Madam, President, as Ranking Member of the Committee on Appropriations, I regret that the Senate must consider, in mid-April, an appropriations bill for a fiscal year that is already half over. It disturbs me that we have subjected the federal government to eight short-term continuing resolutions over the past six months. Such measures are inefficient, add hidden costs to federal contracts and procurements, and make it difficult for state and local governments to plan effectively. Such measures also have a detrimental impact on the morale of the federal workforce, including our men and women in uniform, who last week?even while engaged in hostilities overseas?were left wondering about their next pay check.
However, this delay has made possible significant spending reductions. The bill cuts $38 billion from the spending levels in place at the beginning of this Congress. It also cuts $78 billion from the President's fiscal year 2011 budget request. These reductions in spending will compound over time and, if sustained, will result in a significant reduction in our national debt.
These reductions don't come without consequences, however. The bill cuts programs that are important both nationally and in my state of Mississippi. This bill contains rescissions of funds that I once fought hard to appropriate, but which have not been spent for a variety of reasons. In many cases, we don't yet know the precise impacts of the various cuts because so much discretion is left to the implementing agencies.
We all recognize, however, that sacrifices must be made in order to achieve the greater good of fiscal solvency. We also recognize that this bill is only one step toward addressing our nation's debt problem. Though discretionary spending will be an important component of any solution to that problem, we will fail to solve it if we focus on discretionary spending alone. Hopefully, the agreement reached on this bill will lay a foundation for the much more difficult decisions on entitlements and taxes that lie ahead.
We also realize that some will think this bill cuts far too little and some will think it cuts too much. I suspect that individually each of us could write spending bills at much lower levels than are contained in this legislation. We could fund those things we deem to be priorities and significantly cut back or eliminate the rest. But this legislation instead represents the priorities of the people of the entire nation as expressed and negotiated by their duly elected Representatives, Senators and the President.
On balance, our process has worked well. But without a budget resolution or any agreement on an appropriate top-line discretionary spending level, there was little agreement on the level of funding in appropriations bills. As a result, we are once again presented with a single trillion-dollar package that no Senator has had an opportunity to amend. The bill gives enormous flexibility to the Executive Branch because it does not contain the detailed directives typically found in appropriations bills and the reports. And of course, Madam President, it is six months late.
I hope that in the coming months Congress and the President will reach consensus on a budget plan that will address each of the major drivers of our current fiscal imbalance, including discretionary spending. We need to find a way to bring fiscal year 2012 appropriations bills to the floor individually and get them to conference with the other body. I believe that such a process would provide needed constraints on spending levels while allowing all members to influence the content of the individual bills.
Madam President, I will vote for this bill and I urge the Senate to approve it.