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The Budget

Sen. Bob Corker

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Mr. President, I came down today to talk about the highway bill we are on, and I want to say I appreciate the way we are dealing with each committee's portion of the bill as we go along. I know we are on the base bill at present, but before I get into that, I do want to make some comments about the budget.

I know we have had an inability in the Senate to pass a budget over the last 1,100 days. I know the Acting President pro tempore--a friend of mine--led a city and had to do this each year. We had to do the same in our State and city. I think those of us who come to this body are always shocked at the lack of fiscal discipline that takes place in Washington in general, but I have to say in looking at the administration's budget that was put forth today, it makes a mockery of the American people.

Our State has been blessed. We have had Governors who have been Republicans and Democrats, we have had people on both sides of the aisle, and our State has been governed well for a long time. I believe if a Governor of our State put forth a budget such as the budget put forth today, they would be run out of our State because it is not a serious budget.

I know the Acting President pro tempore and I have been to many meetings and looked at some of the proposals that have been put out by groups like Bowles-Simpson, and it is stunning to me when we know the biggest issue our country faces is ourselves--meaning our own inability to deal with the fiscal issues that are before us and to deal with all of the reforms we know have to take place. When we know we are our own greatest enemy, to have a document that has been put out the way this one has been put out in almost a flippant way, is almost to say we don't have to deal with this serious issue that our country has to face which is pretty unbelievable.

There is no focus on the kind of tax reform that I think so many of us support that would broaden the base and lower marginal rates and have tremendous economic growth. There is no focus on dealing with programs such as Medicare and Social Security that people depend upon, that people have counted upon all of their lives and yet we know they are not going to exist in a very short amount of time unless we do something. Instead, this document totally puts its head in the sand on these issues. It doesn't deal with them.

To the Acting President pro tempore I will say that I think it is irresponsible for a President, facing the kinds of issues our country is facing and who is seeking another term, not to lay out what he believes is the approach for us to deal with these issues, just as I believe, by the way, that whoever the Republican nominee is, I think it is incumbent upon him to do exactly the same. I think all of us need to know what our Chief Executive Officer's plans are for this country as they relate to, again, the most important issue we have to deal with.

The most appalling about it is we have millions of people looking for jobs right now. Unemployment is exceptionally high. I think almost every Member of this body who talks to people out there who actually are part of small business job creation knows they will tell us they are concerned about the future of our country. That is the biggest overhang that is keeping them from investing. So these issues are tied together in a most unique way. The greatest threat to our future is our inability to deal with fiscal issues. Our Chief Executive Officer, the President, has laid out a laughable document, one that, again, makes a mockery of the American people; yet at the same time it is us acting on real fiscal discipline that actually would drive our economy to grow and create jobs.

I am very disappointed, which brings me to the point at hand. We have a highway bill. It is the first time I think we have dealt with a highway bill since I have been in the Senate for 5 years. We keep kicking the can down the road. It is my understanding that the EPW Committee passed this out 100 percent--Rs and Ds passed this out. Apparently they did some very good work, working together, to pass a base bill.

It is also my understanding, though, that the Finance Committee is charged with paying for this and has come up with pay-fors that work like this: We are going to spend this money over a 2-year period but we are going to pay for it over a 10-year period. Again, I look at the Acting President pro tempore, somebody I know was responsible in the job he had prior to being here, and I am sure he is in this job too. But here is what we are doing: We are going to have Republicans down here constantly railing against the President's budget. My friends on the other side of the aisle won't do that out of respect, but I am sure they are wondering what in the world has been handed to us. At the same time, we have a piece of legislation on the floor that we are going to be dealing with that candidly does a lot of the same thing. We are going to spend money over the next 2 years and yet we are going to pay for it over the next 10. I think that is absolutely irresponsible. I hope before this highway bill leaves the floor we will either reduce the amount we are spending on it--which I hate to see happen because I know we do need to spend money on infrastructure around our country--or we will figure out a way to pay for it where if we are going to spend money over a 2-year period, we will also generate revenues to pay for it over a 2-year period. This bill does not do that.

I do want to remind my Republican friends--I know we had some Republican support on the Finance Committee--that one of the things we railed about most with the health care bill that has divided our country in so many ways was that we took 6 years worth of cost and 10 years worth of revenues. All of us said it was a sleight of hand, and it was a sleight of hand; there is no question. I mean it was not honest in the way it was presented. But even since that time, with this most controversial bill, what we have done is actually moved away and now we are talking about in this highway bill spending money over a 2-year period but using pay-fors over a 10-year period. What that means is the next time we pass a highway bill under this same mode, we are continuing to run up tremendous debts. These young people who are sitting before us as pages, who come here to learn about how our country operates, want to see, hopefully, Senators acting in a responsible way.

The fact is there will be a lot of focus today on the President's budget, and I know there is a lot of disappointment on both sides of the aisle regarding what that budget says. But the thing we can do in this body over the next week or so as we are looking at this highway bill is to ensure we don't fall into that same trap here in Congress in passing a highway bill that is not paid for, that uses future revenues which we will probably never see because we will flip them out and change them and use them in another way right after this bill is passed.

I thank my colleagues for listening.

I yield the floor, and I note the absence of a quorum.

The clerk will call the roll.

The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

Sen. Ron Johnson

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Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

Without objection, it is so ordered.

Sen. Ron Johnson

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Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to speak for not more than 15 minutes.

Without objection, it is so ordered.