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Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 - Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CARPER. Mr. President, good evening.


While I was waiting for a chance to say a few words on the floor, I was on the phone and had a conversation with someone who has run a couple of very successful companies in our country. I do not know if he is a Democrat or a Republican, but it was an interesting conversation. We talked about how the economy is coming along, and we talked about how the companies he is especially interested in are doing. We sort of looked ahead.

One of the things I asked is, what do you think we could be doing here, where we are working in our Nation's Capital in the U.S. Senate?

He pretty much said there are three things we need to do. He said: You need to answer maybe three questions for us. One, can you govern in a divided Washington, a divided Congress? He said: No. 2, can you be--can we be as a nation--fiscally responsible? And the third thing he said was, can you provide some certainty with respect to the Tax Code to actually know what taxes are going to look like, not just this week or this month or just this year, but how about having some certainty going forward?

I think there is a lot of wisdom in what he said. As some other folks have been talking about here on the floor today, when we were not passing the Water Resources Development Act, a good bipartisan bill, I think a responsible bill, an encouraging step, if you will, but in between we have had other people speak and talking about one side or the other moving forward on a budget. Someone talked about other issues that are in the news these days.

I want to follow up on some of the earlier conversations today with respect to demonstrating that we can govern, that we can be fiscally responsible and we can provide some certainty with respect to the Tax Code. Folks who might be listening in to what is going on in the Senate this afternoon may or may not know the way the budget process works. Obviously this is budget 101.

In my old role as State treasurer and Governor of Delaware--in Delaware we have two budgets. Not one but two budgets. We have an operating budget and we have a capital budget, a brick-and-mortar budget. The brick-and-mortar budget is for schools, K-12, sort of postsecondary education; infrastructure: roads, highways, bridges, prisons, that kind of thing. But we have an operating budget as well. Here we only have one. For, gosh, I want to say about 30--40 years, actually, the way we are supposed to run our finances as a country basically called for the President to submit a budget, usually in February, one budget not two but one budget. The Congress is expected to come in and sort of pivot off of that budget and create what we call a budget resolution. The Senate passes a budget resolution, the House does. The idea is to be able to do that sometime in April, and hopefully by the end of April agree between the House and Senate on that budget resolution.

People think a budget resolution is a budget. But it is not. It is a resolution, a framework for a budget. It is not actually signed by the President. It is something we work out. It provides a foundation on which to pass a number of maybe a dozen or so appropriations bills that cover everything from agriculture to transportation.

The budget resolution provides a framework for any revenue measures we might need to pass as well in order to get us closer to a balanced budget or to meet some kind of responsibilities for running our country. But the idea is for the Senate to pass a budget resolution, the House to pass a budget resolution, and we create a conference committee and work out our differences.

For the last 4 years, our friends in the Republican Party delighted in accusing the Democrats of never passing a budget. What they meant was we never passed a budget resolution, that framework. I think of the budget resolution as a skeleton. The skeleton is the bones, if you will. But we put the meat on the bones when we pass the dozen or so appropriations bills, and whatever revenue measures are needed. That is the meat on the bones. Then eventually we have a full budget.

Right now, as our colleagues know, we passed in the Senate a budget resolution several weeks ago. It called for deficit reduction. It did not balance the budget over the next 10 years, but it further reduced the budget deficit and put us on a path to stabilize our debt, and to get us on a trajectory where debt as a percentage of gross domestic product is starting to come down--not as much as I would like, probably not as much as the Presiding Officer would like, but to get us headed in the right direction. It was a 50/50 deal, 50 percent deficit reduction on the spending side, 50 percent on the revenue side.

Actually, ironically, the last time we had a budget--1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 in the Clinton administration--Erskine Bowles, then the President's Chief of Staff and a woman named Sylvia Matthews, now Sylvia Matthews Burwell who is our new OMB Director, worked along with the Republican House, Republican Senate to come up with a deficit reduction plan in 1997 that led to four balanced budgets in a row.

Their deal, worked out with Republicans, was a 50/50 deal. Fifty percent of the deficit reduction was on the spending side, 50 percent was on the revenue side. Anyway, this year the Senate passed a budget resolution, passed with all Democratic votes, no Republicans. It is a 50/50 deal, half of the deficit reduction on spending, half on the revenue side.

Over in the House, they have a different approach. The Republicans in the House argue, with some justification, that they get more deficit reduction accomplished. You might quibble with some of their assumptions. They assume the repeal of ObamaCare. They also assume that even though they are going to repeal it, the $1 trillion in deficit reduction that CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, says flows from ObamaCare over the next 10 years in the Affordable Care Act--even though they assume repealing ObamaCare, they still assume the $1 trillion in deficit reduction. I do not know if that is entirely consistent, but that is part of their assumption. So they end up with deficit reduction that is dependent solely on the spending side. No revenues, it is all on the spending side.

So they passed their budget resolution. We passed ours. They passed theirs with almost all Republican votes, we passed ours with all Democratic votes. When that happens, the idea is to say, here is the Senate budget resolution, here is the House budget resolution. Why don't we create a conference committee--I used to think of it as a compromise committee--where some of the Senators, Democrat and Republican, gather together and work out the differences between the two budget resolutions. That is what people sent us here to do.

The Presiding Officer knows I like to sometimes ask people who have been married a long time, what is the secret for being married a long time? I usually ask this to people who have been married 50, 60, or 70 years. I get some real funny answers. I got a great answer about a week ago. A couple has been married 55 years. I asked the wife and husband. I said to the wife: What is the secret to being married 55 years?

She looked at her husband, and she said, he will tell you that he can either be right or he can be happy, but he cannot be both. I thought that was pretty funny. He said something to the effect of, when you know you are wrong, admit it. When you know you are right, let it go. That is pretty good advice.

I think the best answer I ever heard to that question of what is the secret to being married a long time--I have heard this from a number of people. The answer is the two Cs, communicate and compromise. Think about that. The two Cs, communicate and compromise. I think that is not only the secret to an enduring union between two people, but I think it is also the secret to a vibrant democracy, communicate and compromise.

It is kind of ironic that our Republican friends, after beating us over the head for 4 years for not supposedly passing a budget--although if you looked at what we put in place, some of the legislation was law; we actually did have a budget. We had spending caps and directions to reduce spending in a lot of different categories. We saved in deficit reduction well over $1 trillion as a result.

But, ironically, the very people who criticized us for not passing a budget have now, here in the Senate, made it impossible for us to create that conference committee, a compromise committee between the House and the Senate, and take the next logical step of reconciling the differences between the Senate-passed budget resolution and the House's.

It is not going to be easy to do that, but we need to get started. If you think about the way we spend money--I want to commend the chair of the Budget Committee. She has had some very sad losses in her family. We extend our sympathy there. I want to commend the Senator and her committee for taking on a tough job, one of many tough jobs she has taken on, and to give us a budget resolution that we can go to conference with. I want to have a chance to do that.

I want to mention this and I will yield. We had a bunch of Realtors in from Delaware. They wanted to talk about the budget and how we are doing. I explained that if you think of the Federal budget, think of it as a pie, think of it like a pizza pie or a chocolate pie, but think of it as a pie. The way I explained this is, over half of that pie is entitlement program spending. That is things we are entitled to by virtue of our age, our station in life, our service, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, some of our veterans' benefits. But over half of the budget of that pie for spending, over half of it is entitlement spending and it is growing.

Another roughly 10 to 15 percent of that pie is interest on the debt. With the debt growing, interest on the debt--thank God the interest rates are low right now or that would go through the roof. Interest on the debt continues to maybe creep up. If you add those two together, it is about 70 percent of the pie we are thinking about.

That leaves another 30 percent. What is in the remaining 30 percent? The rest of the whole Federal Government. About half of that 30 percent is defense. About half of that 30 percent is everything else from agriculture to transportation and everything in between--law enforcement, courts, Federal prisons, the FBI, education, housing, environment. Everything else is in that 15 percent.

The difference between the Senate-passed budget resolution and the House-passed budget resolution is the House would make some changes in entitlement spending. We do some of that as well. We do more to try to reduce spending. But the real difference is what happens with that 15 percent of--we call it domestic discretionary spending. The other 15 percent in discretionary spending is defense.

But they would take, in their budget resolution in the House, that 15 percent over the next 10 years and take it down to roughly 5 percent--5 percent. That is everything in the Federal Government other than defense and entitlements and interest. That is everything else. That includes workforce development, starting with early childhood education programs, Head Start, all the way from kindergarten up to high school; programs especially promoting the education in STEM, science, technology, engineering and math, postsecondary education. It includes infrastructure; roads, highways, bridges, everything broadly defined in infrastructure. It includes investments in research and development that can create products and technologies that can be commercialized and sold all over the world. All of that stuff is the rest of 15 percent and it goes down to about 5 percent.

I do not think that is smart. I do not think that is smart for growing the economic pie because of things--the areas we need to invest in or look for. We need a world-class workforce. No. 2, we need terrific infrastructure, much better than our decaying infrastructure. The third thing we need is to invest in R&D that can be commercialized and turned into products.

In any event, we have a difference in priorities here. The Senate-passed budget resolution is not perfect, but I think it is a very good document and a good starting point. The Republicans have their ideas, some with merit, some not. But the next thing we need to do is we need to meet. We need to create that conference committee and we need to go to work and let the chair of the committee and her counterpart over here, Senator Sessions, do their job, along with their House counterparts. But they cannot do their job until Republicans in the Senate agree to form a conference committee and go to conference. We need that to happen. Rather than just talking about and pointing fingers at one another, we actually need to do that. We need to stop pointing fingers, join hands, and see if we cannot work this out.

I yield the floor again, with my thanks to Senator Murray for the leadership she continues to provide for all of us.


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