BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, I will be raising a budget point of order against this legislation. But I do want to thank my colleague, Senator Tester, for his hard work and the efforts of a lot of people to put this legislation together. I would hope my colleagues would listen to why I think it is important this bill--with a lot of good points in it, which I favor strongly--needs to be sent back and fixed.
The reason is this: The bill violates the Budget Control Act that we passed August a year ago. That has been certified by Senator Conrad, the chairman of the Budget Committee, and his staff. It plainly, as often is the problem, spends more than the Budget Control Act allows to be spent. Chairman Conrad, as I said, has agreed with that assessment.
No. 2, now this is the fourth bill brought before this Senate by the majority leader in the last 15 months that violates the budget. It is the fourth time. This is a time in which our country has never faced a more serious systemic budget crisis. We are on an unsustainable course. We know that. One of the things we need to do is figure out a way to constrain ourselves, and the Budget Control Act was a step in that direction.
To raise the debt limit in August 2011--we had borrowed all the money we could borrow, and to raise the debt ceiling, the debt limit, the Budget Control Act was passed. It limited spending, and that was all part of the deal to raise the debt ceiling.
These violations of the Budget Control Act lower respect for the Senate by the American people. It hurts our Nation because it impacts our debt situation and our spending, and it cannot be justified. It should not happen. We can avoid this.
I disagree with Senator Tester on this point. Of course, sustaining the budget point of order will not kill this bill unless in some manner of pique Senator Reid were to say: I am not going to bring it up if you do not pass it just like I said it ought to be passed and you will not waive the budget and just violate the budget and do it like I said. I do not think Senator Reid will do that. Surely, he will not do that.
So what would happen is it would go back to committee, and Senator Reid would review it and see what we could do to fix it, which will be easy compared to some of the difficult problems we have around here. The need would simply be to find $14 million a year. I have suggested a number of ways already, but those have not been used. If we would think about it this way, we are talking about finding savings somewhere in this monumental government of $14 million when we plan to spend $370,000 million this year. By Alabama standards that is a lot of money.
Another problem: The bill is subject to a House blue slip. Under the Congressional Budget Office analysis and the President's own Office of Management and Budget in the White House, the duck stamp is a tax. It simply is a tax. People can say it is not a tax. It is a tax. They have defined it as a tax. We do not have the ability to redefine the meaning of words around here, and a tax cannot originate in the Senate. So the House, as it is presently written, is likely to object and will object to this, I am certain.
Another easily fixed problem in the bill is this: The Environment and Public Works Committee brought up the legislation. The question of whether the duck stamp tax should be set by law, by Congress, or be given to a member of the President's staff to set at whatever level he wants was discussed. Senator Boxer agreed with those who shared the view that we should not be delegating to an unelected Cabinet person the power to set taxes in the United States of America. He can set the duck stamp under this bill at any level he wants to set it at. That is not good.
This is a constitutional issue. I feel strongly about it. Congress must never cede its power to tax to a single person not even accountable or any other entity, the U.N. or any other entity. The Constitution gives Congress the power to tax and only the Congress the power to tax. That can easily be fixed. There is not a problem here.
It has been argued that the point of order is only technical. Do not worry about this point of order. It is only technical because the new spending in it is paid for. How? By tax increases. So the Budget Control Act drafters, 15 months ago, and the budget rules of this Senate understand this argument. This is not a new argument. They knew this kind of gimmick would come up under the Budget Control Act, and they prohibited it. They understood it, and that is why they prohibited it.
Under the Budget Control Act, a spending limit is a spending limit. I know Senator Reid seems to think if he raises taxes he can spend more, and he does not have to pay attention to the Budget Control Act he supported and the President signed and negotiated 15 months ago. He does not have to do that because he has paid for it, he thinks, by raising taxes. But the truth is the Budget Control Act does not deal with taxes. It deals with spending, and it prohibits more spending than the amount above the EPW allocations.
I note my friend, Senator Tester, and my friend, Senator Warner, earlier--they are fine Senators--said there is no problem. OK. There is no problem, Sessions. It reduces the deficit by $5 million over 10 years. We should not worry. So you say: OK, Sessions, why are you complaining? You are worried about the deficit. It reduces the deficit by $5 million. CBO says that. That may be the case. I think it is the case. But what is the answer to that charge? The answer to it is simply this: This legislation, as it is now written--and can be changed--raises taxes $145 million and spends $140 million, and they pat themselves on the back and say: We pay down the deficit $5 million. Give me a break.
Think about this, though: If the spending limit of the Budget Control Act were complied with, we would not have a $5 million reduction in the deficit. We would have a $145 million reduction in the deficit at least. We would have $145 million in deficit reduction instead of $5 million. So let's ask: Has anyone looked around to see if there is any spending that can be reduced to pay for this? The Interior Appropriations bill spends $29 billion a year. We cannot find $14 million?
Well, the answer is, nobody has looked to save any money to pay for this bill. Nobody, really.
Well, why not? Because it asks the Members of the House and the Senate--the Congress--to choose, make priority settings, and that is hard. We do not want to do hard things. There are over $900 million spent in wetlands programs like that in the bill that advance duck causes and hunting and so forth, according to the Congressional Research Service. Has anybody ever looked to see if that multiplicity of programs might be consolidated and save, out of $900 million, maybe $14 million right there? Plus, any other spending in this government could be utilized to keep within the spending limits and not violate it.
But the fact is the Budget Control Act said we must choose. If we want to have a new program in one of our areas of the government, fine and dandy, but we have to do it within the limit of spending we have agreed to. This bill does not do that. Under this rationale, we would have to assume, would we not, that the needs of this bill are so little that there is not a single other program in America, not a single one, that is less valuable. Therefore, the only way we can proceed with this bill is to raise taxes, raise revenue. That is just simply not correct. We know better than that.
There is no reason these problems cannot be fixed. Slowing down, complying with the Budget Control Act, not delegating to an unelected Cabinet Member the power to raise taxes, not violating with a blue slip by commencing a revenue bill in the Senate, is not hard to deal with.
So I say to Senator Tester: Thank you for your work. I am not sure the way this was done precisely was something you suggested. I believe we can work this out. I have made some suggestions. I am open to a lot of suggestions, but I will just say to my colleagues, I will continue to object to any bill brought before this Congress that violates the solemn agreement we made 15 months ago in the Budget Control Act. And this one does. Senator Conrad has verified that. If my colleagues will adhere to the limits of spending that we agreed to 15 months ago by supporting this budget point of order, this popular bill, with a lot of good values in it, will be quickly fixed and passed--there is just no other way to see it--and in the future, committees and Senator Reid, perhaps, will stop sending budget busters to the floor of the Senate.
Mr. President, I was going to make the budget point of order at this point, but I see Senator Tester. I do not know if he wants to speak. Let me say again how much I appreciate the hard work Senator Tester has put into this. He is a friend. I know he has worked hard, and I hate to cause him heartburn at this point in time, but I really would say I have raised this budget point of order on other bills and it is not that I am complaining particularly about his. His, in fact, will be a lot easier to fix than some of them.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT