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Public Statements

Budget Act Violation

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, I wish to speak about the budget portion of this bill. I share Senator Warner's support for the bill. I believe fundamentally it is a good series of policy initiatives that will help sportsmen in the long run. However, I am the ranking member of the Budget Committee and this bill violates the deemed spending levels agreed to in the Budget Control Act. Senator Warner is a member of the Budget Committee. Senator Warner is a member of the Gang of Six that is working so hard to develop a plan that we are supposed to trust will be executed if their plan were to be effected. It doesn't look as if they are making a lot of progress, but who knows? I salute their effort.

The question is, if we lay out a plan to address our fiscal issues, will we adhere to it? Will we follow it? So I am a little bit taken aback that my colleagues seem oblivious to the idea and the concern that, plainly, the Sportsmen's Act legislation violates the Budget Act. The staff of Senator Kent Conrad--our Democratic chairman of the Budget Committee, who is retiring--has concluded and certified that it violates the budget because it spends more money than we agreed to spend on this item 15 months ago when the Budget Control Act was passed in order to raise the debt ceiling in America.

I wish to tell my colleagues that I worry about things around here and about what kinds of agreements may be reached in the middle of the night--Christmas Eve, December 31st--to fix the fiscal cliff. We will hear: Don't worry, we have taken care of it. That is what they said when they passed the Budget Control Act August a year ago. I didn't feel good about it then, although it made some progress and it did have some limits on spending in various areas. So we did pass the Budget Control Act, and this will be the fourth time in 15 months we have had a bill on the floor that violates it.

Senator Durbin earlier talked about the Simpson-Bowles Commission on which he served. Forty Percent of the revenue they raised was taxes. They said it was about 3-to-1 spending cuts to revenue increases when they were telling us about it. As I recall, they said it was 3-to-1 in spending cuts for every dollar in tax increases. But my Budget Committee staff and I looked at it, and I think it is closer to 1-to-1: $1 of spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases.

It was a tax-and-spend bill, really. I wish it were better. It wasn't as good as people suggested. At some point before the election President Obama suggested we should have $1 in tax increases for every $4 in spending cuts. Now we see that Simpson-Bowles proposed a ration of almost 1-to-1: $1 in tax increases for every $1 in spending cuts.

I am going to put out a statement today, but I wanted to correct something Senator Reid said and Senator Durbin said Sunday on the talk interview programs. Senator Durbin said Social Security does not add 1 penny to the debt--not a penny. I think that is pretty close to a direct quote. But that is not correct. Social Security is already in a situation where the amount of revenue from people's withholding is less than the amount of money being paid out to the recipients. We have now spent $27 billion more than we have collected in payroll taxes in the last 2 years. So where does the money come from? It is borrowed by the United States Treasury to pay for Social Security spending. Why? Because the U.S. Treasury borrowed the money. They took the surpluses that had been in existence until 2 years ago and spent them. But the Social Security trustees asked for the money they loaned the Treasury, in order to pay our retirees. They have debt instruments to establish the debt that they loaned to the Treasury. They didn't give it to the Treasury. It was the money of the Social Security recipients. That is whose money it was. So it was loaned to the government, their debt instruments showing the debt, and the Treasury pays the interest to the Social Security trustees. Now, for the first time, instead of having a surplus, which the Treasury can spend and buy votes with, we have a deficit, and boy, it is just beginning. It is already on a path to surge out of control and threaten the future of Social Security. How does the government pay the money it owes to Social Security? It has already spent the money it collected in past years. It is as if we borrowed the money from the bank, we spent it, and the bank says I want to be paid back.

What happens? Well, the Federal Government borrows that money on the world market, through the sale of Treasury bills, and then they get that money and they pay Social Security. It is just beginning. It is already in deficit. It has added not 1 penny--it has already added $27 billion to the public debt of the United States of America.

The Sportsmen's bill is legislation I strongly support. It came out of committee and I supported it, but it does violate the Budget Act. It is quite clear that it does. We can fix it easily. If we can fix it easily, we should fix it easily. Senator Conrad has certified that it violates the budget. Senator Reid has brought it to the floor under rule XIV, bypassing normal Committee procedures. The bill violates the spending limits we agreed to in August a year ago.

The BCA limited spending in various accounts as part of an agreement to raise the debt limit. We reached a limit on how much we could borrow, and the President and others wanted to keep borrowing and keep spending. So debt in America continues to surge out of control. But the Republican leaders at the time said: No, until you agree to cut spending, we are not going to raise the debt limit, Mr. President. Just like the kid with the credit card, you don't get to keep spending unless we know you have limited some spending, at least. So that is what happened. The President and the congressional Democrats resisted that. They attacked Republicans as wanting to cut spending and throw the country into the abyss, but they--with no choice, really--finally agreed to spending reductions of $2.1 trillion over 10 years. Those reductions were based on 2011 spending levels. Flat spending in 2011 would have totaled about $37 trillion over 10 years. But the baseline for spending has natural growth in it and always has, as calculated by the Congressional Budget Office. CBO said that under current law, spending would be expected to increase to over $47 trillion over 10 years--$10 trillion or $11 trillion more. So this agreement would simply have reduced the amount of debt that could be added to the government from $10 trillion to $8 trillion over the next 10 years. It would reduce spending--some said it was horrible--it would reduce spending from $47 trillion to $45 trillion. Remember, we are spending about $37 trillion now. The American people were assured that this solemn agreement was a good step and Congress would follow what they agreed to and put into law. So another thing is that Congress cannot continue to breach even the modest spending levels we agreed to. We cannot breach those levels. It is a sick pattern and makes a mockery of law and responsible governing.

Since the Budget Control Act agreement 15 months ago, this is the fourth spending bill that violates the law. How? Always Congress wants to spend more money--money we don't have. Remember, these four instances I have cited don't include the 13 appropriations bills because Senator Reid, for the first time in history--the first time in the history of the Senate, we believe--did not pass a single appropriations bill on time. Every one of them was placed in one continuing resolution and funded forward for 6 months. So we didn't bring those appropriations bills up and we didn't have votes on them. Who knows how many more budget violations would have occurred in that. So the bills we are talking about are bills such as the Sportsmen's bill that is before us now.

I will object to the legislation because it violates the 10-year spending limits passed into law 15 months ago. But, of course, that does not end the matter. Senator Reid--and I am sure he will, or his designee--will simply ask the Senate to override the law. They will make a motion to waive the statutory spending limits and, poof, if 60 Senators agree, we waive it and spend the extra money. No problem, except the Budget Act will be violated once again.

So at a time of unprecedented spending, unsustainable debt, and low public confidence in Congress, should we not adhere to even the smallest spending limits that have been enacted? Should we again violate the Budget Control Act for a mere $14 million a year--a mere $14 million a year--when this could easily be fixed? I say ``a mere $14 million'' because we deal with billions of dollars on a routine basis around here. So $14 million is a lot of money, but compared to what we spend and the ability we have to find savings in this vast government, it is not a lot of money.

And shouldn't the President, who negotiated and signed into law the Budget Control Act, object to his Democratic leaders' violating the spending limits he agreed to and negotiated last summer a year ago? Shouldn't he make it clear that he will veto any bill that violates the statutory limits we agreed to? Of course, he has not done so on this bill or any of the other four previous bills that would have violated those spending limits.

The words in the Budget Control Act, I have to say, appear, in his mind, to be words he never agreed to in his heart. Maybe he agreed to them on paper, maybe he signed the paper, but in his heart he never wanted to sign that agreement, so it is no problem for him to waltz in here and agree to spend more than he agreed to last summer. He is postmodern, as you know. Words are just a momentary thing. They can be reinterpreted a little later to better match what we meant to say my heart of hearts. This is why this country is in financial trouble, in my opinion.

Amendments my staff and I have tried to suggest that would fix this problem are being rejected, and the good groups such as Ducks Unlimited and other groups say: No; we don't want any changes. We say: Let's see if we can't get the money for the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund through another way, some of the other spending in this bill or some other savings throughout the government. Why can't we find the money and help fund migratory bird conservation, which I believe in, and maybe we can do that in another way without violating the budget. They say no.

But I will say to my friends at Ducks Unlimited and other groups that support the bill, they were not here 15 months ago. They did not vote on a bill that said we are going to limit spending to this amount. I did. Every Senator here told their constituents that Congress voted to limit spending to a certain amount and we would not go above it.

I understand Ducks Unlimited and other groups have a special interest and a deep concern, and I share it, to help maintain our great heritage of hunting and conservation in America. I understand that.

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Mr. SESSIONS. I will just say, we have responsibilities to the budget, to the Treasury. I will promise one thing: If we go back home and talk to duck hunters, as I do, and hunters on a regular basis, they think we are spending money like crazy. They think we do not adhere to any agreements. So I do not think the average duck hunter would be concerned if we slowed down a little bit and sent this bill back to committee and had it paid for so we did not violate the budget. In fact, I think most of the people I know would be very supportive of us doing that.

This proposal is a tax plan, pure and simple. The CBO and the Office of Management and Budget--President Obama's Office of Management and Budget--say the duck stamp fee is a tax. It is a tax, and Congress has always set the amount of it. This bill--I do not like this--we fixed this in committee, but Senator Reid has brought up a bill without those fixes. The committee bill would have said Congress sets the amount of the tax on the American people, not some unelected Secretary of the Interior. Why should he have the unilateral ability to raise taxes on Americans? It has never been done before. It should never be done. It violates good, sound principles of government in America and actually I think it would violate the Constitution to do that. It is certified by OMB and CBO as a tax.

Also, I hear it said it would actually reduce the deficit. If we raise taxes by $145 million and then we spend $140 million, we can go around and say: We reduced the deficit by $5 million. But I asked Senator Warner and other colleagues have they researched this budget of ours to seek to find an additional $140 million? If we are going to raise the duck stamp by $140 million, if we are going to raise it by that amount, why wouldn't we reduce the deficit by $140 million instead of just $5 million? Those are the decisions families and small businesses make when they deal with these challenges in their budgets. They are required to make choices. One thing this Congress seems to always want to avoid is making choices. Since they can find nothing else in the entire Federal budget that would pay for this bill, this sportsmen's bill, it would indicate to me it is not a very high priority.
But the truth is that is not exactly true. The truth is, they never looked to find anything else they could cut that is wasteful or duplicative. In fact, there are over $900 million in existing wetlands conservation programs today. Nobody has sought to examine those programs to see if they could be more efficiently run and probably it would free up that much money right there.

I know the pressures. I know how this system works, but the people who drafted the Budget Control Act were aware of how Congress likes to spend. They specifically intended not to allow us to spend more by taxing more. They set explicit levels on how much we could spend. Therefore, this bill violates those spending levels, even though it has taxes there, and, as a result, it violates the budget and should not pass in its present form.

I thank the Presiding Officer and yield the floor.

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