Washington, D.C.–Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding the U.S. debt limit, and on repealing wasteful subsidies for big oil companies. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Imagine there’s a choice Congress has to make. We’re standing before two doors, and have to pick one. Behind door number one is a choice the Chairman of the Federal Reserve calls ‘catastrophic.’
“The Secretary of the Treasury says that if we open that same door, it could lead to a financial crisis ‘more severe than the crisis from which we are only now starting to recover.’
“And the majority of the American people we represent say opening that door would be ‘disastrous.’ Not just a bad idea, not one that would lead to discomfort – but one that would lead to disaster.
“It wouldn’t be just irresponsible to make that choice. We would be out of our minds.
“Well, we’re going to have to make up our minds sooner rather than later. That’s because today, America has hit a milestone, but it isn’t one anyone’s celebrating. Today is the day we hit our debt limit, which means we’ve reached the maximum amount the United States is allowed to borrow.
“It means that with each passing day, we’re that much closer to the disaster that would come from defaulting on our debts – the day we would forfeit, for the first time ever, the full faith and credit of the United States.
“This is the crisis Chairman Bernanke called ‘catastrophic,’ what Secretary Geithner warned would make the Great Recession look small, and what the American people demand we avoid.
“Defaulting on our obligations would be unprecedented. But it’s not unavoidable. We can be responsible leaders and choose to open the other door. It might not be ideal, but we have to make a choice. And door number two is a much better, safer and smarter choice.
“Let’s be clear about what the debt limit does and doesn’t mean. Raising the debt limit when it’s absolutely necessary – and right now, it is – lets us pay the bills that have already come due.
“We borrow a lot of money in this country. That’s not a new phenomenon, or unique to one party. It’s how America has done business for centuries. And borrowing a lot of money means we owe a lot of money. We cannot cut off our own ability to pay those debts.
“Here’s what it doesn’t mean. The emergency we enter today isn’t about a penny of new spending. It’s not about new programs or new taxes. It’s not about creating new obligations, only meeting existing ones. The debt limit is about paying what we already owe.
“If we don’t act – if we allow the United States to default – the day of reckoning will be much, much worse than today. Things will be much, much worse for Americans jobs, families and businesses than they already are. And the fallout will be felt around the world.
“Right now, a lot of people are reaching for that first door – the one that leads to catastrophe and crisis. They’re looking at this choice through a political lens, not an economic lens. And they’re willing to risk the strength of our economy just to make a political point.
“We can’t afford to play these political games and trigger a default crisis that would lead to catastrophe. We can’t afford to make unrealistic demands or hold hostage policies that affect real people.
“Speaker Boehner recently asked everyone to act like adults and reach a solution. I second that request. Let’s open the second door, and honor our obligations.
“Once we avert this crisis, we can have another important, adult conversation – a conversation about saving money.
“One good way to do that – not the only way, but a good, easy, obvious way – is to cut wasteful spending. Taxpayer giveaways to companies pulling in record profits are the epitome of wasteful spending.
“We all know which companies I’m talking about – the five biggest oil and gas companies. It’s time to take away incentives that they don’t need and we can’t afford.
“That’s the question that will come before the Senate this week. It’s a question of fairness.
“The bonus checks taxpayers are writing to Big Oil are absurd and obscene. They defy common sense.
“Big Oil isn’t hurting. It doesn’t need a hand. In the first three months of this year, the oil industry made $36 billion in profits alone. Not revenues – profits. That’s $12 billion a month. That’s $3 billion a week. That’s pretty good money.
“Meanwhile, the American taxpayer is giving these same successful companies $4 billion a year.
“So when you take these companies’ profits and add in the handout you, me and every taxpayer gives them, America is saying to Big Oil: You make $3 billion a week for 52 weeks, and we’ll basically give you a 53rd week for free.
“But what about the average American taxpayer – the one who’s footing the bill for this Big Oil bonus? ExxonMobil now pays a smaller share of its income in taxes than the average taxpayer.
“This isn’t because the average American is paying more in taxes – it’s because Big Oil is paying less.
“Over the last four years, since Democrats have controlled the Senate, we’ve cut taxes for middle-class families nine different times. The Democratic Senate has passed a trillion-and-a-half dollars in tax cuts. And now families pay less in federal taxes as a share of the economy since 1950, when Harry Truman was President.
“So this is a question of fairness – it’s about Big Oil paying its fair share.
“It’s also a question of priorities. The people who want to keep giving their Big Oil buddies four billion taxpayer dollars a year are the same ones who want to take the social safety net away from the sick, seniors and the poor. These people kick and scream about investing in cancer research, or protecting student loans that help so many afford the rising costs of college.
“But ask them to recognize the absurdity of giving Big Oil taxpayer money it doesn’t need, and they cover their eyes and plug their ears. Ask them to defend it, and they can’t do it.
“That’s what happened last week. The nation watched the Big Oil bosses try to defend it. Frankly, they didn’t do a very good job. It’s not their fault for doing so poorly – they were trying to defend an indefensible position. But I do hold him responsible for holding that position.
“So this is a question of fairness and a question of priorities. It’s certainly a question of economics. But it is not a question of gas prices.
“Independent, nonpartisan experts – and even some of the CEOs themselves – say taking away these giveaways doesn’t have a thing to do with the price at the pump. Anyone who claims otherwise is simply not telling the truth.
“Those distractions are disruptive to this debate. So are gratuitous attacks on the patriotism of the debaters.
“One of these companies, ConocoPhillips, said using taxpayer money to pay down the deficit rather than pad Big Oil’s pockets was ‘un-American.’ That’s ConocoPhillips’ word, not mine.
“Attacking another’s patriotism has no place in this debate. It’s offensive that this company has done that, and shameful that its CEO refuses to recant it or apologize for it.
“I disagree strongly with his position on this issue. I disagree with his claim that only one side of this debate loves its country. I question his sense of fairness, and I question his priorities. But I don’t question his patriotism. He shouldn’t question mine.”