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Public Statements

Budget Control Act of 2011

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. THORNBERRY. Mr. Speaker, this vote is a close call.

Like the vast majority of our colleagues, I do not want to see the federal government fail to meet its obligations. And if the government cannot borrow, the fact that President Obama would decide which bills to pay with the money that is available is not reassuring. He could well refuse to pay Social Security benefits in order to build the maximum amount of political pressure for his agenda.

But I am equally disturbed by the prospect of continuing to spend and borrow as usual. The United States simply cannot continue down this path of fiscal irresponsibility and meet our duty to our children and to future generations. We must cut some spending now, and we must change the system that allows or even encourages such fiscal recklessness.

This bill cuts some spending, although not nearly as much as I would like. The spending it cuts directly is discretionary spending, which is the easiest to cut because it is subject to the annual appropriations process. The bill does not touch mandatory spending, which is well over half of the budget. That is a lost opportunity.

The special congressional committee could recommend changes in mandatory spending and hopefully an overhaul of our tax code, which is a drag on our economy and a burden to all taxpayers. The recommendations of that committee will receive a vote in the House and Senate before the end of the year. That is a potential opportunity.

Significantly, the bill does cut a dollar of spending for every dollar of additional borrowing authority. No more money can be added to the debt without an equivalent or greater cut in spending. That is an important first for our country and an important precedent to set.

The bill also requires a vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. It will be the first such vote in the Senate in 15 years. There is, of course, no guarantee that it will pass, but there is a real opportunity for the American people to let their Senators and Representatives know how they feel. If the polls are correct that over 70% of the people support a Balanced Budget Amendment and if they let Congress know of their support, it should pass.

I am concerned about the way this measure treats defense. The Department of Defense, like any large organization, can be more efficient. Our national security would be devastated, however, if the sequestration cuts were allowed to occur. Every member of the House and Senate, as well as the President, must ensure that they do not.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, there is always the question that must be asked when making a difficult decision on how to vote on a bill: If this bill does not pass, what happens then? There is much about this bill with which I am not satisfied, but I have absolutely no doubt that if this bill is rejected, the next one will be worse. The next bill may come after Social Security checks are not received or after the markets plummet, but there would be another bill, and it will not have the cuts or reforms that are in this one. And it would most likely make even greater cuts to defense.

The bottom line is that this bill is one step in the right direction. I would rather take two, or three, or five steps, but I cannot reject a bill that cuts spending as much as it increases borrowing and that provides the opportunity for greater cuts as well as for real reforms in budgeting and spending. There is much more work ahead, and I will keep pushing for more steps in the direction of fiscal responsibility in the weeks and months to come.


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