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Default Prevention Act of 2013-- Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BEGICH. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. BEGICH. Mr. President, I wish to enter into a colloquy with several of my colleagues.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. BEGICH. Mr. President, it is Sunday afternoon. I am sure all of us as well as a lot of furloughed employees would rather be preparing for coming back to work. Even though Monday is a holiday, maybe they are thinking about Tuesday and getting ready.

But here we are on the Senate floor thinking about all the issues with the shutdown, the default, and the threat of the default on us right now as we creep closer and closer to this deadline. It is unbelievable that we are at the risk of potentially defaulting on the debt of this country.

I heard one of my colleagues earlier talked about the default potential and maybe it is not as bad as people think and we will get through this. The fact is, if we go into a default, there is no question we have already seen--by the chamber of commerce, the business community, many people whom we talk to in our home communities--the impact this will have on everything from the stock market, interest rates, the ability for small businesses to borrow money at a reasonable rate.

The number that came out was a 7-year high in the sense of the least foreclosures in the last 7 years for individuals. Yet as families are finally getting back on their feet, with less defaults, here is the biggest default sitting in front of us. We have tried to do everything possible to avoid this effort in the next few days; one, by trying to get the government back open so we can have negotiations and discussions about what is necessary to ensure we don't have a default that could jeopardize the economy.

In my home State we see the impacts. We had a hearing on Friday here in Washington and we had the captain of one of the crab vessels, which is a big industry for us. My friend in Oregon deals with seafood issues also. It is an incredible impact that could happen. They have to have the permits and the quota laid out by October 15 so they can start the season because crabs don't sit around on the bottom of the sea waiting for a shutdown to finish. They have another process they go through. So if we are unable to get the permits done, this industry in Alaska which sells a lot of crab in the holiday season, especially to our trading partner Japan, Japan will go elsewhere. They will go to Russia and buy crab. Once they start buying from another seller, the odds of us recapturing that decrease.

As my colleagues on the other side like to say, we are just trying to find a solution. Every day we wait is another day we are shipping jobs overseas, and here is a clear example.

We have several Federal lands that are permitted for bear hunting and hunting in general, fishing, sports fishing, by Federal regulators, but we do not have those agencies open. So now those sports hunters who come up to our State from all across the country and the world are unable to access those places. The result? Thousands and thousands of dollars are lost to these guides. We don't get this business back. Once the season ends, it is gone. It is over.

This idea that the House has--and my colleagues and I have talked about it. My friend from Montana talked about this a few days ago. They passed on the House side a bill to pay all the furloughed employees; 435 to 0 was the vote. The Presiding Officer spoke about this on the floor. We all support that. We want to get our employees back to work and pay them because the furlough wasn't their problem--the shutdown wasn't their problem. But here is what is amazing. They want to put them all back to work and pay them, but they only send us a few agencies to open.

In other words, if you are a fiscal conservative--and from the States we all represent we have pockets as well as full components of individuals who are concerned about the taxes of this country and the spending--why would you pay for everyone to go back to work and then not put them to work? It makes no sense.

The Presiding Officer was the Lieutenant Governor of a State. I can't imagine if he and the Governor decided that we are not going to put anyone to work, but we are going to pay them all for the next month or whatever, he would be dragged out of office before he could blink an eye. As a former mayor, I couldn't do that. It is unbelievable. But yet that is how chaotic it is over on the House side. We are ready to solve these problems, move forward, get the government open, and ensure that we do not default on our debt.

I know some claim this is all new spending. This is not new spending. These are all bills, for those of us on the floor right now, which came before our time. But they are due and we have to pay the bill. It is similar to when you buy a house. After you buy the house and you have a banker, you don't get to say: I would like to stop and think about paying you part of it or maybe not pay you all of it and still live in the house.

They like to toss numbers around and make it sound as if it is more spending. No, it is paying for what has already occurred. We have actually cut the deficit since a lot of us came to office. When I came in January 2009, the deficit was $1.4 trillion per year. Today it is about 630. We have cut that deficit over 60 percent in a combination of efforts, and that is where we need to keep going, but this is not helping that effort.

I know my colleagues on the floor have example after example, as I do in my home State, of sports fishermen who can't go fishing and fees for those folks who manage it, to the commercial fishing, and my military folks. Here is what is amazing. Every one of the folks on the floor has the same situation. Even if we pay our furloughed Federal employees all their pay back, what happens to the contractors who work on behalf of the Federal Government? They have bills to pay. They don't get that money back. But they are told to go back to work, and I guarantee it is going to cost the Federal Government more money. In my State there are multiple examples, and I will leave it to my colleagues. But I know when the American people are watching and when Alaskans are watching this for the last week, they think it is ridiculous, and it is. It is a self-created crisis by a few who believe the only way they can get their way is to crash the economy and at the same time crash the government.

Are there problems with the government? Sure. Are there things we can do to improve it? Absolutely. Every day we should be working on it. But this start-and-stop program doesn't work so well because we never get to the issues all of us came to work on.

So I turn to my friends if they want to add to this. The idea is going to be kind of a free-flowing conversation so people can see a discussion of what is affecting us in our home States and see how we can get to a solution.


Mr. BEGICH. Yes. Not only closed for business. As we know, the FAA also is shut down. There are elements of FAA still operational, but the fact is, in order for visitors to my State--and I am sure to the Senator's State, to Oregon, there is a lot of general aviation that moves around, moving tourists, moving businesses, moving folks from place to place. If you are in need of parts--people may not realize it, if you need parts for those planes you have to register them with the FAA. But if the FAA is closed, you cannot register the parts, you cannot get the parts for your plane, and they are not making the parts then because they know they cannot get them registered. It is like a ripple effect.

The worst part of this is those businesses that are on the outskirts of all these national treasures we have in this country--Oregon has them, Montana has them--and the net result is those businesses don't have customers. Customers do not show up. Those businesses that had prepared, built their inventories in anticipation, got material ready, got guides ready, got their businesses all ready to go for those tours, cannot do them. They have no customers because they have no place to take them. The reality is, the net result for these individuals--I think my friend from Oregon says it so clearly in discussions I have had with him--it is almost like--my friend from Oregon can correct me if I say this wrong--but it is almost like a tax for these businesses. They do not get that money back they have invested. It is gone. It is over. They do not get to repeat the season. It is not like the movie ``Groundhog Day,'' you don't get to go over and over it again. If it is gone, it is gone. All of us have that with these parks and national treasures. The Senator talked with me about this.

I want to mention one thing that is very important, because we have heard it on the floor and I have heard it in the media accounts. They say we cannot extend and pay the debt of this country, making sure we do not go into default unless we have more spending cuts. We did that. We did that. The continuing resolution cuts $70 billion on an annualized basis out of the budget this year, this coming year. We cut $70 billion. We actually talked about it, tried to find common ground, and the common ground was we agreed with their number, the House number. We brought it all the way down to their number. Seventy billion dollars was taken, additional cuts on an annualized basis, to our budget. Now you have to pay the bill.

When you hear this ``we didn't give one extra penny to make sure we don't default''--first of all, the default should not be part of the debate here. We should never default on our debts, period. But if you want cuts, we have done it, $70 billion.

Now because of the work they are doing or lack of what they are doing, the government shutdown is causing kind of an indirect tax on these business people, which is unbelievable.

Mr. MERKLEY. I thank my colleague from Alaska. He is correct in pointing out that essentially right now we have a shutdown tax being imposed on families and businesses across our country. Indeed, we are facing just a few days from now a default tax. A lot of folks from across the aisle come here and say they took a pledge to block any form of tax. But this is the worst kind of tax of all.

Mr. BEGICH. They do not get any recovery.

Mr. MERKLEY. There is absolutely no value, no revenue raised that can be applied to the important aspects of running a government or reducing our deficit. Indeed, this is a burden on American businesses and American families that has no benefit in any other way.

In fact, the Senator mentioned the ripple effect. That ripple effect means what damages a family--I gave the example of a simple situation when an employee does not get their wages. They cannot pay their child support and they cannot pay their mortgage--and then what goes on from there.

Let's take, for example, the cut in food stamps. If food stamps are not issued, then it is not just the family who is directly hurt--and I might mention our most vulnerable families--but it is also the grocery stores that are hurt. They may have to lay off additional employees, additional ripples. This is a huge infliction of a burden.

If we want to think of a few examples of what happens with the default, we can think of many. Let's picture the default tax. By threatening not to pay our bills, that reduces confidence in Treasury bills, so therefore the interest rates go up on those Treasury bills. The interest rates therefore on mortgages go up and the interest on home loans go up.

Mr. BEGICH. If I can interrupt, car loans, credit cards, student loans, any type of credit you want to get to grow your business, expand your educational opportunities--maybe you are doing holiday shopping this year--all that is impacted in a negative way.

Mr. MERKLEY. Indeed, maybe you were planning to take out a home equity loan to repair your roof or make improvements to your house. You are going to pay a higher price. This is a default tax on all of America that does nothing productive at all.

This infliction of pain and agony on our businesses and our families is something that has not apparently resonated for some of my colleagues who want to threaten a default. Some of them have come to this floor and said: We think there is enough revenue coming in that we can pay our T-bills--our Treasury bills--and we can default on other obligations and therefore there won't be much damage.

We had a group of experts come in and testify before the banking committee. They said: Look, envision a situation where you are applying for a mortgage and you tell the bank that you have always made your house payments, but you were not able to make some of your other payments, such as your student or car loan. The bank is going to charge you more for your house payment because there are bills you have been defaulting on.

The same situation applies in America. If we pay our Treasury bills but we don't pay other obligations, that in itself will lower our credit rating and increase interest rates. A default is a default. You can choose whom you are going to default on, but no matter whom you default on, there will be a default tax on American families and American businesses with great damage to this country. That is why President Reagan simply said: Do not mess with the good faith and credit of the United States of America.

Mr. BEGICH. It makes no sense that we would be here. Earlier this week Senator Tester and I were on the floor talking about this issue. When I went home, my 11-year-old son asked: How do you not pay your bills? We can have all the fancy economists we want, but when you have an 11-year-old ask you the question, it should tell you something about this country--what we should do to meet our priorities. When you don't pay your bills, you are in default. When you are in default, you destroy your credit rating. When you destroy your credit rating, the cost of doing business goes up. It is very simple.

They can use all the fancy words and different ways to slice it and dice it by saying that we can pay some or we can pay a little. No, that is not how it works. Can you imagine if every household watching us today said: I think I will pay part of my bills today. Maybe I will pay another bill next week, but I won't pay them all. Congress doesn't pay all its bill, so I guess that is the new norm.

If my 11-year-old son can pick this up, you can surely guess what is happening when people around the country are watching us. And I say ``us'' in a collective way. All three of us are appropriators. We have dealt with cutting $70 billion out of the budget already for this year. We sucked it up and said: We are going to do that because it is right for this country. Even though we may not have agreed on that number, we agreed to make sure we did this because we wanted to make sure we did not default and that we kept the government working. We will continue to fight on the issues we care about.

It is amazing to me. Sometimes we have to look to the young folks in this community and around this country, and they probably know better than we how to solve this problem. I am just guessing.


r. BEGICH. Is it fair to say that we have been moving this annual deficit down every year? It has been on the right glidepath--down. If we have a change in the T-bill rates, this effort to keep moving the deficit down will quickly reverse because we pay interest.

Mr. TESTER. Absolutely. It could have such a negative impact on the GDP that we could have a negative fourth quarter if this crazy talk keeps going.

Mr. BEGICH. To remind folks who are listening, the gross domestic product is basically the business of the country.

Mr. TESTER. That is correct.

Mr. BEGICH. If it goes in the wrong direction, it will have a direct impact on the people who are working--meaning fewer people will be working. If there is less business, there is less need to hire people, which means higher unemployment and more foreclosures. It is a domino effect.

Mr. TESTER. That is exactly correct. I think everybody on the floor right now--and there are a lot of other folks--would love to sit down and figure out ways to get the debt and deficit under control. As Tony James said, you don't do it by holding a loaded gun.

Mr. MERKLEY. If I could just emphasize the point the Senator from Montana just made, there are those who say they want to engage in a default strategy because they think it will somehow do something positive in controlling our deficit and controlling our debt, but what the Senator from Montana pointed out is that when you engage in using default as a weapon, you reduce revenues, increase costs, which increases deficits and increases the debt.

I think what we can summarize is not only is the default strategy severely damaging to families and businesses across the country, but it is damaging to the effort to reduce our deficits and reduce our debt.

Mr. TESTER. And I might add it could not happen at a worse time. We have seen the economy rebound, and it is starting to head in the right direction. We have an opportunity to have more growth. We have an opportunity to get some manufacturing back in this country. We have an opportunity to really help rebuild this economy. Because of the actions of Congress, particularly folks over in the House, we have seen the stock market--God help us today. I think it opens right now.
Mr. BEGICH. The Asian markets open right about now.

Mr. TESTER. I can't help but think that these folks are back there shaking their heads and saying: We have no confidence in what Congress is doing.

Mr. BEGICH. For the first 15 to 18 days of debate, the market slowly slid about 800 points. Last week, when there was a sliver of opportunity and people thought maybe we would get the default off the table, that market shot up 300-plus points. The business community wants us to establish some certainty here so they can take their resources, invest in this economy and continue to move forward.

We know the resources are there. They tell us that in our home communities. I had a business that just laid off another 400 people because of this shutdown. They are ready to grow their business interests out of Anchorage and around the globe, but the challenge for them is they are not sure what we are going to do.

Within a couple of days when they saw a glimmer of hope, the market shot right back up, which tells us again that the market is ready.

Some people said that yesterday's vote was just a partisan vote. No, we had to actually not default, so we supported not defaulting on our debt. I will have debate after debate on where we need to cut. Again, the continuing resolution cuts $70 billion on an annualized basis. We have met their number with that cut, and we are willing to keep to that agreement, but let's not throw the economy over the edge or crash it into the wall, as some seemingly want to do.

Mr. MERKLEY. I ask through the Chair whether the Senator knows of any business group in Alaska that is arguing that the government shutdown strategy or the default strategy is good for business.

Mr. BEGICH. I come from the small business world. At the young age of 14 I started my first business. I don't hear the business community in my State asking me to crash the economy and keep the government shut down because it has no impact.

When we look at the concentration of Federal workers, it is Maryland, Hawaii, and Alaska, in that order. When we think of the State budget, 25 percent of the State operating budget is from Federal resources; 50 percent is capital money that comes from Federal resources; the military is pretty strong; and over $1 billion goes to Social Security payments. I can go through the list. It has a huge impact.

There are no businesses calling me and asking: Can you keep the government shut down longer? I don't need that permit to drill on the National Petroleum Reserve. I don't need to go fish for that crab this week. I don't need to fly my plane to move that cargo out to a rural community. I don't hear that.

I have people call me and say--I can't use the words they use because we are on the Senate floor, but you can fill in the blanks. They are very upset that they cannot conduct their basic business operations because of some of the connectivity they have with the Federal Government through permits or land use. Denali National Park is a great example. It is an unbelievable place to visit, but nobody can visit it. The hotels and the facilities around it are not getting the access they need.


Mr. BEGICH. I think all of us on the floor agree that we have hope that an arrangement and deal will be made. We want to reopen the government, pay our bills, not go into default, and recognize we still have more work to do because we do need to bring down the deficit.

We need to bring it down and ensure that at the end of the day we are paying off our debt long term. But we have to get through this process. We can't just keep doing these short term, stop and go. I think we are all here to make sure that happens.

So from my perspective, I am not happy that I am here on Sunday, but I am glad I am here on Sunday, trying to work with others to solve this problem. I would rather be back home with Alaskans talking about the needs they have and trying to figure out what we are going to do in the long term on education, making sure we oversee our oil and gas development, our mining and our timber, which I think both of our States have a lot of interest in.

We are here now, and we have to resolve these issues. They are going to be tough. There is going to have to be a little give-and-take to find that common ground. At the end of the day, I believe we can get there. But we can't get there if people are hardened into their views, and trying to claim that we haven't done enough already. We have done $70 billion worth of cuts already on an annualized basis.

So I thank my colleagues for coming to the floor and spending their time on a Sunday talking about an important issue. Hopefully, the next time we are here we can talk about a great resolution that moves this country forward and keeps our economy going.

I yield to my friend from Oregon.


Mr. BEGICH. I agree. The last thing I will say this afternoon is--and I will say it as an appropriator--that is what we should do. We need to get past this stop-and-go. We need to sit down and focus on the long term. We need to get the budget resolved. We need to stop spending our time trying to get people to the table. That is all we have been trying to do. We need to get a budget resolved so people will know what their annualized budgets will be. I totally agree with the Senator from Oregon.

Hopefully, over the next 24, 48 hours, we will get down that road, and we will get this short-term stuff out of the way and get on with the longer term.

Again, I wish to thank the Presiding Officer for the time and for allowing us to speak today.


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