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Public Statements

The Fiscal Cliff

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I guess one of the advantages of being President pro tempore is I actually get to preside more than I had for a while and hear some of the speeches of my colleagues, which I appreciate. The Senate is a place I love, as I know the distinguished Presiding Officer does. It is, as I have often said, a place that should be considered the conscience of the Nation. There are only 100 of us representing over 300 million Americans. We should be able to stand and be their conscience.

I worry, though--as I hear the debate on this so-called fiscal cliff and I hear some on the other side say, well, we are not prepared to vote or we don't want to vote--because that means they want to vote maybe. None of us were elected on a promise to vote maybe.

If the other side wants to vote and give huge tax cuts to longtime millionaires, fine, then vote. Vote yes for that if they want. But don't say: We will not have any vote one way or the other; we will vote maybe.

We are supposed to be willing to take the consequences of how we vote. Vote yes or vote no. If a Member wants to vote for keeping taxes lower for the middle class, for those who have hourly wages, for those who work hard in our economy, then stand and vote yes, we want to give them a tax break. If a Member doesn't want to give them a tax break, then vote no. But what is happening, by refusing to vote at all, whether it is the Republicans in the House of Representatives or in the Senate, what they are doing with their ``maybe'' vote is they are going to dramatically increase taxes on the middle class. Then, in an effort to justify that, they say: We wanted to vote maybe because we wanted in the end run to protect millionaires.

Well, millionaires do all right. I know a lot of millionaires. They have told me, as the Senator from Iowa said earlier this morning, they could afford the taxes they paid during the Clinton era because during that era, they made more money than they had ever made. So they paid some of the higher taxes. So what. The amount of money they had at the end of the year was greater than it ever had been.

But we know what happened during that Clinton era. We balanced the budget--incidentally, not a single Republican voted for the plan. In fact, they gave speeches on the floor that the plan would bring about recession, even a depression. Instead, the economy grew faster than it ever had before. People had more money in their pockets than they ever had before. We balanced the budget, and we started paying down the national debt.

When the next administration came in, they gave everybody, including millionaires, a big tax cut. But worse than that, they began a war in Iraq that never should have begun, against Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11, even though we had the Vice President of the United States suggesting in his speeches it was connected with 9/11, claiming there were weapons of mass destruction, even though those who actually read the intelligence--as the former vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Graham of Florida, did, and I did--realized there were no weapons of mass destruction. But they voted for this war.

One of the bad mistakes they made--other than the tragic mistake of going to a war we had no reason to go to; one that cost us thousands of American lives and countless thousands of other lives and $1 trillion--they did something we had never done before in the history of this country, they said: We will go to that war on a credit card. We will just borrow the money.

Vietnam was an unpopular war, but we had a surtax to pay for it. Korea was an unpopular war. We paid for it. World War II--we knew it was the survival of our Nation, and we paid for it. In Iraq, we have spent $1 trillion and we will be spending for longer than any of us in this body will probably live, as we pay for the damage to so many of our brave men and women, and we borrowed the money. We took the surpluses built up over the Clinton era and wasted them.

We are doing the same thing in Afghanistan. This is a country where our reason for going in there was to get Osama bin Laden. When the decision was made to go into Iraq, it allowed Osama bin Laden to escape. We go into a nation-building war, which seems to have no end, again, on a credit card. Osama bin Laden has been dead now for some time. We ought to--to use a phrase of a former Senator from Vermont--we ought to declare victory and get out. But, again, we are doing it on a credit card.

So what do we say? We have two wars we should not be in, and we say: But we have to pay for it. We ought to take some money away from senior citizens. We ought to take money away from education. We ought to take money away from medical research. We ought to take money away from rebuilding what needs to be done in our country to pay for two wars we put on our credit card.

Come on. As one Vermonter said to me: You spend all this money to build these roads and bridges in Iraq and Afghanistan and then they blow them up. Why don't you rebuild our roads and bridges in America? We Americans will take care of them.

So with all the talk of where we are, let's not forget the big elephant in the room; that is, two wars on a credit card--one going far longer than it had any reason to, the other one totally unnecessary in the first place--as much as a couple trillion dollars between the two of them. That was money that could have been spent in America for Americans to make America better. We have wasted it there. Now we say: How can we punish Americans--the average American. How can we punish them for the mistakes we made in going into two wars. We will punish them to pay for it.

Come on. Let's face up to reality.

I suspect I may have more to say on this in the future.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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