Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.): Budget

Posted on May 16, 2012

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan recently said the worst mistake President Obama made was not embracing his own Fiscal Commission’s recommendations to reduce our debt by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.

Today, our national debt is more than $15.6 trillion, which is nearly $1.9 trillion higher than it was when the Fiscal Commission released its recommendations and $6.4 trillion higher than when President Obama was sworn in. In January 2013, the first thing the next president will have to do is to ask Congress to increase the debt ceiling. The fundamental problem is that Washington does not know how to balance its checkbook.

The president has proposed a budget that raises taxes by $1.9 trillion over the next 10 years and still spends more than it takes in every year, instead of endorsing the Fiscal Commission’s recommendations – or any other plan to address our nation’s fiscal crisis. According to the Congressional Budget Office, under the President’s budget, interest on our debt will triple over the next 10 years, and by 2022 we’ll be spending more in interest than we spend on national defense.

This is an irresponsible proposal, and instead of playing politics we should be working together on a plan to address the debt, which is the most urgent problem facing our country and, according to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the biggest threat to our national security. The Simpson-Bowles Fiscal Commission plan, the Domenici-Rivlin plan, and the Gang of Six proposal all offer bi-partisan blueprints for how to address it. Each of these proposals would reform the tax code and restructure entitlement spending—the main source of our dangerous federal debt—and do those reforms so that seniors can count on Medicare and Social Security and taxpayers can afford them.

Mandatory entitlement spending, which is 58 percent of the federal budget, is growing at nearly three times inflation and bankrupting our country. Discretionary spending, which funds our national defense, our highways, our national parks and national laboratories, is only 36 percent of the federal budget and is growing at the rate of inflation. Focusing our budget cutting on discretionary spending is just a way for Congress—to use the president’s words—to kick the can down the road. The real work is in reducing the growth of mandatory spending.

Although the Senate is not debating its own budget resolution, going 1,113 days without passing a budget, we are debating several proposals. I do support the House-passed budget because it is a serious proposal to cut out of control spending and help solve our fiscal crisis. I will also support the proposal offered by Senator Toomey, even though it sets non-defense discretionary spending at 2006 levels, which I believe are too low, it reforms mandatory entitlement spending, closes tax loopholes, lowers tax rates, and saves Medicare for future generations. Senator Toomey and I have discussed the possibility of allowing states to have the option of choosing per-capita caps on their average Medicaid expenditures per beneficiary as an alternative to a traditional block grant, and I am encouraged by these discussions.

Last August I supported the Budget Control Act because it was an opportunity to take an important step in the right direction. The House-passed budget and the budget proposed by Senator Toomey are opportunities to take the next step, and I look forward to working with them to adopt a responsible budget that grows the economy and reduces our debt.