Aug 07 2011

On the Debt Deal: Why I Voted No

by U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

I could not, in good conscience, support the recent agreement made by President Obama and congressional leaders to raise our nation’s debt-ceiling.


Simply stated, it locks us into more debt, bigger government and most devastating of all, weakens our defense infrastructure at a time when threats to our nation are increasing, not decreasing.


This agreement adds over $7 trillion in new debt over the next decade and only makes small reductions in future spending.


Instead of our nation running toward bankruptcy we will walk toward bankruptcy.


The agreement hardly addresses the growth of entitlements, a major contributor of future budgetary problems.


We’ve long known that without reform, entitlement spending will lead to larger and larger deficits. It’s why I have consistently opposed creating costly new entitlements like President Obama’s government takeover of our health care system, the prescription drug benefit added to Medicare under President Bush, and President Clinton’s insurance program for children, at the time the largest expansion of government-funded health care since Medicaid.


Social Security, which faces impending bankruptcy, is another entitlement I have long worked to reform. It faces tremendous demographic pressures in the years to come as our nation ages.

But this agreement makes it unlikely future spending on any of these entitlements will be addressed. The only part of our nation’s budget which is really exposed to serious consequences under the agreement is national security.


Now, I firmly believe defense spending should be placed under a microscope and we can find savings, particularly in the way we buy major weapons systems. But defense is being asked to bear a disproportionate share of the burden.


President Obama has already ordered the Department of Defense to find $400 billion in savings, a task the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Martin Dempsey called “difficult.”


If that number were to be substantially increased, General Dempsey has warned it would represent a “very high risk” strategy for our own national security. These proposed reductions in defense spending, which could top $1 trillion, would be devastating and the biggest losers would be our men and women serving in uniform.


Worst of all, the deal slowly moves the Republican Party away from the Reagan model of a strong national defense. I fear Republican acceptance of this agreement legitimizes the concept that defense spending is not only equal to other areas of federal spending, but is of lesser importance. I will have no part of this philosophical shift.


The U.S. Constitution's preamble is unequivocal when it states one of the federal government’s primary responsibilities is to “provide for the common defence.” I fear this deal could ultimately weaken that principle.


I always believed we have to raise our nation’s debt-ceiling but should do so in a responsible manner. I strongly supported Cut, Cap and Balance and will continue to work for passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution.


I thought we could have raised the debt-ceiling for a period of nine months, the historical average since 1940, accompanied by dollar-to-dollar spending cut to debt-ceiling increase while we work to enact these important structural changes to the way the government operates.


On the good news front, we no longer accepted the premise the debt ceiling should be raised without corresponding spending cuts. I was particularly proud of our new House members from South Carolina as they stood firm but tried to play a constructive role in improving the final legislation.


They represent the spirit of the 2010 election which embraced the concept our nation needs real and substantial change to avoid becoming Greece, a nation on the verge of bankruptcy. Over time, this new energy will pay off as we try to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution and other structural reforms.


The simple truth is that the debt-limit debate offered us a prime opportunity to finally stop kicking the can down the road and bring discipline to the way Congress spends.


Because of our $14.5 trillion and growing national debt, we are in jeopardy of losing the American Dream where children are able to do better than their parents.


Unfortunately, I fear we will see that this agreement does not really move the needle when it comes to reducing government spending.


For these reasons, I voted No.