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Public Statements

Sequestration

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. COURTNEY. Madam Speaker, it just came over the newswire a few minutes ago that on Friday morning, March 1, there will be a meeting at the White House involving President Obama, the leadership of the House, Speaker Boehner, and the leadership of the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Reid to begin a process of talking about resolving the issue that we're obviously confronting as a Nation a few hours away, which is an automatic mechanism put into effect by the Budget Control Act of 2011 to cut discretionary spending across the board.

I begin with that point because, in fact, that really should have been happening months ago. In fact, that was the intent of sequestration, which is a mechanism that was created in 1985 by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings legislation that set up the formula for sequestration that cut across defense and non-defense programs. And as Senator Phil Gramm, who was the inventor of sequestration, said in a speech a couple of years ago: It was never the objective of Gramm-Rudman to trigger sequester. The objective of Gramm-Rudman was to have the threat of sequester force compromise and action.

In other words, this was a mechanism that was designed to hurt. It was designed to create so much pain politically that the two sides, which again were in a similar point of gridlock in 1985, would begin the process of negotiation to deal with a structural deficit.

If you look at the history of what occurred from 1985 up until early 2000, that pressure actually did force Congress to face up to the fact that we could not continue to pile up deficits and burden our children and grandchildren with further debt. Unfortunately, in this present Congress, it's taken a little longer for the message to get through, but, nonetheless, the meeting that's scheduled on Friday morning hopefully is going to begin the process of having the two sides do what their predecessors did in the eighties and nineties and begin the process of a balanced plan to eliminate the structural deficit that our Nation confronts today.

Yesterday, President Obama was over in Newport News, Virginia, talking to shipyard workers about the fact that the Navy, which is obviously a critical part of our Federal Government, now has to hit spending cut targets over the next 7 months. We're 5 months into a fiscal year right now. They have begun the process of cancelling the refueling of the USS Lincoln, one of our 10 aircraft carriers which are so critical to force projection in this country. And he was absolutely right to be there. This is a program which, if it is cancelled or delayed, it's going to daisy-chain its way through our Navy's fleet of 287 ships which must be repaired and maintained constantly to make sure that they're available for operations.

I represent southeastern Connecticut, the home of Electric Boat shipyard that builds and repairs nuclear submarines. We have the USS Providence slated to come in for a needed overhaul and repair later this fiscal year. The Navy has notified the shipyard that that work is going to be suspended. That's 200,000 man-hours for welders, for shipwrights, for machinists, for electricians that do amazing work with incredible skills to make sure that our fleet is capable of meeting the mission requests that are out there. The USS Miami, which is a submarine that was burned in an arsonist fire last year, is another repair job which EB was going to be on the road helping the shipyard workers in Kittery, Maine, to make sure that that critical vessel was going to be back in the fleet. That project has now been put on ice because of sequestration.

These are just totally irrational, destructive outcomes for a bill which was designed to force compromise. It was not to be a policy, not to be an outcome. When you look at Admiral Greenert, the CNO of the Navy, who is one of the most outstanding leaders in our country, he has cancelled the USS Harry Truman, which is a carrier strike force that was scheduled to go over to the Middle East to fly air-cover missions for our troops in Afghanistan, to keep the Strait of Hormuz open where 20 percent of the world's oil supply passes every single day. This is a policy or an outcome that threatens the military readiness of this country. Secretary Panetta at the Department of Defense and General Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has made that crystal clear.

So the stakes could not be higher for our country to make sure that this process, which belatedly is starting on Friday morning, is going to result in smart, balanced ways to reduce the deficit.

I can offer one big idea that will get us to that point. I sit on the Agriculture Committee, which is a great bipartisan committee that's been working hard in terms of reforming ag policy in this country. It is time that the direct payment system to farms comes to an end. The good news is that Republicans and Democrats on that committee and Republicans and Democrats in this Chamber agree on that. We can help farmers deal with the vagaries of weather and unexpected events through risk insurance, which is far cheaper to the U.S. taxpayer than direct payments. That will save $30 billion over the next 5 years. That is a huge step forward that we can use as a building block to avoid these horrible outcomes and make sure that Senator Gramm's warning to us is heeded by this Chamber and by this Congress.


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