checks won't get them.

During the spring home-buying season, 15,000 homeowners could be prevented from getting a new home loan every week.

We talk about honoring our men and women in uniform and those who have served our country, but we know that during the last shutdown more than 400,000 veterans saw their disability, pension or educational benefits delayed.

We talk about honoring our seniors, but more than 100,000 new Social Security claims were delayed in 1995.

We say we care about the disabled, but during the last shutdown services to 1.2 million people with disabilities were interrupted.

And that is just the immediate consequences of a shutdown. But what about the long term? What happens when the world watches a small group of ideologues making it impossible to pass a budget for 1 year? We are preaching democracy all over the world and we can't make our own work. Our economic competitors are going to take advantage of this opportunity to strengthen their economy at our expense.

Does it make businesses more likely to invest here, or go invest in China and in Latin America where governments are racing ahead investing in infrastructure and energy to own the markets of the future? They are going to laugh all the way to the bank.

But instead here we are, about to shut down the government--and willing to slam the brakes on the investments and the research and development we need to make so America doesn't fall behind other countries. While we have these ideological fights, we eat America's seed corn today, even if it means going hungry tomorrow.

This is about ideology. This is the takeover of our national dialogue by people who actually want to shut down the government--for them, it is a goal not an unintended consequence.

Don't take my word for it. Just listen to them.

Representative Ron Paul of Texas said: ``I don't think it would hurt one bit'': and that ``life would go on without the Federal government.''

Representative Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia said the Republicans are simply ``listening to the American people'' and doing what they want.

Now, I will grant you that Congress needs a ``jolt'' but it should not be a jolt that causes a government shutdown. It should be a ``jolt'' to do the job that we were elected to do.

There is a better way. We can balance our budget and we can grow our economy to benefit everyone and we can do both at the same time. How do I know? Because many of us were there when we did it before. We tackled a budget deficit and created jobs at the same time. And we didn't do it by cutting our budget to the bone.

In the 1990s we grew our way to a stronger economy under the Clinton economic plan. We invested in the workforce, in research, in development, in new industries. As a result, we saw the longest economic expansion in history, creating more than 22 million jobs and generating unprecedented wealth in America, with every income bracket rising. And working with Republicans, we came up with a

budget framework that put our Nation on track to be debt free by 2012 for the first time since Andrew Jackson's administration. Of course, it didn't work out quite that way, what with huge tax cuts, two wars and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression in the 8 years that came before these last 2 difficult and divisive years.

We can do it again. But it is going to take a serious dialogue within the Congress about our fiscal situation, discretionary spending, entitlements, and revenues--a dialogue that is long overdue. We need to work towards a long-term solution to reduce both our current budget deficit and our staggering debt. We will need to reduce Federal spending and make appropriate changes to our entitlement programs to meet the fiscal challenges facing our country.

But that is not what is being debated here today. That is not what the House ideologues are doing. And it is not what the Senate is supposed to be doing. I have been here 27 years. I know that the world's greatest deliberative body can still be a decisive one. But we are not today.

Before we entered into this show-down with the clock ticking towards a shut-down, Senator Inouye and I were going to be in Boston for the groundbreaking of the Edward Kennedy Institute dedicated to the study of how to make the Senate work as an institution.

Ted Kennedy knew what the Senate could do when we made this place work. He understood the differences of 100 Senators from States as different as Alaska and Hawaii, California and South Carolina, Ohio and Oregon. He embraced different accents and different world views even as he was proud of his own. He became living, legislating proof that a most fiercely independent, plain-talking, direct and determined partisan could resolve the hardest issues, staking out common ground with those they disagreed with on almost everything else.

Ted knew that the historic breakthroughs in American politics have been brokered not by a mushy middle or by splitting the difference, but by people who had a pretty healthy sense of ideology. Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch were a powerful team precisely because they spent a lot of time opposing each other. But he knew that they were opponents, never enemies; that they could be friends in life even as they were foes in politics. And again and again, over and over, when this ultimate odd couple found things they were willing to fight for together, arm in arm, all of us in the Senate leaned in and listened--and followed them.

Make no mistake. Were Ted Kennedy serving in the Senate today he would be down on the Senate floor--red faced, fists pounding the bully pulpit--exhorting his colleagues that it is wrong to balance the budget on the backs of working people, that Senators should stop the political gamesmanship, and that we need to get back to doing the business of the American people.

But he would be doing something else, too. He would be working the cloakroom quietly pulling aside Democrats and Republicans. He would be reading the rhythms of the institution. He would be appealing to the better angels of the Senate's nature--because as deeply as he believed in the issues, Ted believed just as deeply in the capacity of his colleagues, at critical times, to put country ahead of party.

Ted Kennedy would be proud of today's groundbreaking for the Kennedy Institute for the Senate. But I know he would be insistent too that we have to break new and common ground in the institution that is the U.S. Senate itself.

Generations of young Americans to come will come to the Kennedy Institute and learn to understand what the U.S. Senate was intended to be.

But 100 Senators don't need to wait that long. We can do what Ted Kennedy and Bob Dole and so many other Senators of both parties used to know how to do--which is find common ground and insist on common sense.

We don't have to shut down the government. We don't have to continue the ideological bloodletting. We can do better than we are doing. The question is whether we are going to get back to work and ensure that the great center of American politics holds once again. Our country deserves that--and nothing less.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.


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