Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013by Representative Beto O'Rourke
Posted on 2013-03-06
O'ROURKE. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to explain my vote for the
Continuing Resolution, H.R. 933. It is a deeply flawed bill that fails
to adequately address the mindless cuts of the sequester; however, I
believe it is an improvement over the current budget status quo and
will help ease the pain of the sequester cuts for El Paso.
We should be voting on a balanced plan to end the sequester. I and other members have attempted to introduce legislation that would replace the sequester. In fact, we even tried to force a vote today to do this once again, but have been continually and repeatedly blocked by the majority at every turn. The non-partisan CBO says that the sequester will mean 750,000 lost jobs across the country. In El Paso, 20,000 federal workers, including those that protect our borders and care for our wounded warriors, are facing furloughs and continued pay freezes because Congress has not acted. Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke recently testified that the sequester cuts will actually make it more difficult to address our long-term deficits because it will slow economic growth. The sequester will also mean fewer teachers in our classrooms, less Head Start spots for low-income children, and cuts to job-training programs that help dislocated workers find employment.
The bill before us today recognizes that the sequester is irresponsible and it provides relief from the negative impacts of the sequester for two agencies--the Veterans Administration and the Defense Department. Our vote today on actual appropriations bills for these two agencies will help alleviate some of the worst sequester impacts. For example, this legislation allows the Defense Department to shift funds to the Operations and Maintenance account so that our military installations, including Fort Bliss, can operate effectively and ensure that our troops continue to receive world-class training. It provides advanced appropriations for the VA so they can care for our veterans. By providing a full year appropriations for Military Construction, this legislation will provide greater certainty for the Beaumont East hospital project on Fort Bliss. The bill also provides targeted relief to the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and will allow CBP to maintain staffing levels and hopefully avoid the full 14 days of furloughs scheduled to start next month. This will help prevent gridlock at our ports of entry and help the economy of El Paso, not to mention the greater security afforded to family budgets for those CBP employees. For these reasons I am supporting the Continuing Resolution today.
However, this legislation is far from perfect and is certainly not the bill I would have authored. But I cannot go home and tell El Pasoans that I voted against protecting working families and tens of thousands of jobs at Fort Bliss and within the CBP because I was holding out for a better deal. My only choice was to vote yea or nay. I choose to help move the ball forward, avoid a government shut-down, and alleviate some of the worst impacts of the sequester.
There is still time to make needed improvements to this legislation and provide our federal agencies with the flexibility and funding they need to function properly. The Defense Department and the Veterans Administration are vitally important agencies; however, there is no reason that Congress should carry out its responsibilities of passing a budget for only them, while forcing the rest of the government to function under the mindless cuts imposed by the sequester and spending priorities enacted 18 months ago. I will continue to work toward a responsible solution to stop the sequester, fund our government, protect the jobs of El Pasoans, and ensure that programs that many in my community rely on are protected.
Mr. VAN HOLLEN. Mr. Speaker, today presents our last chance this month to deal with the harmful effects of sequestration, and yet the bill on the floor does nothing to address this critical issue. This week, for the fourth time, House Republicans blocked my amendment to replace sequestration, even as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office warns that these arbitrary cuts will cost the economy 750,000 jobs and lower economic growth by nearly one-third. By failing to address sequestration, this bill underfunds education, scientific research, and consumer protections.
Moreover, while I appreciate that today's bill makes necessary adjustments to defense and veterans programs, I regret that it fails to make similar provisions for every other federal agency. By failing to adjust agency budgets outside of defense, this bill continues spending on old policies while failing to fund important priorities like implementation of the Affordable Care Act and enforcement of Dodd-Frank protections against abuse in the financial sector.
This bill also continues to unfairly penalize our federal workforce, extending their pay freeze through the end of the year. I support my colleague Gerry Connolly's bill to freeze Congressional pay, but our federal employees have already paid more than their fair share, sacrificing more than $100 billion in pay and benefits to reduce our Nation's deficit. Private-sector wages rose by an average of 1.4 percent in 2011 and 1.7 percent in 2012, but federal pay has been frozen since 2010. Denying a 0.5 percent cost-of-living increase for the federal workers who secure our airports, patrol our borders, conduct research in national labs, care for our veterans, and inspect our Nation's food supply will only jeopardize our ability to recruit and retain the best and the brightest.
We stand ready to work with our Republican colleagues to end sequestration and responsibly fund our national priorities. Instead, the Republican Leadership, driven by their most extreme members, continues to move from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis, ignoring our most pressing needs--jobs and the economy. We can and must do better for the American people. It is my hope that we can work with our colleagues in the Senate to craft balanced, responsible legislation that avoids a government shutdown, ends sequestration, and properly funds our Nation's priorities.