“Mr. President, after six and one half months it appears the Congress may finally be able to finish the fiscal year 2011 appropriations process. Earlier today the House passed a Department of Defense Appropriations bill which includes an extension of the current continuing resolution through the end of the fiscal year. If the Senate passes this legislation and the President signs it, we will be able to close the books on this issue and focus our attention on the budget for fiscal year 2012.
“In reflecting upon how we got here, I want to point out to my colleagues that the fundamental reason we find ourselves debating a continuing resolution today is because one year ago the Congress was unable to agree upon a budget resolution. The failure to reach a consensus agreement on the budget meant the Appropriations Committee was asked to resolve the differences in spending itself. After months of attempting to do so, the Committee was unable to bridge the gap between the Republicans and Democrats.
“When the Committee finally adopted the funding level proposed by the Republicans, a hostile political environment crippled the Committee’s efforts to enact a bi-partisan budget plan. As we go forward I would ask all of my colleagues to think carefully about this and I urge everyone to cooperate both here in the Senate and with our colleagues in the House. If we can fashion a compromise budget agreement this year it might allow our Committee to restore the bi-partisan working relationship which has long been the hallmark of the Committee for generations. I sincerely hope that will be the case.
“In some respects today we can take that first step. The bill that we are considering reflects a bi-partisan agreement reached among the leadership of the House and Senate and the White House with the details being worked out by the Committees on Appropriations. It is a very tough measure that cuts domestic spending more than I am comfortable with, but it is dramatically superior to the alternative passed by the House two months ago and equally superior to not passing an extension through the end of the year.
“In total, the measure reduces government spending $78.5 billion below the President’s request. It is nearly $40 billion below the enacted level for fiscal year 2010. Never before have we cut our appropriated funding so drastically. By far and away this is the largest one year cut from the President’s budget request in the nation’s history. The bill cuts all categories of spending: defense, international, and domestic, discretionary and mandatory. While some of my colleagues will argue that the Department of Defense was ‘let off the hook’ others will probably say the bill cuts more from defense than is prudent.
“Including military construction, the Defense Department’s budget is reduced $20 billion below the President’s request. In comparison to the Fiscal year 2010 enacted funding, the Department’s budget is approximately $2 billion below a freeze, with military construction down by more than $6 billion and the rest of Defense increasing by more than $4 billion.
“The priority in this Defense bill is first and foremost to ensure that we treat our military personnel and their families fairly. This means a 1.4% pay raise. It means fully funding health care, but it also means ensuring that our forces have the proper equipment and the funding necessary to operate it. While funding is austere, the bill includes important enhancements such as buying more missiles for our Aegis missile defense ships, and more helicopters for search and rescue operations and medical evacuation in Afghanistan. It means investing in new technologies at a faster pace than requested, purchasing more drones to find and wipe out terrorists, and ensuring the safety of our soldiers and Marines by accelerating the purchases of safer Stryker vehicles and MRAP’s.
“Accomplishing this while at the same time reducing Defense spending has been a challenge, but working with our colleagues in the House we have put together a plan which fulfills all of these objectives.
“But, Mr. President, this bill isn’t just about defense. For the State Department and foreign assistance, we are providing $8 billion less than was requested. This low level of funding was the most we could get our colleagues in the House to agree with and it means many important programs will have to be reduced. We won’t be able to make as much progress on fighting AIDs, and hunger. We won’t have as much funding as I would like to support our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, but considering the budget situation we face we will have to make do.
“It is in the area of domestic spending in which the bill makes the most serious reductions, with the total included being approximately $50 billion below the President’s request. In achieving this rate of savings, this compromise measure sought out as many different ways to reduce spending as possible to allow us to preserve our critically important priorities. We were able to mitigate the damage by looking at areas where we could identify savings from mandatory spending and by rescinding lower priority funds. In total, domestic discretionary spending is cut by $38.3 billion while mandatory spending comes down by $17.7 billion.
“Many, many programs had to be cut to reach these levels. In health care, in education, in housing, in infrastructure, but this bill is much better than the approach adopted by the House in HR 1. For example, we were able to fully fund Head Start — restoring the House Republican cut of $1.4B which would have denied 218,000 children an opportunity to learn. We provided $30.7 billion for NIH, $1.4 billion more than the House Republicans. We provided $2.1 billion more for food safety than the Republican plan.
“In Energy, Housing, our National Parks, our transit programs, in every area we forced the House to back away from their unwise cuts which would have devastated the progress we are making to restore the economy and protect our people. Crazy ideas like furloughing Social Security workers, and shutting off food inspections, were turned around. But there is more to this story. The House bill wasn’t just about dangerous and drastic cuts; it was also an attempt to legislate terrible social policy on a must pass emergency spending bill.
“Here too we turned them around. Nearly a dozen provisions to overturn health care reform were rejected. Eleven riders to gut the Environmental Protection Agency were rejected. Provisions to eliminate successful programs like needle exchanges, and the Corporation on Public Broadcasting were denied. Their attempts to rewrite gun laws and net neutrality were rejected.
“It is true and regrettable that we had to accept limited provisions affecting the District of Columbia on abortion and school vouchers. We are not happy about that. Still, in comparison to what the House wanted to do, this bill is an enormous improvement even for the District of Columbia.
“As in any compromise, neither party to the agreement is happy with every item in the bill. Some on the other side would have preferred more cuts in domestic programs while most members on our side believe we have cut our domestic priorities too deeply. But, this is truly a bi-partisan bill. When it is approved it will be the most significant legislation to pass the Congress this year.
“Mr. President, I believe this bill provides a road map on how we can continue to work across party lines to achieve what is necessary for the country. Yesterday the President unveiled his long range strategy to reduce the deficit. His approach is extremely different than the approach of the House Republicans. In two weeks our Senate Budget Committee will unveil its plan on regaining fiscal control. It is not overstating the case to say that it is truly a matter of urgent national security that we reach across party lines and conclude an agreement with our colleagues in the House to regain control over our government’s finances.
“Both parties feel strongly about their recommendations and the structure of future budgets. The philosophical divisions are wide. But as I watched the President’s speech, I thought about this continuing resolution and how we were able to bridge a huge divide between the Houses and the political parties. Because of this experience I became more optimistic that we can find a way to work with our House colleagues and come up with a deficit reduction plan that would represent all of our best efforts to act in the Country’s interest.
“Mr. President, today it is vitally important that we take that first step toward putting our fiscal house in order by adopting this bill. It is also critical that the Congress demonstrate that it can act in the spirit of compromise and in the national interest. This bill represents a fair compromise which will meet our country’s needs and I urge all my colleagues to support it.”