07.30.11

Senate Floor Address By Senator Patrick Leahy, On The Debt Ceiling Crisis

Remarks of Senator Patrick Leahy

The Debt Ceiling Crisis 

Senate Floor

Saturday, July 30, 2011

It is unfortunate that a partisan faction first manufactured this debt limit crisis and now continues to prevent a bipartisan solution.  An unwillingness to compromise and find a bipartisan solution has led us to the brink.  The United States of America is now just three days away from defaulting on its obligations, for the first time in our history.  We are needlessly risking financial turmoil throughout this great country, which would send ripple effects worldwide.  A temporary solution is no solution at all and will undermine the stability that our economy needs to grow.  Now is the time to put aside partisan bickering and pass a bill.  It is time for the grownups in the room to take over and reach a bipartisan solution on the debt ceiling.

A my-way-or-no-way faction in the other body has had no qualms about playing Russian Roulette with our entire economy and with every American family in it.  Regrettably, as we all saw so clearly again yesterday, the House leadership’s response to win this faction’s votes has been simply to shift their bill even farther away from helpfulness or reality.  Everyone knows that the House debt bill written under this duress was a sham, with no chance of passing, and with no chance of averting a debt catastrophe.

On Friday, at the finish line to a vote on their debt bill, House leaders added to their package the idea of amending the U.S. Constitution with a balanced budget amendment.  This was done as a desperate attempt to win a few more votes.  As the grim deadline of this man-made calamity approaches, it should go without saying that this is no time for more bumper sticker politics.  This is a time for real leadership and real bipartisanship.

Many in this body recall, as I do, the period just two short decades ago when were able not only to balance the federal budget but to create budget surpluses that were on their way to paying off the national debt.  We did that without any constitutional amendment requiring it.  And those surpluses grew, until subsequent decisions were made by a new administration, and ratified by a new Congress, that squandered the surpluses and started once again piling up debt.  This good and great Nation does not need the straightjacket of a one-size-fits-all change in our Constitution to do what needs to be done.  What the American people want, need and deserve is a return to wise and disciplined leadership.  We need the return of willingness, by those of us chosen to serve within the halls of government, to cooperate and to forge solutions across partisan lines. 

At this point, Majority Leader Reid’s debt-reduction package of $2.2 trillion in spending cuts is Congress’s best chance to avoid a default and prevent a disastrous credit-rating downgrade.  Unlike the House plan, the Reid solution is an invitation to consensus.  The Senate solution incorporates spending reductions reached in bipartisan negotiations, yielding greater overall budget savings sooner than the House proposal.  It would also spare the country the ordeal of going through this torment again just a few months from now.

As this calamity has unfolded in slow motion, it has been smothering the chance for action on nearly all other national priorities – from jobs to national security to air traffic control.  The congressional deadlock has prevented passage of a routine renewal of the Federal Aviation Administration’s charter to operate.  In addition, the Senate could be considering the America Invents Act, which is a bipartisan, bicameral bill ready to move across the finish line that creates jobs and unleashes American innovation without adding a penny to the deficit.  But instead of acting on constructive and necessary priorities like these, we are stuck playing a dangerous game with our economy.  The deadline for default will not change.  I commend Leader Reid for his willingness and desire to work in the spirit of compromise with the minority leader and others to find a bipartisan solution to halt this perilous march to the edge of the financial cliff.

The American people want this solved, now, with a fair solution, and through the give-and-take of our representative government.  I am confident that if we work together, Congress will avert this looming, man-made economic calamity.  It is late, but not yet too late, for Republicans and Democrats to come together for the sake of our country in fashioning a bipartisan solution to raise the debt limit, reduce our long-term debt, and give our economy the long-term foundation to prosper.

I have had the privilege to represent Vermont in the United States Senate for 37 years.  I have been blessed enough to witness many times when the Senate has shown its remarkable ability to rise up to reflect the conscience of the Nation.  I believe now is such a time for Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, for the good of the country, to once again rise to the occasion. 

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