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(Washington, D.C.) – Today U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) warned that a proposed across-the-board budget cut will weaken airline safety, impose new transportation costs on American businesses, cost 34,000 U.S. construction jobs, and deny housing to 35,000 vulnerable families.

In a Senate floor speech, Senator Murray said a Republican plan to cut several spending bills for Fiscal Year 2006 reflects the wrong priorities for our country.

"We are now being told that if we want to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, we have to cut every federal program across the board, no matter how much those cuts will hurt our welfare, our economy or our security," Murray said. "That is the wrong message, it is the wrong priority, and America can do better."

Murray focused on how the proposed cut would affect public housing, transportation and aviation safety. She noted that many airlines have moved their maintenance work in foreign countries, but that the FAA now has 290 fewer safety personnel. Murray also warned that a cut will reverse efforts to hire an adequate number of air traffic controllers.

Senator Murray's remarks follow:

Being Strong at Home

Mr. President, as I've traveled throughout my home state of Washington over the past month, people have told me time and again that they want our country to be strong again. To be strong, we need to invest right here at home – in our people, in our infrastructure, and in our communities.

But today, the Republican leadership is trying to push us in the wrong direction by cutting critical investments. Republicans are trying to impose an across-the-board spending cut that will hurt our families, hurt local communities, and even jeopardize the housing and safety of the American people.

I'm speaking out today to explain how these misguided cuts will affect housing for vulnerable families and the safety of every American who plans to fly this holiday season. I really want to thank Senator Byrd for his leadership and for standing up and fighting this misguided Republican plan.

As the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies, I can tell my colleagues that an additional one or two percent cut across-the-board will not be harmless. It will chip away at the federal safety net that protects our vulnerable neighbors, and it will undermine the safety of our commercial aviation system.

These Cuts Reflect the Wrong Priorities

Before I turn to those details, I want to make a broader point about priorities. There is something very wrong with the idea behind these across-the-board cuts. Here is what the Republican leadership is saying with these cuts: When we need to rebuild Iraq, we'll pay for it out of the treasury. But when we need to rebuild American cities like New Orleans and Biloxi, we can only do it on the backs of vulnerable Americans. We can only do it by cutting other priorities here at home.

Mr. President, that is the wrong message, it is the wrong priority, and America can do better. That Republican idea should offend every American taxpayer who believes that the first and greatest responsibility of our Federal Government should be the well-being of our own people. Nonetheless, that is the position of the Republican leadership in this Congress.

So, as a result, we are now being told that if we want to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, we have to cut every federal program across the board no matter how much those cuts will hurt our welfare, our economy or our security.

Some Senators may try to suggest that a small cut will not have a big impact. Well I can tell you -- as a member of the Appropriations Committee -- that is not the case. Let me to turn some of the specific ways these cuts will undermine American families in areas like transportation, housing and aviation. I know these areas well because I've worked on them as Ranking Member on the Transportation-Treasury-HUD bill.

Cuts Mean More Highway Congestion, Loss of Jobs

First, these cuts will mean less progress reducing highway congestion – something Senator Byrd has referenced. We'll lose more than $720 million in highway construction funds – and with it more than 34,000 good-paying jobs. Americans will waste more time in traffic, businesses will lose productivity, and our economy will suffer.

Cuts Will Eliminate Housing Support for 35,000 Families

Second, the Republican cuts will make life harder for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and for vulnerable families throughout the country. Hurricane Katrina revealed the harsh truth about poverty in America in 2005. Many people lost what little they had. There are still thousands of victims of that hurricane that are without adequate housing. Some of them are living in tents. Some are still in hotels, wondering when they will be thrown out. Others are doubled up with relatives. Still others have been disbursed all over the country, wondering how they will pay for housing when they are earning no income. Neither FEMA nor HUD have done an adequate job addressing the critical housing needs of these citizens.

So here we are – trying to address these needs with a supplemental appropriations bill. And the Republican leadership is saying – if you want to help Katrina victims, you have to cut housing assistance for other vulnerable families.

Mr. President, I think it's wrong to say the only way we'll help the victims of Hurricane Katrina is by taking housing away from other needy families. These cuts could mean no more 35,000 families will lose the help with housing that they get today through HUD's tenant-based rental housing assistance program. These cuts also threaten to eliminate transitional housing for 1,200 homeless citizens. Think about it – cutting housing for the homeless – taking help away from 35,000 vulnerable families – that doesn't reflect my values, that doesn't reflect my priorities.

Mr. President, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Public Housing Agencies across America opened up their doors and sought to make emergency housing available to the citizens that had to evacuate New Orleans.

Most of those housing agencies already had long waiting lists of low-income families waiting for a unit or a voucher. By accommodating the Hurricane Katrina victims, these housing agencies effectively pushed their own local citizens further down the waiting list.

We should not make it worse by eliminating vouchers for 35,000 families in order to pay for additional aid for the Katrina victims.

We must not come to the aid of victims of the Hurricane Katrina by creating still other victims around the country through these misguided cuts.

Cuts Will Jeopardize Aviation Safety

So Mr. President, these cuts will hurt jobs and transportation. They will hurt the homeless and other families who are living on the brink, and these cuts will also affect the safety of air travel in this country.

I addressed the Senate on this issue of aviation safety back on October 6th. [Earlier speech:] I did so because I thought it was critical that all Senators understood the relationship between the funding levels we provide to the FAA and the ability of that agency to ensure that the American people are safe when they board an aircraft.

Mr. President, the holidays are upon us, and thousands of Americans will board planes shortly to gather with their families across America. When they do, they have the right to expect that we in Congress are doing all in our power to ensure that they will continue to benefit from the safest aviation system in the world.

Yet, the reality is that the FAA is facing unprecedented budget challenges in adequately staffing its air traffic control facilities with fully-trained professionals. The agency is also challenged when it comes to deploying an adequate number of fully-trained aviation safety inspectors to oversee the safety practices at our nation’s airlines.

Financial Pressure on Airlines

Mr. President, as I explained back on October 6th, over the last few years, our national aviation enterprise – our airlines, our airports and the FAA – have been under an unprecedented amount of financial pressure. We now have no fewer than six airlines in bankruptcy; and that number could still grow.

In the interest of cutting costs, airlines have been cutting back on staff, renouncing their pension plans, and outsourcing an increasing percentage of their aircraft maintenance. I know that many other Senators who, like me, travel home almost every weekend, have noticed the changes in the service the airlines offer. Staffing is leaner than ever, and flight delays and mechanical problems are on the rise.

Airlines Are Outsourcing Maintenance

Airlines are contracting out their aircraft maintenance work to third parties – including many overseas vendors known as foreign repair stations. In the past, airlines maintained their planes with experienced, veteran, unionized mechanics. Today, they outsource more than 50 percent of their maintenance work to independent operators.

Airlines such as Northwest send some of their aircraft as far as Singapore and Hong Kong for heavy maintenance. We have one major carrier, JetBlue, that sends a large portion of its all-Airbus fleet to be maintained in El Salvador, Central America. America West Airlines, now merged with US Airways, does the same thing.

This outsourced work needs adequate oversight and inspection if the American people are going to be safe.

How has the FAA responded to this growing threat to aviation safety?

Fewer FAA Safety Personnel

Because of across-the-board cuts in prior appropriations bills, the FAA has actually downsized its safety workforce by more than 300 personnel -- including more than 230 inspectors. That’s right. We have gotten rid of more than 230 inspectors – the very professionals that are charged with ensuring that maintenance operations are meeting adequate safety standards.

That was not the intent of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee in either the House or the Senate. Indeed, just last year, the Transportation Appropriations bill provided every penny that the President requested for the FAA’s safety office. But the FAA still had to drop the number of inspectors because of the across-the-board cut that was imposed by the Republican leadership. It also resulted from the fact that the Congress granted all civilian federal employees a higher pay raise than the Bush Administration sought, but none of the Appropriations subcommittees were given adequate funding allocations to fully fund those pay raises.

We know that the FAA's inspection efforts are falling short. We have troubling reports from the Department of Transportation's Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office, and the National Transportation Safety Board. Yet despite the dangers, the FAA had to go ahead and decrease the number of FAA safety inspectors dramatically last year because of across-the-board cuts. No one can stand up today and say that an across the board cut has no impact.

Air Safety This Year

Let’s fast forward to this year. I am proud to say that the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have worked to address this safety vulnerability. Both Committees provided increased funds -- over and above the levels requested by the Bush Administration – to bring the number of safety inspectors back up to reasonable levels.

In the FY 2006 Transportation-Treasury-HUD Appropriations bill that the President signed just a few weeks ago, we provided $8 million to boost employment in the FAA’s safety office by 119 inspectors. It will not restore all of the safety inspectors that we lost last year, but it will move staffing in this critical function in the right direction.

But if Congress enacts an across-the-board cut, it will completely eliminate all of the progress that we just made in ensuring safety in our skies. The across-the-board cut that is threatened to be included in the final Appropriations bill this year could cut the FAA’s operations account by over $160 million and put the FAA’s budgetary situation right back where it was. That will require downsizing of the FAA Inspector workforce while the critical workload continues to grow.

Air Traffic Controllers

The situation is almost identical when it comes to the FAA’s efforts to avoid the continued attrition in the ranks of the air traffic controllers. It is estimated that 73 percent of the FAA’s air traffic controllers will be eligible to retire over the next decade.

In the FY 2006 Transportation Appropriations bill just signed into law, we provided almost $25 million to hire an additional 1,250 air traffic controllers. This funding is essential in order to replace the over 650 air traffic controllers who are expected to retire over the course of the next year and to build up the workforce so we can handle retirements in future years. Another across-the-board cut will completely nullify our efforts to hire an adequate number of air traffic controllers. Such a cut will put America’s flying public at risk.

So, as I said, Mr. President, these across-the-board cuts have a meaningful impact, and they recklessly eliminate initiatives that are critically important to the safety of American citizens. If Senators don’t want to take my word for it, they should listen to the words of George Bush’s FAA Administrator – Marion Blakey. I have had two discussions with her about just this topic in the last few weeks. She recently sent me a letter that says, and I quote,

“Over the past two years we experienced a net loss of a thousand controllers and 231 safety inspectors. I don’t believe Congress intended that to happen, but that has been the impact of unfunded pay raises and rescissions. I am concerned it is going to happen again if Congress adopts an across-the-board reduction in the final bill.”

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the letter I received from FAA Administrator Marion Blakey be included in the record at this point.

So, in conclusion, Mr. President, I implore my colleagues to heed to warnings of this Senator and the FAA Administrator. We must reject this absurd and reckless policy. If we can declare an emergency under the Budget Act and provide the funding necessary to rebuild Iraq without offsets, then surely we can do the same when it comes to rebuilding Mississippi and Louisiana. We certainly should not be cutting essential services to Americans across the country, especially low-income Americans, for the purpose of funding the needs of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. These cuts just create another wave of victims, and they put the well-being of all Americans at risk.