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Establishing the Commission on Freedom of Information Act Processing Delays -- Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. MURKOWSKI. Madam President, I follow my friend from California, and I agree wholeheartedly with her that the United States of America cannot default on its debts and obligations. I would like to think that all 100 of us in this body would concur and agree that we must, using every tool that we have at our disposal, using all of our relationships and what we have built as Members in this body and in the House of Representatives, that we use our best efforts to ensure we do not default as a nation but that we go further, that we go further and we offer the people of this country a solution to the problems that have led us to the point that we are today.

We have heard a great deal over the course of these past few days about the Boehner plan and whether it is good, bad, or indifferent, and now the Reid plan and whether it is good, bad, or indifferent. We assumably know what the Republicans want and what the Democrats want.

What about what the people of this country want right now? I don't know what all of the people of America want, but I can give you some ideas about what I am hearing from the people of Alaska and what they are concerned about and what they want from the Senate, from the U.S. House of Representatives, and from the President of this country. They want us to fix it. Odd that it should be so easy. Just fix it. They expect us to do just that. They expect us to fix this problem. That is why they have entrusted us with their confidence by allowing us the privilege to come and represent them in this body to help resolve these issues.

They don't expect that I, as a Republican, am going to resolve it with just the Republicans. They expect that we, as Members of the Senate, will resolve this--Republicans and Democrats alike. They believe we will achieve a compromise built on the good ideas that come from the Republicans and the good ideas that come from the Democrats; that we will come together to solve the problems that affect the people in the great State of Maryland and the people in the great State of Alaska, and all the places in between.

In our effort to fix this, they expect us to compromise. Compromise should not be a negative or a nasty term. It should be what we all work to achieve jointly.

I would suggest that the other thing the people are looking for is honesty. They are listening to this debate. We have received phone calls in my office all day. We have been receiving them all week. I think so many of us have picked up the phones ourselves to hear what people are saying when they are calling. They are saying: Wait a minute. You guys are throwing numbers around. First of all, Speaker Boehner puts out a plan, and, well, it doesn't achieve the 1-to-1 ratio that he thought, so he pulls it back and so we have another set. Now Senator Reid has his proposal on the floor, but people are talking about this $1 trillion that is going for the war effort in Afghanistan and Iraq that we know is not really real and these are phantom numbers.

They are saying: Who are we to believe? Why are you not honest with us about the proposals that are out there? Does it cut? Would you expect that it will cut if, in fact, we are going to be focused on entitlements, Social Security? If we are going to be talking about tax revenues and how we might deal with tax reform? Can you not be honest with us, the American people, your constituents, the people you represent? They want a level of honesty in this discourse. We owe that to them.

People are also looking for certainty. There were some of my colleagues who spoke earlier in the day, and they were speaking from the perspective of small businesses and how--as a small businessman or large businessperson for that matter--it is imperative that in order for a person to make those business judgment decisions in terms of whether they are going to expand, whether they are going to bring on additional employees, they need to have a level of certainty in terms of what is going to go on.

What is going to happen with tax policy? What is the future of the economy going to be? What is the jobs picture like? It is not like we all have a crystal shiny ball out there that we can predict with great precision. We don't. What we ought not be doing is injecting greater uncertainty, and that is what is happening right now.

All throughout this summer we have kind of strung people along. We all knew that August 2 was coming. We all knew the revenue was coming in and the outlays going out were not going to be measuring up, and we were going to be dealing with the potential for a default; we were going to be dealing with the potential for a downgrade in our credit rating. This is no surprise to anybody. That is where our crystal ball actually was pretty transparent. Yet we are not able to pull it together.

We managed to take a recess last week even though we were all promised we were going to be here working around the clock because we had important business to do. I was here with a colleague on Friday morning after the vote, looked around and realized I was perhaps the last Senator left here in Washington, DC. I got on a plane at 2:30 that afternoon to go to Alaska for crying out loud. We should have been here last weekend doing this instead of mere hours before we are up against our default deadline.

What does this do to the certainty or uncertainty in the economic climate, to the investment climate? I hesitate to be one that would suggest that we need to be making market decisions because we can't figure out what is going on here. I can tell you because I am hearing it in the halls. People are saying: I don't know about you, but I am looking at my investment fund or my retirement fund, and I am moving things. That is the kind of confidence they have in our ability to figure it out.

We are seeing it translate in the numbers. We saw that at the end of the week with the markets. We know tomorrow evening when the Asian markets open, everybody in the world from the financial community--this is not just the people in Washington, DC--will be looking to see whether we, as a Congress, have figured it out and if we have fixed it. If we don't, that continued uncertainty just continues this spiral.

We can do a lot in the Senate. We can do a lot in the Congress. We can pass bills and the President can sign them into law. One of the things we cannot legislate is we cannot tell the markets to shape up. We cannot tell the markets to pull it back in, everything is going to be OK. They are picking up on signals, and the signals right now are a level of uncertainty that is rattling.

The other thing that I think the people of this country are hoping for, are asking for, is a level of civility and respect within this body to our President, to those in the other body. We all come from different persuasions. Alaska is different from Maryland. My politics are different from your politics, Madam President, but I have great respect for you. We can argue and we can disagree, but we don't need to poke fingers in one another's eyes to get our point across.

I think what the people have seen, as we have engaged in this debate, is something that does not do justice to the integrity of this institution. We need to get back to that point where we can engage in good debate and disagree heartily and make our arguments without being disrespectful of one another and the perspectives we, as individuals representing our constituencies and our States, bring to the table.

The hour is late. We will have a vote at 1 o'clock in the morning. How dignified. What body comes together at the darkest hour to cast a vote?

Last evening, my brother and sister-in-law were in town. They were passing through very quickly. They were actually able to be here and watch for about an hour and a half while we were engaged in the vote on the floor. My brother and sister-in-law are pretty educated people. They follow the news. They follow the politicians. They were fascinated by what was going on in this body and trying to understand what it was that was going on. I was trying to convey it to them, and I realized, if it is this difficult for me as a Member of this body to explain to somebody who is pretty plugged into what is going on, what is happening here, imagine the confusion of the person who just occasionally tunes in to C-SPAN, who reads the news or watches the evening news but isn't following the day-to-day. What we have managed to do is, on a bipartisan basis, confuse the American public, anger them, frustrate them, and cause them to be fearful about the future of our country. That is not leadership.

We have an opportunity in these next very short days ahead to regain some of this. We have some ideas that are out there. As the Senator from California has mentioned, and many others have mentioned, there are a great number of talks that are going on. There are talks at the leadership level. There are talks going on with those of us who are not part of leadership. That is important. But we need to recognize it is absolutely critical for the future of our country--not the future of our political well-being but the future of our country--that we be coming together to resolve the issues, not necessarily just to broker a deal but to find a solution that puts the interests of our country above our own political interests. That is where we need to be.

I am an optimist. I am a person who has the glass always half full. I remain committed to working with all Members of good will who will stand together to work through these difficult details. It is not easy, but they never promised us it was going to be.

With that, I yield the floor.


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