CBC Hour: The Impact of Sequestration

Floor Speech

By:  Hakeem Jeffries
Date: March 4, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. JEFFRIES. Mr. Speaker, it is my honor and my privilege to stand here today as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus to participate one more time as an anchor for the CBC Special Order today on the subject of the impact of sequestration on the American people.

As we know, on Friday, the sequestration took effect, automatic spending cuts of a significant painful amount that will be experienced by the American people all across the land. Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, it's something that was avoidable had there been a willingness to try and find common ground.

There are many of us who believe that the most appropriate approach would have been to try and find a balanced resolution involving tax reform and revenue and attempting to identify where reasonable spending adjustments could have been made. But instead of all parties trying to come together to find a balanced resolution to the problem that we find ourselves in, there are some in this Chamber who seem committed to trying to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable in our society, balancing the budget on the backs of children and seniors, pregnant women, Superstorm Sandy victims, public housing residents, or national security.

I'm just hopeful that as we move forward that we can find the capacity, find the ability, find the courage to come together to seek out common ground so we can resolve this sequestration matter and move forward supporting the economy in the manner that will be the healthiest for the greatest number of Americans possible.

I'm pleased today that we've been joined by several distinguished members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including the chairperson of the CBC, to whom I yield as much time as she may consume, the Honorable Marcia Fudge, who has been a tremendous leader on so many issues on behalf of working families and the middle class and seniors all across this country.

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Mr. JEFFRIES. Thank you, Congresswoman Lee.

The economic recovery, as you pointed out, is still in an extremely fragile state. Many of those most vulnerable Americans who were adversely impacted by the recession still have not been made whole in any way, shape, or form. Sequestration is an $85 billion shock to the system. It may begin as a slow burn, but it is going to sear over time. It is going to hurt our most vulnerable Americans, as has been detailed in congressional district after congressional district after congressional district all across this country.

It is irresponsible for us to even have allowed it to get to this point, which is why we are advocating for everyone to come to the table to find common ground. This is a democracy, not a dictatorship. Because we are in a divided government, it is unreasonable to simply say ``no revenues.'' So as a result of this hardened position, we find ourselves in the midst of this sequestration.

We've been joined by the distinguished gentleman from New Jersey, my good friend, Congressman Donald Payne, to whom I yield the floor.

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Mr. JEFFRIES. I want to thank the gentleman from New Jersey for pointing several things out, but particularly for making it clear that we have already made significant progress under this administration, in partnership with this side of the aisle, as we have attempted to move forward over the last several years as it relates to deficit reduction. I believe that we've cut approximately $2.5 trillion--done--as it relates to deficit reduction. While certainly we're open to trying to figure out how to move forward in the best possible way as it relates to the economy, an $85 billion shock to the system over the next several months and approximately $1 trillion over the next 10 years is harmful as it relates to the ability to move the economy forward.

We are thankful that we have been joined by the distinguished gentlelady from the Virgin Islands, Congresswoman Donna Christensen.

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Mr. JEFFRIES. Congresswoman Christensen, thank you very much.

I think it's important to emphasize a point that you just made as it relates to what we should be doing to jump-start the economy. We should be investing in the American economy, attempting to grow it so we can create prosperity for the greatest number of people possible, not using sequestration, which is a blunt instrument, to beat the economy and give it a pounding when it is already is in an extremely fragile state.

We know that objective economists have said that sequestration will have an impact of 750,000 lost jobs. We can't afford that at this moment. We urge our colleagues to come back to the negotiating table.

I'm pleased that we've been joined by the distinguished gentleman from Illinois, Congressman Danny Davis.

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Mr. JEFFRIES. Thank you, Congressman Davis, for your leadership and for your eloquence in laying out, in a very clear, concise, and articulate fashion, the problems with sequestration that we are forced now to confront here in America as a result of the irresponsibility of some in this Chamber.

I'm pleased that we've been joined by my distinguished co-anchor, the gentleman from Nevada, the Silver State, Steven Horsford. I now yield to Representative Horsford.

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Mr. JEFFRIES. Thank you, Congressman Horsford.

I think what is important, as it relates to the moment we find ourselves in right now in America, is that there are some who make the argument that the reason why the sequestration cuts perhaps were acceptable is because we've got to do something to deal with our out-of-control spending problem--I believe that's the phraseology that is often used--that we have here in America. And certainly when you think about the debt number that we have, $16 trillion, it strikes you as an extremely troubling situation.

And then of course we've had debates back and forth as it relates to the debt ceiling and suggestions from some in this Chamber that the President's effort to raise the debt ceiling is evidence of his willingness to be irresponsible as it relates to the economy.

What's interesting, of course, is that the debt ceiling is not a forward-looking vehicle that's designed to give the administration the ability to spend more. The debt ceiling is a backward-looking vehicle designed to give President Obama at this moment the ability to pay for bills that this Congress has already incurred.

And so when we talk about the notion that there is a spending problem in America, let's be accurate with what really is at issue. And the reality is that many of the bills that we've already incurred, that Americans are forced to pay for and borrow in order to meet our obligations, these were debts incurred by the prior administration.

In fact, this chart illustrates the dynamic that we find ourselves in as it relates to where we really are in America and how we got here. Under the prior administration of George W. Bush, we had two significant tax cuts that were not paid for in 2001 and 2003 that disproportionately benefited the wealthy and the well off. We had an unjustified war in Iraq that cost Americans in lives and in treasure and that contributed significantly to the deficit and our need to raise and borrow additional debt.

And then, of course, we had the collapse of the economy. It cost America, by some estimates, $22 trillion in lost wealth, homeownership, and economic productivity. And as a result of the collapse of the economy, which took place under the prior administration--many argue they were sleeping at the switch and allowed some in Wall Street to engage in reckless behavior--we were forced to bail out some of the largest financial institutions in this country, which added to our financial burden here in America. And then when the administration came in, inherited a train wreck, in order to stimulate the economy we incurred some additional financial responsibility.

And so when you look at this chart, you can see what the projected debt is as a result of things that occurred in the prior administration as a proportion of GDP. This is a dangerously high number. But we are at this point where the debt has increased relative to our GDP because of things that happened in the prior administration. And, in fact, if you look at the bottom of the chart, you see what the debt would be, much lower, as a proportion of GDP, had those things not occurred.

So when you talk about the need to get spending under control, let's be intellectually honest. Because when we're not, you lay out a scenario: Well, it's because of Social Security that we're in this situation. That's not the case. Well, it's because of Medicare and entitlements that we're in this situation. That's not the case. Well, it's because of Medicaid, and we have all of these takers--so-called takers--in our economy. That's not the case.

Two wars, one of which was completely unjustified, the other of which it's not clear whether it was prosecuted in the manner it could have been because we were distracted in Iraq; two enormous tax cuts that benefited the wealthy and the well off disproportionately; the collapse of the economy; a subsequent Wall Street bailout; and then the need for an economic stimulus package explains why we are where we are right now.

And so the sequestration is an irrational, irresponsible, illegitimate reaction to the reason why we are in this place. And that's why, Congressman Horsford, we are arguing for a balanced approach to our economic reality, the one that we confront right now.

I yield to the gentleman from Nevada.

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Mr. JEFFRIES. Madam Speaker, I represent the Eighth Congressional District in New York. It was one of the districts that was hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy that struck on October 29.

The people of the Eighth Congressional District--neighborhoods like Canarsie and Coney Island, Sea Gate, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Mill Basin, folks who are in coastal communities along the Atlantic Ocean or who live near the Jamaica Bay--lost their homes, experienced significant damage, were displaced, lost property that can never be recovered.

They were victimized on October 29, and then this Congress attempted to come together to provide swift and immediate relief--as is our responsibility to do when Americans have been hit with disaster. A $60 billion aid package was passed in the Senate. Although there was a promise for a vote in 2012, it didn't happen. At the 11th hour, it was yanked because there were some who were arguing--again, in the name of alleged fiscal responsibility--that we should be considering offsets. Americans in need, desperate, but we should be considering offsets, unprecedented in the history of America's response to a tragedy.

Then, thankfully, in January, we came together. Common sense prevailed and we were able to pass that robust $60 billion package. But now we've victimized those who were impacted by Superstorm Sandy in a district that I represent--and others in New York and New Jersey and Connecticut--for a third time because in this sequestration, $2.5 billion in superstorm aid relief has been cut.

That's just one of the examples of how sequestration will impact folks in my congressional district and all across the country, which is why we've been arguing for a balanced response.

The other thing that I'd note: I was in Brooklyn a few days ago and had a meeting with public housing leaders. The New York City Public Housing Authority, which presides over public housing units in New York City--the largest such public authority related to public housing in the country--will experience a $190 million cut as a result of sequestration. There are already residents of public housing in my district and all across the city of New York dealing with inhumane conditions right now--mold infestation, broken elevators, rat infestation, the inability to get repairs done on a timely basis, violence at levels that should not be tolerated. And instead of cutting almost $200 million from the Public Housing Authority in New York, we should be investing more.

Madam Speaker, we're hopeful that we can arrive at a place where common sense will prevail and we can move forward to keep America moving forward in a reasonable way.

I yield to my colleague from Nevada to close.

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