A picture of Senator Richard J. Durbin
Richard D.
Democrat IL

About Sen. Richard
  • Executive Session

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2013-02-27

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, I thank my friend from Alabama for yielding the floor.

    Sequestration I rise today to join many colleagues who are expressing concern over the impact that sequestration is going to have on America and on my State of Illinois.

    We are just days away from a budgetary perfect storm that we created. We have to come together to have a more balanced and sensible approach to reducing the deficit. I was on the Simpson-Bowles Commission, nominated by Majority Leader Harry Reid. I served with 17 others--6 by the President, and 6 each from the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans equally divided. We considered the deficit crisis facing America. And it is serious. We borrow 40 cents for every $1 we spend. That is unsustainable. No family could continue with that kind of a regimen, no company could, and certainly no nation can.

    So we have to have deficit reduction, but we need to do it thoughtfully.

    First, we do not want to do it too quickly. I just met downstairs with a group from Illinois. They are civic and business leaders from the Quad Cities area in western Illinois. We talked about the fact that we are in an economic recovery but a slow one, one that is taking hold but slowly. We need to take care that whatever we do does not jeopardize economic recovery.

    Right now, downtown the Federal Reserve Board is trying to keep the economic recovery moving forward and jobs created. The way they are doing that is keeping interest rates low, so it is cheaper to borrow what is needed for a home or a car or a business. That is not good news for senior citizens on fixed incomes who want to see higher interest rates. But what they are trying to do is fuel capital and business expansion. That is the Federal Reserve.

    Meanwhile, what is going on in Washington, not too far away from the Federal Reserve--a few blocks away at the Capitol--is the opposite message. What we are hearing from Members of Congress is that we need to cut spending.

    Cutting spending at this moment in time means cutting jobs at this moment in time, which means fewer people paying income taxes and more people drawing government benefits. That is not the recipe for economic expansion.

    So at opposite ends of Washington, we have contrasting approaches to the current economy. We are neutralizing all of the work being done by the Federal Reserve and by our austerity program here when it comes to our budget. And what is about to occur on Friday is an across-the-board spending cut. People say: Fine, cut spending. But it is also a cut in jobs--jobs in the civilian sector as well as the public sector. And that, to me, is shortsighted.

    We need a deficit reduction plan that is sensitive to the state of the economy, that invests at this moment when we need it, but makes certain we are going to be reducing spending in the outyears. We are doing just the opposite. We should build on the $2.5 trillion deficit reduction we have accomplished in the last several years with President Obama. But we need to do it thoughtfully, to ensure that all the national priorities--such as defending our Nation, education, and health care--can succeed in the 21st century.

    As the new chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, the looming impact of the sequestration on the Department of Defense will be significant. Indeed, contractions in defense spending are already impacting the national economy and are affecting operations for our men and women in uniform at home and overseas.

    For the first time since the spring of 2009, the Department of Labor reported that the U.S. economy actually shrank by one-tenth of 1 percent. That is largely due to a 22.2-percent decrease in national defense spending.

    The Department of Defense has already implemented a civilian hiring freeze and is eliminating 46,000 temporary jobs.

    Last week, the Congress was notified that the Department of Defense will notify 800,000 civilian workers they are about to be laid off. These workers will not be paid one day a week for the rest of the year. That equates to a 20-percent reduction in their income.

    These civilian and temporary workforces are not just bureaucrats at the Pentagon. In fact, 86 percent of the workforce I am describing resides outside of Washington, DC. These are civilians working for our Department of Defense who literally fix the equipment in our depots and arsenals. They are teachers for our schools, training the children of military families, counselors, police officers, medical professionals, blue-collar wrench turners and maintainers at our military bases.

    The impact of sequestration is already being felt not just here in this country but overseas. I just returned last week from a whirlwind tour--I am still recovering--over to Africa to visit Uganda, Djibouti, and then into the gulf into Bahrain.

    I saw firsthand the men and women in uniform who are defending our interests, pursuing our missions, and the impact of sequestration. In Uganda our U.S. military is currently training Ugandan military forces to take down a notorious leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony. They are making significant progress; however, their mission is so important to increasing stability in a difficult portion of the world, and it could be sacrificed to a sequester.

    In Bahrain, home of the Navy's Fifth Fleet, I met with ADM John Miller. He took me on these ships, and I met with our great sailors, the men and women in our naval forces who are keeping America safe and watching some of America's most threatening enemies. They have already cancelled deployment of a second aircraft carrier to the gulf. We were going to have the Truman come to the gulf and supplement our naval forces in the Fifth Fleet. It has been cancelled because of sequestration. Why? Because the Navy had to hold the Truman in reserve to save the money. This is just one example of how you can't contain the effects of sequestration. So there will be one carrier out there protecting our men and women in uniform. There should be two; that is the safest thing to do. Due [[Page S909]] to the budget cutbacks that will not be possible.

    As Secretary Panetta stated recently, the Pentagon is facing a perfect budget storm--sequestration nearly halfway through a fiscal year coupled with a potential yearlong continuing resolution. If sequestration isn't averted--it goes into effect on Friday--it will impose senseless across-the-board cuts on almost every account in the Department of Defense as a result of Congress's inability to devise a more responsible solution.

    The second issue in the continuing resolution we have had for the last 5 months--and the threat of the Pentagon having to do so for another 7 months under a potential yearlong CR. What is a CR? The CR is a snapshot of last year's budget bill applied to this year. Does that make sense? Last year we were building a ship. This year we completed it. This year the budget says keep building the ship. It is finished. To merely replicate the same budget from last year and say we are extending the CR is wasteful. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

    The Pentagon's fiscal year 2012 budget is a lot different than what they need in 2013, particularly in readiness funding. When we hear the Pentagon tell us the first thing we have to do is cut back in readiness, let's translate that into language that average people would appreciate.

    Right up there is a door to the gallery in the Senate Chamber. A few years ago a nephew of mine named Michael had a summer job working that door. I like Michael a lot. The reason he worked that job for a few weeks was he just enlisted in the Army, and we wanted to give him a few bucks in his pocket before he took off. He is a great kid. A big smile on his face and off he went. He became part of the Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, and he was assigned to Afghanistan.

    The whole family--and we have a pretty big family--was waiting, hoping, and praying for Michael's safe return. We had one thing going for us: not only the fact that he was young, strong, and determined, but he had been trained. Readiness equals training equals survival. The Pentagon has told us sequestration will cut back in readiness and training.

    What if it were your nephew, your son, husband, wife, or daughter? Would you want the best training before they were sent into action? Of course you would. Readiness and training are essential for a military ready to respond when it is called on. When we cut back in these areas, we jeopardize the chance of success of a mission, and we reduce the likelihood of their being ready and surviving any combat they might face. It is very shortsighted.

    General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated: ``Readiness is what's now in jeopardy. We're on the brink of creating a hollow force.'' That is sequestration. In the operations account alone, the account associated most closely with a hollow force, the combined effect of sequester and a yearlong CR will leave a shortfall of over $40 billion in the last 7 months of this year.

    As the department protects warfighter needs in Afghanistan and troop pay, as they should, the impact necessarily falls disproportionately on the rest of the Department, no matter how important their mission.

    For our troops, sequestration will mean an immediate impact on training and readiness. Eighty percent of Army combat units will have to delay their training. Fifty-five percent of Marine Corps combat units will have unsatisfactory readiness ratings. Navy ship deployments will be cut by nearly 25 percent.

    Sequestration would also mean significant cuts to family support programs. It isn't just the soldier who goes to war; it is the soldier and the soldier's family who go to war. The Pentagon provides mental health, suicide and financial counseling, and critical services to military members and their families. While the Department is going to try its best to protect these programs, these services are going to be sharply reduced under sequestration.

    Let's not come to these hearings and lament the incidence of suicide in the military, as horrific as it is, and then turn around and say: Well, you will never notice the sequestration cut when it comes to counseling for PTSD and mental issues facing our military. Yes, we will. We need to be sensitive to these military members and their families.

    The Defense Health Program will face a shortfall of $2.5 billion under sequester. The Department is projecting there may not be enough funding to cover health care access for some military retirees. We are also looking at significant job loss in the industrial base. They are going to be felt in high-tech defense industry as well as blue-collar workforces across the country. The Navy estimates 30,000 private sector workers will be laid off or reduced in pay, and repair of ships, aircraft, and maintenance of facilities and equipment will be affected. The Army has estimated 5,000 layoffs at its own depots.

    These are just preliminary. The list goes on. From those workforce reductions in the intelligence community, we don't know the overall impact of our Nation's safety. As we meet in the comfort and safety of this Chamber, there are Americans--men and women, some of them civilian contractors--who are working for our military and intelligence agencies who are watching the threats to the United States every single second, every minute, every hour, every day.

    We don't want to shortchange them because in doing that we shortchange our protection, our defense. Every State is going to feel these job losses.

    The day before yesterday I was at Scott Air Force Base near Belleville, IL. At that base, the Rock Island Arsenal in the Quad Cities and Air Guard units across Illinois--Springfield, Peoria--the effect is going to be significant: 15,000 civilian personnel in Illinois will be furloughed for 22 days over the next 7 months, essentially a 20-percent pay cut. That means $52 million is coming out of the pockets of those working families in my State who are trying to get through the worst recession we have had in decades.

    About 1,500 of these civilian furloughs are Guard technicians. These people are the backbone of the National Guard in every State with critical maintenance and training responsibilities. There might have been a day in the distant past when we could say, well, it is just the National Guard. We have learned better. When it came to Iraq and Afghanistan, it was America's Reserves and National Guard who stepped up. Time and time again, deployment after deployment, they went into action, and we were proud of what they did. To shortchange them when it comes to this basic maintenance and reliability is shortsighted.

    The loss of Guard and Reserve training in Illinois is equivalent to almost $20 million lost. Delaying or canceling necessary military construction means it will cost more in the future to the tune of about $27 million. In the Quad Cities, the Rock Island manufacturing hub could lose $197 million in workload. These cuts don't make sense--not for Illinois, not for America.

    I want to talk about what sequestration means for civilian families in my State of Illinois. The across-the-board cuts that are scheduled to begin on Friday will work a real hardship on families, children, and the elderly. Seventy thousand young kids across the country will be kicked out of Head Start. Head Start is the pre-K program which gets young kids off on the right foot, to enable them to learn when they arrive in kindergarten and school. Mr. President, 2,700 preschoolers in Illinois will be eliminated from the program because of sequestration.

    Loan guarantees for small businesses are way down. That is the engine of our economy, one of the best job creators. They are going to be cut by $540 million nationwide. Fewer jobs, less innovation, less economic growth. In just a single recent year, more than 2,300 small businesses used these loan guarantees in Illinois, and now there will be a dramatic reduction.

    If sequestration takes place, the food we eat is going to be at least threatened, if not slowed down; 2,100 fewer food inspections will occur, putting our children at risk and costing many jobs in the food production industry and definitely slowing down production.

    The Centers for Disease Control estimates each year roughly one in six Americans, about 48 million people, get sick; 128,000 are hospitalized; and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Is food inspection important? You bet it is. It is clear we need more food inspection in [[Page S910]] the United States, not less, as the sequestration would cause.

    Up to 373,000 mentally ill adults would be prevented from receiving necessary treatment, putting them at risk of hospitalization, crime, and homelessness.

    Cuts to medical research would mean delays in finding cures to heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's, which are so important to every family in America. Illinois alone will lose $38 million in funding for medical research and innovation as a result of the sequestration.

    How badly will it set back research and innovation? This is how the head of NIH under President George W. Bush described it: We are going to maim our innovation capabilities if you do these abrupt deep cuts at NIH. It will impact science for generations to come.

    The National Science Foundation would issue nearly 1,000 fewer research grants and awards. This translates to $20 million less for scientific research in my State.

    A recent National Science Foundation grant helped build and support the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. What a dynamo of job creation this is, and now we are cutting it back.

    This center hosts several supercomputers which are used to model and solve some of the most serious engineering challenges facing us in the world. Health and nutrition services would be dramatically reduced putting women, children, and the elderly at risk.

    I know what the other side said. Peggy Noonan, the great speech writer who appears on television regularly--and I disagree with her politics, but I admire her writing skills immensely--says: We are living in a government of ``freak out'' and the President is trying to freak us out by telling us all the terrible things that are going to happen as a result of sequestration.

    I have news for Ms. Noonan. These are real cuts. They will be noticed. They will have a long-term impact. If the President didn't speak out about what these cuts meant, he would be derelict in his own important responsibilities. I am glad he is telling us. I am glad the American people see it coming, and I hope, as they see it coming, they will join us in a way of trying to avoid it and find a better approach.

    As many as 376 fewer Illinois women will be screened for cancer because of these cuts; 5,576 fewer children will receive lifesaving vaccinations; $764,000 less will be spent to provide seniors with basic Meals on Wheels. The list goes on.

    That is the bad news. Is there a way out of it? There will be. The Senate will get a chance to vote tomorrow. The House has decided in a very curious move to basically leave town and ignore this. They passed two bills last year which have expired. They don't even apply anymore, and Speaker Boehner announced earlier this week, well, it is now up to the Senate.

    I am not sure if things have changed. I was paying pretty close attention, but under the Constitution I believe we have a House and a Senate. Unless we have gone to some Nebraska model, a unicameral model, there is nothing we can do in the Senate to cure this problem alone. We need to have the cooperation of the House. The Speaker can't wash his hands of this and walk away, which, apparently, he suggested he could earlier this week.

    We are going to come up with a balanced approach, one that makes a lot more sense than what I have just described. It is going to be a combination of spending cuts--yes, there will be some--and increased revenues. We are going to close some loopholes which benefit wealthy individuals and big corporations. We can replace sequestration, which I have just described, and avoid the damage and cuts and still achieve deficit reduction.

    In January, Congress agreed to use a balanced mix of spending cuts and new revenues to delay sequestration to March 1. Congress agreed on a bipartisan basis to split it 50-50 between taxes and spending cuts. Leader Reid voted for it, as did Speaker Boehner. Senator McConnell, the Republican leader, voted for it, as well as Leader Pelosi. Senate Budget Committee chairman Patty Murray voted for it, as did House Republican Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan. This bipartisan approach of equal cuts and tax increases apparently had the wholesome bipartisan support in both Chambers.

    The American people agreed, incidentally, that it makes sense. Those who have been successful in America--God bless them. They have done well. Many of them have created big businesses and jobs. It is not unreasonable to ask them to pay back some, particularly if they happen to be in those income categories like a man I know named Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest people in America. He has said over and over again there is something wrong with the tax system when he pays a lower tax rate on his income than his secretary. I think he is right.

    The change we are making to come up with revenue basically is to apply the Buffett rule. The money you make over $1 million is going to be subject to higher taxation, up to $5 or $6 million. That money will be captured over the next 10 years to enable us to reduce the deficit and reduce the impact of sequestration. It would close that loophole, a loophole which I think needs to be closed and is long overdue, and the American people agree we should close other loopholes--oil and gas company loopholes, for example, offshore tax haven loopholes.

    In line with these priorities, the Senate Democrats tomorrow will put forth a balanced approach to avoid sequestration for the rest of this year and give Congress more time to pass a long-term budget agreement. Our bill would ensure that millionaires are not paying a lower tax rate than the people who work for them or the janitors who clean their offices. The Buffet rule is an important step in reducing the inequality in the Tax Code.

    Even as our economy has recovered, this inequality, unfortunately, has grown. A recent study found the top 1 percent of income earners captured 121 percent of the income gains in the first 2 years of the recovery. They were the first to get well in a big way. What about the rest of America? The top 1 percent captured 121 percent of the income gains, and the other 99 percent fell further behind. Let us reverse this once and for all. This income inequality is inconsistent with balanced economic growth. The Senate Democrats' plan also closes tax loopholes that actually cut taxes for companies that move factories overseas. I cannot imagine why there would be a reward in the Tax Code for a company in America that decides to offshore its production and lay off American workers. If they want to do that, if that is a corporate decision to make more money, it shouldn't be with the incentive or the reward of our Tax Code. That is a tax policy that should be put to rest once and for all.

    On the spending side, our bill cuts wasteful direct payments in our agricultural programs, and I come from an agricultural State. Those direct payments should come to an end. They are made to farmers in good times and bad. This is not a safety net. In many instances, it is a windfall. We made this a part of the farm bill--the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate--and we include it in this approach for deficit reduction.

    The Pentagon has to play a role in further deficit reduction, and they know it. I have long said we need to make smart cuts in defense programs, not the sequestration approach. The Senate Democrats' bill includes these smart defense cuts and, importantly, delays them until after we have ended the war in Afghanistan next year.

    This choice should be an easy one for every Senator and every American. We simply have to choose. Are we for national security, education, infrastructure, and innovation or are we for special interest tax loopholes, subsidies and giveaways? That is what it boils down to.

    For over 200 years, our national values have reflected that we want to stand together when it comes to keeping America strong, educating our children, leading the world in research, and building the infrastructure for the 21st century. Our votes tomorrow will be an indication of whether we still believe that.

    We were never supposed to be at this moment in time. We weren't supposed to face this sequestration. It was supposed to be such a parade of horribles we would do everything we could to avoid it. We voted for it on a bipartisan basis, sent it to the President, and he signed it into law. I know he felt--and [[Page S911]] he said it publicly--it would never reach that point. Well, it has reached that point. Now the question is, Are we going to throw up our hands and say that is the way Washington works now? We lurch from one crisis to the next. The crisis this week is sequestration. Three weeks from now it will be the continuing resolution. This is no way to run a government and it is no way to run a nation. I implore the Speaker and all the leaders on both sides of the aisle, for goodness' sake, don't say it is the other guy's responsibility. We have to come together and solve this problem. That is why we were sent here.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Coons). The Senator from Iowa.

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