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April 13, 2011

Fiscal Responsibility

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Mr. SESSIONS. Madam President, the American people have high expectations of their leaders. They should

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have, and they should demand it. One of the basic expectations we should have for our President is that he would be honest and forthright in discussing the critical issues facing our Nation. He should engage in the Nation's most important debates and provide leadership and take all appropriate steps to protect our Nation when we face a clear and present danger.

Clearly, the dominant issue of our time--I think there is no dispute within this Chamber--is our fiscal path, the debt course we are on, and the fact that we want to see our country be prosperous and grow, create more jobs, not lose jobs. To do that, we have to confront the large, soaring debt we have. It dwarfs all other issues. The American people know it. They gave a shellacking to the big spenders in the last election. It is what I hear whenever I am at home and what my mail and e-mails and phone calls say.

People are worried about the future of our country economically, and they are exactly right. The people who are not right are those who say change is not necessary--people who are in denial, including Government agencies and departments. People who receive governmental grants and programs think that nothing has changed in their own minds, but things have changed. I wish it weren't so, but it is so.

The Congressional Budget Act requires that Congress pass a budget every year by April 15. That is this Friday. A few weeks ago, the Congress received from the White House the most irresponsible budget ever submitted by a President to the Congress and to the Nation because it did nothing to confront the problems we face. It made no recommendations about entitlement programs--Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid--zero. It increased discretionary spending, increased taxes by $1.7 trillion, and, according to the Congressional Budget Office that analyzed the President's budget, it increases the debt, when it is all over, more than the debt would have been increased if we hadn't had a budget from the President, even with $1.7 trillion in new taxes. That is why it was irresponsible. It did not confront the issues we so seriously face today. He said when he announced it, that his budget would cause us to live within our means, that it would not increase the debt, and that we are not going to spend any more money than we are taking in. All fact-check organizations have found that to be false. It is plainly false. The lowest single year in which we have a deficit--and we have a deficit every year under the present budget--is $740 billion, and it is increasing in the 10th year to $1.2 trillion. The horrible deficit President Bush had was $450 billion. The lowest President Obama projects in 10 years is $750 billion, and it is going up in the outyears to $1.2 trillion.

In contrast, the House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, has made the most serious attempt maybe in history to deal with the systemic threats our country faces to tackle our long-term fiscal challenges. The Bowles and Simpson debt commission cochairmen appointed by President Obama described Paul Ryan's budget this way: ``A serious, honest, straightforward approach to addressing our Nation's enormous fiscal challenges.''

They went on to say:

Going forward, anyone who issues an alternative plan to Chairman Ryan's should be held to the same standard when offering their solutions. We simply cannot back away from these issues.

Rather than defend the President's budget or offer alternatives, what we have been seeing in this Chamber are just attacks on Congressman Ryan and attacks on anybody who says change has to occur. They act as though nothing has to change. Many remain in denial. Our Democratic chairman, Senator Conrad, who said so many good things about the need to challenge the status quo and make changes to put our country on the right path, said:

Representative Ryan's proposal is partisan and ideological. He provides dramatic tax cuts for the wealthiest, financed by Draconian reductions in Medicare and Medicaid. His proposals are unreasonable and unsustainable.

Is this going to be the nature of our discussion? I thought we were supposed to be trying to reach a bipartisan understanding of the challenges facing us and do something about it. We saw what the President's own debt commission cochairmen said, respectfully, of the Ryan proposal, and this is what our leadership said. Others have called it extreme. They say it is driven by these evil tea party people who don't know anything. They know something. They know the government is spending us into virtual bankruptcy and that Congress has failed in its basic responsibilities to protect the Nation from economic danger. The American people are right.

I called on the President, before the State of the Union Message, to enter into a dialog with the American people, to look them in the eye and explain why we are in trouble, why we have to change. Who wants to go and propose any reduction in any spending?

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from Alabama has 5 minutes remaining.

Mr. SESSIONS. I thank the Presiding Officer.

Who wants to do that? We are in a position where we have to make those kinds of tough choices, just as our counties, our cities, our mayors, and our State Governors are making every day.

So now we are told the President is going to give a speech. He hasn't yet even discussed the danger we face. We are told the President is planning this major speech to discuss our long-term fiscal problem. I would say, first of all, it has to be considered a dramatic admission that his previous claims that his budget calls on us to live within our means, to pay down the debt and not add to the debt, were false. They say the President will support some of the recommendations in the fiscal commission, his own Commission, Bowles and Simpson. I hope that is true. But I just wish to say this: At this point in history, with the budget supposed to be passed in the Senate Friday and we haven't even had a markup to have a hearing on a budget; we have not seen one, other than the President's previous budget, which is so utterly irresponsible, I think he owes more than a speech.

We hear a lot of speeches in this country, a lot from the President. What we need are numbers. What he needs to do is submit a new budget. If he is going to change his projections for the future and is going to propose alterations in our entitlement programs, let's see the numbers. He has around 500 people in the Office of Management and Budget. So if this is serious, let's have a serious proposal. The House has done it. The Republican House has a budget. They are going to move that budget. I suspect we will have that budget passed in the House by Friday. It has real numbers, real integrity, real change. It puts us on a path to prosperity, not debt and decline.

The American people know this is serious. They know we are in a dangerous time. All we have to do is rise and make some tough choices, as mayors and Governors and families are making around their kitchen table every day. When we get through this exercise, we are not going to find that the government sank into the ocean because we reduced agencies 15, 20, 25 percent.

The President needs to lay out concrete, specific details about how he intends to solve these challenges we face--not a general speech. The House and Senate Budget Committees must be able to review what he proposes as the Budget Act presumes, in real numbers. The Congressional Budget Office needs to be able to analyze it and see how it will actually play out in terms of dollars.

In 1996, President Clinton produced four budgets. The shutdown occurred during that time and they had a big fight during that time. But we know what happened 3 years later. The budget was balanced. Yes, it was a messy fight, and people made a lot of mistakes, but the end result was the American people said: You are spending too much. Congress rose and said: We are not going to keep doing this, and they balanced the budget. We are in a deeper hole today. It is going to be a lot harder, but it can be done again if we meet the challenges.

So questions that must be answered by the President and the new budget are some of these:

The fiscal commission recommends $1.3 trillion less in discretionary spending than proposed in the President's budget. How does the President plan to

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alter his budget to achieve those savings?

The fiscal commission recommends finding $600 billion in entitlement savings, but the President's budget would increase entitlement spending by $905 billion. That is in the budget he submitted already. How does he intend to achieve these savings in entitlements?

The fiscal commission's recommendations would reduce it by $4 trillion, and the Ryan budget plan would reduce it by $5 trillion; but the President's budget would increase the debt by $10 trillion and would not produce any savings. How would the President alter his original budget to reduce the debt by $4 trillion? I wish to see something more than a speech. Give me a break. I wish to see some numbers so we can discuss it.

Once the President engages, we can have that long overdue national dialog about solving the Nation's fiscal problems. But he has to acknowledge that we have one. As every witness has told us--and the debt commission chairmen, Simpson and Bowles, said this Nation has never faced a more predictable fiscal financial crisis. They see it coming. We have to change.

I hope in his speech the President will discuss entitlements, discuss whether it is good to burden American energy companies with new taxes, discuss whether we should tax small businesses even more, and discuss the military budget. I think a leading President should talk about that. Rather than trying to drain every cent of tax revenue from the American people, Washington should try to drain every cent of waste from the Federal budget.

I hope this doesn't continue the pattern of retreat that is already emerging, where the President supports deficit reduction in theory but resists it in practice, and he claims credit when he is forced to accept reduction. For a President to abdicate his responsibility to lead the effort to meet one of the greatest challenges in our Nation's history would be tantamount to a general leaving the battlefield in a time of war.

I hope we have a speech. I hope it is backed up with real numbers, and I hope and pray it represents a recognition by the President of the United States that we have a serious fiscal challenge before us.

Business as usual cannot continue. Change is necessary. I hope he intends to participate in that and help lead the good change that is necessary.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

(Senate - April 12, 2011)

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