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Donna C.
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    Cbc Hour: The Impact of Sequestration

    by Former Representative Donna M. Christensen

    Posted on 2013-03-04

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    CHRISTENSEN. I thank you for yielding, and I thank you for hosting this Special Order and for coming to the floor on many evenings to speak to the American people and make sure that they understand what is at stake here.

    I am somewhat ashamed to come back to work this week because the sequester wasn't avoided, and the failure of Congress to work together and take action has put so many important programs that our fellow Americans rely on, so many jobs, and the early recovery from the recent recession at risk.

    Our Democratic leaders said before the President's Day recess and again at the end of last week that we should not go home without fixing the sequester; and yet the Republican leadership, which sets the schedule, did not enable us to stay here and work together to prevent the cuts that everyone knows will hurt our country.

    So under the Republican leadership--or lack of it--the Federal budget, which affects government workers, contracts, and programs in every department, will have an across-the-board ax taken to them. I think that we are smart enough that if the will was there, we would come together and reason to a far better approach than this blunt instrument that's now being applied.

    It makes one wonder: what are our priorities? If we look at where the cuts will hurt the most, it does not tell a proud story--education and job training, Head Start, special education, health and programs like WIC that support the health of mothers and babies, [[Page H945]] mental health and substance abuse programs when we have seen so vividly and painful how much these programs are needed, health care, law enforcement and homeland security, defense, housing, jobs and the economy, which is now struggling to recover.

    And as often happens, people of color are disproportionately impacted. African Americans are more likely to work in the public sector where the jobs are going to be cut. We already have the highest unemployment and will be severely hurt by the reduction in unemployment benefits. The YouthBuild and Job Corps programs that were spoken about earlier, over 70 percent of the young people in those programs are African American and Latino, and those programs will be cut.

    The TRIO programs, which have already been cut, caused the Virgin Islands' only Upward Bound program to be lost. They need to be more fully funded; but they, too, will suffer. And many low-income students will not have the benefit of their support to enter and complete college.

    I want to focus on how it will affect my district, the U.S. Virgin Islands. We stand to lose $13 million in Federal funding. The territories already do not participate in all of the Federal programs that the States do, and many programs are capped regardless of need or what would have been the eligibility in the States.

    Already, over the past 2 years, the Virgin Islands Government has had to cut salaries 8 percent and laid off about 500 government workers. The abrupt closing of the HOVENSA oil refinery has cost 200 direct jobs and many more indirect ones. So that $13 million does not tell the full impact, nor does it include the impact of possible layoffs, furloughs, or other reductions of the close to 800 Federal employees in the territory.

    If we just look at WIC, Meals on Wheels, special ed, Head Start and HIV/AIDS, which serve almost 10 percent of our population of 106,405, a cut of any size will have a major impact on some of the most vulnerable in any society.

    Unemployment is over 17 percent in St. Croix, the island on which I live and where the HOVENSA refinery was operating. The cuts in unemployment benefits will definitely be felt. All of these cuts hurt individuals and families, but like everywhere else, they have ripple effects across the entire community.

    The American people expect better from us. They expect us to lead and to govern, to be responsive to their needs and to help the less fortunate. This 113th Congress thus far has not lived up to their expectations. The Congressional Black Caucus, as it always is, is prepared and poised to lead. We will soon be releasing our budget, which raises revenues, makes strategic investments that strengthen our country, and still would reduce the deficit over the next 10 years, more than any other budget that we've seen proposed, so we know it can be done. And we also know that the cuts the sequester would impose will cost this country more in the long run.

    So where is the gain? We have been advised time and time again that the cuts in the sequester are the worst thing that we can do at this time; and although no one wants to talk about it, what we really need is another stimulus.

    Last week the Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, strongly advised: Congress and the administration should consider replacing the sharp, front-loaded spending cuts required by the sequestration with policies that reduce the Federal deficit more gradually in the near term and more substantially in the longer run.

    That's what all reputable economists have been saying. We need to call off the sequestration before irrevocable harm is done and replace it with a sensible approach that recognizes and counts the savings that we have already put in place, that does not stifle the growth that we need and still reduces the deficit in the long run.

    The American people are tired of the gridlock up here. They want us to work together. They also, in their vote in November, said very clearly that they support the President's approach and agenda. As the African Kikuyu proverb says: When the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.

    My constituents are hurting, as I know all of yours are. The sequester only adds more pain and suffering and does nothing to reduce spending, because more spending will have to be done to clean up the mess the sequester will leave later on. Let's call it off and let's pass a responsible and fair budget for the rest of the year.

    It's time for the Republican leadership to work with our President, the President of the United States, Barack Obama. Together, we can do better for our country and for those who send us here to represent them. We must do better.

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