03.19.13

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Sequestration’s Impact on Vermont Senate Floor

It has been more than two weeks since an all too familiar stalemate in Congress prevented the passage of commonsense legislation and triggered the across-the-board budget cuts that are better known as sequestration.  And while in the weeks leading up to sequestration we heard almost daily from Federal agencies, defense contractors and members from both sides of the aisle about just how harmful these cuts would be, the deadline for intervention has come and gone.  Yet, incredibly, much of the focus now appears not to be upon the wide swath of harm that is beginning to descend on communities across the Nation, but, instead, on the closure of White House tours.

To simply accept and avoid fixing these indiscriminate and harmful cuts is irresponsible.  These cuts are slowly being implemented and already have begun to affect our states and communities.  Every day I hear from Vermonters about the consequences for their jobs, their children and their communities.  I have heard from Vermont families that are beginning to plan for the furloughs that will hit their family budgets.  I have heard from community organizations about the difficult decisions they will have to make in the weeks ahead.  It should alarm everyone that reductions are expected in the number of children being served by Head Start.  I have heard from young scientists at the University of Vermont who have already been denied research grants because of sequestration.  Vermonters facing already high rents are facing a seven-year wait for Section 8 housing assistance.  Until the sequester is resolved, housing authorities in Vermont will not be granting any new rental vouchers.  Hundreds of Vermonters are going to lose this vital lifeline.  This already is the unfortunate and needless reality.

I have also heard about the impact sequestration is having on our military families in Vermont, as some members of the National Guard prepare for furloughs, reductions in staff that provide services to their families, and the elimination of Army Tuition Assistance Program serving veterans.

These are the impacts felt in Vermont – so far.  We haven’t yet seen the coming consequences for Vermont’s schools and how sequestration will affect students and teachers.  We haven’t yet felt the true impact to funding for the grants that support our law enforcers, job search assistance, the Meals on Wheels programs or programs providing lifesaving vaccines.   

Members have filed amendments to the spending bill we are currently debating, to attempt insulate and protect programs that impact their states most, but at the cost of others.  We need to stop looking at how we can just save just a single program, and get back to the table to negotiate a sensible, balanced approach that addresses deficit reduction in a responsible way, and not on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans.

We cannot simply 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.  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. 

There is a simple bottom line:  Putting our fiscal house in order must go hand in hand with targeted, commonsense steps to 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.  We need cooperation from our friends across the aisle.  Putting on mindless autopilot the crucial decisions about what should be our budget and growth priorities is a terrible way to treat the American people.  It is a recipe for economic dysfunction, and it threatens tangible harm to millions of families and for communities across the Nation.

Difficult decisions are in front of us.  We must face them, not punt them.  We in Congress need to put aside the talking points and turn to the task of replacing these harmful auto-pilot cuts with sensible and balanced budget decisions.  The American people expect more from Congress, and they deserve more from Congress. 

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