Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) floor speech, June 29, 2011
Mrs. BOXER. Mr. President, I have been listening very carefully to the remarks of my friend about what we have to do, what is in front of us. Of course, he is speaking for the Republican Party for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
Let me say this: I want a balanced budget. That is what I want. I don’t need an amendment to the Constitution to get me to vote for a balanced budget. What I want is for all sides to come together--that is what I want--and write a balanced budget. I want us to do it in a way that is responsible and do it in a way that is fair and do it in a way that protects our middle class, protects our kids, and stimulates economic growth by making smart investments and cutting out spending in areas we don’t need it.
So all this yak about a balanced budget amendment--and I call it that, and I apologize if it sounds as though it is a derogatory term--it is just so much talk. Let’s get to it.
I think we ought to go back to the people and the party that was the only party and the only people to balance the budget in 40 years. I hate to break it to my Republican friends, but that is the Democratic Party. We are the ones who did it. We did it when Bill Clinton came into office. We did it after hard work. We did it after painful cuts. We did it with smart investments. We did it with everybody paying their fair share, and we didn’t need a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution to do it. It is a gimmick. We need a balanced budget, not a balanced budget amendment.
Let’s look at what we did the last time this country ever had a balanced budget. Lucky for us, it wasn’t that long ago. Lucky for us, a lot of us are still here who made that fateful vote. We didn’t have one Republican voting for that budget, and when they came to the floor--I have all the quotes, chapter and verse--they said: This is horrible. It will never balance the budget. This is going to lead to a depression. This is the worst thing. But we know what happened. We not only balanced the budget, but we had a surplus. We not only had a surplus, but the debt was going down so fast we thought we would never have to have Treasury bonds again. On top of that, we created 23 million jobs.
So I hope the public understands, when they hear Republican colleague after Republican colleague come to the floor saying we need to stay in all through July--fine with me. I will stay here through August. I will spend the night in the cloakroom, I don’t care. Let’s not talk about a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Let’s talk about doing the hard work of balancing the budget. The way we do it, again, is to follow the lead of the plan that was laid out by President Clinton and which worked in the most amazing way beyond our greatest expectations.
What did we do? We looked at this deficit and we said: This is unacceptable. We went after programs that made no sense and we cut them. We either eliminated them or we cut them back. Then we asked: What are some investments we could make that would actually stimulate the growth of the private sector? I thought my friend, Senator Blunt, was right. That is what we need to do. We need to stimulate growth in the private sector. At that time, the investments were on the high-tech side--high tech, biotech. Today, clearly, it is clean energy. That is what the whole world wants. That is where we ought to be leading. That is what our President knows. So we cut out programs that don’t make sense. We invest where it makes sense to create jobs and then guess what we do. We make sure we have enough revenues coming in to pay for the priorities.
I have news for my Republican friends. It is not that hard. Go after the billionaires. They can’t get themselves to do it, can they? Go after the billionaires and the millionaires, the people who aren’t paying what they should be paying. But when the House had its chance, what did it do? It allowed the biggest tax breaks ever to continue for the billionaires and the millionaires and they killed Medicare. Medicare is gone. It is becoming some kind of a voucher program, where we can imagine some 90-year-old woman who is suffering from disease has to now go out and try to find out where she can buy an insurance plan. Tell me who is going to cover her, A; and, B, tell me if she has the strength to do that; and, C, her Medicare benefit no longer goes to her. Who does it go to? It goes to the insurance company. That is the plan the Republicans passed in the House, and they cut everything that is near and dear to the hearts of the American people. In addition to Medicare, they cut education. They cut funding for clean air, clean water. Highways they cut by a third, and here they talk about jobs on the other side, private sector jobs. The highway bill creates thousands and thousands and thousands of jobs in the private sector. They cut that bill by 36 percent.
So when I hear my Republican friends talk about the importance of balancing the budget and they are talking about a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution--why don’t they show us their balanced budget? Because the one they showed us from the House was such a disaster that they lost a congressional seat they held for eternity. It is easy to talk about a balanced budget amendment. It is harder to balance the budget the fair way, and that is what we have to do.
My friend, Senator Blunt, also talked about the importance of jobs. He is so right. I just ran for reelection. Jobs, jobs, jobs, the top three issues. Guess what. My Republican friends have filibustered every single jobs bill we brought to the floor. The last jobs bill is one I am very familiar with because it is a bill that came out of my committee. The whole committee voted, with one dissenting vote, for the Economic Development Administration to give seed money to areas in the country that need job creation and attract $7 of funds for every $1 of Federal money. It would have created 1 million jobs over 5 years. They filibustered it. They added amendments about the prairie chicken. They added amendments about things that had nothing to do with it, just to bring it down. They didn’t even have--what is the word I am looking for? They didn’t even speak against it when they voted against it at the end of the day. They didn’t even come to the floor because they had nothing to say because it is a jobs bill, because it has passed every Congress since the 1960s. The last time it passed, it passed without a dissenting vote in the Senate in 2004 because the last President who signed it was George W. Bush. It is a jobs bill. They said no. Why? I go back to what their leader said. His top priority? Beating President Barack Obama. So we have to figure they are bringing every jobs bill down so this economy gets worse.
Let me tell my colleagues, it is not going to go down easy at home. It is not going to go down easy at home.
They killed a bill that Mary Landrieu brought out of her committee unanimously, a small business bill. It would have created thousands of small businesses. They voted it down. That bill was written by Warren Rudman, a Republican Senator. They voted it down. They filibustered it and voted it down. Why? They say jobs are their top priority. Why would they vote down a bill that was written by a Republican, that is passed without objection year after year after year? Why would they vote down another bill that was last signed by George W. Bush without a dissenting vote in the Senate? Why? Two jobs bills. Why? We have to ask ourselves why. Maybe they are willing to sacrifice jobs for political reasons. That is all I can come up with. I put that together with what Mitch McConnell said.
Now their big push is a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution--a lot of talk. Balance the budget, folks. We know how to do it. End the wars. That is $1 trillion over 10 years. Go after the millionaires and the billionaires who don’t pay their fair share. That is another $1 trillion over 10 years. That is $2 trillion, right there. Go after the people who never pay their taxes. Go after the oil companies that are ripping us off at the pump and taking the highest profits ever. It is not hard to do. Yes, we are willing to cut some things that don’t make sense. We could have a $4 trillion package pretty easily if we are willing to look at it in a fair way.
I heard our President today speaking to the Nation through a press conference, and he was very sweet about this issue. I was saying to Senator Durbin, as I watched him, he is explaining it to the people. Everybody has to give up something. If we want bipartisanship, that doesn’t mean we all get what we want and somebody gets nothing. It means I give up some of the things I want and they give up some of the things they want. But we have declarations by the Republicans: We will never ever agree to any new revenues. Why? They just voted to eliminate the ethanol subsidy. That brings revenues. So why would they not take that to the table? How can they believe it is fair that billionaires sometimes pay less in terms of the effective tax rate than a secretary or a teacher or a nurse?
Come on. Come to the table. Don’t come to the table with a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. That doesn’t do anything to balance the budget. It is a lot of talk. Balance the budget. Put a little faith in the people who know how to do it who did it before.
I was proud to vote to balance the budget. I was proud to vote for a fair budget. I was proud to be here when we saw 23 million jobs come. That didn’t happen because we just said: Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. End Medicare as we know it. It came because we were willing to look at what was working, what wasn’t working, where to make the investments, where to make the cuts. We have to come to the table with everything on it. We have to say we are willing to listen to the other side. We need a fair plan. We have that as Democrats. We are not going to end Medicare. We are not going to hurt working people. We are going to do this in a fair way.
I hope the American people will put this together and connect all the dots. We have a Republican leader who has said on more than one occasion the most important thing is to defeat Barack Obama. We have a Republican Party that says it is for jobs and filibusters every single jobs bill that in the past they have broadly supported. We have Republicans walking out on the Vice President, taking their little teddy bear and their blankies and walking out of the negotiations because they didn’t like the way the discussions were going. They walked out. Then, my friends on the other side and I thought Senator Blunt was very eloquent on the point. He said we need two things. We need to work on job creation in the private sector--and I just showed that despite the language, they voted everything down--and then we have to take uncertainty out of the equation. That was his big point. He is so right. How do we take uncertainty out of the equation?
Do not play politics with the debt ceiling. Do not play politics with it. Because I have read what economists say, that if we do not do this right, and we do not agree, and the debt ceiling becomes a victim of this partisanship, Treasury bonds of the United States of America will be junk bonds--will be junk bonds.
So you want to play games? Go home, go on the corner, and I will play you a game. But do not bring it in here. It is too serious. This is the greatest country there ever was.
My parents, one of whom was born outside of this country, told me that I should kiss the ground of America. And how proud I am that I am here. But I will tell you, if I see people who are willing to turn U.S. Treasury bonds into junk bonds, I am going to do everything I can in my life to make sure those who have done this will not be nameless or faceless. It is too important.
The fact that we are even playing these games is ridiculous. The fact that we cannot come together and shake hands and say this budget deficit is terrible, we are going to deal with it, we are going to deal with the debt, we are going to do what we did under Bill Clinton, we are going to balance the budget, we are going to create a surplus--we can do this. You shake hands on it. You have the parameters of the deal. You pass a debt ceiling that is clean. You send a message to the market.
I used to be a stockbroker. When the President would sneeze, the market would go down 200 points. That is how the market responds to these things. We do not have to be playing with the stock market, with the full faith and credit of the United States of America.
It is pretty simple if everything is on the table. If all you want to do is destroy Social Security and Medicare, it is not simple. But if you are willing to talk to us, to have a fair taxation system, where the Warren Buffetts of the world are at least paying as much in an effective tax rate as a nurse, there is something to talk about here. But do not go walking out of discussions and going home because you did not get 100 percent of what you want. Life does not work that way.
I speak as a mother, a grandmother, a Senator from the largest State in the Union when I say this: You do not get everything you want in a negotiation. The Republicans control the House. The Democrats control the Senate. The Democrats control the White House. Correct me if I am wrong: two-thirds Democratic. In a fair world, we would get two-thirds of what we want. But we are going to give up more. It ought to be a 50-50 deal. That is how you negotiate.
This is a tough time. If the other side thinks a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution balances the budget, it does not. You have to do the hard work of balancing the budget. You have to sit down in this tough time, in a tough, fragile economic recovery.
Remember when President Obama took over, we were bleeding 800,000 jobs a month. He had to handle two wars, unpaid for by George W. and his friends; a tax cut, unpaid for, to the richest people in America. He had to deal with a banking system that was frozen solid. He had to deal with an automobile industry that was going out of business. We had to work, and a few brave souls from the other side of the aisle worked with us, thank God, or who knows where we would be today.
And now, when we are finally moving out of this nightmarish economy--not quickly enough--we have Republicans filibustering jobs bill, then coming down here and saying how important jobs are, and saying how important it is there is certainty, when they are playing games with the debt ceiling.
I am an optimist. That is why I stay in this world I am in, and I thank the people of California for giving me the chance so many times. But there is a saying back home: Are you on the level? Are you on the level when you are in negotiations? Do you want to have a deal? Do you want to fix it? Do you want to work with us? I do not know when I see them filibustering jobs bills, when I see them walking out on the Vice President, when I see them saying: Oh, that is off the table, and this is off the table, and that is off the table, when they do not run this country. They run the House. I wonder: Where are we going?
When I hear people saying: What is the big deal if we do not pay our bills, if we do not lift the debt ceiling and we cannot pay our bills, what people have to understand is, lifting up the debt ceiling is not about the future payments, it is about payments due.
I said we had a balanced budget under Bill Clinton--and a surplus. We went into deficit mode when George Bush took over and did the tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, and did not pay for it, and did a prescription drug benefit and never paid for it, did two wars and never paid for them, and we got into big trouble.
What is the solution of my friends on the other side? We are walking out of the negotiations because we cannot talk about taxing billionaires or taking away corporate welfare from oil companies. God forbid. It makes me wonder, really, who is on the level.
We can do this. We did it before. It is not that hard. We just need people of good will. I will say to my friends on the other side: Forget the reelection of Barack Obama. Forget the next Presidential race. You will have your candidate and we will have ours, and that is for another day. Right now we are in this Chamber. We are talking about how to have a credible plan to get this deficit down, to get this debt down, to strengthen our economy, to strengthen job creation, to keep the middle class vibrant.
I hear some Republicans now on the Presidential trail talking about doing away with the minimum wage. Can you imagine going back to the days when the minimum wage was $4 an hour? I remember when it was 50 cents an hour. It dates me a bit. That is what we hear from the other side. Their vision is not a good vision for the young people of this country who are looking forward to a life at least as good as that of their parents.
In conclusion, this is not a time to play games or reach for a political advantage. This is not a time to hold the future of this country hostage to some ideological agenda or some pledge that somebody signed to some political person outside of this Chamber. Pledges signed--it is not about that. It is about putting America first. It is about putting our families first. It is not about amending the Constitution with a balanced budget amendment. It is about balancing the budget in a fair way.
The Republican plan that passed the House that started with Paul Ryan did not balance the budget for 40 years. That is not a plan. We have to do better. But when you are willing, as they are, to say to millionaires and billionaires and trillionaires: You do not have pay your fair share, the revenues do not come in. What happens as a result, they have to kill Medicare--which they did in the House budget--they have to hurt education, make the Environmental Protection Agency a shadow of its former self.
I go out and look at polls. Eighty percent of the people want the EPA to stay out there and clean up the air and make sure we have safe drinking water. They want food inspections. They want air traffic controllers on the job. They want a next-generation air system.
This is the greatest country in the world. We do not have to walk away from our dreams. We just have to have everybody paying their fair share. If that happens, we can do this. And we need to end those wars that are so costly in so many ways. If we do those two things, we are on our way to a balanced budget. We are on our way to surpluses.
We can do this. The only thing standing in our way is politics. That is what it seems to me. If people think that more important than fixing this budget crisis is bringing down a President politically, we have a problem.
We take the oath of office, and we raise our right hand, we put our hand on the Bible, to be loyal to this country, to do right by this country. That is what we should be doing now.
If people want to stay in July, August, September, October, through Christmas, that is fine with me. But we have to have a plan that is fair. If we have a plan that is fair, we balance the
budget. We do it over time. We do it wisely. We create jobs. Interest rates remain low. We can do it because we did it before. The only people who have ever balanced the budget in the last 40 years have been the Democrats. That is a fact in evidence.
We have the path lights showing the way. It is fairness on spending; cut the things that do not work; fairness on taxation; make sure billionaires pay their fair share. We follow that path. We bring home our troops. We are golden. I think that is a pathway I would like to support.
I yield the floor.