Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013by Senator Daniel Coats
Posted on 2013-02-07
COATS. Mr. President, Indiana has a lot in common with Kansas, so
I don't mind that label. I have been in the chair and made similar
mistakes, so that doesn't bother me. We have a lot of similarities
between Indiana and Kansas. We each hope to have a Final Four team in
the basketball tournament coming up in the Final Four. We have some
competitive teams, so it is a nice blend.
The Economy I would like to speak about the sequestration issue that is facing us as a Congress in the next few weeks. But, first, let me just say, I returned from the National Prayer Breakfast. Several of our colleagues were there: Senator Sessions, a Republican, and Senator Pryor, a Democrat, representing Alabama and Arkansas, but more importantly they are cochairs of the Senate Prayer Breakfast. They led the effort today. Both the House Prayer Breakfast group, which meets weekly, and the Senate Prayer Breakfast group, which meets weekly, supports and puts together the annual Prayer Breakfast. People from more than 160 countries and all 50 States attended. It is quite a remarkable event.
Beyond the socialization and bringing people together around the issue of faith and prayer, we find in our weekly Prayer Breakfast meetings in the Senate and the House that it is the one time when Republicans and Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives, people of no particular ideology, get together and talk about the common interest on the basis of their faith. It is always very refreshing to do that, and it was a pretty remarkable session this morning.
Senator Schumer from New York read from the Old Testament, and our former colleague, Senator Dole from North Carolina, read from the New Testament. Dr. Ben Carson, head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University--recognized as one of the world's leading pediatric neurosurgeons--spoke to us. I heard him 16 years ago. What a remarkable life story. What a remarkable impact he had on the crowd that was there.
He talked about political correctness and how it is detrimental to the kind of honest, straightforward debate we [[Page S485]] need in this country over any range of issues, from our religious beliefs to our political beliefs. He talked about how we need to be willing to be transparent and honest with the people we represent, to speak out about what we believe in and how healthy the debate is even if we come to different positions on separate issues.
That is one of the reasons I have been coming down here virtually every day since the Senate came back into session for the 113th Congress. I come here to talk about what I think is one of the challenges--if not the leading challenge--facing us in this 2-year term. Without question, our fiscal crisis and debt has an impact on our people and on the economy, but more importantly, on our people. This has an effect on the average family in America and the young people coming out of high school and college who are looking for a job. The impact of this more than 4-year economic malaise started with a deep recession. It is now getting to the point where our growth is far below what we need to get everybody back to work and get the economy moving again on a good upward path. We are looking for solutions to the root of our problem. This body, along with the House and the administration, has been dealing with this for well over 2 years. We have been trying to find a solution to get us on the right path to fiscal health. We have taken several steps in that regard, but each step has come up short. There have been several one-step-forward and half-a-step-back efforts, but most of it has simply been pushing it down the road and saving the big debate for another day.
In August 2011 we ended up passing the Budget Control Act, which addressed the debt ceiling at that time. Through that the administration first proposed--President Obama proposed--a measure known as sequestration, which was designed to force the Congress to step up to the plate and deal with the real problem. The real problem is continued deficit spending at a record level that has accumulated year after year.
We are now at the point where the clock is ticking. We have a $16.5 trillion debt which is up from nearly $5.5 trillion in just the last 4 years. The math proves and history clearly shows that this is unsustainable. This is the great challenge before this Congress. We need to do what is necessary to get on the right path to fiscal health before it all comes down.
We had a warning shot fired across our bow in 2009 as to the distortions in our economy, and the consequences were grave. We have warning shots being fired every day from virtually across the Atlantic as to what the European Union and the European nations are trying to deal with because they allowed their deficit spending, their debt, and overpromises by politicians to constituents to continue, which simply cannot be fulfilled. Now the bank is running out of money. We simply don't have the resources to continue to pay the debt, and the interest on the debt gets worse every day that goes by.
So we had this Budget Control Act in 2011 that included an enforcement mechanism called the sequester, which is simply an across- the-board cut. However, the sequester was not an across-the-board cut. It was heavily weighted in cuts to defense. There were exemptions to the major drivers of our debt and deficit, which are the mandatory spending programs.
Let me be straight and say the things we are not supposed to say because it is political suicide: If we don't reform Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, it doesn't matter what else we do, we cannot solve this problem. That is the conclusion of just about everyone in this body. More importantly, it is the conclusion of everyone who doesn't have a political stake in mind.
Analysts and economists who look at our fiscal plight and the history of economic performance and nonperformance all come to the same point: We need to address and reform mandatory spending programs. We don't want to impose sacrifice and pain on people; we want to save them from much greater pain down the road. We need to reform programs so they are viable and so that people who are contributing to Social Security and Medicare on every paycheck will be able to receive those benefits when they need them in retirement.
To save those programs and to keep from denying people their hard- earned benefits, we need to take steps and we need to take them sooner rather than later. The Medicare and Social Security trustees keep giving us additional warnings to do it now. It will be less painful than doing it later. It will help keep us from making Draconian cuts to benefits or Draconian increases in taxes that will break the back of the American taxpayer.
Unfortunately, the supercommittee that was formed--six Republicans and six Democrats from each body--was unable to come up with a solution. As a result of that, we have this sequester--across-the-board cuts with certain exceptions--that is to occur soon. It has been delayed once before and now. March 1 is the new date.
We need to step up and put together the big plan that will get us on the path to fiscal health. Republicans in the House of Representatives have been proposing and putting forth their plans, but we have had nothing come out of this body. Unless there is support from both Houses, nothing can be accomplished, and this will fail.
Frankly, we have had a lot of rhetoric coming out of the White House about what we need to do, but we have had no serious attempt to address the part of the equation that needs to be addressed, and that is the excessive spending over the years that we have put into law. As politicians, we have made promises to our constituents over the years which we know cannot be fulfilled.
It is time we stand up and be honest with the American people. We need to be transparent and basically say: Folks, we have a problem. It is simple math. We cannot continue to borrow $1 trillion or more a year and be in a sound fiscal position. We have to take some steps to address that problem and that challenge before us.
If we don't begin that process now, we are going to see devastating across-the-board cuts. It will have very detrimental effects on our national defense and national security because it is so heavily weighted to slash those areas.
The major three contributors and drivers of the debt are the entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. If those are not addressed--no matter what else we do here--we cannot solve the problem. Yet the political tendency is to simply pass it along, push it down the road, and get past the next election. It apparently is too politically dangerous to stand up and say these things and be honest with the American people. Well, I think the American people know better and are telling: We are ahead of you. We understand the problem, and we want results. We want you to work together, find a solution to this problem, and put it before us. It is our responsibility to go out and present the plan. But without the President's support, despite his rhetoric--all we hear from the White House is that more taxes will solve the problem. They just got $630 billion worth of taxes from the fiscal cliff deal. The President's commitment and obsession with taxing the rich and the job creators was fulfilled, and the top percent--the people he described in his campaign and afterward in the negotiations-- are now paying higher taxes, but that does not begin to even come close to solving the problem. So what we need to do is be straightforward with what it is we must do and not be afraid of being honest with the American people.
There is now talk about delaying, once again, the sequester. So whether it is the debt limit, whether it is the spending bills, or whether it is the budget, we keep hearing: Push it down the road. Do it some other time. It is too painful to do now. I would suggest the time to do it is now. Even though the sequester is imperfect, even though it imposes more pain and more detriment to one of the essential functions of government; that is, providing for our national security, which is part of the reason I opposed the Budget Control Act, these cuts are going to take place and need to take place if we don't come up with a better solution because it now is the law.
I am pleading with my colleagues: Let's not do this in a way that is not the soundest way to reduce spending and achieve what we need to achieve. By the way, while the sequester, once again, will be an important step forward, it doesn't begin to deal with the [[Page S486]] real problem. The real problem is finding the political will and courage to be honest with the American people and pass a fiscal package that will reassure investors, consumers and the world that the United States of America has finally taken the steps necessary to address the cause of our debt and put us on a path to return to fiscal soundness.
I think, given our position in relation to where we are with other nations, this type of package would result in an amazing increase in our economy, get people back to work, and send the message that America can return to its place of leadership in the world because it has gotten their economic house in order. Without that, we will continue to decline, which will have consequences not only for our generation but for generations to come. This also would have potentially dangerous consequences for security around the world because of our inability to lead. It would have serious consequences for young people and for middle-aged people and others who simply want to get back to work. They simply want to get back to a place where they get a paycheck at the end of the week so they can cover the mortgage and save money to send the kids to school and so they can make those necessary payment commitments to lead the kind of life they are aspiring to lead. Without Congress taking action, they are going to continue to live under this cloud of uncertainty about our future and people are going to continue to struggle to find meaningful work.
It all comes down to the individual and to families. It doesn't come down to some accountant's balance sheet. It comes down to the pain and suffering so many people have gone through over the past 4 years and are continuing to encounter because of our lack of responsibility to take the necessary steps to go act.
I am going to keep talking about this. I am going to come to the floor and talk about how we can potentially achieve a much leaner, more effective, and efficient government. I am going to use as a model not just my State but many States with Governors who have had the courage to step forward and do what is necessary to put their State in fiscal balance, in contrast to other States that are doing what we are doing; that is, pushing the tough decisions down the road and trying to deal with it at another time.
As we go through the Federal budget, there are literally hundreds of billions of dollars simply being spent in the wrong place, simply going to programs that are no longer effective and efficient if they ever were in the first place. We are not making priorities in terms of how we spend our money. Senator Coburn and others have been down to this floor talking about egregious examples of overspending, of bloated bureaucracy, talking about programs that perhaps had a value at one point in time but are simply not doing the job anymore and are not necessary. We have been talking about the kinds of things that ought to be done at the State and local level rather than the Federal level. We have been talking about how Congress needs to stop making promises to people that everything we spend is for a vital, national purpose if that isn't the case.
We need to do some serious triage and take a serious look at how we spend taxpayer dollars. We can come up with money to offset necessary programs. We can come up with money to lower the demands so we don't have to continue to go to the American people and say we have to raise your taxes one more time. We have said that too much.
The burden is not tax revenues; the burden is dealing with our spending issue, and part of that has to be dealing with the mandatory spending that is ever driving this deficit and debt.
With that, I yield the floor.
Mr. BEGICH. Mr. President, I request the time to make my statement as required.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator has that right.
Mr. BEGICH. Mr. President, I come to the floor to speak on the Violence Against Women Act, but before I do that, I wish to say I appreciate the comments of my friend from Indiana. We all want to get this budget under control. We all recognize we have to get it under control not only for today's generation but for multiple generations to come.
During the last few years we have been able to cut almost $2 trillion of our budgetary costs over the next 10 years, cuts we have been able to accomplish in a bipartisan way but led a lot by this side. Let me remind folks where we are. Four years ago this economy was flat on its back--an economy that didn't have any air in it. It was in a grave situation. But where are we today? We have a 5-year housing start, incredible activity within the automobile industry, with record-high sales going on there. The stock market has doubled in the last 4\1/2\ years. Most recently, the CBO--the Congressional Budget Office, a bipartisan office which doesn't show any favoritism to any side-- verifies that in 4 years we have cut the annual deficit by 40 percent. I know that is not where it should be yet because we want to balance it, but a 40-percent reduction in the annual deficit is significant.
So we are on the road. Is it a slower road than we would like? Sure, but it is on the road to recovery. It is having a positive impact. As a matter of fact, now the deficit, as the amount compared to our GDP, is cut in half. So we are making some inroads.
Democrats are not afraid at all to cut the budget where it is necessary, but we need to solve this problem with three types of moves. We have to cut the budget, deal with revenues, and invest in this economy for education, energy, and infrastructure. It is a three- pronged approach. Even if we think we can do one of these and somehow, magically, a $16 trillion debt will just vanish overnight is in another world that doesn't exist on this planet.
I appreciate the debate that goes on, but we need to be honest, realistic, and practical in dealing with these budgetary issues, and they will be tough. People will not like all of it. I can see it now at my townhall meetings when I go to them. They will say cut the budget, which we will do--don't get me wrong, we will do that--but then when I go back to my hometown they will say, I didn't actually mean that program. That will be the story.
The fact is we have serious issues with which to deal. So this is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. When people come to the floor, we should think about this as an American issue and that we have to resolve this for the right reasons. We have done some exceptional work over the last 4 years, despite the hurdles, the political slogans, and all the other stuff that goes along with it in getting results. A 40-percent reduction in the annual deficit in 4 years is significant. Is it zero? Is it balanced? No; because there have been 40-plus years of not paying attention to the budget.
A lot of us are new around here. As a matter of fact, 60 percent of the Senate is made up of people who haven't been here more than 6 years. I am looking at three Senators on the floor right now. We are here to solve this problem. However, do not be mistaken. We have made progress. The American people should be proud of what we have done. But is it perfect? No. Do we have more work to do? Yes. That is why we are here and that is why we are going to do this with a bipartisan approach.
So I digress from the issue I came to discuss. I like the debates that happen on the floor, and I wish more would happen, but when a Member speaks, I want to make sure all the information is on the table.
I came to speak on an important piece of legislation, the Violence Against Women Act. We debate issues that are important around here, but not too often can we stand on the floor of this Chamber and say our votes are a matter of life and death. In this case, it is absolutely true. This bill saves lives. It is our job to pass it now--today.
The Senate, as we did last year, needs to send a simple and important message that America will not tolerate violence against its women, children, and families. We must do our part to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault. Even though the House has refused to act for over 300 days since we sent the bill over there, we are now in a new session and there is bipartisan support in this Chamber. The VAWA bill passed the Senate with 60 votes last spring and there are at least 60 of us already signed up and cosponsoring this legislation.
We know the reality. The fight to protect women and families from violence is far from over. VAWA was first [[Page S487]] passed just 20 years ago and it has not been reauthorized since 2006. The law has made a difference. We know a great deal more about domestic violence than when VAWA was first written. Services for victims have improved. Communities offer safer shelter. Local, State, and Federal laws are stronger. Yet there are still too many awful stories and inexcusable numbers, especially in my home State.
Alaska continues to have some of the worst statistics in the country. Three out of every four Alaskans have experienced domestic or sexual violence or known someone who has. The rate of rape in Alaska is nearly 2\1/2\ times the national average, even worse for Alaskan Native women. Child sexual assault in Alaska is almost six times the national average. Out of every 100 adult women in Alaska, nearly 60 have experienced physical or sexual violence or both.
So my colleagues can see why I am standing here today. We need to do something about this not someday, not next year but today.
In one typical day in my State, victim services agencies throughout Alaska serve an average of 464 victims, 114 hotline calls are answered, and 308 people across Alaska attend training sessions offered by local domestic violence and sexual assault programs. Yet people are still turned away because of a lack of funding, a lack of service. On an average day in Alaska, 52 requests for services are not met--basic needs such as transportation, childcare, language translation, counseling and legal representation. The bill before us is critical in ensuring all victims receive the services they need.
I wish to spend just a few more minutes discussing the safety of women and children in Alaska Native and American Indian families. For the sake of our Nation's first peoples, the tribal provisions in this bill need to become law. Yet some of my colleagues on the other side of this Chamber are trying to strip out our expanded authority over domestic violence in Indian Country. Why are we debating this? One out of every three Native American women has suffered rape, physical violence or stalking. Yet some Members want to debate the rights of their abusers. I fully support the tribal provisions in this bill. Yet I must point out that none of the expanded criminal jurisdiction applies to Alaska Native tribes except for one true reservation at the very southern tip of Alaska. Today is not the day to fight that fight, but I will take it up again soon from my seat on the Indian Affairs Committee in the Senate.
Study after study has concluded that the lack of effective local law enforcement in Alaska Native villages contributes to so many problems: increased crime, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and poor educational achievement. When it comes to protecting those most at risk, Congress must recognize the need for local control, local responsibility, and local accountability. This bill will take a big step forward today on Indian reservations in the lower 48.
At a later time, we will get to my bill, which I have introduced in the past as the Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act.
My bill would establish small demonstration projects so a handful of federally recognized tribes in Alaska's villages can take action. They would be allowed to address domestic violence and alcohol-related cases within their villages and village boundaries.
Our Native villages are vibrant, resilient communities, and we must answer their calls for help. That includes an ``all of the above'' approach to combating domestic violence and abuse. The one thing we know for sure is the status quo is not working. It is not just about slogans or feel-good statements. We need to act.
But for now--for today--let's vote on VAWA and get this bill passed. Let's protect women and children and families all over this country. And let's send a strong message to our colleagues in the House, that this time there is no hiding. It is time to get the job done. It is time to put politics aside. Pass this bill and truly save lives.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from New Mexico.