Friday, January 4, 2013

Welcome to the 113th Congress (Senate)

Yesterday leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell welcomed senators to the 113th Congress.

   Mr. REID. Madam President, it is my pleasure to convene the 113th Congress. I welcome back all my colleagues to a place that we love, the U.S. Senate.
   But in particular, I would like to welcome Illinois Senator Mark Kirk. He has been away from us for a year recovering from an illness. We are all grateful for his recovery. He has been an inspiration to us. Today, on the east front of the Capitol, to see him walk up those steps said it all. So we are very proud of him and glad he is back with us.
   I also offer a special welcome to the 13 new Members of the Senate. I am confident that each Senator will treasure their memories in this historic legislative body, and that each will serve their State and our Nation with distinction.
   All of the Members of this freshman class are accomplished in their own right. I can remember many years ago--30 years ago, Madam President--being a new Member of the House. Speaker O'Neill called us in, in small groups, to talk to us. And he said to each of us: All of you are accomplished or you would not be here. You are all politicians. It is not a bad word. And I say that to all our Senators--the new Senators--that they are all accomplished or they would not be here, and they should all understand that. They should have confidence in moving into this body because they are just as experienced as the rest of us.
   I trust that serving in the Senate will be the most rewarding experience of their lives. In this Chamber the 113th Congress will face the most significant challenges of our careers--not just the new Members, all of us.
   To turn those challenges into triumphs, I urge all Senators--new and experienced--to draw not only on our varied experience at every level of government and public service, but also on each other's experience, regardless of political party.
   Daniel Webster said: ``We are all agents of the same supreme power, the people.''
   Today, as we begin a new Congress, we are afforded the opportunity to reflect upon the successes and failures of past Congresses.
   It has been said that the 112th Congress was characterized by some of the sharpest political divisions in memory. But during the last Congress, there were also many commendable examples of compromise. The recent effort to avert the fiscal cliff was an example of both the divisions and the collaborations that mark a moment in history--and it was a moment in history.
   Although the process of resolving some of the fiscal issues facing this country was extremely difficult and protracted, in the end our two parties came together to protect America's middle class. That is something of which we should all be proud.
   As we advance the debate over the best way to strengthen our economy and reduce our deficit during this Congress, the 113th, Democrats will continue to stand strong for the principle of balance. I am hopeful and confident my Republican colleagues will do the same.
   Any future budget agreements must balance the need for thoughtful spending reductions with revenue from the wealthiest among us and closing wasteful tax loopholes.
   The 112th Congress, unfortunately, showed that we had some political differences, and these differences prevented us from accomplishing as much as we had hoped during the Congress that was just completed. But we also passed very important legislation, such as the transportation jobs bill. This was important because it kept 2 million people working, and we began the restoration, with that legislation, of our crumbling infrastructure.
   We made strides to reduce the Nation's deficit and prevented a tax increase for 98 percent of American families and 97 percent of small businesses. I guess I should have started, Madam President, by telling everyone that the marks that people see on my face--that has nothing to do with the fiscal cliff or the disagreements that Speaker Boehner and I had. It is from being very pale and living in the desert most of my life.
   We were able to accomplish, as I indicated, many things to reduce the deficit and prevent a tax increase for American families and small businesses.
   We reformed our patent system for the first time in six decades, gave small business owners access to the capital they need to compete, and reauthorized the Federal Aviation Administration, keeping 300,000 workers employed. Not a single piece of that legislation became law without the votes of both Democrats and Republicans. All those legislative initiatives I just talked about were bipartisan.
   Unfortunately, many other worthy measures that passed the Senate with strong, bipartisan support then languished, awaiting action by the House of Representatives. In the 113th Congress, it will be incumbent upon the House Republican leadership to allow bipartisan bills passed by the Senate to come to a vote before the full House of Representatives--not before the Republican Members only but before Democrats and Republicans, all 435 Members of the House. Too many good pieces of legislation died over the last 2 years because House Republican leaders insisted on passing legislation with a majority of the majority; that is, only Republicans. Democrats were ignored most of the time. For example, postal reform, the Violence Against Women Act, the farm bill, and relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy all passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis after extensive deliberation and debate. Yet the House failed to act on all four of these measures, and there were others.
   As Speaker Boehner saw on New Year's Day, when he allows every Member of the House to vote and not only Republican Members of the House to vote, Congress can enact bills into law. No legislation can pass the Senate without both Democrats and Republicans. During the 113th Congress, the Speaker should strive to make that the rule of the House of Representatives as well.
   Still, it is true that the 112th Congress left much undone. That is why we resolve to pick up where we left off in just a few weeks. The first crucial matter we will address will be the long-overdue aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy. I am hopeful that the House will act, as they said, on the 15th. Then when we get back here, we will move on it very quickly.
   We need to strive to be more productive, and we will do little if we don't address a major reason for our inefficiency. Simply, the Senate is not working as it should. That is why in the last Congress I made plain that Democrats would do something to fix those issues.
   The beginning of a new Congress is customarily a time that the Senate addresses changes to its rules. In the last Congress, Democratic Senators Jeff MerkleyTom UdallTom Harkin, and Sheldon Whitehouse made the majority's case for change. I commend these passionate leaders. They have made compelling arguments for reform.
   In recent months, Senators on both sides of the aisle set about trying to broker a compromise. This group was led by two of the greatest Senators who ever served in this body, the finest and the best, Democratic Senator Levin of Michigan and Republican Senator McCain of Arizona. They worked many hours with a group of six other Senators to come up with something they thought would work better, and I so appreciate their work. But in the waning weeks of the last Congress, Senators were justifiably occupied with other matters, including the fiscal cliff. But I believe this matter warrants additional debate during the 113th Congress, which just started.
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   Senators deserve additional notice before voting to change Senate rules, so today I will follow the precedents set in 2005 and again in 2011. We will reserve the right of all Senators to propose changes to the Senate rules, and we will explicitly not acquiesce in the carrying over of all the old rules from the last Congress. It is my intention that the Senate will recess today, rather than adjourn, to continue the same legislative day and allow this important rules discussion to continue later this month.
   I am confident that the Republican leader and I can come to an agreement that will allow the Senate to work more efficiently. We are going to talk again today. We just haven't had time, with the other things we have been dealing with, to spend enough time together to do this, but we definitely want to move forward to try to make this place work better. I appreciate his willingness to work on this. I will do my very utmost, as I know he will. 


   Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, I would like to welcome everybody back after what we all realized was a somewhat abbreviated recess. In fact, I believe you would have to go back to 1970 to find the last time the Senate was in session and voting between Christmas and New Year's.
   In particular, I want to welcome back Senator Mark Kirk. He has made a brilliant recovery since suffering a debilitating stroke almost a year ago. The fact that Mark is here today says a lot about his tenacity, his dedication, and his commitment to the people of Illinois.
   I am told that about two-thirds of the patients in the facility where he has been recovering over the past year don't return to work, but true to form Mark opted for an experimental rehabilitation program so grueling, it has been compared to military boot camp. His staff counted 45 steps from the parking lot to the front door of the Senate, and during his treatment he made walking those steps his goal. Today he did it. He did it. So we admire him for his spirit, and we applaud his achievement. It is wonderful to have him back and ready to work.
   I would also like to welcome the new Members who take their oaths of office today, particularly the four new Members of the Republican conference: Senator Flake of Arizona, Senator Fischer of Nebraska, Senator Cruz of Texas, and Senator Scott of South Carolina. Congratulations to you all. We welcome the energy and intelligence each of you brings to the challenges we face and especially to the transcendent challenge of our time: a Federal debt so huge, so huge it threatens to permanently alter an economy that has provided generations of Americans the opportunity to fulfill their dreams of a better life.
   Four straight years of trillion-dollar deficits and projected spending that no realistic amount of tax revenue could cover have put us at a crossroads. Either we tackle our Nation's spending problem or it is going to tackle us. It is that simple, and there is no better time to do the work we need to do than right now.
   The bipartisan agreement we reached earlier this week was imperfect. I am the first to admit it--especially the process. But aside from shielding 99 percent of my constituents and many of yours from the painful effects of a middle-class tax hike--the President seemed all too willing, by the way, to impose that--it gave us something else: It settled the revenue debate for good. The revenue debate is over. President Obama declared the other night that those he calls rich are now paying their ``fair share,'' so it is time to move on.
   The President got his revenue, and now it is time to turn squarely to the real problem, which we all know is spending. We all knew that the tax hikes the President campaigned on were never going to solve the problem. Now that he has gotten them, he has a responsibility to put his preoccupation with taxes behind him and to work with us to actually solve the problem at hand. It is time to face up to the fact that our Nation is in grave fiscal danger--grave fiscal danger--and that it has everything to do with spending.
   This is a debate the American people want us to have. The President liked to point out on the campaign trail that most Americans supported the idea of taxing the rich. What he conveniently left out is that even more Americans support the idea of cutting spending. One recent survey I saw said that about three-fourths of all Americans say they want to see major spending cuts in Washington. When you look at some of the things Washington has been wasting their dollars on, it is no wonder. I mean, if we can't stop spending taxpayer dollars on robo-squirrels, dancing robot DJs, or hot air balloon rides for Smokey the Bear, then there is no hope at all because if we can't fix the easy stuff, the robo-squirrels and the robot DJs, the things most of us agree on, how are we ever going to get at the hard stuff?
   That is why the first step in this debate is for Democrats to get over their fanatical commitment to guarding every single dime the government ever got its hands on. This has to stop. The best time to stop it is now.
   There is actually no better time for this debate. In a couple of months the President will ask us to raise the Nation's debt limit. We cannot agree to increase that borrowing limit without agreeing to reforms that lower the avalanche of spending that is creating this debt in the first place. It is not fair to the American people, and it is not fair to our children, whom we are asking to foot the bill. The health of our economy requires it, so now is the time to get serious about spending.
   If the past few weeks have taught us anything at all, it means the President needs to show up early this time. The American people will not tolerate the kinds of last-minute crises that we have seen again and again over the last 4 years as a result of this President's chronic inactivity and refusal to lead on the pressing issues of our time. We don't need speeches, we need action, and we need it now. We need courage because the only way we are going to address the spending that is at the root of our Nation's fiscal problems is if the President is willing to bring the members of his party to the table and get them to rise above the partisan voices on the left, who treat every single penny of government spending as sacred.
   Hopefully, that kind of cooperation will be forthcoming but, if not, we will have several opportunities in the coming months to force the conversation Washington needs to have. The first such opportunity, as I have said, surrounds the President's upcoming request of us to raise the debt ceiling. After that, there is the continuing resolution. But let me be clear, there is no need for drama--no need for drama--and we don't want any. The President knows as well as I do what needs to be done. He can either engage now to significantly cut government spending or force a crisis later. It is his call.
   But for the sake of the country we must have this debate now. So today I call on my friend the majority leader and the rest of my Democratic colleagues to start working with us right now--not 1 hour, 1 day, or 1 week before we hit the debt limit but ahead of time for once so we can pass a bipartisan solution on spending that everyone will have an opportunity to weigh in on in early February. We need a plan that can pass the House and actually begin to get Washington spending under control. If we are serious, we will get one done.
   With taxes now off the table, the only way to achieve a balanced plan is to focus on the spending side of the equation, particularly, as the President pointed out, health care entitlement programs because, as I said, taxes simply can't go high enough to keep pace with the amount of money we have projected to spend on them without crushing our economy. The best way to reform these programs is to make them work better. The debt isn't exploding because these programs exist, it is exploding because they are inefficient. They were created in a different era--the era of black-and-white TV. They should be updated for the age of the iPad, and we should want to fix them not just because we want to lower the debt but because we want to strengthen and improve these programs themselves.
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   Over the next few months it will be up to the President and his party to work with us to deliver the same kind of bipartisan resolution on spending that we have now achieved on taxes, but it needs to happen before the eleventh hour. For that to happen, the President needs to show up this time.
   The President claims to want a balanced approach. Now that he has the tax rates he wants, his calls for ``balance'' means he needs to join us in the effort to achieve meaningful spending reform. The President may not want to have this debate, but it is the one he is going to have because the country needs it. Republicans are ready to tackle the spending problem, and we start today. 


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