(Senate - February 14, 2013)

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[Pages S751-S753]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                          SEQUESTER LEADERSHIP

  Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, we are facing a very serious problem 
with the sequester that will impact our Defense Department and other 
government agencies. It is a very serious matter. It has been out there 
for well over a year. We have known this is coming, and it is time--
long past time--for the Democratic Senate and the President of the 
United States to provide some leadership on the issue.
  I was pleased with Senator McConnell this morning when he raised this 
matter, suggesting we are in a pattern here of how business is being 
done in the Senate. It goes something like this, Senator McConnell 
said: Phase 1, Republicans identify a challenge and propose a solution; 
phase 2, the liberals sit on their hands until the last minute; phase 
3, they then offer some gimmicky tax hike designed to fail and then 
blame everybody when it does.
  This is essentially, I am afraid, where we are. We are now at the 
time where they are about to sweep in with some gimmicky solution that 
won't be successful. I don't know where they are in that. We have seen 
a 1-page outline that suggests there is a plan out there, but we 
haven't seen legislative language, I don't believe, unless it was 
produced in the last few hours. So we are 2 weeks away from a sequester 
that will include cuts that I believe will be too damaging to the U.S. 
military and can be avoided and should be avoided.
  The sequester, remember, was part of an agreement that was reached in 
August a year ago--August 2011--between the President of the United 
States, the Democratic leadership in the Senate, and the leadership in 
the House of Representatives. It was designed to raise the debt ceiling 
because we had borrowed all the money that could legally be borrowed 
and the administration wanted to spend more and borrow more money. We 
were borrowing well over 35 cents out of every dollar we spent at that 
time--and still are--and the President wanted to raise the debt 
ceiling. The people holding the credit card--the U.S. Congress--said: 
Wait a minute. You have run up too much debt. You have to lay out a 
plan that, at least over 10 years, would equal the amount you want to 
raise the debt ceiling. The Administration could spend that money now--
and it was spent in 18 months, because we have already hit the debt 
ceiling again--and we will raise the debt ceiling $2.1 trillion.
  So an agreement was reached to reduce spending over the next 10 years 
by $2.1 trillion. That was the agreement. The President signed that, 
the Democratic leader in the Senate agreed to that, the Speaker of the 
House, the Republican, agreed to that, and that became the law.
  These are numbers we live with every day. I am the ranking Republican 
on the Budget Committee, and it is a constant item in our face out 
there. We were then spending $3.7 trillion a year. So if you extend 
that for 10 years, we would spend $37 trillion over 10 years. But the 
budget was expected to grow. It was expected to grow so that we spent 
$47 trillion over 10 years. At the end of that time we would have 
increased spending by almost $10 trillion over 10 years. This deal 
would have said that we wouldn't spend $47 trillion but $45 trillion, 
therefore reducing the increase by a modest amount.
  These were the first significant cuts we have had in the Congress in 
a long time. It is the first time we have actually made some alteration 
in the growth of spending. And really, it is not a cut in spending; it 
is reduction to the growth of spending. But the President not only 
agreed to the sequester, he actually proposed the sequester as part of 
the deal.
  The sequester came about under the theory this would be a stopgap 
emergency measure if the committee of 12 didn't reach some long-term 
fiscal plan to alter the debt course of America, and the committee 
didn't reach that agreement.
  The agreement fell apart and the sequester happened. The sequester 
was put in the bill at the last minute, according to Bob Woodward in 
his book, at the request of the President and the White House. It was 
put in there, and nobody knew what it meant. That is the reason 
primarily that I voted against it. I didn't like this situation that 
looked to me as though it would be a meat-axe cut that would fall 
disproportionately on the Defense Department. At any rate, good people 
disagreed, the bill passed, and it became law. So that is how the 
sequester came to be, and it is set up in a way that disrupts the 
Defense Department.
  If you cut the Defense Department as much as is presently scheduled 
to be done now, it would hurt under any circumstances. But if it is 
done the way the sequester says, everybody agrees it will be far more 
damaging than it needs to be because it gives the Defense Department 
very little control over how to manage their money in a way that has 
the least adverse circumstances, and that is why we should not let the 
sequester go forward.
  The sequester needs to be reevaluated for a lot of reasons. One-sixth 
of the federal budget is the Defense Department. One-sixth of the 
amount of money we spend is by the Defense Department. One-half of all 
the cuts in the sequester falls on the Defense Department. It is 
  Some people are under the impression that it is the war costs that 
are being cut. This is not what we are talking about. The war costs are 
funded in a separate account. All of these cuts fall on the base 
defense budget of the United States of America.
  It means too rapid and severe a reduction in our military and 
civilian personnel, and it endangers the smart management of the war, 
while entire portions of our government--almost one-half of our 
government--have no cuts at all. Amazingly, there is no reduction in 
the growth of the spending of one-half of our government; and defense 
spending increases are less than half of what you see in many of the 
other major spending programs in our government.
  The base defense budget has not been surging out of control. It has 
been increasing at about the rate of inflation in the last several 
years. But defense has already reduced its budget as part of the first 
part of the Budget Control Act agreement last August. That was $487 
billion. So this sequester would be an additional $500 billion, should 
it go through. It would be a cumulative reduction of almost $1 trillion 
over 10 years. That is a big reduction. It alters the ability of the 
military to function in the way they have been functioning, and it 
threatens the ability for them to carry out the missions they have been 
assigned to carry out today.
  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dempsey, said this week:

       If sequestration occurs, it will severely limit our ability 
     to implement our defense strategy. It will put the nation at 
     a greater risk of coercion, and it will break faith with the 
     men and women in uniform.

  That is a serious statement and we should respect it. I know right 
now they are threatening all kinds of draconian cuts, and probably when 
the dust settles it won't be quite as draconian as they tell us. But 
the fundamental truth is, this is disproportionate and dangerous to the 
Defense Department, and it is not necessary.
  Remember how we got here. We saw this coming. The defense 
authorization bill was not brought up before the election maybe for the 
first time in 50 years. Why was it not brought up in July, August, 
September, or October? Why was it not?
  One of the reasons I think was that everybody knew the sequester was 
out there. It needed to be fixed, and this would have been the 
opportunity to fix it when that bill moved through the Senate. And so 
Senator Reid wouldn't bring up the defense bill. He refused to bring it 
to the floor.
  Senator McCain came to the floor and said, shame, shame, shame, as 
ranking Republican on the committee, pointing out this failure was the 
first time I believe in 50 years that the defense bill had not moved. 
No other appropriations bill had moved, either; not a single one. But 
not passing the defense authorization bill was historic--again, I think 
in big part because they didn't want to talk about the sequester.
  In the debate, I believe last October, with Governor Romney, the 
sequester came up. What did President Obama say? It will not happen. 
The sequester will not happen. And here we are, with no plan to fix it 
from the White House, no plan to fix it from the Democratic majority--
which apparently wants to lead this country, wants to be in the 
majority, wants to justify their leadership position. Senator Reid has 
not brought forth--unless it is today, until

[[Page S752]]

this late, late minute--a plan to fix the sequester, an alternative. We 
have seen the one-page outline, but that is it.
  I would note, I think I indicated, the House has already twice passed 
legislation months ago that would fix the sequester and not allow this 
event to occur in the way that it is. They have done their duty.
  So what is the Senate going to do? What are we going to have from the 
Senate? Another do nothing, no budget, no fix to the economic threats 
of America? Now no fix to the sequester? The only thing we have to do 
now is raise taxes?
  The truth is, the way to fix this and the way to do this is to have 
all the departments and agencies of the government be evaluated, not 
just a small portion of them, and have all of them tighten their belts, 
and we could easily avoid the draconian cuts that are lurking out there 
right now.
  Over half the government spending was not touched in the 2011 Budget 
Control Act deal. It just wasn't, including some of the fastest growing 
items such as food stamps, which have gone from $20 billion in 2001 to 
$80 billion last year. It has gone up four times in 10 years and not a 
dime was reduced from it. Medicaid is at 6- to 7-percent-a-year 
increases. These programs alone add $300 billion to government spending 
each year. They aren't having any review at all.
  I am disappointed we don't have a legislative plan on the floor that 
we could actually evaluate to see what it means, and then begin to 
debate it and discuss it. It should long since have been brought up in 
this Senate. We should already be aware of it.
  But there is a game played around here, as Senator McConnell said. 
There is a game around here to wait until the last minute. And the 
President, using the power of the Presidency and his skill as an 
orator, feels he can once again dominate the media and be able to 
extract the kind of legislation he wants in the end, and somehow gain 
political advantage, I guess.
  I don't think it is going to work this time. I am worried about it. I 
am afraid we are not going to have an agreement. I am afraid cuts are 
going to take place in a way that shouldn't occur, and that they could 
be done smarter and more effectively with less damage than we have.
  So we are told that in this Democratic plan, in this outline that is 
floating around, after we passed just a few weeks ago a $600 billion 
tax increase, that now we want to have another tax increase. I have to 
say this with clarity: Any plan that attempts to replace the cuts in 
the Budget Control Act with tax increases will not happen. They cannot 
happen. It will be a fundamental breach of the commitment we made to 
the American people in August of 2011. We told them, We have an 
agreement. We will raise the debt ceiling $2.1 trillion. A lot of 
people did not want that to happen. A lot of people are fed up with 
borrowing in Washington. A lot of people said, Don't raise the debt 
ceiling a dime.
  We said, OK, we are going to raise the debt ceiling, but we are going 
to promise you, American people, that we will contain the growth of 
spending by $2.1 trillion, so the increase in spending over 10 years 
will be about $8 trillion instead of $10 trillion. Surely, that is not 
going to break America. Surely, that is not going to destroy this 
Republic. It could be exceedingly damaging if we do as the sequester 
says, though, and target the Defense Department far more severely than 
any other area of government.
  But, fundamentally, reducing the growth in spending from $10 trillion 
in expected increases to $8 trillion is not going to damage America. 
And it can be done. In fact, it must be done.
  What we have to understand is that the President of the United States 
and Senator Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, agreed in August 
of 2011 that we would raise the debt ceiling, we would cut spending, 
and we would not increase taxes. We would not increase taxes. It was a 
simple, small, but significant, noticeable reduction in the growth and 
spending, and that was the agreement. Before the ink was dry on it, we 
had people wanting to weasel out of it, to change it.
  What would the American people think of us if less than 2 years after 
this agreement, this promise to them, we capitulated, we couldn't 
follow through, and we couldn't maintain those growth reductions we 
promised the American people we would do?
  The plan I am hearing that is being floated now is a direct 
contradiction of the promise we made to the American people. I don't 
believe it will pass. I don't believe it will pass the House and I 
don't believe it will pass the Senate.
  And remember, this is current baseline law now.
  The Budget Director of the Congressional Budget Office testified 
before the Budget Committee this week, and he showed us what the 
projected deficits will be over the next 10 years. The good news was 
that deficits would be reduced some--less than half of what they are 
today--by 2015. And a big part of that was the sequester, because it is 
in law. The law says: These reductions will occur. He scored them as we 
passed it. And now we are saying, We want to give that back and we 
don't want to follow through on that.
  The only way you can not follow through on the reductions that were 
in the Budget Control Act would be to increase spending--to increase 
spending above what we are currently projected to have the government 
grow over the next 10 years. We would have to increase spending.
  So make no mistake about it, the plan that is being proposed is to 
tax and spend--to spend more and tax more. That is not where this 
country should be going. I reject that as the right approach. 
Particularly, it is contrary to the steps we took in August.
  One reason the agreement was reached on the fiscal cliff in early 
January of this year was that we had spending cuts last August and they 
got some tax increases in January, but not more. And those tax 
increases should have been for the purpose of reducing debt, not 
funding new spending.
  So to sum up the matter, in August 2011 Congress and the President 
agreed and passed legislation to reduce by a small amount Federal 
spending from $47 trillion to $45 trillion over 10 years. The spending 
of the United States would increase approximately $8 trillion instead 
of $10 trillion. That would not damage the American Government. We 
certainly should be able to function as a nation with that kind of 
substantial increase in spending, and it is happening every day in 
cities, counties, and States throughout America. They are dealing with 
far worse reductions than that.
  There was no tax increase agreed to at all--not one penny of tax 
increases. Those reductions in spending are in law. They are in the new 
baseline on which we are now operating. To alter that and give back 
that spending without finding reductions in spending elsewhere would be 
to increase spending above that agreed to in the Budget Control Act, 
and that is what the Democratic outline we have seen would do. It 
increases spending and it increases taxes. They say: Don't worry about 
the increased spending. We have taken care of it. We have raised taxes. 
So that is the deal. They raised taxes to pay for the increase. That is 
in clear violation of the terms of the agreement and the moral 
agreement we had with the American people. It is in violation of what 
was told to the American people a little over 18 months ago, and to 
that extent it is not acceptable.
  I urge my colleagues not to proceed with this approach.
  Let's find ways to spread out the spending cuts so that more 
government agencies tighten their belts--and not so disproportionately 
on the Defense Department--and we can resolve this matter going 
  I am worried because we have had no response from our Democratic 
partners, no response from our President of the United States, who is 
the Commander in Chief of American forces. To my knowledge they have 
not laid out a detailed plan yet. We are going to reach that deadline, 
and it looks as though it is going to take place. I hope it can be 
avoided. It should be avoided, and I am willing to work to avoid that.
  I call on my colleagues to not continue to delay. Let's move forward 
to an effective agreement that preserves the legislative intent of the 
Budget Control Act and the promises that we made to the American 
  I thank the Chair, yield the floor, and note the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Begich). The clerk will call the roll.
  The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

[[Page S753]]

  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Connecticut.
  Mr. BLUMENTHAL. I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum 
call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.