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Public Statements

The Debt Ceiling

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCAIN. Madam President, as the Senator from Illinois just pointed out, today we are 6 days away from a possible default which could plunge this country into a serious crisis. In fact, there are some who view maybe it is not exactly 6 days; it could be a few days more. There are those who argue that somehow--in a bizarre fashion--that somehow we could prioritize our payments to the most urgent requirements, such as our veterans, such at Social Security and others.

I wonder, what if the Greek Government came up with that same proposal as they went into bankruptcy, that they would prioritize spending that is remaining?

The point is, today we are 6 days away. The point is, markets are jittery. Investors are concerned. Most importantly, our constituents are frustrated. They are confused and they are angry. Today, on the front page of USA Today, there is a headline that says:

The Debt: What Americans Think About The Political Debate.

It goes on to say:

Just get it done, work it out.

Another person:

``I'm sick of it,'' says Davis, 73, a retired economist....... ``They're playing games. Here we are, trying to pull ourselves out of recession, and they can't come to an agreement.''

If anyone thinks that the reputation and the approval rating of Congress and the Presidency has improved during this situation we find ourselves in, obviously they are out of touch with their constituents and the American people. Not only are the American people concerned, not only are the American people upset, but I will quote from and ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record an article from this morning's Washington Post.


Mr. McCAIN. That article says:

Frustrated executives say political impasse slows hiring and investing.

Business leaders are growing exasperated with Washington. And they say the dysfunction in the political system is holding them back from hiring and investing.

So where we are is, average American citizens are worried, Social Security recipients who are entitled are calling our offices, and the markets are already jittery. Most economists believe, if we allow this deadline to pass, that we will see a cratering of the financial markets, which, obviously, has a significant impact on savings, on people's holdings in the stock market, 401(k)s, et cetera. Meanwhile, here we are with a situation, and over on the other side of the Capitol, our Republican friends are trying to come up with a proposal that will receive the support of their majority. Over here, we have individuals who believe somehow there is still a chance, at least in this Congress, to pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

I will take a backseat to none in my support of the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. I have voted for it 13 times. I will vote for it tomorrow. What is amazing about this is, some Members are believing we can pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in this body with its present representation, and that is foolish. That is worse than foolish. That is deceiving many of our constituents by telling them that just because the majority leader tabled the balanced budget amendment legislation that, through amending and debate, we could somehow convince the majority on the other side of the aisle to go along with a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. That is not fair. That is not fair to the American people to hold out and say we will not agree to raising the debt limit until we pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. It is unfair. It is bizarro. Maybe some people who have only been in this body for 6 or 7 months or so believe that. Others know better. Others know better.

I am confident, one, someday we will pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Two, I am confident the overwhelming majority of the American people support it. Three, I am convinced that is the only way that at the end of the day, we will get spending under control because I have seen in the past Congress enacting very strong restrictions on spending, such as the Gramm-Rudman legislation, which required spending cuts with increases in spending and all of them failed because Congresses cannot bind future Congresses.

That is why I remain committed to a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. To somehow think or tell our citizens that if we have enough debate on amendments in the Senate, in the short term, in the next 6 days, we will pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution is unfair to our constituents. It is unfair to our constituents, frankly, to come up with a plan--the so-called Reid plan--that is full of smoke and mirrors, and, frankly, does not entail any increase--real spending cuts. It is unfair of the President of the United States to lead from behind. It is unfair of the President of the United States not to come forward with a specific plan that perhaps could be considered by both bodies but only to go out and give lectures and act in as partisan a fashion as I have seen in his addresses to the American people. It is no wonder the approval ratings of the American people of the President and of Congress are literally at alltime lows.

I wish to talk for just a minute about an editorial in The Wall Street Journal this morning. The Wall Street Journal is not known to be--especially on its editorial page--a liberal periodical. It is entitled ``The GOP's Reality Test.'' It talks about:

The debt-limit debate is heading toward a culmination, with President Obama reduced to pleading for the public to support a tax increase and Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid releasing competing plans that are next-to-last realistic options. The question is whether House Republicans are going to help Mr. Boehner achieve significant progress, or, in the name of the unachievable, hand Mr. Obama a victory.

Mr. Obama recognizes these stakes, threatening yesterday to veto the Boehner plan in a tactical move to block any Democratic support.

It goes on and talks about the two-phase Boehner plan.

Congress would authorize $1 trillion in new debt in return for $1.2 trillion.

It has since been scored by CBO, and now I believe that on the House side--they are struggling but I hope will succeed in coming up with a proposal that will authorize the cuts we have advertised.

But I go on to read:

Unless the plan passed, Mr. Obama couldn't request the additional $1.6 trillion debt ceiling increase that he would soon need. The political incentive is for a reasonable package, and many Senate Democrats also don't want to vote for tax increases before 2012.

It talks about the critics, about people putting out statements, telling Republicans, telling the Speaker to come up with a better solution.

The usually sensible Club for Growth and Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, are scoring a vote for the Boehner plan as negative on similar grounds.

But what none of these critics have is an alternative strategy for achieving anything nearly as fiscally or politically beneficial as Mr. Boehner's plan. The idea seems to be if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue, and the public will turn en masse against Barack Obama. The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all the blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor.

This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharon Angle and Christine O'Donnell into GOP Senate nominees. The reality is that the debt limit will be raised one way or another, and the only issue now is with how much fiscal reform and what political fallout.

If the Boehner plan fails in the House, the advantage shifts to Mr. Reid's Senate plan, which would raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion in one swoop through 2012. That would come without a tax increase but also $2.7 trillion in mostly fake spending cuts like less government ``waste, fraud, and abuse.''

How many times have we heard we are going to cut waste, fraud, and abuse?

And a $1 trillion savings from troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan that are already built into the baseline. As fiscal reform, this is worse than Mr. Boehner's plan.

The Speaker has made mistakes in his debt negotiations, not least in trusting that Mr. Obama wants serious fiscal reforms. But thanks to the President's overreaching on taxes, Mr. Boehner now has the GOP positioned in sight of a political and policy victory. If this plan or something close to it becomes law, Democrats will have conceded more spending cuts than they thought possible, and without getting the GOP to raise taxes and without being able to blame Republicans for a debt-limit crackup or economic damage.

If conservatives defeat the Boehner plan, they'll not only undermine our House majority. They'll go far to re-electing Mr. Obama and making the entitlement state that much harder to reform.

Let me say, again, I believe the plan crafted by Senator McConnell that would call for significant cuts in spending, which would not have raises in taxes, would, in the short term, be a most reasonable solution. I hope that on both sides of the aisle we could work together and negotiate a way through that. I also think the much derided by some idea of a committee composed of Members of Congress--of Members of Congress only--from both sides of the aisle, from both sides of the Capitol, to sit down and work out a long-term solution to our fiscal calamities we are facing and those results and those recommendations by that committee be subject to an up-or-down vote only is the only way we can go.

How many times have we had a budget resolution that tasks the various committees to come up with savings and always those savings are phony or they are dismantled on the floor of the Senate? The only way we are going to have the courage to make these cuts is with a committee composed of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the Capitol who come up with tough measures that need to be taken. I believe the American people will support it. If it is not an up-or-down vote, we know what happens around here. Let's be honest. Let's have some straight talk. The special interests prevail, and they would dismantle the tough provisions this committee would come up with. I say to my friends on this side of the aisle, this is a balance, Republican and Democrat. We only control one-third of the government, and that is the House of Representatives. It seems to me a balanced, equal representation is to our advantage.

I just wish to say a word, again, about the Reid plan. First of all, I congratulate the majority leader for coming up with a plan because certainly the President has not. Spectrum auctions is part of it. That is going to provide auction of billions of dollars. I have been in this body for a considerable period of time. I can't tell you the number of times we have called for auction of spectrum. It is an annual basis. It is a copout that prevents us from making tough decisions. Most egregiously, the majority leader's plan provides $1 billion to pay television broadcasters who return unused television broadcast spectrum. The television broadcasters got the spectrum for free, and now we are supposed to ask the taxpayers to give them $1 billion to give back the spectrum they own?

Then, very interestingly, savings in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. There are $30 billion in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reforms. There is nowhere in this proposal that mentions that, but I would point out we have already spent $150 billion on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that we have never seen the end of. Then, of course, the large claim that there is $1 trillion in savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and, of course, that is phony. Everybody knows we are winding down the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So here we are 6 days away, and we still have members of Congress who are saying we have to pass the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. We have Members on the other side who are saying we have to raise taxes. We have a President of the United States who so far has refused to come forward with a detailed plan of his own. That is called leading from behind. It is time we listened to the markets. It is time we listened to our constituents. Most of all, it is time we listened to the American people and sit down and seriously negotiate something before we face a situation where we are depriving the American people of the fundamental right of having a government that doesn't deprive them of the essential services, goods, and entitlements which they have earned.

I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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