Sequester Is a Tough Pill to Swallow, But That Was the Point – Cuts Were Designed to Be Tough Enough to Force Lawmakers to Compromise, Reach a Balanced Deal
Fundamentally Skewed Priorities in Republican Budget Would Hand More Tax Breaks to Wealthy at Expense of Middle-Class Families
Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding Republican attempts to go back on an August budget agreement in order to protect multi-millionaires and corporate defense contractors at the expense of ordinary Americans. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Yesterday Republicans continued to filibuster Democrats’ plan to protect 7 million students from skyrocketing interest rates on federal student loans.
What’s worse, they seem proud of it. Not a single Republican voted to allow the debate on this bill to go forward.
But this fight is not over. Democrats have not given up efforts to keep college affordable for almost 30,000 Nevadans and more than 7 million students nationwide.
I hope Republicans will come to their senses, and work with us toward a compromise.
As Democrats work to create jobs and make college affordable, our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are operating under a different set of priorities.
In the House, Republican efforts are underway to undo a hard-fought August agreement to cut more than 2 trillion from the deficit over the next decade.
But the Republican budget and their so-called reconciliation bill don’t just renege on that bipartisan, bicameral agreement to reduce spending.
They reflect fundamentally skewed priorities. They hand out even more tax breaks to multi-millionaires and shield corporate defense contractors, all at the expense of hard-working, middle-class families, the elderly and those in greatest need.
They would slash investments that strengthen our economy and shred the social safety net.
President Dwight Eisenhower once said: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
In a balanced world – one where a strong national defense and a strong social safety net are both valuable pillars of a successful society – that need not necessarily be true.
But the Republican plan would enshrine into law a set of truly unbalanced priorities – and ensure the kind of terrible math Eisenhower envisioned.
Unlike defense contractors and billionaires, ordinary Americans don’t have high-priced lobbyists to protect them. That’s our job.
But Republicans are going after those who can’t fight back – hard-working Americans and struggling families.
Let’s review a bit of history. The sequester isn’t the first bipartisan agreement to reduce the deficit.
Over the years there have been many efforts to reach comprehensive, bipartisan solutions to our deficit.
There was the Fiscal Commission, Bowles-Simpson, the Gang of Six and the Supercommittee. They all failed.
Although President Obama was willing to make difficult concessions to achieve meaningful deficit reduction, Republicans and Speaker Boehner could never go against Grover Norquist.
This is a Grover Norquist Congress.
So we’re left with the threat of almost $500 billion in cuts to domestic programs and almost $500 billion in cuts to defense programs.
Democrats agree the sequester – which includes across the board cuts both to domestic spending and the defense budget – is far from the ideal way to solve our nation’s fiscal problems.
It’s a tough pill to swallow. But that was the point.
Those cuts were designed to be tough enough to force lawmakers to compromise. They were designed to be tough enough to force the two sides to reach to a balanced deal.
But Republicans refused to be reasonable. They refused to raise even a penny of new revenue, or ask millionaires to contribute their fair share to help reduce our deficit and our debt.
I’d like to read a short excerpt from a piece by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein from the Washington Post.
They eloquently describe the GOP’s unwillingness to compromise here:
“We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.”
They went on to say:
“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
Republicans insisted on balancing the budget on the backs of the middle class, seniors, students, single mothers and so many others who could least afford it.
And it is their intransigence – their refusal to compromise – that leaves us facing the threat of the sequester, and its difficult but balanced cuts.
Going back on the August budget agreement now in order to protect wealthy special interests is no solution.
Neither is refighting the battles of last year.
Democrats agree we must reduce our deficit and make hard choices.
But we believe in a balanced approach that shares the pain as well as the responsibility.
Is the sequester the best way to achieve that balance? Absolutely not.
But Republicans refuse to consider a more reasonable approach – one that asks every American to pay his fair share while making difficult choices to reduce spending.
And Democrats won’t agree to a one-sided solution that lets the super-wealthy off the hook while forcing the middle class, and those in greatest need, to bear all the hardship.
Democrats believe we can protect Americans’ access to health care, create jobs while investing in the future and protect the poor and elderly.
And we can do all that while reducing the deficit in a responsible, even-handed way.
But we can’t do it alone. It will take hard work and compromise.
And so far Republicans have been unwilling to make a serious effort to achieve that compromise.
Republicans have rejected our balanced approach. Their one-sided solution to across-the-board cuts would take from the many to give to the few.
So, here’s what their plan would do:
- Cut Medicaid benefits, increasing the number of uninsured children, parents, seniors and people with disabilities by 300,000. It would also put seniors in nursing homes at risk.
- Punish Americans who receive tax credits to purchase health insurance when their financial circumstances change – causing 350,000 Americans to forgo coverage.
- Weaken Wall Street reforms, protecting big banks at the expense of consumers.
- Once again target middle-class workers, including food inspectors, air traffic controllers and border patrol, drug enforcement and FBI agents.
- Cut funding for preventive health care programs that fight chronic illnesses – such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes – that cause 70 percent of deaths in America.
- Slash Block Grant funding that allows states to help 23 million children, seniors and disabled Americans live independently and out of poverty.
No segment of the population is immune from the pain of this Republican plan – except maybe millionaires, billionaires and wealthy corporations.
The Republican proposal cuts Meals on Wheels for seniors.
It reduces food assistance for 1.8 million needy people.
And it cuts off 280,000 kids from free school lunches at a time when one in five children lives in poverty.
That’s why the U.S. Conference of Catholic of Bishops said the Republican plan fails a “basic moral test.”
This budget sets very clear priorities. The problem is, they’re the wrong priorities.
President Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”
Republicans would do well to remember our nation is judged not only by the strength of its military, but also by the strength of its values.