Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor remarks of Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- H.R. 1 continuing resolution

Posted on March 9, 2011

Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from South Dakota for his eloquent remarks. He phrased exactly the question before this body on which we are going to be casting two votes within a few minutes, and that is this: Will we or will we not stop spending money we don't have? I repeat, the question is: Will we or will we not stop spending money we don't have? Do we have the courage and the common sense and the sense of responsibility to make difficult decisions for the future of our country when it comes to spending and debt?

Let's look at the facts. The Federal Government this year is collecting $2.2 trillion-- that is what is coming in-- and spending $3.7 trillion. We are collecting $2.2 trillion in revenue, and we are spending $3.7 trillion in revenue. That is a fact.

Here is another fact: Forty cents of every dollar the Federal Government spends is borrowed, much of it from China.

Here is another fact: We are piling up new debt at the rate of $4 billion a day-- $4 billion a day of new debt. Here is another fact: Last month was the shortest month of the year-- February. The deficit-- that is this year's deficit in just that month-- was the largest in history: $223 billion. And our friends on the other side are suggesting we solve a problem of this dimension by reducing spending by $4.7 billion. As Senator Thune said, by tomorrow, at about this time, we will have piled up as much more debt as they propose to save. That is not urgent; that is not responsible; that is not dealing with difficult decisions in the way people expect us to do.

The Republicans in the House of Representatives have stepped up and have made difficult decisions. We might not agree with every single detail of the decision, and the Senate will have its own priorities when we pass a bill, but I, for one -- and I think many others on this side of the aisle -- arm going to vote for H.R.1, the House-passed $57 billion cut, because it is a sure step toward reducing spending and stopping our country from spending money we don't have. Senate Democrats say, Sorry, we can only find $4.7 billion to save.

The purpose of the vote I will cast today is to say we have an urgent need that needs to be addressed. We have a sense of responsibility toward that decision. We can't solve much of it today, but we can solve some of it today, and the time to start addressing this urgent need is now.

When I became Governor of Tennessee about 30 years ago, a friend gave me a book written by George Reedy, Lyndon Johnson's press secretary. It was called "The Twilight of the Presidency." In that book, I found a definition I used as Governor because it was such a good definition of what an executive in public life is to do. George Reedy said that the job of the President is, No. 1, to see an urgent need; No. 2, to develop a strategy to meet the need; and No. 3, to persuade at least half the people that he is right. See an urgent need, develop a strategy to meet the need, and persuade at least half the people he is right.

This is an urgent need facing our country. Forty cents out of every dollar we spend is borrowed; $2.2 trillion coming in; $3.7 trillion going out; 47 top economists over 2 weekends ago saying it was the most urgent need facing our country. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is saying it is our biggest national security threat-- the debt. As Senator Thune said, debt costs jobs. Economists tell us that debt at this level costs us about 1 million jobs a year.

Let me read what the President's own debt commission had to say about this. This debt commission had six Members of the U.S. Senate as members -- three Republicans, three Democrats. Five of the six voted for this report of the debt commission. They said, as members of this commission:

We spent the past 8 months studying the same hard, cold facts--

Not opinions, facts.

Together we have reached these unavoidable conclusions. The problem is real. The solution will be painful. There is no easy way out. Everything must be on the table, and Washington must lead.

That is President Obama's debt commission. After all the talk about debt and deficits, they go on to say:

It is long past time for America's leaders to put up or shut up.

That is the President's debt commission talking.

The era of debt denial is over. There can be no turning back. We sign our names to this plan because we love our children, our grandchildren, and our country too much not to act while we still have the chance to secure a better future for all of our citizens.

That report included five Members of this body, two Democrats, three Republicans. That was what the debt commission had to say.

Here is what the President had to say. In 2009 he said: What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road. We are not in a position to kick it any further.

We can only find $4 billion to save?

President Obama said last year:

I hope some of the folks who are hollering about deficits and debt step up, because I am calling their bluff. We can only save $4 billion?

My administration is going to seek to work with Congress to execute serious entitlement reform.

And then as Senator the President said:

Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically, weakens us internationally. Leadership means the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today on to the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership.

I ask, where is the President of the United States in this debate? Where is the President of the United States? His debt commission came out months ago and recommended $4 trillion in savings. No support from the President. The President made an eloquent State of the Union Address. I sat on the front row and applauded many times. No sense of urgency about the Federal debt. The President offered his budget a few weeks ago. No plan for reducing the Federal debt.

Now we are taking step No. 1, which is to work on the discretionary part of the budget -- only about 12 percent of the budget. The House is willing to take difficult steps; the Senate Democratic majority says we can only find an amount that equals the debt we are piling up in one 24-hour period; and the President is missing in action.

I respectfully say that is not leadership. We need the President of the United States to join us in an effort to stop our country from spending money we don't have, in making difficult decisions about spending, so we can assure the strength and future of our country.

The question before us is will we or will we not stop spending money we don't have? Will we or will we not make the difficult decisions it takes to reduce spending so that our country will be strong for the future?

The other side says they can find $4.7 billion to save. We say we can start with $57 billion. I will vote for the $57 billion and against the $4.7 billion because that is a sure step toward a bright path for America's future.