“HOW TO PUT AMERICA ON THE ROAD TO FISCAL SANITY WHILE WE STILL CAN”
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Remarks by Senator John McCain for the Progressive Policy Institute Forum:
Thank you Bill, and I would like to thank everyone at PPI for hosting this forum. It is vitally important that we engage in a serious dialogue about our fiscal future. We need to do exactly what is being done here today- having a thorough, no-holds-barred discussion between a large group of policy experts from the right and the left. It doesn’t happen often enough in this town. But once we stop talking, we need to start acting, and I hope by the end of this forum you will agree to join in helping lead the charge to action.
In the interest of straight talk, let me be blunt. I expect that by the time I leave this room today, I will have offended each and everyone of you in some way. I’m going to say things that aren’t popular in Washington, but that people in this room need to hear. You may get angry at me, and I hope you get angry at yourselves as well. It’s true that we need comprehensive reform of the budget process. Later this morning, Sen. Lieberman will outline a very worthy proposal. Such reforms are long overdue. We can talk about every budget reform measure imaginable, but the bottom line is that, until both Democrats and Republicans control their appetite for spending, we’re going to continue to spiral out of control.
As everyone in this room knows, our fiscal future can only be described as bleak. We have a projected deficit of over $521 billion and we continue to spend, and spend, and spend. Lately more and more comment about how Republicans and Democrats can’t find any common ground and I myself have lamented on how nasty and partisan Washington has become. Well, I stand corrected, because there is one thing which unites Republicans and Democrats: Fiscal irresponsibility has become the great unifier of late, and for that we should all be ashamed.
I am a proud Republican. I’m a Barry Goldwater Republican. I revere Ronald Reagan and his party of limited government. Sadly, that party is no longer. The current version of the Republican party is engaged in an outrageous spending binge and they’re being steadied and encouraged by the Democrats. It used to be understood that no one ever voted for a Democrat to be a champion of fiscal responsibility. But at this point, is there a party to take up that worthy cause?
From pork barrel spending to expanding entitlements to tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens, both parties have proven who they represent and who they are working for and it’s not the American taxpayer. Republicans and Democrats alike represent no one but the special interests. Whether it be catfish farmers in the south or blueberry farmers in the north or big Pharmaceutical companies with high-paid lobbyists here in Washington- big-monied special interests have a stranglehold on this town.
My friends, we are at war. Throughout our history, wartime has been a time of sacrifice. At the beginning of the war I said it would be long and difficult, and would require a great deal of sacrifice on everyone’s part. But about the only sacrifice taking place is that by the brave men and women fighting to defend and protect the liberties we hold so dear, and that of their families.
It is time for others to step up and start sacrificing. What have we sacrificed? Just in the last year we have approved legislation containing billions and billions of dollars in unrequested and unauthorized pork barrel projects, huge tax breaks for the wealthy and, just last week, a corporate tax bill estimated to cost $180 billion, chock full of billions of dollars in tax breaks for wealthy oil and gas companies and other special interests. One Washington Post article quoted a tax lobbyist involved in its drafting to concede the bill “has risen to a new level of sleaze.” That is far and away from sacrifice.
Additionally, late last year we expanded Medicare, an already ailing entitlement program, by adding a costly prescription drug benefit. To make matters worse, that law’s price tag grew from an estimated $400 billion when it was passed by Congress, to $534 billion just three months later. It pains me to acknowledge that the biggest expansion of Medicare since its inception happened under a Republican administration and under the Republican leadership of both Houses of Congress. The party that was long known to be the guardian of the treasury is now its routine raider.
Not long ago, we used to talk about the “lock box.” But let’s get a little more basic. Let’s consider the “alarm clock.” We need one big wake up call in Washington. According to the General Accounting Office, the unfunded Federal financial burden (such as public debt, future Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid payments) totals more than $40 trillion or $140,000 per man, woman and child. To put this in perspective, the average mortgage (which is often a family’s largest liability) is only $124,000 – and that is often borne by the family breadwinners, not the children too. Instead of fixing the problem, and fixing it will not come easy, we only succeeded in making it bigger, more unstable, more complicated and much, much more expensive.
As mind-boggling as expanding Medicare has been, nothing tops my confusion with the rationale for cutting taxes during wartime. I don’t remember ever in the history of warfare when we cut taxes. I hope everyone can agree that the first duty of government is to defend the people. As you know, the Department of Defense just asked us for $25 billion. We were told we would not need to provide a supplemental appropriation until next year - but they asked for it last week. It’s fine - we need to give them what the need to succeed. But look at what we passed that same week - a $180 billion giveaway to the special interests in the form of a “corporate tax” bill that contained nearly $18 billion energy related provisions and tax breaks for the big oil and gas companies.
Ten years ago, in 1994, Republicans won control of both Houses of Congress. For one brief shining moment, we employed true fiscal restraint and eventually managed to balance the budget and even attain that which had seemed unattainable- a surplus! Now, at a time of national crisis, we have thrown caution to the wind and continue to spend, and spend, and spend - all the while cutting taxes. The perfect evidence of this is the number of Congressional earmarks found in the 13 annual appropriations bills. In 1994 there were 4,126 earmarks - this year there were 14,040 earmarks. Where are our priorities?
Thousands miles from here young men and women are putting everything on the line so we can be free. And what have we sacrificed? Seriously, think about it carefully. Name one thing that Congress has told the special interests and their fat-cat lobbyists to do without since this war began. Now think about America’s finest under fire in Iraq and Afghanistan and the sacrifice they’re making on our behalf. We asked them to go half way across the world to help make a better life for people they’ve never met, and possibly to die in the process. In return, the least we can do is to make America a better place for them and their children, they’ve earned it.