U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., delivered his first speech on the floor of the United States Senate today and described some of the effects his home state could suffer if automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts begin as scheduled on Friday.
Kaine spent part of last week visiting defense installations, contractors and other facilities that would be affected by the looming sequestration cuts — including a Feb. 20 stop at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salem. Kaine shared stories of some of those stops during his floor speech today. He also pointed to the compromise transportation funding bill passed by the Virginia General Assembly in Saturday as an example of bipartisan, balanced compromise that Congress should follow.
“We are drifting toward something that is very bad, something that Members of Congress believed strongly when the bill was first put in place should not happen and would harm people and would harm our economy,” Kaine said. “The decision is, do we allow ourselves to drift in a way that hurts people? Or do we choose a balanced approach that will help people, that will strengthen the economy, that will strengthen our budget, that will strengthen our ability to create jobs and will strengthen the reputation of this body?”
Here’s the full text of Kaine’s speech:
Thank you, Madam President. It is an honor to stand here for my first speech on the senate floor. I am honored to be part of this body and to speak where hundreds have spoken before and thousands will speak after me. A normal first speech for a senator is usually a proactive, forward-looking speech. We’re not in normal times. A normal first speech for a senator usually happens much later after a senator has been around for a number of months. We’re not in normal times. A normal speech — first speech for a senator is often in connection with the introduction of a piece of legislation. We’re not in normal times. and so I am speaking a bit earlier than I would have thought likely when I took the oath of office on third of January, but I am speaking in particular because we’re not in normal times, and the abnormality of the times has a huge effect on the commonwealth that I’m proud to represent. In the summer of 2011, Congress passed a bill that we are now talking about, the bill dealing with the sequestration cuts of the federal government.
And there is no precedent that I am aware of in congressional history for what’s about to happen in 48 hours. Congress designed a set of punishing, nonstrategic, ugly cuts designed to hurt the economy and hurt individuals, and all – however they voted on that bill, did not want these cuts to come into play. so those who voted for it in 2011 did not want the sequester cuts to occur, and believed we would find through compromise an alternative and those who voted against the package in the summer of 2011 largely voted against it because they did not want these cuts to occur. And so the abnormality of the times is this: never in my knowledge in the history of this body has congress designed a punishment that would hurt the lives of regular individuals, that would hurt the economy. It was designed with that knowledge fully, all hoped it would not happen and yet we’re within 48 hours of allowing it to happen. And the effects that this sequester will have on the country and the effects that it will some have on my commonwealth are so significant and severe that I do feel compelled to speak a little earlier than I otherwise might have. And I would also add that I think the effects of the cuts on this institution and on the credibility of the institution are equally severe.
What I want to do in this speech is do a couple of things. I want to talk about the effect of these sequester cuts if they happen on regular people. I just returned from a tour around my state and I’m just going to share some stories. I want talk with some data about short-term impacts of these cuts on the broader economy. Third, I want talk about some long-term impacts; some impacts that we’re not necessarily thinking of right now but that should cause us some significant concern. Fourth, there’s a way to avoid this, and I want to talk about how we can avoid allowing this self-inflicted wound to occur. And finally, I want to talk about the fact that there’s an upside in this moment for us. This is not just about avoiding negatives, avoiding harming people, hurting the economy. It’s not just about avoiding negatives. I think there’s an upside for us and for this institution and for this nation if we do this right. So let me begin with my tour around Virginia.
I’m now a brand-new member of the armed services committee and I — I sit in a wonderful seat following John Warner who was there for thirty years and a Jim Webb who was there before me and I’m no replacements for of those individuals but I’ve got big shoes to fill. And so I decided to take a tour around my state last week and visit the various touch points in the commonwealth where we interact with our military and our national security. The map of Virginia is a map of the military history of this country. Yorktown, where the revolutionary war ended, Appomattox where the civil war ended, the pentagon where we were attacked on 9/11. We are the most connected states in the military; one in eight Virginians is a veteran. Not one in eight adults, one in eight Virginians from birth to death. Over 100,000 active duty, guard and reserve, D.O.D. civilians, D.O.D. contractors. By the time you add all those up and their families, military families we’re probably talking about one in three Virginians. So I went to the places where Virginians work every day, as ship repairs and private shipyards, as active duty on naval bases, as D.O.D. civilians working as nurses in army hospitals, as young officer candidates training in ROTC programs, at Virginia hospitals. I went around the state and let me tell you what I heard. A few miles from here, Ft. Belvoir, one of the preeminent institutions that treats wounded warriors. A wounded warrior still on active service being treated there, wife sitting right next to him, we talked and she ventured this, let’s talk about these furloughs of these D.O.D. civilian employees. My — my husband’s nurses are all D.O.D. civilians.
And while the sequester protects active duty, it doesn’t protect the civilians, what’s it going to mean to my husband’s medical treatment as he comes back from being wounded, injuring this nation if the nurses and health professionals at this hospital are furloughed one day a week? In the same roundtable, another wounded warrior said to me, boy, the economy is really going to suffer if we have the sequester. We’re going to lose jobs and the economy could shrink. I’m a reservist. He was a wounded warrior as a reservist waiting to go back into the civilian work force into a job with a federal agency that does national security. What’s that going to mean to me, is there a hiring freeze, a pay freeze, is there a furlough, this wounded warrior was worrying about his economic future. At the shipyard in Newport News, what a good news story. We Virginians, we manufacture the largest items that are manufactured on the planet earth, nuclear aircraft carriers, in that shipyard. what a wonderful American example of ingenuity that is and yet in looking at these sequester cuts, as repairs and other projects and programs are being scaled back, the workers at that shipyard are asking about the stability of their work and about whether the ships that we put out and we put our people on will be truly ready to do the work they need to do.
At other private shipyards, the owner, a small business guy who has a shipyard in Hampton roads said I have 450 employees, the way the navy plans to deal with sequestration is to dramatically reduce maintenance in the third and fourth quarters of the year. I am going to issue one notice to tell 300 of my 450 employees they will not have a job. I don’t see how I can run this business without them but I don’t have the business to keep them if the sequestration cuts go through. At a Virginia hospital in Richmond, the Virginia core services are protected under the sequester, but they’re under hiring freezes. They compete with private sector hospitals to hire nurses and physicians and they say that’s getting tougher and tougher to do. And they do research in Richmond about traumatic brain injury and that research money is not protected from sequester, and so this research that will help us treat our wounded warriors better, that’s in jeopardy if the sequester goes through. and it’s not just military cuts, in head start I talked to teachers who were facing significant cuts in programs for at-risk kids even at a time because of the economy the number of at-risk children is growing and growing and the number of children total in their classrooms is growing and growing. and then Monday a number of us were at Dulles airport to talk about the effect of sequester on something that’s, you know, fairly basic, the experience of the Americans by the millions and millions who travel every day in the air, longer lines, potentially higher prices. this is what Virginians were telling me as I went to talk to them about what we were doing in Washington, the — the likely consequences that they were going to see in their lives. And again and again what they said to me was go up and find a solution.
I went to a bluegrass concert on Saturday afternoon and I was wearing a blue jeans and a Carhartt jacket, and I was taking an hour off to listen to a set of music, and I sat next to a guy who appeared to be about 80 years old, ramrod straight, energetic bluegrass fan, wearing a U.S.S, he was a veteran, wearing a cap from his navy service, and about halfway through the set he leaned over and he said now I know you’re here for music. You didn’t come to politic. I said that’s right. I’m here for music. he said all I’m going to say is this, there’s not a single thing you’re going to do plus or minus that will affect my quality of life, I’m fine but I’m telling you for the good of the country, you ought to go up and figure out a way to get people to work together and find some deal. and so that’s what my citizens were taking saying to me on this trip in the last two weeks at every stop, find a deal, work together, and no one person — no one person, not a single person said protect my job, protect my program, protect my priority by making the cuts in other areas worse. Not one person said that. They were asking for a balanced approach where there would be pain, where there would be a balance of cuts but also revenues and we would try to tackle this in a targeted way. Some statistics and thoughts – these are stories from individuals, now let’s look at immediate impacts on the Virginia economy and on other important goals. Our military readiness and defense posture.
A couple of weeks ago, we heard at an armed services committee meeting from Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey as Secretary Panetta was exiting in that role and they had just announced that CENTCOM, the portion of the military that controls the space including Afghanistan, wants to have two carriers in the Middle East to project American force, to try to prevent or reduce any nutty activities by Iran or anyone else and to protect our men and women in service if the need should happen and their military judgment was we needed two carriers and that force there to protect them. But two weeks ago the army – the military, the D.O.D. secretary decided we’re not going to have two carriers, we’re just going to have one. thousands of sailors who were on the verge of deploying, many of whom had subleted their apartments, put their cars in storage, sold their cars, canceled their cell phone bills, sent families back to other places in the country to stay with their parents learned within a few days it was all being turned topsy-turvy. Having only one carrier in the Middle East, maybe nothing bad will happen but when the military leadership of the country suggests we should have two and we decide, well, because of budget indecision let’s only have one — that sends a message. It sends a message to our friends, it sends a message to those we would be protecting that our commitment is wavering and it also sends a message to our adversaries that our commitment might be wavering. We heard many bits of testimony that day from Secretary Dempsey and general — General Dempsey and Secretary Panetta about how our readiness, our ability to respond with flexibility gets compromised if we don’t get this right. In the National Guard side, I visited a National Guard armory called a stonewall brigade in Staunton, Virginia. This National Guard combat brigade, the stonewall brigade, their first action as a brigade was 20 years before the French and Indian wars. Their first action as a brigade was in the 1740′s. And since then, they have deployed again and again and again to protect Americans and yet they were talking about sequestration affecting their ability to train, to train their people. And one of the individuals, who was the commander of that brigade, said in a very powerful way I want to send my people and they’re going to do their best but I’d rather send them 100% trained than 80% or 85% trained. If we act now after we sequester and reduce training we’ll be sending people into service 80% or 85% trained. Our D.O.D. civilians, the pentagon has announced it would take steps to furlough 800,000 civilian employees for up to 22 days a year. In Virginia alone, one state, 90,000 individuals beginning at the end of March, early April, will face the beginnings of furloughs one day a week for up to 22 weeks, 90,000 individuals. you know, there aren’t many towns and cities in Virginia that have more than 90,000 people and yet we would take all these people and put their economic livelihood at risk for the foreseeable future as we try to figure this out.
And let me tell you who some of these folks are. These are the — the nurses who treat our wounded warriors. these are our air traffic controllers who keep us safe in the air And you think of those individuals and the fact that they’re trying to make a living for their families and they’re trying to do good service for their fellow Virginians and fellow Americans and then you multiply that by 90,000 and that’s just one state’s worth. Our contractors in the private sector, and we all want a vibrant private sector, we all think that the private sector being strong is the key to economic growth. the estimates of most economists is that Virginians because of sequestration and reductions to private contracting would stand to lose up to 200,000 jobs, 137,000 on the defense side and nearly 70,000 on the nondefense side. The Newport News shipbuilding company I announced earlier, the largest industrial employer in Virginia, they’re preparing to shrink, smaller ship repairs are facing and having to issue more notices to their employees, we see this all over the Commonwealth. Educators: Virginia stands to lose $14 million in funding for primary and secondary education, and this is funding that’s targeted, it’s targeted funding to help the most disadvantaged students, title 1 funding. 190 teachers’ jobs are at risk and about 14,000 fewer students will receive disadvantaged students will receive these services. and a particular passion of mine, Head Start and early childhood education, 70,000 students nationally will lose their spaces in early childhood education, head start, because of the sequester, about a thousand of those are in Virginia. And so the statistics are grim. And these aren’t just numbers on a page. Or numbers in a budget book. these are parents who are sitting at a kitchen table already worrying about how to make ends meet and finding they’ll have one less day of work every week potentially for the next 20 weeks or people who have spent their lives in ship building and they’re going to be given WARN notices with no clear indication when their companies or other companies might start hiring again.
Those are the short-term impacts. Let me talk for a minute about some long-term impacts because these are the stories that aren’t necessarily in the newspaper, but as I listen to my constituents last week they made this case and they made it in a way that I found to be pretty compelling. When the decision was announced about the USS Truman not being deployed, there was a 20-year-old airwoman aviator on the carrier who was quoted in the newspaper as saying, “I was so excited to be on my first deployment for my country. I want to have a military career, but I’m starting to think that that might not be realistic.” Now, we have a whole generation of young people who serve in the military, and they are our future generals and Joint Chiefs of Staff and future deputy secretaries of defense and secretaries of defense in that leadership corps and they have decided that they want to devote their future to protecting the nation. But what’s happening in this building is making them feel that maybe this is not a realistic career choice. I spoke to ROTC students at the University of Virginia; these are folks on the verge of commissioning to be service officers in all four primary service branches – Army, Marine, Air Force and Navy. And I spoke to them last week and one of them said this to me, here’s something — I found this very chilling. I am training to be an officer because I want to serve my country. And guess what? I am willing to put myself at harm’s way to known hostilities and unknown hostilities in the world to serve my country, but I have to ask myself, am I willing to put my career at risk by making a career choice to pursue a path when I do not have confidence that the civilian political leadership of the country has a commitment to me and to my colleagues?
Being willing to face hostilities and enemy fire. They signed up for that. But as they think about their military careers, whether they would do their four years and leave or whether they would want to make a career out of it, the message we send from this building and from this capital is one of the factors that they utilize to try to make their decisions. Similarly, students in colleges around this Commonwealth and country who are thinking about being early childhood educators would wonder about the future of early childhood or Head Start programs, and in a really funny interchange with some welders and the President of the shipyard, the Newport News Shipyard which is run by Huntington Ingalls – he said look if we do layoffs or scale back and lose nuclear engineers for the subs and carriers, they can find other jobs. In fact the president, Mike Petters, a good friend, said, it is easy for this company to replace me, the CEO, than it is to replace a nuclear engineer. but if our commitment to shipbuilding and ship repair and ship refurb is questionable and a nuclear engineer has other options, and they have to analyze which career options they pick, or a welder has to decide on a career option and we all know welders do and they have to decide which option they will pick we will find it down the road in the long term increasingly difficult for us to have the kind of talent we need to do the jobs to protect this nation if we are not sending them a signal that we can find compromise, find agreements and provide funding in an appropriate way for these services.
Here’s the good news. The good news is that we can avoid this. In fact we really have an obligation to avoid this. I was a little bit surprised when I came to the Senate to learn some things that I didn’t know and I thought I was an educated observer. I was a little bit surprised, for example, that in the Budget Act that deals with how budgets are written, the budgets don’t even go to the president. It’s purely congressional when the house and senate pass a budget and when it is compromised, it’s purely congressional. Now appropriations acts of course go to the president for signature but they never get there unless congress does them. So while everyone has a responsibility to try to make this right — and the president and his team definitely have a responsibility — this is a congressional constitutional responsibility. There is a unique legislative prerogative for us to get this right and for us to avoid the self-inflicted damage to the economy and to people that every last person who voted was sure would not occur. And again I’d just say that we are in a unique situation where we’ve designed a punishment and we would allow that punishment to affect individuals and our economy. I don’t think that there’s a precedent that would be similar in the history of this body.
In order to address it, we just have to find a balanced approach, as my citizens were telling me. And not gimmicks no more sequester or super committee, no more continuing resolution. There is a process. We should follow that process. The process involves compromise. The process involved listening and we need to do it. And I’ll say one more thing about why it’s important that we do it, not just for the economy. A lot of people think we’re broken. You know, I was struck in talking to some of my citizens that for as many people as don’t like the current president, no one says to me that the presidency as an institution is broken. For as many people that don’t like this or that decision of the Supreme Court or the judiciary, no one says to me that they think the judiciary is broken. But the third branch of government — really, the first branch of government — we’re first in the Constitution — the legislative branch, many people look at this potential sequester and other similar things and they worry about whether we’re broken. So we not only have a constitutional obligation to fix it, we really need those of us and all of us who care about this institution, we’ve got to do our part to fix this, and the good news is that we can.
Let me show that you we’ve done already by way of dealing with our fiscal challenges and especially tackling deficits so that we can try to get our balance sheet more in control.
I have three very, very simple charts that are pretty easy to follow. Congress, both houses, and the president has taken thus far, 2010 to now, steps that have reduced the deficit going forward over a ten year period by about $2.4 trillion. This is how this has been done. I get no credit for this, because this all happened before I got here. This is what Congress has done over the last couple of years to reduce our deficit path and bring us closer to balance to the tune of $2.4 trillion. We have done spending cuts of 60% of the total. Because of some of these other actions we have been able to project a savings in interest payments of another 14%. And with a decision at year end on the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the bipartisan compromise that resulted, we have put in new revenue of about 26% of this total. All you have to know from looking at this chart is that it’s balanced. We could argue about the ratio. we might like it more red, more green, more blue — we could argue about the ratio, but it is a balanced approach of revenue, of spending cuts, and of interest savings. That’s what we’ve done already and I give praise to the members of Congress and the president who have been able to take that step. But we all know that we have more to do. And so now that test is before us, and that challenge and chore is on our table. We have more to do. And there are two alternatives that we will likely be debating and voting on within the next couple of days. In this body, a Democratic approach and a GOP approach how do we do more? Because most would agree if we’ve done about $2.4 trillion of deficit reduction already, we need to do another $1.5 trillion or so over the course of the next ten years.
We will be voting on one proposal tomorrow that has been advanced by the Democratic majority that says, we will additionally close our deficit over the course of this year; we will do it in a way that will push us forward to finding a bigger solution; and we will do it in a balanced way. 50% through new revenue – closing some corporate tax loopholes that have outlived their usefulness, raising rates at the top end for a very few Americans who can afford it. I’ve talked to Virginians and they know we can afford it. And so 50% of our additional deficit reduction would be on the new revenue side and 50% would be on spending cuts, spending cuts, many of which have already been agreed to in this body. One of the core kinds of spending cuts — and it is important here – the spending cuts in the proposal we’ll vote on tomorrow are not across the board, because everything isn’t worth everything. They’re targeted. They’re the right kind of spending cuts. For example, this body last summer voted on a farm bill to reduce farm subsidies. It was bipartisan, Democratic and Republican votes. That bill died on the house side. But that notion that we can save money and should had bipartisan support, that is in the spending cuts component of the package that we’ll talk about tomorrow and that is the Democratic approach. Is it magic?
No, it’s not magic. You might argue about the ratio. You might argue about the items. But the key to it is just as what we’ve done so far to reduce the deficit by $2.4 trillion has been a balanced approach, the approach we’ll vote on tomorrow on the Democratic side is a balanced approach. There is also a Republican approach or approaches — it is a little bit unclear as I took the floor whether there will be a single bill or multiple bills – but the GOP approach to this that they’ve laid on the table and we’ll also debate a vote is, as you will see, all spending cuts. It might be different spending cuts than those in the sequester and the contours of this will emerge. But there is no revenue in this approach; it is not a balanced approach. And I would argue based on what we’ve already done with the $2.4 trillion, the right way to do this is to do it in a balanced way. That’s the right thing for the economy. It’s the right thing to soften the effect of these cuts. It is the right thing to make sure that people’s lives are not needlessly turned topsy-turvy. Can we save? Sure we can and we should. But you can’t fix a balance sheet on one side of the balance sheet you’ve got to look at both sides of the balance sheet and I think that’s what we’ll be debating over the next couple of days.
So I’ve been thinking about this, and the last thing I’ll say, before I close and talk about an upside, is when I was home in Richmond over the weekend after this week-long tour knowing we would be coming here today to debate about these proposals, something happened in my hometown that I just want to recommend to the contemplation of my colleagues here in the Senate.
Virginia had been wrestling for two or three decades about what to do about transportation because it would be good for the economy for us to invest in transportation. I will be candid and even sheepish; I was the Governor of Virginia. I tried hard for four years to get my legislature to do something meaningful to invest in transportation and aside for a few modest wins here or there, I never was able to convince my legislature to do what I thought needed to be done. Well, Saturday in Richmond, 90 miles from here, four days ago, my Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, a friend, a Republican House of Delegates, overwhelmingly Republican House of Delegates, 2-1 Republican, a Republican Senate – it’s a split Senate, 20 to 20, there is a president who breaks ties who is a Republican lieutenant governor so it is a Republican majority body. A Republican governor and Republican legislature decided to do something to benefit the economy, and here’s what they did. They did a package of $880 million of revenue for transportation annually when fully phased in, and 80% of the package is new revenue, and 20% is spending cuts in general fund programs that would be repurposed to transportation. For them to do that they had to make a hard decision, for them to do something that was balanced because an individual whose name is often mentioned in Washington, Grover Norquist, said you can’t do this without violating your pledges. Others said it would be an anathema to ever raise a tax or fee. It will be politically damaging and economically wrong, and a Republican governor and Republican legislature looked at them and said, the right thing to do to benefit our economy is to take a balanced approach. And by an overwhelming majority in both houses supported by Republicans and Democrats and celebrated with excitement by a Republican governor, this is what happened 90 miles from here just a few days ago in order to benefit the economy.
Now, a transportation package isn’t a precise analog as to what we’re wrestling with here, but it’s pretty close. This is a step that was taken to benefit the economy, and it was dong in a balanced way. We are faced with a fundamental decision about whether we are going to benefit the economy or whether we’re going to intentionally allow something to happen that will hurt the economy. And I think the lesson from what happened in Richmond is the economy benefits from a balanced approach, and an imbalanced approach is not going to be the way that we get to a solution that’s good for the economy and good for people.
The last thing I’ll say is this – much of my discussion has been about trying to avert bad things — people being furloughed, people losing their jobs, small ship repair yards potentially having to close, Wounded Warriors not having the nursing care that they need, students eligible for Head Start not being able to go into classrooms, Guardsmen and women not receiving the kind of training they need to go into the field and be fully prepared. Much of what I have described has been about averting negative consequences. But the best part of all is that I think we’re in a unique moment where it is not just averting the negative. I think we can do something that will have a positive effect, that will avert negative consequences certainly but by giving some certainty and by showing a spirit of compromise and cooperation, we will be sending a message from this body that will have a positive effect on the economy.
Some of you know there are some signs in the economy now that are showing some strength. The stock market is doing pretty well. Every day is a bit volatile but where we are in the stock market, we’re doing pretty well. There was some news yesterday about housing prices coming up, the housing market coming up, consumer confidence being stronger than expected. These are not yet congealed into the trends we hope to see, but there are signs and there is evidence that we have an economy that’s ready to achieve some lift. If you look at our global competitors, you would see that there is some weaknesses there. This is a lesson that I heard preached again and again by my senior senator as he talks about global economies around the world. Senator Warner talks about Europe and the Euro Zone has got its challenges. The Japanese economy has its challenges. The Chinese economy has not been quite as strong as it had been. Our major global competitors are not all just clicking on all eight cylinders. And so if we do something right now that sends a message throughout the economy that we’re not only open for business, but there is a balanced approach that can be reached by a Senate and a Congress that’s willing to work together and put country first and do right for the economy, I think we have every reason to believe we will not only avert the last negative consequences I spent the last half-hour talking about but we’ll take positive trends into the economy and we’ll put more helium into the economy. We’ll see more lift that could be significant. We’ll see more of that cash that’s in bank accounts being invested into the American economy. We’ll see ourselves putting some distance between ourselves and some of our other global competitors. This is what’s at stake for us if we get this right. It should be enough for us to do the right thing and find a balanced approach to avoid hurting people and to avoid hurting the economy. But we will get an additional benefit if we act in a balanced way because I believe we won’t only avert those consequences but we’ll see our economy continue to lift in a more accelerated way.
So I’ll just conclude and say this. This is a moment where we have a choice to make. I was with Leader Reid an hour or two ago, and we sat at a beautiful ceremony where a statue was unveiled of Rosa Parks, and one of the speakers talked about, in kind of a very humble and pedestrian setting, she just had a decision to make. And the decision was do we just kind of go along? Do I just kind of do what’s always been done? Do I just kind of keep drifting into a situation that I know is unjust and unequal; or do I decide to do something different? We are drifting toward something that is very bad, something that members of Congress believe strongly when the bill was first put in place should not happen and would harm people and would harm our economy. And that’s the moment we are in right now, a moment to make a decision. and the decision is do we allow ourselves to drift in a way that hurts people or do we choose a balanced approach that will help people, that will strengthen the economy, that will strengthen our budget, that will strengthen our ability to create jobs and it will strengthen the reputation of this body.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.