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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. NELSON of Florida. Mr. President, while we are waiting for further debate on the Defense authorization bill and any possible amendments, I wanted to offer a couple of comments regarding all of the concern in the Nation about the fiscal cliff as we approach that fateful day of December 31 and the need to get something done.

In the opinion of this Senator, sequestration, which is this additional cut of $1 trillion in a most unorthodox way, is like a meat cleaver coming down and cutting off--I am rounding here--$ 1/2 trillion off defense and $ 1/2 trillion off nondefense discretionary. Sequestration, let us remember, in the historical context was never supposed to happen. Sequestration was a mechanism that was set up in the Budget Control Act in August 2011, almost a year and a half ago. The act called for $1 trillion to be cut off of the top to begin with, and it set up a process by which additional deficit reduction over a 10-year period would occur. That process was--after the $1 trillion was whacked off, which it already has been--a supercommittee of six from the House and six from the Senate would deliberate and a majority vote of that committee of 12 could determine additional deficit reduction that would apply over the next 10 years.

To give a little incentive for that supercommittee not to deadlock, the process of sequestration was set up which, in effect, was this meat cleaver that in a nondiscriminate way was going to drop a meat ax approach of another $ 1/2 trillion out of defense and $ 1/2 trillion out of nondefense discretionary, which nobody wanted. It was never contemplated sequestration was going to go into effect because the effects were going to be so onerous that surely people of goodwill could come together on a 12-member committee and not deadlock. But, instead, at least one would provide the majority, even if it were only 7 to 5 out of the 12, because the alternative was so unpalatable.

Of course, we know what happened. People of goodwill, in this highly charged atmosphere of the coming Presidential election--this is almost a year and a half ago--could not agree. The ugly head of excessive partisanship raised itself, and the ugly head of excessive ideological rigidity raised itself, and the supercommittee deadlocked 6 to 6 which, under the law, left the meat cleaver to drop, the budget meat ax to drop. That is what we are facing today. We are facing something that nobody ever intended to go into effect.

So how do we get out of this? We have people of goodwill that have to be reasonable and utilize a little common sense, lessen their partisanship, lessen their ideological rigidity. That is the atmosphere under which we can come together.

I wish to tell a story and then I am going to sit down. I wish to tell the story about one of the brightest shining moments in government which occurred back in 1983 when this Senator was a young Congressman. We were within 6 months of Social Security running out of money. Two old Irishmen, one who was President, and his name was Reagan, and the other one who was Speaker, and his name was O'Neill, decided they were going to do something about this. They were reasonable people who could operate in a bipartisan way and in a nonideological way.

They said: What we are going to do is take this subject that is so thorny--namely, Social Security--so thorny at the time of elections, and we are going to take it off the table at the next election so as not to use it as a hammer to beat your opponent over the head, and we are going to do it in the mechanism of a blue ribbon panel that is going to make recommendations on the solvency of Social Security.

That committee met. They reported to the Congress in a bipartisan way, and the Congress passed that recommendation overwhelmingly. The President signed it into law, and that made Social Security solvent for the next 50-plus years from 1983. I think the most current estimates are that it is now something like 2034.

So we see what was done so effectively.

But we have to have people of good will who will come together and will do so with some common sense, which is what this place has not been operating on in a long while.

I wanted to share that memory of one of the great moments of government working as our government is intended to work.

With that, I yield the floor.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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