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Public Statements

Amending the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, over the past few weeks, Congress has been engaged in a very important debate. It may have been messy, it might have appeared to some as though their government wasn't working, but in fact the opposite was true. The push and pull Americans saw in Washington these past few weeks was not gridlock, it was the will of the people working itself out in a political system that was never meant to be pretty.

You see, one reason America isn't already facing the kind of crisis we see in Europe is that Presidents and majority parties here can't just bring about change on a dime, as much as they might wish to from time to time. That is what checks and balances is all about, and that is the kind of balance Americans voted for in November. The American people sent a wave of new lawmakers to Congress in last November's election with a very clear mandate: Put our Nation's fiscal house in order. Those of us who had been fighting the big government policies of Democratic majorities in Congress welcomed them into our ranks. Together, we have held the line, and slowly but surely we have started turning things around. That is why those who think that no problem is too big or too small for government to solve are very worried right now. They are afraid the American people may actually win the larger debate we have been having around here about the size and the scope of government and that the spending spree may actually be coming to an end. They can't believe those who stood up for limited government and accountability have actually changed the terms of the debate here in Washington. But today, they have no choice but to admit it.

I know for some of our colleagues reform isn't coming as fast as they would wish, and I certainly understand their frustration. I too wish we could stand here today enacting something much more ambitious. But I am encouraged by the thought these new Senators will help lead this fight until we finish the job. I want to assure them that today, although they may not see it this way, they have actually won this debate.

In a few minutes, the Senate will vote on legislation that represents a new way of doing business in Washington. First, it creates an entirely new template for raising the Nation's debt limit. One of the most important aspects of this legislation is the fact that never again will any President, from either party, be allowed to raise the debt ceiling without being held accountable for it by the American people, and, in addition, without having to engage in the kind of debate we have just come through. Because, you see, whoever the next President is will be back asking to raise the debt ceiling again, and it will provide another opportunity for us to focus on the subject raised by the request to raise the debt ceiling.

So we will be back at it--probably in the early part of 2013--trying to continue to make progress toward reducing the size and scope of government and reducing our spending. This kind of discussion isn't something to dread, it is something to welcome. While the President may not have particularly enjoyed this debate we have been through, it is the debate Washington very much needed to have.

As for the particulars, this legislation caps spending over the next 10 years with a mechanism that ensures these cuts actually stick. It protects the American people from a government default that would have affected every single one of them in one way or another. It puts in place a powerful joint committee that will recommend further cuts and much-needed reforms. It doesn't include a dime, not a dime, in job-killing tax hikes at a moment when our economy can least afford them. Crucially, it ensures the debate over a balanced budget amendment continues and that it actually gets a vote.

This is no small feat when one considers that last week the President was still demanding tax hikes as part of any debt ceiling increase, and that as recently as May, the President's top economic adviser said it was ``insane'' for anybody to even consider tying the debt ceiling to spending cuts. It is worth noting that 2 1/2 months later, that adviser is no longer working at the White House and the President is now agreeing, as a condition of raising the debt ceiling, to trillions of dollars in spending cuts.

Let me be clear: The legislation the Senate is about to vote on is just a first step.

But it is a crucial step toward fiscal sanity and its potentially remarkable achievement given the lengths to which some in Washington have gone to ensure a status quo that is suffocating growth, crippling the economy, and imperiling entitlements.

We have had to settle for less than we wanted, but what we have achieved is in no way insignificant. We did it because we had something Democrats didn't have: Republicans may only control one-half of one-third of the government in Washington, but the American people agreed with us on the nature of the problem. They know government didn't accumulate $14.5 trillion in debt because it didn't tax enough. If someone is spending themselves into oblivion, the solution isn't to spend more; it is to spend less.

Neither side got everything it wanted in these negotiations, but I think it was the view of those in my party that we tried to get as much in spending cuts as we could from a government we didn't control. Our view was we would get as much in spending reduction as we could from a government we didn't control. That is what we have done with this bipartisan agreement.

This is not the deficit-reduction package I would have written. The fact that we are on a pace to add another $7 trillion to the debt over the next 10 years is certainly nothing to celebrate. But getting it there from more than $9 trillion the President continued to defend until recently is no defeat either. Slowing down the big government freight train from its current trajectory will give us the time we need to work toward a real solution or give the American people the time they need to have their voices heard.

So much work remains. To that end, our first step will be to make sure Republicans who sit on the powerful cost-cutting committee are serious people who put the best interests of the American people and the principles that we have fought for throughout this debate first. But before we move to the next steps, I would like to say a word about some of those who made today's vote possible, and I will start with Speaker Boehner.

It should be noted that he helped set the terms of this debate by insisting early on that we would oppose any debt limit that didn't include cuts that were greater than the amount the debt limit would be raised, and he stuck to his guns. The Speaker and I worked shoulder to shoulder over the past few months, and it certainly has been a pleasure. He has been a real partner, and I assure my colleagues we wouldn't be here without him.

So I want to thank the Speaker and the entire Republican leadership in the House for standing on principle, and I want to thank my Republican colleagues in the Senate for their determination, their ideas, and their support. We wouldn't be here without them either.

I thank my friend, the majority leader, for his work in getting this agreement over the finish line. We may disagree a lot, but I hope everyone realizes it is never ever personal. I think today we can prove that, when it comes down to it, we will get together when the greater good is at stake.

I also thank the President and the Vice President and everyone on their staffs who believed, as we did, that despite our many differences we could all agree that America would not default on its obligations. It is a testament to the goodwill of those on both sides that we were able to reach this agreement in time. Neither side wanted to see the government default, and I am pleased we were able to work together to avoid it.

This bill does not solve the problem, but it at least forces Washington to admit that it has one. The bill doesn't solve the problem, but it forces Washington to admit that it has one. It puts us on a path to recovery. We are nowhere near where we need to be in terms of restoring balance, but there should be absolutely no doubt about this: We have changed the debate, we are headed in the right direction, and people are wondering how it happened. Well, it happened because the American people demanded it.

So in the end, we are back to where we started. The only reason we are talking about passing legislation that reins in the size of Washington instead of growing it is because the American people believed they could have a real impact on the direction of their government. They spoke out and we heard them. It is only through their continued participation in this process, and lawmakers who are willing to listen to them, that we will complete the work we have begun.

As Winston Churchill once said:

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

I can't think of a better way to sum up this last year and, in particular, these last few months right here in Washington than that.

The American people want to see accountability and cooperation in Washington, and they want to see that we are working together to get our fiscal house in order. This legislation doesn't get us there, but for the first time in a very long time I think we can say to the American people that we are finally facing in the right direction. For that, we have them to thank.


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