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Ms. COLLINS. Madam President, of course my friend and colleague from Colorado is exactly right, and I want to thank him for his leadership on this issue and for working with me to develop a bipartisan, commonsense plan that would help to mitigate the harmful effects of the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration that took effect on March 1.
I want to emphasize that under our proposal, budget targets would still have to be met. We understand the need to confront our enormous Federal debt, which is approaching $17 trillion. But our plan does so in a sensible way. It recognizes that rather than imposing meat-ax cuts, we should be setting priorities. Our bill would give the heads of Federal agencies and departments affected by sequestration the flexibility to implement the required cuts in a much more thoughtful way by preserving vital programs and reducing or eliminating lower priority programs.
Our bill also ensures appropriate congressional oversight of these decisions by requiring the agency heads to submit their spending plans to both the House and Senate appropriations committees 5 days before implementing these decisions. These committees and their subcommittees know the budgets of these agencies inside and out and will be able to effectively monitor their spending decisions, just as the committees now oversee reprogramming requests.
Congress has already demonstrated that providing flexibility to Federal agencies in a commonsense way to address the unprecedented problems caused by sequestration makes a great deal of sense. Recently Congress passed a bill we authored that gave the Department of Transportation the flexibility to end the furloughs of air traffic controllers and to, instead, reduce spending by transferring unused balances from a grant program. That is the kind of decisionmaking flexibility we are talking about. In this case the furloughs were causing terrible flight delays and had the potential to truly harm the economies of Maine, Colorado, and countless other States that count on tourists visiting our amazing scenery, sampling our extraordinary food, and being with our great people. Had we not come together to pass this bill, the impacts could have been devastating to Maine and to Colorado businesses and their employees.
In Maine it would have affected everyone from our wait staff and our innkeepers to our countless tourist attractions. It would have even affected Federal institutions such as the gem of Acadia National Park and our State parks as well. In our States, each season, but particularly during those key peak summer months, we welcome with open arms visitors from around the globe. If those visitors were going to have to sit on a tarmac for 3 hours awaiting a flight, they most likely were going to cancel their trips.
I am proud of the work Senator Udall and I did to pass this bipartisan bill, but more can and should be done to give other agencies the same kind of flexibility to set wise spending priorities.
I would turn to the Senator from Colorado to ask him if he agrees that isn't a better approach than across-the-board cuts with no flexibility?
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Ms. COLLINS. I want to thank my good friend and colleague. It wouldn't have happened without his support. We took a bipartisan approach, and that is the kind of approach we are taking today in urging our colleagues to look at our bill and our leaders to move it.
Many agencies face the same challenges that were encountered by the FAA, and many agencies know of better ways to meet the sequestration targets. I have long believed these across-the-board cuts where we don't prioritize simply do not make sense.
Last week, the Department of Defense announced that because the Navy was able to identify cost-effective ways to meet its budget targets, thousands of hardworking men and women at our Nation's naval shipyards, such as the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, ME, would not have to be furloughed. I had long argued the Department of Defense has the flexibility to minimize the furloughs because we gave them that authority as part of the continuing resolution.
I would be remiss if I did not note, however, my disappointment that some of the workers at the shipyard, and others, such as those in the National Guard and at other facilities, such as the Defense Accounting Services Center in Limestone, ME, still face furloughs.
There are other important programs as well. Biomedical researchers and school superintendents are also in a quandary of having little or no flexibility to implement the sequestration targets.
Instead of enacting piecemeal fixes--whether it is the FAA or it is the meat inspectors--our bill would empower administrators to head off this problem and avoid indiscriminate spending cuts. We can mitigate the harmful effects of sequestration, protect jobs, and avoid mindless spending cuts while tackling the very real problem of excessive and unnecessary spending by simply allowing managers to distinguish between vital programs, to be creative, and to cut those that are of lesser importance.
I know my colleague from Colorado would agree that no business facing the need to cut expenses would ever treat every program and function and service of that business as if they were of equal worth. Instead, the business managers and executives and employees would evaluate all the programs and set priorities. That is all we are asking.
I thank the Senator from Colorado, my good friend Senator Udall, for his strong partnership on our effort to protect the jobs of hard-working Americans, prevent arbitrary spending cuts, yet deal with an unsustainable $16.8 trillion debt. We know our approach would go a long way toward allowing priorities to be set. After all, if we are not going to set priorities, to make the tough decisions and distinguish among absolutely vital programs and those that could be cut or eliminated, then we might as well go home and just have a computer apply a formula to the budget.
That is not why we are here and that is not what the American people expect. They expect us to exercise judgment and make good decisions.
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