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Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CONRAD. First, I thank my colleagues, Senator Reid, our leader, and Senator Durbin for their kind words. I very much appreciate those kind words. I also must say I am a little taken aback by what I heard earlier on the floor from some of my Republican colleagues because it truly does represent an attempt to rewrite history, the history I have lived in my 26 years in the Senate.

I announced a little more than a year and a half ago that I would not seek reelection, so I don't have a political ox to gore. But I am here to report what I have seen after 26 years of service. Let me start by saying our Republican colleagues at the leadership level decided early on that their strategy to be successful was to stop things from passing in the Senate. It is very clear that has been their strategy. That is why we have seen more than 380 filibusters in this body, which is completely unprecedented in the history of the Senate.

The Republican leader made it very clear years ago that his highest priority was to defeat for reelection President Obama. He did not say his top priority was to solve the problems of the country. He did not say his top priority was to get our economy back on track. He did not say his top priority was to address the deficits and debt of the Nation. He did not say his top priority was to improve the security position of the United States. He said his top priority was to defeat President Obama. Shame on him. That should never be the top priority of a leader in this body, Republican or Democratic. The top priority ought to be to help solve the problems the country confronts.

I am a little cranky because many of my colleagues know my wife and I have a little dog named Dakota that is suffering from cancer. Last night we were up from 12:30 until 5:30 as he was bleeding internally. So I must say I am a little cranky after having been up most of the night, and I got a lot crankier when I heard colleagues say things they know are not true.

When they say there is no budget for the United States, they know that is not true. How do I know it is not true, and that there is a budget? Because I remember what we voted on, and it is in writing. It is a law. It is called the Budget Control Act. The Budget Control Act passed last year and contained the budget for 2012 and 2013. Some say that is not a budget. Let's look to the language of the law itself and see what it says.

Here is what it says: For the purpose of enforcing the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, including section 300 of that Act, and enforcing budgetary points of order in prior concurrent resolutions on the budget, the allocations, aggregates, and spending levels set shall apply in the Senate in the same manner as for a concurrent resolution on the budget.

What they are trying to do is mislead the American people by saying we have not passed a budget resolution. What they failed to tell people is that instead of a budget resolution, we passed a budget law. What is the difference? A resolution is purely a congressional document. It never goes to the President for his signature. So instead of a resolution, we passed a budget law called the Budget Control Act. It set out spending limits not just for 2012 and 2013, it actually set out on the discretionary side of the budget limits for 10 years.

In fact, the Budget Control Act, in many ways, is more extensive than any budget resolution could provide. It has the force of law, unlike the budget resolution that is not signed by the President. It set discretionary caps on spending for 10 years instead of the 1 year normally set in a budget resolution. It provided enforcement mechanisms, including a 2-year provision allowing budget points of order to be enforced. It created a reconciliation-like supercommittee process to address entitlement and tax reforms. It said if the special committee could not agree on reforming the entitlement programs and the tax system of the United States, there would be an additional $1.2 trillion in spending cuts.

Let's add it up. The Budget Control Act first cut $900 billion from the discretionary accounts over 10 years. Then it said if the supercommittee didn't reform the tax system and entitlement system of the country, there would be another $1.2 trillion cut from the discretionary accounts over the next 10 years. That is a total of $2.1 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years. That is the biggest package of spending cuts in the history of the United States. That is a fact.

The Budget Control Act set the spending limits for 2012 and 2013 and further set limits for 8 years beyond that. So when they say there is no budget resolution, what they fail to tell people is there is a budget law.

It is interesting if we compare and contrast what their side presented as their priorities in a budget because Mr. Ryan, their candidate for Vice President, came before the House of Representatives and laid out his budget blueprint. What does that do? First of all, it extends all the Bush-era tax cuts.

Think about this. Here we have a circumstance in which the revenue of our country is at or near a 60-year low. The first thing the Ryan budget does is extend all the Bush-era tax cuts, even those for the very highest income. Then it says that is not enough for the wealthiest among us. So the Ryan budget, after extending all the Bush era-tax cuts, goes and provides another $1 trillion of tax cuts for the wealthiest among us.

I have nothing against wealthy people. I hope all Americans have the opportunity to become wealthy; that would be my fondest hope. That was why I was drawn to public service. What could I do that would strengthen the economy of the United States? It has always been my top priority. It is what I truly believe is essential to our democracy. But in a circumstance in which we are borrowing 40 cents of every $1 we spend, and then to say the answer is more and more tax cuts for the very wealthiest among us and try to pay for it by shredding the social safety net that is critically important to those who are the least fortunate among us, frankly, I think that fails the moral test. I think that fails any moral test of government.

The Ryan budget, which our colleagues have endorsed, would give, on average, those earning over $1 million a year an additional tax reduction of $265,000 a year.

I know if I were listening to this I would say, How can it be that someone earning over $1 million can get a $265,000 tax cut, because that is about all they would pay in taxes. Remember, we are talking about the average for those earning over $1 million a year, so we are talking about not just people who earn $1 million a year but people who earn hundreds of millions of dollars a year. And the average tax cut provided in the Ryan budget for those folks is another $265,000 a year.

What does Ryan do in order to offset that massive additional tax cut for the
very wealthiest among us? Well, here is an interesting quote from a former top economic adviser to Ronald Reagan, a man named Bruce Bartlett, who was a top economic adviser to Ronald Reagan. Here is what he said about the Ryan budget that our colleagues here have endorsed:

Distributionally, the Ryan plan is a monstrosity. The rich would receive huge tax cuts while the social safety net would be shredded to pay for them. Even as an opening bid to begin budget negotiations with the Democrats, the Ryan plan cannot be taken seriously. It is less of a wish list than a fairy tale utterly disconnected from the real world, backed up by make-believe numbers and unreasonable assumptions. Ryan's plan isn't even an act of courage; it's just pandering to the Tea Party. A real act of courage would have been for him to admit, as all serious budget analysts know, that revenues will have to rise well above 19 percent of GDP to stabilize the debt.

Those are not my words. Those are the words of a top economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan.

The Ryan plan is a monstrosity.

If anybody seriously studies the Ryan budget they would have to conclude that Mr. Bartlett is correct, because Mr. Ryan cuts taxes in a very dramatic way for the richest among us. Let me be clear. The first thing he does is extend all the Bush-era tax cuts. Then, on top of that, he cuts the top rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. That provides over $1 trillion of additional tax cuts for the wealthiest among us. And they refuse to do anything to close the tax loopholes that are allowing certain wealthy people to avoid paying taxes in this country entirely.

I have shown on the floor of the Senate many times a picture of a five-story building in the Cayman Islands called the Ugland House. The Ugland House claims to be the home of 18,000 companies. A little five-story building in the Cayman Islands claims to be the home of 18,000 companies. I say that is the most efficient building in the world. Can you imagine 18,000 companies operating out of a little five-story building down in the Cayman Islands?

All those companies claim they are doing business out of that little building for a reason. They claim they are doing business out of that little building in the Cayman Islands because they don't want to pay taxes in the United States. So here is what they do, and it is very clever. Through paper manipulations, they show the profits of certain subsidiaries of their companies in the Cayman Islands rather than in the places where they actually earned the profits. Why would they do that? Because the Cayman Islands doesn't have a corporate income tax. So by showing their profits in the Cayman Islands, even though in truth they were never earned in the Cayman Islands--through accounting gimmicks they show their profits in the Cayman Islands and they aren't taxed. They avoid paying here what they legitimately owe here. What does that mean? That means all the rest of us get stuck paying for ourselves and them.

I said earlier the Ryan budget fails the moral test, and it is not just my judgment that it fails the moral test. How can one justify cutting taxes dramatically for the wealthiest among us and then turn around and shred Medicare, which is what the Ryan budget did? The Ryan budget he initially proposed changed Medicare's finances over time so that instead of Medicare paying 75 percent of health care costs for seniors who are eligible, the Ryan budget, over time, would switch that so Medicare would pay 32 percent. To be clear, under the Ryan plan, we would wind up with a situation in which the majority of one's health care costs, if one is eligible for Medicare, would be paid by that person, not by Medicare. That is to make up for the massive tax cuts he gives the wealthiest among us.

Here is what the Catholic bishops said. The Catholic bishops say the Ryan budget fails the moral test. I agree with the Catholic bishops. This is what they said in the Washington Post in 2012:

A week after House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said that his Catholic faith inspired the Republicans' cost-cutting budget plan, the Nation's Catholic bishops reiterated their demand that the Federal budget protect the poor and said the GOP measure fails to meet these moral criteria.

In any moral test that I know of in any religion, we don't take from those who have the least to give it to those who have the most. I don't know of any religion that practices that as an article of faith--that we take from those who have the least to give to those who have the most.

Anybody who knows me knows I am pretty conservative. I come from a business family. I have a master's in business administration. Throughout my career, I have been someone who has been judged as fiscally conservative, someone who believes deeply in balancing budgets. I was the grandfather of the Bowles-Simpson Commission; served on it proudly. I was one of the 11 votes for its product--5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, 1 independent.

By the way, when our colleagues said this morning we haven't worked in a bipartisan way--well, I have spent 5 years working in a bipartisan way trying to get our debts and deficit under control. Senator Gregg, the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, and I proposed the Bowles-Simpson Commission. We served on it. We voted for it. I subsequently served in the group of six, three Democrats, three Republicans, who were given the assignment by our colleagues to come up with a plan to reduce the deficit. We worked for a year and a half to try to find a bipartisan solution. We have had the Biden group. We have had the supercommittee, all bipartisan efforts that have gone on for years to try to produce an agreement. So my friends saying there hasn't been an effort, that is not true.

What is true is when our friends on the other side were in charge, they brought this economy to the brink of financial collapse. That is the truth. Anybody who doubts it can simply go back to the end of the Bush administration and see where the country was. The stock market was collapsing. The housing market was collapsing. The financial system was collapsing. That is what President Obama inherited. He did not create those crises; he inherited them. At the time President Obama came into office, the economy was shrinking at a rate of almost 9 percent a year. We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. Now the economy is growing at a rate of about 2 percent a year, and we are gaining about 200,000 jobs a month. That is a dramatic turnaround.

So when they ask the question: Are we better off now than 4 years ago? Undeniably, we are better off. Undeniably, we are better off. We have gone from an economy shrinking at a rate of more than 8 percent to one growing at a rate of 2 percent. We have moved from a time when we were losing 800,000 jobs a month to a time when we are gaining about 200,000 jobs a month. We have gone from a circumstance in which the stock market was plunging to a circumstance in which the stock market has about doubled during the time of President Barack Obama. President Obama inherited two wars, a war on terror, a financial system that was collapsing, a financial system that had seen, under the previous President, the debt double; foreign holdings of U.S. debt were tripling; and this President has ended the slide and has us going back in the right direction, and with precious little help from the other side.

I ask the American people before they cast their votes to think back to the final days of the Bush administration. I will never forget as long as I live being called to an emergency meeting in this building with the Secretary of the Treasury of the Bush administration, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the leaders, Republicans and Democrats, in the House and the Senate, and being told by the Secretary of the Treasury and the Bush administration and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve that if they did not act, they expected a financial collapse within days--a financial collapse within days. Those were in the final months of the Bush administration. That is what President Barack Obama inherited.

The hard fact is that when our colleagues were in charge of everything--they had the House, the Senate, and they controlled the White House--they brought this country to the brink of financial collapse. That is a fact. Thank goodness this President, acting with this Congress, was able to draw us back from the brink, but we have a long way to go. We have a long way to go. It is going to take everybody working together to pull us out of the ditch completely.

I have been part of major efforts for the last 5 years--bipartisan efforts--including Bowles-Simpson, the group of six; right now the group of six has been
expanded to the group of eight. We have been working nonstop, hundreds of hours of discussions, on a bipartisan plan--four Democrats, four Republicans--to be enacted when we return, to get America back on track. That is what is required here.

What we saw this morning from our colleagues on the other side is not the answer; it is the problem. The same old tired political gamesmanship is not going to cut it. What we desperately need is Republicans and Democrats working together to solve America's problems. That is what we owe the American people. I very much hope when we return after this election that colleagues on both sides will be prepared to act in that spirit.

I thank the Chair and I yield the floor.


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