BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. NELSON of Florida. Mr. President, I, like many of my colleagues, have just flown in our Nation's airways, going through a fairly crowded airport in Florida, coming into a crowded airport here in Washington, and in 30 days those TSA lines are going to get longer.
For the international flights, I and others have worked very hard to get additional customs agents to cut the time it takes to process our international visitors. In airports such as Miami and Orlando where there is quite a bit of international traffic, getting those additional customs folks has meant a great deal because we even had some airlines that would come in, for example, to Orlando, and they would have to keep the international passengers on the airplane for upwards of an hour before they could get off the airplane so that there was room, with the personnel available.
Well, you see where I am going, because all of that is going to change unless--as the Good Book says, come, let us reason together. Unless our sharply divided politics--be it partisan, be it ideological--unless we can come together and reach consensus to stop this ridiculous thing that went into effect last Friday called the sequester, which was never intended to go into effect, but because of the inability of the parties to come together, in fact, it is in effect, and it is cutting, in an indiscriminate way, like a meat cleaver across the board.
In certain agencies, such as the Department of Transportation, it even gets exacerbated because the cuts can only occur in certain accounts. Thus, civilian employees are going to be furloughed.
It is also happening in the Department of Defense. In my State of Florida alone, there are going to be 31,000 defense civilian employees who are going to be furloughed. What does a furlough mean? It means that after the 30-day notice, so about 30 days from now, that number of employees--in this example, in the Defense Department--is going to be laid off 1 day a week, under the law, for up to a maximum of 22 weeks. Is that in the interest of national security? Of course not.
Why is it exacerbated in the Department of Defense? Because the existing appropriations law--remember, we are not operating on a current law; we are operating on last year's appropriations law. That has so constrained the managers--in other words, the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary--that they can't move the money around, and what they are having to do is to take the sequester cuts out of operations and maintenance instead of out of acquisitions of systems or programs. That is the worst possible place--out of operations and maintenance.
Now, I am an optimist. I couldn't be in this business if I were not an optimist. I have ultimate faith in the American people. And I know every one of these Senators here, from the extreme left to the extreme right, are all good people, and there can be consensus found if everybody would get out of their little silos and realize the greater good.
Senator Claire McCaskill and I want to help them, so we are filing a bill today. Since this was never intended and all these civilian Federal employees are going to be furloughed, our bill will say that Members of Congress will get docked the same percentage of their pay that the furloughed workers are docked in the percentage of their pay.
Now, the question is, Will this pass? I hope it doesn't pass because I hope it is not necessary to pass.
We have 30 days of notice before the furloughs take place. I am certainly hopeful that happens by the end of this month, clearly by the time of March 27 when the existing appropriations bill--which is last year's appropriation--ceases to exist and the government can come to a screeching halt unless we continue the appropriations for the remainder of the fiscal year.
I am hopeful our legislation will not pass, but somebody needs to understand how ridiculous this whole thing is. Conservatives want to cut spending. You can do it in a more intelligent and rational way. If we are going to get serious about $4 trillion of deficit reduction over the decade--and we have already enacted policies that will take us down about 2.5 trillion of deficit reduction--we have about $1.5 trillion to go in enacting policies over that decade and we ought to be able to do that in a nanosecond.
Senator McCaskill and I want to try to help nudge the process along. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. You are going to dock all of these civilian employees who have lives, who have families, who have children, who have expenses, who need to buy milk and so forth and so on. You are going to dock them their pay because of the inability of the Members of Congress to get together to do what should have been done, by the way, a year and a half ago when this whole thing was enacted. The meat cleaver sequester was put there because it was so ridiculous that surely it would encourage, a year and a half ago, the supercommittee of six from the House, six from the Senate, half and half of each party--surely it was going to encourage them to come together in agreement. All it needed was one vote. Instead of a 6-to-6 deadlock it would have been 7 to 5. It did not happen, and here we are a year and a half later.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If you are going to dock Federal workers' pay because you are going to force them into a furlough which was never intended, is not rational policy, is not good administration, then you are going to be docked your own pay.
This is not pontificating. Again, I say I hope this never passes because I hope it is moot. But it is trying to bring into focus just how ridiculous the goings-on here are right now. So I am very hopeful.
I say I love the Members of the Senate, every one of these Members of the Senate. I have a great relationship with almost every one of these Senators. They are all good people. We need to come together, give a strong statement of consensus building, and then send it down there to the House and tell them they have to get off the dime.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT