Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, I appreciate the opportunity to share some remarks, and I appreciate the eloquence of my friend and colleague from West Virginia on the issue he just mentioned.
The committee did reduce almost by half the amount that contractors could bill, and we may see further changes in that issue. But when we are talking about money, real money, there is a problem we have with the bill that came out of committee. It is such a grim, serious matter that we have to talk about it, we have to be up front about it, and nobody can be confused about it.
I was pleased with Chairman Levin. He is a wonderful chairman of our committee. We have consistently had bipartisan votes. I wanted it to be a bipartisan vote for the bill and voted for it today, but I am not sure that was the right vote because I said during the committee that we have a serious problem in the amount of money that was appropriated for the bill, $52 billion over the current law.
There is a hope and belief that we can fix that gap between now and the time it comes to the floor. Secretary Hagel was before the Budget Committee yesterday. I am the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee. He indicated he is working on a plan to help us be within the law. He also indicated that to Chairman Levin and Ranking Member Inhofe on the Armed Services Committee. But let's be sure what the situation is.
August 2011 we had run up huge debt. We had hit our debt ceiling again. The administration and the President wanted to raise the debt ceiling $2.1 trillion, one of the largest--or maybe the largest--raise of the debt ceiling in history. That was supposed to take us 2 or 3 years.
Well, we have already hit that debt ceiling again now it appears. Soon we will be having to pass legislation. All the little extensions and maneuvering to extend the debt ceiling a little longer are being exercised, and we will soon have to vote again to raise the debt ceiling.
But in August of 2011, after much intensity of effort, legislation passed. I opposed it. One of my biggest concerns was what it was doing to the defense budget. But the bill passed. It set up a committee, and the committee was to deal with future cuts and long-term entitlement programs and other programs. That was their goal. They were given that challenge.
Fundamentally, the bill that passed raised the debt ceiling $2.1 trillion, but it reduced the growth of spending over the next 10 years by $2.1 trillion. Unfortunately, those reductions in the growth of spending fell disproportionately on the Defense Department. I will mention that in a minute.
But the agreement was clear. There were no tax increases. There were no other gimmicks to it other than the spending level would be reduced over 10 years by $2.1 trillion. We were then spending at the level of $3.7 trillion a year, which would mean $37 trillion over 10 years. We were on track to spend $47 trillion over 10 years--a substantial increase from the current level. So the agreement was that it would reduce the growth to $45 trillion instead of $47 trillion.
There was a hope that the committee would reach an even more historic agreement in which entitlements--Social Security and Medicare--would be put on a firm foundation, and we would get the country on the right track.
The committee failed. They did not reach an agreement. So in law there remains the BCA, and within the Budget Control Act there was the sequester, and the sequester would take another $500 billion. The BCA took about $500 billion out of the defense budget, and the sequester part of the BCA took another. When the committee didn't reach an agreement, that was another $500 billion to be taken out of the Defense Department, $1 trillion.
The Defense Department represents one-sixth of the Federal budget, almost $1 trillion out of the defense, one-sixth of the government. That is one-half of the cuts that were to be taken from our entire government.
When we look at the numbers over 10 years, the defense budget adjusted for inflation would take a 14-percent reduction in its funding, whereas the remaining five-sixths of the Federal Government would have a 44-percent increase in its funding.
This is the kind of malapportionment of belt tightening that ought not to happen. So I thought--and I believe the American people thought--that we should get together with the President and see how we can avoid this problem and spread the cuts out through other agencies and departments, many of which had no reductions whatsoever. Of course, Social Security had no reduction whatsoever. Medicaid--one of the fastest growing programs of all--had zero reduction in spending under sequester. Food stamps had gone from $20 billion to $80 billion, increased fourfold in 12 years, and got zero cuts. A lot of other programs got zero cuts; whereas, the Defense Department was getting hammered.
People think, well, the war is coming down and the Defense Department can handle it. No, that is not the way it works. The war costs are entirely separate. This is a reduction of the base defense budget, where we pay our soldiers, pay our electric bills, maintain our aircraft, our ships, our ports, and our bases around the world. That is what is being cut, the fundamental strength of the military, and it is too much.
Can they survive it? Not without doing some damage. Sure, they will survive it, and they will be able to get by. But what ought to be done is we ought to get together with the Commander in Chief of the U.S. military, work with the Secretary of Defense, former-Senator Chuck Hagel, get together and figure out a way to have some other parts of this government take some of the reductions in spending that have fallen disproportionately on the Defense Department. It is just that simple.
I suggested to Secretary Hagel yesterday at the Budget Committee that, yes, he ought to be talking with Congress; yes, we have eventually the power of the purse; but nothing is going to happen in the Senate that President Obama doesn't agree to. Senator Reid is not going to support anything President Obama doesn't agree to. It looks to me like the Members of the Democratic caucus are going to stick together on this issue. They have so far. Months have gone by and sequester hasn't been fixed.
So I said: I assume, Mr. Secretary, you have the phone number to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I think you had better call over there to the Commander in Chief of the U.S. military, who has an obligation to the men and women he is deploying all over the world and sending into harm's way, and who has an obligation to maintain the strength of our military.
Yes, it can be more efficient. It has already taken $500 billion in cuts, and it may take a little more. But these cuts are more than can be easily assimilated.
I just believe this has drifted to a point where we are in a serious predicament. The military has already had to lay off civilian workers of the U.S. Government for 11 days, furloughed without pay, and done other things to try to stay within the financial constraints they are now under because the cuts are beginning to bite.
So that is the situation. I want to say
to my colleagues, I do not believe the Defense bill that came out of committee--and we had a nice discussion today on multiple issues that are important to America's defense, and we had a good collegial feeling. I don't believe that bill should pass the Senate--I don't believe it will pass the Senate--if it violates the spending limits we voted on just 2 years ago.
Just think of it. We agreed to reduce the growth of spending from $37 billion now at that rate 2 years ago. We were going to let it grow to 47, we reduced the growth to 45, and we come back to the American people and say we can't effect that now? We can't reduce the growth and spending just that little bit? We promised you that we would raise the debt ceiling, but I know it made you angry, American people. You were mad at us because we mismanaged your money. But we promise, we will reduce the growth of spending by $2.1 trillion. Trust us. We will do it.
And here we are. President Obama, 6 months later, produced a budget that wiped out all those cuts and increased taxes, taxes and spending. This has been the pattern we have been in. I have to say, we do not need to have this happen.
So I am prepared to meet with the President. I am prepared to meet with the Secretary of Defense, the Office of Management and Budget, and talk about where we can find other reductions in spending and reduce some of the reductions on the Defense Department. We need to reduce a good many of those, frankly. Then the Defense Department can phase in some reductions in spending over the outyears. They can do that. But too much too fast is destabilizing. No business would do that. So we have to figure out a way to make this system work.
I was pleased to work with Senator Levin and Senator Inhofe today. I want to be cooperative and be positive in our efforts. I like much of what we did with the authorization bill in the Armed Services Committee, but we just didn't talk about the elephant in the room; that is, the sequester, the real danger we have there. We are going to have to discuss it now. It will be part of the floor discussion and debate if it is not fixed.
It can be fixed. I think we are all prepared to work for it. I don't believe this country will sink into the ocean. I don't believe this country is going to have to close its ports. I don't believe this country is going to have to end tours at the White House to reduce the growth of spending by $2 trillion, from $47 trillion to $45 trillion over the next 10 years. I don't believe that is going to bankrupt us. But we ought to do it in a smart way. We should have every agency and department of government tighten their belts, not just some.
We slipped into this when the sequester was written to try to effect some political result that didn't occur, and now, as a responsible Senate, we have to consider what is right for America. The right thing is to have all agencies and departments tighten their belts and reduce the pressure that is now falling on our Defense Department.
Mr. President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
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