From the office of Senator Barbara Mikulski:
U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today spoke on the Senate floor on the devastating impacts of sequester. Senator Mikulski was joined in making remarks by Chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) along with Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“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 for the few, the multimillionaires and billionaires who can take a tax deduction on their corporate jets,” Chairwoman Mikulski said. “I’m for the people working every day (at our federal labs) to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, to find the cure for Autism and to find the cure for AIDS.”
Earlier this month, Chairwoman Mikulski convened a hearing of the full Appropriations Committee on the impacts of sequestration. A webcast of the hearing is available here. The Senator also requested impact statements from federal agencies preparing for the devastating impacts of sequester. Those letters are available here.
Senator Mikulski’s remarks on the Senate floor, as delivered, follow:
“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 the downgrade of the United States economy and the dysfunction of the United States Congress. And in order to get us to the table, we came up with an agreement. We’d have a Super Committee that would meet on both sides of the Dome, and 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 at history and what we had was a situation where we proposed a trigger if we didn’t get our act together – which we did not – that 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 that Colin Powell has so often talked of. Well, that Super Committee collapsed. Not because there weren’t great efforts by Senators Murray and Durbin and members over in the House, including our very own Marylander, Chris Van Hollen.
“Then we were faced with New Year’s Eve. We put it off until New Year’s Eve and after the election. And here we are while people were wearing funny hats all over America, we were doing funny things. What did we do again? We put off sequester for two months. Again, not solving the problem. Well, now we have a rendezvous. On March 1st, sequester will happen.
“I’m opposed to sequester. I think it’s bad policy for our country. I think it will hurt our economy. I think it will exacerbate the fragile job situation we have, and 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 revenue, particularly plugging up tax loopholes and getting rid of tax break earmarks, along with strategic cuts in spending and a review of mandatory spending to see if we could get more value for our dollar.
“Tomorrow, I’m going to speak 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 the 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 of today and the jobs of tomorrow. I have the honor of representing 130,000 federal employees. And people 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 Social Security and disability benefits. Why would we want to get rid of anybody working for the Food and Drug Administration, 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 and effective, they can be taken by the American people and they can be exported around the world. Why would we want to get rid of anyone at F.D.A. helping to make sure our drug supply is safe?
“What about food inspectors? Right now one of the turbo engines of the Eastern Shore economy is seafood and poultry production. You can’t have poultry production unless you have food inspectors. Now, when we start laying off food inspectors, it is going to affect those private-sector jobs. If you don’t have an inspector, you can’t have those companies working at the same level of production.
“Hundreds of thousands of more people work because of the federal government. Like iconic contractors, particularly in defense, and also at NASA Goddard – our space science center. There are thousands of civil servants, but there are also thousands of contractors. And what are they facing? Layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts, 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. 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 for the few, the multimillionaires and billionaires who can take a tax deduction on their corporate jets. I’m for the people working every day to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, to find the cure for Autism, to find the cure for AIDS, to find help for the arthritic.
“I’m fighting for not only what is done by government, but for what they’re doing 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 the first successful arm transplant surgery. Doesn’t that bring tears to your eyes? And that happened because of the genius of the Hopkins personnel with financial help from the VA to do the research to make sure the surgery was a success and the auto immune system was as well.
“This is what the American people want us to do. What we learn through the VA will move into civilian clinical practice. I’m telling you, we’ve got to come up with a solution where government is doing their job to meet compelling human needs, where America is helping enable people to keep their jobs and protect their livelihoods.
“People watch the Weather Channel and say, ‘Oh isn’t that guy Cantori great?’ I love Cantori. We even tweet each other from time to time. But Jim Cantori and the Weather Channel get a lot of their information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That agency in Maryland runs the weather forecast for all of America. It predicts hurricanes, tornadoes and it also ties in with the global weather prediction system which protects our ships at sea, civilian, cargo, military, as well as determining whether airlines can fly or not.
“So when we look at our legislation, we have to know that there are real consequences to those employees. The numbers sound a lot, but their contributions to saving lives and saving livelihoods is enormous.
“And then if 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? You know, if sequester goes into effect, it’s going to have a terrible effect on special ed. In Maryland, special ed teachers would be affected by across the board cuts to education. The same with Title 1. Maryland would lose over $14 million.
“If the sequester goes into effect, it’s going to affect over 1,000 federal agents. That’s at the F.B.I., that’s at the Drug Enforcement Agency, that’s at the Marshal Service. You know, so many don’t know about the Marshal Service. They serve so quietly and efficiently. They protect our judges in the federal courthouse. Some have been shot and wounded. It also serves warrants for runaway fugitives. And it 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’s the F.B.I. The F.B.I. is crucial, not only in mortgage fraud and financial fraud, but now in the world of cyber. Do you know that last year in America there were 300 bank robberies? That’s a terrible number if you’re one of those banks. But there were thousands of cyber-attacks on our American financial institutions, of which the F.B.I. was primetime. Do we really want to lay them off? No, I don’t think so.
“There’s another issue of safety, and that goes to aviation safety. I really am deeply concerned about the cut in air traffic control. Furloughs. Layoffs. And asking fewer of them to work longer hours. We can’t have it.
“When we think about law enforcement, we also think about border control. I’m for comprehensive immigration reform, and I’m also for protecting American borders. We now have 57,000 border patrol agents. If sequester goes into effect, we could be forced to lay off or furlough 5,000 of them. You know what a furlough is? It says someone who is willing to be out there in the desert facing those who trade in the illegal trafficking of people, guns or drugs, while you’re out there in the hot sun in harm’s way, putting your life in danger, we’re going to ask you to work four days a week and we’re going to furlough you one-fifth of the time. For that border patrol agent being furloughed like that, that’s a 20 percent cut.
“If 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 N.I.H. employees working for cures, like the F.D.A. inspectors, those inspecting our cargo coming into the Port of Baltimore or looking for illegal cargo coming into our airport. If they take a hit, we should take a hit as well. And I look forward to moving on that legislation. I hope we don’t get to that point. Not for me to protect my pay, but to protect their future and to say America believes in what you’re doing. We want to protect you so you can do your job for America, instead of protecting all these breaks for billionaires.
“Now, people say didn’t we do the tax break thing? Didn’t we do the tax break thing New Year’s Eve with Biden and McConnell? Yes, it was a down payment. But there are lots and lots of very juicy loopholes and tax breaks. Tax breaks for sending jobs overseas. Tax breaks for deductions 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’re waiting for comprehensive tax reform, let’s go after some of these and come up with a balanced approach on revenue.
“In my state of Maryland, my large counties 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.
“The people say, ‘That’s government, that’s the way it is.’ You know, I just want to say that if in fact people begin to lose their jobs or get furloughed and lose a big part of their income, they’re not going to be spending money on the local economy, the real economy. It also means they won’t be giving to their charitable organizations, and that’s regretful. If you have less money to spend and you save it somewhere for your family, you’re not going to be giving to the United Way, to that great federal campaign.
“The lab assistant at N.I.H. who faces losing her job isn’t going to give to the charitable fund. The customs official at Thurgood Marshall Airport isn’t going to have the same disposable income to make sure that they give again to the United Way.
“We’ve got to stop sequester. I Thursday I will be joining with 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 from the Buffett Rule. Its origins are with Warren Buffett when he said that 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 and the job creators, but on his second million he will pay the same rate as somebody who makes $55,000 a year.
“We also want to close a loophole on sending jobs overseas. For too long we have rewarded the export of jobs when we should have a tax code that rewards the export of products. Whether it is our great pharmaceutical industry, our arts, protecting intellectual property.
“We 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. And yes we do cut defense, but that doesn’t trigger until 2015, when our troops are home from Afghanistan. We never want to put, through our budget problems, our troops in harm’s way.
“I wanted to share what’s going to happen. In my state we represent many great federal iconic agencies that moved to Maryland during the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s when real estate was so high in Washington, D.C., or there just wasn’t enough land. I am so proud of them. They win the Nobel Prizes. They help us win the markets. They’re coming up with the new ideas today for the new jobs tomorrow. Or they’re out there like the Coast Guard making sure the Chesapeake Bay is safe. Or they’re dealing with our customs. Or 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 can be more sensible. But let’s not do sequester. It’s bad money. It’s bad management, and we can do better. What we can’t do is continue to delay and put the entire burden on discretionary spending. So let’s stand up. Let’s be counted. Let’s have a vote on Thursday, and I do hope the Democratic alternative prevails.”