U.S. SENATOR THAD COCHRAN
U.S. SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE MARKUP
15 July 2010
Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to join you today to begin consideration of the Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations bills. The absence of Senator Byrd is deeply felt. He was a fierce protector of the Committee's power of the purse. We owe a debt of gratitude for his distinguished service.
Mr. Chairman, I commend you for advancing the Fiscal Year 2010 war and disaster supplemental in a timely manner. I think you were correct in maintaining the focus of that bill on the troops and on disaster relief. I was disappointed that the House of Representatives--after taking no action for an extended period--chose to add a large number of unrelated and controversial provisions to the bill, going so far as to provoke a veto threat from the President.
With American men and women in harm's way in Afghanistan and Iraq, and other places around the world, it is important that Congress act now on the President's request for additional troop funding. Secretary Gates testified to this Committee about the department?s urgent need for supplemental funds. We also know that months ago the Federal Emergency Management Agency stopped reimbursing states for approved disaster-related expenditures. I do not believe the approach of the other body gets us any closer to addressing these important needs. I look forward to working with you, Mr. Chairman, in an effort to promptly enact a supplemental bill.
With regard to Fiscal Year 2011, the Appropriations Committee is facing a difficult situation. The economy is in distress. We need to support programs and investments that will support recovery and growth. At the same time, the size of the Federal debt poses a threat to our national security.
I greatly regret that we may not achieve consensus with regard to the appropriate level of discretionary spending. We have a fundamental difference of about overall top-line spending, which I hope can be resolved. I also hope we can find a way to enact 12 responsible appropriations bills.
Mr. Chairman, the Republican members of the committee recently sent a letter expressing our support for limiting fiscal year 2011 appropriations bills to an aggregate level of approximately $1.108 trillion. We further expressed our view that we could not support the individual appropriations bills without a plan in place to achieve that top-line level.
Neither I nor any committee member took signing that letter lightly. We had many discussions about how to proceed. While we have a variety of opinions on our side about how aggressively discretionary spending should be limited, every one of our members values the working relationships they enjoy on this committee. We recognize that minority views and priorities are given greater consideration here than in many other committees. That has been the case under the control of both parties during my tenure in the Senate.
Congress has not adopted a budget resolution. It is clear that neither the House nor Senate will attempt to consider one. In the absence of a budget resolution, we have had no opportunity for Congress to consider the appropriate level of discretionary spending in the context of a comprehensive budget. We have had no opportunity to debate the tradeoffs among entitlement spending, discretionary spending, taxes and debt.
It is true that there have been other years in which Congress did not pass a budget resolution. Whether through "deeming resolutions" or agreements within the Committee, we managed to produce bills in those years.
This country is $13 trillion in debt. We are adding to that debt at well over $1 trillion per year. We are on an unsustainable path. The budget proposal submitted by the President in February recommends policies that will increase the debt to 90 percent of our nation's gross domestic product by 2020. It recommends policies that in only eight years would more than double the current level of debt held by the public.
The President's discretionary proposal for Fiscal Year 2011 was touted as a freeze of "non-security" spending, but it is not a freeze. Even if it were, can we really afford to exempt all "security" spending from scrutiny? In the last two years discretionary spending has increased by more than 17 percent. Non-defense spending has increased by 24 percent. These increases do not include funding provided in the stimulus bill, which is still being spent. These increases have also come at a time when there has been little or no inflation.
I voted in favor of the appropriations bills last year. Others on this Committee did not. While I had deep concerns about the size of some of the increases, the bills were consistent with the budget resolution that was adopted by Congress. Republicans had an opportunity to propose lower discretionary spending levels during consideration of the resolution.
But this year we are $1 trillion further in debt, and no attempt has been made to construct a budget roadmap that will get our nation back on solid fiscal ground. This Committee is on its own. Given that situation, it seems reasonable to me that we base our committee actions on the Fiscal Year 2011 assumptions that were adopted as part of the Fiscal Year 2010 budget resolution. I did not support that resolution, but it is the budget of record.
The amendment that has been offered several times by Senators Sessions and McCaskill mirrors the Fiscal Year 2011 spending levels in last year's budget resolution. That is essentially what I will propose today. A bipartisan majority of the Senate has supported the Sessions-McCaskill amendment on multiple occasions, so I am confident that bills conforming to that level can garner broad support.
Within the top-line that I will propose, there is room for modest growth in individual programs. Funding requirements for programs such as the decennial Census and the Base Realignment and Closure Commission decline significantly in the coming year. Funds provided to those programs last year can be reallocated to other priorities.
Writing bills at this level will not be easy. I will still advocate for my priorities, other members will advocate for theirs, and the Administration will support its own proposals. We will all have to give a little. But consider that the President has already instructed government agencies to develop proposals to cut 5% from agency budgets in Fiscal Year 2012. Does it makes sense for us to further increase spending in Fiscal Year 2011 if the President intends to propose such significant reductions the following year?
I am under no illusion that our nation's debt crisis can be solved by this Committee alone. We must, however, be part of the solution. Our leadership is important. I would much rather this Committee--working together--write bills at a more modest spending level that has demonstrated, bipartisan support, as opposed to producing bills at a higher level only to see them pared back by crude measures late in the appropriations process.
I hope that my colleagues will support the allocation proposal I am making on behalf of my Republican colleagues. I am confident that, if adopted, the Chairman and I can quickly work out sensible subcommittee allocations that conform to that level, and that we can produce responsible bills that will attract broad support.