By Congressman Joe Courtney
Today, (Aug. 2) the House adjourned for a five week district work period without completing action on a 2014 budget.
Like so many of you, I am deeply frustrated that the House is leaving town today without finishing its work on one of the most fundamental duties outlined in the Constitution.
Congress should remain in Washington as long as it takes to finish the budget and complete a plan to end the across-the-board budget cuts known as “sequestration.”
Sequestration taking a toll
The direct impacts of sequestration, which went into effect on March 1, were slow to reach eastern Connecticut. However, in the last few weeks, we have seen increasing effects of the indiscriminate budget cuts that make up sequestration, underscoring the need for action in Congress to reverse this self-imposed economic punishment.
Recently, I took to the House floor to call on my colleagues to get serious about finishing the budget and ending sequestration.
Across the country, civilian defense workers are being forced to take 11 unpaid days off for the rest of the year as a result of cuts.
In addition to the direct impact that furloughs will have on their family budgets, it is clear that the furlough of over 700 people at the Submarine Base and over 600 in our Connecticut National Guard will compromise the readiness and operation of our military.
Connecticut families are beginning to feel other impacts as well.
Cuts to Head Start are leaving children from low-income families without access to early childhood education to better prepare them for school.
Even more obscure cuts, such as to government resources to accurately predict hurricanes, leave Connecticut families vulnerable.
These mindless cuts make no sense, and they endanger our economic recovery at a time when we can least afford a setback.
Getting out of the budget impasse
Sequestration was triggered because of Congress’ inability to pass its own bipartisan compromise to cut $1.2 trillion out of the budget over the next decade.
Cuts of $110 billion – split evenly between defense and non-defense programs – will hit the budget each year, causing compounding damage to nearly every aspect of our budget.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently found that allowing sequestration to continue would result in the loss of up to 1.6 million jobs – losses that could jeopardize our fragile economic recovery.
Although there are many areas where Congress can and should make thoughtful reductions in spending, the mindless chainsaw of sequestration is not the right approach.
Despite the noise coming from Washington, I still believe that it is possible for Congress to come together and prevent these indiscriminate cuts from continuing.
For instance, the Congressional Budget Office has forecast that revenue coming in to the government this year will exceed initial estimates by over $100 billion – or the amount needed to end sequestration in 2013.
These resources could be put to use to help pay down sequestration. That is why I am pushing for the completion of the 2014 budget.
This past March, both the House and Senate passed their own versions of the 2014 budget. While the House plan crafted by Republican Budget Chairman Paul Ryan would lock in sequestration cuts in 2014 and the coming decade, the Senate plan eliminated sequestration through a combination of spending reductions and elimination of tax loopholes.
However, instead of allowing the normal process of negotiating a final House-Senate budget to move forward, I have been disappointed that House Speaker John Boehner has blocked completion of this critical process.
With only nine days left on the House schedule in September before the new budget year begins, we do not have a moment to waste — it is long past time to negotiate a budget that ends sequestration and takes a responsible, balanced approach to deficit reduction.
Compromise and action
Sequestration was not created as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act – it was authored by a bipartisan trio who helped pass one of the most significant budget policies in recent decades that helped drive down our deficits in the 1990s.
Senators Phil Gramm (R-TX), Fritz Hollings (D-SC) and Warren Rudman (R-NH) created sequestration as a blunt tool to force Congress to make tough choices about our budget.
The law they authored, the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act, set hard budget targets and, if Congress failed to meet them, automatic, indiscriminate budget cuts would kick in.
This framework successfully drove Congress to develop bipartisan plans to reduce our deficit and avoid sequestration – which should serve as the model for this Congress as we deal with the difficult tasks ahead.
In fact, Senator Gramm told Congress in 2011 that “It was never the objective of Gramm-Rudman to trigger the sequester; the objective of Gramm-Rudman was to have the threat of the sequester force compromise and action.”
I agree, and will continue to work towards bipartisan compromise and action that ends sequestration and enacts a long term and balanced budget that provides a path forward for our economy.
Posted August 2, 2013
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