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American Family Economic Protection Act of 2013 - Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LEAHY. Madam President, I thank the distinguished Senator from Pennsylvania for allowing me to go first. I assure him I will be very brief. I know the distinguished Senator from Washington State is here. She has an interest in what I am going to say because of her very strong support of the Violence Against Women bill.

Earlier this month, the Senate came together in the best tradition of the chamber to pass the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act with a strong bipartisan vote. I am happy to report that the House of Representatives just passed the Senate-passed bill. This vital legislation will now go to the President, and it will be signed into law. It will help victims of rape and domestic violence and victims of human trafficking who could not wait another day for us to act. This action of Congress will prevent terrible crimes and help countless victims rebuild their lives.

Today Congress showed that we still can act in a bipartisan way. I thank Senator Crapo for being my partner on this legislation from the beginning, and I was glad when he and Senator Murkowski, another steadfast supporter, joined me on a bipartisan letter earlier this week asking Speaker Boehner to pass this legislation to help all victims of domestic and sexual violence. Today, the House followed the Senate's example, and listened to the call from thousands of survivors of violence and law enforcement by passing this fully-inclusive, life-saving legislation with a bipartisan vote.

We made the Violence Against Women Act our top priority this Congress but it should not have taken this long. Our bill was written with the input of law enforcement, victims, and the people who work with victims every day to address real needs. None of the commonsense changes it included should have been controversial. Still, at a time when we face gridlock and stonewalling on even the most compelling issues, I am glad to see that we could find a way to cut through all of that to help victims of violence.

This new law will make lives better. It will encourage and fund practices proven to help law enforcement and victim service providers reduce domestic violence homicides. It will lead to more investigation and prosecution of rape and sexual assault crimes and more services provided to victims of those crimes. It will also help eliminate backlogs of untested rape kits to help those victims receive justice and security promptly.

This reauthorization, like every VAWA reauthorization before it, takes new steps to ensure that we can reach the most vulnerable victims whose needs are not being met. For the first time, it guarantees that all victims can receive needed services, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This law strengthens protections for vulnerable immigrant victims. It ensures that colleges and universities will do more to protect students from domestic and sexual violence. This reauthorization also takes important new steps to combat the appalling epidemic of domestic violence on tribal lands and to ensure that no perpetrators of this terrible crime are above the law.

The bill that the President will sign also includes the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which continues and strengthens effective programs to help us take on the scourge of human trafficking. It is unacceptable that 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the evils of sex trafficking and labor trafficking, forms of modern day slavery, still exist around the world and even in the United States. It has been too difficult, but I am glad that Congress is finally acting once again to address trafficking.

I will never forget going as a young prosecutor to crime scenes at 2:00 in the morning and seeing the victims of these awful crimes. As we worked on this bill, I heard the moving stories in hearings and rallies and meetings of those who survived true horrors and had the courage to share their stories in the hopes that others could be spared what they went through. We have finally come together to honor their courage and take the action they demanded.

I thank the many Senators and Representatives of both parties who have helped to lead this fight, and the leadership of both Houses who have prioritized moving this vital legislation. I thank Representative Cole for his steadfast dedication to help preserve the protections for Native women. But most of all, I thank the tireless victims, advocates, and service providers who have given so much of themselves to ensure that this legislation would pass and that, when it did, it would make a real difference. Lives will be better because of their work and because of this law.

I yield the floor and thank my colleagues.


Mr. LEAHY. Madam President, earlier this week, I shared with the Senate the consequences of sequestration for the budget of the Department of State and foreign operations and its impact on the security of the United States. Funding for the entire Department of State and foreign operations budget amounts to only about 1 percent of the Federal budget, not the 15 or 20 percent some mistakenly believe.

That 1 percent includes funding to operate our embassies and consulates in over 290 countries, to carry out diplomacy in dangerous environments like Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, respond to humanitarian crises, and build alliances with security and trading partners. Sequestration would harm these efforts by cutting assistance for diplomatic security at a time when everyone agrees we need to do more to protect our Foreign Service officers overseas.

On the development side, sequestration will mean cuts to global health programs that prevent the spread of AIDS and pay for vaccines for children, protect maternal health, and combat malaria and tuberculosis. It will also mean reductions for funding for disaster and refugee aid at a time when an increasing number of victims of drought, famine, and extremist violence around the world need assistance.

As has been pointed out repeatedly, sequestration was included in the Budget Control Act as an incentive to negotiate. The idea was that it would have such catastrophic consequences that rational minds would replace it with a thoughtful and balanced approach to deficit reduction.

That has not happened. To the contrary, just 1 day before the sequester is to take effect, our friends on the other side of the aisle, who favor cutting government programs and particularly those that help the neediest, seem to have decided that they would rather see sequestration take effect rather than close tax loopholes that only benefit the wealthy and pad growing corporate profits.

However, as President Obama and others have been warning for weeks, allowing these Draconian cuts to go into effect tomorrow will have a tremendously negative impact on jobs all across the country and on essential services provided by our government.

The American people elected us to come to Washington to work together and make tough decisions. It is well past time for a certain amount of reasonableness to come back to Congress. I have always believed that a balanced approach of pairing decreased spending with increased revenues is a far better way to deal with our budget deficits than sequestration. That is what we did with President Clinton in the 1990s, and we saw record budget surpluses.

We simply cannot cut our way out of this deficit. We created this situation partly by putting two wars on the Nation's credit card. We already have reduced the debt by $2.5 trillion, with the vast majority of those savings coming from spending cuts. Just as most private businesses adjust their prices prudently over time, we cannot finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone.

We must understand that even in these difficult budgetary times we cannot sacrifice the future of critical Federal programs in education, in health care, and in national security that affect hard-working families across the country, every single day. The American people want and expect us to take a balanced approach. They know it isn't wise to protect endless corporate loopholes and tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans instead of investing in our schools, our factories, our roads, and our workers. Yes, they want us to get our books in order--but in a balanced way where everyone pulls equally.

Today the Senate has the opportunity to avoid this devastating sequester by voting for the American Family Economic Protection Act, which does just that. This balanced legislation will delay sequestration by replacing it with a combination of new revenues and targeted spending cuts. These spending cuts would reduce the deficit in a responsible way, eliminating unnecessary direct payments and farm subsidies and implementing reasonable and responsible defense spending reductions beginning when the war in Afghanistan is expected to end. This legislation would also generate revenue, equal to the amount of spending cuts included, by eliminating oil industry tax loopholes, denying deductions to companies that ship jobs overseas, and ensuring that millionaires do not pay a smaller share of their incomes in taxes than the typical middle-class family.

The American Family Economic Protection Act provides us with a clear, balanced proposal that would avoid the devastation of sequestration. I look forward to the opportunity to support this responsible approach to deficit reduction and hope all Senators will join me in doing the same.

If we choose to not act responsibly and do not pass this legislation today, I am afraid sequestration will go forward and would mean devastating cuts around the country and for Vermont. Without action, sequestration would mean that Vermont schools would lose more than $2.5 million for primary and secondary education and the education of children with disabilities, while putting the jobs of teachers and aides at risk. Vermont would stand to lose more than $1 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste.

Vermont would lose roughly $2.6 million in funding for medical research and innovation funding from NIH and $400,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation, costing the State 53 jobs. Vermont would lose funding for the grants that support law enforcement, prosecution and courts, crime prevention and education, corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, and crime victim and witness initiatives. Sequestration would mean Vermont would lose $101,000 in funding for job search assistance, referral, and placement, meaning 3,700 fewer people will get the help and skills they need to find employment, just when they need it most.

In Vermont, sequestration would impact public health. Fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and hepatitis B due to reduced funding for vaccinations. Across-the-board cuts mean Vermont will lose about $270,000 in grants to help prevent and treat substance abuse, resulting in around 500 fewer admissions to substance abuse programs. And the Vermont Department of Health will lose about $55,000 resulting in around 1,400 fewer HIV tests. Sequestration would mean the state would lose funding used to provide meals for seniors and services to victims of domestic violence.

If we do not pass the American Family Economic Protection Act today, our States will lose funding for community development block grants and housing vouchers helping to put a roof over families' heads, we will lose funding for cancer screenings, childcare, and Head Start programs helping to get our Nation's children ready for school.

We cannot afford to allow this self-inflicted devastation move to forward. The bottom line is that getting our fiscal house in order must go hand in hand with policies that promote economic growth, create jobs, and strengthen the middle class--all things that President Obama and Democrats in both Houses of Congress are eager to do if only we had more cooperation from our friends across the aisle. We simply cannot cut our way out of this. We cannot allow an unbalanced approach that would once again require that deficit reduction be achieved solely through spending cuts, and would disproportionately impact low-income Americans and middle-class families. And we should not allow politics and posturing to dictate our actions here today. The American people expect more from us. I hope the Senate will end the filibuster of this legislation and allow an up-or-down vote so that we can show our constituents that we are capable of putting the interests of the Nation first.


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