By U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii – The American people are losing faith in their Congress to take care of business — specifically to agree on a reasonable plan to reduce the federal deficit.
The biggest priority in front of us right now is to get past the political battles and replace the illogical cuts to government spending with a balanced package of smart reductions to both spending and tax giveaways.
We are now in the early throes of budget sequestration, which will hurt Hawaii families, stunt the economic recovery of the country and deepen people’s distrust of Congress to do the right thing.
The roots of sequestration occurred in the 2011 debate over the debt ceiling. At that time, most congressional Republicans and Democrats, along with the president, supported a plan that would impose automatic cuts equally divided between defense and non-defense spending, if Congress did not agree on an alternative.
They knew that sequestration was the wrong way to manage the national deficit and that its impact would be untenable. Because it was untenable, they believed it would force them to come together and create a plan that would address the national deficit before the March 1, 2013, trigger date for sequestration.
But Congress didn’t reach an agreement, and now we’re faced with reductions in spending and services that will severely impact Hawaii.
The White House estimates that 20,000 civilian Department of Defense employees in Hawaii will face unpaid leave of up to 22 days, undermining the readiness of our armed forces. In this year alone, the state would lose $4.7 million for primary and secondary education, $1.3 million in environmental funding for air quality and clean water, funding for Head Start services, and cuts to critical programs dealing with domestic violence, nutrition assistance for our seniors and child care.
Last month, working with my progressive colleagues in the Senate, we proposed a revenue-generating bill that would close tax loopholes for the wealthy and generate necessary funds to solve the sequester. However, since the House is controlled by Republicans, the likelihood of advancing this legislation is low, and with so much at risk, I understand the need for compromise. I’m now fully supportive of Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate leadership’s middle-of-the-road approach, which is as follows:
- Implement “the Buffett rule,” to ensures that the minimum tax rate of 30 percent applies to anyone making $1 million or more;
- Implement carefully considered reductions in defense spending, to take effect in 2015; and
- End direct cash payments to wealthy agricultural land owners that are costing middle-class families $27 billion a year.
This plan is a practical, non-ideological solution to solve this problem, and even 60 percent of Republicans across the country support this approach. Unfortunately, critics of President Barack Obama reject this proposal and insist that the entire deficit reduction should be focused on cuts to programs like Medicare and Social Security. That is not balanced and would only hurt our seniors.
Over the next few days and weeks, I will continue working with Republicans and Democrats on a compromise in order to save jobs in Hawaii and sustain our economic recovery.
Now more than ever, as leaders, we must put aside the political squabbles and find the best solution for Hawaii and America.