The Sequesterby Senator Tim Kaine
Posted on 2013-03-12
KAINE. Mr. President, I rise in support of the work Chairwoman
Mikulski and Ranking Member Shelby and the Appropriations Committee
have done and the place they will bring us to on the floor of the
Senate this week as we take an important step forward to fix the fiscal
year 2013 budget. I will be meeting tomorrow--as many legislators do
during the course of the year--with my Governor. All of the Virginia
delegation will be sitting down with Governor McDonnell, who will be
visiting, and he and the State will view this as very good news as we
can talk about this work product.
I made my first speech on the floor about 2 weeks ago, and it was a speech that was kind of a plea. It was a plea to avoid the economic self-inflicted wound of sequester. As we all know, we were not able to do that at the time. There were two bills, and neither of them was able to get sufficient votes to move forward. The negative consequences from that sequester have been felt in the Commonwealth, as I traveled around, whether it is warn notices to ship repairers in the Hampton Roads area, planned furloughs of DOD civilian employees, or a delay in a carrier deployment that could potentially leave us more vulnerable in the Middle East.
The good news is that we can fix it and improve it. The Appropriations Committee's work discussed today is a way to begin to do that. We have a chance to get it right and to reduce the negative effects of sequester by dealing effectively with the expiring CR for fiscal year 2013 and then producing a progrowth 2014 budget. This is the work before this body in the next few weeks, and we need to do our very best work.
On the continuing resolution, it has been made clear in the comments before, we do not have a fiscal year 2013 budget or appropriations bills at the current time, so since October, we have been operating out of 2012 appropriations bills, pushed forward for a few months at a time. This leads us to a situation where we are not forward-focused, but we are operating out of an old playbook. We need to align our spending around this year's priorities and not be locked into funding the priorities of the past.
The Department of Defense--just to focus on this for a minute because defense is critical to the Commonwealth, as it is to all States--is very constrained by the continuing resolution that is currently in place. There is a $11 billion operations and maintenance shortfall that is difficult for DOD to manage in a way that will keep us safe. There is a lack of flexibility to adjust to new needs. There are no new starts on important projects, including on the shipbuilding and naval side, which is so important to the Commonwealth. That has already led to a delay in the construction of one of the new Ford class aircraft carriers, the USS John F. Kennedy, with a consequent potential loss in jobs. Other agencies throughout the Federal Government have been similarly affected.
The good news is that there is a solution. Chairwoman Mikulski and Senator Shelby, the ranking member, have worked together to lay that out today. This week we will work together on a true appropriations bill for the remainder of fiscal year 2013 for critical government functions: Department of Defense, military construction, the VA, but also homeland security, agriculture, commerce-justice- science. There are other governmental functions that will continue to operate under the fiscal year 2013 CR, but in many areas we will not be working off a backward-looking document. For the remainder of the year at least, because of the work of this committee, we can look at a forward-looking document.
Again, I congratulate Chairwoman Mikulski and Ranking Member Shelby and the Appropriations Committee for working so hard together with House colleagues to put us in this posture. A true appropriations approach to the remainder of fiscal year 2013 fixes many of the DOD problems I outlined earlier. For example, it will allow us to go forward on the shipbuilding contract to construct a second Ford class carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy. That will be wonderful news for our defense and wonderful news for the shipyard that is the largest private employer in Virginia. It will allow us to move forward on significant ship refurbishment and repair contracts. The repair and refueling of the USS Roosevelt and the USS Lincoln were delayed as a result of the uncertainty about the budget, but the work this committee is doing will enable us to move forward.
We will be able to not completely eliminate the operations and maintenance deficits but at least make moves [[Page S1679]] among those accounts to mitigate the effects of the O&M deficit, and that will be across service branches.
Just last Friday, as I left the Senate and drove back to my home in Richmond, I stopped and did an economic development tour with a contractor in the Fredericksburg area working on robotics projects for all of the service branches. They talked about the fact that the CR was really putting a crimp in their planned expansions, their ability to hire students who are graduating from engineering programs around Virginia and around the Nation this fall. The CR fix going forward will give this company and so many others some certainty that will enable them to do the work we need to do and also help expand employment.
Other agencies have a similar upside from the fix of this fiscal year 2013 CR, as Chairwoman Mikulski was just outlining--improvements in domestic nutrition; improvements in international food aid, which is not only good for the most vulnerable people in the world but also good for the American farmer; improvements in State and local law enforcement support, immigration enforcement, workforce training, early childhood education. There are many aspects of this fix going forward that are far preferable to the CR and certainly preferable to flirting around the possibility of any kind of a shutdown after March 27. That is why I strongly support the approach the Appropriations Committee, under its leadership, has worked on. It is good for the United States and good for Virginia, and it represents a move to forward-looking budgeting rather than plays out of last year's playbook.
Make no mistake, the sequester is still in place, and the sequester is still having significant effects. The fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill we are discussing will mitigate the effects, but there will still be an operations and maintenance shortfall within DOD. Every service is still facing potential cuts in training and other readiness functions that should cause us concern.
Last Monday, a week ago yesterday, I went to the Pentagon and visited with Secretary Hagel, Deputy Secretary Carter, General Odierno, spent time with General Welsh last week, and not just with the brass but then went down into the cafeteria and heard the real deal from folks who were having lunch, and these were Active Duty assigned to the Pentagon, DOD civilian, Guard men and women who were back just coincidently to do training-related meetings that day, and veterans who were back having lunch with their friends. As I went table to table and talked about sequester, I heard about continuing effects and concerns regarding the furlough of defense civilians and potential cuts to contractors. So those are still out there, but the good news is that this bill will address and improve, and then we have a second chance to do so as well as we begin in short order to deal with a proposed fiscal year 2013 budget.
There is a strong budget process already underway that will bear fruit in the committee within the next couple of days. The Budget Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Murray, has worked very hard, and it started the process that will lead to committee discussion and voting and then amendment and debate later this week. The basic goal of what we are trying to do is pretty simple, under the chairman's direction: Let's grow the economy and create jobs while reducing our deficit and debt in an economically credible way.
If we do this right, together with the appropriations approach discussed today, we can help reduce and then shape the negative effect that sequester has had on the Commonwealth and the country by replacing a blunt, nonstrategic, across-the-board set of cuts with more strategic and targeted approaches.
We have a long way to go, obviously, whether it is on finding the path forward just on this bill--and it looks as if there is very strong bipartisan support, and that is positive--but certainly on moving forward with the budget and the possibility of finding some compromise with the House. There are going to be vast differences in the approaches, and we cannot sugarcoat that. But I think it is maybe important at least to stop and acknowledge some positive steps.
At year end, before I joined the body, the two Houses did come together and they found a compromise on the Bush tax cuts, which was positive. There were things not to like about it, but the fact of compromise was a positive. The House agreed earlier in calendar year 2013 that they would not use the debt ceiling as leverage over the American economy or leverage over these discussions. That, in an earlier instance, led to America's credit being downgraded, so stepping away from that is positive. In the Senate, we are returning to normal budgetary order under normal timing, and that is a positive step. Both sides have agreed to avoid brinkmanship surrounding government shutdown on March 27 and have worked assiduously to avoid it. This compromise to the fiscal year 2013 CR and the willingness to move forward in a true appropriations approach for the rest of the year in these key government functions is so positive. And the prospects, which I think are very good, of both Houses actually producing budgets on time for the first time in a number of years is also positive.
So while there are real and significant differences, and we will lay those on the table and debate them with vigor over the next few days and weeks, the American public will see this process unfold. They expect us to debate, listen, and find reasonable compromises. We have seen some, just in the last few days--I guess I will conclude and say this: We have seen some recent positive economic news--the jobs report Friday, some of the news about housing, the stock market. There are some positive economic trends that are starting to develop. Congress can accelerate these trends. Congress can accelerate the improvement of the American economy if we keep taking these reasonable steps forward to find a responsible budgetary path. This work on the CR bill to find an appropriations path for the remainder of the year is one of those positive steps, and I applaud the committee leadership for doing so.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. Heitkamp). The Senator from Maryland.