American Family Economic Protection Act of 2013 - Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

By:  Barbara Mikulski Kelly Ayotte
Date: Feb. 28, 2013
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. MIKULSKI. Mr. President, I rise to speak on behalf of the Democratic alternative that would cancel the sequester for this year.

Before the Senator from New Hampshire leaves, I would like to take a minute to compliment her on her energy, her passion, and the fact that she actually wants to present ideas to be discussed. I think that is excellent. I want her to also know I support the concept she is advocating of no more delay; that we cannot solve America's fiscal situation and also important public investments we need to make in research and innovation and keep our fragile economy going by just punting now. I think we agree on that.

The other thing we agree on is the goal to get our fiscal crisis in order, to strengthen our economy, and to keep America strong. We just are going to disagree on the means. But that is OK. That is called America. That is called the Senate. That is called debate. Let's let the world watch and hear that we actually have ideas, and just as we are doing this minute, we can do it with civility and with interest in what is being said. I found what the Senator from New Hampshire had to say very interesting, and I will have a few comments about that and what the Senator from South Carolina said, but I wanted her to know that I do think we must begin to move with urgency. I do think the politics of delay, ultimatum and brinkmanship, should come to an end. I like the idea of debating ideas and look forward to that both in conversation and so on.

I just wanted to say that to her.

Ms. AYOTTE. Would the Senator from Maryland yield for a brief comment?


Ms. AYOTTE. I thank the Senator, and I wanted to first say I know she is the new chair of the Appropriations Committee and I congratulate her on that. As we go forward, as we look at why we are where we are, if we can get back to regular order in the Senate, with a budget and a regular appropriations process, I think we would do a great service for the American people and eliminate this crisis-to-crisis mode. I know, as the new chair of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski will play a leadership position in doing that.

Ms. MIKULSKI. I absolutely will. Just to respond, first of all, I have a great vice chairman, Senator Richard Shelby, from the other side of the aisle, who shares that same idea.

What does the regular order mean? It means we bring out one bill at a time; that we don't have a $1 trillion bill on the floor at one time, where we can't discuss it, debate it, analyze it, and certainly no more of these 7,000-page bills, where we find things have parachuted into the bill in the middle of the night.

I agree with my colleague and I look forward to that, and I must say I have enjoyed working with her and look forward to doing more of the same.

Ms. AYOTTE. I thank the Senator.

Ms. MIKULSKI. Mr. President, I do want to speak in support of the bill that is offered as our Democratic alternative. It is a balanced solution to preventing the dysfunctional, disruptive, across-the-board spending cuts called sequester. Sequester is a Washington word and a Washington invention we came up with during the budget crisis debacle in August of 2011, where we would cut $1 trillion over 10 years or $110 billion at a time. That was supposed to have been resolved through the supercommittee, but that didn't happen. It was supposed to have been resolved through the fiscal cliff, all the way up to New Year's Eve. What happened? We punted. We delayed for 2 months, and so here we are.

While we are facing the Draconian implications of the sequester, we do have an answer. That answer is composed of a balanced approach, where we look at increased revenue and strategic cuts that will not cripple our economy nor weaken America's strength here or abroad.

What does it do? Yes, it does go to increased revenue. The revenue we are talking about is to close these juicy loopholes, to end these outrageous tax earmarks that happen in the stealth of the night. Look, we got rid of earmarks on the Appropriations Committee. Let's get rid of tax earmarks on the Finance Committee, and this is one of the ways to do it.

I want to compliment the Senator from Rhode Island, Mr. Whitehouse. He has done incredible research on just exactly what these cushy, lobbyist-driven tax breaks are.

Our closing the loopholes cuts spending, and it also protects the middle class, ensures essential government services, and keeps America strong. What does it do? Yes, it does reform the Tax Code. The first loophole it closes is something called the Buffett rule. It saves $53 billion and it means wealthy taxpayers will pay lower effective tax rates than the middle class. In plain English, and this is what Warren Buffett said, a billionaire should pay the same tax rate as somebody who makes about $55,000 a year.

Guess what. We Democrats believe in entrepreneurship. We believe in rewarding hard work. So that tax doesn't kick in until your second million. If I were a billionaire, I would take that deal. I am not a billionaire. But, more importantly, neither are 99 percent of the American population.

We also eliminate a special loophole to the oil and gas industry for $2 billion where they get oil from tar sands. That would be also subject to a tax. But my favorite one is it eliminates tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas, another significant amount of money.

I am an appropriator, so let me talk about spending cuts. We have come up with spending cuts: Yes, 27.5 in domestic spending, and 27.5 in defense.

Let me start first with defense, because much has been said about defense. Many tables have been pounded, many chests have been thumped talking about it. And we do have to look out for our military. But our $27.5 billion recognizes the reality of boots on the ground. The reality of boots on the ground. Our troops are coming home. They will all be home by the summer of 2014. Our defense cuts kick in in 2015, so nothing we do will in any way dilute, diminish, end or terminate money that would go to our men and women in harm's way. So our cuts don't kick in until 2015, and then it will be $3 billion a year over a 9-year period, which our generals and our Acting Secretary of Defense, Secretary Hagel, now concur with. So we are OK with defense. And, most of all, the military is OK with it.

Then we also cut domestic spending. Here, we cut $27 billion in the farm bill. It eliminates subsidies we don't need to do anymore. The Presiding Officer is from an agricultural State. We love your cheese. We even from time to time cheer on the Green Bay Packers. So we know agriculture is important. But essentially, we have a tax subsidy structure that goes back to the 1930s--a different economy, a Dust Bowl, people vacating homes in Oklahoma and following the grapes of wrath trail to California. So we came up through the New Deal with a way of subsidizing farms, restoring the land, and restoring people to their land. But a lot of those subsidies aren't needed anymore and, quite frankly, a lot goes to agra business for crops not even planted. So working with the Agricultural Committee--Appropriations didn't do this out of the blue--we come up with $27.5 billion.

Much is said about asking Democrats if we know math. Yes, we know math. We have $27.5 billion cuts in domestic spending, $27.5 billion cuts in defense kicking in in 2015. That is $55 billion. Getting rid of tax-break earmarks and making those who make more than $2 million a year pay their fair share, we come up with 110. Quite simply, that is our plan.

I spoke quite a bit during this week about the impact of sequester. Sequester was never meant to happen. We have got to end sequester. We could do it this afternoon. For all those people who are crying their tears and don't want it, do they want to protect America's middle class, the 99 percent, or do they want to protect billionaire tax-break earmarks? That is the choice. So they can rally: We don't want to pay more taxes. You can't have a government without paying taxes. And ordinary people pay them every day.

Do you know what drives me wild? There is this fix the debt crowd flew in. I watched them fly in. I loved it. They stayed in Washington where they could take expense account deductions while they came to lobby us. And how did they come in? On their subsidized tax-break jets and their expense accounts that they could deduct, from sushi to Cabernet. They came to tell us to raise Social Security. Then they told us to raise the age in Medicare because, after all, people live longer. Maybe when you have all that wealth you can afford health care and you don't need Medicare. Nobody has to take Medicare. If you don't need it, you don't have to take it. If you don't need Social Security, you don't need to take it.

My whole point was, often the very solutions are given by people who get the most tax breaks. That is a pet peeve of mine.

But really what hurts me is this: I represent some of the great iconic institutions in America--the National Institutes of Health, the National Security Agency, each doing its own work to protect the American people. The Federal Drug Administration--I have 4,000 Federal employees keeping our drugs and medical devices safe for the American people. And food safety. We have to make sure those people work so our private sector works and we keep our economy strong.

The Democratic alternative is sound from the standpoint of policy, it is sustainable and reliable. We could end sequester this afternoon.

I will be back to talk more about it. But I think we have a good idea here. Let's not follow the politics and let's not dither in the U.S. Senate.

Madam President, I yield the floor.


Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.