05.25.10

Statement on Sessions Amendment Number 4173

Mr. LEAHY. Madam President, I wish to speak about the Sessions amendment to the supplemental appropriations bill. This is the amendment that would cap discretionary spending this year and for future years, irrespective of the needs of the government and the American people.

I know our distinguished chairman, Senator Inouye, has already spoken about it. I note this is the fourth time the Senate has been asked to vote on this amendment. The last three times it was defeated. Now we have to vote on it again. Perhaps we should have a rule here that after three strikes you are out.

The amendment uses last year's budget resolution as its starting point. It will cut over $20 billion from the President's fiscal year 2011 budget request.

I share the goal of the sponsors of this amendment to limit Federal spending. Since I have been in the Senate, I have voted for billions of dollars in cuts in Federal spending. But the way this amendment is done, using a sledgehammer instead of a scalpel, it arbitrarily affects every Federal program in ways that most certainly will come back to haunt us.

Not only will critical programs from defense to education to foreign policy be cut, the amendment requires a vote of three-fifths of the Senate for emergency spending, and in a mere 14 pages it seeks to basically do away with the role of the Budget Committee.

I would hate to see a situation where, if we have a flood in Mississippi, and for some reason or another a minority of Senators say: Our states didn't have a flood, so why should we vote for this? Or if there were an earthquake in California and they need three-fifths, but a minority of Senators has other priorities. That's not the way it should work.

   I must admit, I take a somewhat long view of it. I have not been here as long as our distinguished chairman has or our distinguished former chairman, Senator Byrd. But I have been here longer than everybody else in this body. I urge people to be careful what they wish for. It appears that requiring 60 votes and the gridlock we are currently experiencing is not enough. The sponsors of this amendment want the body to be held hostage to a minority of two-fifths. As the chairman of the Appropriations Committee said earlier, it is the wrong direction for the Senate to be going.

Let me focus my brief remarks specifically on the effect the Sessions amendment would have on important national security programs funded in the State and foreign operations budget for fiscal year 2011 which begins on October 1.

The amendment would cut $1.1 billion from the President's State and foreign operations budget request. A cut of that size would have significant and, I suspect, unintended consequences.

I hope the proponents of this amendment or their constituents are not among those who want travel overseas and want their passports processed in a timely manner.

I hope they do not mind that our embassies are not fully staffed and cannot properly represent Americans abroad. I hope if something happens to them or their constituents in Mexico, Kenya, Turkey, or any other foreign place and there is not an American consular officer who can help them in an emergency, that they will not complain because their amendment cut the funding for that consular officer's salary.

I hope it does not matter that we would only be able to fund a portion of the global health and food security initiatives which, among other things, provide funds for maternal and child health and to prevent and respond to outbreaks of deadly contagious diseases, such as cholera, Ebola, and the Asian flu.

I point out that these are not just threats in places halfway around the world, they are only a plane trip away from our shores.

I hope the sponsors of this amendment are not concerned that it may mean we have to cut funding for exchange programs for students of predominantly Muslim countries where we are trying to show a different face of America, or democracy programs in the former Soviet Union or training programs for Iraqi police officers. There is a price for everything, and the funding for State and foreign operations is one of the best bargains in the Federal budget.

Contrary to what some may believe, it consists of barely 1 percent of the entire budget. Aside from the U.S. military, it is how the United States exerts its influence around the globe. As we are trying to show in many parts of the globe, it is not just our military might that defines America, it is our global reach in humanitarian emergencies and diplomacy.

At a time when China is sharply increasing its spending for these same types of activities and extending its sphere of influence to our hemisphere and around the world because they know it is in their Nation's best interest to do so, do we really want to cut the funding that enables the United States to compete? It makes no sense.

I note that even though it is in the State Department budget, top officials at the Pentagon understand this very well. Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have both urged the Congress to fully fund the State and foreign operations budget. They know these are areas where our diplomats can handle things better at far less cost and with longer lasting effects.

The sponsors of this amendment have supported the deployment of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have voted to borrow the money--the only time, certainly, in my lifetime, that we have gone to war anywhere and not paid for it.

But military force alone, even though it is exerted through great sacrifice by the very brave men and women in our military, can only provide the conditions for longer term economic and political stability in those countries. The State and Foreign Operations budget provides the funds to build that economic growth and political stability.

I ask unanimous consent the letters from both Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen be printed in the Record at the end of my remarks.

No one disagrees that we need to control spending. The distinguished chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the distinguished ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee work very hard to control spending. As a member of that committee I know the votes I have cast to substantially cut spending. We need to eliminate programs that are wasteful or can no longer be justified. We need to be frugal about what new programs we fund.

But just as we are in a different world today than when I came to the Senate 35 years ago, the things we need to do to respond to the challenges of today are different than they were 35 years ago. The way we respond to those challenges is different than when the distinguished Appropriations chairman was gallantly fighting to protect our Nation in World War II--something which we all honor and the Nation has honored when he received the Congressional Medal of Honor. But he, like so many others, tried to make the world safe for democracy, but I think he also wanted to make it a world where America could achieve its goals through the strength of its ideas and not just through its military might.

This amendment is not going to make a dent in the Federal deficit by cutting $1.1 billion from the State and Foreign Operations budget. The amendment, however well intentioned, would permit a small minority of the Senate to dictate to the majority. It would limit the global influence of the United States. It would cede more of our influence to China. It would diminish our ability to develop and access export markets that are vital to our economy and vital to increasing jobs here in the United States. At worst of all, it would weaken our security alliances.

I urge Senators to reject it.

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