Floor Speech

U.S. Senator Jon Tester

(U.S. SENATE) – Below is the text of Senator Jon Tester’s Senate floor speech, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, this week I got an email from a first grader in Missoula, Montana.  Seven years old.

Her note to me said: “Senator Tester, please pass a budget so I can go to Yellowstone National Park this weekend… Or at least wait until Monday to shut down the government.”

I got a lot of letters and calls this week, reminding me what’s at stake if some of our colleagues continue to put politics ahead of doing what’s right.

But I’ll always remember that email from Missoula.

Mr. President, even seven-year-olds expect us to get our job done.  They expect us to work together to pass a budget.

They expect us to work together to make responsible cuts.  They expect us to make sure we don’t put our government and our entire economy on life support.

And that’s exactly what will happen if some in Congress let the government shut down.  They will fail all of us, if drawing a line in the sand becomes more important than working together.  And that’s a shame.

Of course, we can’t afford the status quo either. 

We all know the problem.  Everyone wants to point fingers.

I could spend my time pointing to those who thought it was a good idea to put the two wars we’re fighting onto the taxpayers’ credit card.  Or those who squandered a $128 billion budget surplus in a matter of months ten years ago. 

But I’ll leave it at this:  Our debt and spending problem is not something we got into overnight.  It’s not something we’ll get out of overnight.

It’s not going to be fixed by slick talking points ginned up by Washington, D.C., consultants.  It won’t be fixed by symbolic gimmicks.

And it certainly won’t be fixed by irresponsible decisions – like ending Medicare as we know it.

It won’t be fixed by gutting student financial aid or our physical infrastructure.  Those create jobs now, when our economy needs it the most.

Our spending and debt problem will be fixed by embracing a responsible, credible, long-term strategy: to cut our debt.  To cut spending—discretionary and mandatory.  Right now we’re talking about cuts to only 12 percent of the budget—discretionary spending.  To strengthen our entitlement programs so that they work for future generations.  To reform the tax code so that it’s fair and sustainable.  And to cut our defense where we can afford to cut it.

We owe it to all Americans to get the job done.  But we owe it to them to get the job done responsibly.  And it’s going to require some buy-in.

We’ve done it before.

During the Great Depression we endured incredible sacrifice.  But we had inspirational leadership who challenged us to grow our way to prosperity.

In World War II, we worked together and made sacrifices at home to build the machinery that helped win victory.

That momentum also created a powerful middle class.

The attacks of September 11 brought us together again.  And we grew strong again.

When we work together, we succeed.  It’s in our DNA.  It’s what makes us the strongest, most innovative nation in the world.

Now we’ve got to summon that strength and determination again, to lead our way out of our economic challenges.

It won’t happen with gimmicks

It’s going to take responsible decision-making, compromise and shared sacrifice.

Several of our colleagues are already leading the way.  Senators: Chambliss, Coburn, Conrad, Crapo, Durbin and Warner

They are working on a bipartisan strategy to cut debt and cut spending.  Their plan will include cuts to discretionary spending.

It will make our entitlement programs stronger.  It will propose cuts to defense spending.  And it will include tax reform.

Last year Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles led a bipartisan commission in outlining a smart, long-term, credible strategy for cutting debt and spending.

Senator Simpson and Mr. Bowles say they had 14 reasons for volunteering their time on the Debt Commission: Between them, they have 14 grandkids.

While I may not embrace every component of their plan, I applaud their hard work.  Their leadership.  Their patriotism.

And their hard work is a solid blueprint that we are already building from.

I am ready to join them, and so are many of us in this chamber.  We just need to do it.

Montanans are patriots, Mr. President.

They are ready and willing to follow our lead in providing a fair tax code that provides certainty and fairness.

They are willing to share in the pain of responsible spending cuts that won’t take our economy backwards.

They know we can afford to make cuts in defense.

They know we need to fix – but not dismantle or privatize – our entitlement programs.

What’s the alternative?

Well, we may find out the hard way if folks aren’t willing to work together to reach an agreement by midnight tomorrow.

Shutting the government down means our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan won’t get their paychecks on time – even though they’ll still be serving us.

This week I heard from a soldier deployed in Afghanistan.  He says he’d be okay in a short shutdown because he has some savings.  But if the paychecks stop coming, a lot of his fellow soldiers will be hurt.

Many have lower ranks.  Many have pressing financial obligations like mortgages and car payments.  Kids to take care of.  They’d get the short end of the stick.

We have a duty to make sure the people who fight for us in harm’s way don’t have to worry about something as simple as getting a paycheck.

That’s why today I signed on to important legislation to ensure American troops on active duty continue getting paid if the government shuts down.

But Members of Congress are a different story.  If the government shuts down, we don’t deserve to get paid.  Plain and simple.  I want to say thanks to my colleagues for unanimously approving our measure to prevent Congressional pay during a shutdown.

Now the House needs to follow suit.  If they fail, and if I still get a paycheck, I will give it back.

A shutdown also means the government doesn’t honor business contracts.  That would cost jobs.

It means the IRS suspends refunds.

A Republican shutdown means new home loan guarantees will stop.

It means the SBA stops approving Business Loans.

Patent processing will be suspended.

And it means Social Security, Medicare and veterans’ benefits checks could be delayed.

Right now at Montana’s only VA Hospital, there are 1,240 pending Veterans’ Benefits Administration claims.

If the government shuts down, 1,240 veterans in Montana alone will not have access to the benefits they earned.

And a seven-year-old in Missoula, Montana, won’t be able to see her national park this weekend.

We can’t afford that.  Nobody deserves it.  We can do better. And we will.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.