Oct 18 2011
WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, spoke on the Senate floor today as he announced the filing of the following three amendments to the pending “mini-bus” appropriations package:
- No CHiMPs that don’t save money—This amendment would create a 60-vote point of order against any appropriations bill if it includes CHiMPs that do not reduce outlays over the ten-year window. The current bill includes $7.5 billion in phony CHiMPs savings. Since 2005, CHiMPs have enabled or concealed at least $72 billion in deficit spending.
- Elimination of categorical eligibility for the food stamp program—Under current law, individuals often become automatically eligible for food stamps simply by receiving a separate government benefit—regardless of whether they meet specific food stamp eligibility requirements.
- House levels on food stamp funding—Senate Democrats propose an additional $9 billion in funding over last year’s level, which would amount to a quadrupling ($20 billion to $80 billion) since 2001. The number of people using food stamps has increased seven-fold since the program’s national expansion in the 1970s—with nearly 1 in 7 Americans now receiving benefits. Meanwhile, food stamp funds have been wasted, mishandled, and misused.
Sessions’ floor remarks, as prepared, follow:
“Americans have a right to know how their government is spending their money. If Congress were more open and honest about where their tax dollars were going I think people would be shocked by what they’d learn. It’s even worse than people think. My commitment as Ranking Member of the Budget Committee is to fight for honest budget practices.
I’ve joined with Senator Olympia Snowe to introduce the Honest Budget Act—stripping away Congress’ most outrageous and dishonest gimmicks. In fact, I will be filing an amendment today to stop the use of a gimmick called CHiMPs in one of the bills before us this week.
President Obama is taking his bus tour across the country telling people that we must raise taxes to prevent drastic cuts in federal spending. What the president doesn’t tell you is just how much spending has increased in the last few years—including through a number of gimmicks—and just how much of that money is being wasted. In just the first two years after President Obama took office, we saw a 24-percent increase in non-defense discretionary spending.
According to CBO, this past fiscal year, Washington set new spending records. $3.6 trillion went out the door—and $1.3 trillion of that was borrowed. We spent not less but more than the previous year—a 4.2-percent increase.
So my challenge to the president is this: during your next speech, before you call for higher taxes on anyone, would you be able to look the American people in the eye and honestly tell them that Washington is not wasting their money? Would you be able to look them in the eye and tell them that their money is being spent wisely and effectively and with strict oversight? I fear the answer is no. I fear that any increase in tax rates will amount to nothing more than a bailout for the big spenders, an incentive to waste even more, and an excuse to avoid the hard choices that are being made by families all over America.
To that end, let’s consider the situation here in Congress. Senate Democrats haven’t had a budget plan in 902 days. It’s hard to remove waste from the budget when you don’t even put together a budget plan. We should bring these spending bills through regular order, one at a time, trying to find savings wherever we can. Cramming three bills through at once is no way to run this government. I suppose we’re supposed to say ‘thanks’ to Majority Leader Reid because we’ve got only three appropriations bills in one, rather than a super omnibus bill as we’ve been having. But there is time to move bills through Congress in the regular order. We could have passed a budget, we could have been moving appropriations bills one at a time, under a full and open amendment process—with strict scrutiny and every possible effort to fulfill our responsibilities without running up the debt.
How can my friends on the other side of the aisle ask anyone to pay more in taxes when they aren’t even willing to produce a budget plan?
Washington asking for more tax revenue is like an alcoholic asking for more cash before a trip to the liquor store. Even if the alcoholic asks a millionaire for the cash, it doesn’t change the fact that the money is not being wisely used.
For instance, just a few weeks ago, we learned that lawyers at the Department of Justice went to a conference where they were billed for muffins at $16 apiece. And we all know about the half-billion dollar loan to the now-bankrupt Solyndra—yet another big-business ally of the White House.
President Obama has coined a term called the ‘Buffett Rule’ in his push to raise taxes. This rule relies on a little sleight-of-hand since Buffett pays mostly capital gains tax. The upper brackets, as we all know, pay the highest income tax rates. That’s how our system works. But this debate about taxes is a little premature. That’s why I would like to suggest something called the ‘Solyndra Rule.’ Under this rule, before any proposals are offered to raise taxes, we first put an end to the wasteful and inappropriate spending in Washington. Until we do, raising tax rates only funds Washington’s continuing abuse of all American taxpayers.
But the waste is not limited to headline-grabbing controversies. It’s pervasive throughout virtually every single part of the federal budget.
Consider the food stamp program, now known as “SNAP”—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP is the largest item in Agriculture Department’s budget. Spending on food stamps has surged over the last decade. It’s nearly doubled since President Obama took office. And in the appropriations bill before us this week, Senate Democrats propose another increase that would quadruple food stamp spending from what it was in 2001.
Eleven million more Americans are on food stamps now than when President Obama first took office. The size of the benefit has increased 31 percent since 2008. When the food stamp program was expanded nationally in the 1970s, food stamps were used by 2 percent of the population. At the beginning of the last decade, they were used by 6 percent of the population. Today that figure has risen to 13 percent—one in eight Americans. This seven-fold increase in food stamp usage demands honest examination.
It’s time to look under the hood.
A recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Wisconsin food stamp recipients routinely sell their benefit cards on Facebook. The investigation also found that ‘Prosecutors have simply stopped prosecuting the vast majority of [food stamp] fraud cases in virtually all counties, including the one with the most recipients, Milwaukee.’
In Michigan, a $2 million lottery winner continued to receive food stamp benefits because his winnings were counted as an asset—not income. I kid you not.
Eligibility standards have been loosened across the board. People are getting food stamps that do not fit the program’s requirements. One glaring example is something called categorical eligibility. What this means, basically, is that even if your level of wealth would ordinarily make you ineligible for the benefit, you will still get food stamps simply because you have used some other federal program.
For instance, in one state they’ve included information for a pregnancy hotline on the food stamp application. If you use the hotline you automatically become eligible for food stamps. In many states, all that is needed to become food stamp eligible is to be mailed a brochure by the government—again, regardless of assets. The amendment I am filing today would eliminate categorical eligibility. Only those who are eligible under the food stamp program’s requirements would be able to receive benefits. Is it too much to ask of an applicant for a benefit worth thousands of dollars to file an application under oath that assures that the person is really in need—and qualifies under law—to receive a benefit paid for by the taxpayers?
The final amendment I am offering today would set next year’s food stamp funding at the same level that the House of Representatives has passed. The proposed $9 billion decrease would amount to nearly $100 billion in savings over the next ten years—assuming no further increases. Surely members on both sides of the aisle can agree that we need to be focused on making the program more effective before we increase it beyond the 100-percent growth it has experience since the president took office.
The greatest danger our economy faces is our debt. It’s hurting growth and costing jobs right now. It’s a great cloud hanging over us. And under the president’s leadership, the debt has increased every single year. No one can deny this. Meanwhile, the president’s stimulus plans have resulted only in greater unemployment. To restore prosperity we need an honest, concrete budget plan that restores confidence, ends waste, and creates private-sector growth. Such a plan must reduce the deficit by $4 trillion at the very minimum. I hope that as we go forward, we can actually begin to reduce spending and restore the public’s trust.”