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Sen. Toomey Speaks On The Sequester

Thursday, Feb 28

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Pat Toomey gave remarks on the Senate floor today on S.16 - a bill he and Sen. Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced to allow smarter, sensible cuts to take effect in sequestration.

A full transcript of Sen. Toomey's remarks is below:

SEN. TOOMEY: Thank you Madam President. I want to start by expressing just how disappointed that I am that we are having the debate in this fashion. This is certainly among the very most issues that we are grappling with, as the Senate, as the Congress, as the federal government. Getting ourselves on a sustainable fiscal path is as important as anything that we could be doing. Sequestration is an important part of that and unfortunately the majority party here doesn't want to have full and open debate and won't permit multiple amendments from both sides.

I don't know how many ideas there are on the Democratic side. I know that there are at least 3 or 4 or 5 different ideas on the Republican side and frankly, I think that any sensible approach to this ought to have full and open robust debate and I am happy to vote on every one of them. I would vote against some and I'll probably vote for others. Why in the world would we say that there can only be two choices, one Democrat choice and one Republican choice? I have to say that I am extremely disappointed that we have gotten to this point where we cannot have an open debate and amendments on a wide range of ideas because the challenges require that kind of response and it is very disappointing the majority party refuses to conduct that debate and appears unwilling to have those votes.

Nevertheless, I have developed a bill with Sen. Inhofe which I think is a much more sensible way to achieve the saving that we badly need and I will say unequivocally: we need to trim spending. We cannot continue spending money at the rate that we have been spending money. We cannot continue trillion dollar deficits; we have a $16 trillion debt. The massive deficits and the accumulated debt are costing us jobs and holding back the economy. We need to begin the process of getting spending under control and frankly the sequester barely starts that process.

The President has been campaigning around the country spreading this idea that somehow we're going to have a complete economic disaster and meltdown if this modest spending discipline goes ahead. We keep hearing about austerity the question is "what austerity?" Let me put a little context into what we are talking about here. First of all over the last 12 years the federal government has doubled in size, we spend 100 percent more now than we did a dozen years ago. After this huge run up in the size of federal spending, this sequester, would reduce spending by 2.3 percent. After growing by 100 percent, we can't find 2.3 percent? Oh and by the way, that is Budget Authority which means permission to spend. The actual amount that would be spent this year would go down by about 1.2 percent. That's less than half of 1 percent of our economy. Here is the other thing: this is how much austerity that we're talking about. If the savings of the sequester go into effect, total spending of the government in 2013 will be greater than spending was in 2012. This is not nearly the amount of savings that we need this is merely one step in the right direction.

While government has been growing the economy has not we've had all this spending growth, we've had all massive deficits and what have we gotten in return? --The worst economic recovery from any recession since the Great Depression, unemployment that is persistently, unacceptably high. --Around 8 percent is the official measure, but when you take into account the people who have left the workforce all together and given up looking for work it's much, much higher.

The fact is economic growth does not depend on a bloated government that is always growing. In fact, we will have stronger economic growth as soon as we begin to demonstrate that we can get on a sustainable fiscal path. As soon as we can start to take the threat of a fiscal collapse off the table by showing that we can get spending under control. So it is absolutely essential, for the sake of our economy and for job growth that we achieve the savings of this sequester. But I am the first to acknowledge there are a couple of problems with the way that this legislation goes about doing it and that is why I have introduced this legislation with Senator Inhofe. First, the savings hits the defense budget disproportionately. The defense budget is not 18 percent of total spending, but it is half of this sequester and that's after we've already cut defense spending. I am very sympathetic towards the concern that this poses a real problem on our defense budget.

The second problem is that the cuts are not very thoughtfully designed. There is no discretion, there is no flexibility.

Now there are huge categories that are protected like the entire social security program and many others which are not impacted at all. But for the others there is no ability to be discerning in which programs ought to be cut more, which programs ought to be cut less, which ones perhaps should not be cut at all.

The bill that I have introduced and that we will be voting on today addresses both of these problems. It does require that we achieve the savings of the sequester but it would allow the President the flexibility in how it is achieved so that we don't have these ham-handed, poorly designed across that board cuts.

What the President will be able to do if this bill passes, he would go to his Service Chiefs on the defense side and say "OK, look, you have been used to budgets that just keep growing and this year you are going to have to cut back a little bit."

This is a few pennies of every dollar, so look for the programs that are working least well or not at all, look for areas where there is waste and inefficiencies, look for redundancies and that is where we are going to trim a little. That's what any competent manager in any business would do, that's what families have to do, that's what state and local governments have to do, that's what we need to do here. And that's what this bill would enable the President to do - to find the areas where we can make the cuts without causing great disruption.

This is not a blank check for the President. There are constraints on what the President could do under the legislation that Sen. Inhofe and I proposing here; for instance there could be no tax hikes. We don't think we need still more tax increases after all the ones that have recently been through, the defense cuts could not be any greater than what is contemplated under the current sequestration.

Under Sen. Inhofe's approach and mine the President could choose to follow the advice of his senior military advisors and cut the defense budget a little less and shift this elsewhere.

I am one that believes that the Defense Department should not be exempt from scrutiny and from spending discipline and some cuts but I think that they ought to be done carefully and thoughtfully. This isn't an exercise in just shifting money to another account. It's a question of where can cut most thoughtfully and sensibly. Any cuts inside of the Defense budget would have to be consistent with the National Defense Authorization Act.

The President would have to achieve 100 percent of the savings and he couldn't use any gimmicks to do it. No phony cuts in the future. No promises for cuts another time, none of that. It would have to be straight-forward. It would have to be honest.

Finally, I think this is an important part; Congress would have the final say. The President would be required to propose and alternative set of cuts and then Congress could vote to disapprove them.

The President is saying that he doesn't want this flexibility. This is unbelievable to me. He is going around the country scaring the American people, threatening all kinds of disastrous things. And then he says in virtually the same breath, "oh and by the way, don't give me the flexibility to do something else". I don't understand that. It seems to me that the obvious thing to do is to do these cuts in the way that won't be disruptive and won't do harm.

Let me give one example: a good example is the FAA. If the sequester goes into effect, the FAA budget will be cut by $670 million. That's from a total of about $17 billion. The President and the Transportation Secretary have said that if the sequester goes into effect they are going to have to lay off air traffic controllers. They might have to shut down control towers. We are going to have long delays at airports, flights canceled, and all kinds of problems. Well it is interesting to note though, that if the sequester goes into effect the amount of funding available to the FAA will still be more than what the President asked for in his budget. In his budget request was the President planning on laying off air traffic controllers and shutting down airports and air control towers? I rather doubt it. So if we gave the President the flexibility just within the FAA, he could enact the kinds of savings that he proposed in his own budget and have enough money to pay all the air traffic controllers and keep airports running. The point is that even within the FAA's budget there would be no service disruptions whatsoever, they are not necessary.

But our bill would give the President even more flexibility than that. He would be able to achieve savings in other areas. Let me suggest that we have an unbelievably lengthy list of opportunities to reduce wasteful government spending and excessive spending. Instead of closing down air traffic control facilities or military bases or FBI offices maybe what the President could do is cut back on federal employee travel. We spend $ 8 billion a year for federal employees to go to conferences and trips. Maybe we could cut back on the cell phone subsidies where we buy cell phones for people costing one and a half billion dollars a year. We spend millions of dollars a year on an old fashioned style trolley in St. Louis and millions on a sports diplomacy exchange program. We have 14,000 vacant and underutilized properties. We spend money for a Cowboy Poetry Festival and a million dollars for taste-testing foods to be served on mars. I don't know about you, but I think that some of these are a little less important than keeping out air traffic control system intact and safe and it seems like common sense to me that we ought to give the President the discretion to reduce the spending on the less vital things and continue to fund the important thing.

But we don't only have to go after wasteful spending. We have an unbelievable number of redundancies and duplicate programs. We have 80 different economic deployment programs spread across the federal government. We have 94 different programs to encourage the construction of green buildings. We have 47 different job training programs. Now doesn't it make sense that if we're going to have some savings we would look to those programs that aren't working so well?

It cannot be that every program is equal. I guarantee you that some of them are not working so well. I would like to think that the Administration has metrics for performance and it knows which ones are performing well and it knows which ones are not. We could concentrate the cuts on those that are not working. Or we could decide to consolidate this huge plethora of programs and save a lot of money and overhead and administrative and bureaucratic costs. There is just any number of ways to achieve savings. Sen. Tom Colburn has made and enormous contribution to our federal government by providing exhaustive litanies of duplication and redundancies and waste and excesses. That would be a very useful place to begin in terms of finding alternatives in addition to the many that I have mentioned.

Madam President, we have got a simple choice here. This sequester is going into effect. Nobody here is going to suggest that they have the votes or that they have a way to prevent it. The question is are we going to achieve these savings through badly designed spending cuts that make no effort to distinguish between sensible government spending and less sensible government spending. Or will we adopt this bill that Sen. Inhofe and I have introduced that will give the President the flexibility to cut where the cuts won't be painful.

We're talking about what will amount, in actual outlays, to a little over 1 percent of the total government spending. This is a government that has doubled in size in the last 12 years. The people in Pennsylvania that I represent do not believe that every dollar of government spending is spent wisely and prudently and is necessary. They know that there is a lot of waste. So this is all about these next 6 months as we know, the $1.2 trillion dollars in savings in subsequent years are achieved in statutory spending caps and in those years, the savings will be figured out by the appropriations committee which is where this should be happening. I wish that we had taken up an appropriations bill this last year but we didn't. At least given the reality that we face we have the opportunity to avoid the kind of calamity and disaster that is being threatened and is completely unnecessary.

So Madam President, I hope we will do the common sense thing -- adopt a bill that will give the President the flexibility that he needs to make these cuts in a rational and sensible fashion. We need to achieve the savings for the sake of economic growth and job creation. This is no time to trade higher taxes for more spending as my democratic colleges would prefer. This is a time to make sensible cuts in spending. We can do that and I urge adoption of the measure that Sen. Inhofe and I have proposed and I yield back the floor.

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