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Default Prevention Act of 2013--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, I thank my colleague for his voice throughout this debate. He and I and a number of other colleagues realized early on this self-inflicted crisis of putting our workforce in jeopardy was bad policy, bad politics, and bad for our country. I am very glad that the resolution it looks like we are approaching is going to make sure our Federal workforce gets back to work and to the job of helping America, and they are going to get compensated for it. But I would add that it is not going to make everybody whole.


Mr. WARNER. I agree with the Senator from Maryland.

I was in the private sector longer than the public sector, and I have run companies. I have never seen a management style which would say to the workforce, ``We are going to ask you to do more with less money'' and then treat them as poorly as they have been treated repeatedly by some of the attacks the Senator from Maryland has laid out.

I wish to take a moment, as a number of my colleagues have, to state that it looks as if this self-inflicted political crisis may be finally coming to an end.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, in a way, it may be the best of times and the worst of times.

In a certain sense, it may be the best of times because over the last couple of days we have seen the leaders of the Senate, Leader Reid and Leader McConnell, basically say: Let's put away some of the disputes and end this crisis. So I compliment their work and all the bipartisan efforts that have been going on to put this to an end. So in a certain sense perhaps it is the best of times. Yes, we are about to finally do our job. We are about to actually reopen the government and put our workforce back to work, and by a whisker we are avoiding default and the financial calamity which would ensue if we continued down that path.

But it is also the worst of times in that once again we took this conversation to the eleventh hour. We have inflicted damage on our economy and our reputation. And due not to a Republican or Democratic skirmish but really due to a small group of ``our way or the highway'' crowd, we have violated the first principle of governing or medicine, which says: First, do no harm.

Unfortunately, the actions of this self-inflicted crisis have done harm even if we reopen the government and avoid default. Economist Mark Zandi has estimated that the cost to our economy is at least $20 billion. Reopening the government and avoiding default isn't going to erase the $20 billion hit to an economy that has been struggling.

I wish those who advocated for this shutdown, who advocated for this brinkmanship would be willing to come down and explain to folks in my State or, for that matter, in their States--if you happen to be a government contractor and if some of your workforce was deemed essential, they may actually get paid, but for the portion of your workforce deemed nonessential, chances are they won't be paid. One company in Virginia with 5,500 people--30 percent of its workforce was deemed nonessential. The company has tried to pay those people through this period. Some will be paid, some will not. Those individuals, those families will not recover. I would like to have somebody come down and explain what all this was for in terms of the hurt in their personal lives.

I would like for some of the folks who advocated these tactics to come and explain to a restaurant owner in Hampton, VA--where the workforce at NASA Langley, which was 3,500 strong, was reduced through this furlough to 7 people--with the lost receipts for the restaurant over the last 2 weeks, how their tactics somehow improved the fortunes of that private sector business.

I would like for those who advocated that it was smart politics to shut down the government and take us to the verge of default to explain to the motel owner on Skyline Drive in Virginia who lost a couple of weekends of the peak fall foliage season and won't see any of those dollars come back, how it was in their best interest to shut down.

It is not just in Virginia. It is Yosemite in California and national parks in Texas. I would be anxious for some of those who advocated these tactics to explain to those private sector business owners who won't see those dollars come back. They are not going to get recouped.

I would like those who come to this floor and talk about trying to get rid of our debt and deficit and the burdens on the taxpayer to explain how these tactics of shutting down the government and bringing our Nation to the verge of default helps the American taxpayer. The American taxpayer comes out a giant loser from these tactics.

The Federal Government workforce rightfully is going to be repaid, so there is no savings there. As a matter of fact, the cost of starting and stopping any enterprise is enormous. Anyone who has run any kind of business understands that.

So I hope those who have advocated these tactics will come down and explain to the American taxpayers how this created a bigger deficit and explain why this made sense.

I would like for those who advocated these tactics to come down and not just talk to the American people but talk to the world and say how this helped America's national reputation.

America has been ranked by the credit agencies as the most secure credit in the world. That is why, when there are crises around the world, investors buy dollars. It gets into sophisticated finance, but it means everything we do in America is a little bit cheaper because we are viewed--to paraphrase a company term--like the rock.

We have gone through two of these self-inflicted crises. The last two or three of these crises brought us close to the fiscal cliff or close to default, and the last time cost us a downgrade from one of the rating agencies. We saw yesterday the second rating agency, Fitch, put us on negative outlook. As a former Governor of the State of Virginia, where we kept our triple-A bond rating, you don't get back your reputation overnight by saying: Oops. Never mind.

We will be paying the price for these kinds of tactics for months or maybe years to come.

I would like those who advocated these tactics to come down and answer the kinds of headlines we saw in the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal where countries that may or may not be that friendly to us--China and Russia and others around the world--were saying: We need to move away from an American-centered economy around the world, a dollar-centered economy around the world--how this hit to our reputation was somehow in the best interest of our country.

I am glad Leader Reid and Leader McConnell worked out what appears to be at least a short-term solution. I am glad many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle tried to find common ground. It appears we will reopen the government. It appears we will avoid defaulting and going into uncharted territory where we, candidly, don't really know how bad it could have been.

But before we celebrate too much, let's recognize that the reports are true as far as what the avoidance of this catastrophe will mean. It means we have 90 days before the government runs out of money again. We have 113 days until the debt ceiling might have to be raised again.

So my first hope as we move forward is that those who practiced the tactics of shutdown and threatening default will say: Never again will we put the full faith and credit of the United States of America at risk. Never again will we shut down our government, hurt our Federal workforce, hurt taxpayers, and hurt private businesses simply because we didn't get what we wanted in a political dispute.

I hope as well in the coming weeks we will recognize that the people who work for the United States of America, our Federal workers, deserve better; that when we come on the floor of this Senate or the other body and have our policy debates, we don't criticize the workforce the way it was repeatedly criticized; that we recognize that when we want to take a pound of flesh out of some program, we don't start with the Federal workforce because in the tight budget times we will face for the foreseeable future, we are going to have to ask that workforce to do more with less resources. Again, as somebody who has been in business longer than I have been in government, management 101 says that if you want your workforce to do better and do more with less, you start by acknowledging their challenges and rewarding them, not simply bashing them, not simply leaving this overhang of future furloughs or the kind of uncertainty that still seems to be around this place.

The second thing I hope we will go forward on is recognizing that sequestration was set up to be so stupid that no rational group of people would ever let it happen. Well, we have let it happen now for about 8 months so far. As challenging as it has been over the last 8 months, in this next fiscal year, which started on October 1, it is going to get exponentially worse.

I understand the concerns of my colleagues on the other side and my concern as well that we have to find a way to cut back on some of our spending. But there are smarter ways to do it than sequestration. So in this ensuing period, I hope we are able to work through that.

I do believe we need to take these next 90 days--or an even shorter period if we need a report back from the Budget Committee by mid-December--and recognize that this constant--every 3 months, every 6 months--manufactured budget crisis does our country no good.

If both sides will enter this next phase of negotiations with a little more sobriety, a little less willingness to call out each other by name, and actually recognize that we do have to get our balance sheet in order--if we want to avoid a repeat in January and February of these last couple of weeks--we have seen the damage we have done to our country--we are going to have to roll up our sleeves and recognize that we are going to have to deal with our entitlements. That means folks on my side of the aisle are going to have to think about how we preserve Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid in a way that is affordable over the long haul. My friends on the other side of the aisle will have to realize what kind of government we want and what kind of government we are going to be willing to pay for.

As somebody who has spent the last 4 years combing through these numbers repeatedly, I don't think we can pay for the level of government the American people have expected with our existing Tax Code, so we are going to have to find ways to close down some of these loopholes, make our Tax Code more progrowth, but at the same time generate more revenue than we currently have.

It is never over until it is over, as I have found in the Senate, but my hope and prayer is that we will not do any more damage; that we will put a halt to this hemorrhaging of the $20 billion we have already inflicted on our economy; that we will say to that motel owner that we are not going to be willing to shut down a national park again come January; that we will say to that restaurant worker outside the Federal facility: You are going to be able to predict that the Federal Government isn't going to be laid off willy-nilly;

that we will say to our Federal workforce we are going to ask you to do more with less, but we are going to support you in a way we have not done to date; that we will say to the American taxpayer we are not going to deepen the deficit by taking irrational actions by shutting down government; and we will say to the world that once again you can count on the United States of America to pay its bills in an orderly and regular fashion, and never again will we put the full faith and credit of America in jeopardy.

I hope and pray we will use this period to actually put a fix in place. The incremental amount of additional revenues needed to be changed or the incremental amount of changes that need to be made to our entitlement programs are relatively small and can be phased in over a period of a decade or more. I agree with the Senator from Maryland that we also have to invest. But I cannot help but think the best jobs program we can have for an economy that is anxious and ready to recover is to make sure that we in Washington do not create and manufacture another political crisis that puts that recovery in jeopardy.

It is the best of times and the worst of times. I hope we celebrate that we have done our job and avoided this calamity, but let's make sure we never do this again. Let's make sure we take the 90 days before the next CR expires and the 113 days before the debt ceiling comes and really get our fiscal House in order and make sure we give the American public the confidence they need to move forward.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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