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Public Statements

Default Prevention Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, we are hearing a lot of discussion right now about the role of government and the role of the public sector.

We know there is a minority in the House of Representatives who ran on shutting the government down and think they have achieved something as we see the economy teetering now, as we see people who have been put out of work, who have mortgages, car payments, and concerns about their children and so on, and all the services that are in jeopardy, from food safety to law enforcement to what happens in the case of an oil spill and all of the things in between.

I found it interesting with our colleagues who have embraced the idea that in the greatest country in the world and in the greatest democracy in the world there is no need for the public sector. No one else is having this debate around the world. They are embracing every tool of the public sector to embrace their private sector to try to beat us by outeducating and outinnovating us in a global economy, as the distinguished Presiding Officer understands. So we are in a global race where everybody understands it is all in. We use all the tools that we have.

We have the greatest private sector, the most robust private sector entrepreneurs that can beat anybody in the world. But we also have a public sector that creates the framework and support for that by having a rule of law, by having basic protections in place for the public.

As I had the opportunity to listen to our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, particularly in the House, it seems every time there is a story--a salmonella outbreak--gosh, we had better bring some folks back. We have veterans hurting so we had better bring something back. We have women and children not getting baby formula through the WIC Program so we should do something about that. We have concerns about national safety so we should do something about that. It is almost as if we are educating these Members about the role of government in this process as they go. I didn't realize we did that. So maybe that function ought to be working. It is a chaotic way for the greatest democracy to operate, but that seems to be what is happening right now.

I remember in my times traveling to China, the last time I was there, where they said to me: Oh, you are here in Beijing on a great day; you can see across the street.

We are lucky. We can see across the street almost every day because we collectively have decided that one of the things we need to do to be able to breathe the air is to have certain rules, certain protections and standards in place so we can breathe the air. That is important to do through the public sector. We can't say: I will do the air in front of this desk, and you do the air in front of this desk, and somebody else will protect the air over here. It doesn't work that way. We do it together. So we don't have to worry about saying: I am in D.C. on the 2 days a year we can breathe the air and look across the street. We have the confidence of knowing that we have a quality of life, including the ability to see across the street and breathe the air, because in a civilized society, the greatest democracy in the world, we have made sure that those standards are there for our citizens.

I remember on a trip to Russia a few years ago they were talking about wanting to get more private sector investment into Moscow in Russia. I came home talking to our businesses and they said: The problem is they don't have a rule of law. We don't trust how we can invest there because we are not confident in their government, their rule of law. We don't have that problem here. We have the epitome of a system with checks and balances, a rule of law. Up until all of this had begun, we have had the confidence available in the private sector on how to invest and know that there is a system in place.

I had the opportunity, with my agriculture hat on a few months ago, to be in Haiti where we see a great desire, meeting with the Haitian president, to bring in more business and investment from the United States. The problem is, you bring a shipload of cargo into the harbor, and you can't get it off the ship without paying bribes. They have no law enforcement system, judicial system, rule of law.

That is not true in our country. We do it through something collectively that we call government, that creates a way for us to make sure we can drink the water, breathe the air, see across the street, drive on the roads, have the opportunity for education for all of our children, and know that we can walk into a restaurant and have some level of confidence that the food is safe or go into the grocery store and know that.

We have research institutions that suddenly, after our colleagues in the House have been saying--and for years I have had personal debates with folks who said: We don't need a National Institutes of Health. Let the private sector do it. Yet we know collectively we are willing to share a risk of basic research to try to find cancer cures, to go over and over again on research until they get that one that may be able to move forward and be successful, in which case the private sector comes in and takes it from there. But we have done it together and shared the risk because we know it is in all of our interests to save lives--- in our own, our family Members, and others--whether it is Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, juvenile diabetes, cancer. All of those things are done collectively through this thing that we call government. That is why we have the best standard of living in the world. We are the wealthiest country in the world. We are the envy of the world. People want to come here and invest. They want to be a part of the opportunities in this country. And now we are debating whether or not, literally, there should be a public sector. Should we fund the police and the firefighters and the judicial system? There are those on the other side of the aisle who would say: We don't mean that. Every time we bring up something: We didn't mean that. I am not sure what they mean then in a civilized society.

We know we have challenges around issues of finance and debt. As chair of the Agriculture Committee, I am proud of the fact--and I have said so many times on the floor--that we are the only committee on a bipartisan basis that has actually brought a deficit reduction bill to the floor that has passed in the Senate. So I take a backseat to no one when we are looking at ways to cut duplication, to cut things that aren't important, to strengthen those things that are, and to save money.

But we do not do it by destroying our economy, by shutting down the services we all count on to protect us as consumers, to make sure our children have opportunities, to make sure we are safe and secure in this country.

Obviously, that makes no sense. It is totally irresponsible.

What we are not talking about enough is that we have begun to see things happening in terms of the debt and deficit. We can continue to do that. In fact, the yearly deficit has been cut in half. I don't hear people talking about that, but the numbers say that.

A few years ago we set a goal of $4 trillion in debt reduction over 10 years. We are more than halfway there--not all the way there, but we have put in place a mechanism through cuts, through new revenue, through interest savings yielding $2.5 trillion in debt reduction out of the $4 trillion.

What is happening by shutting down the Government and threatening a default? That debt is going to go back up. We are going to undermine the work we have already done by adding increased costs through interest payments and delays that will actually increase the debt. We saw that in the last go-around in 2011. Even though there was not actually a default on the full faith and credit of the United States of America, we saw it because of exactly what is happening now. We had a lot of talk--in my judgment some very irresponsible talk--and posturing back-and-forth instead of working together in a reasonable way. We saw the markets affected, a drop of 2,000 points in the market, $800 billion in retirement savings of folks who worked hard all their lives and maybe are still working and cannot figure out why in the world we cannot work together in a reasonable, rational way to solve problems. There was $800 billion retirement savings gone. During that time in 2011, that summer, July and August, anyone who was signing up for a new mortgage is paying on average $100 more a month in payments because the interest rates were higher.

Instead of building on what we have already done together or even acknowledging it--it may not make good politics to acknowledge folks on the other side of the aisle. Unfortunately, it seems they certainly do not want to give credit to the President or give credit for anything we have actually been doing together. But the reality is the deficit has been cut in half and we are more than halfway to the goal that was set for savings over 10 years.

There is nothing that has been happening in the last few days--shutting down the government, threatening possible default on the full faith and credit of the United States--that is helping us reach that goal. It is actually going in the opposite direction. As interest rates go up, billions of dollars will be added to the debt.

We have tried to figure out over the last number of months how to continue bringing down the debt and tackling long-term challenges while, by the way, creating jobs. The best way to get us out of debt is to create jobs so people can go back to work and be part of the economy. That is the best thing, and we are sure not hearing enough talk about that.

I am very proud to come from a State that makes things and grows things. It is manufacturing that is bringing us back, that is driving the economy, and it is agriculture where we have the biggest exports, in terms of export surpluses, in the country. We need to make things and grow things, focus on that. That will bring down the debt as we create more opportunities and more jobs.

In the last 6 months we have tried to go to a conference committee, a negotiating team, a formal negotiating process between the House and Senate on a 10-year budget that will bring down the debt, create jobs, do things in a fair and balanced way that puts middle class families first. We have tried to do that, as of today, 21 times. In fact, the chair of the Budget Committee has come to the floor and moved that we get to that process 21 times, joined by distinguished Members of the Republican caucus in the Senate who have come to say the same thing, let us go to a budget negotiation, a formal budget negotiation. Over 21 times the same folks who shut down the Government, the same folks who say it doesn't hurt anything if we default as a country, even though every economist, every business leader is begging and pleading and providing facts and information as to why it would be a complete disaster--the same people who are saying defaults don't matter, government doesn't work, except when they are reading something in the paper and somebody is saying there is a problem--they, those same people have, 21 times been able to block the Senate from going to a formal negotiation with the House on the budget.

We are in this crazy place where, on the one hand, when we step back we are actually seeing the economy slowly moving forward--of course until now, when it is beginning to be stymied by all of this. But the economy has been moving forward. The yearly deficit is coming down. We have been tackling the long-term debt. We are coming out of this. Then we have a group of folks who have decided in the big picture that there is no value in a democracy, in the greatest country in the world, in government. They don't seem to care about what it takes to provide an economy and so on.

Now they are saying they are willing to jeopardize the faith and credit of the United States of America, have America default on our bills and potentially send us not only and probably into a great recession similar to the one we just came out of, but economists tell us it could send us back even further, into the thirties or forties. They just do not know.

We are in a global marketplace right now where we don't know what happens when we default on our bills, when we lose the confidence of the world to invest in America or to even purchase our debt. We don't know what happens when small businesses see all their capital dry up and people are not able to get mortgage loans again or they cost much more than they did before and all the other ramifications of our not paying our bills.

There are colleagues who say the Secretary of the Treasury--who, by the way, came down and did an excellent job in the Finance Committee today. It was very serious. It was very sobering, but I thought he was clear and he was factual and I very much appreciate his coming to the Senate Finance Committee. But there are those who say he says October 17 is the last time extraordinary measures can be used to stop us from falling off the cliff and going into default and losing the full faith and credit of the United States--except, no, it could be the next day, it could be the day after.

Coming from a car State it reminds me of someone who is driving in their car and they look and it is on empty. You may have a little bit more. Sometimes they say you have 5 miles more, you have 10 miles more, maybe you have 30 miles more, but you are on empty and you are going to stop--the car is going to stop. The question is how often do you want to risk that and play that game when you know the car is going to stop.

That is, in my judgment, the kind of absurd and irresponsible debate going on right now--about whether the car stops immediately or in 2 miles or 3 miles or 30 miles. Why in the world would you want to put yourself in that position? Lord knows, defaulting on the full faith and credit of the United States of America is much more serious than running out of gas in your car.

There is no reason for this--none, zero. This is a manufactured crisis. Do we need to continue to work together to tackle the long-term debt of this country? Absolutely. Count me in. Do we need to focus on what is happening to middle-class families who are getting squeezed on all sides and have a hard time just holding on? Do we need to focus on jobs in this country, making things and growing things and outeducating and outinnovating the world? Absolutely. Count me in. Count me in at the head of the line on that.

We in Michigan right now, in terms of our hard work and ingenuity, take a backseat to nobody. But to find ourselves in this craziness is beyond my understanding. I know people at home are going: What in the world is going on here? Can't you guys just come together and figure this out and quit making up crises and quit creating artificial deadlines and get things done?

I think it is important at this point in our history that we remember President Ronald Reagan said: ``Never before in our history has the Federal Government failed to honor its financial obligations.''

We are the greatest country in the world. Others look to us. They want to be like us. They want a vibrant middle class like America has had. We need to fight hard to keep ours and keep it growing. We need to make sure we do not fail to honor the financial obligations of this great country.

I yield the floor.


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