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Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, let me thank my colleague from Maryland, Senator Mikulski. I was listening to the exchange between Senator Murray and Senator Mikulski. I just want to concur in their comments. We need to act on H.R. 933, the amendments offered by Senator Mikulski and Senator Shelby. It is important for us to move forward on this for several reasons.

First, we are over 5 months into the fiscal year. We need to enact the fiscal year 2013 budget. If we are going to the fiscal year 2014 budget, we have to get past the fiscal year 2013 budget. So it is critically important that we pass the continuing resolution omnibus bill, send it back to the House, and, hopefully, reconcile those differences very quickly because we only have a few more days to get this enacted in order to make sure government continues, but just as importantly to give predictability to our agencies for the next 7 months.

We are very close to getting that done. I urge my colleagues to cooperate as the chairperson of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski, has said. I certainly strongly support the work that has been done. I thank Senator Mikulski and Senator Shelby for bringing us together in a way that I would hope the Senate would operate, that we work together, Democrats and Republicans, come together on a bill, and move that legislation.

Having said that, I must tell you I share the frustration that Senator Mikulski talked about. There are provisions that are not included in this legislation that I would like to see included, and there are some provisions that are included that I would like to see not included. Let me talk about one of the provisions that is included that I regret is there. That is the provision that would extend the pay freeze for our Federal workforce through the remainder of the current budget year, fiscal year 2013.

I am proud to represent the people of Maryland in the Senate, along with my colleague Senator Mikulski. We represent 130,000 Federal workers. That is about 5.6 percent of the Maryland workforce who are Federal workers. These are public servants. These are people who are on the frontline. These are people who are providing critical services every day to the people of this country.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the National Institutes of Health. I had a chance to talk to the workforce there. What they are doing is critically important to the people of this country. I could tell you that the basic research they do is critically important to a lot of companies in the creation of jobs. That is absolutely true.

I will tell you the story of one individual I happened to meet. One of the scientists there took me to the program on which they are working. The work they are doing is in the field of research on renal cancer. The reason I say this is I had a chance to meet with one of the individuals who is in the program. He comes from a different State and was diagnosed a while ago with having a form of renal cancer with no cure. He was told by his doctor that he had basically two choices: We can treat you with the only technology we know here or at any facility in the country--and you have 6 months to live--or you may participate in an NIH program where they are looking at alternative ways to treat this form of renal cancer. This person chose the latter course, traveled to Bethesda, MD, and participated in the program. They discovered for this form of cancer a drug therapy that will stop the growth of the cancer cells. He is now living a somewhat more normal life with hope of survival. He didn't have that just a few months ago.

When I spoke with this person about what he felt about sequestration or about government shutdowns, do you know what he told me? He said: I never thought I would need government. I was working. I never thought I would need government. NIH needs the money we give them. It helped save my life, and it helped develop the type of scientific base we need in this country.

This story could be told many times over. They need the predictability of a budget. They need the legislation Senator Mikulski is promoting, which will give them funding for the remainder of this year so they can continue their critically important work.

I visited the Social Security Administration a week ago and met a lot of hard-working Federal workers who were trying to send Social Security benefits to those who need them. We have people with disabilities trying to get a disability determination to receive a check. There is a delay in getting this done--a delay that will only become longer if the Social Security Administration doesn't have the people it needs in order to process those claims.

I could mention many other agencies--NSA and the critical work they do in cyber security. These are the best mathematicians in the world who are Federal workers serving in the most noble of public service. This includes Departments such as NIST, National Institute of Standards and Technology, which develops technology needs for our future, and the work done at FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, on food safety.

These are all people working in my State of Maryland for a Federal agency as Federal workers. They are getting the job done for the people of this country and deserve our support. They have already sacrificed and have seen budgets that have shrunk. There are fewer people working, and their mission has increased--more work, fewer workers. They have now been through 2 years--which will now increase to 3--of a pay freeze. This translates into a $90 billion contribution to the deficit problems of this country. This is what the Federal workers have done.

Quite frankly, I find it disappointing that a very modest pay adjustment for a 7-month period--a .5 percent, one-half of 1 percent increase, which was in the President's budget--was held off for the first 5 months and will now be held off for the remainder of this year. I think this is wrong. That pay adjustment should have gone forward. I regret that it is not included in the legislation we will act on.

The Federal workforce will have additional sacrifices because this continuing resolution on the omnibus bill incorporates the lower numbers caused by these across-the-board cuts by sequestration. As a result of that, many of our Federal workers will be getting furlough notices. What does a furlough notice mean? That means as many as 1 day out of 5 they will be asked to not show up for work, which translates into a 20-percent pay cut, and some possibly 1 out of every 10 days, which is a 10-percent pay cut. If you have a mortgage payment to make or your utility bills to pay, creditors are not going to accept the fact that it can be 10 percent less because you have been furloughed 1 day out of every 10 days.

Our Federal workers will even do more, and I think we need to acknowledge that not by just saying ``you are doing a great job at public service'' but by giving them the support they need. I hope that as we move forward on the budget considerations for fiscal year 2014, we will take into consideration the sacrifices already made by our Federal workforce and give them the support they need to get the job done for the people of this country.

There are provisions which were left out of this continuing resolution omnibus bill which I think should have been included. Let me support Senator Harkin and the amendment he has pending, which would basically put into the continuing resolution the work that was done during regular order by the Appropriations Committee on the Labor-HHS appropriations bill. It really accepts regular order. It doesn't increase the total at all; it just adjusts the money that was spent in fiscal year 2012 to the committee priorities established in fiscal year 2013. In other words, it establishes regular order with the same appropriation dollars in order to update the spending in the agencies under the committee's jurisdiction. This makes sense.

Let me give you one example, and I could give you many others. I spoke about the National Institutes of Health. I spoke about how valuable the work is that they accomplish. Well, as a result of budget reductions, they may now only approve about one out of every seven grants. They make grants to our universities and to groups who work to find answers for these diseases. They only now may do one out of every seven. As was explained to me by Dr. Collins, they must choose between the really great grants that are submitted and the great, great grants that are submitted. They can take only a few of the really great projects that are out there.

We need to do better. Senator Harkin's amendment would increase the amount of money going to NIH by about $140 million. Once again, it doesn't change the overall totals; it adjusts the priorities from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2014. I urge my colleagues to support the Harkin amendment to enable an agency such as NIH to receive the help needed without affecting the overall spending of this Nation.

I really do look forward to us working together, Democrats and Republicans, in the national interest to compromise in a bipartisan manner. This is what we need to do. This is exactly what Senator Mikulski and Senator Shelby have done in bringing forward this legislation. It deserves our support.

I listened to Senator Murray, as I know we will be voting on a budget next week for fiscal year 2014. What we need to do is work together, Democrats and Republicans, let these bills go to conference, work together and bring out a budget that represents the best for our Nation to move forward.

What I hear most from the people of Maryland is that they want us to make decisions. They need the predictability of a budget. We can give them that for our current year by the enactment of the bill that is currently before us, and then we could give them the predictability they need for the future decisions of our Nation by approving in a bipartisan manner the budget for fiscal year 2014. I would hope we could do that also as this would clearly be in the best interests of our Nation.

Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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