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Patrick L.
Democrat VT

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  • Sequester Impact

    by Senator Patrick J. Leahy

    Posted on 2013-02-27

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    LEAHY. Mr. President, I want to thank the Senator from Maryland and commend the very energetic way she has taken on her new responsibilities as Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee. She has played a leading role in educating other Senators and the American people about the real impacts of sequestration.

    While most of the media has focused on the projected consequences for programs and jobs here at home, there are also consequences for the budget of the Department of State and foreign operations, which is directly related to the national security of the United States.

    It might interest people to know that the entire Department of State and foreign operations budget amounts to one percent of the Federal budget, not the 15 or 20 percent many mistakenly believe.

    That one percent is what we have to operate our embassies and consulates in over 290 countries, to process visas, carry out diplomacy, respond to humanitarian crises, and build alliances with security and trading partners. There are dozens of examples of how sequestration would harm these efforts, but I will mention just three: Cuts in diplomatic security at a time when everyone agrees we need to do more to protect our Foreign Service Officers overseas. Funding for local guards, diplomatic security personnel, and embassy security would be reduced by $181 million from the current level.

    This would force the Department of State to choose between reducing the number of local guards at overseas posts, delaying maintenance at existing facilities, or postponing construction of secure facilities to replace those that do not meet current safety standards at a time of increasing attacks against U.S. overseas diplomatic posts.

    Global Health programs that prevent the spread of AIDS and pay for vaccines for children, women's health, and to combat malaria and tuberculosis, would be cut by $468 million from the current level.

    A reduction of this size would end life-saving drugs to more than 165,000 people infected with the AIDS virus. It would result in thousands more deaths from malaria. Tens of thousands of people infected with TB will not receive treatment. And the health of millions of Americans who travel, study, work, and serve in our Armed Forces around the world would be put at greater risk.

    Funding for disaster and refugee aid would be cut by $156 million from the current levels. With 750,000 Syrian refugees and 5,000 fleeing the country each day, now is not the time to cut these programs. Other funds to help victims of drought, famine, and extremist violence in Mali, Somalia, and Sudan, and to prevent those crises from getting worse, will also be cut.

    These are just a few examples of the real world consequences, not only for the people of those countries but for the security of the United States. People need to know what is at stake.

    As has been pointed out repeatedly, sequestration was included in the Budget Control Act as an incentive to negotiate. The idea was that it would have such catastrophic consequences that rational minds would replace it with a thoughtful and balanced approach to deficit reduction.

    That has not happened. To the contrary, just days before the sequester is to take effect our friends in the minority party whose only answer is to slash government programs and particularly those that help the neediest, have apparently decided that sequestration is not so bad after all.

    Military Construction and Veterans Programs Mr. JOHNSON. Mr. President, I thank Chairwoman Mikulski for organizing this colloquy among Appropriations Subcommittee Chairs regarding the real consequences of the upcoming sequester on this Nation.

    Fortunately, America's veterans are spared from the direct impact of the sequester, as all programs funded through the Department of Veterans Affairs are exempt. Veterans hospitals and clinics will continue to operate normally, veterans benefits will be processed and paid, and other veterans services will continue uninterrupted.

    But make no mistake about it; veterans are no more immune than any other American from the collateral damage that these senseless automatic spending cuts will inflict. Bear in mind that veterans are parents and teachers, firefighters and law enforcement officers, border patrol agents and small business owners. A large number of civilian jobs at the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, among other federal agencies, are held by veterans. In fact, veterans comprise 44 percent of the Defense Department's civilian workforce. Veterans are subject to the same risk as any other government employee of being furloughed or laid off because of the sequester, and veteran-owned businesses face the same risk as any other small business of losing crucial government contracts.

    This is not some abstract inside-the beltway issue. Eighty-six percent of the Defense Department's civilian workforce resides outside of the Washington metropolitan area. In my home state of South Dakota, approximately 1,000 Defense Department civilian employees are slated to be furloughed, reducing gross pay by about $6.3 million. This loss in income will surely reverberate throughout the local economy.

    The ripple effect of the sequester on the economy and job market nationwide is particularly worrisome for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, who already face higher unemployment rates than the general population. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterans of these two wars are dealing with an unemployment rate of 11.7 percent, compared to a national unemployment rate of 7.9 percent. The employment picture for Iraq and Afghanistan-era women veterans is even bleaker: 17.1 percent compared to a national unemployment rate for women of 7.4 percent. Furloughs, layoffs, and civilian hiring freezes have the potential to make a bad problem far worse for these veterans.

    So yes, the VA is spared a direct hit from the budget axe triggered by the sequester, but veterans are not.

    Another impact of the sequester that will be felt across this country is funding for military construction, which is poised to lose more than $1 billion as a result of sequestration. Like other agencies, the Defense Department does not have the flexibility to choose where to cut military construction every single project planned for construction in fiscal year 2013 will be forced to take a funding cut of approximately 9 percent.

    The fiscal year 2013 program comprises more than 250 military construction projects in 42 states, the District of Columbia and overseas. As a result of sequestration, every one of those projects will have to be reassessed to determine if it can be executed at the lower funding level, or if it will need to be delayed or cancelled. The Defense Department can shift funding from one project to another through a congressional reprogramming, but that means the Department will be the sole arbiter of choosing winners and losers among the projects that Congress has already authorized. Moreover, reprogramming actions are time consuming and labor intensive, and at a time when the Department will be understaffed due to furloughs and a hiring freeze, the likelihood of delays or deferrals of military construction projects is high. Not only does this affect mission critical and quality of life projects on military installations, but it also impacts the local construction industry, and thus the local economy, in hundreds of communities throughout the Nation.

    Carpet bombing the federal budget with across-the-board spending cuts is neither wise nor prudent. It's about as smart as a surgeon performing heart surgery with an axe. There will be casualties, and veterans and military families will be among those casualties.

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