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February 14, 2012

TRANSCRIPT: Sen. Johanns Leads Colloquy on President's Budget

Mr. Johanns: Mr. President, we rise today to talk about the budget that was just submitted by the President of the United States, actually within the last 24 hours. Despite a 2009 promise to literally cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term, President Obama released a budget that for the fourth year in a row calls for a deficit in excess of $1 trillion. Unfortunately, this proposal is just one more year of the same old story: more taxes, more spending, more borrowing, and yet another punt on the tough issues that we as a nation must face.

As a former Governor, I understand what it takes to balance a budget. Difficult choices do have to be made. Even with programs that are popular. In 2001, when I was Governor of Nebraska, I closed a $220 million budget shortfall and didn't raise taxes. But $220 million is merely a drop in the bucket for the federal budget. That amounted to more than 7% in Nebraska. By comparison, if the President had submitted a budget that cut spending by 7%, well, he would be cutting more than $260 billion this year, and that wasn't the last we had to do with the post-9/11 economy, we called special session after special session to cut spending. But instead of that, the President is projected to increase spending.

Leadership is necessary, and sadly, this budget does not display it. Instead, America’s balance sheet continues to drown in a sea of red ink for yet another year driving our 2012 deficit to nearly $1.4 trillion. Instead of making tough choices about priorities, the President appears to be doubling down on more stimulus spending.

Let me just give a few examples, and then I’ll invite my colleagues to join me. $2 billion in new tax credits for the production of advanced technology vehicles; $4 billion to extend and modify "certain energy incentives which could include clean, renewable energy bonds;" $3 billion to encourage investments in advanced energy manufacturing projects.; $4.7 billion for new spending to strengthen the teaching profession, despite GAO finding 82 duplicative and wasteful teacher quality programs. When you add it all up, we are presented with yet another budget that contains the largest tax increase in U.S. history, it raises taxes by more than $1.8 trillion. And I could go on and on, Mr. President. This is something a situation where we've seen this budget before, and it just doesn't improve.

Now, as I turn to my colleague from Missouri, Senator Blunt, you've worked on these before, offer us some insight on what you see in this budget and where it is leading our country in this -- in your opinion. …

Mr. Johanns: I thank my colleagues for laying out what this budget is all about and the problems that we are seeing. Senator Isakson has been a leader in trying to reform the budget process. Senator Isakson, I'd like you to offer thoughts on what you see in this budget and some ideas on how we can improve this situation that we find ourselves in with the President's budget, more taxing, more borrowing, more spending. …

Mr. Johanns: I appreciate the comments made by Senator Isakson, and if I might take a moment to follow up on his comments relative to Medicare and Social Security, and then I would ask Senator Blunt maybe to offer a few words on where we go from here, what do we anticipate we have got to do to set the ship of state on the right course, if you will. But let me just speak to the issue of Medicare and Social Security. Senator Isakson could not be more right. When we get paid, you can literally go to your paycheck stub and you can see the amount of money that is being withheld out of your paycheck throughout your life for social security benefits and for Medicare benefits.

When these programs were set up thereabouts, a group was put together, they are referred to as trustees and they basically do a fair analysis of where these programs are at, where they are headed, and every year they put out a report. And we'll be getting another annual report here in the not-too-distant future, but I think we all know what the report is going to say. The report is going to say that in the vicinity of about 2024, if not a bit sooner, Social Security literally is going to be insolvent. It's also going to say that Medicare is literally in a position where it will be upside-down financially sooner than that. The greatest challenge between the two, obviously, is Medicare. Now, what does that mean to people who are currently beneficiaries or fixing to retire and planning on these items being there for them? Well, what it means is that that plan could be in serious jeopardy.

Now, it's not because Mike Johanns woke up last night and said that or dreamt it or thought about it. It's because people who are empowered to look at Social Security and Medicare have studied it very, very closely, have looked at the financial pieces of this and have come to this conclusion. So now let's examine the President's budget. What plan does he have to protect Medicare or Social Security? Well, he doesn't have a plan. These aren't easy issues. I'm not arguing here today that this is easy to take on, but what I am saying to the American people is if you study this budget or any other budget submitted by this President, he is doing nothing to arrest literally our progress toward these very important programs becoming insolvent.

If there was ever an area in this budget where we need Presidential leadership, it is right here. Senator Blunt, I would ask your thoughts on this. You have studied these issues over the years and offered great insight. Where do we go from here? What are your thoughts in terms of this budget and how we get back on track?

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