Eve of the Budget Debate
House Chamber, Washington, D.C.
March 27, 2012
The House is about to consider a budget in a dangerous hour in the life of our country. Last year, we barreled past several urgent warning signals: the loss of our nation’s triple-A credit rating; the size of the national debt surpassing our entire economy; a record third year of trillion dollar-plus annual deficits.
I believe this to be one of our last opportunities to avert a financial crisis unprecedented in our nation’s experience and on a magnitude far greater than that now destroying Greece.
The blueprint passed by the House Budget Committee last week is a disappointment to those who believe the budget can and should be balanced much sooner, and I do not entirely disassociate myself from those sentiments.
But the immediate issue before us, as Lincoln put it, “is not ‘can any of us imagine better?’ but, ‘can we all do better?’” The approaching financial crisis demands first and foremost that we turn this country away from the fiscal precipice and place it back on a course to solvency.
This budget does so. Indeed, it improves on the House budget last year that was killed in the Senate, but which according to Standard and Poors, would have preserved the triple-A credit rating of the United States Government. This budget, I believe, will restore it.
It is a long road back, balancing by the late 2030’s and ultimately paying off the entire debt by the mid-2050’s. But even relying on the static scoring of the CBO which presents a worst-case scenario – it still means that my children – who are now in college – will be able to retire into a prosperous and debt-free America.
There is a great deal in it for Conservatives not to like. That is not the issue. The issue is, will this Congress and ultimately this government change its fiscal trajectory enough to avert the sovereign debt crisis that fiscal experts across the spectrum warn us is just a few years dead ahead?
This is not some moonless night on the Atlantic. We can see this danger right ahead of us and we can see that it is big enough to sink this great ship of state. We have precious little time remaining to avert it. This budget will turn us just enough to avoid that calamity – and I fear we won’t have many more opportunities to do so.
The alternative is unthinkable. The President’s budget would subject our nation to one of the biggest tax increases in its history – striking especially hard at the small businesses that we are depending upon to create 2/3 of the new jobs that Americans desperately need. And even so, by its own numbers it NEVER balances, and thus courts the fiscal collapse of our nation.
“How do you go bankrupt?” “Two ways,” he said. “Gradually, then suddenly.”
For the last decade, this nation has been going bankrupt gradually.
History warns us that if we do not change this course very soon, we will cease going bankrupt gradually and start going bankrupt quite suddenly. It may happen through a chain reaction set off by a seemingly minor international event. It may happen one day when a routine bond auction sours.
Interest rates will start rising rapidly. Financial panics will begin. The government will have to respond by increasingly frantic efforts to maintain a stream of capital, either through massive policy dislocations or catastrophic inflation.
The approach of great cataclysms that are so obvious to historians in retrospect, are often unheeded by contemporaries at the time. Just thirty days before the outbreak of World War II, Neville Chamberlain recessed Parliament to go on extended holiday.
Let that not be how history remembers this Congress. This budget is not perfect – but it is adequate to spare our country from the convulsions of Greece.
I wholeheartedly support this budget for that reason – and I expect it will have the overwhelming support of this House. I can only hope that the Senate this time will put aside its own differences and heed Lincoln’s plea that “the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise – with the occasion…We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our Country.”
# # #