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Harkin on continuing sequester cuts: “Staggering” impact on children, the elderly

Senator Tom Harkin
Senator Tom Harkin

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, took to the Senate floor this weekend to discuss the implications of what another year of sequestration would mean for programs that come under the subcommittee’s jurisdiction.  He highlighted these staggering figures:

  • 177,000 fewer children get Head Start services than under the Senate bill that passed Committee in July.
  • 1.3 million fewer students would get Title I education assistance;
  • 760,000 fewer households would receive home heating and cooling assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program known as LIHEAP;
  • Federal funds for special education would be cut.  State and local taxpayers would have to find some other way to support more than 9,000 special education staff in classrooms around our nation.
  • A year-long CR includes $291 million less than the Senate bill for child care subsidies for working families.
  • A year-long CR includes less than half of the funding to go after fraud and abuse in Medicare.  This program recovers $7.90 on average for every $1 Congress appropriates.  We would be foregoing more than $2.7 billion in recovered funds to the Treasury.
  • And a year-long CR is $2 billion less for the National Institutes of Health, which translates to 1,300 fewer research grants.

The full text of Harkin’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, is as follows.

“Mr. President, it is October 14th.  The government has been shut down for two full weeks and we are three days away from the debt ceiling deadline.

“I understand that we are close to a deal and I hope that is true.  I want to take a moment though to set the record straight.

“I’ve heard a lot of talk in the last day or so about the Democrats putting a ‘new issue’ on the table – sequestration.  Mr. President, how could anyone think this is a new issue?

“In March, the Senate approved a budget that replaced sequestration with a mix of entitlement reforms and revenue increases.  In April, the President put forward a budget that replaced sequestration with a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases.  Throughout the spring and summer, the Appropriations Committee, on which I serve, debated and passed bills that conformed to the Senate budget resolution – replacing sequestration.

“Republicans in the House and Senate have taken part in this debate.  The Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee responded with a letter, objecting to our policy of replacing the sequestration cuts.  The House of Representatives passed its own budget, the Ryan Budget, which also takes a position on sequestration.  It made sequestration worse by filling in the cuts to the military with additional cuts to already-reduced spending on education and social services in this country.    This is a budget that, I might add, the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee called ‘unworkable.’

“Sequestration is the biggest difference between these two budgets, and that is why Senate Democrats have asked again and again to go to conference and negotiate our differences.  But we have been blocked again and again from even having the conversation.

“Mr. President, far from being a ‘new’ issue, this is the issue of the year.  It is only a new issue if your memory is only two weeks long.

“More than two weeks ago, Senate Democrats compromised in an attempt to keep the government open.  We agreed to keep the government open for 6 weeks by extending the current operating levels, levels that include the fiscal year 2013 sequestration cuts.  These are the same levels included in the continuing resolution passed by the House of Representatives.   We agreed to these levels in order to keep the government open, as we continued to negotiate whether to replace or change sequestration.

“But now, the Senate Republicans are pressuring us to surrender our Senate budget resolution and agree to the total spending level in the Ryan Budget for six months – half the year – without even having a discussion.  And make no mistake, the longer this continuing resolution lasts, the more it will become the basis for the year.

“This sounds familiar.  First, the Republicans in the House won’t agree to negotiate on the budget unless Democrats agree to the Republican top priority – no revenue increases.

“Then, Republicans insist upon shutting down the government in order to stop Obamacare.

“Since Saturday, the Republicans have been saying they won’t agree to re-open the government or lift the debt ceiling until Democrats agree to the total spending level in the Ryan budget.

“This is truly unprecedented.  We heard over and over again that the Republicans wanted the Democrats to produce a budget, now they are doing everything, and I mean everything, in their power to avoid discussing our budget.

“But what is truly incredible is that they want the world to believe that Democrats agreeing to compromise for six weeks was an agreement to give up our entire budget resolution for the year.

“That’s not compromise, that’s one more demand.

“Mr. President, I will happily vote for a bill that extends the current levels for six weeks.  I will consider voting for a bill at those levels for ten weeks, as the House originally proposed.  But I think the debate over whether to keep or change sequestration for the year, which is the entire debate between the Senate and House budget resolutions, is too important to be used as a bargaining chip for basic government operations.

“In my capacity as Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for overseeing the Departments of Labor, HHS, and Education, I have seen first-hand the impact of sequestration.  So I know what locking in sequestration means for the programs under my jurisdiction.  Under a year-long CR at sequestration levels:

  • 177,000 fewer children get Head Start services than under the Senate bill that passed Committee in July.
  • 1.3 million fewer students would get Title I education assistance;
  • 760,000 fewer households would receive home heating and cooling assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program known as LIHEAP;
  • Federal funds for special education would be cut.  State and local taxpayers would have to find some other way to support more than 9,000 special education staff in classrooms around our nation.
  • A year-long CR includes $291 million less than the Senate bill for child care subsidies for working families.
  • A year-long CR includes less than half of the funding to go after fraud and abuse in Medicare.  This program recovers $7.90 on average for every $1 Congress appropriates.  We would be foregoing more than $2.7 billion in recovered funds to the Treasury.
  • And a year-long CR is $2 billion less for the National Institutes of Health, which translates to 1,300 fewer research grants.

“By accepting a six month or a year-long continuing resolution, we would be giving up 1,300 opportunities to achieve scientific breakthroughs that could lead to life-saving treatments and cures.

“Mr. President, a continuing resolution at sequestration levels isn’t a good deal for the Senate, but it’s a terrible deal for American families.  As I said, I’m happy to vote for a compromise.  Let’s get to a compromise that re-opens the government, averts a government default, and allows us to have a full and fair discussion of sequestration and our nation’s budget.”

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