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Public Statements

Daunting Fiscal Challenges

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Madam President, I rise to speak about the daunting fiscal challenges our country faces and the urgent need for comprehensive bipartisan action to address our crushing debt burden. I have long believed we need to get serious about the deficit. Since I came to the Senate, I have worked to reform the way Congress conducts our own business, reducing the budget of Congress, fighting for appropriations project reform, and working to restore our pay-as-you-go rules and the budget process to ensure we are only funding new programs if outdated or duplicative programs are cut.

I was one of a handful who fought for the creation of the fiscal commission, and I have supported efforts by both Republicans and Democrats to responsibly reduce the deficit. We wouldn't have even had the commission that worked all this past year and came up with a report that many people tI have introduced a bill, along with Senators Begich and Blumenthal, that would allow for price negotiations. Allowing Medicare to directly negotiate these prices, as the Veterans' Administration does, could save us $240 billion over the next 10 years.

We also need to take a more serious look at Medicare fraud. Law enforcement authorities estimate Medicare fraud costs taxpayers more than $60 billion every year. This means as much as 20 percent of total Medicare spending is lost to fraud each year.

To help combat these types of fraud, I have introduced the IMPROVE Act--Improving Medicaid/Medicare Payment Policy for Reimbursement through Oversight and Efficiency--which would help deter fraud by requiring direct depositing of all payments made to providers under Medicaid and Medicare. These criminals scheme the system to rob American taxpayers of money that should be used to provide health care to those who need it most. We must put a stop to it. Putting an end to waste, fraud, and abuse is a critical step to save taxpayer dollars as we look for ways to make our health care system more efficient. But we need to continue to look for other ways to make our government and the way Washington works more efficient as well.

I mentioned efforts to reduce duplicative programs in our government, but we should also take a close look at the different agencies. For example, we could cut $75 billion from our defense spending by restructuring our budget and increasing efficiency. Whether it is holding civilian workforce levels where they were in fiscal year 2010, which would save $13 billion, or making targeted changes to Pentagon missions and priorities, which would save $11 billion, or even just doing away with unnecessary studies and internal reports, which would save $1 billion, these cuts all add up.

Secretary Gates has proposed and supports these cuts, and I believe they are necessary as we look for ways to streamline our government and reduce our deficit. When Secretary Gates says he does not need a certain type of a

plane because he has another plane, I think we should listen to that as we look at how we are going to save money in this government.

In addition to cuts in spending and efforts to streamline our government, we also need to take a serious look at revenues and ways we can streamline our Tax Code to pay down our debt and ensure that the United States remains competitive in this global world.

Despite the fact that Federal revenue is at the lowest level as a percentage of GDP since 1946, our efforts last year to let the tax rates for the wealthiest Americans return to what they were under President Clinton were blocked even though it would save $690 billion over the next decade. You have said it, Madam President, for people making over $1 million--ror those people who make over $1 million a year, if you have their taxes set at the levels during the Clinton era--at a time when we were very prosperous--you would save nearly $400 billion in 10 years on the deficit. While not all my colleagues agree on how or even whether we should raise more revenue, every serious bipartisan proposal has made it a clear must.

In the quarter century since the last comprehensive tax reform, the system has been riddled with expenditures that benefit special interests and hurt competitiveness. These expenditures add up quickly, costing us over $1 trillion a year. For example, despite oil and gas companies reporting record profits in recent years, they will receive an estimated $35 billion in tax breaks over the next decade. And there are many companies that attempt to evade our tax system altogether. Closing these loopholes could save tens of millions of dollars for American taxpayers. Expenditures such as these riddle the individual income Tax Code as well.

One aspect that is worth looking at--and something near and dear to the heart of every American who owns a home--is the mortgage interest deduction. I have used it. Everyone I know who has bought a house has used it. Here is the deal. The deduction is expected to lower tax revenues by nearly $500 billion from 2010 to 2013. However, most of the benefits do not go to the middle class. So one idea--and this came out of the fiscal commission--is to make sure those benefits are firmly there for the middle class; that is, to set the credit at equal to 12 percent of interest payments on up to $500,000 of mortgage debt on principal residences. So here is what this means. If you buy a house for $1 million, you still get the mortgage deduction, but it is up to $500,000 in the value of the home. If you get a house for $300,000 or for $400,000, it is not going to change the mortgage deduction at all. But what does it do for taxpayers? Well, phased in slowly to protect the housing market, this proposal would save $400 billion or more over the next decade.

By taking steps such as these, we can lower tax rates, broaden the base, simplify the Tax Code, and at the same time bring down the deficit. This will benefit working families and make America more competitive in the global economy.

These ideas are just a few of the ideas that I believe warrant a closer look and should be considered as we look to reduce our Nation's deficit. Together, they represent at least $1 trillion in savings that could be included as part of a bipartisan, long-term deficit reduction plan, in addition to a lot of the work we have already done this year for spending cuts. We can look at some additional ideas for next year, and there are many, many more. These are just simply some I hope the President includes in his proposal and that the deficit commission includes as well.

Tomorrow we will hear from the President, and I hope we hear a plan that reflects the challenges we face as a nation, that builds on the work of the fiscal commission, and that brings both parties to the table for a grownup debate.

The sooner we can agree on a long-term package of smart cuts, the better for our economy and the better for our country. I am hoping we can put partisan differences aside to work on an agenda that strengthens our economy, promotes fiscal responsibility, and increases global competitiveness because if we refuse to have an honest conversation about this, if we insist on just using the debate as a vehicle for angry rhetoric and an excuse for taking cheap political shots, we will not just be doing ourselves a disservice and this institution a disservice, we will be cheating our children and our grandchildren out of knowing the America in which we grew up.

The deficit is not just going to fix itself. We all know that. We all know we cannot just close our eyes, click our heels, and--poof--the debt goes away. In their report, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility wrote that ``every modest sacrifice we refuse to make today only forces far greater sacrifices of hope and opportunity upon the next generation.'' And they are right. The longer we wait, the more wrenching the choices become, the more we set ourselves up for becoming another Greece or Ireland and having a potential meltdown in our financial system. But do you know who is really going to be making the painful choices if we do not do anything right now? That is right, it is our kids and our kids' kids. Is this really the legacy we want to leave them?

This is our challenge, and it will be a hard challenge to meet.

But I am confident we can come together to make these tough choices to do what is right for our economy and to renew the American promise of progress and opportunity for generations to come.

Thank you. I yield the floor, and I note the absence of a quorum.


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