Honoring Our Armed Forces

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 20, 2012
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. MANCHIN. Mr. President, something unusual is happening in Congress. Democrats and Republicans are agreeing on something; we appear headed toward same goal.

The problem is, what we are agreeing on is more business as usual in Washington. They want to pass yet another continuing resolution instead of a real budget solution. I can almost hear the people back home and all over this country saying, There they go again.

I can argue this both ways. A continuing resolution will let the government limp along again for another 6 months. That way, we can go home now and come back after election to fix the budget.

I haven't had anybody in West Virginia tell me that we should hurry home to campaign. I have had plenty of them tell me that we need to stay here and do the job they hired us to do. And that means fixing the budget, because our debt is piling up every day and it is choking our economy.

These continuing resolutions are supposed to be temporary, but it looks to me as though they have become a permanent way of doing business here in Congress. And let me tell you, it is a bad way of doing business. It ignores the dire circumstances of a record $16 trillion of national debt that will increase close to $1 trillion a year if we don't balance our annual budget, and do it soon. It makes me think of the goofy kid on the cover of Mad Magazine, Alfred E. Neuman, ``What? Me worry?''

I came to the Senate not quite 2 years ago, and in the time I have been here there have been 12 of these continuing resolutions. There were three in December of 2010. In 2011 there were two in March, two in April, two in September, one in November, and three in December. Now we are being asked to pass another CR to keep things going a little bit longer, for 6 more months, so we can all go home--that is the problem--so we can all go home and worry about our elections, and we are going to worry about this country's growing debt later. We have got to get home first.

Well, a baker's dozen is one too many for me. Enough is enough. I can't vote for this measure to simply kick the can any farther down the road. It can't go on. The people of West Virginia didn't send me here or send the Presiding Officer from the great State of North Carolina to do that. They sent us here to help fix our budget problems with bipartisan commonsense solutions.

That is the way we did it in West Virginia when I was Governor. We didn't pull these kinds of stunts on West Virginians. We stayed on the job until the work was done. We wouldn't leave. We stayed and worked. If it was all through the night, we would stay. If it was an extra day or an extra week, we would stay and get our work done. We came together to make decisions on what was best for our State, not best for us individually. It is time we do the same here in Washington.

We have to stop putting off what we need to do to get our fiscal house in order. It is time to cancel the flights home, it is time to roll up our sleeves and get down to the people's business, because we have reached a dangerous point in our history--a point in which our debt is threatening not just our economic standing in the world but also our national security.

I know everybody expects that we will come back after elections in a lameduck session, and we are going to rush to fix all of our fiscal problems at the last minute. But if Congress's past performance is any indication of what to expect after the election, I wouldn't expect too much. That is a shame. A lameduck session of Congress is cutting it pretty close, because we have gotten ourselves into a real bind.

The so-called fiscal cliff is real. We are looking at over $5 trillion of economic swing by the end of this year, December 31, coming up to January 1. One part of that is sequestration. I think we all remember the sequestration. That was a penalty we put on ourselves if the supercommittee did not do their job. Well, the supercommittee wasn't that super. It didn't work out the way we all thought it would. It means that what we have to do is take painful cuts. Because we said if we make the penalty strong enough and great enough, we will definitely come to the table and fix the financial problems. But we didn't do it. That was a year ago. We could have been working and fixing all that between, but here we come down to last minute and we are asking for 6 more months.

These are the kinds of meat axe spending cuts--and I will talk about that. I never did put budgets together that were across-the-board cuts. If you had to cut, you looked at it. Government can do two things with your money: It can spend your money or it can invest your money. We have done a poor job of investing. We have done a great job of spending the money. That has got to reverse and change. We can't just say, Well, across-the-board cuts. We have to look and find out and put forth priorities based on our values. And you shouldn't cut where investments should be made, but overall there will be a reduction. That can happen.

Some of our congressional leaders who put together the sequestering in order to force us are now acting as though, We really didn't mean it. It really wasn't sincere about we should do this. We knew we couldn't do it, but it sounded good back then because we really thought we would do so. Can you think what would happen to the confidence of the people in this country if we don't do what we said we were going to do? It is not a smart way to run this country.

Then they talk about cutting the defense budget. Oh, that can't be done. That can't be done. We want to make sure we have the strongest and toughest. And every one of us here supports our military to the hilt. Every man and woman in uniform should have the best equipment, the best training, and the best support this country can give them. But when you look at the ballooning costs of what has happened to our Department of Defense, most of the money spent on contracting, most of the increases on contracting--people doing the same job making three and four and five times more than a man or woman in uniform? That is not right. And they are telling me, We can't cut it? Oh, no. If we do that, you are not strong for America.

Well, I have said this: The automatic cuts go into effect January 2, as we know. Our national security budget is still over $600 million in 2013. That is more than we had in 2006, at the height of the Iraq war. In fact, even after the automatic cuts, the United States will still account for 40 percent of all military spending in the world. Forty percent of all the military spending is by our country. I promise you, we are going to make sure that America keeps the strongest defense in the world.

I have been in this body for 2 years. One of the most sobering moments I have ever had, I am sitting on the Armed

Services Committee learning, as the Presiding Officer and everyone else, about the dangers we face around the world and the threats to the United States of America. The question was asked to then-Chairman ADM Mike Mullen, What is the greatest threat America faces? I am thinking I am going to hear about all the different North Africa problems we have, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and on and on. He didn't hesitate, he didn't waiver. He said, ``The debt of this Nation is the greatest threat we face as America.'' He wasn't worried about our military might. He wasn't worried about a terrorist attack. He was worried about us coming apart from within.

That was perhaps my most sobering moment since coming to the Senate. And when you have the highest ranking officer of the world's most powerful military that history has ever recorded, I think you should take that seriously. I did. That alone should give everyone in Congress a sense of urgency and doing something about our out-of-whack spending. And it truly is out of whack.

If anybody is betting that we can fix our finances in a lameduck session of Congress, I will remind them that some people made the same bet on the supercommittee last year. That didn't work out too well.

In fact, we are about to leave town with a lot of unfinished work. We are not just unsure about our finances, and it is not just about finances. The 112th Congress--and I am ashamed to say this--is one of the least productive Congresses in the history of this country in terms of passing new laws. The Congress we are in right now, the 112th, passed only 173 public laws as of last month. As you recall, in our history books, President Harry Truman--who
dubbed the 80th Congress as the do-nothing Congress--passed 906 bills. I don't even know if he would have a definition of what we have done.

So a do-nothing Congress is something I am not proud of. It is clear to me that betting on Congress getting religion after the election is also a risky gamble--a gamble with America's future, a gamble with the next generation. We tried that with the supercommittee, but it failed. That is the reason we are here today facing the fiscal cliff. The sunsetting of the Bush tax cuts, the tax extenders, the end of emergency unemployment benefits, sequestration, those are all meat axe cuts, and we know that.

The Congressional Budget Office says the fiscal cliff could cut the GDP by 4 percentage points next year and send the economy back right into a recession. Look at the time we have wasted. The supercommittee fell apart almost 1 year ago, and yet here we are. Instead of voting on a real and permanent solution to our financial problems, we are getting ready to vote on yet another temporary measure that will allow us to leave before we have addressed a single one of these most critical issues.

What has happened since the supercommittee shut down with no agreement? One thing that has happened is our long-term national debt has topped $16 trillion a couple weeks ago. That is a figure that is almost impossible to wrap your mind around. But I think you can wrap your mind around this: Each one of us who lives in this great country is now in debt $50,700, every man, woman, and child.

Sixteen trillion dollars is roughly the same as our country's entire economic output for the first time in 40 years. The last time our debt was 100 percent of GDP was right after World War II. We were fighting to save our Nation, to save a society, to save a way of life. This has been self-inflicted, and we can't keep going on this way.

We have reached what the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform called the moment of truth. The report it prepared for the President almost 2 years ago--in fact, that was the title of its report, The Moment of Truth. And while the commission faced the moment of truth with a comprehensive bipartisan plan for reducing our debt, Congress has yet to do so. Now is the time. We know how to fix things. Congress has done it before.

In the early 1990s, our economy was faltering because deficits and debt were freezing capital. But Congress sent a signal to the market that it was capable of being fiscally responsible. And it was. The result was the longest economic expansion in history: the creation of over 22 million jobs and unprecedented wealth in America, with every income bracket rising--every income bracket, not just the chosen few.

The budget framework put together by Congress and the White House led to the first balanced budget in generations and put our country on track to be debt free this year, in 2012. If we had stayed the course, we would be debt free as a United States of America right now. Let me repeat that. This year we would have been debt free.

But we got totally off track with tax cuts, two wars, and expansion of the prescription drug benefits for Medicare recipients--none of which was paid for. All great ideas, but none was paid for. And the 10-year $5.6 trillion surplus forecast in 2001 has become a debt of more than $16 trillion. That is a $22 trillion swing in less than a decade. It is unbelievable. It is mind boggling.

But we can get back on track if we follow a simple formula, roughly the same one the Bowles-Simpson debt commission recommended. We have to curtail spending, we have to have a fair revenue stream, and we have got to look at cutting the fat; and, to do that, an overhaul of our tax system so it is not only more equitable for everyone but also encourages the kind of entrepreneurship that makes our country the bedrock of the global economy.

In America, we need a tax system where everybody pays their fair share, and where American businesses are free to do what they do best: outproduce, and outinnovate competitors all around the world. To keep a bright future, we have to reform our entitlement programs so we can preserve the benefits. There is serious trouble ahead if we don't act.

Think about this. In 2016, Social Security disability is basically insolvent; 2024, Medicare insolvent; 2033, Social Security will only be able to deliver 75 cents on the dollar, a 25-percent discount.

The American people are hungry for plain talk on our debt. That is why a few weeks ago in Charleston, WV, we hosted Senator Alan Simpson and White House Chief of Staff under Bill Clinton Erskine Bowles. They packed the house, and they spoke the truth. What they were saying is, give the American people the facts, show them the options the way we did at our fiscal summit, and they will do their part to get our country back on the right track. They always have. That is what makes this country so great.

So don't sell the United States of America short. Don't sell the American people short because this is an election year. They can tell when you are dealing straight with them or when you are playing politics. Right now, there is no more time to play politics.

In fact, I got a letter yesterday from James of Clarksburg, WV, talking about the summit. Here is what he said.

It is time for responsible Members of the Senate like you to take to the floor and tell your fellow Senators, ``It is past time for us to take responsible action to address the fiscal crisis which is our responsibility to the people who sent us here--because it is just that. There is no excuse for delaying action until after the election.

No excuse to delay it just because of an election.

James got it exactly right; there is no time to waste. I am not naive. I understand some of the choices we face are going to be hard for some of us to make. I know Republicans don't want to talk about new revenue, and I know Democrats don't want to talk about entitlement reform. But we need to start thinking more about the next generation than of ourselves, or the next generation than the next news cycle or the next flight out of Washington.

Millions of Americans are struggling in this tough economy, working overtime to pay their bills, find a job, and find a way forward for their families. They are looking to us for the leadership they need. They are looking to us for solutions. They are looking to us to come together and do what is best for the country in a balanced and practical way. They are simply looking to us to do our job, and I intend to do that to the best of my ability.

Winston Churchill once said: You can always count on Americans to do the right thing--after they have tried everything else.

I think we have tried everything else, including kicking the can down the road 12 times before. Now it is time for us to do the right thing. This temporary step is the wrong thing at the wrong time. We have work left to do, and we need to stay and do it. The people of America expect us to do better, to stand up for them, to put politics aside. The people of West Virginia can be assured that I will always stand, and I will continue to try to do the best that I possibly can for them and for the people of this great country.

I yield the floor.