WASHINGTON—Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor today regarding the Senate Democrats’ attempt to move the budget bill to conference without assurance that the debit limit increase will not be included in the final report.
For sixty-two days, several of my colleagues and I have objected to the majority’s request for unanimous consent to circumvent regular order to go to conference with the House on the budget.
They want permission to skip a few steps in the process, and jump straight to the closed-door back-room meetings.
There, senior negotiators of the House and Senate will be free to wait until a convenient, artificial deadline and ram through their compromise – un-amended, un-debated and mostly un-read.
And with the country backed up against another economic “cliff” crisis, we are concerned they will exploit that opportunity to sneak a debt-limit increase into the budget.
We think that’s inappropriate.
And yet, objecting to this dysfunctional, unrepublican, undemocratic process has invited anger and criticism from colleagues here on both sides of the aisle.
We just don’t get it, you see.
Proceeding to a secret, closed-door, back-room, 11th-hour deal, we are told, is the way the process works. It’s the way the Senate works. It’s the way the House works.
It’s the way Washington works.
We know this. That’s why we’re objecting. In case nobody has noticed, the way Washington works… stinks.
Closed-door, back room, cliff deals are not the solution – they’re the problem.
The unspoken premise of every argument we’ve heard in favor of going to Conference on this budget without conditions... is that Congress knows what it’s doing.
“Trust us… to go into a back room and cut a deal.”
“Trust us… to ignore special interests and only work for the good of the country.”
“Trust us… to not wait until the 11th hour, to not hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage, to not ram through another thousand-page, trillion-dollar bill, sight unseen.”
“Trust us… We’re Congress!”
As it happens, Mr. President, the American people don’t trust Congress – or either party. And we have given them at least seventeen trillion reasons not to.
I can even provide physical evidence to support my claim. If the American people had confidence in the way the Senate works… I know for a fact I would not be here. I don’t think my colleagues joining me in this objection would be here, either.
We were not sent here to affirm “the way the Senate worked” as Congress racked up trillions in debt, inflated a housing bubble, doled out favors to special interests, squeezed the middle class and trapped the poor in poverty.
We were sent here to change all that. We are fully aware that “Washington” and the establishments of both parties don’t like what we’re doing – but as computer programmers say, “that’s a feature, not a bug.”
The tactics of Washington serve the interests of Washington – of Congress itself, the federal bureaucracy, corporate cronies and special interests.
And does so at the expense of the American people, their wallets, and their freedom.
The only time I can think of when it hasn’t worked out that way was with the recent budget sequestration.
And that was – literally – an accident! A mistake.
The sequestration process worked out exactly the opposite of how Washington expected and intended.
There is a reason, Mr. President, that six of the ten wealthiest counties in the United States are suburbs of Washington, D.C. – a city that produces almost nothing of actual economic value.
And it’s not because the two parties have been so effective taking on the special interests and doing the people’s business.
There is a reason Tea Partiers on the right and Occupiers on the left protest their shared perception that our economy, our politics, and our society seem rigged.
That elites on Wall Street, K Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue get to play by one set of rules… and people on Main Street have to play by another.
It’s because they are mostly right. This is our true inequality crisis: not between rich and poor, but between Washington and everyone else.
The national debt, and its statutory limit, is a hidden part of this inequality crisis.
After all, what is new debt but a tax increase on future Americans? On those who cannot yet vote. On those who have not yet been born.
Raising the debt limit thus results in a form of taxation without representation.
That’s why the American people resent it.
And it’s why Washington desperately wants to raise the debt limit with as little public scrutiny and accountability as possible.
And that’s why we’re objecting.
Our critics say we should allow the process to move forward so we can have a debate. I don’t know if they’ve noticed, but Mr. President, we’re having the debate. We’ve had it several days in a row.
More than that, we’re having the debate here on the floor, open to public scrutiny, and not secretly behind closed doors.
This, right here, is how the process is supposed to work.
The only way the American people can have any hope of supervising their Congress – not ours, their Congress – is for us to do our work above board and in the open, according to the rules.
That’s all we’re asking for… and only on one issue.
For all our concerns, we have still said all along that we will not block a budget conference. We can go to conference right now.
We’re willing to give the majority permission to break from regular order and scurry off to closed door negotiations to cut their back room deal.
All we have asked is one thing, a very small and simple request: leave the debt limit out of it.
Do everything else you want, spend all the money you want, use all the accounting gimmicks you want… but when you go into that backroom, check the debt limit at the door.
That way the American people can have that separate debate, on its own merits, here on the floor.
This should not be controversial. The House Republican budget did not include a debt limit increase or instructions to include one. The Senate Democratic budget doesn’t include it either.
House and Senate negotiators, therefore, have no procedural or democratic justification for including a debt limit hike in their talks. They have no right to do it.
Yet they won’t promise not to.
Once again, Mr. President: Trust us… we’re Congress.
“This is how the Senate works,” they say. “This is how we do things.”
Respectfully, Mr. President, this is how we fail. This is how we earn our 15 percent approval rating.
We know this is business as usual around here. That’s why we’re objecting.
If the majority wants to proceed to a budget conference through regular order, we cannot stop them.
But again Mr. President, that’s not their request. Their request is for permission to break from regular order, skip a few steps, and go straight to the secret negotiations, behind closed doors, where in the Washington-centered view of the world, the real governing can be done.
The American people do not trust secret, back room deals, and neither do I.
Unless and until the American people are assured then we will not sneak a debt limit increase into the Conference report, I will happily continue to object.