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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 - Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ISAKSON. I thank the distinguished Senator from Rhode Island for his hard work. I rise to talk for 1 minute about this lameduck session today. We are in the second day of a lameduck session following the elections of a week and a half ago.

We face an impending fiscal cliff. We face the end of the year. We face a day of calling, a day of reckoning. I think I have an obligation as one Member of the Senate, and I think everybody has the same obligation, to come to this floor and talk about the solutions and resolutions, not problems and what we can and cannot do.

We are in a very dangerous position. I have been in this body one other time when we faced a fiscal cliff. It was in September of 2008. I will never forget it. The markets had been collapsing. The subprime securities had been collapsing. The world was in difficult financial times. The President of the United States, at that time a Republican, brought forward a plan to solve that problem or at least to forestall the collapse of the markets and give us a chance to come back over time.

The House of Representatives rejected it and then the markets went down over 800 points in 1 day. Two days later, the Senate came back and adopted a plan to move us forward. The markets stabilized, but they were already at the bottom. They had fallen by 50 percent.

Now here we are almost 5 years later, still recovering from the depths of the drop of the market at that particular period of time. If we do not address the fiscal cliff and

take the first step in this lameduck session to move forward in terms of sanity on taxation, sanity on spending, and sanity on entitlements, then we are going to put ourselves in the same position again.

I happen to think one of the best lines in President Obama's speeches in his first campaign, and he reiterated it in the last one, was when he talked about we are a country not of the red States of America or the blue States of American but of the United States of America.

My predecessor, Zell Miller, former Governor of Georgia, once said: We do not find most Georgians on the very far right or the very far left. We find them in Walmart. They want a fair deal and a fair price and a good deal and they want to be treated right. The American people want to be treated right. They do not want to see their taxes go up at the end of the year. They do not want Congress to turn its back on cutting its spending where it can. They want us to get entitlements so they are fixed for the long run, not in danger of expiring in the short term.

We are this close to being able to find common ground, if we will only take the first step by sitting down at the table. In the last 2 weeks I have heard the first step from both sides of the Democratic and Republican Party. John Boehner, 1 week ago, acknowledged that revenues could be a part of the solution. He acknowledged he wanted to do it through tax reform. President Obama has reiterated, as he did today in his press conference, that he wanted to raise rates on those in the upper income. But when pointed to and when asked by a reporter: Mr. President, that means there is no line in the sand? That means it has to be that tax increase or nothing at all, the President refused to take the bait. He said: I will listen to other ideas. He said: I will sit at the table. He said: But it has to be meaningful common ground. It has to be plans to truly deal with our fiscal cliff, deal with our spending and deal with entitlements and deal with our taxes.

Let me just for a second, if I can, opine on what all of us know: It is a three-part problem, our debt and our deficit. It is spending. It is revenues. It is entitlements. It is not that we do not know what the answers or the solutions are. They are all on the table. They have been visited by the Gang of 6, by Simpson-Bowles, by a lot of the brilliant people in this Chamber, Senator Conrad from North Dakota, who is unfortunately leaving us, has talked about it time and again; Senator Coburn from Oklahoma. Why don't we put those things on the table, sit down around the table and figure out a formula for success to keep us from going off the fiscal cliff?

It is one thing to gain the confidence of the world and investors and the world body politic; it is quite another to lose it. If we ever lose that confidence, if we ever go off that cliff and people no longer think this is still the greatest place on the face of the Earth to invest their money, then America has a harder struggle to come back than it would ever have by facing our problems now.

So for a brief couple minutes, I wish to talk specifically about those things that can be done. First of all, in terms of spending, we can cut discretionary spending. But we all know discretionary spending and our deficit are about equal and have been for about the last 5 years, which means if we cut all Federal discretionary spending, cancel the government for 1 year, all we are doing is balancing the budget; we are not saving any money. We all know we cannot do it totally by cutting spending, but we do know we should, which means we should bring appropriations bills to the floor, we should debate those bills on the floor, we should hold our agencies accountable, and manage things on a cost-benefit analysis--do what Jeanne Shaheen and I have talked about in terms of a biennial budget. Have 1 year dedicated to spending, the other year dedicated to oversight. We can find savings and we can find revenue to reduce our deficit, but that will not do all of it.

Entitlements. We have to look at entitlements. But that does not mean we take away anyone's Social Security or anybody's Medicare because I do not consider them entitlements in the first place. The Presiding Officer paid 1.35 percent of his income every day of his working life for his Medicare and he deserves to get it.

The Presiding Officer paid 6.2 percent of his income for his payroll deduction for his Social Security and he deserves to get it. But we all know those programs were started in 1968 and the 1930s and eligibility should be reformed. We should find a way to make eligibility be actuarially sound, as they did in 1983, when Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill raised the eligibility for me so I could not get Social Security at age 65, I had to wait until age 66.

Did I miss it? No, I did not think I would live that long in the first place. But when I did get there, I appreciated the fact that they saved Social Security for me in 1983. We need to save it for our children and our grandchildren today, and we can do it by looking at eligibility in the formula. We do not have to raise the tax or lower the benefit. We might means test the COLA in terms of Social Security, but we can fix it if we just sit around the table and talk about it and not take away anybody's eligibility.

Medicare is tougher. We can means test benefits in terms of copayments. We can take plans such as Paul Ryan's and give people options. Whatever we do, we can sit down around the table and find a way for the future, find a way to save the Medicare the American people have paid for.

In terms of the safety net, nobody wants to do away with the safety net. But it is time we looked at the safety net and the cost-benefit analysis and the eligibility for the benefit programs so we manage them appropriately such as you would any other expenditure of government.

Then we go to the Tax Code. That is where we are today. That is the stumbling block, seeing where we are going to move forward on taxes. Time is running out. I will be the first person to admit it would be hard to come up with a comprehensive reform in 7 weeks to fix the Tax Code.

But it would not be hard to come up with a comprehensive agreement this month, now in this session, to do it early next year and put off pushing us off the fiscal cliff. Get a new speed bump next year. Give us the time to sit down around the table and find common ground. Maybe it is means testing deductions, which raises revenues without raising rates. In fact, there is a great argument, and the argument comes from 1986, when Reagan and O'Neill again lowered the top tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent and raised revenues in the same taxable year, all because we raised the base upon which the levy was charged.

We raised more revenue which, in the end, is the name of the game. My main point is this: We should not be sitting around twiddling our thumbs. The clock is running. We face a fiscal cliff. There are some in this Chamber who have said: Oh, we just need to go off it. We will pay the price. Then we will finally sit down and do what is right. I would, with all due respect, say that is pretty stupid. We have gone off a cliff once before in 2008. We are still reeling from it today because we did not deal fast enough with the decisions we had to make as a Congress to address the problems of the people who elected us to come and manage their affairs.

I would submit to you that it is about time the American Government did what every American family has had to do in the last 5 years: sit around our kitchen table like they have sat around theirs, talk about our income like they have talked about theirs, cut their budgets and spending where they have had to because they have had to tighten their belts. Don't you think the government ought to at least ask of itself what it has required every American family to do?

So instead of talking about what we can't find agreement on, why don't we start talking about what we can find agreement on? We don't have to just penalize one taxable class of Americans and declare a political victory but not solve our problem any more than we have some obfuscation in terms of tax reform that really is ``now you see it and now you don't.'' We can do meaningful reform that accomplishes the raising of revenues and more equity in the Tax Code, we can cut discretionary spending where appropriate, and we can reform our entitlements. Over time we can get our fiscal house in order.

The great thing about our problem is that it is not a problem that has to be solved in one fell swoop, but we have to make a commitment to begin to reduce deficits and, in turn, eliminate them so we will reduce debt. We need a game plan over the next decade that causes us to do that. When we do, we will return to the greatness America has always known. But if we don't, it will not be a good place to invest people's money, our rates will go up on our debt service, and America will have a hard time returning to the preeminence it has known.

So my message today is this: The President, in his press conference, said all issues were open on the table. John Boehner, in his leadership remarks, said the same thing in terms of revenues a week ago. Let's sit down at that table and let's start talking about those solutions. Let's start giving ourselves meaningful goals and not just use the threat of destroying our economy and our investment in our country as a threat to cause us to do nothing. Let's do something. Let's do the people's business. Let's face the music and make it a symphony.

Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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