VETERANS JOBS CORPS ACT OF 2012


Jeff SessionsU.S. Senator
[R] Alabama, United States

Length: 31 minutes, 15 seconds


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Mr. SESSIONS. Madam President, I thank my eloquent colleague. But we do not have a budget. The law requires us to have a budget--passed decades ago. The Senate Democratic leadership, of which he is a part, said it was foolish to have a budget. They were not going to have one. We have not had one for 3 years. So it resulted last year in a debate over raising the debt ceiling because we had run up more debt than any time in the history of this Republic. And there was an agreement to limit spending.

It is not a budget. It [Page: S6397] sets a limit on spending--only on discretionary spending, not on the 60 percent of the government otherwise on which we spend money. It is inadequate and insufficient, and before the ink is dry on it, we are back in here with a Democratic majority advocating legislation that violates that cap. There is no dispute about it. This is the eighth time we have raised budget points of order for violation of the agreement setting a cap on spending limits. So here we go again.

Public opinion of Congress is lower today than at almost any time in history. According to the most recent Gallup Poll, only 13 percent of the public approves of Congress's actions. Americans do not trust us. Why should Americans trust us when we keep using gimmicks and budget slights of hand to hide more spending and drive this country further into debt when we make a promise by passing a law that limits spending and then promptly violate that law within months of passage? And, now, the Democrats will attempt again today to violate that law? Why should the American people respect an institution, such as this one, that cannot adhere to a sound financial course for America? On August 28, our country's gross debt reached $16 trillion--$16 trillion--over 100 percent of the entire gross domestic product of this Nation. It is a danger zone, according to every expert who has testified.

According to the Office of Management and Budget's latest mid-session review of our fiscal condition, our Nation's debt will increase $4.4 trillion over the next 4 years, rising to over $20 trillion. And in that period of time, we will virtually have doubled the entire debt of the United States since the Democrats took the majority in the Senate and President Obama was elected--double the entire debt. And the course we remain on does not get better. These are their budget numbers. This is a course America is on, and we are not getting off of it. It is $1 trillion a year in deficits. The U.S. debt per household is now $137,000 per household--up $80,000 since just 2002. While Americans have tightened their budgets to make ends meet, Congress has not passed a budget in 1,239 days.

Erskine Bowles, whom President Obama asked to chair the debt commission, noted recently--I saw him in a CNBC interview at a conference on July 12. He said: If you take last year, 100 percent of our revenue came into the country ..... was spent on our--what's called mandatory spending and interest on the debt. Mandatary spending is principally the entitlement programs, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

That is what the tax revenue pays for. Everything above that is funded by borrowed money. That is what he said. Is he correct? Absolutely. We are now borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend. That is not sustainable. At that conference, Mr. Bowles repeated what he said before the Budget Committee, on which I am ranking member. Mr. Bowles said this Nation has never been on a more predictable financial crisis path. That is what he said. If we continue at this rate, we are going to have a financial crisis like 2007. Hopefully not if we can avoid it, but if we do not change what we are doing, we are going to have one. He is absolutely confident about it. He has repeated it. So has the Federal Reserve Chairman, Mr. Bernanke. He said: These numbers are not going to continue. If you do not change, we will have a crisis before we get there.

At the debt debate last summer--most Americans remember that; Congress should certainly remember it--we finally reached an agreement that is now being violated. We passed the Budget Control Act last August at the last minute, if you remember, to set strict spending limits over the next 10 years. It created a super committee to solve all of our problems, we hoped, or if the committee failed, which it did, to enact $1.2 trillion, at least, in cuts through sequestration. That would raise the debt ceiling $2.1 trillion. We would have a net cut in spending of $2.1 trillion. The debt ceiling money gets spent now. We have almost added another $2.1 trillion to the debt since last August. We are getting close to the debt limit again. But the cuts were promised to be over 10 years. We will spend now, but we promise you we have got a plan. We have a law that will keep us on the right path over the next 10 years. So the questions are: Are we spending at that limit? Will we stay there? Secondly, let me note parenthetically that the $2.1 trillion is not enough in reduced spending projections. We are talking about reducing projected spending rates--the increase--not cutting spending $2.1 trillion. We are talking about cutting the projected increase in spending. So at the current rate of spending--$3.7, $3.8 trillion this year--if you carry that out for 10 years, that would be $38 trillion. Under the projections, we are to spend $47 trillion over the next 10 years--almost $10 trillion more. All the Budget Control act says is: We are going to spend $45 trillion rather than $47 trillion, that our spending would increase from $37 trillion to $45 trillion. Can the Republic sustain that? Is that going to throw us into the ocean? Will we collapse as a nation? Will children starve and people not get their Social Security? Of course not. We will still be spending more money. That is all the budget agreement called for, and we are already waffling on that commitment that occurred last summer.

So here we are. While our colleagues have offered well-meaning legislation and something that we should work on to try to deal with the unfortunate increase in unemployment for our veterans--and we can help them, I truly believe--they have refused to go by the promises made under the Budget Control Act last summer--flatly refused.

So I am worried about unemployment. I am worried about it especially among veterans. And there are things we can do. In an effort to find common ground, Senator Burr from North Carolina, representing Fort Bragg, where I spent a summer, offered an alternative bill, the Careers for Veterans Act, which would help our veterans find jobs while keeping the Federal budget under control and honoring the commitment we made last summer. It can be done. This is not hard to do if you want to do it.

Since the Senate majority will not even allow a vote on any bill that abides by the budget--Senator Reid is obstructing the right of Members to offer amendments to the bill--I have raised a budget point of order against Senator Murray's substitute amendment. Sustaining this point of order will allow us to keep the promises made in the Budget Control Act that Senator Durbin talked about so proudly--just stay within those promises. It will allow us to continue to work on this bill in a way that helps our veterans without adding more to our children's debt. It does not kill the legislation; it simply tells the sponsors: We are not going to do this until you get it within the budget limits to which we agreed. And it can be done. Senator Burr's bill does it. It certainly can be done.

The Senate majority had the opportunity to write legislation complying with the spending limits set in the Budget Control Act. Instead, they bypassed the committee process. We have not had any committee hearings on this legislation. And they have offered a substitute amendment that violates the Congressional Budget Act by increasing mandatory spending $700 million over the Veterans' Affairs Committee's 302(a) allocation.

Under the Budget Act, the committee is given a certain amount of money to spend for veterans, and this amendment would violate that agreement. Specifically, the Murray amendment violates Section 302(f) of the Congressional Budget Act by spending $61 million above the committee's allocation for 2013 and $480 million above the committee's allocation for 2013 through 2017. It would also spend $666 million above the committee's allocation for 2013 through 2022.

Surely, out of a budget that spends $47 trillion over 10 years, we can find $700 million in savings to pay for this bill. That is all that needs to be done to ensure that the bill complies with the Budget Act. As a result of exceeding the Veterans' Affairs Committee's allocation, the Murray substitute amendment violates Section 302(f) of the Congressional Budget Act. That has been discussed with Chairman Conrad, the Democratic chairman of the Budget Committee. He acknowledges that it does, and so does his staff. I am very confident that the Parliamentarian agrees and will rule that it violates the Budget Act. [Page: S6398] Now the Senate majority plans to have a vote to waive--to waive the promise they made to the American people to control spending just over a year ago.

So that is the issue before us today. Do we take the bill and fix it so it complies with the budget--which can easily be done because the substitute Senator Burr has drafted does it--or will we once again waive the promises we made last August and so proudly touted that we were going to cut $2.1 trillion in spending.

In effect, there is a tax increase, argued with some validity, to pay for this bill. The bill uses a tax enforcement measure to stop abuses by people who don't fully pay their taxes. This will raise revenue, and, therefore, the bill is offset, and so we shouldn't worry about it. So here we have a new idea for helping veterans: We will raise taxes and revenue and we pay for it.

But this is what is called tax and spend. Tax and spend. We agreed to a limit on what we would spend. If we have discovered a method to collect more taxes or raise taxes to get more revenue, that money, under our budget agreement last summer, is to be used to pay down the debt, not to take more money to spend on a new program today because we have more revenue to spend. So that is a fundamental issue. Just because it is paid for does not mean we are not spending more than we agreed to spend.

We very precisely are.

Not only does the Murray amendment violate the Budget Act by spending above agreed-to levels, but it also uses budget gimmicks--extraordinarily really--to make the bill appear to be offset. This budget sleight of hand is called a timing shift. What about this offset or pay-for idea? Let me discuss that a moment.

This is one of the issues that, if the American people fully understood it, would outrage them. As a matter of fact, it is probably part of why they are not happy with us now because they have seen so much of this. This is a recurring gimmick. If a CEO offered stock based on this kind of promise of financial solvency they would go to jail. It is as bogus as a three-dollar bill. This is what it is. It shifts the payment of corporate income taxes 2 to 3 months sooner so we can count it in this fiscal year. Specifically, this gimmick would collect additional revenue over the 2013 through 2017 budget window, which is the budget window they were trying to deal with since it violates the Budget Act over that 5 year period. So this was designed to cover up more spending.

But think about it. It is exactly the same amount of less revenue that will occur in the 2014 through 2018 budget window. If we ask someone to pay their taxes earlier, they do not owe it the next year when we would otherwise expect to receive it.

The height of this gimmick was demonstrated years ago when I first came to the Senate. I was shocked. This is what they did: They moved a Social Security check from this fiscal year to the next fiscal year. What was the result? It resulted in having a lot of money to spend this fiscal year; right? The CBO said we have more money because we didn't pay a Social Security payment. They moved--delayed--it by 1 day. That is what they wanted to do, to move it 1 day. But what happens to the next fiscal year? Is this really a gain or a gimmick? It is a gimmick because the next fiscal year we would need to make an additional Social Security payment in that budget year.

It is just a way to spend more today and push off the cost until tomorrow. That is what they did then, and that is exactly what this is today. It is a smoke-and-mirror scheme used to avoid the rules in the Budget Act and the scorekeepers at the Congressional Budget Office. It being used to manipulate the scoring for short-term gain. It simply speeds up the payments in the first 5 years so it appears we have more money to spend. In reality, the gimmick merely creates a hole in the budget next year because the money that was expected to come in next year--now coming in this year--is not coming in next year.

So this point of order is not a technical issue, it is an issue of whether this body will uphold its commitment to the American people on how much money we are going to spend. Congress agreed to certain spending levels in the Budget Control Act. We voted on those spending levels, and we should stick with those spending levels today. There is no reason for us to violate that agreement. The point of order exists so that Congress cannot raise taxes and spend money over the agreed-to amount. The point of order requires 60 votes to waive, and it exists so the Senate does not succumb to political pressure to spend beyond our means. Really, it is meant to try to stop spending beyond our means.

The Senate majority was aware of the budget rules when they wrote this bill. They were aware of it. Instead of writing a bill that complied with the Budget Act, they decided to go above the agreed-upon spending levels. Senator Burr--a fine Senator--was also aware of the rules under the Budget Act and the spending levels set under the Budget Control Act. He drafted alternative legislation that complied with the budget rules and that would fund a veterans jobs program through discretionary spending.

Unfortunately, the Senate majority took most of Senator Burr's policy suggestions but did not keep the fiscal discipline found in his bill. They will not allow us to have a vote to aid veterans within the spending agreement.

Contrary to what my friends on the other side of the aisle claim, this point of order will not kill the bill. It only returns the bill to the legislative calendar. It will remain right there on the calendar, but it will allow the people who support it, if they want it passed--and they do--to propose changes so that the bill complies with the Budget Act.

We can still fix and pass this bill before we leave this week. It wouldn't take much time at all to fix this matter. A vote in support of the point of order will protect the integrity of the budget process. Supporting this point of order will allow us to change the underlying bill so that it is fiscally sound and complies with the spending levels we have agreed to.

Unfortunately, while the Senate majority refuses to allow a vote on a reasonable veterans bill that complies with the Budget Act, they are neglecting the looming cuts that face our military men and women on January 2, 2013--the sequester. Given the events happening around the world today, we need to be very careful not to allow these kinds of cuts to take place in the first part of next year. There are various ways we could easily fix that, in my opinion, but we will not even confront the issue.

The Senate majority has refused to address sequestration, which the Secretary of Defense--President Obama's Secretary of Defense--said would be catastrophic. Defense people have said it would hollow out the military. It is too rapid a bite, according to the experts in the Obama administration and others, but no effort has been brought forward to confront that problem--to bring it up on the Senate floor and have a full debate about it.

We can do a $200 million a year bill that we spent a week or more on, but we have no time on the Senate floor dedicated to dealing with the sequester, which would take $500 billion out of the defense budget. This bill on the floor today would spend nearly $1 billion over 5 years above the budget.

What about the $500 billion in cuts that are looming right now in January? We need to wrestle with that and decide how we are going to confront that. It is not going to be easy. Maybe defense can sustain some more cuts, but I don't think this much. They have already taken $500 billion in cuts, and this would be an additional $500 billion in cuts.

The Defense Department, under the plan today, which represents one-sixth of Federal Government spending, would get half the cuts, and the remaining five-sixths of the Federal Government would get the other half of the cuts. This is disproportionate. It should not have been part of the Budget Act. But they slipped it in the dead of night, and it came to the floor and people went along with it so we would not hit the debt ceiling. But it is not good, and we need to fix that, in my opinion.

House Republicans have confronted this matter. They realized this was a problem, and they proposed a budget and a plan to replace and undo the sequester and to do it in a way that made sense without violating spending levels we agreed to last August. How many proposals to fix this problem have we [Page: S6399] received from Senator Durbin and Senator Reid? Zero. Nothing. They are not doing anything but blocking any attempt to bring up legislation that would fix it.

That is why we don't have a Defense authorization bill, which came out of my committee unanimously, the Armed Services Committee. It has been sitting here and not being brought up. Why? Because if we do, we will have a discussion about the sequester and the Defense Department and the future of America, and they do not want that. The House passed the Defense authorization bill in May, and they passed the Defense appropriations bill in June. We have passed none of them, not even brought them to the floor.

They want to attack Republicans as not caring about our men and women who serve our country. Yet we are trying to fix the sequester, trying to bring up a Defense bill that will actually do some good and give a pay raise to our men and women in uniform--a small one, but a pay raise. So I am really disappointed we haven't brought up the Defense authorization bill, which came out of my committee.

A few days ago--last week--Senator McCain spoke about this. He said: Shame, shame, shame. Imagine that for 51 years, every year, this Senate has passed the Defense authorization bill. This will be the first time in 51 years we haven't passed the Defense authorization bill, and we have so many important issues related to our Defense Department today. Nothing is more important than that. Yet we spent a whole week, or the last few days, discussing a bill that could have been agreed to just like that, with the suggestions of Senator Burr, because we can't wait to get out of this place. This could have already passed, and we could have been dealing with these important issues. I find it breathtaking, frankly.

Let me just point out the bill is not going to go through the House since it violates the Constitution. There are revenue proposals in this bill. It will not see the light of day in the House because the Constitution says revenue bills must be generated in the House. So we have wasted all this time producing a bill that cannot and will not be received by the House.

Article 1, Section 7 of the United States Constitution says: All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives. .....

This is a revenue bill.

So what has happened? Is it just an idea? Let's see, we don't want to talk about the Defense appropriations bill. We don't want to talk about the Defense authorization bill; it involves hundreds of billions of dollars. We don't want to talk about those, so let's bring up this veterans bill. We will bring it up even though it violates the Budget Act. And do you know what those stupid Republicans will do? They will object and say it violates the Budget Act. And do you know what we can say? We can say: You don't like veterans. You don't believe in honoring those who served our country. Do you want to know the truth? That is what has happened right here today, and it is irresponsible.

So let's vote for Senator Burr's bill. Let's pass legislation that will help veterans right now, or we are going to send this bill back--I am confident--to see if they come up with some other plan that would be helpful to our veterans and their employment prospects without violating the Budget Act.

I want to mention one more thing because I think it is important. The two largest veterans groups, the VFW and the American Legion, have said these things. Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of the American Legion, said both bills, the Burr and Murray bills ``have ideas on how to get veterans quality jobs,'' and added that Burr's version stands a better chance of passing.

What about the VFW? In the Washington Post today: ``VFW supports concepts behind the Veterans Job Corps bill, but we have some concerns about the budgetary implications,'' said Ryan Gallucci, deputy director of national legislative affairs for the VFW.

We don't have to do it the way this bill has come up. Senator Burr has offered a very fine proposal that the VFW and the American Legion seem to support. Let's do that. Let's do it that way and not violate our commitment to the American people to live within our means.

I yield the floor.

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