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Mr. COATS. Madam President, as I look at my watch, the clock is ticking toward midnight. Midnight becomes March 1, and that is the point at which the sequester kicks in, which is the across-the-board cuts--hardly massive when this year it will be about 1.2 percent of our total outlays this year. So, I am not sure how the word ``massive'' can be used with any credibility; but, nevertheless, this is going to happen.
Republicans have proposed a way to address the President's concerns--the very concerns that have been stated on this floor--including the concern that across-the-board cuts is no way to govern because it doesn't separate the essential from the nonessential. I think we as Republicans couldn't agree more. It is not the best way to govern, because it treats everything on an equal basis and basically says that every Federal program, no matter what its performance over the years, doesn't deserve a look at how to adjust it for its lack or strength of performance. It doesn't separate what the essential functions of the Federal Government are from the ``this is what we would like to do but can't afford to do right now.'' So, to say that this government and the out-of-control spending that has occurred over these last several years is totally functional and that every penny we have spent is wisely spent and has been done in the interests of the taxpayer and protecting their hard-earned dollars, and that the money we are extracting from them through ever-increasing taxes--some of which happened less than 2 months ago on every American; every American's paycheck was reduced. It is not just the millionaires and billionaires who took the hit, because $620 billion over 10 years of money comes out of Americans' paychecks. So, for someone to say that what we are doing is massive when this year it amounts to a 1.2-percent cut in total spending, when virtually every business in America, every family in America has had to tighten its belt, given the recession and the slow economic growth, when we continue to have 23 million unemployed or underemployed people in this country, and then to simply say we don't have a spending problem, as the President famously said, defies common sense.
We don't need fancy explanations or fancy words such as ``sequester'' for the American people to understand what is happening here. They see their States having to tighten their belt. They see the companies they work for having to tighten their belt. And, as families, they see themselves having to cut back on some of their spending or some of their future plans because they no longer can afford to do it. The only entity they see in the United States not addressing a fiscal imbalance is the U.S. Government.
In an attempt to deal with this a year and a half ago, Congress passed the so-called sequester. The sequester was a fallback in case we weren't able to come to grips with the problem we have and reach an accommodation, an agreement, on how to address it in the best way possible. This was the fail-safe. And all the attempts, starting with the President's own commission, which he rejected, and then the Gang of Six proposals, and then the supercommittee of 12, all of the efforts, many of them on a bipartisan basis, for whatever reason did not succeed. So, what was put in place to drive a solution, didn't drive a solution, and as a result, here we are with a sequester. But, to say the sequester cutting, this year, 1.2 percent from total spending, is going to make the sky fall and cause a total economic meltdown and keep people from getting on their planes and keep us from ordering meat because meat inspectors can't go to the meat processing plants to certify the quality of the meat, and all of the things the President is out campaigning for, for his own program--it was the President's idea. Maybe it was his staff, but he certainly had to agree to it. It was proposed by the President and now he is out campaigning against it. In fact, it wasn't that long ago when he said if it didn't go into effect, he would veto it. So there has been a real change here, and I won't go into the motivation for all of that.
There is also talk about balance. Balance is a code word for new taxes and for more taxes. It has been said over the past couple of years, during the campaign and leading all the way up to the fiscal cliff vote, that Republicans would refuse to give in on any kind of tax increase, even if it was on millionaires and billionaires. In the end the President won that battle and Republicans supported it. Even though we did not believe that was the best way to go forward to get our economy to grow and to provide the kind of economic growth we are all looking for, we supported that. Now, we here we are just two months later with the same tired phrase that Republicans won't take 1 penny from the rich when they just took $620 billion from the rich; therefore, what we need are more taxes on the American people to achieve balance.
It seems the White House has an obsession with solving this problem through increasing taxes and not wanting to make the hard decisions to cut even 1.2 percent of our total budget--2.4 in succeeding years. To say we cannot, through our oversight responsibility, find 2.4 percent, and this year 1.2 percent, of waste, of corruption, of misuse of programs that no longer are viable--maybe they were well-intended in the past but they certainly have not proven themselves worthy of asking taxpayers to keep sending their hard-earned money to Washington in order to cover that spending--when Senator Coburn, Senator Toomey, when many of us--I have been standing here every day in virtually every session basically saying, just through waste and ineffective programs we can easily come up with this amount of money.
Everyone else in America has had to do it. Why can't we?
The charge we have heard over and over is that this is such a terrible way to address it that we need the flexibility so these agencies can move the money around and take the money from the nonessential programs to keep the security at the airports with the FAA and the air traffic controllers and also keep the meat inspectors and the others who are essential.
In order to keep them from having to take the hit, we came up with the idea--Senator Toomey and Senator Inhofe--that gives the executive branch the flexibility. That is what they have been asking for all these years. If we have to have the sequester, just do not do it across the board because it forces us to do things we do not want to do. But if we had the flexibility--if you could give us the flexibility--then we could move the money within the accounts and we would still reach the same amount of cuts--the 1.2 percent of this year's budget--but we would have the flexibility to not have to scare people or keep people waiting in lines at airports for 4 hours and do all the things, all the doomsday scenarios that have been proposed by the President and his Cabinet members.
We bring that forward and then suddenly there is a 180-degree reversal on the other side, which basically says: No, no, no. We do not want flexibility. That is not the way to do it. Well, what do you want? Yesterday you wanted flexibility. Today we gave it to you, and today you are saying: No, we do not want that. It sounds like what they want is only a solution to this problem if there is a big increase in taxes.
This word ``balance,'' which I say, is a code word for taxes. I just came from the Joint Economic Committee where a very respected economist, Michael Boskin, said: Balance is not 50-50 if you want economic growth because every dollar you raise in taxes is a hindrance to economic growth. He said: I am not saying there should not be increases in taxes. But the ratio should be ``5 or 6 to 1.'' If you want to position this country for growth, you need about five to six times the amount of spending cuts as taxes increased.
So balance--50-50--according to a very respected economist and many others--I do not know of anybody who said raising taxes encourages growth because it takes money out of the private sector and gives it to the public sector. But rather than get into that argument today, what the President defines as balance is simply evermore taxes to solve our problem, when we know that after 4 years of effort here that has not worked, and it will not work.
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Mr. COATS. Mr. President, I am going to wrap up because my colleagues want to speak also.
But, let me say this: I have been saying from this platform, and I have been saying from everywhere people will listen that we need to move to a solution to the problem. The solution to the problem involves, I believe, three or four essential elements, and I think there is widespread consensus on this among liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, economists, and others. Unless we address that which is growing out of control--which is our mandatory spending--no matter what we do on the spending level and no matter what else we do, we are not going to solve this problem and we are going to keep careening from short-term fix, short-term measure to the next one, from fiscal cliff to fiscal cliff.
Already, we have another cliff which people have not paid much attention to at the end of this month, where we have to fund the government for the rest of the year. That will be another drama, soap opera, played out before the American people. In May, we hit the debt limit.
None of this is necessary. None of this had to happen if we had taken the steps we knew we needed to take that were presented in the Simpson-Bowles presentation to the President years ago and, unfortunately, rejected that and basically said we are headed for catastrophe, we are headed for insolvency because this mandatory spending is growing out of control and the amount of discretionary spending we have which we can control is ever shrinking.
Yes, we need to sort out the fat, the duplication. My colleagues and I have been laying out things that I do think any American who looks at it carefully would say: Of course we do not need that, of course that is not an essential function of the Federal Government. It has had a miserable performance as a program. Why do we keep throwing money at it, particularly at a time of austerity when so many people are out of work.
Yes, we need to do that. But that needs to be coupled with what I think there is almost full agreement on: The need for comprehensive tax reform. That is where closing the loopholes, which Republicans are willing to do in order to lower the rates, to make us more competitive and make our Tax Code much simpler and much fairer--that needs to happen. Of course, it cannot happen if we take closing loophole money and use it for spending, which is what the President wants to do instead of using it to make our code simpler, fairer, and make us more competitive around the world and to promote growth.
That is a proven process. Unless we put that together with some regulatory reform--but most important of all and most essential of all is to address the runaway mandatory spending, which if not addressed will undermine the sanctity and the solvency of entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. The trustees--do not trust a Republican conservative saying this--the trustees of the programs have said: ``You have to deal with this, and the longer you put it off, the tougher it is and the more painful it will be.''
This morning, again, Dr. Boskin and even Dr. Goolsbee--the President's former Economic Council head--said you have to do this, you have to take it on. You are taking it on to, one, save the programs, two, save the country from bankruptcy, and, three, give us the opportunity to have funds to pay for the essential functions of government.
We are not against government. We want it to be leaner, more efficient, more effective. My State has taken measures that quintuple what is being talked about here. We ended up achieving a surplus. We have a AAA bond rating. We have made our State government the most efficient, effective government with taxpayer dollars of any State in the country.
It can be done, and it can be done here. But what we have that is different from what our States have is the fact that mandatory spending--that spending which we have no control over--is eating our lunch. Until we step up and deal with it, we are not going to solve this problem; we are going to keep careening from crisis to crisis.
The real issue is--at this point, with the sequester going in place--can we step up and sensibly adjust it through flexibility in terms of how we reach that goal? Can we summon the will and the political courage to do what we all, I believe, know we need to do; that is, simply to do what is right for the future of America--America's interests not our own political interests?
Finally, in my opinion, that cannot be done, despite all the time, all the efforts made, many on a bipartisan basis--Simpson-Bowles was bipartisan, the Gang of 6 was bipartisan, the Committee of 12 was bipartisan. It is not true we are at a standoff in terms of how to go forward. What we have not had is leadership from the White House. Something of this magnitude cannot be done without Presidential leadership, and the President has refused to do anything other than plead on a campaign basis for yet evermore taxes, which he calls balance.
So that is our challenge.
We need you, Mr. President, to lead the way. We will work together with you in putting together a package which achieves the right ratio. We will work together to do what is right for the future of America and not what is right for our political future this year or next.
I guess we are pleading with the President. Similar to Presidents of the past--Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and Bill Clinton, a Democrat, took on the toughest issues and together we worked for the benefit of our people and for the future of this country and we made enormous strides in that regard. But it would not have happened had the President not become engaged. At this point, the only engagement the President has made is to call for higher taxes and go out and campaign against those of us who are trying to sincerely address this problem.
With that, I yield the floor.
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