Fort Report: Sequestration, the Washington Wordby Representative Jeff Fortenberry
Posted on 2013-03-14
FORTENBERRY. Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak today about the
sequestration and fiscal affairs facing our country.
Earlier this month, I was back home in Lincoln, and I went to one of the local diners and saw my friend Norm, and Norm asked me a question. He said: Jeff, what are they doing about that word they keep using in Washington? Well, Norm was referring to ``sequestration,'' which took effect March 1. ``Sequestration'' is that inside-the-Beltway term for automatic spending reductions to the Federal budget. These reductions will be $85 billion in the first year, with roughly half applied to military programs and half applied basically to everything else the government does, with the exception of retirement, health care, and other income support programs.
Mr. Speaker, I think it might help everyone if we had a little bit of history to clarify how we got to this moment.
A year-and-a-half ago, there were negotiations in Washington over what we call the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling must be lifted by us in Congress if the Federal Government cannot pay its bills and we must borrow more. We give that authority to the administration. The negotiation ended with three outcomes: First, Congress would cut spending by an amount greater than the rise in the debt ceiling; Second, a supercommittee would be formed to negotiate the right type of tax reform and the right type of spending reductions; Third, automatic spending cuts, now known as the sequester, would take place--this was proposed by the President and agreed upon by us in Congress--if this supercommittee failed.
These automatic cuts to the budget, the sequestration, were supposed to be so distasteful to everyone that it was going to motivate us all to find creative and reasonable solutions to fix the budget crisis. But the supercommittee failed; now the sequester has kicked in.
Mr. Speaker, 70 percent of Americans want this deficit reduced. I imagine those numbers are probably higher in Nebraska, where I live, where fiscal responsibility is a core characteristic of family life, business ethics, as well as good governance. People know economically, mathematically, or intuitively that you can't spend more than you have. Citizens also want to see their government act in a reasonable fashion.
Mr. Speaker, the Federal budget deficit has been running more than $1 trillion in the last few years, and our cumulative debt will top $17 trillion this year, the size of our overall economic output in the country. The overspending and debt are serious impediments to economic recovery, and they also create national security problems.
Some in Washington want to halt any spending reductions at all. I don't believe this is an option. Washington must begin living in the real world. Something must be done. Two principles should be at work here: there must be reasonable budgetary reductions, while at the same time there must be deliberate delivery of smart and effective government services. While the sequester serves as a trigger for the first principle, it does not balance it with the second. Automatic cuts do not allow for discretion in determining which programs should stay or expand and which should be revised or eliminated due to ineffectiveness.
The sequestration also hits our military in a disproportionate manner and disrupts procurement and planning decisions that cannot operate on a short-term budgetary horizon. Mr. Speaker, we should keep the spirit of the sequestration--and preserve the fullness of these reductions-- but continue to revise its implementation with the flexibility to make more precise cutbacks. The House recently passed a funding bill for the remainder of the fiscal year which gives the military this needed flexibility.
Mr. Speaker, as well, the Appropriations Committee recently held a hearing with the head of the Government Accountability Office, known as the [[Page H1424]] GAO. I raised the issue of GAO findings that cited 132 areas within the Federal Government with duplicative missions, with about 300 potential areas of action items that could be undertaken to tackle this redundancy problem. Consolidation of programs could officially save tens of billions of dollars, and unofficial estimates put that number in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Further questioning revealed that there is approximately $385 billion of uncollected Federal revenue. The GAO report could serve as a guidepost on how we might achieve the right balance between reductions and more effective service delivery.
All in all, the fiscal disorder in Washington, Mr. Speaker, and the inability to budget in a responsible manner is undermining the ability of our economy to turn around. The careening from one governmental drama to another is undermining confidence in the institutions of government. While it is painful, the sequestration is serving as a call to all of us to promptly budget with propriety and boldness to get America's fiscal house in order.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.