Executive Sessionby Senator Susan M. Collins
Posted on 2013-02-13
COLLINS. Mr. President, first, let me say, I am very pleased to
join with my friend and colleague from New Hampshire to speak out
against the indiscriminate meat-ax cuts known in Washington as
sequestration that are scheduled to take effect in just 2 weeks' time.
We simply must take action to avoid this self-inflicted harm to our
economy and to our national security. But what I find inexplicable is a
growing acceptance that sequestration is going to go into effect
despite the fact that virtually everyone should concede that across-
where we don't set priorities do not make sense.
There are good programs that deserve to be preserved, there are programs that have outlived their usefulness and should be eliminated, and then there are programs that could be cut and reduced. That is not the approach we are taking. We are not going through the budget in a careful way by identifying programs that could be eliminated or reduced, setting priorities, and making investments. No, we are allowing to go into effect across-the-board cuts that fall disproportionately on the Department of Defense.
Indeed, we are already seeing the effects of these cuts on our military because each of the military services has begun planning for the likelihood of deep budget cuts. The Navy is preparing for a civilian hiring freeze and cutting workers at shipyards and base- operated support facilities.
I wish to be clear exactly who these employees are. These are the nuclear engineers, the welders, the metal trades workers repairing submarines and ships at the Navy's four public shipyards, including the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in my home State of Maine, which employs half of its workforce from my colleague's State of New Hampshire. I know the senior Senator from New Hampshire shares the concern about this particular installation on the border we share. But, of course, the damage of sequestration extends far beyond just one installation or two States.
Just this morning I was over at the Pentagon, and I took advantage of the opportunity to sit down with the Navy's top shipbuilding official to discuss what the impact of sequestration would be for our naval fleet. Well, one example we have already seen. The Navy will keep the USS Abraham Lincoln, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, in port rather than repairing and deploying it. Across the fleet, the Navy is being forced to reduce deployments, maintenance, and overhauls for critical repairs. When we look at the shipbuilding budget, it is evident that sequestration and the continuation of a partial-year funding resolution, known as the continuing resolution, would be absolutely devastating for our Navy, for shipbuilding, and for our skilled industrial base. That includes Bath Iron Works in Maine, which I am so proud of, which builds the best destroyers in the world. This has consequences not only for our workforce, but also for our national security.
It is important to note Secretary Panetta has made clear that allowing these sweeping cuts to go into effect would be ``devastating,'' in his words, and would badly damage the readiness of the U.S. military.
The fact is defense has already taken a huge reduction in future spending. The defense budget has been slated to be cut by $460 billion over 10 years, and that is before sequestration. When this number is added to the defense cuts scheduled to begin on March 1, we are looking at an enormous impact on our national security.
Now, it is important to recognize we are not saying the national debt is not a problem. Certainly, when we have a $16.4 trillion debt, that is not sustainable, and the national debt is a security concern in its own right. Just last year, in 2012, the Federal Government spent $223 billion in interest payments alone. That means we are spending more on interest on the national debt each month than we spent in an entire year on naval shipbuilding and the Coast Guard budget.
Just think about that. The interest payment in one month exceeds the entire Coast Guard budget and the entire budget for shipbuilding in the Navy. The estimates are that by the middle of this decade--not some distant year--our interest payments to China, our largest foreign creditor at $1.2 trillion, will be covering the entire cost of that Communist country's military. Think of the horrific irony of that. At the same time America is bound by treaties to defend our allies in Asia against Chinese aggression, the American taxpayers are bankrolling the threat through the interest payments we are paying to the Chinese.
Neither the Senator from New Hampshire nor I am saying the Pentagon should be exempt from budget scrutiny or even future cuts, but the disproportionate impact that sequestration would have on our troops and on our national security is dangerous and it must be averted. The Department cannot continue to operate on a continuing resolution that increases costs, prevents long-term planning, and makes it impossible for the Department to function effectively.
I yield to my colleague from New Hampshire to expand on some of these points. Then we will talk further about the impact.