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Public Statements

The Fiscal Cliff

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. BOXER. Mr. President, we are all here and hopeful there will be a deal so we can avert going over the fiscal cliff. I listened carefully to the remarks of my friend Senator Harkin, which I would have to describe as fairly negative. I wish to project a bit more of a positive view.

We all know that no side, if there is a deal, is going to get 100 percent of what they want. We know that because one party doesn't control everything, so we are going to have to meet somewhere in the middle of where both parties stand. We also know if we don't act, 100 percent of the American people are going to start feeling an impact of higher taxes.

I honestly do not worry about the millionaires and the billionaires at all. I don't worry about the people who are fine, who don't even know or care that much about a tax hike that takes them back to the Clinton years when they did very well. I don't worry about those folks. I worry about the folks in the middle. There are always arguments about what that line is. Some say the middle class is at $75,000, some say $150,000, and some go even higher because their States, as is my State, are very high cost-of-living States. So we know if we are going to get a deal, we are going to have to meet somewhere in the middle. To me, if we fail, it will be a very sad moment in history.

I hear a lot of talk about the sequester. I don't know exactly how the President pro tempore voted, but I voted for a sequester if we couldn't find savings as part of a debt limit deal. I am not about to stand here and say we should throw it out. I don't like it; it will bite. But if we said we are going to make savings, and if we couldn't do it one way we would do it through the sequester, then I think we have to step to the plate and admit that is the policy we voted for.

I would much prefer to ease it, and I think there are ways to do that. One way is to bring the money home from the overseas spending account and use that money because we are getting out of Afghanistan, thank God, and the war in Iraq is over. So we could bring home that overseas war account money and use that to soften the sequester or even to stop it completely. My understanding is my Republican colleagues don't view that as real, but the Congressional Budget Office says it is real. So that is a way we can stop the sequester.

Other than that, I think we have to own up to the fact that in the debt ceiling made-up crisis--this is a made-up crisis and that was a made-up crisis--we said if there were not cuts coming forward, we could go to an automatic spending cut regime. We can't run away from things we did, it seems to me.

So I think there are the elements of putting something together. I know the Vice President is working hard with Senator McConnell and Senator Reid as an honest broker to bring us together. I know Senator Harkin is not very optimistic at this point based on what he is hearing. I believe, from what I am hearing, there may be something, maybe--there may not be; we don't know, we haven't seen it. It may be something that extends unemployment benefits, which is very important. It is critical. If we want to talk about the real cliff, it is for the people who are about to lose their unemployment compensation.

The economists tell us that is the best bang for the buck. When we give someone who is unemployed a dollar, he goes out, she goes out, they spend in the community, and it has a multiplier effect that actually spurs economic growth in the community because 70 percent of our economy is based on consumers. If they have nothing, then the communities have nothing, the local businesses have nothing, let alone they would suffer and some, perhaps, lose their houses and such. So we need to do that. That is critical.

If that is not in the deal, that deal is a real problem. So if that is in there, and we do the tax extenders even for a shorter period of time, and we stop raising taxes on 98 percent, 97 percent of the people, I don't think we should prejudge that at this point. The devil is always in the details. Something could come out that is just a nonstarter.

Senator Reid went down to that microphone yesterday and said to the Republicans: We are not cutting Social Security benefits; that is not part of this package: Don't even put it on the table; stop. After the Republicans had their luncheon meeting, they came out and actually took it off the table. That was positive. Don't try to slip things in here that could hurt the people, that will balance the budget on the backs of those who can't do it. Don't bring up Social Security when we are doing a very short term deal to get us over this cliff.

So none of us, except for a couple of people, really know what is in this deal. We are hearing leaks about it, we are hearing rumors about it, but we don't know if we will have the deal. Personally, I hope we have something we can look at and decide whether it is something we can support and not prejudge it at this stage because we have to remember something: This is a compromise. We don't have a parliamentary system of government. One party doesn't run the show. It is shared responsibility. It is frustrating, and it is difficult.

I was able to bring a highway bill to the floor as the chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, doing it with Senator Inhofe, and a person couldn't find two people more philosophically apart than we are. I have seen the President pro tempore do the same in his committee, working with the other side, and he brought out of his committee an incredible bill called the Violence Against Women Act. He did it with the Republicans.

I watched Senator Stabenow and Pat Roberts come forward with a farm bill. I have watched Senator Feinstein in intelligence, and I have watched Senator Levin and Senator McCain. We can make it happen. It can happen. We have to make it happen.

I will close with this: I served in the House for 10 years. I served with incredible Members. One of them was Tip O'Neill, and he was the Speaker. Tip O'Neill had a certain magic about him. The magic was he understood how to get things done because he didn't consider himself Speaker of the Democrats; he considered himself Speaker of the House. He knew the magic number was 218. That was the number. He would come over to me and every Member when there was a tough vote, and he would say: Well, Barbara, can you be with me on this one?

I would say: Gee, Mr. Speaker, I don't think so. It is not good for my district. I really don't think I can.

He would say to me: Well, you know what. If that is how you feel about it, I understand. If I need you, I will come back to you.

Then he would go do the same thing and pick up some Republicans on the other side, and he would get the magic 218 and it would be done.

Right now we have Speaker Boehner, whom I know and like personally, but it seems as though he doesn't want to talk to the Democrats. Nothing is going to get done for our country if we don't talk to each other. We don't have a parliamentary system. We have to work together.

So I wanted to add at least a cautiously optimistic note. I am hopeful we will get something done, and I think if we do, and if it is fair--fair enough--we should get our country off this cliff.

Thank you very much. I yield the floor.


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