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The Economic Situation and why There is No Alternative to Pro-Growth Policies

Floor Statement of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley Regarding the Economic Situation and why There is No Alternative to Pro-Growth Policies

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mr. President,

We all recognize that our nation faces challenging times.  We have had years with unemployment at unacceptable levels and anemic economic growth that shows no signs of lifting us out of this situation.

Meanwhile, rampant government spending, which we were promised would jumpstart the economy and create jobs, has instead displaced private sector investment and choked off job creation.

More and more Americans are starting to doubt that their children and grandchildren will have better opportunities than they had, not to mention the fact that they will be forced to pay for all that spending.

We keep being told by President Obama and members of his party that change is just around the corner.  If we just keep doing what we are doing, things will get better.  After almost four years of failed policies and dashed hopes, that line is wearing thin.

Fortunately, our problems are not insurmountable and the solutions are common sense.  All that is needed is sufficient leadership to make the tough decisions.

In fact, this is the same situation Britain faced in the 1970s.  Britain was mired in debt and even had to go to the IMF for a bailout.  Successive British Prime Ministers had recognized the looming financial problem but failed to get the budget under control.

Britain was known then as “The Sick Man of Europe.”  Still, interest groups that benefited from public spending threatened to bring down any British government that even considered measures to control spending.  In fact, Britain did face massive strikes in the winter of 1978-79, known as the Winter of Discontent.

As a result of the inability of several different Prime Ministers to take the difficult steps necessary to turn things around, many pundits started to speculate that Britain had become ungovernable.  There were even many British politicians who had decided that the best they could accomplish was to manage the economic and political decline of Britain.

Then Margaret Thatcher came on the scene.  She utterly rejected the notion that decline was an option.  In fact, she was famous for repeating the phrase “There is no alternative.”  By this, she meant that government control of major parts of the economy and an economic policy based on uncontrolled spending had failed.

If economic recovery was the goal, the only alternative was free enterprise.  This meant cutting spending, reducing growth-inhibiting income taxes, and reining in government micromanaging of business.

Despite the hard lessons of experience, the prevailing economic theory of the day still held that government spending was good for the economy and that government central planners could operate more efficiently than private businesses left alone.

Thatcher faced intense opposition both from the true believers in the Stimulus ideology and from those with a vested interest in the status quo.  But, having rejected national decline as an option, there really was no alternative.

She explained to the British public why her course of action was necessary and stood up to the special interests that stood in the way of prosperity.  When the media began speculating that she would fail to follow through and make a U-turn like so many of her predecessors, Mrs. Thatcher’s response was, “You turn if you want to… The lady’s not for turning.”

What Margaret Thatcher provided for Britain is leadership, and that’s exactly what the United States needs today.

Most Americans I talk to believe in our opportunity society and refuse to accept that the American Dream of a better life for our children is dead.  For those of us who feel that way, restoring the dynamic American free enterprise economy is essential.  There is no alternative.  We must reduce spending.  There is no alternative.  We must have low, simple, and stable taxes.  There is no alternative.  And, there is no alternative to reducing and reforming the growing regulatory burden.

During the last three and a half years, the national debt has grown by more than $5 trillion, or an increase of 50 percent.  This year will be the fourth consecutive year with trillion dollar annual deficits.  These deficits and a federal debt that now totals $16 trillion are dampers on private-sector job creation.

When Washington takes and spends the wealth created by the private sector, it crowds out new investments that would have been made by businesses and entrepreneurs – investments that would have resulted in the creation of new wealth and job opportunities for more Americans.  The out-of-control spending has created a stagnant economy with unemployment stuck above eight percent for 42 consecutive months.

Economic freedom must replace bigger government.  Economic growth must be our top priority and fiscal discipline in Washington is a prerequisite to sustainable economic growth.  There is no alternative.  The four-year experiment attempting to increase economic prosperity by growing government and managing the economy through government intervention has failed.

To address the anemic economic recovery and get America back to work we must reduce the size and scope of the federal government.  There is no alternative.

Again, our nation is $16 trillion in debt.  How much is 16 trillion?  If you started counting to 16 trillion one second at a time, it would take you just over 500,000 years.

The federal government will spend more than $11 trillion just on Medicare and Medicaid over the next ten years.  Medicare and Medicaid serve a vital role in providing health care services to individuals who are poor, elderly, or disabled.  But just because those programs have operated a certain way for 47 years doesn’t mean they operate efficiently.  If we want to save those programs for future generations, the current path of just saying no to every proposal is not an option.  There is no alternative but to look at their very structure and ask the question, can we do better?

As we begin to take the steps to pull ourselves out of this fiscal mess, we also need to reform how Washington does business so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again.  One major step that could produce long term fiscal discipline is a balanced budget amendment.

The national debt now is reaching a point where, if we do not intervene with a constitutional requirement for a balanced budget, it is going to become unsustainable.  Mere laws have not controlled deficit spending because Congress can always change the law when it becomes politically expedient.  I was an author of one of those laws back in 1979 when I was a member of the House.  For 15 years that law was on the books, and never in those 15 years was there a balanced budget.  It makes it very clear that statutes will not control deficit spending.

I concluded a long time ago, that a constitutional amendment is a must to provide Congress with the necessary discipline.

The example right now of Europe’s debt situation is sobering.  Nations that allow debt to grow out of control risk default.  If we do not take effective corrective action, the European future could be ours and sooner than we think.

The time for tinkering around the edges of the budget is over.  We must take bold action to address the debt crisis before it is too late.  There is no alternative.

Another area crying out for decisive action is the tax code.  Uncertainty in our tax code and the threat of higher taxes is like an anchor preventing our economy from setting sail.  At the end of the year, the across-the-board tax relief first enacted in 2001 and 2003 is set to expire.  Its expiration will lead to a higher tax bill for virtually every taxpayer representing one of the largest tax increases in history.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has testified about the negative impact of higher taxes on a fragile economy.  More importantly, I hear from employers that uncertainty about the future makes it difficult to plan, take risks, and make decisions to expand and hire.  Tax certainty must be a priority in creating a pro-growth environment.  There is no alternative.

Even President Obama has acknowledged the negative impact of tax increases on economic growth saying you shouldn’t raise taxes in a recession.  Nevertheless, nearly every day our President is on the campaign trail talking about tax increases on the so-called “rich” claiming they need to pay their “fair share.”  However, the so-called rich already pay the overwhelming majority of federal taxes.  The top 20 percent of households currently account for nearly 95 percent of federal income taxes.  Moreover, the top one percent we hear so much about bears nearly 40 percent of the federal income tax burden.

It is no wonder our job creators, especially the nearly one million small businesses targeted by the President’s tax increase, are reluctant to make business decisions or invest in this climate.  There are businesses ready to expand and create jobs.  There are millions of dollars in private sector investment waiting to be spent, but businesses are holding back waiting for the heavy boot of higher taxes to drop.

It’s time we replaced divisiveness and demagoguery with a pro-growth tax policy.  This country does not need more taxes, we need more taxpayers, and the way to get more taxpayers is to have more people working.  When businesses and entrepreneurs are willing to put everything on the line by opening a new business or expanding an existing business, we must assure them that they will be able to enjoy the fruits of their success, not punish them with a higher tax bill.  We must act decisively to stop job killing taxes from going up.  There is no alternative.

It isn’t just the threat of taxes that has caused uncertainty and held back private sector investment.  The threat of costly new regulations has paralyzed many industries.  During the past few years, thousands of new federal rules were finalized.

Those who view government intervention into private enterprise as positive might say “So what?” but all these rules come with real costs.  This Administration has issued about 200 major rules that each have an impact of $100 million or more.  A Gallup poll taken at the end of last year found that compliance with government regulations is the single biggest issue facing small business owners today.  When 70 percent of the new jobs in America are created by small businesses, we ought to be concerned about what these small businesspeople are saying is their number one problem.

On top of the outright cost of new regulations and the compliance burden, the uncertainly about when a new regulation might come down makes businesses reluctant to expand.  In recent years, we have seen regulation on top of regulation.  No one knows when the next one will appear and how much it will cost.  During the Great Depression, the avalanche of new agencies with newfound regulatory powers led to businesses sitting on large amounts of cash, even in industries that were not yet affected by the new regulations, because the uncertainty about who would be targeted next froze private sector investment.  We are seeing much the same thing today.

It would be one thing if these were essential protections for the environment or public health as proponents often claim, but for many of these new regulations, the cost of compliance outweighs the public benefit.  Does it make any sense to try to regulate dust on farms when there is no practical way to stop the wind blowing?  Does it make sense to make dairy farmers fill out pages of documents to prove they have a plan in place in case of an accidental milk spill?  Then why was EPA wasting time considering these regulations?

There are legitimate forms of pollution that need attention, but even then, the EPA seems intent on overkill.  Did the Utility MACT rule, which was intended to limit mercury emissions from power plants, really need to be the single most expensive regulation in EPA’s history?  In addition to this rule, power plants that rely on coal, like most of those in Iowa, are facing a whole string of new, overlapping rules with their own compliance deadlines and paperwork.
These include the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, National Ambient Air Quality Standards, regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, cooling water intake regulations, clean water effluent guidelines, and coal ash regulations.

Taken separately, each of these may have some justification, but taken together, the cost and compliance burden is enormous, especially for small utilities.  That leads many people to suspect that the real motivation for this burst of regulation is an ideological drive to artificially raise the cost of electricity generation using coal, which would hurt the economy in places like Iowa that rely on coal for cost-effective energy.

A regulatory approach that imposes excessive costs for little or no benefit does not do anyone any good.  Regulatory agencies should be held accountable for meeting the cost-benefit test and the common sense test.

The deluge of regulations in recent years and the uncertainty about what is coming next is acting like a wet blanket on our economy.  We must put an immediate stop to unnecessary, costly new regulations.  There is no alternative.  In the long run, we need comprehensive regulatory reform.

The Constitution vests all legislative power in the Congress of the United States, which is directly accountable to the American people.  However, over the years, Congress has delegated more and more authority to unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats.  As a result, we have a massive administrative state full of well meaning, but unelected government officials who have the power to write regulations with the force of law with little or no democratic accountability.  This has led to the implementation of major policy decisions that impact the economy and the lives of Americans that likely would never have been approved by a vote of Congress.

That’s why I am an original cosponsor of the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS) Act.  The REINS Act would require every major federal regulation to come before both houses of Congress for a vote and be signed by the President before it can be implemented.  This will allow voters to hold their member of Congress accountable for ill-conceived regulations.  It would also provide more transparency and predictability to the regulatory process, thus reducing job-killing uncertainty.  Reforms such as the REINS Act would be a major change in how Washington does business and that upsets a lot of apple carts, but there is no alternative.

Mr. President, if we want economic growth and jobs, if we want a brighter future for America,
we can’t afford to dither any longer.  We must take the steps I have outlined to reinvigorate the free enterprise economy.  Just like Britain in 1979, there is no alternative.

We have tried President Obama’s theory on economic stimulus.  We saw a massive expansion of government and deficit spending.  More than $800 billion was spent on a failed economic stimulus bill that was supposed to keep unemployment below eight percent.  We all know how that turned out.

Government spending in the process has reached an unprecedented level.  Today, the size of government, if you combine local, state, and federal, is 40 percent of our gross national product.  One hundred years ago, it was eight percent.

If it were true that government spending creates economic growth, then we should be living high off the hog today, but it is not.

The private sector creates jobs.  It is the responsibility of the government to create an environment that leads to job growth.  Remember, government consumes wealth, it does not create wealth.

Through economic freedom, entrepreneurs are free to innovate and prosper.  This economic success leads to higher standards of living and a better quality of life.  Importantly, these gains do not come then at the expense of others.

Contrary to what some would have you believe, when someone produces a product or service that others want, they are creating new wealth and everyone is better off for it.  It is not a zero sum game.  One person’s prosperity does not come at the expense of another’s.

In fact, business success and economic growth lifts all boats through employment gains, higher wages, and greater value to consumers.

We sometimes hear it implied that individual success cannot be achieved without government involvement or intervention.  Some people seem to believe that an individual’s success must mean that someone else has been deprived, or that the success was only achieved collectively and with the help of government.

This line of thinking concludes that government and society is, therefore, entitled to some of the fruits that individual’s labor.

This line of thinking is in stark contradiction to our country’s founding principles that government exists to protect the individual’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Happiness isn’t found in a government paycheck, redistributing what someone else earned.  In fact, government dependence leads to resentment.  By contrast, the American Dream is based on individual Americans working hard and earning their own success.

A country with an increasing number of citizens dependent on a government that lives beyond its means and redistributes what remains of a once great economy would cease being America.  This future is unacceptable.

The American Dream is our birthright and our obligation to posterity.  We must return to pro-growth policies and an opportunity society.  There is no alternative.

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