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Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, the Reid substitute, S. 3525, the Sportsmen's Act of 2012, is legislation that has a lot of very good things in it. Senator Reid attempted--although outside the normal committee process--to put together a package of bills that could do some good things. I generally am supportive of the package. I think it has some very good qualities to it, and I very much want to support it. But there is a problem with it. It is a small but important problem, and it needs to be fixed.
That is that, once again, after the Budget Control Act agreement reached in August, 15 months ago, the majority has brought forth a bill that violates the Budget Control Act, in which we agreed to a deemed budget as part of that process, and we are now spending more than we agreed to spend.
Fifteen months ago, we agreed to limit spending each year for the next 10 years and to stay within a limited amount of spending. Because we are borrowing virtually 40 percent of every dollar we spend, this country has a debt crisis staring us in the eye. Without any doubt, the most obvious threat to America's future is the surging debt: $4 trillion-plus increased debt in just 4 years, and the end is not in sight.
So we agreed, as part of raising the debt ceiling, to limit spending. This bill violates that agreement, and we need not do that. This is not the first one; it is the fourth one. That irresponsibility is one of the things that has placed us into this fix.
We looked the American people in the eye 15 months ago and said, Okay, we will raise the debt ceiling $2.1 trillion--because the administration had reached the limit of borrowing that the United States can incur--but we will reduce our projected spending increases over 10 years by $2.1 trillion. Part of the agreement in the Budget Control Act limited spending in various accounts, and this violates it.
You might say, Jeff, that is your opinion. No, it is not my opinion. I raised this with Chairman Conrad of the Budget Committee, of which I am ranking member. He and his staff have looked at it, and they certify that this budget violation actually occurs; therefore, the legislation is subject to a budget point of order. It cannot go forward because it violates the deemed budget that we agreed to.
If the budget point of order is raised, which will happen, then my colleagues will have a choice: They can either place the bill on a sound financial path that does not violate the Budget Control Act; or, they can say, Well, we won't pay any attention to that objection. We will waive the budget and just spend more than the budget allowed, because this is really important. It is really important that we raise revenue and spend more on the duck program.
I have been supportive, and the duck stamp is important. But this is not the right way to do this. If you are going to spend more money, you need to reduce spending somewhere else.
Also, I would point out the legislation was changed from the time it came out of committee. Part of the legislation at least when it was proposed in the Committee on Environment and Public Works of which I am a member, we observed that the proposal was to give bureaucrats--government officials, unelected--the power to meet with special interests, or whoever they chose to meet with or not meet with, and set the amount of fees--taxes, you might call it--that would be required of Americans before they could hunt ducks. That has never been so. Previously, the Congress set how much you could charge for a duck stamp.
So this was raised in committee, and our able chairwoman Senator Barbara Boxer agreed and by a voice vote it was accepted that Congress would set the limit on how much you could raise for duck stamps and burden duck hunters with. That is an important principle, in my opinion. That is violated by the bill that was brought up--not the one that passed committee, but the one brought up by the leader.
I grew up in the country. When I go back home, I love to be in the woods. I don't hunt anymore, but I have been a big supporter. Many of my friends are hunters and fishermen and conservationists. So it is sad that we are having a dispute over this legislation, because we are so close to being able to work out the problems. My request to Senator Reid and to our colleagues would be: Let's fix this.
Now it looks as though the bill will not be brought up until Monday when we come back, and I hope there will be ample opportunity for us to fix this problem so we are not passing a bill that violates the budget.
Under the bill, it would authorize $142 million in new direct spending over the next 10 years. Some may say that is not a lot, but if that is so, they have been in Washington too long. Mr. President, $142 million is a lot of money, and it is a very important principle because this is not the first time we violated the Budget Control Act.
If we stay with our agreement that we made with each other, that we made with the American people 15 months ago when the Budget Control Act was agreed to, we will at least save $2.1 trillion over 10 years. But if we keep nibbling away at it and eroding what we agreed to, we not only undermine our own credibility, but we weaken our ability to balance the budget. And if we reach a new agreement--which we need to do as we deal with the fiscal cliff then don't the American people need to know we will stand by the agreement we make? Don't they need to know an agreement is something more than a momentary event to get past a crisis and then the next year we can just ignore it? There is too much of this attitude in this Congress. That is one reason this country is in such a dire financial condition. The Reid amendment would violate the committee spending allocations in the deemed budget and would do it not only next year but every year over the next 10 years. This violation does not need to happen.
You say: This is technical. It is technical because it is paid for. We raise the revenue and we spend the revenue, but new spending is paid for by revenue--the tax increase on duck hunting--and therefore what are you worried about, Sessions?
What are we worried about? The agreement was that this whole area of spending would be capped at a certain level. The way to do this is, if you are going to spend more on the duck program, then reductions ought to be made somewhere else in this vast spending program or else you tax and spend. That is what we are doing. It is just tax-and-spend.
They say: We cannot cut anything else in the budget in dealing with interior, environment, and those issues. There is no way we can save another dime. We can't save $14 million a year over ten years anywhere.
Of course we can. There are plenty of places to save it there and in any of the other items of this government that waste money. What are they really saying? What they are saying is that of all the money we are currently spending, all of that is more important than finding $14 million to spend on more duck preservation programs. I am not sure that is correct. I am a believer in the duck stamp program, and I would like to see if we can figure out a way to do more to make sure we preserve those migratory bird habitats and the duck population in America, and I am prepared to be pretty aggressive as a Member of the Senate in developing policies to do that. But you do not have to tax and spend more. That is the point.
If you look at it and say that we cannot cut any other spending in the entire Federal Government to find $142 million for the duck program, I will just say to my colleagues, that is what we are paid to do. We are paid to make those tough choices. I don't like them sometimes, but it should not be hard in this instance to find this kind of payment. The idea that we can just up a fee and spend more money and violate the budget and nothing is going to happen and we are going to just go along and do that without objection, that time is over because we are in a debt crisis.
We have run up trillion-plus deficits for the last 4 years. President Bush's last deficit was huge. It was one of the largest we had in--maybe ever, $470 billion. We have averaged about $1,300 billion the last 4 years. The year before he left office, there was a $160 billion deficit. So we have $160 billion, $470 billion, a trillion-plus, 4 consecutive years. We are on the road in just a few years to double the debt of the United States again. This cannot be sustained. That is all I am saying. We have had similar budget problems on the postal reform bill, the highway bill, and the veterans jobs corp bill. We have had problems with spending violations on those bills too.
I really hope we will use this period of time to work out some language that fixes this problem. My budget staff can provide a long list of things that would save us this much money and have no real impact on the productivity of our government.
The Migratory Bird Habitat Investment and Enhancement Act--that is a good name, sounds like something we should be for--would actually give the Interior Department a blank check to increase the price of the duck stamp. It gives the Interior Department--unelected bureaucrats--the power to set how much we pay. Currently, it is $15. They could make it whatever figure the Secretary decides it should be, without any limit whatsoever. We discussed this in committee. The committee said: No, this is not the way we want to go. We have not done this before. Congress has stepped up to the plate and been responsible and decided how much we are going to extract from the American people before we allow them to go duck hunting. Granting that power to the Secretary is a significant change from what the committee voted on.
The duck stamp is purchased by all duck hunters in the United States. It was established in 1934. Since its beginning, it has always been set by Congress, not somebody in the bureaucracy. This is an unchecked power. I think it is a delegation of power to a person not accountable to the people, and it might violate the Constitution because only Congress can appropriate money and raise taxes. If it doesn't violate the Constitution explicitly, it violates the spirit of the Constitution. Moreover, by increasing the price of the duck stamp, if you think about it, in this amendment--it is an amendment, a revenue-raising amendment to an S. numbered bill. Senator Reid, therefore, by doing that, has put up a revenue enhancement bill originating in the Senate. The Constitution says revenue bills have to originate in the House. That places the bill in jeopardy. The House is very jealous--rightly so--of their constitutional prerogative of commencing all tax revenue bills in the House. The Congressional Budget Office, our objective analysis team, scores the duck stamp provision as an increase in revenue. If the House exerted its privilege under the Constitution, this bill would be subject to a blue slip, a rejection based on the revenue clause.
Also, amazingly, we have no amendments. There is no process to even bring up amendments to vote. So we are stuck with the position of either supporting the bill as is in all its complexity or not. If we fixed this matter, I would be supportive of the bill. We tried to study it. I think it is OK and pretty good, actually. It is a positive step in the right direction if we simply fix this. So the proper remedy for this situation is to allow amendments or send the bill back to committee and figure out how to pass legislation that is within the budget limit.
I will not mention all the good things about this bill. There are a lot of them: the National Fish and Wildlife Act; the North American Wetlands Conservation Act has some good provisions in it. A number of the other pieces of legislation are excellent. I do not think that is in dispute. It is supported by a lot of great wildlife organizations. I support that.
On September 22 the Senate voted 84 to 7 to invoke cloture on a motion to proceed, with the full expectation that when the Senate returned this month, an opportunity would be provided to address the budget concerns and to improve the bill. But now we see that my friend the majority leader has decided to move forward without confronting these issues.
I hope we can figure out a way to avoid this situation. Maybe people did not think about it clearly. Maybe they just thought it is paid for, therefore it cannot be a problem with the budget. But even though it is paid for, it really is a problem with the budget, and we do not need to delegate to some unelected official, even if it is constitutional--about which I have doubts--the ability without limit to raise fees for a normal historic right of Americans to go hunting ducks. I believe that has to be fixed, too, and we should do that.
Finally, I understand the intent is to recess for the rest of the day and all next week. However, in the Armed Services Committee yesterday, we were told we can get the armed services authorization, the Defense authorization bill up for a vote. We can actually bring it up and we can have a vote, and this is great news, and we have to do it in 3 days and very limited amendments, but if you Republicans will agree with that, we can get the bill up.
This is the first time in 50 years we have not passed a Defense bill prior to the September 30 fiscal year end. We are already into the new fiscal year. It should have been passed long ago. More than that, we could have spent 3 weeks on the Defense bill. We did nothing in September. We are doing nothing next week.
What is this about? It is about the management of the Senate defeating the historic ability of Members of the Senate to actually participate in the great issues of our time. One of them is the Defense Department budget and policy. The Defense authorization bill came out of the Armed Services Committee unanimously, but several of us in committee said that we have amendments we want to bring up on the floor. Other Members not on the Armed Services Committee have a right to talk about this $540-some-odd billion expenditure, the largest single expenditure outside of Social Security and Medicare in the entire budget. We are supposed to be thankful we did nothing in September, we are going to do nothing next week, but you now only have 3 days and just a very few amendments, and Senator Reid will pick and choose which ones you Republicans get to offer.
That is why we are having problems.
Senator Reid continues to assert that Republicans are filibustering. What Republicans are saying is we are prepared to move to these bills, but we would like the leader to tell us how many amendments we can get. He has figured out a way to fill the tree--what we call the amendment tree--to a degree that has never been done before, and that allows him to pass legislation without any amendment.
So we say we would like to have amendments, Mr. Leader. This is the Senate.
OK. Submit a list of them to me. You can have two, and it can't be this amendment, it can't be this amendment, and it can't be this amendment. It can only be these kinds of amendments. We will be nice to you. Well, maybe three. Ok, you get three--on a $540 billion defense bill that sets the policy for our military, that decides what weapons systems we are going to invest in with billions of dollars?
Some people in this Senate have opinions about it and they want to come to the floor. Maybe when they were campaigning they said: I am against such and such in the Defense bill, and they want to come here--and it is in the bill and they are against it and they want to offer an amendment and explain why it shouldn't be in the bill. They want to offer an amendment to take it out.
Sorry. We don't have time.
I think this is a dangerous trend. I believe we shouldn't be recessing today. I believe we should be working. We have the fiscal cliff. We have the defense sequester. We have monumental tax increases about to occur. We have the death tax going to 55 percent of virtually anything somebody has. All these things are going to happen if we don't take some action. We have all these people talking, secretly planning and talking and working, and so about Christmas Eve I suspect they will walk in here with a plan we will be told we have to support or else we will work through Christmas or on January 1 we will be here, and we will have a catastrophe if all these bad things happen.
The President will not even say what he is for. He will not even lay out a plan. Congressman Ryan laid out a plan. He has defended it all over the country and is prepared to discuss it and explain it. What is the President's plan? What is Senator Reid's plan? Does the majority leader have any plan to confront our pension programs for Social Security and Medicare that are going broke? Does he have any plan to fix them? What is it? Isn't this important? Does he have any plan to get us off this trillion-dollar debt course? What are we going to do?
Growth is going down. We were at 2.4 percent in 2010; we had that much GDP growth. We have had a very slow recovery from the 2007-2008 recession. But then did it go up in 2011? No; it dropped to 1.8. What about the first three quarters of this year? It was 1.77. The growth is not occurring. We are borrowing and spending, but we are not creating growth. I think we need to deal with this crisis we face and the uncertainty of policies is hurting America's economy also.
I am disappointed we are not dealing with these important issues. I am disappointed we are recessing, and we need to do better.
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