Consequences of Inactionby Senator Harry Reid
Posted on 2014-01-13
REID. Mr. President, it is often said that actions have
consequences, and that is an understatement, but in the Senate inaction
also has consequences. My Republican colleagues are very effective at
creating gridlock in this body--at preventing the Senate from doing its
job. While this type of obstruction may serve Republicans' political
purposes, it does not serve this country's purposes generally; that is
for sure. It may serve the Republicans' political purposes, but it does
not in any way lead to something that is good for the country's
On Friday I received a letter, as did the Republican leader, from Secretary of State John Kerry. John Kerry is someone who understands the Senate, having served here for a quarter of a century. After a year at the State Department, more than a third of Secretary Kerry's leadership team remains vacant--1 year and it remains vacant. Four of his six under secretaries have yet to be confirmed, and 58 State Department nominees are pending before the Senate. In just that one department, that one cabinet slot, we have 64 spots that are left floating around out there someplace. This is unacceptable. At a time when our Nation needs a robust presence abroad, the Senate is stuck. The State Department cannot afford for a third of its leadership positions to be vacant. It is not good for the State Department, it is not good for our country, and it is not good internationally.
This is what Secretary Kerry said, among other things, in the letter he wrote to us: It is not an overstatement that today so many critical national security positions are still awaiting confirmation that it is now affecting our ability to do the nonpartisan work of American foreign policy; defend the security of our Nation, promote our values, protect our interests and help our businesses compete overseas, which creates jobs for Americans. Simply stated, the backlog in confirmation of State Department nominees is impacting our national security and weakening America's role in the world.
Mr. President, the Senate's inaction, its failure to carry out its duty to advise and consent, has consequences.
[[Page S268]] Why are we not moving forward? It is because of obstruction by the Republicans in the Senate.
Under the adept leadership of Chairman Menendez, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to report out at least 31 State Department nominees this week. Many of those nominations were made months ago and returned to the President at the end of the first session of the 113th Congress. Why were they returned? Because of obstruction of the Republicans.
It is incumbent upon the Senate to promptly consider all nominees, and in particular the vital nominees who will protect our national security and our role as a world leader. Unfortunately, Republicans have made it difficult and time consuming to confirm any nominee no matter how essential or how noncontroversial. If the Senate can't even fill its constitutional duties, how can we hope to engage in a robust amendment process? We waste so much time trying to get simple nominations done. They complain about not having amendments. In this last work period, Mr. President, we spent weeks eating up time that meant nothing to anyone.
The same Republicans who wasted months of the Senate's time last year are now bitterly complaining that the Senate does not spend enough time considering amendments. Every hour Republicans force us to spend watching the clock, waiting to confirm nominees, to vote procedural motions before even beginning debate on legislation, is an hour we could have spent debating and voting on amendments.
We cannot have the extension of emergency unemployment insurance be bogged down by a raft of political amendments. Republicans are so obsessed with taking pot shots at the Affordable Care Act and staging political stunt votes that they are willing to derail a bill that will help 1.4 million out-of-work Americans. We can't allow that. It is unfair.
Still, the complaints of the minority have not fallen on deaf ears.
First my Republican colleague said they would not vote for an extension of unemployment benefits unless it was fully offset. I compromised. It is fully paid for in the bill before this body.
Next my Republican colleagues said they would not vote for this legislation unless it enacted real reforms for the unemployment insurance program. I agreed. That is in the bill before the body.
Now many of my Republican colleagues say they will turn their backs on Americans who have been out of work for months and months unless they have an opportunity to vote on amendments to this bill. Although I wonder what Republicans will demand next, I am willing to do what it takes to protect middle-class workers struggling to find jobs. So reasonable amendments, a reasonable number, relevant amendments, of course we would be happy to take a look at that. I would be happy to do that. We have Tuesday caucuses every week. I will go over this with my caucus in some detail. But my Republican colleagues can't take yes for an answer. If they insist on swamping this important measure with extraneous political amendments, it will be clear they never wanted to extend unemployment in the first place.
If Republicans are serious about offering relevant amendments to strengthen and improve this bill, I am willing to sit down and talk about it. I am willing to allow votes on these amendments. However, I am not going to allow this legislation to be bogged down, as I have indicated, by meaningless votes or derailed by another doomed crusade to strip millions of Americans of the affordable care they have now. And once Republicans get the amendment votes they want, I hope they will give 1.4 million out-of-work Americans the vote they want and need.
My Republican colleagues should remember that a final vote on this legislation--a vote for middle-class men and women who desperately want to work and desperately need help--is the only vote that really matters.