Oct 08 2015
Opposes consideration of Energy and Water bill without debate on broader federal budget
Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, today delivered remarks on the Senate floor objecting to the consideration of the fiscal year 2016 Energy and Water funding bill.
“We all know the vote today is not just about Energy and Water,” Feinstein said. “It’s about the entire appropriations process—and that’s the debate we should be having. Instead of debating just this specific bill, the debate should be focused on eliminating sequestration, negotiating a budget agreement with the president and the House and putting an end to the destructive cycle of continuing resolutions, omnibuses and threats of government shutdown.”
Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) recently agreed to broad budget negotiations to raise the spending caps, at the urging of Democrats.
Feinstein’s full remarks are below:
“I come to the floor as the ranking member of the Energy and Water subcommittee of Appropriations Committee. And in that capacity, I rise to oppose consideration of the FY 2016 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill.
Now, let me be clear: I really do this reluctantly.
In my view, this is a very good bill. Senator Alexander and I have put forth a well-balanced bill within the allocation levels we were provided—which was a good level.
And it’s been a great pleasure for me over the years to work with Senator Alexander. I have the utmost respect for him, and we have always worked things out.
But this year, I think we have a bigger issue, and I’d like to address that in my remarks.
First, 6 of the 12 appropriations subcommittees received base allocations lower than last year.
Another 4 subcommittees received nominal increases, but were still forced to make cuts due to rising costs beyond their control.
That leaves only 2 subcommittees, Energy & Water and Homeland Security, that received real funding increases.
That’s why I believe considering Energy and Water in isolation, as we are now, rather than debating larger funding issues, is misleading. And that’s why I can’t support the motion to proceed to the bill.
We all know the vote today is not just about Energy and Water. It’s about the entire appropriations process—and that’s the debate we should be having.
Instead of debating just this specific bill, the debate should be focused on eliminating sequestration, negotiating a budget agreement with the President and the House, and putting an end to the destructive cycle of Continuing Resolutions, omnibuses, and threats of government shutdown.
The Republican Leader has already initiated budget negotiations. Three meetings, I am led to believe, have been held. It can be done. And it’s what needs to be done. And I fully support that effort. And that’s where we should focus our efforts.
Before I get into specifics, Mr. President, of the Energy and Water funding issues, I want to take a step back and discuss two very disturbing issues I’ve seen from my seat on the Appropriations Committee—and I’m not a newcomer.
I’ve been on that committee since I came to the Senate, which is more than 20 years ago. They are: the negative effects of sequestration, and the unraveling of the overall appropriations process.
The strict budget caps put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act have been terrible for our country.
These spending caps, and the across-the-board cuts used to enforce them, were designed to be so devastating that Congress would do everything it could to avert them.
The problem is, the Supercommittee failed to reach the agreement in 2011, so those devastating cuts took effect.
These spending caps, which have essentially frozen spending levels for the last three years, do not account for the increasing requirements placed on the federal government.
The cost of veterans’ care is rising, is insufficient, has been roundly criticized. The cost of low-income housing is rising. The cost of educating our children is rising. And the cost of fighting natural disasters like drought and wildfire is also rising.
But the spending caps are not rising, meaning Congress is forced to make cuts to vital programs.
And of course, you get into the battle between the national security portfolios, such as defense, and the domestic portfolio. My portfolio on Energy and Water is part national security, because it’s all the nuclear weapons of our country, and the domestic part is the Office of Science, the Department of Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers—which is the only infrastructure program we actually have functioning.
Having a static budget like this, year after year—which does not even account for inflation—is really no way to run a country.
I’m also disappointed by the collapse of the appropriations process.
At one time—and you’re a newcomer so this would be interesting to you, I hope—it was the norm to pass each spending bill as a standalone piece of legislation. All members could offer amendments, and each of us took ownership of the outcome.
We haven’t done that in a decade.
It used to be that the entire Appropriations Committee, members of both sides, would support bills drafted by each subcommittee chairman and approved by the full committee. We haven’t done that in five years. It was heresy for a bill to come out on the floor and not have members of the Appropriations Committee support it. That’s all gone today.
Everything changed in 2011. My Republican colleagues decided to vote against every appropriations bill to protest funding levels.
The die was cast, and we’ve had to cope with the consequences ever since.
Since Fiscal Year 2010, we’ve passed 24 short-term Continuing Resolutions, which do nothing but keep the government going at the funding levels of the year you were in at the time you passed the continuing resolution. That’s 9 more than in the preceding five year period—it’s a 60 percent increase.
When Congress can’t agree on funding levels, we end up putting federal spending on autopilot.
2011 also marked the year when Congress turned over the power of the purse to the executive branch.
By banning the use of “congressional adds,” we not only admitted that we know less about our states than executive agencies, we also removed a key reason many members voted for the appropriations bills.
And contrary to conventional wisdom, “congressional adds” were not out of control.
In 2010, the last year they were allowed, they totaled just one half of one percent of spending approved by the Appropriations Committee. One half of one percent were adds made by members of this body and the other body to do public projects in their districts.
I believe every senator knows a great deal about his or her state, I really do, and projects that are important for survival, and I believe they evaluate them based on the importance to the public.
I believe they know vital projects that need to be funded. And removing that ability has removed individual members’ stake in an appropriations process that functions. And so, it’s non-functional today. It’s damaged our ability to govern. I deeply believe that.
Mr. President, that’s a long way of saying that we need to return the appropriations process to the way it was handled in years past, and today’s political vote on this bill doesn’t move us in that direction.
Even though I do believe the Energy and Water bill represents an acceptable compromise under the circumstances, there are still significant issues with the bill caused by low spending caps.
The bill provides, and this is important, $35.4 billion, that’s an increase over FY 2015 funding of $1.2 billion for defense and $8 million for non-defense. So right there, you see the problem.
Those national security projects get an add of $1.2 billion, and it’s largely for nuclear weapons. And all of our domestic projects—the Office of Science, all the energy projects, all of the innovation, the Energy Department, the Army Corps of Engineers, fixing rivers, fixing dams, dredging, all of what the Army Corps does—$8 million, as opposed to $1.2 billion added for defense, and only $8 million for non-defense.
But even with that increase, there are significant shortfalls.
Let me give you a few examples.
For the last four years, California and the West have been suffering from a historic drought. I just came from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Senator Boxer and I have put together a drought bill. We’ve worked on it for two years. We finally have a bill with some short-term fixes and some long-term projects, which can increase water supply in California.
Our reservoirs are at historic lows. And the Sierra Nevada snowpack, our major source of water, is at the lowest it’s been in 500 years.
We’ve got millions of dead trees littering the state, increased lightning strikes, big wildfires that go up because it’s so dry, like explosions into the air.
And the state’s ag sector, which feeds the country, has been heavily affected. This is a $43 billion industry, saw losses of $2.2 billion last year, 17,000 jobs lost, and on and on and on.
Here are some other ways the Energy and Water bill is weakened by low spending caps.
Let me talk for a moment more about the Office of Science. This is money used to expand research at our national laboratories, and we’re $196 million below the president’s budget request, in this bill.
Energy efficiency and renewable energy, these programs see an even bigger deficit, with funding levels at $773 million below the president’s budget request. This delays development of vital technologies to reduce energy consumption and slash consumer spending.
And defense programs are also underfunded.
With higher spending caps, we could be putting into place strategies to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists. We’ve just heard about a cesium sale to shady people, that I can’t remember happening. Whether this opens the door to more, I don’t know. But I do know it’s a real weakness we have.
If we had some money, we could secure radiological sources at medical and industrial facilities. We could install mobile and fixed radiation detectors at ports and border crossings.
We could also use additional funds to modernize the nuclear reactor infrastructure that supports the Navy. This includes developing more efficient reactor designs that can last 40 years without refueling.
These are weaknesses we see in the funding picture, and in our bill. And as I said, I actually believe it’s a good bill when you know the circumstances under which we are functioning.
But this isn’t just about the Energy and Water bill, and we can’t view it in isolation.
As I’ve said, Energy and Water had a decent allocation, even with the overall budget restrictions.
The cuts made to other bills are far more dangerous. And we can’t ignore these cuts. Let me just highlight a few of them:
The Subcommittee harmed by the current spending caps is the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.
The Subcommittee received an allocation of $3.6 billion below last year. $3.6 billion, the Subcommittee on Health, and Labor and Education, received cuts. These are draconian. And these programs affect our most vulnerable Americans.
That’s what the presidential election is all about right now. The discontent over our inability to solve some of these problems.
There’s a $331 million cut to employment and training services for youth, veterans and the unemployed; there’s an $87.8 million cut to Teen Pregnancy Prevention programs.
There’s a $215 million cut to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease control! You know, we’ve seen diseases that I haven’t seen since my childhood, like measles, spring up all over the state of California. And we need to do these things to keep our people safe. Vaccinations are important.
A $198 million cut to shelter and services for unaccompanied immigrant children; a $69 million cut to federal student aid programs; and the elimination of a $250 million program to expand access to preschool. To expand access to preschool—something everybody wants—for low- and moderate-income 4-year-olds.
The Transportation-Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee, on the other hand, did receive an additional $1.9 billion this year. However, the committee required a $3.4 billion increase just to maintain current services.
As a result, the subcommittee was forced to cut funding for mass transit projects by more than $500 million below last year.
Affordable housing assistance is slashed by $834 million. And the Community Development Block Grant Program—that I used as mayor of San Francisco, a long time ago, which could always be counted on—was by reduced by $100 million.
These cuts affected millions of Americans and hurt communities across the country. We should not have to choose between providing rental assistance to low-income families and providing transportation options so they can get to work.
Mr. President, I see you’re nodding. I have about 3 minutes more, if I may ask unanimous consent to finish.
The Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee also received a misleading increase in its allocation.
While the Subcommittee received an extra $965 million on paper, it actually needed $1.1 billion just to account for last year’s credit from the Toyota settlement that is no longer available this year.
As a result, the Subcommittee was forced to cut numerous important programs below last year’s levels. They include: the United States Marshals Service that was cut by $141 million; legal representation for immigrant children reduced by $55 million; and federal assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies cut by $139 million.
Here’s my conclusion: my good friend and colleague Senator Alexander is rightly proud of the work he and his staff had put into the Energy and Water bill, and as I said, it’s a good bill.
I sincerely wish the circumstance we find ourselves in today were different.
Those of us on this side of the aisle should have a voice in what happens, and how we can solve this problem.
So what I plead for is these negotiations that are started by Leader McConnell to move ahead, and let’s get it started. Let’s stop the CRs, let’s stop the omnibuses, let’s stop the fights over debt limit and shutting down the government.
Let’s go back to an appropriations process that this country did well by, and that worked.
I thank you for your forbearance, Mr. President, I yield the floor.”