(Washington, D.C.)-- U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) today questioned the White House's Budget Director, Mitch Daniels, on the Administration's planned cuts to the Hanford clean-up budget. A transcript of the discussion follows.
Murray: Mr. Daniels, in recent days and in your Op-Ed article over the weekend, you've said that our country will need to make sacrifices on the domestic front to pay for needed investments in security. As you have noted, ours is not the first generation of Americans to face this challenge. Our fathers and mothers, our grandparents, and other generations of Americans have all struggled to protect America's freedoms.
In World War II and the Cold War, we faced a grave threat to our existence. The people in my home state of Washington were asked to take up the challenge of the Manhattan project. Throughout the Cold War, the people of the Tri-Cities in Washington state produced the material that went into our strategic arms. We won because of the sacrifice of the people of that community. One legacy of that sacrifice is the freedom we enjoy today.
But there is another legacy that weighs on all of us in the Pacific Northwest. That other legacy is nuclear waste. We have one of the most polluted sites in the world, the Hanford Nuclear Facility on the banks of the Columbia River. Now I know my friend and colleague from New Mexico shares my passion for this particular issue. Unfortunately, President Bush's budget -- for the second year in a row -- underfunds the critical cleanup effort required for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. I think this example is indicative of a larger problem with this budget.
President Bush's priorities in this budget don't reflect the priorities of many Americans, whether it's Hanford cleanup funds, or the Social Security and Medicare Trust funds. And the truth is, we're in this position, in part because of the recession, in part because of September 11th, and in large part because of the President's tax cut, which you told us would get us out of the recession. Mr. Daniels, last year, when we heard rumors that the President's budget would cut Hanford funding, I called you. You assured me that Hanford would not be cut. But when the budget came out, Hanford funding was cut, and cut dramatically.
Mr. Daniels, I want to ask you this morning, do you agree that given the sacrifice the people of the Tri-Cities have made to help us win World War II and the Cold War that we have an obligation to clean up the waste at the Hanford Nuclear facility?
Daniels: Absolutely, Senator. The good news, I hope, is that the Administration in this budget has launched a substantial reform of what has really been a poorly run program.
Murray: Are you saying that Hanford Nuclear Reservation has been poorly run?
Daniels: I'm saying that across the front of these environmental cleanups it's unacceptable that we will still have nuclear waste lying around in 70 years. And that's the situation this Administration found when it came to office. In this budget we propose first of all more spending and second –
Murray: -- Mr. Daniels, I'm sorry, but the way I read this budget, Hanford will receive a lot less funding.
Daniels: Well, we'll work with you to find the right amount of money, but the most important thing is how we spend it. We've been spending billions of dollars – we've had $73 billion in projected cost overruns across the front. This needs to be addressed. Secretary Abraham has an aggressive plan. His idea would be to get these sites cleaned up more quickly under new contracts.
Murray: Mr. Daniels, aren't you aware that there are contracts in place that if we don't fund to begin with they are going to cost us more in the future? If we undo those contracts -- take our name away from them– they are going to be renegotiated and I have never known a contract to be renegotiated for a lesser amount.
Daniels: Well, I would recommend that you speak with Secretary Abraham about it, he's got a very active plan. These arrangements, as I say, are frankly unacceptable and I think would be to you. I don't know the end date for Hanford off the top of my head, but I know that many of the other sites would be sitting there for decades under the existing plans.
Murray: Well, Mr. Daniels, I would remind you that we have the Tri-Party Agreement in place and we are under a legal obligation to cleanup Hanford Nuclear Reservation. My home state of Washington has been on the verge of a legal challenge to this for years and none of us want to go down that route. But if we don't fund the cleanup of Hanford, it not only puts the lives of the people of the Tri-Cities at stake -- as well as the entire Pacific Northwest -- it doesn't fund the legal obligation we have and we may well see a challenge from the state of Washington. And it's the wrong message to send today to everyone we are asking to make a challenge for the war today that we're not going to be there when that war is over.
Daniels: Senator, our objective is to see these sites cleaned up more quickly, and I would think that would be your objective too. This is not about the amount of money we can pour into bad contracts.
Murray: Oh, that has been my objective and that is my state's objective too. Are you saying that the contracts we have in place today at Hanford are bad?
Daniels: That's a question for Secretary Abraham. It's his plan –
Murray: I will certainly ask him as well, but I would tell you, Director Daniels, that I will not let the people of my home state down on this issue. I will do everything I can to meet the obligation of the people of my state who have sacrificed for our freedom. If my time's not up, I want to ask you one other question.
Murray: Let me turn to another topic. Your budget assumes a major reduction in transportation spending. In Washington state we have the second highest unemployment in the nation right now. We have the second-worst traffic in the nation. That puts a huge economic burden on our families and our businesses. It means less productivity and less efficiency. Businesses are leaving my state right now because of the lack of investment in infrastructure and transportation. Cutting the budget by $9 million is not going to help.
Does this Administration realize that our transportation infrastructure affects our jobs, affects our productivity and our economic growth?
Daniels: Let's start with dealing with some of those pesky facts, Senator. We have no discretion in this matter. Congress passed a bill - it was a good one - I think you voted for it - that matches spending with transportation, tax and fee income. And we simply apply a formula, the Departments of Transportation and Treasury do that, as you know, and last year that led to a gigantic increase in transportation and highway funding. Under that formula, which Congress prescribed, as applied this year we discovered that we got ahead of ourselves -- $4.5 billion ahead of receipts last year. And we have simply, faithfully applied the same formula that led to a $4.5 billion - I won't say windfall, I guess, let's say advance–
Murray: Investment in infrastructure -
Daniels: – Well let's say advance and now we're catching back up. The bill that Congress wrote is a good one it has led - will lead - through the end of this fiscal year to $9 billion in additional highway spending over the previous system. Up until a few years ago - as you know - gas tax revenues and other transportation revenues were used for other purposes.
Murray: My time is out, but I would just say that we did have an opportunity in this budget as presented by the Administration to help make up some of that shortfall -- if the priority was there from the Administration -- and understanding that investing in our critical infrastructure - our bridges, our highways, our roads - would not only help jobs today, which is an important part of economic recovery, but also would provide critical infrastructure for economic development in the future.
Daniels: Well, we agree with the importance of spending. Over the 2 year period the same amount of money will be spent - much more than previously. And incidentally, you might be happy to know that because we don't have any new projects to start on an outlay basis - how much is actually spent - how many miles are actually paved, how many people are actually employed is virtually identical to last year, or I should say that '03 will be identical to the current fiscal year. So, this formula that Congress wrote is a good and fair one. We've simply applied it as the law requires we do, but I think it's a little unseemly for road builders and others who loved it when it led to a giant increase to protest when the same formula corrects itself.
Murray: I'm not a road builder, but I do care deeply about my home state and its ability to have the infrastructure it needs for the future. Thank you, Director.
Daniels: Thank you.