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Making Continuing Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRAHAM. I thank my colleague very much.

My first thought is that America is not nearly as aware as we should be about the threats of a cyber attack that could come from a terrorist organization, a nation state, or a criminal enterprise. We are a week before Christmas. We are going to be debating about how to deal with the NSA program and reforms that make it more acceptable to the American people.

I wish to lend my voice to the three Senators who have already spoken and, quite frankly, are far more knowledgeable about the technological aspects of this.

But when I look out over the next decade and I try to figure, Where are the threats against the American people coming from--well, first it is our debt problem, but we are not going to get into that today--when you look outside for foreign threats, obviously, radical Islam presents a threat to us all--just remember 9/11--but this emerging cyber threat really just scares the hell out of me. The FBI, the military, the CIA are telling us daily how the threat is growing.

The Congress could not get there, so the President had to take over by executive order. We had a couple good bipartisan proposals, legislative changes. Senator Whitehouse's idea of incentivizing the private sector, creating a fort cyber where you will get rewarded, there will be no limited liability if you harden your infrastructure in the energy sector and other important financial sectors. Rewarding people for upgrading their systems to harden them against terrorist attack or criminal activity I think is a smart way to go. It is a complicated area of the economy and a complicated potential enemy to deal with, but this legislation I think is a good starting point.

I compliment Senator Whitehouse, who has been really helpful. Senator Blunt on the Republican side has been our leading voice, along with Senator Chambliss, to try to bring awareness to the body. Senator Blumenthal, as a former attorney general, understands very much the threats we face from a criminal enterprise, but he has also been very good on national security.

So a week before Christmas in 2013 we are trying to raise awareness because I am afraid if we do not get our house in order against cyber attacks, sooner rather than later, we will all regret it.

Thank you for allowing me to be part of this effort.

I yield.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRAHAM. I thank the Chair.

No. 1, I wish to say to our budget chairman we had a very good discussion with Senators CHAMBLISS and ISAKSON about trying to figure out a way to fix this provision in the budget deal. I am very disappointed we can't have an amendment to fix it or amendments to do other things, but we are where we are.

So the bottom line is this has been a healthy exercise because all of us are now looking at the provision. This is a bipartisan product, so it is not about blaming Democrats or Republicans. It is a good exercise. How could a bill--this bill, as we all know, doesn't fund the government. If we pass the budget--and I am sure it will pass here eventually--it doesn't keep the government open; it sets limits on spending where we are increasing the amount we can spend on defense and nondefense, setting sequestration aside. That is a great thing. I think that is going to be good. How we pay for it is the problem.

The question is, How did this happen? The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and the chairman in the House are great folks. The military retiree provision is a pay-for that has everybody wondering a bit and, upon a second evaluation, is probably certainly not the right thing to do.

In May of 2014, there will be a commission that was set up by the Congress to tell us how best to reform military pay and benefits, because they are unsustainable, quite frankly, in the future. But we put in that Commission report a requirement that any reform could not affect those who are in the service now; they are grandfathered. I think the reason the Congress did that is we don't want to break faith with those who signed up for deal A. They are doing their part of the deal. They are serving. The Congress is looking for a way to make these programs more sustainable by applying it in the future, which I think we should do. About the civilian employee contribution to their retirement program, that is prospective. The one thing I was disappointed about is the money doesn't go into the retirement plan to pay for the deal.

I wish to acknowledge what Senator Warren has been doing with every Gang of 6, 12, 8, 10, 14--just different numbers--trying to find a way. I know entitlement programs are the source of the problem for the Nation over the long term, and military retirement programs such as TRICARE we have to look at as a retirement system. That is not a problem. But we are in a hurry to basically pass a budget that generally I support. It gets us out of the situation of sequestration.

But how did this happen? How could we have picked a pay-for such as this which is, to me, unacceptable. The military retirement community, up to the age of 62, will have their COLA reduced by 1 percent. That doesn't sound like a lot, but the compounding of that goes like this: If a person is a master sergeant who retires after 20 years of service in 2015 at, say, 42, by the time that person gets to 62, the effect of this bill will cost him or her $71,000. That is the compounding effect of money. No one has ever suggested it should be applied to people who are almost at retirement or in retirement when it comes to how we reform benefits.

My good friend Senator McCain, who has earned every penny he has ever gotten in retirement and then some, mentioned the Bowles-Simpson Commission. I am a general fan of Bowles-Simpson: reform entitlements and flatten out the Tax Code and, yes, pay down some debt. I am a Republican. It would eliminate the deduction in the Tax Code and apply some of the money to the debt, not put it all in tax cuts, because when we are $17 trillion in debt, we have to do things we would otherwise not like. I am willing to do that. But Bowles-Simpson did not, as my friend Senator McCain suggests, adopt eliminating COLAs before 62 as part of their solution. They wanted to find $70 billion over 10 years for Federal workforce entitlement reform. They created a commission, the Federal Workforce Entitlement Task Force Commission, to reevaluate civil service, military health and retirement programs. They did not say we are going to eliminate COLAs entirely for the military and civilian workers; they said, we need a commission to look are to how to find $70 billion over the next 10 years. The examples they gave of what we might look at is use the highest 5 years of earnings to calculate the civil service pension benefits for new retirees, defer cost-of-living adjustment is the second one, adjust the ratio of employer-employee contributions to Federal employee pension plans to equalize contributions, which saves $4 billion. These were examples.

They wanted a commission. Guess what. So did the Congress. In 2013--this came out in 2010--the Congress said let's form a commission to look at this. The problem is the Commission hasn't reported back to us. They are not due to do so until May 2014. We did put a prohibition on the Commission's work product: You have to grandfather existing servicemembers. You can't retroactively apply any of your reforms.

So Bowles-Simpson did not say we are going to eliminate all COLAs; they said, form a commission, and that was one example of what to look at. The Congress did form a commission. The commission is not back yet. But the Congress told the Commission to grandfather people who are in the current system, but we forgot to tell ourselves that because this pay-for is retroactive in nature and applies to all retirees, past, present, and future.

The disability component, the people who drafted this assumed disability retirees would not be included. They are. The $600 million, CBO says, of the $6.3 billion that this provision generates in revenue to help pay for the deal--$600 million comes from the disability retired community, and I think we all understand that is not the right thing to do. Someone has lost a limb in Afghanistan or Iraq who is disabled, can't work, they get benefits outside of disability retirement, and they have earned those benefits. But reducing their COLAs would add thousands of dollars, tens of thousands of dollars in lost benefits. Nobody wants to do that. They thought they weren't included. They are.

Let me just say as someone who has been around the military--I am a military lawyer, so I am not a frontline military person by any means. I have tried to be the best military lawyer I can be. I have been in the military for 30 years. I love the culture, love the environment, and I try to be part of the team. The military lawyer is part of the team. The pilots who go fly and face danger, they are the heroes. The maintenance guys and the guys on the frontlines in the Army, to them goes the glory.

The bottom line is I don't think it is fair for us to consider. If you are in the MRAP that didn't get hit by the IED and you made it through your tour, you have earned your retirement just as much as anybody else, and that disabled retiree needs the money more than anybody. They get things the average military retiree doesn't because their needs are greater.

All I am doing is begging the body: Let's not pass a budget deal with a pay-for that violates our own Commission requirements, that in hindsight is not the message we want to send to those who serve now. It is not a good way to recruit.

Let's see if we can fix this. Let's see if we can fix it before it gets into law, because once we get something into law, we all know how hard it is to take it out.

Ms. AYOTTE. Mr. President, would the Senator from South Carolina yield for a question?

Mr. GRAHAM. I do. Before I do, I wish to say that the Senator from Mississippi asked a question in our conference: Tell me what this costs our retirees. All of us on the Republican side looked at him, me included--me included--I didn't have a clue how to answer that, and when I found out it was $71,000, almost $72,000 for E-7, from 42 to 62, I about fell out of my chair.

Now I know how you generate $6 billion.

As to the Senator from New Hampshire, she was the first one to take this torch up and run with it, and I have been trying to help where I can. But I will yield for a question.

Ms. AYOTTE. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from South Carolina for his leadership on this important issue. What I want to ask the Senator is this. Some have come to this floor and said: Pass this budget agreement, and we will fix this later. Does the Senator think that is a good way to solve this problem?

Mr. GRAHAM. That is a good question. The best way is to fix it before it passes, and we have until January 15. Nobody wants to shut the government down. Again, the budget deal is just about numbers. We have to actually appropriate. But I think we could. There are so many different ways. I have thrown out the idea of eliminating subsidies for people who make over $250,000 for their Part D premiums. It is $54 billion over 10 years. I am not asking my Democratic colleagues to go to food stamps and safety nets. I am not asking them to do that, and I am surely not going to ask the Republicans to raise taxes. There are better ways to do it.

So I could not agree more with the Senator from New Hampshire. With a little bit of effort here in the next few hours or days, we could fix this in total.

Ms. AYOTTE. Of all the people who deserve our effort, doesn't the Senator think we could stay here as long as we need to before the holidays--a little bit of inconvenience for us--to fix this? Because one thing I see from this is we are saying to our military retirees: Do not worry. Trust the politicians in Washington to fix something they voted for.

Here we are. We know the problem is here now. People yet have not had a final vote on this budget agreement. Yet they are still saying: Oh, we know the problem is there, but we are going to vote for it anyway. I do not understand this.

If you are someone who is serving our country, what kind of message does that send?

Mr. GRAHAM. In all honesty, the provision does not take effect for a year or two. But I think what the Senator is saying is so important. Why leave any doubt in people's mind? They have enough to worry about already. Life is hard for all of us. For some people life is just incredibly hard. I have lived a fortunate life. But for a military retiree who is not disabled, it matters to them.

So we should not create stress where none is needed. They have been stressed out enough. The last 10 years have been hard as hell for them--multiple deployments. Senator Warner and all of us would go overseas. You would see the same people. I would do small Reserve tours just for a few days in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am seeing the same people in Afghanistan who I saw in Iraq in my career field of being a JAG working on detention matters. I do not think the average American--they appreciate but I do not think they really understand how hard this has been on 1 percent of the American people.

So wouldn't it be nice if they did not have to worry and we could get this issue behind us? Because here is the truth of the matter: It may come as a shock to the body, but we are not in very good standing right now. That is a bipartisan problem. Here is the concern. The main things that have been fixed that are wrong? Not a whole lot. It is hard to fix things.

Ms. AYOTTE. Right.

Mr. GRAHAM. The unraveling effect is what people worry about. If you fix it for the military retirees, what about the civilians? I am willing to look at that. But the bottom line is they fought hard. They fought long. They have earned what they got. We should not retroactively diminish their retirement. They have worried enough. Let's do not give them anything to worry about for the holidays. Let's take this one off the table.

Ms. AYOTTE. I could not agree with the Senator from South Carolina more. I heard the chairman of the Budget Committee say the fact that disabled veterans are included in this, those who have had a medical retirement--we have talked about them; we have been to Walter Reed; we have seen those who have sacrificed so much for our country and are getting a cut to their cost-of-living increase in their retirement under this agreement--that this was somehow a ``technical glitch'' or something.

If it is a technical glitch that we know is there, why are we going home before it is fixed? I do not understand it and even putting one shred of doubt in their minds that we stand with them, and that we know this problem exists in this bill, and that it can be fixed.

Mr. GRAHAM. Just to respond, I think this is what happens when you are trying to get something done late in the year. We are all adults. We have had months to deal with these issues. I sort of hate the fact that you are dealing with important things like the Defense authorization bill a day or 2 before everybody wants to go home for Christmas. Eventually, that leads to $17 trillion in debt.

How do you get to $17 trillion in debt? It takes bipartisanship.

Ms. AYOTTE. Right.

Mr. GRAHAM. No one party can get you there. This is the way you have run the place. What happens when you fill up the tree? You cannot fix things. Here is what is wrong with that. You cannot fix the things that politically are bad for you and expect the rest of us to go away quietly because we have something we want to do. So this filling of the tree process is not good for something this big, and I hope people would be responsible with their amendments.

But, again, it goes back to how did this happen? I do not believe for a moment that Patty Murray or Paul Ryan meant to hurt disabled veterans. I do not believe that. I think the whole issue was not looked at. These things are put together very quickly. I am on the Budget Committee. The Senator from New Hampshire is on the Budget Committee. The Senator from Alabama is on the Budget Committee. I had no idea. Nobody asked me if this was a good idea. I did not even get to look at it. I got to read about it in the paper.

That is what happens when you put the deals together with just a handful of people. You make mistakes, because the more eyes the better. You find yourself here talking about something, quite frankly, that we all know is wrong.

Ms. AYOTTE. Right.

Mr. GRAHAM. We need to fix it. We are creating a lot of anxiety for people who are going through enough anxiety. I hope we can rise to the occasion here at the end.

Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, will the Senator from South Carolina yield?

Mr. GRAHAM. Absolutely.

Mr. SESSIONS. I say to Senator Graham, he has served in the House. I know the powers that be would just like to see this bill rubber stamped, passed, done with, rah, rah, rah. But if this legislation were to be amended, and this problem were fixed, doesn't the Senator think the House would have ample time to pass it before the January 15 date for the CR, or, really, they could, as we have done many times, extend the CR a week or so, if needed? But I do not really think it would be needed. I think they would pass it promptly.

Mr. GRAHAM. I think the Senator is absolutely right. We have a legislative process that could rise to the occasion if we would use it. For 200 years we have been doing business a certain way, and the Senate is changing, all for the worse. Like I say, this is a bipartisan problem. I am not blaming Patty Murray, the Democratic chairman. This got into a bill that was bipartisan. It got 330 votes, 70 percent of the Republican Conference. We all make mistakes. But how did it get there? Nobody will tell me who put this in there because they do not know.

So the Senator is right. I think our House colleagues would find the equities of the matter easy to resolve. They would come back and fix it in just no time. I think we could fix it. The offsets might be hard to find in terms of our ideological differences, but I think we could find some offsets to fix this pretty quickly. Yes, I say to Senator Sessions, the House would be able to do it too.

One final plea. I would hope that as we go into the holiday season the acrimony that has been created in this body about different aspects of the way we run the place--that we do not miss a chance to do the right thing. They come on a lot here. It is not like we do not get a chance to do the right thing as Republicans and Democrats. We just both do not rise to the occasion enough.

But here is a chance to do the right thing and a very necessary thing. Maybe if we rose to the occasion here, it might lead to doing more right things. I will leave here as an optimist and hope and pray we do the right thing while we still can.

I yield.

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