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Mitch M.
Republican KY

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  • The Sequester

    by Senator Mitch McConnell

    Posted on 2013-02-26

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    McCONNELL. Mr. President, I wish to say a word about the sequester.

    The President's top aides proposed this sequester as a way to help the White House avoid a debt limit debate during last year's campaign. In essence, the deal we struck was that in exchange for avoiding a second vote before the election, the debt limit would be paired with spending cuts only--spending cuts only--and would not involve a tax increase.

    The President had more than a year and a half to revisit his proposal and to work with us to prevent it. He obviously thought his time and energies would be better spent elsewhere. In fact, I note that today he is off campaigning again in Virginia instead of working with us to resolve the issue.

    So here we are. Here we are. The President has been running around acting as though the world is going to end because Congress might actually follow through on an idea he proposed--he proposed--and signed into law, all the while pretending he is somehow powerless to stop it. Well, it is time to put the record straight. As someone who was personally involved in the 2011 budget talks, I think I am in a pretty good position to do that.

    On the question of who came up with the idea in the first place, it originated, as I noted, in the White House. I was less than 100 yards from this very spot when Vice President Biden called me at my desk to lay it out. He explained the sequester in exquisite detail. And then, as has been reported, the administration stubbornly stuck by those details throughout the negotiations, refusing any effort by Republicans to adjust the design in any meaningful way.

    More important than who came up with the idea of the sequester, however, is the fact the bipartisan agreement that included it, and that brought us to this point, envisioned $2.1 trillion in spending cuts. That is what we voted for in August of 2011. Democrats and Republicans agreed to $2.1 trillion in spending reductions as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act.

    So we can all go back and talk about what might have been or what the President wanted or what he now wants, but let us be clear about the facts. Those cuts were to come in two steps: First, through an immediate $900 billion spending reduction in the form of budget caps, and then by an additional $1.2 trillion in cuts to be achieved in one of two ways, either by the so-called supercommittee or, if that failed, through the President's sequester proposal, meaning automatic spending cuts to both domestic and defense programs.

    While the President tried repeatedly to make tax hikes a part of the backup plan, he ultimately gave up on that in exchange for avoiding a second vote on the debt limit before his election. The President made a deliberate decision to give up on getting any tax hikes or revenue enhancements, or whatever the White House wants to call it, as part of negotiations over the sequester mechanism. He made the calculation that avoiding a second vote on the debt limit before the election was more important.

    So any effort to bring taxes into the picture now is a ploy to move the goalpost, as the primary chronicler of this whole episode, Bob Woodward, has noted.

    Of course, the White House has tried to refute those historical facts, but it hasn't gotten anywhere because we know what happened.

    As the chairman of the Finance Committee helpfully reminded us last week, ``The President is part of the sequester'' because ``the White House recommended it . . . and so now we're feeling the effects of it.'' So it is time for the administration to at least accept reality so we can all move forward and focus on what the White House is actually doing right now. It is asking the American people for permission to break its word on spending.

    Look, we reached an agreement to cut $2.1 trillion in government spending over 10 years, and we intend to keep our word. Should these cuts be implemented in a smarter way? You bet. But the President and his Cabinet Secretaries had a year and a half to think about that. They just can't show up now at the last minute and expect the American people to bail them out of their own lack of responsibility.

    We can either secure these reductions more intelligently or we can do it the President's way with across-the-board cuts. But one thing Americans simply will not accept is another tax increase to replace spending reductions to which we already agreed.

    It was my hope that the supercommittee would succeed. The Senators I appointed took their assignments very seriously. They put real skin in the game because they wanted it to work. They didn't like the sequester idea either. Had the President engaged in a [[Page S821]] serious and supportive way at that time, the supercommittee may well have succeeded. But he was busy. He was campaigning and, I would argue, undermining the process instead.

    But even after the supercommittee failed, Republicans continued to work to find another way to achieve these spending cuts. We repeatedly called for replacing the sequester with smarter cuts rather than tax hikes, according to the original pact. House Republicans actually passed two bills to do just that. But again, instead of engaging with us, the President just set up more roadblocks. For more than 1 year, he resisted and dismissed every Republican attempt at a compromise. He refused to offer any kind of reasonable alternative, and he even threatened to veto other proposals aimed at averting the sequester.

    Now here we are, with the President presenting the country with two options: Armageddon or a tax hike. Well, it is a false choice, and he knows it, but the President is a master at creating the impression of chaos as an excuse for government action--do nothing, fan the flames of catastrophe, and then claim the only way out is more government in the form of higher taxes.

    Look, the choice we face isn't between the sequester and tax hikes. Remember, we are only talking about cutting 2 to 3 percent of the budget. Any business owner or middle-class parent will tell you it is completely ridiculous to think Washington can't find a better way to cut 2 or 3 percent of the Federal budget at a time when we are $16 trillion in debt. Every single working American had to figure out how to make ends meet with 2 percent less in their paychecks just last month when the payroll tax holiday expired. Are you telling me Washington can't do the same? It is absurd. It is utterly absurd.

    There is no reason in the world these cuts need to fall on essential services or emergency responders. After all, even with the sequester, Washington will be spending more than when President Obama got here. We are only talking about cutting one-tenth of what the President spent on the stimulus bill. Enough. Enough.

    Step 1 in this process of getting to a serious solution is to end the White House's denial of historical reality. We are starting to get there, slowly but surely. More important, though, is the next step, and that is when the President and his Democratic allies actually come to the table and negotiate in a serious way, without gimmicks and without games, on how best to reduce Washington spending. So let's shelve the tax hikes and the endless campaigning.

    Finally, I think there is an even larger point to be made. The President has been going around warning of utter chaos if the sequester takes effect. While I agree that those cuts could be made in a much smarter way and I don't like the fact that they fall disproportionately on defense, what does it say about the size of government that we can't cut it by 2 or 3 percent without inviting disaster? Doesn't that really make our point? Hasn't government gotten too big if just cutting the overall budget by a couple of percentage points could have that kind of an impact? Personally, I don't believe the world will end if the President's sequester takes effect, but our country would be much better served if the Democrats who run Washington would get off the campaign trail and work with us to trim the budget in a more rational way.

    Americans are tired of the manufactured crises. I know my constituents in Kentucky are. It is simply time. They want us to work together, and Republicans are ready to do just that.

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