Hoyer: Sequester Continues as Republicans Refuse to Take Action

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“Mr. Speaker, as we proceed with the fifteenth week of the Republican policy of sequester, this House continues to avoid taking the steps it ought to be taking to replace the entire sequester with a balanced alternative. Instead, House Republicans have fully embraced the sequester's draconian cuts, which slash funding from our highest and lowest priorities equally and put our economic recovery and national security at risk.

“Last week they approved a rule deeming the Ryan budget's caps for next year, which locks in the sequester cuts. This is a blatant violation of the Budget Control Act agreement reached between the two parties in August of 2011. Now, we're about to consider a defense authorization bill that shifts $54 billion in sequester cuts from the Pentagon onto domestic programs, which were already cut by sequester, like Head Start, Meals on Wheels, rental assistance for low-income families. How shameful.

“This follows the passage of two appropriation bills last week as part of a strategy from Republicans we've seen before. It came as no surprise that they chose to consider two of the most popular bills first, those that fund programs that protect our homeland security and provide care for our veterans. I'm glad there's bipartisan consensus that these bills represent important funding priorities, but let me quote from an Associated Press article from June 4, which sheds some light on their strategy, and I quote: ‘The boost for veterans came even as Republicans controlling the chamber marched ahead with a plan that would require most other domestic programs to absorb even deeper cuts next year than those in place now after the imposition of across-the-board spending cuts.’ This refers, of course, to the sequester.

“The article continues, and I quote: ‘Republicans are coping with the shortfall by slashing across a broad swath of domestic programs, forcing cuts in the range of 20%, for instance, to a huge domestic spending bill that funds aid to local school districts, health research and enforcement of labor laws.’ The article goes on to say: ‘The GOP strategy is to, early on, advance popular, bipartisan bills’ – for which almost all of us voted – ‘and then bring up bills making deep cuts later in the summer, if at all.’ In fact, I predict that they will not bring up most of the bills, notwithstanding their discussions about regular order.

“By insisting on budget numbers that not only include the sequester but cut even further into domestic priorities, in clear violation of the Budget Control Act and the agreement that we reached between the two parties, Republicans are torpedoing any chances of reaching a big and balanced solution to deficits. The longer we wait, Mr. Speaker, to forge a compromise that can replace the entire sequester with a balanced alternative, the more pain will be felt across our economy, and the greater the risk will be to our national security. Just ask the Joint Chiefs, not us.

“Let me review just some of the sequester's many effects: 70,000 kids kicked off Head Start; 10,000 teachers' jobs at risk from Title I cuts; furloughs to cause delays in processing retirement and disability claims; 4 million fewer meals for seniors; 125,000 less HUD rental assistance vouchers; emergency unemployment past 26 weeks cut 11% for 2 million Americans out of work; 2,100 fewer food safety inspections; longer waits to approve new drugs; furloughs equivalent to 1,000 fewer federal agents – FBI, border, etc. – on the job. We talk about border security while at the same time slashing border guards. One third of combat air units are grounded in America.

“It's now been over seventy days since the House passed its budget and since the Senate did the same. Regular order. Yet Speaker Boehner, who claims to wish regular order for this House, will not appoint conferees. Or shall I say he's unable to do so as a result of a severely divided caucus.

“The Washington Post reported on June 3 that the House Republicans had, and I quote: ‘disintegrated into squabbling factions no longer able to agree on, much less execute, some of the most basic government functions.’ It seems what matters is only a commitment to deep austerity and a weakened government. This ideology has achieved a dangerous manifestation in the sequester, which has been the Republican policy all along and which, as I have pointed out in the past, was included in their ‘Cut, Cap and Balance’ bill, passed in July of 2011, when 229 members of their caucus voted for sequester as an option. Now we have further evidence the sequester is their policy as Republicans double down on these irrational cuts and refuse to negotiate.

“There is, however, Mr. Speaker, an alternative. There is a balanced bill that will replace the sequester entirely. The Ranking Member of the Budget Committee, Mr. Van Hollen, has put forward a proposal that deserves a vote. The Speaker so often says, ‘let the House work its will.’ In fact, he's asked for a vote on it six times – Van Hollen has – and will ask for a seventh time at the Rules Committee today, but Speaker Boehner and Republican Leader Cantor have so far said no. The House cannot work its will. The House cannot consider this option.

“The American people deserve to see where their representatives stand on a balanced alternative to the sequester, and they deserve a Congress where real compromise proves stronger than partisan maneuvering. If the Van Hollen alternative were to come to the Floor for a vote, I would hope that a majority of members would vote for it. The majority of Democrats certainly would, and I believe a substantial number of Republicans who are concerned about our fiscal future. Hal Rogers, in fact, the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, has opined how much pain the sequester would be causing and how much dysfunction it would be causing.

“It's exactly the kind of compromise approach we need, the Van Hollen alternative. All we're asking to do in the immediate term is for Speaker Boehner to let the House work its will and have a vote on Mr. Van Hollen's alternative and to follow regular order and agree to go to conference. That's what they said they wanted to do. That's what they said they would do. But they're not doing it.

“It's time for Democrats and Republicans to work together in a bipartisan way to rise to our budget challenges and set our country back on a sound fiscal path. Let us have regular order. Let us have a vote, and let us restore sanity to this House and replace the sequester with a balanced solution.”