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

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. REED. Madam President, before I begin, I want to thank Chairwoman Mikulski. She has demonstrated both leadership and resolve in her new role and in assembling this bill under very challenging circumstances.

Overall, this bill provides a total of $1.043 trillion for discretionary spending, and it reflects a number of reductions that the Appropriations Committee had to make in order to accommodate the $4 billion cut to the discretionary spending caps mandated by the January agreement on the so-called ``fiscal cliff.'' In addition, because of a point of order raised by Senator Toomey last year, the emergency designation was removed for $3.5 billion in disaster and mitigation funding in the Superstorm Sandy appropriations bill. I opposed this point of order because I believe disaster funding should be treated as an emergency, as it has been in disasters past. Because we fell three votes shy of the 60 needed to waive the point of order, we must now absorb $3.5 billion in cuts in this bill. That will have real impacts on critical programs.

Moreover, I am deeply disappointed we have not been able to come up with a commonsense and balanced solution to turn off sequestration. These crippling across-the-board spending cuts 7.8 percent for defense programs and 5 percent for domestic discretionary programs will be applied to virtually every discretionary program in this bill. If left unaddressed, they will translate into an estimated 750,000 fewer jobs across this country, including in my home State of Rhode Island, where the unemployment rate is just under 10 percent.

I was one of a majority of Senators who voted for a reasonable solution to replace sequestration with a balanced mix of revenues and spending reductions. I am frustrated that a minority in this Chamber blocked this plan, which would have prevented the self-inflicted job losses and economic pain of sequestration. Now, in order to avoid a government shutdown on March 27, we must forge ahead and pass the best appropriations bill we can, despite these limitations.

Even in the face of these limitations, the Senate bill represents a better path because it makes responsible investments and saves jobs.

Without the funding provided in this bill to meet the funding levels promised in MAP-21, last year's transportation authorization bill, we would lose an additional 25,000 jobs. As chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, I worked to provide $2.4 billion in funding for clean water and drinking water projects, $336 million more than the President requested. This investment, when combined with state matches and leveraging, will support 849 projects and 130,000 jobs.

Let me turn to the Interior title of this continuing resolution in more detail. The CR provides $29.8 billion, which is an increase of $650 million over the Subcommittee's FY 2012 allocation.

While that amount is a 2 percent increase, most of it, approximately $600 million, is needed to fully fund the 10-year average for fire suppression. In addition, we must also absorb the cost of $423 million appropriated as part of the September continuing resolution to repay fire borrowing that occurred in FY 2012.

Even though the subcommittee's allocation rose, so did the costs of programs we must fund. The House was able to avoid tough decisions for the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior funding in its CR because it had an even larger allocation for this title. But it only accomplished that by shortchanging other important investments in other titles, including transportation, child care, education, health research, police, and firefighters.

Lest anyone be confused by the House's new-found commitment to the EPA and other environmental priorities, one should only review the devastating cuts it made to these programs in its initial FY 2013 committee-reported Interior Appropriations bill.

With the resources available and the challenges we face, I believe we in the Senate have funded all agencies in the Interior Appropriations title fairly, and we have still been able to achieve a number of important environmental goals.

As I have already noted, we have been able to provide a solid level of funding for infrastructure through the clean water and drinking water State revolving funds.

We were able to hold funding levels steady for grants that help States run their environmental programs at $1.1 billion. These funds create jobs at the State level and provide for enforcement of our Federal pollution control laws.

As I mentioned, we also fully funded the 10-year average of fire suppression for both the Interior Department and Forest Service, in anticipation of a tough fire season.

We were able to include $53 million in new funding to hire doctors, nurses, and support staff at newly constructed Indian Health Service facilities. These funds will allow seven facilities to open their doors to patients that would otherwise sit vacant.

I am pleased to say this bill also includes language to extend the authorizations of 12 national heritage areas so they will continue to receive their partnership grant funding from the National Park Service.

We want to make sure these heritage areas continue to thrive, so I am proud we were able to extend their authorizations in this bill. And it is worth noting that these grants don't require new funding they are already paid for within the existing National Park Service budget.

This is important in my State, with the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, but for many others, as well.

Finally, land and water conservation funding is sustained at the FY 2012 level of $322 million.

Of course, there are tradeoffs within this bill, and places where we had to sustain cuts below the FY 2012 enacted level.

This is in part due to the hand we were dealt by the President in the budget he submitted for FY 2013. We accepted cuts proposed by the administration for several programs, including construction programs and Superfund.

The Senate bill funds the EPA at $8.34 billion, which, while a reduction of $107 million from the FY 2012 level, is the amount requested by the President for FY 2013. Additionally, the Senate bill spares the agency from the debilitating cuts set in the FY 2013 House Interior bill, which funded the EPA at a level that is $1.29 billion less than FY 2012. Yes, that is a billion.

Unfortunately, however, those reductions alone were not enough to meet our obligation to provide an approximately $1 billion increase for fire. We had to make cuts to other operating programs in the bill cuts that I know will only be more difficult because they will come in addition to sequestration.

Before I conclude, I want to address a few other aspects of this bill and the consequences of continuing resolutions and the sequester.

A major reason we are now confronting such huge deficits is the utter collapse of our financial markets beginning in 2008. Some of this collapse occurred because parts of our financial system were either lightly or barely regulated such as our derivatives and subprime mortgage markets.

However, we also learned the severe costs of having an under-resourced and outmatched Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

I still remember an April 2008 hearing with former SEC Chair Christopher Cox, in which he stated the SEC didn't need more resources meanwhile Bernie Madoff was scamming more and more victims in the largest Ponzi scheme in history, and Lehmann Brothers was levered 30-1 and hiding its precarious financial condition through repurchase agreements.

By starving the SEC and CFTC of resources, we are repeating the mistakes of the recent past.

The CFTC is already suspending its examinations of key market participants and ``shelving'' enforcement actions because of budget constraints. The impact of static funding along with the sequester will further erode its oversight. Indeed, under the CR, the CFTC will operate with a budget that is 37 percent less than the administration says it needs.

The case of the SEC is more disturbing. While subject to appropriation, the SEC has no impact on the deficit since its expenditures are offset by transaction fees applied to the industry. With the impacts of the sequester, the SEC will operate at 20 percent less than the administration has requested. This failure to appropriately fund the SEC will do nothing to improve the fiscal situation. At the same time, our economy and our capital markets will be more vulnerable. That makes no sense.

If we want American markets to be the most liquid, transparent, efficient, and orderly in the world, we need to provide the cops on the beat--the SEC and CFTC with an adequate and stable source of funding.

I also want to speak about the impacts CRs can have on specific programs because they offer no nuance or flexibility. That has been shown to be the case this year with the Weatherization Assistance Program, a program that creates jobs and helps provide energy efficient retrofits to low-income individuals and families.

President Obama described the program this way in a 2009 interview: ``[Y]ou're getting a three-fer. Not only are you immediately putting people back to work but you're also saving families on [their] energy bills and you're laying the groundwork for long-term energy independence. That's exactly the kind of program that we should be funding.''

Under the Recovery Act, we invested $5 billion in this program, which annually received only $175 to $200 million. As the program worked through this infusion, funding for the regular program was scaled back. In FY 2013, funding will be only $68 million even before the sequester is applied. Since there will no longer be carry-over from earlier years, there will not be enough funding to mount a viable program in all 50 states. That's not only regrettable, it is also counterproductive to our goals to create jobs and increase energy efficiency. I hope we can work with the Department of Energy to find ways to sustain the program in 2013 as we seek to address the shortfall in 2014.

Finally, while this should be the case for all of our spending priorities, I want to note that this package includes a full defense appropriations bill that provides DOD with the funding for programs it needs. I am particularly pleased that the bill provides funding to build two Virginia-class submarines in FY 2013 and to purchase equipment for two submarines in FY 2014, which will ensure that we will have the capital resources and workforce in place to move forward. This also retains thousands of good paying jobs for highly skilled workers in my State and elsewhere.

There is much to comment on about the tough choices we have had to make in this bill and the sequester cuts that loom over every discretionary program. Given the very challenging circumstances we face, Chairwoman Mikulski has done her best to craft a bill that can clear the Senate and hopefully get to the President's desk so that we can avoid a government shutdown, which would be even more disastrous.

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