PRESIDENTIAL LEADERSHIP


John F. KerryU.S. Senator
[D] Massachusetts, United States

Length: 23 minutes, 59 seconds


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Mr. KERRY. Madam President, I thank my colleagues, the Senator from California and other colleagues, who have been involved in an important discussion here. I will say a few more words about that in the course of my comments.

Let me begin by observing that last week, like a lot of colleagues here, I voted in favor of a 2-week continuing resolution in order to avoid a government shutdown. But I will say that I did so extremely reluctantly, and I am not inclined to continue to do that in a series of hatchet budgets that continue to make cuts without regard to the larger budget considerations we need to be considering. I know colleagues on both sides of the aisle voted reluctantly. Frankly, it is insulting and frustrating that we are reduced to passing incremental allowances just to keep the government functioning. This is just the work of this year's budget--something that should have been passed for an entire year last year.

The impact of this kind of staggered, stop-and-start, keep-them-guessing budgeting on programs and projects that, frankly, need to do some long-term planning actually costs Americans money and costs Americans long-term competitive capacity. Run a business the way we are running these kinds of programs, and you would go under if you had a month-to-month, week-to-week, 2-weeks-to-2-weeks budget process. No department head can plan for the long term because they don't know what they are going to have, how much they are going to spend. Projects that need to begin don't begin, and that costs America leadership. It costs us money. No wonder Americans are frustrated. All we do [Page: S1345] is bounce from one short-term, stopgap solution, band aid approach to another, always deferring the tough decisions and the adult conversation, which is exactly what the American people sent us here to engage in.

I come here today to appeal to the common sense and conscience of our colleagues. This is not the time to create a fundamentally political budget document, steeped in ideology. It is not the time to put forward a set of choices, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with reducing the deficit or debt but everything to do with ideological goals long sought by some, now cloaked in the guise of deficit crisis in order to achieve what they have never been able to achieve to date.

Everyone here knows--you have private conversations with colleagues, and they will nod their heads and acknowledge to you how serious this budget situation is. We need a serious conversation about our fiscal situation. It begins with a comprehensive discussion about discretionary spending. Yes, that has to be on the table. But what about entitlements? What about revenues? Everybody here knows we have to work toward a long-term solution in order to reduce the budget deficit and the staggering debt of our country. We are going to have to reduce some Federal spending and make appropriate changes in entitlement programs in order to do that. When we are honest about it, it means you have to talk about everything--revenue, tax reform, spending, and entitlements.

A lot of Americans appropriately ask: What are we doing with 57,000 or 60,000 pages of a tax code? How many Americans have their own page? You can run through it and find an awful lot of big interests, big business, folks who can afford big lobbyists--they get their own pages. But the average American appropriately feels left out and abused by that process. That ought to be on this agenda--the simplification of the code and the fairness of the code.

In addition, we obviously need to talk about Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. Social Security, frankly, is easy to fix. We fixed it in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan. I was here then. We can do this again. That is not challenging. We can make that safe and whole throughout the century so that our children and grandchildren and their children have the opportunity to trust in the Social Security system. That is doable with minor tweaks.

What is far more complicated and challenging is Medicaid and Medicare. I assure colleagues who are out to undo the health care bill passed by President Obama, if that is undone, those Medicare costs are going to soar and the medical choices before our country are going to become even more complicated.

Back in December, a number of our colleagues understood and embraced exactly what I am saying right now. Senators, Republicans and Democrats alike, including Senators Durbin, Conrad, Coburn, and Crapo, had the courage and willpower to put on the table the whole set of choices when they embraced the debt commission's report, which was appropriately entitled ``The Moment of Truth.'' Nobody liked every proposal set forth by the commission--not even the Commissioners themselves--but they did it in order to put everything on the table for a discussion by us.

The Congress is responsible for making these choices. Unfortunately, the budget sent to us by the House is an unbelievably irresponsible exercise in avoidance, and includes a set of choices that will take America backward. I am not exaggerating about that. I will go into that in a moment.

Let me cite what the commission said to remind us about our responsibility. They said that throughout our Nation's history, Americans have found the courage to do right by our children's future. Deep down, every American knows we face a moment of truth once again. We cannot play games or put off hard choices any longer. Without regard to party, they said, we have a patriotic duty to keep the promise of America to give our children and grandchildren a better life. Our challenge is clear and inescapable.

America cannot be great if we go broke. Our businesses will not be able to grow and create jobs, and our workers will not be able to compete successfully for the jobs of the future without a plan to get this crushing debt burden off our backs. I think every Senator probably agrees with that, but is every Senator prepared to do something about it? Certainly, this budget sent to us by the House is an avoidance of that kind of discussion and the responsibility the debt commission placed on our heads. So we ought to get serious.

For fiscal year 2011, the administration's budget projects a deficit of $1.6 trillion. Without changes in our current policies, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that our Federal debt will be 95 percent of GDP the gross domestic product of our Nation. Today, as we are here, we are borrowing 40 cents of every single dollar we spend--borrowing 40 cents. We borrow a lot of it to be able to afford to buy the source of our energy from other countries, and much of the dollars we borrow in order to go into debt to buy energy from other countries winds up making us less secure. This is not a smart cycle, not a virtuous cycle. Certainly, it is not something we are locked into. We have a whole set of other choices.

Let me point out to my colleagues that spending is at the highest level as a share of our economy than it has been in more than 60 years. We are spending more than we have spent as a share of our economy at any time in 60 years. But we are also collecting less revenue than we have ever collected in the last 60 years. There is something wrong with that equation.

It seems to me clear--and many of us objected and opposed the tax cut that wound up putting us in this predicament--that we have been on a binge of political sloganeering. It has been appealing to the easiest instinct of every American. Who doesn't feel they don't pay too much? The fact is that the burden we pay is far less than many other countries. It is at about the lowest level in our history--the least amount of revenue in the last 60 years. That is part of what contributes to our debt.

It also robs us of a whole set of other choices in terms of American competitiveness.

Let me point out, to listen to the Members of the House and some of our colleagues, you would think the President didn't do anything about this. In fact, the President is the only person who put a realistic budget before us. The President is the only person who really put in a plan to reduce the overall debt, not just a CR on a temporary basis but an overall budget with a plan for how you grow America and reduce our deficit. The President's budget does significantly reduce deficits.

I remember in the 1990s when we faced this very question. I remind my colleagues that we did balance the budget. The last President and party to balance the budget was President Bill Clinton and the Democrats. We did it jointly, working together in a responsible way. It wasn't just that we increased revenues and reduced spending. What was critical was--they all met within 1, 2, or 3 years--that we sent a message to the marketplace and the American people that we were serious about turning our deficit into a surplus.

I believe that as we go forward we have a responsibility to understand that we need to have a responsible set of choices put in front of us. We are locked in a debate that is not actually trying to find common ground right now. Ask this question: Is everything on the table in a serious effort to create jobs and advance America's economic leadership? Is it really impossible for us to sit down together across the aisle and come to an agreement as to what helps us grow and what doesn't? Is it really true that American Senators have the inability to be able to agree as to where the benefit comes to the economy in the multiplier effect with respect to science research or technology research or other kinds of things we can excite in the private sector? Completely absent from this debate is an honest discussion of what actions only the government is actually equipped to take in order to bolster our global competitiveness. Every CEO in America knows there are some things that only the government can do. Look at President Eisenhower's National System of Interstate Highways in the 1950s. By today's standards, we could not build it. It would not happen by today's standards. But the fact is, more than 30 or 40 percent, maybe 50 percent, of America's productivity increases came as a consequence of the building [Page: S1346] of the Interstate Highway System, not to mention billions of dollars' worth of spinoff jobs and tax revenues to our communities. We are still living off that inheritance. We are living off the infrastructure investments of those who went before us.

Today, China is investing 9 percent of its GDP into infrastructure. Europe is investing 5 percent of its GDP into infrastructure. The United States, just about 2 percent, slightly less. We have a $2.2 trillion infrastructure deficit.

What we have not been discussing in this debate is what we need to invest in, a coherent strategy, a policy to make certain we are not held hostage to oil and instability in the Middle East.

The United States could become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 and ensure that 80 percent of our electricity comes from clean energy sources and with that comes jobs. We need a cutting-edge, high-speed wireless data network. We still do not have one. We are going backward. We invented the technologies. We used to be No. 3 or No. 4. Now we are drifting back to No. 16 or No. 21, depending on whose measurement we look at. By any measurement and any standard, we are going backward, while other countries are going forward, and it is because we are not investing and making it attractive for the private sector or private citizens to achieve this.

America has always been a competitive country. Our DNA is innovation and creativity and entrepreneurial activity. The fact is, we are not doing the things we could do in joint venture with the private sector to attract the best jobs and create the best opportunities. We have to become that nation again. That is what our budget ought to be discussing, and we ought to be able to agree across party lines as to how we do that.

The budget passed by the House of Representatives not only does not present a realistic set of choices with respect to how we make America competitive and create higher paying jobs and grow our economy, not only does it not do that, it actually strips away the opportunities to do that. It takes us backward.

The House budget is going to lower the deficit by only 6 percent because they are focused only on domestic discretionary spending. They do not focus on defense spending. They do not focus on Medicaid, Medicare, entitlements. They do not focus on some of the waste and duplication within the system. They just strip away at a whole bunch of programs that many of them have opposed for their entire life in politics and voted against in the first place. They are using the opportunity of this budget to press an ideological agenda. That is why only 13 percent of the budget is being focused on in what they are doing.

They have sworn off any discussion of the very hard choices. Here we are 3 months after the Commission put forward its important proposals, and the Senate is trapped in a political moment when what we need is a moment of truth.

We have to find a way to make these tougher choices. I wish to be clear about what I think they are. I ask my colleagues: Do we want a government that is too limited to have invented the Internet? A lot of people do not think about that, but the fact is, the government invented the Internet. It was a spinoff from DARPA, from research into how we might be able to communicate in the case of nuclear war. We were creating this communications network which became the Internet. Then the private sector saw the opportunities and took those opportunities and translated them into what we have today, which has revolutionized the way people communicate and do business. But it came from the government, just as digitalization came from government research, the space program, which also produced Gortex and microwave and Teflon and a host of other products that are now out in the marketplace where we have created millions of jobs. The Internet created more than a million jobs and has added greatly to the gross domestic product of our country.

We want to have a country that is so limited that we do not do those kinds of things? Taxes so low that everybody feels good, thinks they are better off, but we do not do the research that is necessary to create jobs and new industries and fill the Treasury with the revenue that educates our children, cures to diseases and provides opportunities for poor people to break out of poverty and touch the brass ring of America.

We have to get past the slogans and the sound bites. We have to reason together and talk about the things America does best.

If we are going to balance the budget and create jobs, we cannot pretend we are going to do it by eliminating earmarks and government waste. We have to look at how we did it previously.

In the early 1990s, our economy was faltering because deficits were too big and debt was freezing capital. We had to send a signal to the market that we were capable of being fiscally responsible. Guess what. We did it, and we did it without a reckless assault on a whole series of things that make a difference to the quality of life of our country and to our ability to create jobs. We saw our economy turn around in the 1990s, and we created 22 million jobs. We created unprecedented wealth in America. Every single income level in our country saw their income go up in the 1990s. We created more wealth in the 1990s than we created in the 1920s and 1930s with the great barons of wealth of that period--the Carnegies, Mellons, and so forth. We did it by committing the country to a disciplined path, where we spoke to the potential of the American people.

Working with the Republicans--it was bipartisan--we came up with a framework that put our country on a track to be debt free by 2012, for the first time since Andrew Jackson's administration. The fact is, Alan Greenspan was warning America and the Senate that we were paying down our debt too fast and that could have implications on the marketplace.

We know how to do this in a responsible way. How we got off track from that is a story I am not going to go back into right now. It is pretty well known. But the truth of how we generated the 1990s economic boom is a story that has to be retold again and again.

Let me point out the difference. We are not going to do this process in 2 weeks. We know that. We ought to have a responsible CR that allows us to go forward and give ourselves a proper amount of time to tackle these larger issues and put something serious on the table with tax reform spending, entitlements--all those issues on the table.

What we have in this House budget--let me point out, rather than say it takes us backward. I believe there are reckless cuts in this budget that would do great harm to our country because it strips away our ability to create the future. Research and development in technology, research and development in science, the National Institutes of Health--a host of these things are cut in a draconian way.

I had lunch the other day with the Secretary of the Navy. He was telling me how the House budget has cut ARPA-E program. It has cut it from about $250 million down to $50 million. The House bill effectively shuts off all the projects.

Do you know what some of those projects are? One is our military's ability to have greater capacity in the field, to have solar or wind or battery storage so they do not have to run convoys of fuel to keep vehicles and supply our troops with the administrative support they need.

They say the military has done a study. For every 24 convoys for fuel, we lose one marine or soldier--one marine or soldier for every 24 convoys. They are looking at ways to reduce having those convoys, and they are cutting the money so our military will be more dependent on the fossil fuel that comes from unstable countries in various parts of the world.

Mr. President, how much time do I have remaining?

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