Search Form
First, enter a politician or zip code
Now, choose a category

Public Statements

Continuing Appropriations

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, I am glad to join this debate, which throughout the afternoon has been peppered with the assertion that either Majority Leader Reid or the President or Democrats in general will not negotiate--that we will not negotiate. I remember when I was younger there was a radio commentator, a man named Paul Harvey, and his little motto in his radio bits was to surprise you with ``the rest of the story.''

On ``will not negotiate,'' we don't even have to go to the rest of the story. Go to the rest of the sentence. The rest of the sentence is that the President and the majority leader will not negotiate--while the other side is holding hostages, while the tea party is holding hostages.

Here is what our former colleague, my former ranking member on the Budget Committee, Senator Judd Gregg, has said about this:

A small group of Republican legislators led by the junior Senator from Texas, decided to take as hostages government operations and the raising of the debt ceiling.

Those are exactly the hostages, Federal employees who cannot work, people and businesses that want or need Federal services, those families we have heard so much about today who lost loved ones on the field of battle and cannot get their death benefits.

There is an even bigger hostage out there, which is the threat of a catastrophic default which would be the result of a failure to lift the debt limit. Our country has been through a lot, through Civil Wars and world wars, through depressions and calamities of various kinds. Through all of that we have never defaulted on our debt. But there is a group in Congress so desperate that they are willing to use that, that threat as a hostage for leverage in negotiations.

When colleagues on the other side invite us in the old phrase, ``Come, let us reason together,'' let us negotiate, they do not mean come let us reason together, let us negotiate; they mean let us negotiate, but we want a blackjack in our pocket. If the negotiations don't go just the way we want, we want to keep hundreds of thousands of Americans out of their jobs and we want to threaten the economic security of this country.

There is a difference that every American understands between negotiating and negotiating while threatening the hostages. I will say that sanctimoniously offering to release a hostage here or a hostage there when a program becomes too popular or there is too much scrutiny on the damage that one thing is doing, to say, oh, we will give up that hostage, we will let us vote on that hostage, doesn't change the principle. There is a difference between negotiating in good faith, negotiating on the merits, and negotiating with threats to hostages. That is no road to go down. That is a very dangerous threat.

As President Reagan warned us:

Congress must realize that by failing to act they are entering very dangerous territory if we don't raise the debt limit. Never before in our history has the Federal Government failed to honor its financial obligations. Too fail to do so now would be an outrage.

Ronald Reagan:

The Congress must understand this and bear full responsibility.

We have to address these problems in the traditional order of government with real negotiations because if we don't, if we yield to hostage-taking as the new way of governance in this country, where does it end? The continuing resolution that we proposed that the Speaker has refused to have a vote on--in all this time he has never had a vote on the continuing resolution that we passed that would open the government--it would only extend the operations of government for 6 weeks. We would be back at it again. What would the price be next time? After we defunded ObamaCare, would they want to privatize Social Security? They tried that before. Over and over, the popular will has to rule. That we do through our American procedures. The vaunted procedures of our American system of government would be lost in a devil's game of threats and hostage-taking on both sides because two can play at this game if those are the new rules. We don't want to go there.

America is a great country and in part we are a great country because our democracy is an example to the world.

We are no example to anyone when we legislate by threats of default, disaster, and confusion, to use the felicitous phrase of our colleague from Alabama.

There is a condition that sometimes befalls pilots called target fixation. It happens when a pilot diving on a target becomes so fixated on hitting that target that they become disoriented with their surroundings. The worst thing that befalls somebody who has target fixation is that they crash the plane.

Right now we have Republican target fixation on repeal ObamaCare. Imagine passing it 40-some times in the House, which they have done. If that is not a sign of target fixation, I don't know what is. Not seeing the damage that is being done by closing down the government, not seeing the damage to families, not seeing the damage to employees, not seeing the damage to people who depend on government services and licenses and safety checks seems to me to be a sign of target fixation.

If they have target fixation this badly, they may not even see President Ronald Reagan's warnings of how dire and dangerous it is to play around with our debt limit. On the House side, they are already talking about playing around with our debt limit. They want to go into the danger zone, and who knows how close to the flame they are willing to fly. When they have target fixation, their judgment is not very good.

They are certainly not seeing the damage to American values and American procedure that an insistence on legislating by holding hostages and threatening them does. It does damage to our values, and it does damage to our procedures.

A great observer of the American system of government once described procedure as its bone structure. We can throw it all out, the Constitution, the bicameralism, and we can go back to the basic animal state that whoever can make the worst threat wins the argument. That is not the American way. The American way isn't to win the argument by seeing how many people you can put at risk and how badly you can threaten them, but that is the stage we are in right now.

Let's negotiate, indeed, but let's negotiate as Americans. Let's negotiate under our proper procedures. Let's open the government. There is no reason for it to be closed other than bargaining leverage and hostage-taking. There is no other reason. That is exactly why the tea party has shut down the government, just for that purpose. They say it. They use nicer words. I think the word that was used earlier in debate today was to create adequate incentive. When somebody else is holding hostages, we have incentive, but it is not an appropriate incentive.

So open the government and stop threatening the debt limit. That is wildly irresponsible. If they don't believe us, believe Ronald Reagan, believe the Secretary of the Treasury, believe the National Association of Manufacturers, believe the CEO of AT&T, believe virtually every responsible, knowledgeable adult who has observed what the dangers are of blowing the debt limit and default.

Open the government, stop threatening the debt limit and, by all means, let's negotiate. We could set a date tomorrow. I am sure the President would have a meeting at the White House the next day. Anything people wanted could be on the table, but they would have to come in and negotiate like Americans. They would have to negotiate on the merits fairly and not with a blackjack in their back pocket, with threats that if they don't get what they want, they are going to start wrecking things such as our economy and our government. That is not the right way to proceed. If we go down that road, who knows what evil lurks at the end.

I yield the floor.


Skip to top

Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.

Back to top