Mikulski Remarks at Full Committee Markup of FSGG Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, participated in the Full Committee markup of the fiscal year 2016 Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) bill.
The following are Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
“I want to congratulate Chairman Cochran.  Upon the conclusion of this markup, the Committee will have finished all 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2016.  I appreciate the bipartisan comity of the Chairman and his Subcommittee Chairs in working together to develop these bills.  But all of these bills are too spartan and written to the sequester-level Republican budget.  And a few of the bills are also riddled with poison pill riders.
“I have high regard for Chairman Boozman, but this bill was written to score political points, not become law.  It contains inadequate resources, numerous objectionable riders, and it includes a major 236 page banking reform authorization that is not in the jurisdiction of this Committee.
“I will vote against the motion to report the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, which provides $1.1 billion less than the fiscal year 2015 Omnibus and $4 billion less than the President’s request.  By freezing funding for financial regulators, undermining the independence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and attaching a 236 page banking authorization bill that exempts financial institutions from key risk protections, this bill hampers Wall Street reforms intended to protect consumers from the risky bank practices that caused the 2008 financial crisis.
“The bill also fails to protect federal employees.  I plan to offer two amendments in response to the recent Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data breaches that compromised the personal data of at least 22 million men and women working in government, serving in the military or working as contractors.  They are federal employees, retirees, their families and applicants for jobs that require background checks. 
“Very sensitive information has been stolen – social security numbers, financial data, mental health status and work histories.  It’s as outrageous and unacceptable as it is devastating. And it’s permanent. Their vulnerability will not dissipate over time.
“One of my amendments would provide additional resources to speed up the completion of scheduled improvements to OPM’s network systems and IT infrastructure one year ahead of schedule.  We must secure these systems now – we cannot wait for the next budget cycle to secure the most sensitive data of our government employees and their families.
“My other amendment would provide additional protection for the millions of victims of the breaches.  The American people are deeply disappointed by the response they’ve seen so far, and so am I.  These breaches erode confidence going forward that the federal government will be able to protect federal employees whose personal data has been stolen.  
“The breaches have hit Maryland harder than other states.  We’re home to 20 major federal agencies and more than 300,000 federal employees and retirees.  This amendment would be an important step in responding to the breaches and do more to protect the victims by providing longer term credit-monitoring services and increased liability protection for related damages.  I will not rest until we get the best protection possible for every person affected and our cyber shields are up and effective.
“The underlying bill also slashes funds for construction and repairs of the federal buildings.  There is funding for only one of the ten requested construction projects and two of the requested repair projects.  Our federal employees deserve better workplaces than buildings with rodent infestations and leaky roofs.
“Finally, by cutting the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) funding by $470 million, the bill jeopardizes the federal government’s ability to pay for itself and means honest taxpayers who need help will have to wait in long lines or may not get help at all.  In 2015, only 37 percent of taxpayers got their calls to IRS answered. 
“It also means tax cheats can get away with billions because audit rates are the lowest in decades, even though every $1 spent on enforcement yields $4 for the treasury.  Ranking Member Coons will offer an additional funding amendment that would help IRS provide better customer service.  However, even with his amendment, the IRS will have 23,000 fewer employees than they did under President Ronald Reagan, and 25,000 fewer than under President George H.W. Bush.
“But it isn’t just that America isn’t collecting what it is owed.  The 12 bills this Committee has reported keep sequester-level funding going.  Sequester weakens America.  And sequester hollows out America.
“Across the government, administrative funds have been cut to focus on missions.  This is wise and frugal management, but we face new cybersecurity threats.  Departments and agencies need additional funds for personnel, hardware and software.  OPM alone needs an additional $37 million to accelerate their cyber defense efforts and recovery from the recent cyber breaches.  That $37 million is not included in the bill before us.
“We need to invest in our children so that when they want to volunteer to defend our country, they are ready to do so.  Generals tell me only one in four recruits make the cut for military service.  One is ruled out for education, one is ruled out for physical fitness and one for involvement in the criminal justice system. 
“With sequester-level funding we fail to fund the education authorization bill passed last week by a vote of 81-17.  Our fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill provides $1.5 billion less than the authorized level, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  The fiscal year 2016 education funding bill also reduces resources for improving the lowest performing schools, which means 30,000 fewer students will be helped. 
“The bills we reported fail to invest in more proven strategies to provide children healthy summer meals and are $44 million short of the President’s request needed for funding Juvenile Justice programs that keep youth away from crime.
“These bills also don’t invest enough in needed infrastructure.  I call transit a job corridor.  Jobs are created building new transportation lines to jobs that commuters can now reach.  But sequester level budgeting cuts $535 million from transit New Starts, bringing its funding to the lowest level in 10 years.
“Other infrastructure also suffers with status quo funding for water and sewer projects and Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.  There are 60,000 bridges nationwide that are characterized as deficient.  This includes the Memorial Bridge here in Washington, D.C.
“Veterans deserve to have promises made be promises kept.  Instead, the fiscal year 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (VA) bill is $850 million short for the VA, which includes Veteran Health Care.  The VA has had to reallocate almost $700 million from other medical care programs to treat veterans for Hepatitis C this year, and sequester budgeting has shorted the program by as much as $700 million in fiscal year 2016, leaving almost 150,000 Hepatitis C positive veterans who have yet to receive the new life-saving drugs, in limbo.
“At the same time, veterans are still waiting to get appointments at hospitals and clinics.  In fact, the electronic wait list has grown by almost 10,000 over the past two months, and sequester-level funding will result in waitlists growing exponentially.
“Whether it is keeping our promises to veterans or helping children be fit and healthy, we can’t do it without a new budget deal.  Freezing federal spending doesn’t meet growing, complex needs.
“None of us were elected to make America weaker, yet sequester makes us weaker and hollows out America.  America deserves better.  So when this markup adjourns, I hope our next step will be to come together and get a new budget deal to end sequester and stop hollowing out our country.”