STATEMENT OF U.S. SENATOR THAD COCHRAN (R-Miss.)
Mr. President, I rise in support of both the omnibus appropriations bill and the bill to provide funds for disaster relief. They have been approved by the other body by overwhelming, bipartisan votes. I urge the Senate to approve these bills.
They fully comply with the requirements of the Budget Control Act. Together with appropriations bills already enacted, the omnibus brings appropriations for the basic operations of government to the $1.043 trillion level established in the Act. The disaster bill provides an additional $8 billion for disaster relief in response to the floods, tornados and hurricanes that plagued much of the country during the spring and summer months. These funds are within the limits established in the BCA specifically for disaster relief. Total discretionary spending carried in all of the FY 2012 appropriations bills will be $31 billion below last year's level.
Within the omnibus there are many adjustments in funding levels for individual programs. The bill increases the base budget for the Department of Defense by $5 billion. It provides increases for border security, nuclear weapons modernization, the National Institutes of Health, and veterans' medical care. The bill maintains the maximum Pell grant award at its current level, but pays for that with a series of needed reforms.
The bill reduces funding for the National Labor Relations Board, the Environmental Protection Agency, FEMA grants, and the Election Assistance Commission. It cuts the Independent Payment Advisory Board and the co-op program created in the health care bill. It zeroes out funding for energy credit subsidies. It eliminates 22 programs in the Labor-HHS chapter for a savings of a quarter of a billion dollars.
This conference report also carries a number of policy provisions that are important to members on my side of the aisle. These include limitations on funding for needle exchange programs and certain Department of Labor regulations. There is language to maintain a balanced permitting process for grazing on Federal lands, construction of logging roads, and domestic oil and gas production.
I sincerely wish that it were not necessary to act on an omnibus bill. I prefer that all Members have the opportunity to consider, amend, and vote on appropriations bills individually.
The Appropriations Committee has consistently produced bills in a timely manner for consideration in the Senate and in the House, but we are sometimes unable to advance bills to the floor due to circumstances beyond our control. This year, our efforts were complicated greatly by the absence of a budget resolution and a protracted, summer-long battle over the debt ceiling bill.
Many members on my side of the aisle have decried the fact that it has been nearly 1,000 days since the Senate last approved a budget resolution. That criticism is absolutely valid. It is deplorable that at a time of fiscal crisis we have not adopted a comprehensive budget in so long.
What we do have, however, is a budget for discretionary spending that was laid out in the Budget Control Act. That Act included caps that lock in recent cuts in discretionary spending and hold future discretionary growth below the rate of inflation.
Mr. President, the Appropriations Committee didn't write the Budget Control Act. Some members of our committee voted for it, some against. But 74 members of the Senate did vote for it, including a majority of members on both sides of the aisle. That is more votes than I can recall any budget resolution ever receiving.
So now it is time to implement the Budget Control Act through the enactment of the remaining FY2012 appropriations bills. A bipartisan, bicameral agreement has been reached. There is no money to be saved by resorting to a year-long Continuing Resolution. It would be an omnibus bill itself, and would result in overspending in some areas and underinvestment in others.
I am pleased to have worked with Chairman Inouye, our committee members, and the conferees in the other body to negotiate this legislation.
The Senate did not win every argument with the other body. But this conference report is a fair compromise with many positive features, and it is consistent with the guidance in the Budget Control Act. I hope that it will be a stepping stone toward the more timely and measured consideration of appropriations bills in the future.
I urge my colleagues to support the conference report and the disaster relief bill.