WASHINGTON -- Senator John Kerry today lamented the inability of Washington politicians to reach a compromise on the federal budget and avert a shutdown, invoking the spirit of a great compromiser, the late Edward M. Kennedy.
He said he had planned to be in Boston to attend today's groundbreaking for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate but was unable to leave the Capitol because of the ongoing negotiations.
Kerry called the budget showdown and threat of a government shutdown an "embarrassing moment" for the Senate.
"Generations of young Americans will come to the Kennedy Institute to understand what the United States Senate was intended to be," Kerry said on the Senate floor today. "But 100 Senators don’t need to wait that long. We can do what Ted Kennedy and so many other Senators of both parties used to know how to do – which is find common ground and insist on common sense.”
The full text of Kerry's prepared remarks is below.
Mr. President, this is a dangerous moment for our economy – and an embarrassing moment for the United States Senate. Here we stand on the precipice of allowing the government of the United States to be shut down. And why?
Because one side doesn’t want to cut government and the other side does? No.
You just have to listen to the Speaker and the President and the Majority and Minority Leaders and add up the math and it’s beyond dispute that Democrats have agreed to make the largest budget cuts in American history. That we’ve compromised and agreed to 70% of what the other side has asked for which are cuts to some of the very things we got into public life to fight for.
So this isn’t about making cuts to reduce the deficit. And it isn’t a negotiation. In a negotiation, there’s a back and forth. There’s a give and take. Instead, we’re here at an extraordinary moment in American history where a small group of people, one half of one third of the government, driven by rigid ideology, are threatening to shut down the federal government if they don’t get their way – and they are doing it with impunity because all the voices of moderation and common sense – all the voices on the other side of the aisle whom these institutions could always count on to stand up and lead aren’t leading. They’re silent.
They’re silent while the ideologues have held responsible decision-making hostage. It started when they targeted twelve percent of the federal budget for 100% of the cuts in order to reduce five percent of our overall federal budget deficit. Forget about the big ticket items like the Pentagon or entitlement programs. No, they came after every program they opposed every day of their political lives. The choice they offered is pretty simple, pretty cold and pretty calculating: make cuts that go against the grain of what we are as a country or they will force a shutdown of United States Government. Accept an all-out assault on middle-class and working Americans or we’ll shut the government down
Mr. President, this isn’t about the budget deficit. If it was we could’ve made the largest cuts in history, compromised a long time ago on this year’s budget, and sat down to deal with the long term deficit and debt issues that the Debt Commission put in front of us last December.
But no, today we’re hardly even fighting over cuts. These ideologues about to shut down the government over ideology – ideology in the form of an ideological wish list that has nothing – zero – to do with the deficit.
They’re going to shut down the government over unrelated issues that they know – incontrovertibly - that they didn’t even have the votes to pass in the United States Senate.
Start with the fact that they’re going to shut down the government if we don’t prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases which the Supreme Court of the United States – all those Justices appointed by Reagan, Bush 41, and Bush 43 – said the EPA has to do.
Folks, we had that debate. It’s fresh in our minds. This week the Senate debated Senator McConnell’s amendment to cut off EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act. It lost. Three other amendments with similar approaches had up or down votes - each one of them failed. The process worked – amendments were debated and votes were counted. So now, it’s do it or we’ll shut down the government. I don’t remember a lot of Americans voting for dirtier air – or water they can’t drink – or longer droughts for farmers – but now they’re saying the government’s going to be shut down if we don’t handcuff the EPA. We’ve been here before. In December 1995, one of the reasons that the federal government shutdown was the Republican attempts to include a “….excessive number of anti-environmental riders.” And here we go again. The Budget Committee Chairman, Senator Conrad, reports that last night in the middle of the night, the other side put mountaintop mining riders on the table. What’s that have to do with reducing the deficit?
And that’s just the start of this ideological excess.
Planned Parenthood. We’re fighting over whether Planned Parenthood can get any money from the federal government for cancer screenings for low income women.
We had that debate over here. We voted on the House budget to kill Planned Parenthood. It lost. It lost overwhelmingly. Senate Republicans opposed it.
So now, the gang from the House say defund Planned Parenthood or we shut down the government. Strip Planned Parenthood of money it uses to provide lifesaving, preventative care to millions of women each year, or we shut down the government.
Is this about abortion? No. They want to prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal funds, including Medicaid - a proposal that would cut 1.4 million women off from their health care provider.
This isn't even good fiscal policy - the preventative care saves taxpayers dollars in the long run. Every dollar ends up saving $3.74 of health-related costs to federal and state governments. We’re talking about women like Jennifer, a woman from Boston who credits Planned Parenthood with saving her life. She had little money and no doctor. She went to Planned Parenthood for a checkup, and the doctors found a precancerous condition of the uterus. She says now, “Because of Planned Parenthood's early intervention, I was able to have two children and a healthy life," she says now. But today, here we are – here’s the choice they’re ramming down our throats: defund that care or shut down the government.
Last year, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees did their job. However, in December 2010, the Republicans objected to even considering this year’s budget and forced us into this situation.
That is ideology that has nothing – nothing – to do with balancing the budget.
So if a small ideological group shuts down the government over all this, what happens? What happens?
Well, for all the talk here about jobs and the economy, you’d think somebody might be thinking hard about that, especially now that our economy is starting to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs every month. So just yesterday, one of our leading economists said, and I quote, “The economic damage from a government shutdown would mount very quickly. And the longer it drags on, the greater the odds of a renewed recession.” Goldman Sachs analysts say a shut-down will cost the Economy $8 Billion Every Week. The Business Roundtable, whose companies account for $6 trillion in annual revenues, forecast increased sales and hiring by businesses over the next six months, but they say even a short shutdown would put that in jeopardy. “I don’t think any of the CEOs would welcome a government shutdown,” said Ivan Seidenberg.” Even Speaker Boehner says, “If You Shut the Government Down, It’ll End up Costing More Than You’ll Save.” The Republican economist Mark Zandi, says a shut-down would not only “disrupt a wide range of government operations and significantly cut the output of government workers, but the hit to confidence could be serious...it could easily undermine confidence as questions grow about policymakers’ ability to govern. This would be fodder for a new recession.”
A new recession because ideologues continue to object to the compromises necessary to pass a budget? But here we are hours away from shutting down the government over abortion.
And folks, that’s the big danger. That the actions of these ideologues will stop the recovery.
But it’s got a human face too.
Just yesterday I read an email from a constituent of mine named Tim. He lives in Norwood Massachusetts, and he’s a federal employee at Homeland Security working in Boston. On March 26th, he and his wife moved into their first home. Now, if the government shuts down, he will be furloughed. He’s worried that he won’t be able to pay his mortgage and he’s terrified about the consequences this will have on his credit rating.
I have no idea whether Tim’s a Democrat or Republican – but I know he didn’t vote in November to not be able to do his job or pay his mortgage.
But that’s what he’s worried about this morning. He’s one of 800,000 families will not be able to go to work and do their jobs. I heard one of them asked yesterday about it, and about all the talk that after the shut-down she’ll get paid, and she said, “Tell my two year old he can eat retroactively.”
But why isn’t the job getting done? Because of issues wholly unrelated to the deficit.
And what’s it mean to the country?
Well, the last time we had a government shut-down, they told us that at the NIH the scientists doing the research on cancer and cures had to go home. They couldn’t work. The only person deemed essential was the guy who came in to feed the lab rats so they’d still be alive when the government came to its senses.
Did anyone vote last November for us to stop researching cures to diseases? I don’t remember that being a part of the Tea Party platform. Bu here we are.
At Height of Filing Season, IRS Processing of Tax Refunds for Returns Could Be Suspended. So families who have been waiting for their refund checks won’t get them.
During Spring Home-Buying Season, 15,000 Homeowners Could Be Prevented From Getting a New Home Loan Every Week.
We talk about honoring our men and women in uniform and those who have served our country – but we know that during the Last Shutdown More Than 400,000 Veterans Saw Their Disability, Pension or Educational Benefits Delayed.
We talk about honoring our seniors, but more Than 100,000 New Social Security Claims Were Delayed in 1995.
We say we care about the disabled, but during the Last Shutdown Services to 1.2 Million People with Disabilities Were Interrupted.
And that’s just the immediate consequences of a shut-down.
But what about the long term?
What happens when the world watches a small group of ideologues making it impossible to pass a budget for one year? We’re preaching democracy all over the world and we can’t make our own work. Our economic competitors are going to take advantage of this opportunity to strengthen their economy at our expense.
Does it make businesses more likely to invest here, or go invest in China and in Latin America where governments are racing ahead investing in infrastructure and energy to own the markets of the future? They’re going to laugh all the way to the bank.
But instead here we are, about to shut down the government – and willing to slam the brakes on the investments and the research and development we need to make so America doesn’t fall behind other countries.
While we have these ideological fights, we eat America’s seed corn today, even if it means going hungry tomorrow.
Mr. President, this is about ideology.
This is the takeover of our national dialogue by people who actually want to shut down the government – for them, it’s a goal not an unintended consequence.
Don’t take my word for it. Just listen to them.
Representative Ron Paul of Texas said “I don’t think it would hurt one bit: and that “life would go on without the Federal government”
Representative Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia said the Republicans are simply “listening to the American people” and doing what they want.
Now, I’ll grant you that Congress needs a “jolt” but it should not be a jolt that causes a government shutdown. It should be a “jolt” to do the job that we were elected to do.
There’s a better way. We can balance our budget and we can grow our economy to benefit everyone and we can do both at the same time. How do I know? Because many of us were there when we did it before. We tackled a budget deficit and created jobs at the same time. And we didn’t do it by cutting our budget to the bone.
In the 1990’s we grew our way to a stronger economy under the Clinton economic plan. We invested in the workforce, in research, in development, in new industries. As a result, we saw the longest economic expansion in history, creating more than 22 million jobs and generating unprecedented wealth in American, with every income bracket rising. And working with Republicans, we came up with a budget framework that put our nation on track to be debt free by 2012 for the first time since Andrew Jackson's administration. Of course, it didn’t work out quite that way, what with huge tax cuts, two wars and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression in the eight years that came before these last two difficult and divisive years.
We can do it again. But it’s going to take a serious dialogue within the Congress about our fiscal situation, discretionary spending, entitlements, and revenues – a dialogue that is long overdue. We need to work towards a long-term solution to reduce both our current budget deficit and our staggering debt. We will need to reduce federal spending and make appropriate changes to our entitlement programs to meet the fiscal challenges facing our country.
But that’s not what is being debated here today. That’s not what the House ideologues are doing. And it’s not what the Senate is supposed to be doing. Mr. President, I’ve been here 27 years. I know that the world’s greatest deliberative body can still be a decisive one. But we’re not today.
Before we entered into this show-down with the clock ticking towards a shut-down, Sen. Inouye and I were going to be in Boston for the groundbreaking of the Edward Kennedy Institute dedicated to the study of how to make the Senate work as an Institution.
Ted Kennedy knew what the Senate could do when we made this place work. He understood the differences of 100 Senators from states as different as Alaska and Hawaii, California and South Carolina, Ohio and Oregon. He embraced different accents and different world views even as he was proud of his own. He became living, legislating proof that a most fiercely independent, plain-talking, direct and determined partisan could resolve the hardest issues, staking out common ground with those they disagreed with on almost everything else.
Ted knew that the historic breakthroughs in American politics have been brokered not by a mushy middle or by splitting the difference, but by people who had a pretty health sense of ideology. Ted Kennedy and Orin Hatch were a powerful team precisely because they spent a lot of time opposing each other. But he knew that they were opponents never enemies, that they could be friends in life even as they were foes in politics. And again and again, over and over, when this ultimate odd couple found things they were willing to fight for together, arm in arm, all of us in the Senate leaned in and listened -- and followed them.
Make no mistake – were Ted Kennedy serving in the Senate today he would be down on the Senate floor – red faced, fists pounding the bully pulpit – exhorting his colleagues that it’s wrong to balance the budget on the backs of working people, that Senators should stop the political gamesmanship, and that we need to get back to doing the business of the American people.
But he’d be doing something else, too. He’d be working the cloakroom quietly pulling aside Democrats and Republicans. He’d be reading the rhythms of the Institution. He’d be appealing to the better angels of the Senate’s nature – because as deeply as he believed in the issues, Ted believed just as deeply in the capacity of his colleagues, at critical times, to put country ahead of party.
Ted Kennedy would be proud of today’s groundbreaking for the Kennedy Institute for the Senate.
But I know he would be insistent too that we have to break new and common ground in the institution that is the United States Senate itself.
Generations of young Americans to come will come to the Kennedy Institute and learn to understand what the United States Senate was intended to be.
But 100 Senators don’t need to wait that long. We can do what Ted Kennedy and Bob Dole and so many other Senators of both parties used to know how to do – which is find common ground and insist on common sense.
We don’t have to shut down the government. We don’t have to continue the ideological bloodletting. We can do better than we’re doing. The question is whether we’re going to get back to work and ensure that the great center of American politics holds once again. Our country deserves that – and nothing less.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.