Mr. President, I want to thank the Senator from Oklahoma for his leadership and work, and say a few words, and then I am going to make a unanimous consent request in this regard--but first a little bit of context here.
This Federal Government has doubled in size in the last 12 years. Total spending is up 100 percent in a little over a decade. What the sequester amounts to is 2.5 percent of this gigantic bloated government. But it is actually less than that in a very meaningful way, because the 2.5 percent we referred to--the sequestration, this cut-
is a reduction in the permission to spend. We call it budget authority. What it is is permission for the government to spend money. It actually takes a while for the government to get around to spending the money that is authorized in any given year. So the actual reduction in spending, the real reduction in cash that will go out the door in this fiscal year if the sequester goes into effect is a little over 1 percent, about 1.25 percent. That is what we are talking about.
Our friends on the other side of the aisle say, This is impossible; you can't do it; it will be devastating. They predicted all kinds of calamity if a government that has grown by 100 percent has to find 1 percent to trim over the next 6 months.
Here is another point we ought to keep in mind. If the cuts and sequester hold, if we achieve the savings that were signed into law, that were voted on by both Chambers, and that the President of the United States agreed to by virtue of his signature--if we do, then total spending this year will still be greater than last year. And we are told that is somehow a Draconian austerity program.
What we are talking about is a modest reduction in the rate at which this Federal Government grows. That is all we are talking about here. And we are told that is not possible; there is no way you can do it.
That is simply not true. One of the things that is maddening to me is the administration--and the President is responsible for this. They are willfully choosing to make the cuts in the most disruptive way they can, because they have got so much invested in this idea that we can't cut any spending. Because they predicted such dire consequences and such disaster, they can't very well allow reasonable and manageable cuts to take place which would be easily attained. So we have this extremely irresponsible set of cuts that are completely unnecessary.
Let me zero in a little bit on the FAA budget itself. The sequester is in effect now. If it holds--if it is fully implemented--the FAA budget will, as a result, be larger than the President asked for in his budget submission.
Does anybody think when the President submitted his budget request he was intending to shut down air traffic control operations? I can assure you he didn't tell us that at the time.
The fact is there are plenty of places where we can achieve this savings. The administration knew this day was coming for over 1 year. There has been plenty of time to plan for this and to prioritize.
The Senator from Oklahoma points to the huge growth in the FAA's budget. That is wildly disproportionate to any growth in flights. There are plenty of opportunities to achieve the savings, as evidenced by the fact that the President never asked for all this money.
Let me give a few examples of places where the President, within the FAA budget, could be tightening belts so we don't have to furlough air traffic controllers.
For instance, the FAA spends $540 million a year on consultants. That is nice. I am not sure all of that is as important as keeping planes flying in the air. The FAA operates a fleet of 46 aircraft. That costs $143 million a year--very nice indeed. Probably not as important as making sure planes are coming and going from La Guardia and Kennedy and Newark and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and across the country. The FAA budget includes $1 billion more in grants for airport improvements. I am a pilot. I fly in and out of lots of airports and it is great when a nice little airport has a new taxiway, terrific, but is it truly as important as keeping our air traffic controllers there on the job? These are the kinds of tradeoffs we ought to be making.
My Republican colleagues and I have been offering a wide range of solutions. Senator Blunt had the idea that maybe we ought to treat Federal workers, in this context, the context of the sequestration, the same way we do in other emergencies and designate essential workers. That makes some sense to me. I think that would make a lot of sense. Jerry Moran has another idea for how we could address this.
Senator Inhofe and I introduced a bill before the sequester went into effect. What we said was let's give the President the maximum flexibility--right? The reason they say they have to lay off or furlough air traffic controllers is because they do not have any choice, the law requires it--except they did not want the change in the law which would have given them the choice. Senator Inhofe and I had a bill that would give the administration complete flexibility.
I say this because I pointed to a number of areas in the FAA's budget where I think they could find the savings, avoid furloughing air traffic controllers, but under the approach Senator Inhofe and I suggested, they would not be limited to finding the savings within the FAA budget; they could look anywhere in the government for the lowest priority spending, the most wasteful spending, the least necessary spending or perhaps redundancy and duplication.
I will give just another few examples. The GAO has discovered that throughout the Federal Government we have 47 different job training programs. Does anyone truly think we need 47 of these and that by consolidating them maybe we could save some overhead, some administrative costs? Maybe some of them don't work so well.
How about the fact that we have 94 different green building programs--94 programs--679 renewable energy programs. This is all over government because we have never bothered to scrub this and come up with the savings we could have achieved.
Senator Coburn from Oklahoma has offered all kinds of ideas, Senator Lee from Utah. There are all kinds of places we can save. The fact is, especially in a government that has grown this big, we absolutely can find the little, tiny savings that are required in the sequester so we do not have to do it in a disruptive way.
That is why I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of S. 799. I ask unanimous consent the bill be read a third time and passed, the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table.
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Mr. President, reserving the right to object, I would like to explain what this amounts to. Let's be very clear. There is no money in the overseas contingency operation fund. This is barely an accounting device. Do you know what this really is? The proposal is that we do away with the sequester and we thereby spend more money and we just pretend it is offset. But the fact is, some time ago, this administration made a decision about the level of our involvement in Afghanistan that had nothing to do with this sequester. That has nothing to do with the sequester. The fact that we are no longer at war there does not allow us to spend money we do not have.
Let me give an analogy. I could come down to the Senate floor and suggest I think it should be the policy of the United States that we absolutely not invade Canada and we not have a war with Canada. Imagine the money we could save if we do not go to war with Canada.
So, with all that savings, let's go out and spend it because we have this terrific savings. This proposal is absolutely no more meaningful than if I were to make that suggestion, which obviously everyone understands is ridiculous.
So I object.