By Deb Fischer
Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Recent history shows that leaders in Washington seem to have forgotten this pearl of wisdom.
A failure in leadership has forced our nation into yet another manufactured fiscal crisis. The so-called sequester is scheduled to go into effect, cutting federal funding across the board rather than targeting wasteful spending.
The problem here, of course, is not that we are cutting spending. Nebraskans know that we have to rein in out-of-control government spending -- and we will. The concern I have -- and that many Nebraskans share -- is that these cuts do not carefully target wasteful spending.
Instead, some in Washington appear intent on maximizing the amount of pain caused by these cuts -- all to ratchet up the political pressure to raise taxes again on hardworking Americans. For days, we have all listened to the "parade of horribles" -- threats of furloughs, degradation in military readiness, and vaccine shortages. But it didn't stop there.
I was incredibly disappointed to learn that days before the sequestration deadline, the administration chose to preemptively release hundreds of illegal immigrants from detention centers to the streets of our communities -- all to advance a political agenda. This action by the president's administration was not tied to sequestration and was not necessary.
It doesn't have to be this way -- and Nebraskans would be wise to remember that.
In Nebraska, when we make budget cuts, we go through the budget line by line in legislative committees to identify ineffective, low priority programs. Here in Washington, we don't even have a budget.
I recently sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack requesting more information regarding the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) plans to furlough meat and poultry inspectors. The letter, cosigned by eight other Republican senators, calls into question recent comments by Secretary Vilsack suggesting the USDA must furlough inspection employees, regardless of statutory duties to provide health and safety inspections.
Rather than jeopardizing the safety and availability of meat and poultry products, or hurting Nebraska's workers and facilities, the USDA should focus on finding ways to implement the required cuts to minimize their negative impact on our food supply.
Funding for travel, seminars, and conferences is certainly less of a national priority than the safety and health of consumers. Yet, none of those funds appear slated for the chopping block. Some agency leaders like Secretary Vilsack argue that their hands are tied; the legitimacy of these claims, however, remains to be seen.
Let me be clear: I support responsible replacement cuts that make fiscal sense, reduce actual spending, and ensure government can continue to meet its core responsibilities. If necessary, I would also support legislation that gives federal agencies the flexibility to make smarter spending cuts.
This week, we also marked the 1,400th day since the United States Senate passed a budget -- a sad milestone. Without a balanced budget to rein in spending, we've seen four years of trillion dollar deficits. Since 2008, federal spending has increased by 19 percent, which is financed by borrowing $85 billion a month from nations like China. Nebraskans know that federal agencies can absorb a 2.4 percent spending reduction to $3.5 trillion in expenditures in a smart and efficient manner.
If Congress can't demonstrate to the American people that we can shave off a fraction of spending -- that 2.4 percent cut -- how can the American people have faith that they will ever see a balanced budget again in their lifetimes?
It has been just eight weeks since taxes went up on Americans, and now some of my colleagues are proposing billions of dollars more in additional taxes. Under current law, sequestration was not designed to raise taxes -- if it was, taxes would go up automatically; instead this law was designed to cut spending.
Budget cuts must happen, and they will happen -- it's just a matter of deciding on priorities.
Thank you for participating in the democratic process, and I look forward to visiting with you again next week.
United States Senator