Syriaby Senator Barbara A. Mikulski
Posted on 2013-02-26
MIKULSKI. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order
for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Ms. MIKULSKI. Madam President, what is the pending business before the Senate? The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senate is considering the Hagel nomination.
Ms. MIKULSKI. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that I may speak as if in morning business for approximately 10 minutes.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Manchin). Without objection, it is so ordered.
The Senator from Maryland.
Sequestration Ms. MIKULSKI. Mr. President, I was so excited when I came in because I have a new desk in the Senate. With seniority, I have now moved to the row where giants in our institution once stood. This is the particular seat which just a few weeks ago was held by John Kerry.
[[Page S837]] Although my desk location is new, I come to the floor with what seems to be a persistent pattern in the Senate and in the Congress, which is that when faced with big problems that affect the fate of the Nation, let's delay, let's blame, and let's not get to the work the American people elected us to do.
I rise today to speak about sequester--something that was never, ever meant to happen. It came out of the dark days of the debt ceiling debacle in the summer of 2011 when we were facing a downgrade of the U.S. economy and a dysfunction of the Congress. In order to get us to the table, we came up with an agreement to have a supercommittee that would meet on both sides of the dome to come up with how we could begin to solve the serious fiscal issues facing the United States of America.
There was an insistence, yes, by one side of the aisle that we have a trigger. And, yes, the President looked back on history.
What we have now is a situation where we said what we would propose as a trigger if we didn't get our act together, which we have not. We would put into place something so serious, so Draconian, so unthinkable, so unworkable that we would solve the problems through regular order and find that sensible center Colin Powell has so often talked about. Well, the supercommittee collapsed--not because there weren't the great efforts of people such as Senators Murray and Durbin and Members over at the House, such as Maryland's very own Chris Van Hollen.
Then we were faced with New Year's Eve. We had put it off to New Year's Eve and after the election, and here we were--while people were wearing funny hats all over America, we were doing funny things. And what did we do again? We put off sequester for 2 months--again not solving the problem.
Well, now we have a rendezvous. On March 1, sequester will happen.
I am opposed to sequester. I think it is bad policy for our country. It will hurt our economy. It will exacerbate the fragile job situation we have. It will affect not only government employees but those who work in private sector jobs because of the Federal Government.
I support what was originally intended: a balanced approach that would look at increased revenues--particularly plugging up tax loopholes, particularly getting rid of tax-break earmarks--along with strategic cuts in spending and a review of mandatory spending to see how else we could get more value for our dollar.
I am going to speak tomorrow about the impact on science, technology, innovation, and jobs. Today I want to speak about my own beloved State of Maryland and the people who work there.
Maryland is home not only to the Super Bowl champions but to Nobel Prize winners and also people who work every day to help create the jobs today and the jobs tomorrow.
I have the honor of representing 130,000 Federal employees.
They say: Wow, how many of them can we get rid of? Well, why would we want to get rid of the people who work at the Social Security Administration? These are the people who calculate the eligibility for the benefits in regular Social Security and in disability.
Why would we want to get rid of anybody who works for the Food and Drug Administration, people who every day are analyzing clinical trials to see if they can be moved to pharmaceutical or biotech or medical device production, ensuring that when they come out into clinical practice, they are safe, they have efficacy, they can be taken by the American people, and we can export them around the world? Why would we want to get rid of anybody at FDA who is helping make sure our drug supply is safe? How about the food inspectors? Right now, one of the turbo engines of my Eastern Shore economy is seafood production and poultry production. You can't have poultry production unless you have food inspectors. When we start laying off or furloughing food inspectors, it is going to affect those private sector jobs. If you don't have an inspector, you are not going to be able to have those companies working with the same level of production.
Hundreds of thousands more work because of the Federal Government, iconic contractors, particularly in defense and also at NASA Goddard, which is our space science center. Yes, there are 3,000 civil servants, but there are also thousands of contractors. And what are they facing? Layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts, and lousy morale. What are they worried about? Their future. And they wonder whether they should give us another future. Make no mistake; we are not only going to hurt our economy, but there is an anti-incumbent fever developing around the country.
Now, as we look at solving the problems, there are those who want to protect lavish tax breaks or tax earmarks for a few. I want to stand up here for the many, not only the people who are multimillionaires or billionaires who can take a tax deduction on their corporate jets. I am for the people who are working every day right now to find a cure for Alzheimer's, to find a cure for autism, to find a cure for AIDS, to find help a cure for the arthritic, and most recently not only what is done by government but even what is done in private institutions. Within the last few weeks at Johns Hopkins University, under Federal help from the Veterans' Administration, on an American war veteran from Iraq who had lost both arms, Hopkins was able to perform surgery that did the first successful arm transplant. Doesn't that bring tears? That happened because of the genius of the Hopkins personnel, with financial help from the VA to do the kind of research to make sure that not only the surgery was a success but also that the autoimmune suppression was also.
This is what the American people want us to do to not only help that veteran, but what we learn through the VA will also then move into civilian clinical practice.
We have to come up with a solution where government is doing the job to help the American people with compelling human needs or America is doing the job that enables other people to keep their jobs or protect their livelihoods--for example, weather. People watch the Weather Channel and say: Isn't that Cantore great? I love Cantore. We even tweet each other from time to time. But Jim Cantore and the Weather Channel get a lot of their information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That is the agency in Maryland that runs the weather forecast for all of America, predicting hurricanes, tornadoes, and it also ties up with the global weather prediction system that protects our ships at sea--civilian, cargo, military--as well as whether airlines can fly or not.
When we look at our legislation we have to know that there are real consequences to those employees. The numbers sound like a lot, but their contribution to saving lives and saving livelihoods is enormous.
Then we look at compelling human need. Do the American people really want to protect people not paying taxes on their second million over Head Start? If the sequester goes into effect, we are going to have a terrible effect on special education. Special education teachers would be affected, and it would be an across-the-board cut in education. The same with title I. Maryland would lose over $14 million.
Federal law enforcement is something I know you are very keenly interested in, Mr. President. If the sequester goes into effect, it is going to affect over 1,000 Federal agents--at the FBI, at the Drug Enforcement Agency, at the Marshals Service. We don't know much about our Marshals Service. They are so quiet and efficient. Do you know what they do? They protect our judges at the Federal courthouses. You remember some got shot or wounded. It also serves warrants for runaway fugitives, and it also enforces the law on sexual predators in our country. Do we really want to furlough these men and women? I don't think so.
Then there is the FBI. The FBI is crucial not only in mortgage fraud, financial fraud, but now the world of cyber. Do you know, last year in America there were 300 bank robberies? That is a terrible number if you are one of those banks. But there were thousands of attacks by cyber on our American financial institutions, of which the FBI was prime time. Do we really want to lay them off? No, I don't think so.
[[Page S838]] There is another issue of safety, and that goes to aviation safety. I am deeply concerned about the cut in air traffic control with furloughs, layoffs, or asking even fewer to work longer hours. We cannot have it.
When we think about law enforcement, it also cuts Border Patrol. I am for comprehensive immigration reform, but I am also for protecting American borders. We now have 57,000 border control agents, a surprising number. If the sequester goes in, we could be forced to lay off or furlough 5,000 of them. Do you know what a furlough is? It says to someone who is going to be out there in the desert facing those who engage in the illegal traffic of people, guns, or drugs: While you are out there in that hot Sun, you are in harm's way, putting your life in danger, we are going to ask you only to work 4 days a week, and we are going to furlough you one-fifth of the time. To that border control agent being furloughed, that is a 20-percent cut.
I will say this: If the Federal employees are going to take a 20- percent cut and be furloughed, we should take a 20-percent cut. I think I should be treated like my Social Security employees, like my NIH employees working for cures, like FDA, the food inspectors, the people inspecting cargo coming into the Port of Baltimore or looking for illegal cargo coming into our airports. If they take a hit we should take a hit, and I look forward to moving on that legislation.
I hope we do not get to that point--not for me to protect my pay, but to protect their future; to say, America, we believe in what you are doing, and we want to protect you so you can do your job for America instead of protecting all these breaks for billionaires.
People can say: Didn't we do the tax break thing New Year's Eve with Biden and McConnell? Yes. It was a nonpayment, but there are lots and lots of very juicy loopholes or tax breaks--tax breaks for sending jobs overseas, tax breaks for reductions on corporate jets.
Do we need those? Those are really earmarks. A tax earmark goes to people in a particular class, and it lasts indefinitely. While we are waiting for comprehensive tax reform, let's go after some of these and come up with a balanced approach for revenue.
Mr. President, I know you were a Governor so you know about bond ratings. In my State of Maryland and my large counties, they are going to be affected by sequester because as the Federal Government goes, Moody's rates our bond rating. Maryland could lose millions of dollars and have to pay high interest rates on bonds.
This is going to have a terrible impact, particularly in the area of school construction. It will cost hundreds if not thousands of jobs in not building schools we need or roads that need repair or water systems that need to be upgraded.
People say: Oh, well, that is government. That is the way it is. Mr. President, I want you to realize if in fact people begin to lose their jobs or get furloughed and lose a big part of their income, they are not going to be spending money in the local economy, the real economy. It also means they will not be giving to their charitable organizations. It is regrettable, but if you have less money to spend and you save it somewhere for your family, you are not going to be giving to the United Way, to that great Federal campaign.
The lab assistant at NIH who is facing losing her job is not going to give to her favorite charity. The customs official at Thurgood Marshall Airport is not going to have the same disposable income to make sure they give again to the United Way.
We have to stop sequester. Thursday I will be joining with my colleagues, my Democratic colleagues. We have a plan. Our plan is simple and straightforward: We come up with $86 billion. Half of that is in revenue. What does that mean? It means we come up with money for the Buffett rule. It was argued by Warren Buffett when he said he should pay the same rate of taxes as his secretary.
What that means is that on his second million--not his first; we believe in entrepreneurship, the job creators, et cetera. But on his second million he will pay the same rate as somebody who makes $55,000 a year.
The other is we want to close a loophole sending jobs overseas. For too long we have rewarded exporting jobs while we should have a Tax Code that rewards export of products, whether it is that great pharmaceutical industry or art, protecting intellectual property, and so on.
We have come up with that, and then we have a cut in the farm subsidy program where we will no longer pay people not to plant. That will be about $27 billion. Then, yes, we do cut defense, but that doesn't trigger until 2015 when our troops are home from Afghanistan. We never want to, through our budget problems, put our troops into harm's way.
I wanted to share what is going to happen. In my State we represent many great Federal iconic agencies that moved to Maryland in the early 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s when real estate was so high in Washington, DC. I am so proud of them. They win the Nobel prizes. They help us win the markets.
They are coming up with the new jobs, the new ideas for the new jobs for tomorrow. They are out there--for example, the Coast Guard--making sure the Chesapeake Bay is safe or they are dealing with our customs. Money is going to the University of Maryland, to Johns Hopkins, to not only help our veterans get new arms but to get a new life. Isn't that what the people want? We can be more frugal. We have to be sensible, but let's not do sequester. It is bad money management, and we can do better. What we cannot do is continue to delay and put the entire burden on discretionary spending. Let's stand up, let's be counted, let's have a vote on Thursday. I do hope the Democratic alternative prevails.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from California.