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Cotton Calls Out Senate Democrats for Playing Politics with Sequestration on Senate Floor

September 19, 2017

So I want to clarify something about what’s going to happen this afternoon: whenever a Democratic senator says they’re worried about the state of our military, that they’re horrified at the kinds of cuts we’re making, that they can’t sleep at night because of what we’re doing to our troops in the field, don’t believe them. They don’t mean it. They’re not serious. It’s all for show. Because they had the perfect opportunity to stop all of these terrible cuts—and not just for the troops, but for their own states, for their constituents, even for their little parochial projects, and what did they do? They turned it down. They said no. 

Well, actually, I take that back. They didn’t say no. They couldn’t even bring themselves to say no. They didn’t have the courage to say no. They did something much worse. They said nothing. Because we’re not even going to vote on the amendment I wanted to offer, which would have repealed the sequester spending cuts for defense and non-defense—defense and non-defense spending. Now the members of this body know that I’m no fan of frivolous, pork-barrel spending, that I think a lot of the projects that my Democratic colleagues sponsor could easily fall into that category, and that we should rein that sort of thing in at a time we’re $20 trillion in debt. But I understand that the only way we were going to get something done about the radical spending cuts to our military was to forge a bipartisan compromise.

After all, it’s not like the sequester spending cuts really did that much to control spending. Did spending go down in 2011, and 2012, and 2013? Yes. It went from $3.6 trillion, to $3.5 trillion, and then to $3.4 trillion. But the sequester wasn’t even in effect for those first two years. Spending went down because Republicans won control of the House in 2010. At the end of 2013, however, Congress raised the budget caps and pushed off the sequester for those two years ahead. So by 2015, federal spending was back to $3.6 trillion, and it’s been growing ever since. Time and time again, Congress has proven itself utterly incapable of sticking to the caps under the Budget Control Act of 2011. 

So instead of actually saving money, all the sequester does is create an endless series of crises for Congress to escape just in the nick of time. Take this year. We all know what’s going to happen. We just passed a three-month continuing resolution earlier this month. We’re going to reach a two-year budget agreement in October and November that doesn’t control spending. We’re going to have an omnibus in December written in secret in our leaders’ offices. And then we’re going to have another omnibus spending bill written in secret in our leaders’ offices next December. And then we’ll repeat that entire cycle over again in 2019 and 2020. How do I know that? Because it’s exactly what happened in 2013 and 2015. We’ll never make the cuts the Budget Control Act called for. We’ll just pass giant budgets that nobody’s read at the last minute in an attempt to avoid these crises of our own making.

My amendment was the last, best chance in years to stop this bust-and-boom cycle of budgeting. But what did the Democrats do? They threw it away. They took a perfectly good, bipartisan opportunity to repeal these automatic spending cuts, and they threw it away.

You have to ask yourself what goes through senators’ heads when they make such a cynical political calculus. Do they not understand the implications of what they’re doing? Do they not see the appalling lack of readiness that’s so apparent to everyone else? Did they not see what happened to the U.S.S. John McCain? Did they not see what happened to the U.S.S. Fitzgerald? Do they not see all those caskets, carrying dead bodies of America’s young, coming home to families in grief? Did they not see them? Or did they see them and just not care?

What do they think when they hear respected men like Secretary Jim Mattis say, quote, “no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of our military that sequestration”? What do they think when Secretary Mattis says, after four short years of retirement when he’s returned to the Department of Defense, “I have been shocked by what I’ve seen about our readiness to fight”? Is it just background noise? Does it not register with Democratic Senators?

In fact, what they must think—when they’ve been saying the exact same thing for years.

The junior senator from Connecticut: “The so-called sequester is another sad example of governing at its worst.”

The junior senator from New Jersey: “It is brunt, brutal, and blind.” He gets bonus points for alliteration.

The senior senator from Virginia: “Sequestration is stupidity on steroids.” I can make that claim about a lot of things said in this chamber.

The senior senator from Washington: “We need to replace sequestration as quickly as possible.” Although apparently not if it requires a vote on the Cotton amendment.

The junior senator from Minnesota: “There are a lot of people suffering needlessly because of the sequester.” And that’s not a joke, even coming from him.

I guess all these cries of anguish are falling on deaf ears.

The senior senator from New Hampshire: “The blind cuts of sequestration are not the right approach.” But by all means, let’s keep them in place, rather than vote on the Cotton amendment. 

The senior senator from Connecticut: “The safety and strength of our nation also require that Congress eliminate the rightly-maligned sequestration straightjacket for all federal programs.” Maligned, yet not repealed.

And my favorite, the senior senator from Rhode Island, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee: “Instead of dodging fiscal responsibility, Republicans need to help end sequestration and get back to a normal budget process.”

Well Republicans gave you a perfect example to do that, sir. And you turned it down. That’s what this amendment would have done. 

But now we won’t have a single dime more for the military. We won’t give a dime more to FEMA or to the National Weather Service or the NOAA or NASA or what have you. We won’t give one penny more to all those domestic “priorities” that the Democrats claim to care about—because it turns out, they must not care that much about them. Or maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe they do like them a lot. They like using them to gin up political support. Because when the time came for them to actually put their money where their mouth is, they walked away. 

Now the Democrats will tell you they oppose this amendment because it wouldn’t repeal the automatic sequester of mandatory spending. Don’t give me that. That is nonsense. That is a pure pretext. The automatic sequester consists of a small, almost trivial amount of cuts. And it wouldn’t have affected one penny—not one penny from Social Security or Medicare or veterans’ benefits. And here’s what’s most important: every single Democratic senator has voted to extend that mandatory sequester into the foreseeable future. So far from thinking it’s a problem, they voted to extend its life. 

But hey, how about I strike a new deal? Here is my offer: I’ll support hiding behind procedural niceties, hiding in your cloak room, and not voting on my amendment, if you agree to do one thing. Go home in person, to your military bases, in your home states, and explain to the men and women of our armed forces, face to face, why you couldn’t bring yourselves, not just to repeal these spending cuts, but not even being tough enough to take a vote one way or the other

So the Democratic Leader can go to New York and tell the men and women of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum.

The Democratic Whip can go to the Naval Station in Great Lakes.

The senior senator from Rhode Island, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, he can go to the Naval War College.

The senior senator from Missouri can go to the 131st Bomb Wing.

The junior senator from New York can go to the soldiers at Fort Drum as well.

The senior senator from New Hampshire can go to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

The junior senator from Hawaii can go to a dozen different military bases in Hawaii, while senior senator from Florida can go to 20 different military installations in his state.

The senior senator from Connecticut can go to the Groton Submarine Base.

The senior senator from Indiana can go to AM General in South Bend, whose manufacturing he always touts for political purposes.

The junior senator from Virginia can go to Norfolk, or the Pentagon, or Ft. Meyer, or any one of the numerous bases in Virginia.

The junior senator from Maine can go to Bath Iron Works.

The junior senator from New Mexico can go to Kirtland and Cannon Air Force Base.

The junior senator from Michigan can go to General Dynamics outside Detroit.

And the senior senator from Massachusetts could shake hands with all 115,563 of the people in her state whose jobs are directly tied to defending our nation.

Every one of those Democrats who sit on the Armed Services Committee and have claimed to want to stop these automatic spending cuts can go home and tell the men and women in uniform in their states that they had a chance to vote on it and they were too cowardly even to put their name on the rolls.

They could look all these Americans in the eye and say, “Sorry. It’s just politics. Hope you understand.”

That’s all this is: it’s politics of lowest kind. Maneuvering, posturing, posing—they are caving to the demands of the Democratic Leader, simply because he wants more leverage for more pork-barrel spending when we have a budget deal negotiated in secret in December. He twisted their arms, and they screamed like little kids. They’re putting politics ahead of our troops, they’re holding our troops hostage to politics—solely because their leader wants them to. 

Because if they weren’t, they’d allow a vote on this amendment. They’d vote aye. And they’d vote aye eagerly. And they’d vote aye enthusiastically. But they can’t even do that. They can’t even put their names down as a yes or a no on something they’ve all said they support for years. So, they just hide behind procedure. They hide in their cloak room. They hide from the voters. They hide in the back corridors and hallways of this building. They hide to save their own skin.

They hide because they’re ashamed. And they sure as hell should be ashamed.