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Kerry to House GOP: Negotiate to End Stalemate

Location: Washington, DC

Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) today spoke on the Senate floor to argue in favor of Majority Leader Harry Reid's compromise plan to raise the debt ceiling and cut the deficit, and called on the House GOP to at last negotiate with Democrats instead of only negotiating among themselves.

"This stalemate cannot stand. It's time to for us reach across the aisle. Senator Reid's plan tries to do that. It doesn't touch the Republican holy grail of revenues. Not a dime. And 100 percent of the spending cuts in Senator Reid's deficit reduction plan were supported by Republicans. It shouldn't be this difficult for Congress to do its most fundamental job under the Constitution and preserve the credit rating and reputation of the most powerful nation on earth," Senator Kerry said.

The full text of Senator Kerry's remarks, as prepared for delivery, is below:

Mr. President, when he served in the seat that Sen. McCaskill of Missouri holds today, Harry Truman used to sit in the back row of the Senate chamber and often from that vantage point he would watch the great debates of the New Deal era. He would listen long into the night, and often write letters home to his wife Bess Truman. One night, late after a long debate -- he wrote, "I hear my colleagues, and I pinch myself and ask, how did I get here?" Several months went by and then, again, he wrote to his wife, and he said, Again it is late at night and I am sitting here listening to the debate, I look across the aisle at my colleagues and I listen and listen, and I hear my colleagues and I ask myself -- how did they get here?"

Mr. President, I respect this institution. I still believe in the phrase the "world's greatest deliberative body" which has become a punch line these days but which, when we are bipartisan and serious is still true -- still possible when we rise to the moment. I have seen in the Senate these moments -- as have other colleagues. I have seen it with Ted Kennedy and Bob Dole and with so many others what can be accomplished here. But today, sadly there are a lot of Americans watching Washington and scratching their heads, and saying, "how did these people get here?" They're asking -- do we just not get it? And alarmingly, our allies and enemies abroad are watching with either alarm or delight as they question America's leadership. Some even suggest that this is a sign of American decline. So even without default, just the absence of decision and the presence of partisan chaos are running up a huge cost for our country.

Just the other day, I received a letter from twenty Mayors from Massachusetts. The letter states the time to compromise and resolve this issue is now and complaining that their communities were under the microscope from Moody's because we hadn't gotten our acts together in Washington. Their letter was honest and eloquent, and frankly it shouldn't be so difficult for their warnings and their example to be heeded in Congress.

The Mayors call for compromise shouldn't be so difficult. And the call for compromise by the American people should be listened to and acted on -- now. I've served in the majority and I've served in the minority. I've cast tough votes in times of divided government, under Republican and Democratic Presidents from Reagan to Obama, and I've never seen the governing process so broken because one faction of one side has made "compromise" -- the essence of democracy and the bedrock of our governing system -- not just a dirty word, but a form of treason.

The warnings of mayors were echoed yesterday by leaders of our financial industry. Yesterday, CEOs of major financial institutions wrote "our economic recovery remains very fragile. A default on our Nation's obligations, or a downgrade would be a tremendous blow to our business and investors confidence-raising interest rates for everyone who borrows, undermining the value of the Dollar and, rolling stock and bond markets, and therefore, dramatically worsening our Nation's already difficult economic circumstances." Nevertheless -- still we risk our own well being.

This is one of those times when it's not cliché and it's not hyperbole to say that the whole world is watching. And for the world there are serious consequences in what we do or don't do. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I've heard from officials from all over the world and global business leaders and the message is always the same -- they're watching in amazement and horror at what is going on in Washington. Our friends and allies whose economic fortunes and economies are linked to our own doubt us and worrying about the impact of our dysfunction on their economies. And our economic rivals -- believe me, they're laughing all the way to the bank.

At a time of global economic uncertainty, we should not be adding to the uncertainty by failing to resolve our debt crisis. The International Monetary Fund is warning that actions still need to be taken to stave off contagion from Europe's sovereign-debt crisis.

It is not insignificant that while Harry Reid has been busy trying to find Republicans to join Democrats in a bipartisan solution, Speaker Boehner was trapped negotiating to end a civil war between the responsible and the unreasonable in the Republican Party. A whole day passed while behind closed doors the Speaker negotiated with Republicans, to make a bad bill worse. Then despite a letter signed by 53 Democratic Senators the House sent it's non-solution to the Senate.

That's supposed to be Governing? Now we face a filibuster in the Senate over a plan that has no revenues in deference to Republican demands and which offers cuts Republicans have voted for -- still they resist.

Mr. President, I want to make a distinction here between what's happened in the House and the Senate. Here, we've been working and talking night and day with Democratic and Republican colleagues both to find a way forward -- and for most of us, with no preconditions and with everything on the table. We are still facing obstinate ideological rigidity from House Republicans who have threatened to take our nation into default, downgrade our nation's credit rating and do even more harm to the fragile economy.

It shouldn't be this difficult for Congress to do its most fundamental job under the Constitution and preserve the credit rating and reputation of the most powerful nation on earth. It never used to be this rancorous. As everyone knows, in 1983 President Reagan warned about the danger of default.

Almost 30 years later, it's troubling enough that some House Republicans have turned their back on the legacy of Ronald Reagan, instead playing a cynical game of chicken with the President, Congress and the American people by refusing to negotiate a compromise -- but what's most dangerous is that their ideological rigidity has ground the governing process to a halt and threatened the Senate's ability to do what this particular institution was created to do: compromise -- lead -- and govern. Instead we are struggling to find ways to overcome and circumvent the new House Republicans' novel "negotiating strategy" which is "don't negotiate -- do what we say no matter how dangerous or how little support it enjoys in the country." And it is particularly difficult to negotiate when people ignore the facts. I was disappointed yesterday to hear the Speaker mislead about their plan and dare ask what we've ever offered.

As Senator Moynihan used to say, the Speaker is entitled to his own opinion but he's not entitled to his own facts.

I keep hearing the Republican talking point -- that the President hasn't offered a plan and he hasn't written it down. That's strange. The President put a detailed plan for $4.7 trillion in deficit reduction with reductions in Defense, and with Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security all on the table with savings.

We've repeatedly tried to make this process bipartisan only thus far to be continually rebuffed by Republicans. No one knows this better than my colleague, Budget Committee Chairman Conrad. He has been warning us for years about our unsustainable fiscal. His efforts led to the creation of the Bipartisan Deficit Commission which put forth a concrete solution -- which couldn't pass here because of Republican obstruction, but the President created it anyways.

Because the votes aren't there to support a simple increase in the debt limit, we've bent over backwards to find a compromise that links the debt limit to commitments on significant deficit reductions.

Back in February, the President offered a budget that included more than $1 trillion in deficit reduction. When Republicans said his budget didn't contain enough cuts, he came out with a new proposal two months later which provided a comprehensive, balanced deficit reduction framework to cut spending, bring down our debt and increase confidence in our nation's fiscal strength. This framework would have reduced the deficit by $4 trillion in 12 years or less and reductions would have been phased in over time to protect and strengthen our economic recovery and the recovering labor market. It contained a balanced approach to bringing down our deficit, with three dollars of spending cuts and interest savings for every one dollar from tax reform that contributes to deficit reduction. It called for $770 billion in non-security discretionary spending cuts, $400 billion security spending cuts, $489 billion in Medicare and Medicaid savings, $360 billion in other mandatory savings, and $1 trillion from tax reform. How could I repeate this proposal if it hadn't been written down?

After that was rejectred, in his negotiations with the Speaker, the President put an unprecedented $ 4.7 trillion dollars of deficit reduction on the table, including painful cuts to programs millions of working Americans depend on, even cuts we Democrats hate as a matter of principal -- and the President offered them along with closing wasteful corporate tax loopholes in order to achieve "shared sacrifice." I believe it would have had significant support in the Senate -- instead, House Republicans rejected it and walked away from the process.

The so-called "Gang of Six" in the Senate worked for months to strike a compromise that was balanced as well -- it too could have won significant backing here in the Senate and was applauded by Senators as ideologically and philosophically different as me and the conservative senator from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn. For House Republicans, this too was unacceptable, because they believe there is not a single new revenue or tax savings that can be supported in the entire 72,000 page U.S. tax code.

Recognizing both the stakes for our country, the danger to the economy, and House Republican intransigence, Majority Leader Harry Reid has now offered approximately $2.2 trillion dollars in deficit reduction without additional revenue, composed of cuts Republicans had previously supported. That too was rejected. The Leader's proposal would give our economy the certainty it needs to create jobs today, not six months from now and it provides a certain process for Congress to do its work for the next four months.

Time and time again, I hear those absolutists criticizing the President and Majority Leader's handling of the situation. They ask what our plan is? Well, take your pick -- we've offered compromise after compromise and every time they've said no.

No, the House Republicans would rather spend their time negotiating with themselves and criticizing other proposals than negotiating with Democrats or trying to show that they are willing to compromise.

Here in the Senate, Senator McConnell offered a reasonable compromise that would get us past this hurdle. He proposed a path forward in good faith as way to provide stability for our economy and not have this saga continue. What did House Republicans do? They walked away from even a Republican proposal to ensure our nation didn't default and our economy wasn't hurt.

So what do House Republicans want? They want legislation called the "Cut, Cap and Balance Act." It's so extreme that even Paul Ryan's draconian budget wouldn't fit into its limits.

A week ago today, the Senate defeated the bad version -- Cut, Cap and Balance. This vote made it extremely clear that Cut, Cap and Balance did not have a path forward, but repeatedly House Republicans push for it even though it has already failed in the Senate and the President threatened to veto it.

So when the talk of the "grand bargain" failed, what did the House Republicans do? They further entrench themselves in an extremist position and turn to a new way of passing Cut, Cap and Balance. Have they tried to find a way forward to reaching a real compromise? No, they continue to negotiate among themselves.

And their current refusal to negotiate across party lines flies in the face of the very Republican principles they have espoused.

Why do we oppose the Boehner plan? Because the experts have said that Boehner's plan could trigger many of the consequences as default itself -- including a surge in interest rates that will hurt every American with a mortgage, a student loan, a car loan, or a credit card -- because it would make passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment a condition for increasing the debt ceiling in six months. In other words -- automatic default if they don't get their way. Since there is not two-thirds support in the House and Senate for this amendment, it guarantees default.

Bruce Bartlett, a former economic advisor to President Reagan said, "This is quite possibly the stupidest Constitutional amendment that I think I have ever seen. It looks like it was drafted by a couple of interns on the back of a napkin. " Mr. President -- that's President Reagan's advisor.

Just the other day, my friend and colleague Senator McCain stated that thinking a balanced budget amendment can pass ..."is worse than foolish." He went to say "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 bizarrro."

We can't do this. We can't keep going down this road. This stalemate cannot stand. It's time to for us reach across the aisle. Senator Reid's plan tries to do that. It doesn't touch the Republican holy grail of revenues. Not a dime. And 100 percent of the spending cuts in Senator Reid's deficit reduction plan were supported by Republicans. They were included in proposals from Speaker Boehner's plan, House Majority Leader Cantor, and House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan. Just last night, Senator Reid amended his plan to include Senator McConnell's provision to give the President the authority to increase the debt limit in steps. This gives Members of Congress the chance to register disapproval for increases in the debt limit. This is yet another compromise by the Democrats.

It's the place to start a compromise -- but it takes two sides to compromise. And it takes both houses of Congress to pass a bill. Mr. President, It shouldn't be this difficult for Congress to do its most fundamental job under the Constitution and preserve the credit rating and reputation of the most powerful nation on earth.

And Mr. President, it doesn't take an amendment to the Constitution for us to balance the budget either. It takes the courage of our convictions. We've been here before. In the 1990's, our economy was faltering because deficits and debt were freezing capital. We had to send a signal to the market that we were capable of being fiscally responsible. We did just that and as result we saw the longest economic expansion in history, created over 22 million jobs, and generated unprecedented wealth in America, with every income bracket rising. But we did it by making tough choices. We cast tough votes and some Senators even lost their seats but they committed the country to a path of discipline that helped unleash the productive potential of the American people. Working with Republicans, we came up with a budget framework that put our nation on track to be debt free by 2012 for the first time since Andrew Jackson's administration. It didn't take a constitutional amendment -- it took courage.

Mr. President, we can do that again -- if we get real. If we get serious. There's a bi-partisan consensus just waiting to lift our country and our future if Senators are willing to sit down and forge it and make it real. If we're willing to stop talking past each other, to stop substituting sound bites for substance. If we're willing finally to pull ourselves out of ideological cement that's been mixed over in the House.

And we all know why -- because no one runs for the Senate arguing that the United States should see its credit rating downgraded. No winning candidate has ever suggested veterans or seniors on Social Security should have their checks delayed or that every Americans' interest rates should go up. No one has ever gone into a debate pledging that China and India will be high-fiving knowing that they're going to own this economic century because we can't make our democracy work here at home.

Surely we can agree we can be better than all that -- and that the Senate can again be the place where common sense prevails.

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