Syriaby Former Senator Mark L. Pryor
Posted on 2013-02-26
PRYOR. Mr. President, I thank my Senate colleague from California
for her remarks and also want to finish one point she was making there
at the end. But before I do, Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent
that the final 20 minutes prior to the vote be equally divided and
controlled between Senators Levin and Inhofe.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. PRYOR. I want to thank Senator Boxer for her comments on balancing the budget. One of the things we need to understand is that we can do this. It was not that long ago when President Clinton was elected and he focused on balancing the budget. He made it a priority of his administration. He made it a Democratic priority for the Democratic Party. They passed the Balanced Budget Act of 1993. It passed without one Republican vote in this Chamber and without one Republican vote in the House Chamber. But nonetheless it did pass. It probably caused some people some elections a couple years later, but nonetheless it was the right thing to do. It got us on the course to fiscal stability. It took 4 years, but we did balance the budget.
But there is one thing we also need to mention as we talk about that. One advantage Bill Clinton had that we have not had in the last few years is a robust, vibrant, and growing economy. He had the longest economic expansion in U.S. history. That did not happen by accident. That took a lot of work. It took a lot of bipartisan effort here in the U.S. Senate, there in the U.S. House of Representatives, and down at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It had Governors working together. It had all of us working together to try to make sure we got the economy back on track because if the economy is growing, the revenues improve, and also your safety net programs are not hit nearly as hard.
So one of the things we need to focus on as a Congress--certainly as a Senate--is we need to focus on growing the U.S. economy. That brings me to my discussion today about sequestration.
When we look at the analysis on what sequestration could do to the U.S. economy, there could be 750,000 jobs lost in this economy. That is a .6 percent shrinkage of the economy by the end of this year. We are not talking about somewhere way down the road, out in the outyears. We are talking about at the end of this year it will have a negative impact on the U.S. economy. That is going to continue to hurt our debt and deficit problem. We need to do all we can to avoid this and to grow the U.S. economy. We need a growing U.S. economy. There should not be government policies that are shrinking the economy. We should be growing the economy.
I wish to say, if you look at the numbers for government employees-- and I think a lot of the news media has focused on government employees. There has been a lot of discussion in the press conferences and there is all the blame game that has been going on, and I want to talk about that in a few moments. But if you look at the numbers in the public sector--the Federal employees who will either be laid off or furloughed or for whatever reason will not be able to function--those are big numbers. But that only tells part of the story. In fact, that only tells a small part of the story because this sequester is going to harm the private sector much more than it harms the public sector.
This is something we should understand, that the American people should understand. I would hope the American people would insist we work together to get something done here in the next few days if possible, certainly in the next few weeks to avoid this sequester.
In my State of Arkansas, there are 91 poultry and meat processing facilities that will have to close their doors at least at some point because they do not have meat inspectors and food inspectors on site. That is 91 facilities. That is a lot of employees. We have employees at 52 Arkansas FSA offices. These are Department of Ag offices that are out around the counties to help people in the farming industry, to give them some government resources, advice, et cetera. Fifty-two of those offices are not going to close their doors, but they are going to have to furlough their employees. There is no doubt they will be at partial strength instead of full strength at a very critical time for farmers all over the State of Arkansas.
Also, we have an FDA facility there, the National Center for Toxicological Research, and it is going to be cut by an estimated $3 million. Well, that facility is a nice little economic engine for that part of the State. That means when they cut it, it is going to have a negative ripple effect, an adverse ripple effect in that part of our State's economy.
I know in this Chamber and in this town there is a lot of discussion about making the government small and how we should cut the government and how the government should be lean and all that. Do you know what. A lot of that I do not disagree with. But I do think it is important for all of us, as responsible policymakers, to understand the reality that whether we like it or not--and many of us have philosophical disagreements on this; and I am not trying to get into that, but whether we like it or not, our government is very intertwined in the U.S. economy, our government is a critical part of the U.S. economy.
So you take something like the food industry--and I am chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture--if you take something as basic as agriculture--something that may not be very sexy, that does not get a lot of headlines, that people do not think a lot about because we take it for granted in this country that we are going to have a good, healthy, robust food supply, but that does not have to be the case. It certainly is not the case in most countries around the world. We are very spoiled. We are very fortunate in this country to have that. But the agricultural sector cannot function without the government.
Again, we have a safe food supply. We need inspectors out there to make sure that meat and other foods that are being processed get that USDA seal of approval--grade A, whatever it is. That means something. If we cannot know our food is safe, then we have diminished what it means to live in this country. We do not want to get into that. Let's avoid that. This is avoidable.
I know a lot of Arkansans, when I talk to them, say: Can't you all do something? Can't you work together? The answer is yes, we can work together. It is just a matter of political will. We have to make up our minds that is what we are going to do, that we are going to work together.
In 2011, we passed the Budget Control Act. Here again, I think the news media has not covered this a lot, has not explained this very well to most Americans. But one of the things the Budget Control Act of 2011 did, among other things, is it set spending caps for the Federal Government. So as back in the 1980s, when people worried about $180 billion deficits--now we have much larger deficits than that, but back then in the 1980s, we put on the Gramm-Rudman spending caps and things such as that--Gramm-Rudman-Hollings--and there were other efforts over the years.
Well, that is what we have done with the Budget Control Act. We have spending caps for the next 10 years--now it is for the next 9 years when it comes to Federal spending. I think people do not always appreciate that because what they hear out of Washington--instead of people explaining what is going on and trying to help the American people understand what they get from Washington--is blame, blame, blame. I cannot count the number of press conferences we have had where one side has come out to blame the other side. I know some of the House Members just came out and blamed the Senate. Democrats are blaming Republicans. Republicans are blaming the President. The President is blaming the Congress. It goes on and on and on. It never stops. It is a dead-end street.
The truth is we voted for sequester. I do not care who came up with the idea, we voted for it. As we have talked about many times on this floor, the reason we put sequester in in the first place was because it was such a bad idea; it will be so hard to do; it does not make a lot of sense. But, nonetheless, it was to try to force our folks to get to a budget deal. It did not happen. But I think the important thing is, all Americans need to know everybody in Washington owns this. You can blame all you want. You can have as many [[Page S842]] press conferences as you want, but everybody in Washington owns this. We need to own up to our responsibility as Congressmen and Senators and as the President and do what we can to not hurt this country.
Let me talk for a few more moments because I see one of my colleagues has arrived here. Let me say the sequestration, again, was an idea that was put together because they wanted it to be so painful that we would never get here. These are arbitrary cuts. You do not take into account the efficiency of programs, the effectiveness of programs. You do not take into account the merits of programs. You just cut across the board.
I think we probably will do some more cuts. We probably should do some more cuts. I think if you look at the Simpson-Bowles blueprint-- that proposal a lot of us have talked about over the last couple years--they would probably look at that and look at the numbers and say we still need to do some cutting. But we also need some revenue. We still need to do that. But our cuts should be smart and they should be deliberate and they should increase the bang that the taxpayer gets for their buck. That is not what sequestration does. It does not achieve any of those goals.
One thing about the Department of Agriculture--here again, people need to understand this; we talk about this here in our committee rooms and whatnot, but I think a lot of times the message does not get out-- agriculture funding has already been cut by 15 percent. There has already been a 15-percent cut to agriculture, starting in 2010 to today: 15 percent. I think it is unwise for us to cut an industry which is one of the core strengths of the U.S. economy.
If we look at the U.S. economy, there are a lot of things we do well. But there is no doubt at all we do agriculture better than anyone else in the world. There is not even a close second place. You innovate when it comes to agriculture. This is where you maximize crops. The United States of America is the gold standard for agricultural productivity and new technology and innovation and all these great things to make this country the breadbasket that it is. So why in the world are we going to cut, cut, cut agriculture? It does not make any sense.
Of course, rural America is struggling disproportionately. With the recession and all that has hit rural America, it is tough out there. Let me tell you, I come from a very rural State. It is tough. These cuts are going to harm rural America much more than they will harm urban America and suburban America. It is a fact of life. Again, that is another reason why we need to avoid this.
So in closing--I know I have one of my colleagues here who wishes to speak--let me get back to the meat inspectors. The Department of Agriculture says they may have to be furloughed for up to 15 days. That means you are going to have to temporarily close--maybe for a day at a time--6,000 processing plants nationwide. There are over 90 of those in Arkansas. Just in my State, that is going to have an impact on not those few government jobs, it is going to have an impact on 40,000 jobs in the private sector--40,000 jobs in the private sector--because of this.
It also is going to disrupt the efficiencies we have in the protein markets in this country. What that means is, prices are going to go up, people are going to pay more for their meat products at the grocery store and at the restaurant. This is not going to be a win for anybody. And I think you are going to see about $400 million in industry wages that could be lost as a result. That is not going to help the U.S. economy.
Then you expand what the U.S. Department of Agriculture does beyond row crop and livestock-type agriculture. They do a lot in the area of clean water, fire and rescue vehicles in rural communities. They do community building in rural America--things such as hospitals, school construction. They do rental assistance programs, and a lot of these are for the poorest of the poor out there around our country. Again, it is going to disproportionately hurt these people who can least afford it.
I mentioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but also at the FDA, it seems to me almost every one of their employees around the country could be subject to these furloughs and these cuts and will be adversely affected.
Do we want to interrupt the gold standard we have with food and drugs in this country through the FDA? I would say no.
I think it is time for us to come together, to work together, to find a solution. I think one of the bits of good news we see in Washington is there is nothing wrong here that we cannot fix with some political will. I think that is what this is all about. It is a little bit of a test of wills right now, but I think there is no doubt we can fix this with some political will.
Mr. President, with that, I will yield the floor.
I see my colleague from Vermont is in the Chamber.
Thank you, Mr. President.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Vermont.