We rise today to speak about the Smarter Sentencing Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that would make targeted reforms to mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.

I was proud to join Senator Durbin in introducing this legislation and I want to thank our Senate cosponsors: Senators Jeff Flake, Cory Booker, Ted Cruz, Patrick Leahy, Rand Paul, Sheldon Whitehouse, Johnny Isakson, and Chris Coons. I also want to thank the lead sponsors of the House version of the Smarter Sentencing Act, Congressmen Raul Labrador and Bobby Scott.

It is not often that you see a political coalition like this on Capitol Hill. It reflects the importance of an issue whose time has come: reforming our federal sentencing laws.
Yesterday I attended a bipartisan meeting at the White House to discuss the need to modernize and reform our criminal justice system.

President Obama invited me and several of my colleagues in Congress – from both parties – to join him and Vice President Biden for a conversation on how we can work together to address the challenges of over-criminalization, over-incarceration, and over-sentencing in America.
Discrimination and intolerance of any kind are unacceptable and all Americans should be afforded protection under the law. And within the law, we can find the appropriate balance that respects all views while protecting fundamental liberties.

On October 15, I was honored to present the family of World War I veteran, Encarnacion Trujillo, with several high honor awards for his service prior to September of 1939, during a ceremony at the Salt Lake City Veteran's Cemetery.

Encarnacion's daughter, Yvonne Shields, contacted my office with information proving that he took shrapnel to the shoulder during his service, which she believed earned him a Purple Heart. After submitting the documents to the United States Army, we learned that in addition to the Purple Heart, Trujillo had earned World War I Victory Medal with Muse-Argonne Battle Clasp and France Service Clasp, the World War I Victory Button-Silver and the Lapel Button.

While this remembering by our nation has been slow in coming, As Encarnaction Trujillo would be 119 years old, I sense that he would be pleased at recieving this Purple Heart Medal today. Like so many of his generation he didn’t fight so his name would appear in the newspaper or be recorded in a history book, he fought so his children could pursue their dreams and write their own histories in a land of freedom and opportunity.

Encarnaction Trujillo was part of the Battle of the Argonne Forest, which was fought from late September through November of 1918. The battle is largely a forgotten one though it was one of the largest in American history. Over 26,000 Americans were killed and 96,000 were injured in the fierce and bloody battle that occurred there. Mr. Trujillo was wounded in his right shoulder during the fight when he was hit by shrapnel.

Some might say he was just one man among the legions who fought in that great battle – but I say - he was one man. The gates of history turn on very small hinges and those hinges turn on the courage and commitment of inspired individuals like Mr. Trujillo.

Today I joined a group of 13 Republican senators in urging House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to protect Congress’ power of the purse and prohibit the Obama administration from dispersing unlawful risk corridor payments that expose taxpayers to an ObamaCare bailout.

In a letter to Speaker Boehner, the senators expressed concern over the Administration’s intent to disregard Congressional authority by spending unappropriated and unauthorized funds through ObamaCare’s risk corridor program, and highlighted the risk the program poses to taxpayers should insurers systematically lose money on exchange plans.

You can read the letter here:

A Letter to Prevent an Unlawful Bailout of Health Insurance Companies

Leading Conservatives Welcome Lee-Rubio Tax Plan

Senators’ plan has “great promise,” and seen as “excellent start”

Sep 24 2014

Yuval Levin: “[T]he general outline is a very pro-growth reform of the business tax code alongside a version of the pro-growth and pro-family reform of the individual tax code …” (Yuval Levin, Op-Ed, “The Next Conservative Tax Reform,” NRO, 9/23/14)

  • Levin: “In terms of both policy and politics, this combination of business and individual tax reforms would seem to have great promise.” (Yuval Levin, Op-Ed, “The Next Conservative Tax Reform,” NRO, 9/23/14)
  • Levin: “[T]he approach they lay out seems like a plausible general outline for the next conservative tax reform.” (Yuval Levin, Op-Ed, “The Next Conservative Tax Reform,” NRO, 9/23/14)

Reihan Salam: “The good news is that a small number of elected conservatives, led by Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have been pointing the ways towards a GOP worth supporting.” (Reihan Salam, Op-Ed, “How Corporate Tax Reform Can Combat Crony Capitalism,” NRO, 9/23/14)

  • Salam: “[Senators] Lee and Rubio have outlined a new tax proposal that is a much bigger deal than it appears to be at first glance.” (Reihan Salam, Op-Ed, “How Corporate Tax Reform Can Combat Crony Capitalism,” NRO, 9/23/14)
  • Salam: “[I]t is Lee and Rubio’s approach to overhauling corporate taxes that deserves particularly close attention. … If Lee and Rubio follow through on all of these steps, they will spark a revolution in the way business is done in America.” (Reihan Salam, Op-Ed, “How Corporate Tax Reform Can Combat Crony Capitalism,” NRO, 9/23/14)
  • Salam: “In a few short months, these two lawmakers have gotten off to an excellent start. If congressional Republicans are to ever deserve the support of rank-and-file conservatives across the country, they should follow Lee and Rubio’s lead.” (Reihan Salam, Op-Ed, “How Corporate Tax Reform Can Combat Crony Capitalism,” NRO, 9/23/14)

AEI’s James Pethokoukis: “Lee and Rubio offer smart, modern tax reform” (James Pethokoukis, “Lee and Rubio offer smart, modern tax reform,” AEI, 9/24/2014)

  • Pethokoukis: “Republicans Mike Lee and Marco Rubio have sketched out an ambitious tax reform plan to boost business spending and increase take-home pay for America’s beleaguered middle-class families.” (James Pethokoukis, “Lee and Rubio offer smart, modern tax reform,” AEI, 9/24/2014)
  • Pethokoukis: “The senators have fashioned a pro-growth, pro-family, pro-innovation plan rooted in economic and political reality that deserves serious consideration as a key element in any agenda for reenergizing the American economy.” (James Pethokoukis, “Lee and Rubio offer smart, modern tax reform,” AEI, 9/24/2014)
  • Pethokoukis: “But developing a real-world tax reform plan — one that boosts family incomes, makes American companies more competitive, invests in human and business capital, simplifies the code, increases GDP growth, and achieves revenue neutrality without unrealistic assumptions — is tricky business. The Lee and Rubio plan — at least as outlined — already ticks a lot of those boxes.” (James Pethokoukis, “Lee and Rubio offer smart, modern tax reform,” AEI, 9/24/2014)

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR): “These tax proposals are a great contribution to the current tax debate and anyone serious about tax reform should support these measures.” (Jesus Rodriguez, “Rubio-Lee Tax Reform Plan Good for Growth, Good for Families,” ATR, 9/23/14)

  • ATR): “ATR is supportive of three important components of their proposed tax plan.” (Jesus Rodriguez, “Rubio-Lee Tax Reform Plan Good for Growth, Good for Families,” ATR, 9/23/14)
  • “ATR supports reducing the business tax rate. … ATR supports Rubio and Lee’s full expensing tax relief proposal. … ATR supports Rubio and Lee’s territorial taxation proposal.” (Jesus Rodriguez, “Rubio-Lee Tax Reform Plan Good for Growth, Good for Families,” ATR, 9/23/14)

YG Network: “Simplifying the tax infrastructure to just two income tax brackets—15% and 35%—would eliminate unfair deductions. [link]” (YG Network, Twitter, 9/23/2014)

  • YG Network: “Eliminating the marriage and parent tax penalties will help hard working American families gain an economic foothold. [link]” (YG Network, Twitter, 9/23/2014)
  • YG Network: “We need pro-family, pro-growth tax reform that benefits working middle-class families. [link]” (YG Network, Twitter, 9/23/2014)

Ramesh Ponnuru: “The result of this reform would be a simpler business tax system, more investment in the U.S. and less corporate debt.” (Ramesh Ponnuru, “Obama Is Inverted on Inversions,” Bloomberg, 9/23/2014)

Steve Forbes: “Senators Lee and Rubio propose something closer to a #FlatTax [link]” (Steve Forbes, Twitter, 9/23/2014)

CNBC’s Larry Kudlow: “[G]ood start …” (Larry Kudlow, Twitter, 9/23/2014)

The Daily Caller: “Lee And Rubio Outline Ambitious Plan To Reform Tax Code” (Rachel Stoltzfoos, “Lee And Rubio Outline Ambitious Plan To Reform Tax Code,” The Daily Caller, 9/23/14)

Tax Foundation’s Andrew Lundeen: “Plenty to like in the Rubio/Lee business tax reforms: [link]” (Andrew Lundeen, Twitter, 9/23/2014)

American Council for Capital Formation’s Margo Thorning: “Senator @marcorubio & @SenMikeLee's #taxreform plan will spur US investment…” (Margo Thorning, Twitter, 9/23/2014)

YG Network’s April Ponnuru: “Very important piece by [Sens. Mike Lee and Marco Rubio]. Conservatives can and should be pro-growth AND pro-family. [link]” (April Ponnuru, Twitter, 9/23/2014)

Real Clear Politics’ Nicholas G. Hahn III: “Spot on …” (Nicholas G. Hahn III, Twitter, 9/23/2014)

Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Vance Ginn: “How to provide pro-growth tax reform. The general direction of a flatter national income tax rate is wise. [link]” (Vance Ginn, Twitter, 9/23/2014)

Michael Medved: “I love your tax reform proposal. I think it’s just what’s needed to maybe get us off the dime and get us moving in the right direction.” (Michael Medved Interview with Senators Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, “The Michael Medved Show,” YouTube, 9/23/2014)

  • Medved: “Radical and very encouraging …” (Michael Medved Interview with Senators Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, “The Michael Medved Show,” YouTube, 9/23/2014)
  • Medved: “One of the things I love Senator Rubio is this follow on to some previous, very imaginative, very dynamic anti-poverty proposals that you have put on the table.” (Michael Medved Interview with Senators Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, “The Michael Medved Show,” YouTube, 9/23/2014)

Earlier this year, during hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I had the chance to ask CENTCOM Commander General Lloyd Austin and the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper about the risks of arming and assisting rebel groups in Syria.  Their responses were very troubling.  As the president shares his plan for how to address national security threats in the Middle East, I hope to find his plan takes into account the concerns raised by these high-ranking officials.

The following is a question for the record that I submitted to General Austin and his response:

Senator Lee Questions General Austin on Providing Assistance to Syrian Rebels

This is a video of my exchange with Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper:

Here is the transcript of this exchange:

LEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you for joining us today. Director Clapper, you said in an Intelligence Committee hearing in January that one of the extremist groups operating in Syria, the Al-Nusra Front, has aspirations for attacks on the United States. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on this, and tell us whether or to what degree Al-Nusra has the capability or is close to developing the capability of attacking the United States?

CLAPPER: This has been a tenet of theirs ever since they formed up, is ultimately planning for and attempting to execute an attack on the homeland. I think right now this is more aspirational than operational. We have seen evidence of the emergence of training camps, for example, that have the familiar signatures from Afghanistan days. Probably of greater concern, as I mentioned in my opening statement, are some Al Qaida veterans from the Afghanistan-Pakistan area, a small nucleus of them who have also moved to Syria, which has served as a magnet for many of these extremists. And they do harbor designs on -- and this is separate from Al-Nusra -- harbor designs on attacks on the homeland -- in Europe and the homeland.

LEE: So there are other groups there that potentially present a threat to us?

CLAPPER: Yes.

LEE: What proportion of the rebel fighters in -- in the Syrian conflict would -- would you and others in the intelligence community characterize as extremist? And -- and what level of influence do you think they have on the entire group?

CLAPPER: The number is somewhere in the neighborhood of, altogether opposition fighters, somewhere in the neighborhood of the low range of 75,000 to 80,000, maybe to 110,000 and 115,000. And somewhere in the neighborhood of between 20,000 and maybe up top range of 26,000 we regard as extremists. And they are disproportionately influential because they are among the most effective fighters on the battlefield.

LEE: So would you say that there is -- there is a significant relationship, then, between the Al-Nusra Front, especially when you add in other extremist elements, and what many people refer to as the more moderate -- the more moderate elements of the rebel forces in Syria?

CLAPPER: In terms...

LEE: Yes, so the question is, is there a significant relationship, then, between the extremist elements and what we're calling the moderate elements?

CLAPPER: Well, they are an agreement of convenience, I would say. Oftentimes, these groups will apparently -- which are quite fluid, by the way -- may disagree ideologically, but will, if it's convenient for them in a tactical context, will -- will agree to work together.

LEE: Sure.

CLAPPER: Of course, we've had the falling out now with the ISIL, and where the -- they are fighting other opposition groups.

LEE: But given this relationship of convenience, as you describe it, there is, I assume, frequently coordinating going on -- sharing of information; perhaps sharing of equipment that goes on between extremist elements and moderate elements.

CLAPPER: Well, that's -- that's hard to say, sir. I mean, this is a very fluid kind of thing. There are some 1,500 or 1,600 of these groups, various fighting groups. And they align themselves and realign themselves constantly. So it's very hard to make generalized statements about that.

LEE: Warehouses of items provided as assistance to moderate rebels were, as you know, seized by some Islamist groups in December. Was Al-Nusra involved in that seizure?

CLAPPER: I'll have to research to see which groups were involved in the warehouse seizure. I don't know off the top of my head.

LEE: And to your knowledge, is there anything that -- anything that was seized in connection with that -- that raid in December that has subsequently been used by Al-Nusra or by any of the other extremist groups?

CLAPPER: We don't know. I -- I can't say, sir.

Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Grassley, Members of the Committee: each one of us, upon arrival to the United States Senate, swore a sacred oath—to ourselves, to each other, and to our fellow Americans—pledging to defend and support the Constitution of the United States.

In taking this oath, before God and country, each of us made a solemn promise to be bound—above all other loyalties and partialities—by our allegiance to the Constitution.

We do this because we are made free by God, but it is this document, and our commitment to uphold it, that keeps us free.

I am deeply dismayed that today, we gather here to consider a proposal—S. J. Res 19—that would considerably weaken the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The primary argument in support of this amendment is that “money isn’t speech.” Of course money is not the same thing as speech. Money is simply a tool used to carry out other activities.

But if Congress had the power to restrict the use of money to speak, the exercise of that power would unavoidably interfere with people’s ability to speak.

Freedom of speech is not simply one among many liberties protected in the Bill of Rights—it is absolutely essential to the health of our Republic. This is especially true of political speech, even when it contradicts the prevailing order.

As Justice Powell put it in Gertz v. Welch (1974): “Under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea. However pernicious an opinion may seem, we depend for its correction not on the conscience of judges and juries but on the competition of other ideas.”

But it doesn’t take a complicated constitutional exposition to see what this proposed amendment is really about: power…giving it to sitting Members of Congress and taking it away from the American people, including, not coincidentally, any potential candidate that might like to challenge a sitting Member of Congress.

As we have seen in the unfolding scandal at the Internal Revenue Service, there is a permanent temptation facing those in power to muzzle dissent—and a permanent inclination to deceive oneself into thinking that such a temptation does not exist.

This is precisely why we have a written Constitution that checks those in authority and prevents the kind of proposal represented here today.

In Federalist 51, James Madison, the lead author of our Constitution, anticipated debates in which we’re engaged today, and he makes perfectly clear the folly of an amendment such as S. J. Res 19. 

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” Madison wrote. “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

One of the most important of such “auxiliary precautions” is the First Amendment and its protections of the freedom of speech.

The proposed amendment would cripple this protection and irrevocably damage our most precious possession as Americans: our freedom.

For these reasons, I strongly urge my colleagues to join me in voting against the proposed amendment.

This weekend as Americans all over the country gather to celebrate our nation’s Independence Day we should all take a moment—in the midst of our barbecues, firework displays, and outdoor festivities—to commemorate this holiday by reading aloud the Declaration of Independence, America’s great charter of freedom.  
 
Beyond the rhetorical eloquence of the document, the Declaration of Independence is worth reciting on its anniversary because its words remind us of the permanent and universal truths to which the founding of our nation was dedicated.
 
For the purpose of the document was not to declare America’s independence from Britain—that was done by the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776—but to justify it. As such, the Declaration sets down the timeless principles—about human nature and the nature of government—that would unite the separate colonies into a single union and commit them to a common cause.
 
Contained within these principles are two major political teachings meant to guide the future of the fledgling nation and lay the foundation for America’s new government.
 
First, because all men and women are “created equal”—that is, each has an equal claim to govern their own lives—government must derive its “just powers from the consent of the governed.” Second, since all human beings “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” the primary purpose of government is “to secure these rights,” chief among which are the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
 
Some may try to claim that these foundational principles are simply relics of a bygone era, but the political teachings of the Declaration of Independence—and the self-evident truths upon which they rest—are as true and relevant today as they were in 1776.
 
As Calvin Coolidge put it, “About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful.”
 
“If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final.”
 
Though our society has advanced a great deal since 1776, Coolidge explained, “no progress can be made beyond” the propositions of “this great charter.” Any denial of the truths of the Declaration is a movement “not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people.”
 
Yet our government today has grown so powerful and so unaccountable that it poses a serious challenge to Silent Cal’s conviction.
 
The moral and political wisdom expressed in the Declaration of Independence may be true at all times and in all places, but we cannot expect this wisdom inevitably to prevail in our society and in our government.
 
Indeed, the fate of the American experiment in self-government depends on whether or not the principles of the Declaration remain alive in the hearts and minds of the people and their representatives.
 
For those of us who are concerned about the perpetual dysfunction and unsustainability of today’s government, it’s important to remember that advocating for the revival of America’s founding principles does not mean that we should return to the government we had 200 years ago.
 
Our founding principles are not an answer key, but a road map—an eternal reference point to guide us as we attempt to solve contemporary social problems. To fix our big, broken government, we must turn for guidance to these principles and figure out how to apply them to the great challenges of our generation.

Rather than focus only on reducing the size of government, we need a comprehensive reform agenda to address the increasing immobility among the poor, insecurity in the middle class, and special-interest privilege among well-connected Washington insiders.

An anti-poverty, upward mobility, and anti-cronyist agenda would replace our distant, unresponsive, bureaucratic government programs with policies that build on, rather than crowd out, the institutions that are best suited to solve our social problems: a free enterprise economy, voluntary civil society, and local and state governments.

Guided by the wisdom of the Declaration, such an agenda would make government more accountable to the people and better able to fulfill its primary purpose of securing the rights of the citizens.