During by far the most dramatic 24 hours of debt limit negotiations that have had a chokehold on American politics and government since January, Sen.Marco Rubio’s remarks followed by debate with Sen. John Kerry on the Senate floor this afternoon perhaps no better captures the frustration of freshman Republicans, hypocrisy of current political rhetoric, and inability of opposing sides to form real solutions.
“If my house was on fire, I can’t compromise about which part of the house I am going to save. You save the whole house, or it will all burn down.”
Sen. Rubio’s complete remarks on the Senate floor Saturday:
“Thank you, Mr. President.
I rise here on the Senate floor today to speak on the tremendous issue that’s captivated, and rightfully so, the attention of our country.
Let me start by saying that I do not enjoy nor relish the partisan role of attack dog. I never found any fun in that. I don’t think it’s constructive. I don’t intend to become that here in the Senate.
I also have only been here for seven months, which means I haven’t been here long enough to think any of the stuff that’s going on is normal. And I certainly don’t think any of the stuff that goes on around here too often is normal. So I think the fact that I’ve been here seven months has served me well in that regard.
Let me begin if I can. One of the things that I’ve noticed this week is that Washington is full of people from all over the world and all over the country that have traveled here this week to come and watch their government at work and see the monuments of the city and found themselves in the middle of this debate.
So I think it’s important to remind people what we’re debating because although it is a difficult and important issue, it is not a complicated one to understand. It’s pretty straight forward.
And here’s the way I would describe it the United States of America more or less — these are rough numbers but they’re accurate – spends about $300 billion a month. It has $180 billion a month that comes to the federal government through taxes and other sources of revenue and that means that in order to meet its bills at the end of every month it needs to borrow $120 billion.
Now, for much of the history of this country, there have been increases in the debt limit and the ability to borrow money. But what has happened over the last few years is that it’s no longer a routine vote because the people who give us our credit rating are saying too much of the money that you spend every month is borrowed and we want you to show us how over the next ten years you are going to borrow less as a percentage of what you spend.
And so that’s why, for years, where the debt limit was routine vote, it no longer can be. It’s not something that was made up in some conservative think tank. But the reality that we cannot continue to borrow 40% to 41% of every penny that the government spends has brought us to this point.
So you would think that seeing that, our government and our leaders here in both parties would react to that immediately and work on it.
And I’ve heard lot of talk today about delaying tactics and delaying votes. I would argue to you that this issue has been delayed at least for the last two and a half years.
In the two years before I even came here, this chamber neither proposed nor passed a budget. It is a startling figure that for the last two years this government has operated without a budget. So think about that. Two years have gone by without a budget. The first two years that the President was the president, no budgets.
Some people would say, well, that’s because of partisanship in Washington. Well, that’s not true. In the two years before I got here, both the House and Senate were controlled by members of the Democratic Party, which are the President’s party. In fact, in this chamber for at least one of those two years, 60 votes, 60 out of the 100 members here caucused with the Democrats. And as you recall, on Christmas Eve of the year 2009, they were able to pass a health care bill that was very controversial because they had the 60 votes in the President’s party.
Over two years, no budget. In fact you know how long it has been since this chamber proposed a budget? Forget passed a budget, proposed a budget? 822 days. That’s a long time. A lot of things have happened in the last 822 days, but proposing a budget is not one of them out of this chamber.
So then I got here – and we got here in January, seven months have passed, still no budget. Again, not budget passed, proposed, offered. Here’s our budget. Still no budget. 822 Days and every single day that I’ve been here.
Now, in the last seven days on this debt debate, we have finally seen a proposal from the esteemed senator from Nevada, the majority leader. You would think, has he brought it to the floor to vote? Not until last night. So, again, offered a proposal over the weekend and still for six days we sat around and what did we do around here? Nothing. It was never brought to a vote.
You would think these issues would have been worked on in January, February, March — nothing. This chamber has done nothing. You talk about delay tactics? They’ve been delaying for two and a half years.
Now the President doesn’t have the luxury of some of these things. He has to propose a budget by law, and he did. Let me tell you how ridiculous the budget was. Not a single member of this Senate voted for it, including the Democrats. It is a budget that didn’t lead with the debt limit; in fact, it increased the debt. That’s how absurd the budget was.
Where is the President plan? We haven’t seen it. We haven’t seen it. Here’s the President’s plan: a blank sheet of paper. He doesn’t have a plan. He hasn’t offered a plan. Again, if this were a Republican president, I would say the same thing.
I do not understand how an issue of this magnitude, of generational importance, the President of the United States has not offered a plan. If someone has seen the president’s plan, please send it to me because no one else has seen it. It does not exist.
So this has been the plan all along, by the way. The plan all along was not to take a position, to let the days count down until we got to this point with 72 hours to go and then force a vote on something that they wanted. I believe that that has been the plan the entire time. And you can see it carrying itself out.
You want to know why people all across America get grossed out about politics? It’s by watching this kind of stuff happen.
And instead let me tell you what we’ve seen for the last few days. First of all, for today and for much of this time I have heard all these attacks and name-calling. If we had $1 billion for every time I heard the words “tea party extremist,” we could solve this debt problem.
So all this name-calling, so I said let me read some quotes about this debt limit and I found some pretty extremist quotes.
It says, “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I, therefore, intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt.” A quote from a tea party extremist, right? No. This is a quote from March 16 of 2006 from Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.
I found another extremist quote. This one says, “Because this massive of accumulation of debt was predicted, because it was foreseeable, because it was unnecessary, because it was the result of willful and reckless disregard for the warnings that were given and for the fundamentals of economic management, I am voting against a debt limit increase.” Well, that must be from a tea party extremist member of the House, right? No. This is March 16, 2006, from Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.
And last but not least, here’s a quote from September 27 of 2007. It says, “I find it distasteful and disturbing to increase the debt limit yet again. Clearly we need to change course and this debt limit bill is just another reminder of that.” And that is from the distinguished Senator from Nevada, the majority leader. On that date in 2007.
And yet now these same quotes in this context, what we’re talking about raising the debt limit more than has ever been raised in one vote, is extremism? This name-calling is absurd and it sets this process back.
The other thing I hear — oh, it is not reasonable. This is a waste of time. This bill can’t pass the Senate when they talk about the House bill. So now it disqualifies the bill the fact that it can’t pass in the Senate.
Well, guess what? The Senate bill can’t pass in the Senate — the Senate bill can’t pass in the Senate.”
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA): “Will the Senator yield for a question?”
Sen. Rubio: “Yes, I’ll yield.”
Sen. John Kerry: “I thank the Senator for doing that. That’s become somewhat unusual in the Senate today. So I truly appreciate it.
I would ask the Senator, as ironic as it may be that on occasion people in the past have indeed voted against a debt limit — both Republicans and Democrats alike — is it not true that in those situations those votes did not hold the nation hostage, did not come at a moment of enormous economic fragility as we are in today, and did not run the risk of default because it was going to pass overwhelmingly every time?
Is that not true?”
Sen. Rubio: “To the Senator from Massachusetts, I would say two things.
The first is that those votes — put it to you this way. If the Senator from Illinois at the time, Senator Obama, had had his way, we’d be in the same position we are in now. Because he had voted against the debt – and I recognize the President has now said that the debt limit is — he made a mistake and he wouldn’t have said that were he here today.
My point, I would say to the Senator from Massachusetts, is that rhetoric two years ago was not considered extremist language and now that rhetoric, which by the way I have not found. I think it is a myth. There may be a handful of people in the building both in the House and Senate perhaps that believe that the nation doesn’t have to raise the debt limit. But by and large everyone recognizes that something must be done about the debt limit.
What we have also said – I speak for myself. Let me not speak for any other member of this chamber or the next.
What I have also said is that it would be a terrible mistake to lose this opportunity to do something meaningful about the debt. And that the debt limit gives us an opportunity to do something meaningful about the debt, because the crisis that America faces is not one that I have defined.
But one that has been defined by the rating houses and rating agencies who have said if you do not get your spending in order, we don’t care whether you raise your debt limit or not, we will downgrade you.
And what that means for every American is an increase in their interest payments.”
Sen. John Kerry: “Will the Senator further yield for a question?”
Sen. Rubio: “Yes.”
Sen. Kerry: “Mr. President I appreciate what the Senator is saying. I would just say first of all that everybody understands the danger of the rating agencies right now.
The problem is, we got to reach across the aisle and negotiate. We’ve got to come to agreement. Right now there’s not a lot of negotiating going on.
I would ask the Senator, if he doesn’t agree that there is an enormous difference between — the Senator a moment ago said if he had gotten his way. But the whole point is, everybody knew he wasn’t about to get his way. That was a truly symbolic vote.
Today, however, is it not true we are on the brink of a default and the absence of negotiation or the absence of a settlement presents us with a far more serious consequence to the unwillingness to raise the debt ceiling today?”
Sen. Rubio: “To the Senator from Massachusetts I would say it’s impossible to negotiate with someone who doesn’t offer a plan. How do you negotiate with someone who will not offer a plan and will not put it on the table?
But the finger pointing of who has a plan and who doesn’t have a plan is relevant, but it’s not the central issue here.
I would also say that in March of this year, March 30 to be exact of this year, I wrote an op-ed piece that ran in The Wall Street Journal and it outlined the things I was looking for to be a part of this debate. And I was told on March of this year that we didn’t have enough time to do all those things. Although later on we found out perhaps we did, this grand bargain and I am prepared, as I stand here today, if there is a meeting going on right after this, I’d love to be a part of it.
I am prepared to discuss the things that I believe we need to do not just to raise the debt limit. Raising the debt limit is the easiest thing. That’s one vote away. The hard thing is to show the world we are serious about putting our spending in order so we can show people we’ll able to pay our bills down the road.
And that is a combination of things that I have outlined very clearly, not just on March of this year in The Wall Street Journal, but in repeated speeches on this floor.
And those are the things, we need to do two things.
Number one is we need to grow our economy because while the debt is the biggest issue in Washington, jobs are the biggest issue facing America. And if we could get more people back to work, we would have more people paying taxes, and if we had more people paying taxes, we’d have more revenue for government.
And so that is the first thing we need to do, is figure out how to create jobs in America and I think there is bipartisan agreement on things we can do to do that.
The President himself mentioned regulatory reform as a necessity in the State of the Union. Let’s do it.
We’ve all talked about tax reform. Flattening and simplifying our tax code. And if there are things in that tax code that do not belong there because they are the product of good lobbying instead of good policy, then let’s go after those things. We’ve talked about that. Let’s talk about that.
I think we all agree that there has to be some changes in discretionary spending, but we also agree that doesn’t solve the problem. That’s a small piece of our overall budget. That we have to save Medicare because it goes bankrupt if we leave it the way it is. That we have to save Medicaid because it goes bankrupt if we leave it the way it is.
And I can tell you that history will back up what I’m about to say and that is that there is no government run by conservatives, Republicans, put whoever you want there, if you give government the opportunity to spend more money than it has, it will do it. It will do it every time.
That’s why I believe there are at least 20 members of the Senate in the other party who have supported some version of the balanced budget amendment and yet it’s something we cannot even get a vote on much less discuss in the Senate.
So I believe there can be compromise on those outlines but here’s the last thing I would say.
I believe my time is about to expire so let me close with this.
Compromise is fantastic.
I would love nothing more than to leave this building tomorrow night having said the republic still works. I was able to stand shoulder to shoulder with people from states far from mine with views different from mine but who love their country so much that we were able to come together and save it when it faced this catastrophe.
I would love nothing more than compromise. But I would say to you that compromise that’s not a solution is a waste of time.
If my house was on fire, I can’t compromise about which part of the house I’m going to save. You save the whole house or it will all burn down.
We either save this country or we do not.
And to save it, we must seek solutions.”