The Fiscal Cliff

Floor Speech

By:  Ben Cardin
Date: Dec. 31, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, it is indeed unique that on New Year's Eve we are in session. We still have some very important business we need to take care of for our Nation. We should not have put our country in this position. We should have acted well before December 31. We all understand that, but it is important that we get this work done in the remaining hours of this term of Congress.

On Thursday, the 113th Congress will take the oath of office and we will start a new Congress. Before that, we must get the work of this Congress finished. At a minimum, we need to deal with the impact of tax rates that would go up for every taxpayer in this country unless we take action before this Congress adjourns.

We need to protect middle-income families. We all talked about it. We know that needs to be done. We need to protect Americans from the tax increases that will take effect for the overwhelming majority of Americans--those who are middle-income taxpayers. We need to do this first and foremost because it would create an incredible burden on working families to pay an extra $2,000 to $4,000 of taxes, and we also need to do it to help our economy. That type of money coming out of the economy through additional tax increases would have a very detrimental impact on our economy, which is coming out of a tough period.

We also need to deal with what we call sequestration. I was listening to the senior Senator from Maryland, chair of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski, talk about the effects of sequestration. She is right. Some people may not understand that term, but what it means is that there will be dramatic cuts in governmental agencies, which will not only affect the performance of those agencies but also the contracts they let to the private sector. It will affect not only our domestic budget but our military budget. She went through a lot of the different impacts it will have, from children who are in jeopardy of losing their support from Head Start, to our researchers being denied the resources they need in order to do work that is vital to our economy.

The bottom line is that if we allow the across-the-board cuts to take effect, it will hurt our economy and hurt the job growth in America. We cannot allow that to happen. I expect that we can get this done before this Congress adjourns on January 2.

We also need to deal with what we call the physician fix of Medicare. We can get that done in this Congress. If not, doctors who treat our seniors and our disabled population will find that there will be almost a 30-percent cut in their physician reimbursement. Many physicians would say they are not going to treat seniors any longer with that type of reduction. We understand that. We need to make sure we take care of protecting the reimbursement rates for physicians in the Medicare system. We need to get that done and can get it done before this Congress adjourns.

We need to extend unemployment insurance. There are millions of Americans who depend on unemployment insurance in a soft economic time. They cannot find jobs. Again, this is not only important for the individuals who would be cut off if we do not extend the benefits, it is also important for our economic recovery.

We also need to extend the farm bill. We have heard the consequences if we don't do that. I had hoped they could pass a bill--which this Chamber passed--over in the House. It is unlikely we can get that done in the next 2 days, so we need to make sure we at least extend the current FARM policies in order to make sure we protect the security of our agricultural community and food prices here in America.

All of that we can get done. Hopefully we can get it done tonight but certainly before we adjourn on January 2. We need to complete that work in order to keep our economy moving and to protect the interests of the people in this Nation. Quite frankly, I don't think there is much disagreement in this Chamber as to the method to get that done.

I am disappointed that we are not dealing with a broader budget framework for our Nation. We should have done that well before now. We should do it for many reasons. For one thing, we need it. We have a deficit that is not controllable. We have to bring our deficit into better control. In order to do that, we need to reduce spending and we need the revenues in order to be able to give the right blueprint for America's future and growth.

We also need to get a broader package done because of predictability. The private sector needs to know what the rules are, and they need to know what the Tax Code and spending programs are going to look like. They need to have the confidence that we have our budget under better control. We should have gotten that done.

I have spoken several times on the floor about how we should have adopted the Simpson-Bowles framework. To me, that was a bipartisan, balanced approach for how we could have gotten out of our fiscal problems. We are not going to be able to get that done in the next 2 days before we adjourn on January 2, but we need to recognize that we need to do that.

I have heard a lot of my colleagues come to the floor to speak, and I have to clarify a couple of points. Simpson-Bowles was basically a $4 trillion, 10-year deficit reduction package. It was booked up as the right approach. Many of us have been asking, how we can get $4 trillion done? Well, it is interesting that with the Simpson-Bowles approach, approximately 60 percent was in spending reductions and about 40 percent was in revenue. That was a balanced way to bring down spending but also bring in the revenues we need in order to get our budget into better balance. That is the proper way to do it.

Since the recommendations of Simpson-Bowles, we have done $1 trillion in deficit reduction in domestic discretionary spending. We have gotten that done. Those budget caps are real, and we are living within those budget caps. Sequestration--these across-the-board cuts--would get another $1.2 trillion of spending cuts done. We should not do it through sequestration, but all of us recognize that we need to find ways to reduce spending further.

I have talked on the floor about how we can get that done, particularly in the health care field. Yes, we have to reduce the cost of Medicare, but the way to do it is to reduce the cost of health care. We would have fewer readmissions to hospitals if we implemented the right delivery system protocols, and we would save money for our economy and Medicare. If we use preventive health care appropriately, people will enter our health care system in a less costly way, with more people insured and less use of emergency rooms. Once again, we save money.

Our committees need to come up with these solutions. It is not going to happen with two or three people getting together and coming up with a package. We need the Senate and its committees to work and come up with the right way to reduce the cost of these programs. I think we can do it basically by making the health care system more efficient, and that is much better than cutting benefits. I hope we can work together to get that done. We need to do that.

Yes, we need revenue. I heard some of my colleagues come here and say: Well, look at all the revenue we are going to get under this supposed agreement that has been talked about, which hopefully we will get as early as tonight. We already made a compromise.

The rate at which no American will see any increase in taxes looks as if it will be higher than $250,000. It has been reported it is going to be closer to $400,000. OK. Well, now, what does that mean? That means we are going to get less revenue as a result of this agreement reached tonight. The numbers I have seen--and this may very well change based upon the agreement; hopefully, we are going to have an agreement--but somewhere around $500 billion to $600 billion. That is far short of the $1.2 trillion or $1.4 trillion we have been talking about--the whole--in order to reach that $4 trillion number we all say is the minimum amount we need as per the Simpson-Bowles numbers. So we are going to need more revenue.

Here is the rub, here is the challenge: When we start looking to get more revenue, we are talking about now getting it through tax reform. We all understand we have to reform our Tax Code. It is difficult to do that when we have to produce revenue at the same time because people are looking at trying to do something about rates. Well, since we need the revenue for the deficit reduction package, it will be more difficult.

My point is this: I am disappointed we haven't gotten our work done well before tonight, but it is urgent that we work together, Democrats and Republicans, and get the minimum amount done the American people expect; that is, to make sure tax rates don't go up for middle-income families. We can get that done. We can get that done as early as tonight. We should avoid the immediate sequestration order because that makes no sense--these across-the-board cuts--and figure out a way we can have a much more orderly process for reducing government spending.

We should make sure Medicare is not jeopardized by having a physician fix done in this compromise. We should make sure for the people who are getting unemployment insurance, to maintain their benefits. And we should extend the farm bill. That we can get done in the remaining hours of this legislative session.

I urge my colleagues to continue to work together. I am hopeful our leaders are negotiating a package that can be brought to the floor as early as tonight, certainly before we adjourn on January 2. If we do that, then I think we have completed as much of our business as we can, as well as setting up for the debate in the 113th Congress which will indeed be challenging. But I urge us to work together and put the interests of the American people first.

With that, I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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