02.28.13

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Sequestration’s Devastating Impacts on Vermont Senate Floor Thursday, February 28, 2013

Earlier this week, I shared with the Senate the consequences of sequestration for the budget of the Department of State and foreign operations, and its impact on the security of the United States. Funding for the entire Department of State and foreign operations budget amounts to only about one percent of the Federal budget, not the 15 or 20 percent some mistakenly believe. 

That one percent includes funding to operate our embassies and consulates in over 290 countries, to carry out diplomacy in dangerous environments like Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, respond to humanitarian crises, and build alliances with security and trading partners.  Sequestration would harm these efforts by cutting assistance for diplomatic security at a time when everyone agrees we need to do more to protect our Foreign Service Officers overseas.

On the development side, sequestration will mean cuts to global health programs that prevent the spread of AIDS and pay for vaccines for children, protect maternal health, and combat malaria and tuberculosis. It will also mean reductions for funding for disaster and refugee aid at a time when an increasing number of victims of drought, famine, and extremist violence around the world need assistance.

As has been pointed out repeatedly, sequestration was included in the Budget Control Act as an incentive to negotiate. The idea was that it would have such catastrophic consequences that rational minds would replace it with a thoughtful and balanced approach to deficit reduction. 

That has not happened. To the contrary, just one day before the sequester is to take effect, our friends on the other side of the aisle, who favor cutting government programs and particularly those that help the neediest, seem to have decided that they’d rather see sequestration take effect rather than close tax loopholes that only benefit the wealthy and pad growing corporate profits.

However, as President Obama and others have been warning for weeks, allowing these draconian cuts to go into effect tomorrow will have a tremendously negative impact on jobs all across the country and on essential services provided by our Government. 

The American people elected us to come to Washington to work together and make tough decisions. It is well past time for a certain amount of reasonableness to come back to Congress. I have always believed that a balanced approach of pairing decreased spending with increased revenues is a far better way to deal with our budget deficits than sequestration. That’s what we did with President Clinton in the 1990s, and we saw record budget surpluses. 

We simply cannot cut our way out of this deficit.  We created this situation partly by putting two wars on the Nation’s credit card. We already have reduced the debt by $2.5 trillion, with the vast majority of those savings coming from spending cuts.  Just as most private businesses adjust their prices prudently over time, we cannot finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone.

We must understand that even in these difficult budgetary times we cannot sacrifice the future of critical Federal programs in education, in health care, and in national security, that affect hardworking families across the country, every single day. The American people want and expect us to take a balanced approach. They know it isn’t wise to protect endless corporate loopholes and tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans instead of investing in our schools, our factories, our roads, and our workers. Yes, they want us to get our books in order – but in a balanced way where everyone pulls equally.  

And today the Senate has the opportunity to avoid this devastating sequester by voting for the American Family Economic Protection Act, which does just that. This balanced legislation will delay sequestration by replacing it with a combination of new revenues and targeted spending cuts. These spending cuts would reduce the deficit in a responsible way, eliminating unnecessary direct payments and farm subsidies and implementing reasonable and responsible defense spending reductions beginning when the war in Afghanistan is expected to end. This legislation would also generate revenue, equal to the amount of spending cuts included, by eliminating oil industry tax loopholes, denying deductions to companies that ship jobs overseas, and ensuring that millionaires do not pay a smaller share of their incomes in taxes than the typical middle-class family.

The American Family Economic Protection Act provides us with a clear, balanced proposal that would avoid the devastation of sequestration. I look forward to the opportunity to support this responsible approach to deficit reduction and hope all Senators will join me in doing the same.

If we choose to not act responsibly and do not pass this legislation today, I am afraid sequestration will go forward, and would mean devastating cuts around the country and for Vermont.  Without action, sequestration would mean that Vermont schools would lose more than $2.5 million for primary and secondary education and the education of children with disabilities, while putting the jobs of teachers and aides at risk. Vermont would stand to lose more than $1 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste.

Vermont would lose roughly $2.6 million in funding for medical research and innovation funding from NIH and $400,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation, costing the state 53 jobs. Vermont would lose funding for the grants that support law enforcement, prosecution and courts, crime prevention and education, corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, and crime victim and witness initiatives. Sequestration would mean Vermont would lose $101,000 in funding for job search assistance, referral, and placement, meaning 3,700 fewer people will get the help and skills they need to find employment, just when they need it most.

In Vermont, sequestration would impact public health. Fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and Hepatitis B due to reduced funding for vaccinations. Across-the-board cuts mean Vermont will lose about $270,000 in grants to help prevent and treat substance abuse, resulting in around 500 fewer admissions to substance abuse programs. And the Vermont Department of Health will lose about $55,000 resulting in around 1,400 fewer HIV tests. Sequestration would mean the state would lose funding used to provide meals for seniors and services to victims of domestic violence. 

If we do not pass the American Family Economic Protection Act today, our states will lose funding for Community Development Block Grants and Housing Vouchers helping to put a roof over families’ heads, we will lose funding for cancer screenings, child care and Head Start programs helping to get our nation’s children ready for school.

We cannot afford to allow this self-inflicted devastation move to forward. The bottom line is that getting our fiscal house in order must go hand in hand with policies that promote economic growth, create jobs, and strengthen the middle class – all things that President Obama and Democrats in both houses of Congress are eager to do if only we had more cooperation from our friends across the aisle. We simply cannot cut our way out of this. We cannot allow an unbalanced approach that would once again require that deficit reduction be achieved solely through spending cuts, and would disproportionately impact low income Americans and middle class families. And we should not allow politics and posturing to dictate our actions here today. The American people expect more from us. I hope the Senate will end the filibuster of this legislation, and allow an up-or-down vote so that we can show our constituents that we are capable of putting the interests of the Nation first.

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