BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. BEGICH. Mr. President, I come to the floor to speak on the Violence Against Women Act, but before I do that, I wish to say I appreciate the comments of my friend from Indiana. We all want to get this budget under control. We all recognize we have to get it under control not only for today's generation but for multiple generations to come.
During the last few years we have been able to cut almost $2 trillion of our budgetary costs over the next 10 years, cuts we have been able to accomplish in a bipartisan way but led a lot by this side. Let me remind folks where we are. Four years ago this economy was flat on its back--an economy that didn't have any air in it. It was in a grave situation. But where are we today? We have a 5-year housing start, incredible activity within the automobile industry, with record-high sales going on there. The stock market has doubled in the last 4 1/2 years. Most recently, the CBO--the Congressional Budget Office, a bipartisan office which doesn't show any favoritism to any side--verifies that in 4 years we have cut the annual deficit by 40 percent. I know that is not where it should be yet because we want to balance it, but a 40-percent reduction in the annual deficit is significant.
So we are on the road. Is it a slower road than we would like? Sure, but it is on the road to recovery. It is having a positive impact. As a matter of fact, now the deficit, as the amount compared to our GDP, is cut in half. So we are making some inroads.
Democrats are not afraid at all to cut the budget where it is necessary, but we need to solve this problem with three types of moves. We have to cut the budget, deal with revenues, and invest in this economy for education, energy, and infrastructure. It is a three-pronged approach. Even if we think we can do one of these and somehow, magically, a $16 trillion debt will just vanish overnight is in another world that doesn't exist on this planet.
I appreciate the debate that goes on, but we need to be honest, realistic, and practical in dealing with these budgetary issues, and they will be tough. People will not like all of it. I can see it now at my townhall meetings when I go to them. They will say cut the budget, which we will do--don't get me wrong, we will do that--but then when I go back to my hometown they will say, I didn't actually mean that program. That will be the story.
The fact is we have serious issues with which to deal. So this is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. When people come to the floor, we should think about this as an American issue and that we have to resolve this for the right reasons. We have done some exceptional work over the last 4 years, despite the hurdles, the political slogans, and all the other stuff that goes along with it in getting results. A 40-percent reduction in the annual deficit in 4 years is significant. Is it zero? Is it balanced? No; because there have been 40-plus years of not paying attention to the budget.
A lot of us are new around here. As a matter of fact, 60 percent of the Senate is made up of people who haven't been here more than 6 years. I am looking at three Senators on the floor right now. We are here to solve this problem. However, do not be mistaken. We have made progress. The American people should be proud of what we have done. But is it perfect? No. Do we have more work to do? Yes. That is why we are here and that is why we are going to do this with a bipartisan approach.
So I digress from the issue I came to discuss. I like the debates that happen on the floor, and I wish more would happen, but when a Member speaks, I want to make sure all the information is on the table.
I came to speak on an important piece of legislation, the Violence Against Women Act. We debate issues that are important around here, but not too often can we stand on the floor of this Chamber and say our votes are a matter of life and death. In this case, it is absolutely true. This bill saves lives. It is our job to pass it now--today.
The Senate, as we did last year, needs to send a simple and important message that America will not tolerate violence against its women, children, and families. We must do our part to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault. Even though the House has refused to act for over 300 days since we sent the bill over there, we are now in a new session and there is bipartisan support in this Chamber. The VAWA bill passed the Senate with 60 votes last spring and there are at least 60 of us already signed up and cosponsoring this legislation.
We know the reality. The fight to protect women and families from violence is far from over. VAWA was first passed just 20 years ago and it has not been reauthorized since 2006. The law has made a difference. We know a great deal more about domestic violence than when VAWA was first written. Services for victims have improved. Communities offer safer shelter. Local, State, and Federal laws are stronger. Yet there are still too many awful stories and inexcusable numbers, especially in my home State.
Alaska continues to have some of the worst statistics in the country. Three out of every four Alaskans have experienced domestic or sexual violence or known someone who has. The rate of rape in Alaska is nearly 2 1/2 times the national average, even worse for Alaskan Native women. Child sexual assault in Alaska is almost six times the national average. Out of every 100 adult women in Alaska, nearly 60 have experienced physical or sexual violence or both.
So my colleagues can see why I am standing here today. We need to do something about this not someday, not next year but today.
In one typical day in my State, victim services agencies throughout Alaska serve an average of 464 victims, 114 hotline calls are answered, and 308 people across Alaska attend training sessions offered by local domestic violence and sexual assault programs. Yet people are still turned away because of a lack of funding, a lack of service. On an average day in Alaska, 52 requests for services are not met--basic needs such as transportation, childcare, language translation, counseling and legal representation. The bill before us is critical in ensuring all victims receive the services they need.
I wish to spend just a few more minutes discussing the safety of women and children in Alaska Native and American Indian families. For the sake of our Nation's first peoples, the tribal provisions in this bill need to become law. Yet some of my colleagues on the other side of this Chamber are trying to strip out our expanded authority over domestic violence in Indian Country. Why are we debating this? One out of every three Native American women has suffered rape, physical violence or stalking. Yet some Members want to debate the rights of their abusers. I fully support the tribal provisions in this bill. Yet I must point out that none of the expanded criminal jurisdiction applies to Alaska Native tribes except for one true reservation at the very southern tip of Alaska. Today is not the day to fight that fight, but I will take it up again soon from my seat on the Indian Affairs Committee in the Senate.
Study after study has concluded that the lack of effective local law enforcement in Alaska Native villages contributes to so many problems: increased crime, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and poor educational achievement. When it comes to protecting those most at risk, Congress must recognize the need for local control, local responsibility, and local accountability. This bill will take a big step forward today on Indian reservations in the lower 48.
At a later time, we will get to my bill, which I have introduced in the past as the Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act.
My bill would establish small demonstration projects so a handful of federally recognized tribes in Alaska's villages can take action. They would be allowed to address domestic violence and alcohol-related cases within their villages and village boundaries.
Our Native villages are vibrant, resilient communities, and we must answer their calls for help. That includes an ``all of the above'' approach to combating domestic violence and abuse. The one thing we know for sure is the status quo is not working. It is not just about slogans or feel-good statements. We need to act.
But for now--for today--let's vote on VAWA and get this bill passed. Let's protect women and children and families all over this country. And let's send a strong message to our colleagues in the House, that this time there is no hiding. It is time to get the job done. It is time to put politics aside. Pass this bill and truly save lives.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT