Sequester Impactby Senator Jack Reed
Posted on 2013-02-27
REED. Madam President, I rise as chairman of the Interior
Appropriations Subcommittee to highlight the urgency and importance of
addressing sequestration. These imminent cuts will have real impacts on
the environment and on thousands of jobs related to infrastructure
investment and environmental protection.
The reductions required by sequestration will also come on top of other deep cuts these programs have already absorbed over the last 2 years. Even though Interior bill programs make up less than 3 percent of total Federal discretionary spending, we have already seen more than $2 billion in cuts to environmental programs over the past 2 years. If sequestration moves forward, it will mean an additional $1.6 billion in across-the-board cuts to the Interior bill.
We have already been forced to take $1 billion out of water infrastructure funding. Under sequestration, EPA's State Clean Water and Drinking Water Revolving Fund Programs will lose another $130 million. In addition to potential public health impacts, these cuts will mean 7,000 fewer construction jobs at a time we need to put more people to work. These cuts will be made worse by more than $50 million in additional reductions to grants that help States run their environmental agencies, including supporting clean water programs. The consequences will fall squarely on communities such as those in my home State of Rhode Island that are already struggling to keep pace with their infrastructure needs.
Just as we cannot place the burden of our Nation's growing financial debt on our children, we cannot place the burden of repairing our failing infrastructure on the next generation also. We have immediate needs that require immediate investment.
I am also concerned about cuts to our Nation's land management agencies, including the National Park Service, which is slated for $130 million in cuts. Sequestration will affect all 398 of our national parks, from the largest to the smallest. It means fewer seasonal personnel to assist visitors, which means fewer jobs. It also means fewer visitor services, more facility closures, and less upkeep and maintenance of our Nation's premier public lands.
These cuts are obviously bad news for the millions of people who visit our national parks every year, but it is worth pointing out that these cuts are also bad news for local economies that depend on national parks. Nationwide, parks support more than 250,000 private sector jobs and contribute almost $13 billion annually to local economies. Even Roger Williams National Memorial in my home State of Rhode Island attracted nearly 51,000 visitors in 2011, with nonlocal visitors adding more than $3.2 million to the local economy. The Roger Williams National Memorial is one of the smallest of our national parks. Even this small park is a major factor in my community. These closures and cutbacks will certainly affect the bottom line of communities across this Nation if fewer families are able to visit and enjoy our Federal lands and our national forests.
Sequestration will also impact programs that generate revenue for the Federal Government. The Interior Department oversees onshore and offshore energy development and expects those activities will be slowed dramatically.
The trial for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill--and my colleague from Louisiana was so effective and so critical to the response of the Federal Government for her home State of Louisiana and the whole gulf coast--that started on Monday is an important reminder of how critical these activities are to preventing these disasters rather than somehow try to recoup losses after the fact. Yet the Department will be forced to furlough employees who conduct lease sales, issue permits for new development, conduct environmental reviews, and inspect operations. That is no way to run a railroad or a national Department of Interior.
These cuts could result in 300 fewer onshore oil and gas leases in Western States and processing delays for the 550 offshore exploration and development plans expected this year. Companies may decide that development is not worth it because of the uncertainty, which will lead to less production and smaller royalties for the Treasury. In other words, the cuts required by sequestration could actually end up costing the government money rather than saving money and could take away from the developing ability of the United States to become more and more energy independent through production within the country rather than buying petrochemicals and petroleum products from overseas.
The sequester is a real problem for environmental programs in the Interior bill and throughout nearly all government programs. But there are ways to prevent this meat-ax approach to addressing the budget. Indeed, Democrats have put forward a specific and clear plan--half cuts and half revenue--to replace the sequester. Simply, we have put a plan forward that puts jobs first by cutting specific wasteful spending and closing dubious tax loopholes. This bill gives the economy more breathing room by offsetting the sequester with smart policies that should be enacted even if there were no threat of sequester.
Let's be clear what is at stake. The Director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently testified that the 2013 sequester will result in 750,000 lost jobs and a 0.6-percent reduction in GDP for 2013. Lost jobs and lower growth--that is what sequester is going to produce. I don't think the people of Rhode Island or anyone else in the United States wants to have Congress support policies that mean fewer jobs. We have a crisis in Rhode Island, a jobs crisis that should be addressed before anything else.
[[Page S886]] We hear from the other side of the Capitol that we must have a sequester to address the budget. But over the last few years, as my colleagues have pointed out, we have slashed the deficit by $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years. The bulk of that reduction, $1.7 trillion, has come through spending cuts. We have been cutting. Indeed, my Republican colleagues have repeatedly held the economy hostage in order to cut spending that benefits the vast majority of Americans and protect tax cuts that benefit the wealthy few. That is not economically efficient, and that is not fair.
We see the results in my home State of Rhode Island--a 10.2-percent unemployment rate. That is unacceptably high. And 12.3 million Americans across the country are still unemployed. This Republican agenda of protecting the wealthiest and not investing in job creation is out of step with the majority of Americans. Most Americans would prefer right now that we address the jobs crisis. And by the way, more people working means we also address the deficit. They pay taxes, they don't qualify for unemployment insurance, and they don't apply for other programs. That is the smart way and the way we should deal, at least in part, with our deficit problem.
We should not be jeopardizing our economy. We should not be allowing these loopholes to exist that allow multinational corporations to ship our jobs overseas. We should not let these loopholes that give benefits to oil and gas companies that are recording historic profits linger, all ultimately at the expense of investing in programs like those that will put Americans to work in the parks and rebuilding our infrastructure across America. More austerity--and that is what this sequester is all about, especially in the form of these reckless cuts-- will hurt the economy. We should instead be working to create jobs.
We should also recall that we are here today as a legacy of the Republican brinkmanship of threatening to allow the United States to default on its national debt. That is why we are here. Let's not forget that. The sequester was a means to avoid what would have been a catastrophic default.
Now we have the opportunity to change course, to invest in our people and invest in growth and do it in a balanced way. We cannot cut our way to prosperity. The President said that. These contractionary policies-- this austerity the Republicans are urging upon us--will reduce economic growth at a time we need to expand economic growth, not only to create jobs but to truly address the deficit in a responsible, reasonable way. We have come through the threat of default on the debt with severe and unbalanced spending cuts. Now is the time to have a balanced approach. I urge that this balanced approach be adopted quickly.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Washington.