Speaker John Boehner sets the scene for this week's House vote on funding: A 'mortal' and 'moral threat'
Remarks by House Speaker John Boehner to the National Religious Broadcasters Convention, as provided by his office
Dr. Wright, thank you for the warm welcome. I was humbled by your invitation to address this gathering, and honored to accept. It’s good to see my Tennessee colleagues Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black. Thank you for being here.
Let me say, I admire NRB’s efforts to take God’s message of hope and healing abroad, to parts of Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. It’s important work.
Now, I understand you’re here to hear from me, but it is hearing from you that has given me greater understanding. And I’m grateful for that. Like anyone with a new job, I’m often asked ‘how does it feel,’ or ‘how’re things different?’ More than anything else, I’m humbled by the trust and confidence placed in me.
Humility isn’t something you ‘do,’ of course. It’s how you live. It’s putting your faith in a gracious and sovereign God. ‘No man can serve two masters’ was the message from Matthew this morning. ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.’
That passage got me thinking about how America was founded on humility. Patrick Henry’s fiery appeal to his countrymen is remembered for its closing, ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’ Often left out of our textbooks is what came before that, when Henry first appealed to the ‘just God who presides over the destinies of nations.’
Faith in the Almighty gave our forefathers the courage to secure freedom for themselves and....
Here was Jefferson, before there was even a republic on which to stand, seeking to enshrine the freedom of worship that brought the first settlers to our shores. That bill did not become a law at first. In time, it became much more. It became the basis for the First Amendment to our Constitution. History’s lesson is this: freedom is a God-given right, and we, the people, must ensure government does not take it away.
This is my first speech outside Washington as Speaker. That’s no accident.
Over the last two years, I’ve seen Americans reconnecting with our founding principles like never before in my lifetime. I know you have been on the front lines of this work. You have opened the hearts and minds of so many of your neighbors. You have fulfilled the Scripture’s call to be not just hearers but doers of the Word. I come here tonight because we are called together to be doers.
Right now, freedom and free expression are under attack by a power structure in Washington populated with regulators who have never set foot inside a radio station or a television studio. We see this threat in how the FCC is creeping further into the free market by trying to regulate the Internet.
‘Network neutrality,’ they call it. It’s a series of regulations that empower the federal bureaucracy to regulate Internet content and viewpoint discrimination. The rules are written vaguely, of course, to allow the FCC free reign.
The last thing we need, in my view, is the FCC serving as Internet traffic controller, and potentially running roughshod over local broadcasters who have been serving their communities with free content for decades.
At the end of the last Congress, some members of Congress sought a compromise on net neutrality that would give Washington temporary control of the Internet while we sorted this all out.
As far as I’m concerned, there is no compromise or middle ground when it comes to protecting our most basic freedoms. So our new majority in the House is committed to using every tool at our disposal to fight a government takeover of the Internet.
Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has pledged, in his words, to be ‘a dog to the Frisbee on this issue.’ It doesn’t get more dogged than that.
Already, the committee has held hearings to give FCC regulators a chance to explain the need for this intrusion. It won’t surprise you to hear they haven’t been able to give the American people a straight answer.
Congressman Greg Walden of Oregon, a former broadcaster himself, has introduced a congressional resolution of disapproval to reverse the FCC’s actions. I’m pleased to report the House will act on this measure as early as next month.
We’re also going to do what we can to see that no taxpayer dollars are used to fund these net neutrality rules. We passed a measure to that effect earlier this month.
Congresswoman Blackburn has been a national leader on this issue, holding the FCC’s feet to the fire. She has called net neutrality ‘the Fairness Doctrine for the Internet.’ The ‘Fairness Doctrine,’ that’s another threat to freedom with an innocuous name. This, as you know, is a censorship scheme from the 1940s mandating that competing viewpoints be offered on controversial topics. In other words, programming has to meet Washington’s definition of ‘balance.’
The Fairness Doctrine thankfully met its demise in 1987. At which point, broadcasters from all walks finally had the freedom to practice their First Amendment rights on the airwaves. Of course, we know how the rest of the story goes.
Now, you know the old saying: ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’ Well in Washington, it’s more like, ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, tax ‘em and regulate ‘em.’ So, some members of Congress and the federal bureaucracy are still trying to reinstate – and even expand – the Fairness Doctrine. To them, it’s fair to silence ideas and voices they don’t agree with, and use the tools of government to do it.
No one should fear the battle of ideas -- it’s the lifeblood of our democracy. When it’s alive and well, so is our country.
Our new majority is committed to seeing that the government does not reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Congressman Walden has teamed up with another former broadcaster, Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, to introduce legislation to help keep the airwaves free. I expect the House to act on this measure as well.
As significant as these threats are, ladies and gentlemen, there is one that dwarfs others in terms of the danger it poses to freedom and our children's future.
You may recall President Obama, in his State of the Union address, talking about a ‘Sputnik moment,’ the moment that shocks our generation into getting serious. In my view, America’s ‘Sputnik moment’ is our shocking national debt.
Now surpassing $14.1 trillion, our national debt is on track to eclipse the size of our entire economy this year. In other words, we’re broke. Broke, going on bankrupt. Just as a bankrupt business has trouble creating jobs, so does a bankrupt country.
Italy, Spain, Greece, Ireland – even France – face sovereign debt crises and social unrest. Much of our debt has been bought up by China and Japan. Gas prices are rising. Economists have laid out the nightmare scenarios we may soon confront. One is known as ‘capital flight.’ This occurs when businesses stop investing and investors lose confidence, causing interest rates to rise, the debt to skyrocket, and the standard of living to fall.
But we are now at risk of losing a much more potent source of capital. That is the moral capital we gain from having a society that honors freedom and opportunity, and protects these values for our children and grandchildren.
Consider that a child born on this night will immediately inherit a $45,000 share of our national debt. By the time that newborn is getting ready to visit colleges, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the interest on our debt will consume all government revenues.
Here we must speak the truth. Yes, this level of debt is unsustainable. It is also immoral.
Yes, this debt is a mortal threat to our country. It is also a moral threat. It is immoral to bind our children to as leeching and destructive a force as debt. It is immoral to rob our children’s future and make them beholden to China. No society is worthy that treats its children so shabbily.
‘A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children,’ Proverbs reminds us. For too long, Washington has been ignoring this time-honored principle.
As part of the designs of unrestrained government, Washington uses our people, our most plentiful resource, as its prime revenue source. Through more taxes and more regulations, money and freedom is drained from the people and transferred to Washington, which then redistributes these resources.
Remember, every dollar the government takes is another dollar families cannot devote to strengthening their communities or saving for their children’s future. When that’s not enough, Washington borrows the rest of what it needs, giving few details on how the money will be spent. Two years ago, a borrowing binge for ‘stimulus’ took place with the idea that government should ‘never let a crisis go to waste.’
The bottom line here is: the more the government spends and borrows today, the more our children are forced to pay. The damage is as much moral as it is fiscal.
I’ve always found, when the government gets bigger, the people get smaller. The frontiers of the state crowd out local and private initiative. The value of hard work and fresh ideas is diminished. Dignity is diminished. We become more dependent on government, and it in turn becomes more dependent on us to stay afloat.
Gone is our culture of independence – in its place, a cycle of dependence. Is this to be our legacy? The answer may well be yes, unless we have the courage and the concern to do what is right, and right this wrong.
We have arrived at a brief, but critical moment of truth in which we can act. I don’t know if you’ve ever actually seen how Washington goes about borrowing money.
For a small business, for entrepreneurs like yourselves, borrowing is a life-and-death decision. The kids, the vendors, the customers, the bank – you calculate all the angles. You go the second mile. Well, the government auctions off our debt on about a weekly basis downtown at the Treasury Department.
You can go on your iPad ahead of time, call up all the information online. Everything’s automated, mostly done through conference calls and online interfaces. It all goes down in a matter of minutes – billions more piled on our kids and grandkids, just like that. It’s a cold and unfeeling procedure, not at all befitting the moral danger in which we find ourselves.
In Washington, the abnormal becomes normal. It is no different with debt. Washington has managed to turn debt into an unthinking bureaucratic routine. It is denounced using stock phrases but continues as if there is no choice in the matter. There was even a prolonged period when Congress increased the government’s authority to borrow automatically.
With our situation as dire as it is, the president has asked Congress to raise the debt limit. This time, however, things are different. The American people are coming to grips with the size and scope of this threat to freedom.
Americans are demanding a return to a smaller, less costly, and more accountable way of doing things. They will not tolerate an increase in the national debt limit unless it is accompanied by meaningful spending cuts and reforms.
We have a moral responsibility to deal with this threat to freedom and liberate our economy from the shackles of debt and unrestrained government.
Our new majority in the House began this work by humbling ourselves and finding ways to exercise frugality. We banned earmarks, which had become a symbol of a broken Washington. We replaced rules making it easy to increase spending with reforms making it easier to cut spending. We cut our own budgets by five percent.
We then turned our attention to the federal budget as a whole. Earlier this month, the House approved more than $100 billion in spending cuts compared to what President Obama requested for the current fiscal year. More cuts and reforms are in the works.
Next month, we will propose cutting or eliminating wasteful mandatory spending programs. And this isn’t just about how much we spend, but how we spend it. Our committees are doing an inventory of Washington regulations that threaten freedom and make it harder to create jobs. And we’re fighting to end taxpayer funding for abortion once and for all … we’re working to protect life.
In the spring, we will propose a budget that charts a new path to prosperity and makes the tough choices necessary to restore a moral fiscal policy.
What does a moral fiscal policy look like? A moral fiscal policy is rooted in our founding principles. It means having only as much government as we need and can afford. It means encouraging freedom and opportunity. It means ensuring our children are free to be whoever they want to be, and do whatever they want to do.
That is why our budget, under the leadership of our Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, will specifically deal with entitlement reform. To not address entitlement programs, as is the case with the budget the president has put forward, would be an economic and moral failure. By acting now, we can fulfill the mission of health and retirement security for all Americans without making changes for those in or near retirement. And we can keep the promises we have made to our children.
Unfortunately, the guardians of Washington’s spending binge are determined to go to great lengths in its defense. They label as ‘pain’ even our most modest efforts to restore a moral fiscal policy. What will truly cause pain and suffering is the status quo – doing nothing – and leaving our debt on its unsustainable and immoral path.
You know, it sometimes seems as if the architects of the strategy that government should never let a crisis go to waste now wait on a crisis to deal with waste. Even if that crisis includes shutting our government down.
We know what their solution would look like, don’t we? Spend more money, raise more taxes, impose more regulations, all in the name of another ‘emergency.’ I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like bringing us back full circle to the source of our troubles.
Perhaps the activists of unrestrained government think there’s some compromise to be had that allows their spending binge to survive.
Ladies and gentlemen, know this: we will do no such thing. We have not come all this way to compromise on the will and the birthright of our people.
We have a moral responsibility to address the problems we face. That means working together to cut spending and rein in government – not shutting it down.
The House has passed legislation – reflecting the will of the people – that would keep the government running through October while cutting spending.
The leader of the United States Senate has refused to allow a vote on this legislation, so the House will pass a shorter-term bill that will also keep the government running while including reasonable spending cuts at the same time.
This is very simple: Americans want the government to stay open, and they want it to spend less money. We don’t need to shut down the government to accomplish that. We just need to do what the American people are asking of us.
I’m pleased to say we have reform-minded men and women on our side in the Senate, state capitals and townships around the country.
They are daring to speak the truth about the dire fiscal challenges Americans face at all levels of government. They are daring to heed the will of the people and work to restore a moral fiscal policy. They are daring to be doers.
Unable to win the battle of ideas, the forces of the status quo will stop at nothing to undermine the will of the people and the voices of reform.
In Washington, an ‘army of lobbyists’ – hundreds strong – is gathering. Around the country, protesters celebrate legislators who boycott their responsibilities. Teachers have taken to the streets, causing schools to close. One governor’s effort to balance his state’s budget was labeled ‘an assault on unions.’
Oh, I’m not so sure about that. If an assault is being made, it’s on the hard-working families who have to fund government excess. They ask for nothing other than the ability to no longer be used as a revenue stream for an ever-growing government. They are ready to be freed from this empire of debt that threatens their livelihoods and their children’s futures.
Earlier, when I said, it is up to ‘we, the, people’ to ensure government does not take freedom away, I expressly meant, ‘we, the American people.’ In the long sweep of history, America is the only nation founded on an idea. ‘The people reign just as God rules over the universe,’ is how Alexis deTocqueville put it. Each generation is measured by how it lives up to this idea, at home and abroad.
At the height of our test of wills against Soviet communism, word of the West’s resolve reached the Siberian gulags. The Jewish dissident Natan Sharansky, though his eyes could not follow printed text for more than five, ten minutes at a time, devoted each day to Bible study. He did so knowing that book could be taken away any second. In captivity, the Word of God brought him clarity and hope.
Sharansky and his fellow captive, a Christian, had a special name for Bible study. They called these sessions ‘Reaganite readings.’ nThey saw this as a way to pray for President Reagan to stick with it. And he did … with your help and your encouragement.
You have made such a difference standing up for our founding principles. Let us not stop now. Let us be doers. With all that’s at stake, I ask you to continue the conversation we have begun here tonight. We are all, I think everyone of us, willing to speak the truth. The American people need to hear it. They need to hear from you.
I ask you to include young Americans in this dialogue. For what we do now is not about us; it is about them. We do not lead for profit or pleasure, but for our posterity. To be able to say we made all we could of the moment God has given us.
It is all we can do … but it will take all we have.
So let me close with this. Every day in the House of Representatives, we open with a prayer. It’s a tradition dating back to the First Continental Congress. Having asked you to begin our work anew, I think it is right we take a moment to lift up our hearts and pray…
For peoples around the world who have stood up for freedom and stared down oppression, especially our friends in Israel, that they may find peace and stability;
For those persecuted for their faith, especially religious minorities in Iraq, that they may be able to freely provide witness to God’s unconditional love;
For our president and all the people’s representatives, that we seek humbly and serve wisely, and that we have the wisdom to protect human life from conception and the courage to defend it;
For those who share the Good News, that they may fill their environments with Gospel values and noble human ideals;
And for our fellow citizens out of work and in need, that they may find employment and help lead the restoration of a moral fiscal policy;
Grace to you and your families, and peace from God. May He continue to bless America, the greatest country on Earth. ####
Photos: Mark Humphrey / Associated Press (Speaker Boehner speaks to the National Religious Broadcasters 2-27-11); Alex Brandon / Associated Press.