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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. JOHANNS. Mr. President, as we begin our final week of legislative activity prior to the August work period, I rise today to discuss the fiscal challenges that will await us on our return. When the Senate gavels back into session on September 9, we will be only 3 short weeks away from the end of the fiscal year. We will have only 15 business days to reach an agreement on all 12 appropriations bills and avoid a government shutdown.

Unfortunately, our progress toward reaching this goal has been less than stellar. The transportation-housing appropriations bill we are currently considering is the first of 12 bills that has even been brought to the Senate floor. Consider this: We cannot even agree to comply with the spending limits mandated under current law. We are headed for a big multitrain pileup.

Last Congress, the Senate and the House made a promise to the American people--made a promise about a basic level of fiscal constraint on our appropriations process; not enough, but a step in the right direction. As a part of the Budget Control Act, which passed with bipartisan support and was signed by the President, we committed to capping appropriations spending at certain levels for each of the next 10 years.

Less than a year ago, the majority leader emphatically proclaimed them binding when he said:

We passed the Budget Control Act. We have agreed to all of those numbers. They are done. They are agreed to.

In only the second year of this 10-year schedule, the 12 appropriation bills are mandated to spend no more than $967 billion. That is a huge number to almost everyone. It is simply a whole lot of spending, almost $3 billion a day. But my colleagues on the other side want to spend even more. In fact, they want to spend well over $1 trillion this year.

You see, they want to pretend the Budget Control Act never passed and was never signed into law. They want to keep on spending as if there is some kind of alternative reality. But sadly that is not the case. Our Nation's deficit is still too large. We are still miles away from a balanced budget. The national debt continues on a course toward disaster. Yet, apparently, we are going to ignore the appropriations caps we all agreed to 2 years ago--not by an insignificant amount, an additional $91 billion above the legal limit in the next fiscal year alone.

As a new member of the Appropriations Committee, I have been surprised to watch week after week bills being advanced that simply ignore current law. With a $17 trillion national debt, we cannot simply imagine our way out of this crisis. But by ignoring the Budget Control Act, that is exactly what we are attempting to do.

I continue to believe very strongly that we should be preparing bills that are consistent with current law, abiding by the spending caps we voted for and were signed by the President. I think we should even do more than that, but complying with the current law is the bare minimum.

What does all of this mean? Who gets hurt if we ignore the BCA caps? Well, ignoring the BCA spending levels is not free money we can print down at the Treasury Department. Spending over the BCA caps simply sets the stage for yet another round of sequester cuts. We all remember how popular that was beginning this year. The administration officials claimed our health, our safety, our well-being, were in the balance as they traveled the country, threatening services such as Head Start, food safety inspectors, and massive delays at airports because of the indiscriminate, across-the-board spending cuts.

That is exactly what we are going to see in a few weeks because the majority would rather wash their hands of the responsibility to honor the caps and continue spending as though actions do not matter. But that is exactly the Senate's plan, spend $91 billion over what the law allows. When $91 billion worth of across-the-board cuts kick in, they hope the outcry from the American people is loud enough to convince us here in Congress to add the additional spending to our national debt. In my judgment, that is no way to run a railroad, but that seems to be the plan: keep spending us right into another sequester, ignore the consequences, and hope for the best.

It simply boggles the mind, especially when you consider all but two Senate Democrats on the Appropriations Committee supported--I emphasize supported--the increased level of spending restraint in the BCA.

Instead, we should have been using this time as an opportunity to more thoughtfully reduce spending before the end of the fiscal year. That is exactly what President Obama says he wants, when he says Congress should use a scalpel to tame our budget problems, not an axe, in across-the-board spending cuts. We can responsibly meet the $967 billion spending target in current law, but we have to try. But instead of seizing the opportunity, we are once again shirking our responsibility in the hopes that no one will notice. That is disappointing to the American people. By exceeding the caps, we are violating yet another commitment we have made to them to get our fiscal house in order. You see, the American people figured this out long ago. Washington simply spends too much and, most importantly, spends too much of their own money. As their elected representatives, we should not ignore this. I am hopeful we can change course, take this opportunity and ensure that our spending bills total no more than what we promised months ago.

Come October 1, the American people will have the opportunity to see whether we have met that challenge. I hope for the sake of the country they get better news than what appears today.

I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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