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Public Statements

Making Continuing Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2014--Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. KAINE. I also rise today to talk about the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 and to echo many of the reasons for supporting that budget that were just spoken about by my colleague from Arizona.

This is the first Budget Conference Committee in a divided Congress since 1986, and compromise leaves every side with something they like and something they don't like, but it is what Americans expect us to do.

I applaud Senator Murray, our Senate budget chair, for her leadership since our very first Budget Committee meeting in January 2013. I applaud Congressman Ryan, the chair of the conference committee, for his work with his House colleagues. I was proud to be a part of the Budget Committee in this conference.

Americans want us to find a budget compromise to restore some certainty in a way that will help families, help businesses, and help our economy.

The day that I was sworn in as a Senator, before I took the oath of office, I was interviewed by a radio station in Virginia. They asked me what were the two things I wanted to do most immediately as a Senator. Only last week I was reminded what I said. I said: I want the Senate to find a budget that will be a budget for all of Congress, and I want to end sequester.

I have done a lot of budgets as a Governor and a mayor. It was challenging for me to understand how in February we were here without a Federal budget but on the verge of embracing nonstrategic across-the-board sequester cuts in a way that would hurt so many priorities Virginians care about.

I gave my first speech on the Senate floor in February to urge my colleagues to avoid sequester. In the months since, I have visited Virginia shipyards, research universities, and early childhood education centers and have seen the effect sequester has on Virginians, on Americans, and on our economy.

I am acutely aware of the budget impasse and continuing challenges that are imposed upon this economy by gimmicks such as sequester, and the absence of a budget for 4 years compounds those things. We have seen the harm sequester has done to so many of the priorities we care about.

No manager would embrace indiscriminate across-the-board cuts because not everything the Federal Government does is worth everything else. If we are going to be making cuts, they should be strategic. There are areas in which we shouldn't be making cuts at all. We should be putting more money into the budget to do what is strategic and what is necessary.

So what we have done with this budget deal is we have taken a step back to regular budgetary order to give certainty to the economy and to give certainty to our planners who work for the Federal Government. And while we are not replacing all of sequester--and how much I wish we were--we will do a lot to reverse some of its worse effects.

The budget deal is good in a number of ways.

It replaces $63 billion in sequestration cuts scheduled to go into effect in the next fiscal years--2014 and 2015--and replaces those nonstrategic cuts with a targeted mix of responsible spending reductions and new fees and revenue.

It increases the top-line discretionary spending level for fiscal year 2014 to $1.012 trillion and $1.014 trillion in 2015.

It provides budget certainty for 2 years. This is something many of us in State governments, who have State government experience, have long embraced--the virtue of 2-year budgets, which are common at the State level because they provide more certainty.

Under the agreement defense cuts of an additional $20 billion that were scheduled to take effect in January will not go into effect, and we will find ways to restore funding and avert sequester cuts to nondefense accounts as well.

The bill will let Chairwoman Mikulski and appropriators write full appropriations bills to reverse the cycle of widespread continuing resolutions. Many folks in the Federal Government tell me that as damaging as sequester is, a continuing resolution--that locks in line items at the level of last year or the year before that, instead of allowing flexibility to deal with these situations--is just as dangerous. So our appropriators can now write full-year appropriations bills for fiscal year 2014 and 2015.

With budgetary certainty, our Department of Defense will be able to plan and strategize for the future, as will our domestic agencies. We will fund critical readiness issues. We will allow the Navy in Virginia to continue to work on ship building and repair, which is so critical and, above all, we can show the American public that Congress can work together in a bipartisan way, which is what we are all trying to do and what the American public asks us to do.

We do know, as Senator McCain and all have mentioned, like any compromise this budget compromise is not perfect. I would put on the top of my list as the most grievous challenge with the budget compromise not something that is in it but something that is not in it--the extension of unemployment insurance benefits to the long-term unemployed. In this economy, all of the economic data suggests the extension of those benefits is not only good for the individuals, they are good for the economy itself. The suggestion is the expiration of these benefits could cost the country 200,000 to 300,000 jobs. That is a weakness in this proposal.

An additional weakness is the way we have dealt with the cost-of-living increase for military retirees pre-age 62 who are not disabled. I don't agree with that compromise provision. It requires a reduction in the cost-of-living increase for certain military pensions. The Senate budget that all those currently in this Chamber worked so hard on to pass in March did not contain that provision. It was not the way we felt we should be dealing with the budget. Obviously, we liked the Senate budget, and we found a way to replace sequester without making this change to military pensions. But it was added during the conference in order to find compromise with the House to move forward. Compromise is necessary because absent compromise the very folks who will be affected by this particular change will also be affected, because we have seen sequester and shutdown and furloughs affect military employees. We have seen it affect military operations, and so the alternative of brinkmanship and shutdown is no better for our retirees than this provision.

We have heard from Secretary Hagel and Chairman Dempsey that they are supportive of the overall framework of the deal and it will help them address military readiness challenges. I am pleased Senator Levin, the chairman of Armed Services Committee--a committee on which I serve--has signaled his intention to review the COLA provisions in the Armed Services Committee next year, since it will not be scheduled to take effect until 2015.

I am also disappointed that new Federal employees will be targeted for increased pension contributions. We have now increased those contributions in a somewhat tiered level for new employees twice in the last 3 years. But again, while that compromise is challenging for those newly hired Federal employees, the alternative is more challenging, because we can't keep going through the uncertainty of shutdowns or furloughs. It wouldn't be fair to those employees for us to do that.

So again, we have replaced a portion of the nonstrategic cuts, and that is the way we should go going forward. I will continue to work to get rid of the rest of sequestration and replace it with similarly targeted strategies.

For those reasons I urge my colleagues to support this deal. While I wouldn't agree with all items in it, that is like any compromise I have ever engaged in in my life. All of us who are part of a group--from the Senate of the United States to families--know that if you are part of a group, it
is not always your way or the highway. You have to give and expect others to give as well, and that was an important aspect of this compromise.

I will say in conclusion that another aspect of this deal I like very much is that it has unified the Virginia congressional delegation. There are 13 of us, 11 in the House and 2 Senators. There are 8 Republicans and 5 Democrats. We get along well and work together well, but there aren't many issues like this--big policy issues--where all of us agree. In the House last week, all 11 Members of Congress of both parties voted for this budget compromise. Senator Warner, as a budget conferee, together with all of us in the Chamber right now, are supporting this budget compromise. I am glad my colleagues from Virginia have pulled together, and I think it is a tribute to the fact we have all seen the impacts that the budget uncertainty and sequester have caused. I am glad we seem to be on the verge of providing that sense of certainty that will be good for the public and good for the economy.

With that, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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