A picture of Senator Barbara A. Mikulski
Barbara M.
Democrat MD

About Sen. Barbara
  • Executive Session

    by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski

    Posted on 2013-02-14

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    MIKULSKI (Ms. Heitkamp). Madam President, while we are waiting to take up some other important legislation, I wanted to come to the floor to speak on another very important matter.

    What I wish to talk about is sequester. ``Sequester'' is a nine- letter word that would be a big hit in a Scrabble game, but it is a lousy word for the game of life and the functioning of our economy. Sequester is a technique we are going to use as Washington-speak for saying we will have, starting March 1, across-the-board cuts that will be devastating to our economy and to the functioning of government. I just held a hearing this morning in my full Appropriations Committee about the consequences of these cuts. It is really scary. We are going to cut defense. It is going to have a negative impact on our readiness. At the same time, people building some of the smart weapons for the future, such as shipyard workers, over several thousand of them, could be laid off.

    Not only must we protect our military from these devastating cuts, but there are others who wear the uniform of the United States of America who protect us. For example, we have 57,000 Border Patrol guards who could be laid off. We also have people who run our weather satellites who help provide the important information to warn for tornadoes, to warn for hurricanes, to warn for these terrible blizzards so that local governments can efficiently prepare. Then there are terrible cuts in the area particularly of education.

    We need to be able to come up with $86 billion to cancel this year's sequester. That is $86 billion--``b'' as in Barbara, not ``m'' as in Mikulski. We have less than 2 weeks to do that.

    Now, as the full chair of the Appropriations Committee, working with our Democratic leadership and our very able chair of the Budget Committee, Senator Murray, as well as Senator Baucus, the chair of the Finance Committee, as well as other people in the Senate, we have been able to come up with an alternative. It offers a balanced approach to revenues as well as to cuts.

    Our proposal will include reforms to the Tax Code and save $55 billion. At the same time, what we will be able to do is come up with cuts in spending. One will be $28 billion of cuts in the farm bill and then another $27 billion in defense.

    Now, before people worry and before Iran gets any funny ideas--or anybody who is a foe of the United States--that we are going wimpy or soft, the answer is no. These cuts will not go into effect until 2015, after we have brought our troops back home from Afghanistan. Then they will be spread out over 8 years until 2021. So we won't impact readiness. If there is a foreign predator, don't think we are weakening ourselves. What we are doing is looking at ways the Defense Department can get rid of some of these programs that are now dated, some of the weapons systems that are no longer as relevant as they once were, as we modernize.

    So between the mandatory spending cuts in the farm bill and in defense, we will cut spending by $55 billion. So we take $55 billion in cuts and $55 billion in revenue, and this will give us the $110 billion to be able to deal with this problem.

    [[Page S738]] I am really jazzed about sequester. I represent some of the great iconic Federal agencies in the State of Maryland. I have 1,000 Federal employees. People say: Oh, we know them. Aren't those the pointy-headed bureaucrats who only do heavy lifting by getting a latte in the morning? The answer is absolutely not. Let me tell my colleagues who those people are, and I am really proud of them.

    They run the Social Security Administration. They make sure the checks go out on time. They are doing all the actuarial work. They are making sure Social Security is relevant, financially solvent, and far more efficiently run, with lower overhead than an insurance company.

    I represent the National Institutes of Health, whose sole job is to find cures for the diseases affecting the American people. Right this very minute we are working on the cure for Alzheimer's, with a cognitive stretch-out of Alzheimer's. My dear dad died of that. I know the consequences. It is a terrible heartbreak for the family, and I will tell my colleagues that it is a budget-buster when one has to turn to long-term care. If we can keep the funding going and if we can have that breakthrough, if we can even find a cognitive stretch-out for 3 to 5 years for people going into nursing homes, we could cut our Medicaid budget in half because 80 percent of the money in our Medicaid budget goes to paying for long-term care for people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's disease, or other diseases with neurological impairments. We are being pound foolish to save nickels and dimes. We need a long-term solution.

    By the way, the sequester is supposed to happen every year for 9 years. It was to get us to the table so we could deal not only with our debt and deficit--yes, we got that message, but the other message is that we have to get America ready for the future. We have to create jobs today and innovate for jobs tomorrow. That is at NIH. Those are the people working there.

    I represent three Nobel Prize winners who are civil servants, several Nobel Prize winners over at Johns Hopkins. They are not only proud of winning the prizes, but they want to help America win the markets--new ideas for new products that will lead to new jobs.

    We also have in my State the Federal Drug Administration. I wish the Presiding Officer could come over there. There are 4,000 people working there.

    They say: Well, all those people. Yes, all those people. Again, there are Ph.D.s and M.D.s, people with master's degrees, and what are they working for? They are looking for new medical devices to help people, the new breakthroughs in perhaps the next generation of the pacemaker. They are taking ideas invented by the private sector, including a new insulin pump that will help a diabetic person have a more active life or even breakthroughs for neurological impairment for perhaps the child with cerebral palsy--they are looking for safety and efficacy so those products can move to clinical practice, to the marketplace, and products we can sell to the world. There are many countries that could never afford an FDA, but because they are FDA-certified in our country, they will buy our products.

    I am proud of that, that we are going to be the country that is inventing cures for cancer. We only look at the ``a'' words: AIDS, Alzheimer's, autism, arthritis. Just look at that. At the very time we are looking to lay off people or furlough people at NIH, they have just lowered the cancer rates in the United States by 12 percent--12 percent.

    During the terrible fiscal cliff negotiations around New Year's, I spoke to Dr. Francis Collins, who heads that agency. We were making these announcements on how America leads the way to lower cancer rates among its own people. Isn't that a great victory? At the same time, I was telling him he could be heading into sequester or going over a fiscal cliff.

    Every day these 130,000 people are working to help America, whether they are working with weather satellites, whether they are doing the next generation of drug approval, whether they are running the Social Security Administration, whether they are over at the National Institute of Standards making sure American products have American standards and not the Chinese standards--again, so we can manufacture here and sell over there.

    So I think sequester is a terrible thing. As the chair of the full Appropriations Committee, I am working with our leadership to try to deal with this issue, but I also say to the other side of the aisle, let's come together. Let's work with our President. Let's have that grand bargain through looking at tax reform, reviewing some of our mandatory spending and how we can get savings out of that, as well as targeted, strategic cuts. Let's get us on the right fiscal path, but also let's get us on the path for innovation, for jobs today and jobs tomorrow. We want to continue to lead the world, and we want to defend ourselves not only against foreign predators who might wish to do us harm but those other horsemen of the apocalypse who ride, such as pestilence and disease, and we can do it. So let's saddle up and get the job done.

    Madam President, I yield the floor, and I note the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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