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American Family Economic Protection Act Of 2013 -- Motion To Proceed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. TOOMEY. Madam President, I rise to address the issue of the sequestration and the Democratic and Republican alternatives. But I want to start by expressing how disappointed I am that we are having the debate in this fashion. This is certainly among the very most important issues we are grappling with--should be grappling with as a Senate, as a Congress, as a Federal Government. Getting ourselves on a sustainable fiscal path is as important as anything we can be doing. The sequestration is an important part of that, and unfortunately the majority party here does not want to have a full and open debate and will not permit multiple amendments from both sides.

I don't know how many ideas there are on the Democratic side. I know there are at least three or four or five different ideas on the Republican side. Frankly, I think any sensible approach to this ought to have a full and open, robust debate and I am happy to vote on every one of them. I will vote against some, I will probably vote for others. But why in the world would we say there can only be two choices, one Democratic choice and one Republican choice? I have to say I am extremely disappointed that we have gotten to this point where we cannot have an open debate and amendments on a wide range of ideas, because the challenges require that kind of response. It is very disappointing that the majority party refuses to conduct that debate and appears unwilling to have those votes.

Nevertheless, I have developed a bill, together with Senator Inhofe, which I think is a much more sensible way to achieve the savings we badly need. I will say unequivocally, we need to trim spending. We cannot continue spending at the rate we have been spending money. We cannot continue trillion dollar deficits. We have a $16 trillion debt. The massive deficits and the accumulated debt are today costing us jobs and holding back our economy, so we need to begin the process of getting spending under control. Frankly, the sequester barely starts that process.

The President has been campaigning around the country, spreading this idea that somehow we are going to have a complete economic disaster and meltdown if this modest spending discipline goes ahead. We keep hearing about austerity. The question is, what austerity? Let me put a little context into what we are talking about here.

First of all, over the last 12 years, the Federal Government has doubled in size. We spend 100 percent more now than we did a dozen years ago. After this huge run-up in the size of Federal spending, this sequester--if it goes into effect or its equivalent--would reduce spending by 2.3 percent. After growing by 100 percent, we cannot find 2.3 percent? By the way, that is budget authority, which means permission to spend the actual amount that would be spent during this year would go down by about 1.2 percent. That is less than one-half of 1 percent of our economy.

Here is the other thing. This is how much austerity we are talking about: If the savings of the sequester go into effect, total spending by the government in 2013 will be greater than spending was in 2012. So let's just be clear about what is going on here. This is not nearly the amount of savings we need. This is merely one step in the right direction. While government has been growing, the economy has not. We have had all of this spending growth. We have had massive deficits. What have we gotten in return? The worst economic recovery from any recession since the Great Depression.

We have an unemployment rate that is persistently unacceptably high. Eight percent is the official measure of unemployment, but when we take into account the people who have given up looking for work altogether, it is much higher than that. The fact is economic growth doesn't depend on a bloated government that is always growing.

In fact, we will have stronger economic growth as soon as we begin to demonstrate that we can get on a sustainable fiscal path, as soon as we can start to take the threat of a fiscal collapse off the table by showing we can get spending under control. It is absolutely essential for the sake of our economy and job growth that we achieve the savings of this sequester.

I am the first to acknowledge there are a couple of problems with the way this legislation goes about it, and that is the reason I introduced this legislation along with Senator Inhofe. The two big problems are, first, the savings hit our defense budget disproportionately. The defense budget is about 18 percent of total spending, but it is half of this whole sequester, and that is after we have already cut defense spending. I am very sympathetic to the concern that this imposes a real problem on our defense budget.

The second problem is that the cuts are not very thoughtfully designed. There is no discretion or flexibility. The categories that are subject to the sequestration are spending cuts across the board. There are huge categories that are not subjected, such as the entire Social Security Program and many others that are not affected at all. But for those programs that are cut, there is no ability to discern which programs ought to be cut more or which ones ought to be cut less and which ones, perhaps, should not be cut at all.

The bill Senator Inhofe and I have introduced and will be voting on today--at least the cloture motion--addresses both of these problems. It does require that we achieve the savings of the sequester--and that is very important--but it would allow the President flexibility in how it is achieved so we don't have these very ham-handed, poorly designed, across-the-board cuts.

If the bill passes, the President will be able to go to his service chiefs on the defense side, he could go to his agency and department heads on the nondefense side and say: OK. Look, you have been used to budgets that keep growing and growing, and that is what has been happening. This year you are going to have to cut back a little bit. It will be a few pennies of every dollar. Look for the programs that are working least well or not at all. Look for areas where there is waste and inefficiency. Look for redundancies, and that is where we are going to trim a little bit, and we will hit these goals.

That is what competent managers in any business would do. That is what families have to do, and that is what State and local governments have to do. That is what we need to do here, and that is what this bill would enable the President to do. He would have to find the areas where we can make the cuts without causing great disruption.

This is not a blank check for the President. There are constraints on what the President could do under the legislation that Senator Inhofe and I are proposing. For instance, there could be no tax hike. We don't think we need still more tax increases after all the ones we have recently been through. The defense cuts could not be any greater than what is contemplated in the current sequestration. Under Senator Inhofe's approach and mine, they could be less. The President could choose to follow the advice of his senior military advisers and cut the defense budget a little bit less and shift this elsewhere.

I am one who believes our defense budget should not be exempt from scrutiny, from spending discipline, and some cuts, but I think they ought to be done carefully and thoughtfully.

The President would not be able to increase any amounts. This is not an exercise in just shifting money to another account. It is a question of where we can do the cuts most thoughtfully and sensibly. Any cuts in the defense budget would have to be consistent with the National Defense Authorization Act that has been passed. The President would have to achieve 100 percent of the savings; that is part of this. He could not use any gimmicks to do it. There would be no phony cuts in the future offset by promises for cuts at another time. There would be none of that. It would have to be straightforward and honest.

Finally--and I think this is an important part--Congress would have a final say. When the President--under this approach if it were to pass and be signed into law--would be required to propose an alternative series of cuts, and then Congress could vote to disapprove them if Congress chose to do that. Ultimately, Congress would still control that important element of the purse strings, but we would allow the President to find the most sensible way to do this.

The President is saying he does not want this flexibility. That is kind of unbelievable to me. He is going around the country scaring the American people and threatening all kinds of disastrous things he says he will have to do. Then in the same breath he says: By the way, don't give me the flexibility to do something else. I don't understand that. It seems to me the obvious thing to do is to do these cuts in a way that would not be disruptive and would not do harm.

Let me give one particular example: A good example is

the FAA. If the sequester goes into effect on the FAA, the budget there will be cut by $670 million. That is from a total of just about $17 billion.

The President and the Transportation Secretary have said if the sequester goes into effect, they are going to lay off air traffic controllers; they might have to shut down control towers; we will have long delays at airports with flights being canceled. All kinds of problems. It is interesting to note, if the sequester goes into effect, the amount of funding available to the FAA will still be more than what the President asked for in his budget.

In his budget request was the President planning on laying off air traffic controllers and shutting down airports and control towers? I rather doubt it. So if we gave the President the flexibility just within the FAA budget, the President could adopt the kinds of savings that he proposed in his own budget and have enough money to pay all of the air traffic controllers and keep the airports running. The point is even within the FAA's budget, there would be no service disruptions whatsoever. They are not necessary.

Our bill would give the President even more flexibility. He would be able to achieve savings in other areas. In other words, he would not have to hit a particular savings number for the FAA. He might find savings in other places. Let me suggest we have an unbelievably lengthy list of opportunities to reduce excessive and wasteful government spending. Instead of closing down air traffic control facilities or military bases or FBI offices, maybe what the President could do is cut back on Federal employee travel.

We spend $1 billion a year for Federal employees to go on conferences and trips. Maybe we could cut back on the cell phone subsidies where we buy cell phones for people, costing $1.5 billion a year. We spend millions of dollars on an old-fashioned style trolley in St. Louis, millions on a sports diplomacy exchange program. We have 14,000 vacant and underutilized properties. We spend money for a cowboy poetry festival and $1 million for taste-testing foods to be served on Mars.

I don't know about anybody else, but I think some of these are a little less important than keeping our air control system intact and safe. To me, it seems like common sense that we ought to give the President the discretion he needs to reduce the spending on the less vital things and continue to fund the important things.

We don't have to only go after wasteful spending, we have an unbelievable number of redundancy in duplicate programs. I have just a few examples. We have 80 different economic development programs spread across the Federal Government. We have 94 different programs to encourage the construction of green buildings. We have 47 different job training programs.

Doesn't it make sense if we are going to have some savings that we look to those programs that are not working so well? It cannot be that every program is equal. I guarantee that some of them are not working so well. I would like to think that the administration has metrics for performance and it knows which ones are performing better and which ones are not. We could concentrate the cuts on those that are not working or we could decide to consolidate this huge plethora of programs and save a lot of money and overhead in administrative and bureaucracy costs.

There is just any number of ways to achieve savings. Senator Tom Coburn has made an enormous contribution to our Federal Government by providing exhaustive litanies of duplication, redundancies, waste, and excesses. In addition to what I have mentioned, that would be a very useful place to begin in terms of finding alternatives.

I would simply say we have a simple choice here. This sequester is going into effect. Nobody here suggests they have the votes or they have a way to prevent it. So the question is, Are we going to achieve these savings through badly designed spending cuts that make no attempt whatsoever to distinguish between more sensible government spending and less sensible government spending or will we adopt this bill that Senator Inhofe and I have introduced which will give the President the flexibility to cut where the cuts would not be painful, where there is waste, and where there are excesses? We are talking about what will amount in actual outlays to a little over 1 percent of the total government spending. This is a government that has doubled in size in the last 12 years.

The people in Pennsylvania who I represent don't believe that every dollar of government spending is spent wisely and prudently and is necessary. They know that there is a lot of waste.

This is all about the next 6 months. As we know, the $1.2 trillion in savings in subsequent years is achieved by statutory spending caps. In those years the savings will be figured out by the Appropriations Committee, which is where this should be happening. I wish we had taken up an appropriations bill over this last year, but we didn't. At least given the reality that we face, we have an opportunity to avoid the kind of calamity and disaster that is being threatened and is completely unnecessary.

I hope we will do the commonsense thing and adopt a bill that will give the President the flexibility he needs to make these cuts in a rational and sensible fashion. We need to achieve the savings for the sake of economic growth and job creation. This is no time to trade higher taxes for more spending, as my Democratic colleagues would prefer. This is a time to make sensible cuts in spending. We can do that, and I urge adoption of the measure that Senator Inhofe and I have proposed.

I yield back the floor.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. TOOMEY. Madam President, I would like to thank and compliment the Senator from Oklahoma, who has been a terrific leader and ally. I appreciate his hard work and the work product we have come up with.

At the end of the day, it is not complicated. It is pretty simple. Do we go ahead with indiscriminate across-the-board cuts that give us no ability whatsoever to establish priorities, to recognize that some spending is more important than others, or do we adopt this flexibility approach and give to the President of the United States the flexibility for him to turn to his service chiefs and say to them: Folks, is there a better way to do this? I am sure they know best what their needs are. I am sure they can come up with a better set of spending cuts than these across-the-board cuts that are in law.

Similarly, on the nondefense side, any competent middle manager of any business in America knows that when they have to tighten their belt, they go through and prioritize. So when the President and the Secretary of Transportation go around the country saying: Oh, we are going to have to lay off air traffic controllers; we are going to have to shut down towers; we are going to have delays, none of it is necessary. It is not necessary if we pass this legislation because it would give the President the flexibility to cut the items that would not be disruptive to our economy, and it would not be disruptive in any meaningful way.

I gave the example earlier of the FAA. The FAA would have more money postsequester than what the President even asked for. Obviously, what the President needs is the discretion to be able to make some cuts where they can be best be borne.

After having a total budget that has grown 100 percent over the last 12 years, we can find the 2.3 percent that is needed now. These are flexibility measures we would give the President for the remainder of this fiscal year. Thereafter, the savings we will achieve will happen through the spending caps and, therefore, will be decided by the Appropriations Committee.

I urge my colleagues to support the Republican alternative.

I yield the floor.

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Mr. TOOMEY. Madam President, it is hard for me to follow this. The Senator is decrying the effects of the sequestration, and what Senator Inhofe and I are offering is a way to minimize the damage.

In the President's submitted request for the FAA, did he contemplate laying off air traffic controllers or closing towers? I know the answer. The President's budget--which he submitted to Congress and is a public document--requested a certain funding for the FAA.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. TOOMEY. For the current fiscal year, the President's most recent request. The President's request was for less money than the FAA will have if the sequester goes through. I don't think the President was planning to lay off air traffic controllers.

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