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Barbara M.
Democrat MD

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  • Bipartisan Budget Agreement

    by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski

    Posted on 2013-12-16

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    MIKULSKI. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to urge my colleagues to support the bipartisan budget agreement.

    I congratulate our colleagues, especially Budget Committee chairwoman Murray for her outstanding leadership in forging this bipartisan agreement with her House counterpart, Mr. Ryan. They reached this agreement in a way that is indeed a compromise--not everyone's desired outcome but a fair and necessary one. I urge my colleagues to support it. I think it is fantastic that they actually got a budget done. This is the first time in several years we are actually going to vote on a bipartisan budget conference agreement, and I think it bodes well for future activity where we return to the due order of passing legislation, one in each House, having a conference committee to hammer out the disagreements, and then it coming back to us for final agreement.

    What I like about this agreement is it creates certainty by avoiding sequester for 2 years, giving the top-line funding to us on the Appropriations Committee for 2014 and 2015. Many people do not realize that we on the Appropriations Committee who actually put money in the Federal checkbook to be spent have a cap put on our spending by the Budget Committee. That is called the 302(a) or the top line. We have not been able to do our Appropriations Committee work because we have not had a top line. This enables us to have one for 2014. We are under a mandate to bring it back to the Senate and to the House by January 14. We will meet that deadline. It is going to be tough. It is going to be stringent. But we are going to get the job done. It also gives us certainty for 2015 so we can return to a regular order of actually knowing where we stand with our cap, holding our hearings, and bringing bills to the committee.

    The other facet I like about this bipartisan budget agreement is it prevents harm. It protects seniors and families. It preserves the social safety net, such as Medicare and Social Security.

    Finally, the agreement ends gridlock. The American people are tired of shutdown, slowdown, slam-down politics. This agreement ends the lurching from crisis to crisis and shows we can compromise and we can govern.

    First of all, and foremost, this budget agreement creates certainty for America's businesses and families. By avoiding sequester for 2 years, it prevents further across-the-board cuts--not that we do not need strategic cuts, and we will come up with them in the Appropriations Committee--but across-the-board cuts where we do not know if a program works or if a program is dysfunctional. This way, we can actually look at those programs that we do need to cut--those that are dated, those that are duplicative, those that are dysfunctional. Sure, let's cut those.

    But at the same time let's keep the good programs and make sure that they are adequately funded. I believe that avoiding the sequester and the meat-ax approach to cuts really helps us to have better governance. We will have a more frugal government, and we will have a more sensible way of spending.

    It also gives us this top line funding for 2014 and 2015 for the Appropriations Committee. It means that we can write an omnibus bill. What does an omnibus bill mean? We on the Appropriations Committee have 12 subcommittees. We would like to have brought these subcommittees up one by one and have the House exercise their due diligence in looking at the bills to see what they want to add, subtract or change.

    We could not do it because we failed to have this budget agreement to give us the top line. What we will now be able to do is for 2014 we will be able to bring them all up at one time in a bill called the omnibus. I hope it is a bus that really moves. It will enable us to make smart choices about our investments in America instead of government on autopilot through a continuing funding resolution.

    This agreement saves America from lurching from one continuing funding resolution to another. It is a fair compromise. For 2014 it is $45 billion above the House-proposed budget, but it is $45 billion below the Senate-proposed budget. Our budget leadership met in the middle and really thought that would be an adequate compromise. I would have preferred the 1.058 level, but it is adequate.

    The bipartisan agreement also, as I said, prevents harm to the middle class. What America is looking for, though, is not only numbers and programs and so on, they want us to get our act together. They want us to really do our job, and do it in a way that is sensible and civil.

    I believe that is what was done in that budget committee. They want us to work together across the aisle and across the dome. This bipartisan agreement shows what can be done when we do meet in the middle to make progress for the middle class and for those people who are neither right or left but want to take the middle of the road.

    This compromise is not perfect. Compromises never are. For me, some of the pay-fors were not exactly what I was happy about. For example, they require new Federal employees to pay more for their retirement and working-age military retirees to receive smaller COLAs. I would have preferred an agreement that closed tax loopholes or canceled some of those out-of-date farm subsidies left over from the 1930s.

    However, by avoiding the sequester, we also will be able to avoid furloughs. If you talk to the civilian employees at Defense, and you talk to Federal employees in the domestic agencies about this whole idea of furloughs and sequester, some of them had to have a double furlough, such as at the FBI. We were facing furloughs in the FBI. We did not have gas for the FBI cars. That is not right.

    We want to make sure we continue to fund our government and meet our responsibilities. I cannot stress enough how important this bipartisan agreement is. If we continued the path that we left and the sequester was left in place, it is would cost our economy 800,000 jobs in 1 year--800,000 jobs.

    Maryland already lost 21,000 jobs because of the sequester. We have important Federal agencies. We have over 250,000 contractors, both in defense and civilian agencies, and the ripple effect through my State had an impact on institutions like Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland and on major flagship companies like Lockheed Martin, and it was really significant.

    By passing this, we have a certainty that enables us to keep those jobs. The Appropriations Committee is ready to write a funding bill that will create jobs today and jobs tomorrow. Jobs today and important investments in infrastructure, education, research and development, and jobs tomorrow.

    Let's take this bipartisan agreement, and we will produce a bill. We on the [[Page S8833]] Appropriations Committee will produce a bill that meets our national security needs, our compelling human needs, and at the same time lay the groundwork for a more prosperous America.

    I urge my colleagues to support this bill and end gridlock and deadlock. Let's get on with making sure that we have certainty and reliability in funding the government of the United States of America.

    I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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