Washington Memo: I voted against the bill that created sequestration
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. speaks as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., stands at left during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
A Sunday Monitor editorial (“Sequester is doing more harm than good,” Feb. 24) left out key information about my work over the past year to prevent pending sequestration cuts. And the piece didn’t get the details right about legislation I introduced last month to replace the sequester. Allow me to set the record straight.
For starters, I was the only member of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation to vote against the bill that created the sequestration process. That was back in August 2011, when the White House included sequestration as a major component in a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
Under the legislation, a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (known as the “super committee”) was tasked with producing $1.2 trillion in savings – more than half of the bill’s total reductions – by November 2011. When the panel failed to reach an agreement, automatic, across the board cuts were triggered and scheduled to start in January 2013. At the very end of last year, as part of a last minute deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” that deadline was extended to March 1.
When I opposed the debt limit bill in 2011, I made it clear that although we needed to avoid a credit default, we couldn’t afford to keep putting off tough decisions about the nation’s spending. We should have come up with a plan that delivered at least the minimum of $4 trillion in savings that even the president’s bipartisan fiscal commission said we needed just to stabilize the debt – rather than punting to a “super committee.”
When the super committee’s failure put sequestration in motion, I knew that if these arbitrary cuts were implemented, they would harm top federal priorities – everything from federal cancer research to supporting our troops. For more than a year, I’ve raised serious concerns about how sequestration would impact New Hampshire and the nation – from our small business defense suppliers to irreplaceable national defense assets like the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
Throughout last year, I worked to raise awareness about the impact of these cuts, meeting with military officials in New Hampshire and Washington, as well as with leaders in our state’s defense industry. I also discussed sequestration during public town hall meetings here in New Hampshire as well as in other states. And I worked across party lines, signing a letter to Senate leadership in September that included three Republicans and three Democrats – including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen – calling for a bipartisan deficit reduction package to avoid sequestration.
As the Monitor noted, I joined several of my colleagues to introduce a bill that would replace sequestration with savings found by reducing the federal workforce through attrition. The bill was first introduced more than a year ago, and a similar version was reintroduced last month. While the Monitor called it a “silly” idea, the proposal actually came from the president’s bipartisan “Simpson-Bowles” fiscal commission – which put forth a sweeping deficit reduction plan in 2010 that received votes from fiscal conservatives like former senator Judd Gregg and liberals like Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.
Contrary to the Monitor’s assertion, the bill would not cut federal employees across the board. The legislation would be implemented at the agency level, and it includes a national security waiver to ensure that positions impacting our national defense would not be eliminated. For example, the Department of Defense could reduce excess personnel through attrition where appropriate, while continuing full employment at high demand facilities like the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
Regardless of the Monitor’s opinion of the legislation I helped author, at least it’s a plan that’s been on the table for more than a year.
In originally introducing the bill, I called on President Obama to join Congress in working to replace the sequester. Twelve months later, he still has not put a proposal on paper (something Congress could vote on) to avoid sequestration – ignoring the warnings of his own secretary of defense.
As the March 1 deadline approached, I continued to work with my colleagues last week on alternative legislation that would replace the sequester by cutting spending in a manner that doesn’t harm our economy.
But looking forward, in order to prevent future spending showdowns, the President and Congress must work together on a serious plan that reduces wasteful spending, reforms our broken tax code, and puts our entitlement programs on a sustainable path.
And it should start with adopting a budget – something the Democratic-controlled Senate hasn’t done in nearly four years.
(Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte is a member of the Senate Budget Committee.)