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Ensuring the Complete and Timely Payment of the Obligations of the United States Government

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. PORTMAN. Mr. President, I rise today to offer first a commonsense amendment to begin to address our Nation's unprecedented national debt. It is hurting jobs in our economy today and is placing an immoral burden on our kids and our grandkids. This is called the Dollar For Dollar Deficit Reduction Act. It ensures every time we raise the debt limit we cut spending by the same amount over a 10-year period.

We all know the growth of the national debt is not sustainable. In the past 4 years our national debt has risen by $6 trillion and is projected to add another $9 trillion over the next decade. These numbers are huge, too big to comprehend. So let's put it this way: If we don't do something, we are really in trouble. Between the end of 2008 and 2022--so 9 years from now--the average household share of the national debt will have risen from $90,000 a household to $160,000 a household. That is how big the debt will get. Today, it is about $130,000 per household.

We know we need to do something. Democrats and Republicans alike talk about it a lot. The debt limit is an opportunity to have this debate. Future decades will bring even more debt, with the Congressional Budget Office--a nonpartisan group here in Congress--now projecting the debt will top 200 percent of our economy in 25 years. Again, this is unprecedented. It is about 100 percent of our economy right now.

And, by the way, the projection that the debt will be 200 percent of our economy in 25 years is a rosy scenario that assumes we will have peace, prosperity, and relatively low interest rates. I think we can all agree that saddling our children and grandchildren with this enormous debt is not just bad economics, it is immoral.

In reining in the debt, the Congressional Budget Office makes clear that spending is driving future deficits. When we look at the future deficits, it is spending that is creating a major problem. Again, according to the Congressional Budget Office, revenues will surpass their historic average, which is about 18 percent of our economy, as soon as the economy begins to recover. Spending, which has been historically 20 percent of our economy, has already jumped to over 23 percent of our economy and is projected to rise to 30, 40, 50 percent of GDP over the next several decades. So clearly we have a spending problem.

The amendment I offer today will ensure that debt limit increases are matched with equal cuts in Federal program spending over the next 10 years--so for a decade. There are no gimmicks, no timing shifts, but these will be real cuts in the growth of Federal spending.

This chart shows what the results of this would be for the country. The top lines are spending. This is the blue line. The bottom line, the red line, is revenue. So here we are today, 2013. Again, the spending as a percent of our economy is just over 23 percent. If we continue to go the way we are going, what will happen, based on these relatively rosy scenarios about our future, is we will see a dip in the spending as a result of our economy and then it goes up and quickly begins to climb further from that over the coming decades. Revenues, again under the current scenario, continue to grow to the point they go above the historic 18 percent. Here it indicates that by 2022 they would be at 19.1 percent. Spending, under the proposal we have before us today--this amendment, the dollar for dollar amendment--goes to 19.6 percent, so just about at the 20-percent historic average.

This of course means we are very close to balance. And it means, again, there is a reasonable result to this, which ends up with spending being very close to the historic average, revenue coming above its historic average, and again we are back on track toward fiscal discipline and toward fiscal sanity. That means we can have a stronger economy--the kind of robust economy we all hope for--bringing back the jobs and not leaving to our kids and grandkids such an enormous debt and deficit.

We would still have a deficit here, a small one, and this would be positioning the deficit to get to balance because it would be such a relatively small deficit compared to what we have had in the past. If enacted, the result will be about $3 trillion in savings over the next decade. This is roughly consistent with what other groups have talked about, including the Simpson-Bowles Commission and others. Given the $44 trillion in spending projected over the next decade, this $3 trillion in savings should not be too much to ask. In fact, simply limiting spending growth to about 3 percent per year would accomplish this same result.

So that is essentially what is being required here when you say there will be a dollar-for-dollar reduction in spending over 10 years every time you raise the debt limit by $1. The result is that, again, by 2022 the deficit will fall to less than 1 percent of GDP--very close to balance. The debt as a percentage of the economy would actually be declining as well, and it actually declines to the point where, according to the Simpson-Bowles Commission and others, it would be 60-some percent of the economy, which many view as having stabilized our debt. Again, we have a lot of work to do even at that point, but at least it stabilizes it. It actually declines by about 19 points as a percentage of the economy from its peak in terms of our debt. Future generations would be spared this crushing debt and the economic stagnation we otherwise will face if Washington does nothing.

Some may contend that the debt limit is the wrong place to have this spending debate. I have heard this a lot as I have been promoting this idea. I have to respectfully disagree. The debt limit is about all that has worked. The debt limit is not just about paying past bills, it also presents an opportunity to talk about the future--what should our bills be in the future? It is not about, as the President often says, paying our past bills. Those should be paid. It is about what bills we are going to rack up going forward. We have to make a change. If we don't, the country is headed toward bankruptcy.

Furthermore, nearly every single deficit reduction bill over the past 28 years has been linked to the debt limit. In fact, I would say every single one of the significant deficit reduction packages in the last few decades has been linked to the debt limit. It is all that has worked around here.

In 1985--there are some Members in the Senate today who were here then, and they will tell you that the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings bill, which came out of the Senate, helped reduce the deficit. It was attached to what? A debt limit bill. Since that time, the three largest deficit reduction packages in the 1990s--1990, 1993, and 1997, including the 1997 Balanced Budget Act--were all linked to what? A debt limit discussion. So it is really all that has worked.

The Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act, which a lot of Democrats were very supportive of, was in 2010. That came out of a debt limit discussion.

Finally, of course, the debt limit was the impetus for the Budget Control Act just 2 years ago, when this Congress made a commitment to save $2.1 trillion over the decade. So just 2 years ago, we agreed to this dollar-for-dollar provision, and it was done as part of the debt limit.

As we discuss the dollar-for-dollar amendment pending today, we have to remember that this is really where the idea came from. Dollar-for-dollar came out of the Budget Control Act. So for folks who attempt to label this idea as untenable, too aggressive, or without precedent, remember that the dollar-for-dollar legislation passed only 2 years ago with only 95 Democratic votes in the House and 45 of the 51 Democrats here in the Senate voting yes. So the idea certainly has precedent, and given the results we talked about earlier, it is a commonsense way to address the debt limit debate today and in the future if this body is going to be serious about getting Washington's spending and debt under control.

By the way, it wouldn't apply to this first short-term debt limit extension. This would apply to the debt limit extension that we all hope will be a longer term agreement with Republicans and Democrats, including, as the chair and the ranking member of the Finance Committee just talked about, tax reform and entitlement reform--working together to solve these problems. This would provide the impetus to do that.

So whether that is in 3 months or, as some are suggesting, 6 months from now, given the fact that Treasury will be able to use some authorities to help extend that debt limit, that is when this would apply. It would not apply to this short-term debt limit, but it is putting the discipline in place now that we employed only 2 years ago to be able to get real savings for our country.

The debt limit is also an important tool for deficit reduction because it is all we have had. And when you think about it, we haven't had budgets. The only recent restraint came in the context of the debt limit and dollar-for-dollar reductions in the Budget Control Act. This is partly because the Senate has not passed a budget, as we all know and we all have heard about, in over 3 years. I understand the majority is committed to passing a budget in the Senate this year. I commend them for that. I hope they will. But reconciling it with the House, of course, will be a challenge, and future years also remain uncertain. So in the absence of a budget, the fact remains that the debt limit has been the effective tool we have used.

By the way, the fact also remains that now nearly two-thirds of all spending is not even subject to the budget. Why? Because it is on autopilot. It is not annually appropriated. It is the mandatory spending. So even if we have a budget, which I hope we do, still, the debt limit is the most likely way for us to get at the bigger picture since 62 percent of spending is on autopilot--or mandatory--and not subject to the annual appropriations process that would be part of the budget agreement. This is why the debt limit is likely to remain the most successful tool for deficit reduction.

Common sense tells us that while Washington pays its past bills, it also has to take steps to reduce its future bills. Based on one poll I saw, 72 percent of Americans agree that when you increase the debt limit, it should be matched by equal cuts, dollar-for-dollar--72 percent of Americans. It is common sense. We did it 2 years ago. It leads us to a result that seems reasonable.

Most people think we need to get spending under control. The revenues are going to go up based on the CBO projections here, and we get to virtually a balance over 10 years if we put this in place, with the permitting of about 3 percent growth in spending every year. So this is not an unreasonable result. It is a sensible solution. Congress did it a couple years ago.

I hope my colleagues will join me on a bipartisan basis to say that with regard to the longer term debt limit extension we are facing somewhere in the 3- to 6-month period, that we put in place this discipline and then allow the committees to do their work. We should go back to regular order. The Finance Committee chairman has made this point repeatedly, and so has the ranking member. Other members have. We need hearings. We need to have an open process. We don't want these last-minute bills that people haven't had a chance to read and staff hasn't had a chance to review.

This would put us in that position--knowing that we have this discipline in place, we can achieve this, and we must achieve this for the sake of our kids and grandkids. I urge my colleagues to support it.

Mr. President, I now would like to offer a second amendment. I have been asked to offer these two amendments together. The second amendment is another idea because it doesn't have to do with the debt limit per se, but it has to do with how we avoid government shutdowns. This is bipartisan legislation, and it is a bipartisan idea whose time I believe has come.

Every year since 1997 and in all but 2 years since 1985, Congress has reached the October 1 fiscal year-end without doing all the appropriations bills. Think about that. Every year since 1997, we have not been able to reach agreement on all the appropriations bills, and only twice since 1985 have we ended the fiscal year with having all the appropriations bills done.

What is the result? In some years there has been a relatively quick vote on what is called a continuing resolution to continue government spending in those areas where we haven't completed our work. In other years the result has been a real showdown, with the threat of government shutdown. And then in some years we have had an actual government shutdown. In fact, it has happened way too often, and the reason is that, again, we haven't been able to come together as Republicans and Democrats, the House and the Senate, working with the President, to put forward these appropriations bills in regular order, and so we face these shutdowns. And we actually have faced some last-minute budget bills, many of which are full of surprises because Members haven't had a chance to read them and staff has not had a chance to review them.

These shutdowns, by the way, when we have had them, have created real problems. Americans hoping to travel abroad find that their passport applications can't be processed. Disease surveillance ceases at the Centers for Disease Control. Recruitment of Border Patrol agents stops. Families planning to go on vacations to national parks find their destinations closed. It is not a good way to run a government, and I think we should avoid those shutdowns.

Some make the reasonable argument that these shutdowns are an acceptable price to pay if they lead to spending cuts. I understand that is an argument out there, but in fact, as I look at it, I think the opposite has occurred. The 1996 government shutdown that a lot of people talk about produced such a large backlash that it seems as if a lot of lawmakers decided to abandon spending restraint altogether. A proof point might be that after that 1996 shutdown, nondefense discretionary spending nearly doubled over the next decade. So it seems to me as though the case for spending restraint was harmed, not helped, by the 1996 government shutdown.

The last-minute budget bill that usually results from the threat of government shutdown tends to have a lot of surprises in it. It is a real problem because over the years Congress has found itself just hours away from a government shutdown, often forced to vote on these thousand-plus page bills--an omnibus spending bill that folks have not had a chance to read and our staffs haven't sufficiently reviewed. It is not the fault of our Appropriations committees, which do their best under tight deadlines. I think it is the fault of these artificial deadlines themselves.

With hundreds of billions of dollars at stake, we could all use more time to better understand what we are voting on. This bipartisan amendment would solve these problems.

For all regular programs or activities whose appropriations bills have not been approved--whether it is all the bills or whether it is only one bill--the End Government Shutdown Act would automatically continue the current level of spending, no significant disruption, no crisis for citizens, no furloughed employees, no rush to approve a last-minute budget deal that people haven't had a chance to look at.

Yet we don't want these continuing resolutions to take the pressure off lawmakers to complete their work, so after 120 days there would be a 1-percent reduction in spending. It would be across the board in a normal year. Because the new fiscal year is October 1, this would mean lawmakers would have until January 29--well after the holiday break--to complete their work on the appropriations bills.

And this year, should Washington fail to come to an agreement on the continuing resolution, spending would remain at whatever the current level of spending is for those first 120 days.

Under this amendment, after the 120-day period, spending levels on any remaining unfinished bills would continue to be reduced across the board 1 percent every 90 days. I doubt that would be necessary because I think the appropriators of the House and Senate would come together to solve the problems. But every 90 days, there would be an additional 1 percent reduction until the appropriations bills for the yearlong continuing resolution have been enacted.

These eventual small cuts are designed to keep both sides at the bargaining table. They aren't so small as to be irrelevant, but they are not so large as to gut any programs. Priorities of both Republicans and Democrats would be subject to the same across-the-board cuts, and both parties, therefore, would have an incentive to come to an agreement to fully fund the priority programs and reduce funding for lower priorities.

This bipartisan amendment may not be each lawmaker's idea of perfect. It is certainly not mine. I would rather get all the appropriations bills done, but that is not what is happening. But we should all agree that it improves upon the current situation where we bounce from crisis to crisis, worried about government shutdowns as well as the rushed bills we have to vote on to avoid shutdown. The American people want us to complete our work in a logical way, and this amendment helps us to do that.

I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this commonsense, bipartisan approach.

I yield the floor.


Mr. PORTMAN. Madam President, we had a debate earlier on this. This is the Dollar-for-Dollar Deficit Reduction Act. It makes all the sense in the world.

Here we have a $16 trillion national debt, now exceeding $130,000 per household in America. We are told by the Congressional Budget Office that there is $9 trillion more coming over the next decade.

We have to make this difference here on this bill. We have to take this opportunity to ensure that we are, in fact, beginning to reduce spending, getting this under control, as we once again are asked to extend the debt limit.

This would not apply to this particular short-term debt limit, by the way; it would set up the discipline for the next debt limit, which is anywhere from 3 to 6 months from now.

Now is the time for us to come together as Republicans and Democrats and determine how we indeed reform the entitlement programs, put tax reform in place, go through regular order in the Finance Committee, as the chairman and others have called for, to ensure that we can get this under control.

It is a commonsense proposal. We did it 2 years ago. Most Democrats and most Republicans here on the floor supported it in the past. About 95 Democrats in the House have also supported it. It is a dollar-for-dollar reduction over 10 years as we raise the debt limit.


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