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Mr. LEE. Mr. President, I rise today to raise my voice in this important dialogue about the budget currently pending before this body.
I am thrilled as, first, we are actually having this debate. It has been 4 long years since we passed a budget. I am deeply disappointed the President's budget is not part of this discussion. He missed his first Monday in February requirement, and it must not fit into his schedule to produce one until the second week of April.
Budgets are economic documents, but they are also much more than that. Budgets reflect moral choices we make as a nation. They shape the kind of society we will build for the future. Budgets are about setting priorities.
Republicans realize we have a moral obligation to spend the American people's hard-earned dollars wisely. When those tax dollars are paid into the government, we have an obligation to be careful with them.
We should spend them only in areas that we need to cover a constitutionally authorized function of government and not $1 more. That is why we support reforms to fix programs that Washington should be funding, to eliminate programs that it shouldn't be funding and to balance the budget in the process.
We all know the Federal Government wastes hundreds of billions of dollars each year, and the President should work with Congress to identify and remove wasteful areas within the budget. My office has been focused on a very simple message that seems to make sense to every American: Cut this, not that.
The Federal Government wastes hundreds of billions of dollars every year, and instead of targeting waste, it is unfortunate the President is using fear-mongering tactics to scare Americans into believing cuts have to come first from important priorities--priorities such as first responders, law enforcement, national security, and educators.
The President and his allies in Congress want to increase spending and raise taxes. Republicans, meanwhile, want to prioritize spending and keep taxes low. The President is intentionally making cuts to government spending as painful as possible to force more tax increases. Cut this, not that.
This is a debate about priorities. Republicans have identified trillions of dollars in savings that would come from eliminating waste and reforming programs rather than cutting important essential services. The President is choosing to cut the most visible items in order to build opposition to any further spending reductions.
The debate should not be about whether we should cut, but, instead, how we should cut in order to preserve our ability to afford our true national priorities.
Here are some examples of the massive waste: $1 million spent taste testing food that would be served on Mars; $4.5 billion in improper food stamp payments used to purchase junk food, fast food, gourmet coffee, guns, and even alcohol; $1.5 billion for free and subsidized cell phones billed to the American taxpayer; $230 million spent on first-class and business-class travel.
I say to my colleagues and to the President of the United States, cut food testing on Mars, not teachers; cut free cell phones, not border security; cut premium first-class travel, not air traffic controllers; cut improper food stamp payments, not first responders.
The President's second inaugural address was an advertisement for the biggest, most expensive government our country has ever seen. It was a pitch for new government solutions, more government programs, and the promises of a government-made utopia. Of course, no mention was made about the future cost of the President's vision for the country, no mention was made about how we would pay for it, and no mention was made of the damage that will occur from our increasing debt and deficits.
Americans and Members of this body hear this message and get pulled into a debate over the proper size of government or whether a certain policy represents good government or bad government. We argue for a smaller or more limited government or for one that is more efficient or more affordable. Unfortunately, this is often where we fail to articulate a positive vision of what America looks like under the type of government we are striving to create. It is time to reframe this debate. It is time for us to focus on the kinds of principles that will lead us to the kind of country and the kind of society we want for our future and for ourselves.
Here is the principle I ask Americans and my colleagues in the Senate to consider: The opposite of bad government is not necessarily good government--at least not just good government. It isn't even necessarily limited government. The opposite of bad government is a strong civil society. A free and strong civil society is built on the innate desire of Americans to contribute freely to the betterment of the community. It is not the product of bureaucratic, centralized decisionmakers handing down rules and regulations for the rest of us to follow. A civil society is the result of the relationships that connect, bind, and strengthen us. It is derived from the condition in each of us to do our part to help those around us.
Civil society is where free individuals thrive and communities flourish. The interconnection of local communities has always been at the heart of our Nation. I am convinced our future success will be found in a return to that connectedness that has driven the American dream from the very beginning of our Nation.
We see the bonds of civil society when a parent instills values in a child, when a doctor heals a patient, when a teacher stays late to help a student learn to read, when a neighbor stops to help a neighbor, when a pastor inspires faith in a troubled soul. These are the keys to restoring our faith in the institutions of civil society and away from dependence on an administrative state full of so-called experts. ``We, the people'' does not mean a collective adherence to the agenda of the ruling class in Washington. It instead means that as Americans we share certain basic values and principles that when viewed as a whole help form and secure a more perfect union.
Americans' belief in civil society is grounded in bedrock principles of freedom, self-reliance, and self-governance. It is manifested in the form of historic American institutions, including the family, schools, churches, private groups, and civic organizations. These institutions of civil society teach the morals, values, and behaviors that instill faith, confidence, and trust between individuals, communities, and even government. The Constitution of this great Nation provides the framework that ennobles the vision of the individual while, at the same time, enabling the value of the institutions to create an environment where people are secure and prosperous and free.
It is important to remember that government cannot create a civil society, but it can kill it. Over the past 80 years, the Federal Government has expanded well beyond its constitutional limits. History demonstrates that as the power of the Federal Government increases, the ability to self-govern diminishes to a corresponding degree. As self-governance decreases, so too does the influence of the institutions of civil society. Soon, the ability to instill faith, competence, and trust among individuals and communities is replaced by the false promises of big government.
America is extraordinary, not because of who we are but because of what we do. Despite the current crushing weight of our bloated Federal bureaucracy, we can still see the strength of our Nation's fabric through the intertwining actions of the genuine heroes all around us. They are often described as the daily deeds that everyday citizens perform every day, but they are powerful reminders of the strength of the American spirit and the values we share.
We have a moral obligation to future generations to make the peoples' priorities our priorities. The budget debate isn't just about dollars, it is about sense. It is about common sense. Rather than having a budget battle between Democratic and Republican priorities, we should be having a dialog about American priorities.
Republicans recognize that keeping dollars, decisions, priorities and, at the end of the day, power in the hands of the people is what has long made America the greatest civilization the world has ever known. Now is the time to return to that model. I encourage my colleagues to keep that very model in mind as we embark on this critical debate. Working together we can, we must, and we will restore the greatness and prosperity of our Nation.
I yield the floor.
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