Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the daunting fiscal challenges that our country faces and the urgent need for comprehensive bipartisan action to address our nation's debt burden.
As we debate the path to securing our country's fiscal future, Greece is battling to keep from defaulting on its bonds. It's everywhere in the news. There are legitimate concerns that a default in Greece would send shockwaves through the world financial markets with an impact potentially as devastating as the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers.
To avert bankruptcy, Greece has enacted austerity measures so drastic that violent rioting has broken out on its streets. Despite these measures and despite the aid of other European countries, many economists believe that Greece will eventually succumb to its rising debt burden and default.
Standard and Poor's warned Monday that even with the planned bailout by European banks, Greece's credit rating could be still downgraded to selective default. While better than a full-blown default, this will almost certainly roil the markets and cut off Greece's access to credit.
Alarmingly, Standard and Poor's gave a similar warning to the United States last week. In a statement to Reuters, Standard and Poor's said it will drop the United States’ AAA rating to selective default if the Treasury Department misses its repayment on $30 billion in maturing bills on August 4.
Although our long-term fiscal challenges are serious, they are not what caused Standard and Poor's to issue this warning at this very moment. Instead, what caused the warning was a growing concern that the United States Congress would fail to come together to pass a bipartisan deal on the debt ceiling, something Congress has done without incident almost 100 times since the limit was established.
We must get serious about tackling the deficit and putting our country back on sound fiscal ground, but the problem we're facing now is not only a crisis of the dollars and the cents. It is also a crisis of the divide and the deadlock.
We know what we need to do in order to avoid default and bring down the deficit. We have all the tools and information necessary to do it and to avoid a situation like we're seeing in Greece, and yet instead of working together to craft a fair and responsible path forward, some have chosen to draw lines in the sand and take the debt limit and our nation's economy hostage.
Addressing our country's fiscal challenges is something I have taken seriously. Since coming to the Senate, I have worked to reform the way Congress conducts its own business, reducing the budget of Congress, fighting for appropriations project reform and working to restore the pay-as-you-go rules.
I was one of a handful of Senators, Mr. President, that fought for the creation of the fiscal commission and I have supported efforts from both Republicans and Democrats to responsibly reduce the deficit.
And while I believe we have reached a defining moment in a country which cannot be wasted, I also know that we can't afford to play Russian roulette with our economy.
What our country needs is for Congress to come together and build consensus around a comprehensive long-term deficit reduction package that will put us on the track to prosperity. Ever since the economic downturn, families across the country have huddled around the kitchen table, making tough choices about what they hold most dear and what they can learn to live without. They expect and deserve their leaders to do the same. The American people are counting on us to put politics aside, pull together, not pull apart and agree on a plan to live within our means and make America strong for the long haul.
If we are going to succeed in this challenge, we will ultimately have to accept things that we don't necessarily agree with. It is the only way to develop a plan that is both balanced and comprehensive.
We already know much of what will need to be done. Our failure to act has not been because we lack solutions but because too often congress has lacked the political will to get behind a consensus proposal.
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.
First, the solution should match the scale of the problem. I'd like to see one that produces around $4 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade.
Second, it should include a mix of revenue with realistic spending cuts. One example we're seeing right now, Mr. President, in the area of biofuels. The biofuels industry has been willing to put a big chunk of change on the table, right in the middle of the year as we're working with Senator Thune and Senator Feinstein on an agreement in which it would be a template where one industry says okay, we understand we have got a big problem here, we're willing to put money up front for the debt, we're willing to look at what we need to do in the long-term to have a secure energy policy but also to help with the debt and end this subsidy. We'd like to see oil, Mr. President, do the same thing. We'd like to see a lot of these loopholes proposed, a lot of -- closed, a lot of these subsidies end and to do it in a smart way. The budget that Senator Conrad has been working on with the budget committee is an example of the mix of those revenues and spending cuts. That's what we have to look at, Mr. President.
Third, we must be able to achieve bipartisan support with a proposal, which is why I continue to support the work that has been done by the Gang of Six.
It is time we get serious about advancing a plan 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 put the brakes on economic activity. Failure to bring the national debt under control threatens America's future, but the danger of default threatens our economy today.
The way I see it, 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 or we can show the world that we are serious about addressing our fiscal challenges, reducing the cost of borrowing and strengthening our financial outlook.
I believe in the choice is clear. The sooner we can agree on the long-term package, the better for our economy and the better for our country. I'm hoping that we can put partisan 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 about this, if we insist on using the debate as a vehicle for rhetoric only, we will not just be doing ourselves a disservice, we will be cheating our children and grandchildren out of knowing the America that we grew up in. The deficit isn't going to fix itself. We all know that. We all know that we can't just close our eyes and click our heels and wish the debts would just go away.
In their report, the National Commissions on Fiscal Responsibility wrote that every modest sacrifice we refuse to make today only forces far greater sacrifices of hope and opportunity upon the next generation, and they're right.
The longer we wait, the more wrenching the choices become. Just look at Greece. And guess who is going to be making those painful choices -- our children and our children's children.
None of us went to see interest rates soar by playing Russian roulette with our economy. Democrats don't want it, Republicans don't want it. So what are we waiting for? It's time for congress to step up and show some leadership. It's time for us to work together to show the American people that Washington isn't broken, that instead we're willing to put aside our politics to do what we were elected to do, to do what's right for America.
This is our challenge, and it will be a hard challenge to meet, but I am confident that we can come together to make these tough choices, to do what's right for our economy and to renew the American promise of progress and opportunity for generations to come.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.