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Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, I indicated to the majority leader before the Senate convened today that I wanted to have a discussion, the two of us, on several items.
No. 1, I understand my friend the majority leader, last night on MSNBC, said it was his intention at the beginning of the next Congress, if Democrats were in the majority, to change the rules of the Senate by a simple majority. So I want to begin by asking my friend the majority leader if his comments at the beginning of this Congress, on January 27, 2011, are no longer operative. At that time, my friend the majority leader said:
I agree that the proper way to change Senate rules is through the procedures established in those rules, and I will oppose any effort in this Congress or the next to change the Senate's rules other than through the regular order.
So my first question to my friend the majority leader is: Is that statement no longer operative?
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Mr. McCONNELL. I gather then my friend the majority leader's commitment at the beginning of the Congress, that we would follow the regular order to change the rules of the Senate, is no longer operative. So let me turn to a second area of discussion.
The principal advantage of being in the majority is you get to schedule legislation. And of course there are a number of things that can be done with a simple majority of 51. So I would ask my friend the majority leader why it is his view Republicans have somehow prevented the Senate from passing a budget, which could have been done with a mere 51 votes anytime during the last 3 years?
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Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, I would say to my friend the majority leader, he knows the Parliamentarian disagrees with his view that we already have a budget. But let us assume for the sake of discussion we do have a budget. Then I would ask my friend the majority leader why we haven't passed a single appropriations bill?
Mr. REID. That also is an easy question to answer. The Republicans in the House--and this is a bicameral legislature--have reneged on the law that was passed last August where it set numbers. Their appropriations bills have artificially lowered the numbers and violated the law, in effect, here in this Congress. As a result, Senator Inouye has marked up his bill--subcommittee bills.
But I would also say the House is not serious about what they do. Energy and Water used to be one of the most important subcommittees--the most popular, I should say, in addition to being important--in this body. I was fortunate to serve on that subcommittee for more than a quarter of a century under great leaders--Domenici, Bennett, Johnson, and the committee chairs switched back and forth. But the House sent over here an Energy and Water Subcommittee appropriations bill that has more than 30 riders directed toward EPA-type functions alone. I mean, they are not serious about doing legislation. They are serious about satisfying their tea party and the ridiculous messages they are trying to send.
I would also say one of the other problems we have is we have to fight to get to anything--any legislation. We have to fight to get that done. As you know, we have wasted--I said weeks earlier--months trying to get legislation on the floor. So appropriations bills, I want to get these done. I am an appropriator. But it has been unrealistic with the actions of the House.
Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, what we just heard is that it is not the
Senate's fault, it is the House's fault that the Senate won't schedule appropriations bills that have been marked up in the Senate appropriations committees.
My concern here is that nobody is taking responsibility for the Senate itself. We are not responsible for what the House is doing. And typically these differences in what we call 302(b)s; that is, what each subcommittee is going to spend, are worked out in conference. We can't have a conference on any of the bills because we haven't passed any of the bills across the Senate floor.
So the majority leader doesn't want to do a budget. He doesn't want to schedule votes on appropriations bills. Then I would ask my friend, why don't we do the DOD authorization bill?
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Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, it is pretty obvious that the reason the Senate is so inactive is because the majority leader doesn't want to take up any serious bills that are important to the future of the country. He mentioned cybersecurity. Why isn't it on the floor? Defense authorization: Why isn't it on the floor? Appropriations bills: Why don't we call them up? These are not partisan bills. They are widely supported. They are the basic work of government, including the budget. And I understand his view is that the Parliamentarian is wrong and that we really did pass a budget. But the budget could be done with a simple majority. The appropriations bills are not partisan in nature. If there are differences in the 302(b)s, they could be worked out in conference, which is the way we did it for years.
We have followed the regular order occasionally, and when we have Senators have been involved, they were relevant in the process. I will give five examples. The Export-Import Bank reauthorization, trade adjustment assistance patent reform, FAA reauthorization, the highway bill, and the farm bill are all examples of when Senators were made relevant by the fact that we took up bills that actually came out of committees, that were worked on by Members of both parties, that were brought up on the floor, amendments were offered, and in the end bills passed.
The core problem here is that my good friend the majority leader as a practical matter is running the whole Senate because everything is centralized in his office, which diminishes the opportunity for Senators of both parties to represent their constituents.
Look, we all were sent here by different Americans who expected us to have a voice, to have an opportunity to effect legislation.
I would say to my good friend the majority leader, we don't have a rules problem, we have an attitude problem. When is the Senate going to get back to normal?
I can recall my friends on the other side saying repeatedly that the difference between the House and Senate is you get to vote; it is not a top-down organization the way the House is, it is really kind of a level playing field in which the majority leader has a little more advantage than any of the rest of us and the right of first recognition, but really, once a bill is called up, it is a jump ball.
What my friend the majority leader is saying is that it is inconvenient, it is hard to work with all these Senators who have different points of view and want to do different things. Well, heck, that is the way legislation is passed. It is not supposed to be easy, and Senators are supposed to have an opportunity to participate.
I would argue that in the examples I just cited where Senators did participate--both in the committee and on the floor--the Senate functioned the way it used to. And all this talk about rules change is just an effort to try to find somebody else to blame for the fact that the Senate has been ruled essentially dysfunctional by 62 efforts by my good friend the majority leader to fill up the tree--in effect, deny Senators, both Democrats and Republicans, the opportunity to offer any amendments he doesn't select. That is the reason we are having this problem. So it doesn't require a rules change, it requires an attitude change. And I sense on both sides of the aisle--this is not just a Republican complaint, I would say to my friend the majority leader. I have talked to a lot of Democrats about this too. They would like to be relevant again, and the way Senators are relevant is for their committee work to be respected and to be important and to become a part of the bill coming out of committee or, if it didn't, an opportunity to offer an amendment to effect it on the floor.
Sure, we don't have rules of germaneness. We generally are able to work that out. When we were in the majority, we got nongermane amendments from the Democratic side, and I used to tell my Members that the price of being in the majority is you have to cast votes you don't want to cast because that is the way you get a bill across the floor and get it to completion.
So I would say to my good friend the majority leader, quit blaming everybody else. It is not the House; it is not the Senate; it is not the motion to proceed. Why don't we operate the way we used to under leaders of both parties and understand that amendments we don't like are just part of the process because everybody here doesn't agree on everything? That would be my thought about how to move the Senate forward.
But at the beginning of this discussion, the majority leader made it clear that what he said at the beginning of the Congress is no longer operative. It is now his view that the Senate ought to operate like the House--it ought to operate like the House, with a simple majority. I think that is a mistake. I think that would be a mistake if I were the majority leader and he were the minority leader, which could be the case by the end of the year. And now I will probably have to argue to many of my Members why we shouldn't do what the majority leader was just recommending about 6 months before.
Let's assume we have a new President and I am the majority leader next time and we are operating at 51. I wonder how comforting that is to my friends on the other side. How does it make you feel about the security of ObamaCare, for example? I think that is worth thinking about.
The Senate has functioned for quite a number of decades without a simple majority threshold for everything we do. It has a good effect because it brings people together. To do anything in the Senate, you have to have some bipartisan buy-in.
My colleagues, do we really want the Senate to become the House? Is that really in the best interests of our country? Do we want a simple majority of 51 to ramrod the minority on every issue? I think it is worth thinking about over the next few months as the American people decide who is going to be in the majority in the Senate and who is going to be the President of the United States.
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Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, most people think a filibuster is a lot of talking to stop the bill from passing. In fact, cloture is to end debate. And what we have had here on at least 62 occasions while the majority leader was running the Senate are examples of times when Senators were not allowed to talk, not allowed to offer amendments, and not allowed to participate in the process. Cloture is frequently used in order to advance a measure, but, as you can imagine, when Senators have no opportunity to have any input, it tends to create the opposite reaction.
But what is all of this really about? It is about making an excuse for a completely unproductive Senate, much of which could have been done with simple 51 votes, passing a budget, and not even bringing up bills that we all want to act on--all the appropriations bills, the Defense authorization bill. And on the rare occasions when the majority leader has turned to a measure that Senators have been involved in developing, we have come to the floor, we have had amendments, we have had votes, and the bills have passed. That is the way the Senate used to operate.
So this isn't a rules problem, this is a making-excuse argument to try to blame somebody else for the lack of productivity of a Senate that I sense on a bipartisan basis would like to be a lot more productive, which would involve the use of Senators' talents, speaking ability, voting, and debating on the floor of the Senate.
Since when did that go out of fashion?
Yes, we have a big difference of opinion about the way this place is being run. It is not a rules problem; it is an attitude problem. It is a looking for somebody else to blame game.
I say to my friend the majority leader, I think what we need to do is get busy with the serious business confronting the American people. Where is the Defense authorization bill? Where are the appropriations bills? Don't blame it on the House. Don't blame it on Senate Republicans. We want to go to these bills. Our Members have been involved in developing this legislation. In the Armed Services Committee, in the Appropriations subcommittees, Senate Republicans are involved in developing that legislation. We would like to see it brought up on the floor, debated, and considered.
What is more important than funding the government? What is more important than the Defense authorization bill? Why isn't it on the floor? That is my question to the majority leader.
We can have the rules debate later, and apparently we will, but why aren't we doing anything now is my question for my friend the majority leader.
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Mr. McCONNELL. The reason I am having a hard time restraining my laugher, I actually know Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann. They are ultra ultraliberals. Norm Ornstein is the house liberal over at the American Enterprise Institute. Their problem with the Senate is the Democrats don't have 60 votes anymore. Their problem is the Republicans control the House. Their views about dysfunctionality of the Senate carry no weight, certainly with me. I know they have an ideological agenda, always have, and usually admit it--although it is cloaked in this particular instance.
But I think the best way to wrap it up is nobody else is keeping the majority leader from calling up the appropriations bills, from calling up the Defense authorization bill, from calling up a budget. That is his responsibility. He has a unique role in this institution. He has the opportunity to set the agenda, and just because all 100 Senators do not immediately fall into line--and it may be a little bit difficult to go forward--is no excuse for not doing the important and basic work the American people sent us to do. It is time to bring up serious legislation that affects the future of the country that the American people expect us to act on and not expect 100 Senators to all agree on every piece of legislation from the outset.
Passing bills is inevitably difficult but not impossible. That has been demonstrated on at least five occasions when the majority leader allowed the committees to function, allowed the Senate floor to function, allowed Members to have amendments, and we got a result.
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Mr. McCONNELL. Have you tried calling up any of them?
Mr. REID. Mr. President, I don't think it calls for my being interrupted. I have listened patiently to all his name calling and I do not intend to do that. But I do say this. I have tried to call up lots of things--lots of things, by consent or by filing motions, and virtually everything has been held up. The bills he is talking about, to stand here and boast about passing five pieces of legislation in an entire Congress is not anything any of us should be happy about. We should not be happy about that at all. We should be passing scores of pieces of legislation, as we did in the last Congress.
But, no, the decision was made at the beginning of this Congress--it may not be a direct quote but substantively accurate--my friend the Republican leader said his No. 1 goal is to stop Obama from being reelected, and that is what this legislation we have tried to get forward has had, the barrel we tried to get around continually. We are going to go ahead. We will have cloture tomorrow on another one of our scores of times we have tried to break cloture this Congress and move on to something else. We have had 13 cloture votes on motions to proceed in the second session of the Congress alone--13. Others just went away because we run out of time to do those kinds of things.
As indicated by the Republican leader, we passed five things. That is about one-third of the motions I have had to file to invoke cloture on motions to proceed, not on basic legislation.
Mr. McCONNELL. Just one final point on that. The reason it has been difficult to get on bills is we cannot have an agreement with the majority leader to let us have amendments once we do get on the bill. So the reaction on this side is, if the majority leader is not going to let us have amendments, if the only result of invoking cloture on a motion to proceed is that he fills the tree and doesn't allow us to offer any amendments, why would we want to do that? All this is much more easily avoided than you think.
The majority leader is basically trying to convince the American people it is somebody else's fault that the Senate is not doing the basic work of government. Regardless of the blame game, the results are apparent: no budget, no appropriations bills, no Defense authorization. We are not doing the basic work of government and that ought to stop. It is within the purview of the majority leader to determine what bill we try to turn to, and just because it may be occasionally difficult to get to a bill, particularly when the majority leader will not say we can have amendments, is no good excuse for not trying. We spend days sitting around when we could be processing amendments and working on bills. All we would need is an indication from the majority leader that these bills are going to be open for amendment. We tried that a few times and it worked quite well. It is amazing how the Senate can function when Members are allowed to participate, offer amendments, get votes, and move forward. I recommend we try that more often.
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Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, the final thing I would say is just last week the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Inouye, said his committee has been working hard to have the bills ready to go. To date, the panel has cleared 9 of 12 annual bills. Senator Inouye is quoted, on July 10, just last week, ``After putting us all to work like this I expect some of these bills to pass.''
I recommend that my good friend the majority leader heed the advice of the chairman of the Appropriations Committee of his party, let's pass some appropriations bills.
Mr. REID. I do not have a better friend in this body than the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. I have been one of his big fans. He has been one of my big fans. He, of course, is a national hero, a Medal of Honor winner, and great chairman of the Appropriations Committee. We work hand in glove. Everything I have said about the appropriations process will be underscored, will be and has been, by Senator Inouye. He supports what we are unable to do. He realizes that. He realizes his counterpart in the House has fumbled with the numbers and it makes it extremely difficult to get things done. We understand that.
But the main problem is we cannot get legislation on the floor because the No. 1 issue we have talked about in the Senate this entire Congress is how to get on a bill, and that is why the motion to proceed must go away.
Mr. McCONNELL. A good example of the problem is the bill we are on right now. The Stabenow bill bypassed the committee entirely. It was introduced a week ago and placed on the calendar. This is not the way legislation is normally done. It is crafted in somebody's office. Rule XIV is brought up by the majority leader. I expect it has something to do with the campaign. We spent a week on it when we could have done the DOD authorization bill. Chairman Inouye says: Where are the appropriations bills?
That is my point.
What are we doing here? Is the Senate a messaging machine or are we doing the basic work of government? We are not doing the basic work of government, but we can change. There are a vast majority of Senators of both parties who would like to become relevant, who would like to participate in the legislative process, and who would like to do the basic work of governing.
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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, we know with some certainty that on January 20, 2013, regardless of who the President is, he will swear, to the best of his ability, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States; that more than 60,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines will remain deployed in Afghanistan, and that our All-Volunteer Force will stand ready to defend American interests in the Strait of Hormuz, in the Republic of Korea, as well as defend our allies across the globe.
Our forces will remain committed on that day to denying the Taliban a return to Afghanistan, to denying al-Qaida a safe haven, to training the Afghan national security forces, and to fulfilling the operational plans of our regional commanders. As important: the troops in the training pipeline and the schoolhouse, the F-35s in production, and the basic research and development programs in progress will provide the capabilities to meet future threats.
What is not certain is whether the President who is sworn in on that day will have to attempt to manage the damage done on January 2, 2013, by across-the-board cuts to the Defense Department of roughly $50 billion. But he will if the President and the Democrats in Congress fail to act on the cuts to defense that the President has insisted on, but which his own Secretary of Defense has said would be ``devastating.''
Let me say that again. These are cuts the President is insisting on, but his own Secretary of Defense says would be ``devastating.''
That is why I and my Republican colleagues call on the President to make his plans for these cuts clear right now. The President owes it to our forces around the world and to their families to put a plan on the table for all to see now rather than waiting until after the November elections pass. To keep these details secret and to leave the defense sequester in place as written would be irresponsible regardless of the outcome of the Presidential election.
Think about it. If Governor Romney is elected, he will be responsible for managing $50 billion of programmatic cuts before he or a new Secretary of Defense has even had a chance to conduct a review of the Defense Department's plans, programs, and strategy. And if President Obama is reelected, the arbitrary spending cuts directed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 that he insisted on would eviscerate the President's own defense strategic guidance issued earlier this year.
No wonder Secretary Panetta has said these cuts would be like ``shooting ourselves in the head.'' The weapons systems and capabilities required to provide a dominant presence in the Asia-Pacific Theater, attack submarines, amphibious ships, marines afloat and ashore, the next generation bomber, completing acquisition of the F-35, and the Ford class aircraft carriers will be required to deter and defeat aggression and to project power.
Investments in these capabilities must be made while we continue to combat and pursue al-Qaida, deploy and equip special operations forces, and, of course, seek to deter Iran. That is why the President should prepare for the possibility of a possible transition in power now and should do so with the same foresight and concern for our operations that previous administrations have demonstrated.
The last two transfers of political power, that from President Clinton to President Bush, and that from President Bush to President Obama, are instructive in how past administrations have managed the transition of the Defense Department's leadership both in peace and in war.
Early in 2001, before the Senate majority changed control from that of Republicans to Democrats, before the attacks of September 11, and before an envelope containing anthrax was sent to the Hart Building, Secretary Rumsfeld assumed his duties as the Secretary of Defense. He informed the Congress that he would conduct a strategic review of the Department's plan and programs and submit an amended budget later in the year.
That document was ultimately provided to the Congress in June 2001. Secretary Rumsfeld had months--literally months--to develop an initial plan. And this, by the way, was prior to the war on terror, or as we thought it then, during peacetime.
At the end of the second term of President Bush, Secretary Gates found himself responsible for the first Presidential transition during wartime in 40 years. Secretary Gates established a transition staff and a briefing process to ensure all incoming Obama administration officials were well prepared during a time of war. He encouraged political appointees to remain in office and to help with the new administration. Ultimately, he ended up staying on as Secretary.
Just consider the plight of what a President-elect may face in January 2013. Iran has shown no willingness to end its uranium enrichment effort. A young, inexperienced, untested leader is in charge of North Korea. The Taliban patiently waits for the United States and NATO to withdraw from Afghanistan. And al-Qaida's senior leadership, though weakened, and al-Qaida and an affiliate remain determined to strike the homeland. Egypt and Libya struggle with forming new governments. The revolt in Syria threatens regional stability, and al-Qaida affiliates stay active in Mali, North Africa, and Yemen.
As the next President attempts to have his Cabinet Secretaries confirmed, he will be dealing with managing a disruption in procurement contracts and deliveries, actions that are likely to elevate the cost of weapons systems and lead to layoffs in our industrial base. Troops preparing for deployment will see training curtailed. Permanent change-of-station orders will likely be delayed. Training and maintenance readiness levels will decline. All of this will occur while a new administration is reviewing war plans in Afghanistan.
Think of what this would say to a President-elect: As you are developing your new national security strategy, attempting to seat your Cabinet, and assessing the war in Afghanistan, the sequester will slash every program under review. Welcome aboard, sir. You have your hands full.
More important is what this will say to every soldier and marine still fighting in Regional Command East: Despite the outcome of the election, you may still be fighting the Taliban, attempting to train and mentor an Afghan soldier, conducting a drawdown of forces, and handing off operational responsibilities at the same time the funding of your operational training, weapons maintenance, and operations of your base childcare center are being slashed. If you are wounded, the funding for the defense health program and the care you receive will also be cut. That is why allowing the sequester to go into effect as currently written and as demanded, demanded by the President, would break faith with the forces we have sent abroad.
To confront a new President with this level of disruption as he transitions to wartime command would be deeply irresponsible. We must deal with defense sequestration prior to the election. The sequester should be equally concerning to President Obama.
In January of this year, the Department of Defense released strategic guidance that entails a rebalancing of our forces with an emphasis on a growing presence in the Asia-Pacific Theater. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the counterinsurgency strategy used in both campaigns required an expansion of our Marine Corps and Army ground forces. President Obama has announced plans to reduce the Army by 72,000 soldiers between 2012 and 2017 and the Marine Corps by 20,000 between 2012 and 2017. Yet the force structure required to conduct counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan is far different from that required to convince friend and foe alike that our presence in Asia is significant and sustainable.
We must invest in a new generation of warfighting capability. The President's budget insufficiently funds this new strategy, and that is actually before sequestration. This year's budget request delayed construction of a large-deck amphibious ship, a new Virginia-class submarine, and announced the early retirement of other ships. These reductions are envisioned without those related to sequestration. Naval, air and forced-entry capabilities to combat anti-access weapons are the capabilities required under the new strategy, and they are underfunded in the President's budget. This comes at a time when military expenditures in Asia are outpacing those in Europe.
Let me be clear. The failure of the administration to match the President's budget request to his new strategy is not an argument for growing the defense top line, it is emblematic of the difficulty our regional commanders will have in fulfilling current operational plans before you even get to the sequester.
Although the administration has emphasized that the rebalancing of our forces in Asia is not a strategy to confront the growth of China's military, if we fail to match our commitment to Asia with the requisite force structure, China's influence, military posture, and sphere of influence will actually expand. As the Pentagon's own Annual Report to Congress makes clear, China is committed to annual military spending increases of roughly 12 percent, and it has undertaken a broad-based effort to expand the capabilities of the People's Liberation Army.
Both Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey have made it clear that the ability of our Armed Forces to execute the new strategy under sequestration would be at risk. As General Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has stated, under sequestration, ``it's coming out of three places: equipment and modernization--that's one. It's coming out of maintenance, and it's coming out of training. And then we've hollowed out the force.''
In his new strategic guidance, President Obama articulated a commitment to our enduring national security interests; the security of our Nation, allies, and partners; the prosperity that flows from an open and free international system; and a sustainable international order. Needless to say, those interests will be extremely difficult to maintain with a hollow force.
Just as the next President will take the oath on Inauguration Day, we too take an oath as Senators. We have a responsibility to raise and support armies and provide and maintain a navy. If we let sequestration as currently written go forward and do not act, we will have failed. That is why I am so disappointed with the President's failure of leadership on this issue and that of Senate Democrats as well.
Both House and Senate Republicans have offered proposals to replace the savings from sequestration with more thoughtful and targeted spending cuts. Both of those proposals also either eliminated or reduced the sequester on nondefense programs as well.
Last week, Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, Senator Kyl, and I sent a letter to the President asking him to work with us to find a bipartisan solution before the end of the fiscal year. With a $3.6 trillion annual budget, clearly there is a smarter, more thoughtful way to achieve at least $110 billion in savings.
It is simply outrageous that this President and Senate Democrats are missing in action on this issue. We are committed to finding a solution on this before we recess for the election. Are they? Or are they committed to jeopardizing our national security? When will they sit down and work with us to find a solution?
The House overwhelmingly passed the Sequestration Transparency Act today by a vote of 414 to 2. This bill is modeled after a Thune-Sessions bill. It asks the President's Office of Management and Budget to submit a report to Congress on the impact of sequestration on both defense and nondefense programs. Every single Democrat in the House Budget Committee supported it--every one. Will that bill die in the Senate because Democrats not only do not want to address sequestration, they want to hide the ball on the impact of sequestration until after the November elections? If they resist this effort to get more information on sequestration out in the open, it is clear that they wish Congress to be both blind and mute when it comes to our national defense and the fate of those who volunteer to defend it.
We need President Obama to tell this Congress his plan for avoiding the sequester, for preventing the gutting of his strategy, for responsibly transitioning to a new Commander in Chief, and for keeping faith with the warriors we have sent into combat. In all of this, our overriding objective--in fact, our duty--should be to work with the President to achieve the level of savings called for in the Budget Control Act without doing harm to our national security or to our military.
I yield the floor.
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Mr. McCONNELL. Will the Senator yield for a question?
Mr. CORNYN. Yes, I will.
Mr. McCONNELL. With regard to the impact on the economy, I wonder how many Boeing employees, for example, there may be in the State of Washington. Does the Senator have a number on that?
Mr. CORNYN. Responding to the question, I don't have an exact number, but I do know that by one estimate as many as 1 million private sector jobs would be affected if this sequester goes into effect as currently written.
We made it clear under the leadership of Senator McCain, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, that we are willing to work with our colleagues to try to change the structure of this sequester. We all believe Federal spending needs to be cut. But this is something that would, as the Republican leader said and Secretary Panetta admitted, would hollow out our national security and would be disastrous. Why the President won't listen to his own Secretary of Defense is beyond me.
Mr. McCONNELL. So I say to the Senator from Texas, it is not just the impact on the military, which is devastating enough, but on our economy as well, correct?
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