Hoyer: Congress Has The Ability To Work Together To End The Sequester

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Transcript: 

“Mr. Speaker, I have come to this Floor nearly every week since the sequester took effect in March to highlight its dangerous consequences to our national security, its harmful impact on our economy, and the pain it is causing to the most vulnerable people in our country.

“Now, with the sequester in its twenty-first week, this Congress has still not achieved the big, balanced, and bipartisan solution to deficits that we need to replace the sequester and put America back on a sound fiscal path. Only such an agreement, Mr. Speaker, can provide a viable alternative to the irrational cuts this sequester has imposed. Those cuts are already exacerbating the many challenges we face as a nation.

“Later this week I will be delivering meals to seniors in my district with the Meals on Wheels program, which could be delivering 4 million fewer meals nationwide as a result of the sequester. One small business owner from my district recently reached out to my staff to say that he was personally impacted by Meals on Wheels when the grandmother who raised him was diagnosed with cancer and came to rely on Meals on Wheels during the final part of her life. He couldn’t believe that, after all the good work the Prince George’s County Meals on Wheels office had done, they were being forced to reduce their operations significantly as a result of the sequester. Surely, Mr. Speaker, the richest country on the face of the Earth does not need to leave people, particularly seniors who can’t get out, hungry.

“Other harmful effects on the most vulnerable Americans include an 11% cut to emergency unemployment insurance payments and 125,000 fewer rental assistance vouchers. Mr. Speaker, as many as 70,000 children could be kicked out of Head Start – they are only going to be four once – including approximately 800 children in my own state. I read on Monday in the Washington Post about the Whitney Young Head Start Center in Yonkers, New York, which has served primarily Hispanic families for more than 12 years, teaching kids English and providing them medical services and meals. It closed down on Friday, a victim of sequestration.

“And on Monday, an article in the Huffington Post drew attention to an effect of sequester that represents a dangerous undermining of justice, and that is the cut to public defenders who represent defendants in the federal court system who cannot afford their own attorneys. This fulfills the constitutional requirement that everyone is entitled to legal representation. It can’t be waived. That report in the [Huffington] Post – and I quote: “The public defender system hasn’t just been stripped bare by sequestration, its bones have been chiseled away as well.”

“Mr. Speaker, can we risk delaying justice for victims and their families because our country can’t afford public defenders? Do we want cases dismissed against people who’ve done wrong because the Constitution says they have to have a defense that we can’t afford, apparently? I met yesterday with Maryland District Court judges, about eight of them, and they raised this issue as one of critical importance, and one of the judges – a Reagan appointee – was obviously very animated at how we were undermining the very essence of the judicial system. Surely no one on this Floor intends to do that.

“At the Defense Department, 650,000 civilian workers are already being furloughed two days a month – that’s an effective cut in pay of 20% - the hardworking people on whom we rely to maintain the national security of our country.

“On July 2, I visited with civilian defense workers from Pax River Naval Air Station in St. Mary’s county, and I heard from my constituents there who are being forced to stay home from work without pay. They were certainly concerned about their families’ finances, but, Mr. Speaker, these hard-working and patriotic public servants were far more worried about furloughs’ effect on our military readiness and support for our troops in the field on those Fridays when many are forced to stay home and not at their post – legally they can’t even come to work and volunteer their time. The sequester is hurting morale and putting our security at risk at a moment when our troops are still in harm’s way every single day, Fridays – otherwise known as furlough days – included.

“I’ll be going to another installation in Maryland’s Fifth District on Friday, Mr. Speaker – the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head – to meet with civilian employees there. I will tell them that Congress has the ability to end the furloughs they are experiencing.

“Now, we have the ability to keep those kids from losing Head Start and our seniors from losing meals. We have that ability now. We can do so by coming together in a bipartisan way to replace the sequester with a balanced alternative that includes spending cuts and – yes – revenues.

“This is what Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen has put forward seven times, Mr. Speaker, only to see it prevented by the Majority from receiving a vote. The Speaker says ‘let the House work its will.’ Well, perhaps this is the will of the House. I hope not.

“I urge my colleagues to work together across this aisle so we can end the sequester – end the sequester – and restore fiscal discipline in a way that does not harm our security, our economy, the most vulnerable in our country, or America itself.”