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National Defense Authorization Act for 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, I would like just like to say that this amendment arose after Senator Webb expressed concerns at one of our Armed Services Committee hearing fundamentally that Iraq and Afghanistan are voting in their parliaments on the force of status agreements, and we are not even seeing the agreement here, so I appreciate his leadership and am glad to work with him on this piece of legislation. I think his work moves us in the right direction.

We will talk with Chairman Levin to see where we are.

I yield the floor, and I note the absence of a quorum.

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Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, I couldn't miss the opportunity to express our appreciation for the services of Senator Webb. As all of us know, but it doesn't hurt to be reminded, he is a Vietnam veteran, one of the most highly decorated veterans in the entire war, a combat leader of men in fierce combat. He served the country in a number of different ways and in this Senate. Actually his book, Fields of Fire, remains the premier novel on the Vietnam War and is the most studied novel in colleges to this day about the war in Vietnam.

So, at any rate, I just wanted to share those remarks while we had a minute here and express my appreciation to Senator Webb for his service to the country and to the Senate.

I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, 15 months ago in August, the debt ceiling of the United States was reached; that is, that we had borrowed all of the money we could lawfully borrow. A big discussion occurred and a number of things came out of it.

Finally, it was agreed to raise the debt ceiling so the government could continue to borrow. Almost 40 cents of every dollar we spend now is borrowed. It is unbelievable, but it is true. We also agreed that over 10 years, we would reduce spending by $2.1 trillion. That is a lot of money, but compared to what we are spending, it is not so much.

For example, we were expected to spend, over the next 10 years, $47 trillion over the--basically, $37 trillion we would spend now if we maintain the current level, and we agreed to reduce it from 47 to 45. Spending over 10 years would grow by $8 trillion instead of $10 trillion, not something that would destroy the Republic, but it was a step of noticeable weight to change the debt course of America. We still remain, after that agreement, totally on an unsustainable debt course.

We have more work to do.

But the point I want to make is it passed both Houses of Congress, it had the support of both leaders and the President of the United States. It didn't freeze spending in a lot of things, it didn't cut spending in a lot of things, but it did reduce the growth of spending and give us some real teeth through that on certain accounts--not all accounts.

Well, today was the third vote in recent weeks in which this Senate said: We will abide by and adhere to the agreement we reached. We will not spend more than we agreed to spend just August a year ago. This is a 10-year agreement. We promised to stay within those limits for 10 years. Yet within 15 months, a little over a year, we have now had the fifth bill on the floor of the Senate that violated that agreement. And this is the third time the Members of the Senate said: No, we are not going to keep violating that agreement.

This survivor benefit program reform is something I have favored. I worked with Senator Nelson years ago. I was a cosponsor with him of the legislation, and we have tried a lot of ways to do it. But we agreed to spending limitations. The amendment Senator Nelson offered today had a great goal, it is something I think we can figure a way to advance for sure, but there was no reduction of spending and no pay-for for this amendment. There just wasn't. At the last moment he walks in with $7 billion--almost $7 billion--in new spending, none of which was paid for, in blatant, direct, total violation of the agreement we reached in August a year ago.

We had Members, Republican Members--and I appreciate Senator Carper breaking ranks and voting to uphold the budget--who wanted to vote for this and felt bad they were not able to allow the amendment to advance, but it violates the budget. So I was proud of that. I think it is the right thing for America.

We can do this. I believe our message is being sent. We brought up a popular bill, the Sportsmen's Act, and I was for that, but it wasn't paid for or it spent more money than we agreed to in the Budget Control Act. So this amendment would have spent more money--$7 billion more than we agreed to. We blocked the Sportsmen's Act and it was $140 million more than we agreed to. The Senate said no, even though many of us liked what was in that bill. This was $7 billion above what we agreed to, and even with the good cause we said we should adhere to the limits we have.

If we have new priorities that we want to fund, can't we find wasteful spending somewhere in our government? One of the dysfunctions we have, one of the reasons it is so hard to get something such as that accomplished and fund a new spending program without borrowing the money, just increasing the debt, is everybody is jealous of their account. How silly is that. We should all be focusing on the national interest. So when we say we are going to reduce this program over here and we are going to pay for the benefits for widows, people automatically say: No, you can't take my money. But it is all the taxpayers' money, isn't it? It is not this Senator's money or this committee's money, it is not this program's money. It is all the taxpayers' money.

We have been in denial. We think business as usual is going to continue, but this country has never, ever, ever been in a more systemic, dangerous position with regard to our finances. Never. We have had expert testimony on that. So we have to be honest about it. We have to do the right thing. We can't have a Senator waltz in, even with something we would wish to support, and ask us to vote for it when it adds $7 billion above the amount we agreed to spend. I wanted to say that because it is a troubling situation for us.

One more thing. The President of the United States is the one person who speaks for America. He is now pushing and advancing an agenda that seems to me to raise taxes. But will it reduce spending? No. It seems the new taxes are to fund new spending. Well, we don't have the numbers, so I am going to be asking him to see the numbers. I am the ranking member on the Budget Committee. I want to see how much new spending they have and how much new taxes they have, and if it is like what we have been seeing, there is a lot of flimflam. We had a budget projection that was voted down 100 percent, not a single vote. The budget he sent out earlier this year increased taxes $1.8 trillion but increased spending $1.4. So it didn't pay down the debt.

I hope the President will look the American people in the eye and tell them we are on an unsustainable course. I have not heard him say that. Why won't he say that? His own debt commissioner, Erskine Bowles, said we face the most predictable debt crisis in our Nation's history. Why won't the President say we can't continue on this path and we have to change? Why won't he say we need to tighten our belt across the government? This is one of the problems we have at the end of this year.

I wanted to say to my friends who may have seen this differently that those people who voted a few minutes ago to uphold the budget, not to waive the Budget Act but to stay with the budget agreement we signed, I believe were doing what they truly felt was in the best interest of America. I don't think they should be in any way accused of being hard-hearted. It is time for us to at least agree to stand by the numbers we have agreed to.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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