Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the urgent need to act on the debt ceiling before the August 2 deadline. While I believe that we have reached a defining moment as a country which should not be wasted, we need to reduce our debt, we also can’t afford to play Russian roulette with our economy by toying with the debt limit. We’ve had months to work this out, yet less than six days from a possible default that would plunge this country into a serious crisis, here we stand in opposite corners of the boxing ring.
The markets are jittering, investors and businesses are deeply concerned, but most importantly, the people of the country are fed up with this political stalemate. They don’t want their interest rates to rise, the value of the dollar to fall, and they don’t want to see their retirement savings decimated again because some in Washington believe that if they refuse to compromise, the resulting crisis will score them political points. Even since the economic downturn, families across the country have sat down at their kitchen tables to make the tough choices about what they hold most dear and what they can learn to live without. We all know those conversations. They have to end with compromise. A poll released Monday by the Pew Charitable Trust that says 68% of the lawmakers who share this issue on either side, that they say those lawmakers should actually compromise. So people who actually share a view with a particular lawmaker, 68% of them say that lawmaker should compromise, even if it means striking a deal that they disagree with. Just 23% say lawmakers who share their views should stand by their principles even if it leads to default.
By my colleagues and I don’t need polls to tell us that. We’ve all had our offices flooded with calls and e-mails of well-meaning constituents with advice, that are mad in the last few day asking us to work it out. Just this morning, I received this e-mail from Dave and Cheryl of Northfield, Minnesota. This is what it says:
“Dear Amy: The political positioning and wrangling over the federal budget and debt ceiling limit has gone on long enough. It’s time for our elected leaders to step up and resolve the debt ceiling and budget crisis in a mature, adult fashion. We realize that this is easier said than done, but after experiencing the shutdown of the State of Minnesota, it is unconscionable to even have the possibility of the crisis that we will face as a nation if we don’t raise our debt ceiling and begin reducing the deficit. We urge you and your colleagues to do all it takes to resolve this issue prior to the deadline. There has to be some compromise that can be identified. Each side will need to give to make this happen. Let’s focus on the art of compromise and get this wrapped up. It’s time to show the world that we are still a truly great nation and can step up to resolve the challenges placed before us. The greater good of the nation has to be placed as a top priority. Hoping and praying for successful resolution to the outstanding issues.”
That’s Dave and Cheryl of Northfield, Minnesota, just citizens who sent an e-mail today. I wish everyone in this chamber and everyone over in the House would listen to this today. I think it sum it up very, very well.
Outside of the halls of Congress, there isn’t much disagreement over the urgency to act or the consequences of failing to do so. There also isn’t a lot of disagreement over the importance of our economy for long-term extension. Who seriously believes that dragging this country through this again in five or six months. Economists and experts from across the political spectrum have warned a short term approach would likely lead to downgrade of our credit rating which would cost billions of dollars more in existing debt and drive up deficit. For families and businesses it would mean a spike in interest rates, making everything from mortgages, car loans, and credit cards more expensive. I think the most common refrain we hear from the business community in Minnesota when we talk about what it will take to spur investment and create jobs in this country is a need for certainty, certainty in the tax code, certainty in incentives, certainty in our government’s budget. Let’s provide some certainty.
After months of debate, it is clear what sort of plan is needed to garner the support necessary to get us across the finish line. We will all ultimately have to accept things that we don’t necessarily agree with. It is time we get serious about advancing a deal that is both fair and achievable. On August 2 the borrowing authority of the United States will be exhausted. No one benefits if we are unable to reach an agreement by this deadline. Every day that passes without a deal only increases uncertainty in the markets and puts the brakes on economic activity. Failure to bring the national debt under control also threatens America’s future. But the danger of a default threatens our economy today.
We have two options. We can either set a precedent of holding our debt hostage to political maneuvering, raising the cost of borrowing, and increasing our deficit all at the same time, or we can show the world we’re serious about working together to address our fiscal challenges to reduce the debt. Reduce the cost of borrowing and strengthen our financial outlook. I believe the choice is clear, and I believe that a lot of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle know that. The sooner that we can agree on a long-term package, the better for our economy, and the better for our country. It is time to put our political differences aside to work on an agenda that strengthens our economy, promotes fiscal responsibility, and increases global competitiveness.
Because if we refuse to have an honest conversation bout this, if we insist on using the debate as a vehicle for rhetoric only, we will not just be doing ourselves a disservice, not just be doing this institution a diss. We will be cheating our children and grandchildren out of knowing the America we grew up in. If we are committed to our country and not to unmoving ideologies, we will get this done.
Last month I received a lesson in what commitment as a public servant means when I attended the funeral of Jack Murray, the former Mayor of International Falls, Minnesota, right on the Canadian Border. It’s a town where they often test cars to show that they can withstand the cold. But it’s a hardscrabble, thriving town. Mayor Murray was a decorated Marine who served for 14 years as a member of the City Council and for 14 more years as Mayor. He figuratively and literally wore “I Love International Falls” on his sleeves. At his funeral – and he was 89 years when he died – we heard countless stories of his commitment to his city. The priest at the funeral; priest at the funeral told this story: He said every morning, including the morning that Mayor Murray died, he would rise early and walk the streets of International Falls. He would wear this orange highway vest to keep him safe at 89 and we would have a cup of coffee and a bag for trash. And he’d walk the; and he would walk the streets of his beloved town collecting trash up until the day he died. He was a public servant until the end. He believed in his town, in his state, and in his country.