A picture of Senator Bernard Sanders
Bernard S.
Independent VT

About Sen. Bernard
  • Continuing Appropriations

    by Senator Bernard Sanders

    Posted on 2013-10-01

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    SANDERS. Madam President, let me concur with much of what my colleague Senator Shaheen has just said. But let me begin by doing something we do not do enough and that is to say thank you to the 2 million civilians and 1.4 million men and women in the military in all of our 50 States, including some 5,000 in my own State of Vermont. So we have 2 million civilians who are working for the Federal Government and 1.4 million men and women in the military. We owe them a deep debt of gratitude. The work that they do is enormously important for our country.

    They work to make sure that our drinking water and the air that we breathe is safe. It is not an accident that in many parts of this country, the air that people are breathing, that our kids are breathing, is a lot cleaner than it used to be. It took a lot of work to make that happen. We thank them for that.

    We have Customs people patrolling our borders. We thank them for their work. We have Federal workers to protect the health and safety of working people all over the country. We have Federal workers who are working to educate kids with special needs. We have Federal employees who provide food to low-income pregnant women, infants, children, and senior citizens. We have Federal employees who are working in VA hospitals, and we have nurses and many other staff doing a great job for our veterans.

    We have Federal employees who make sure that children receive needed care and services so that their parents can go to work. They repair our roads, bridges, dams, culverts, and sewers. They sweep the floors. They clean our bathrooms and make sure the places we work in are not infested.

    Americans who work for the Federal Government are part of the backbone of this country. I personally thank them for what they do. But it is no secret that in recent years there has been a huge assault against the Federal workforce. For the past 3 years, the pay of Federal workers has been frozen at a time when the costs that they are incurring in terms of gasoline, heating oil, prescription drugs, and of everything else have been going up. But their pay has been level.

    As a thank you for all of the work that Federal employees do here in Washington and Vermont, in Massachusetts and all over this country, our thank you to them has been to shut down the government and to tell some 800,000 Federal employees--these are single moms trying to raise kids, these are proud people, civilians in the military, people in our National Guard; these are people who are doing important work, who have families to raise, and who are dedicated to their jobs--we are saying: Sorry, you have to go home. They are going home, and they are not even sure whether they are going to be paid or when they are going to be paid.

    So you are looking at tens of thousands of lives that are being radically disrupted because of this shutdown. I can tell you that in Vermont, we are very proud of the Vermont National Guard. The Vermont National Guard men and women served very heavily and bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    They helped us when we had the terrible Irene floods a few years ago. The thank you that the Vermont National Guard is getting today--this is true all over the country--is that in Vermont some 450 workers at the Vermont National Guard are going to be furloughed. I know many of these people. They are good people. They are hardworking people. They do not deserve this type of behavior from the Federal Government.

    This affects people from all over the State, people who are trying to get homes, people who are trying to start businesses. That is not something that should be happening.

    Let me just very briefly explain the dynamic of what is going on right here. It is not complicated. The Republicans in the House are dominated by a relatively small group of rightwing extremists.

    What the Speaker there has said is that instead of bringing to the floor the bill that we passed here in the Senate, what is called a clean CR that will continue funding the government, instead of putting that bill on the floor of the House and allowing the entire 435 Members of the House to vote on that bill, what he has done is said to the House Republicans: OK, what do you want? The extreme rightwing has dominated that. What they have said is: We want to defund ObamaCare. That is the only legislation that you, Mr. Speaker, can bring to the floor of the House.

    This is a moment of enormous importance for the Speaker of the House. He has to determine whether he is the Speaker of the Republican Party or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, whether he is going to be dominated by a minority of one party in one part of the government or whether he will allow the entire House to vote.

    [[Page S7098]] What many of observers have made clear is, if he puts that bill on the floor, it will pass and the government will reopen. I hope that he will do that. My political view, my progressive political views are pretty well known. My views on this issue are well known in Vermont and maybe elsewhere in this country. But what I want to do is very briefly to express what some Republicans are saying, people who are not rightwing extremists, who, in fact, have very strong disagreements with the Affordable Care Act but who understand that they cannot hold the American people hostage and they cannot blackmail the government in order to get their way.

    So this is not Bernie Sanders talking. These are conservative Republicans, but people who are not rightwing extremists. Let me quote some of my colleagues. These are the public statements they have made. Saxby Chambliss, a Republican Senator from Georgia, this is what he says: I'd love to [defund ObamaCare] too. But shutting down the government and playing into the hands of the president politically is not the right thing to do. Plus, it's going to do great harm to the American people if we pursue that course. We've been there. It didn't work.

    Senator Dan Coats, Republican from Indiana: Here's the hard truth: President Obama will not overturn his signature legislation so long as he is president and the Democrats have control of the Senate. Along with these political realities, refusing to pass legislation to keep the government funded will not stop ObamaCare from going into effect.

    Senator Tom Coburn, Republican from Oklahoma: It's not an achievable strategy. It's creating the false impression that you can do something when you can't. And it's dishonest.

    Republican Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee. The Washington Post reports that Corker compared shutting down the government to the way buffalo were slaughtered in the Old West. ``I know when you get led into a box canyon what that means . . . Box canyon, here we come.'' Representative Peter King, Republican from New York.

    We should not be closing down the government under any circumstances. That doesn't work, it's wrong, and you know, ObamaCare passed. We have to try to defund it, we have try to find ways to repeal it. But the fact is, we shouldn't be using it as a threat to shut down the government.

    Republican Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah.

    My personal belief is the only way to get rid of ObamaCare is to be intelligent and smart about it and gradually just work on it, work it through . . . to expect the government to shut down is not the way to do it.

    Mark Kirk, Republican Senator from Illinois: I am one of those who says, let's not shut down the government just because you don't get everything you want.

    Senator John McCain, former Republican candidate for President of the United States: In the United States Senate, we will not repeal, or defund, ObamaCare. We will not. And to think we can is not rational.

    Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio: I do think we need to deal with the underlying problem of overspending and we have to deal with the problem of Obamacare, but those ought to be handled outside of the context of a government shutdown.

    Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho: There isn't anybody that thinks that ObamaCare is going to get defunded. It cannot happen . . . We were elected to govern--you don't govern by shutting down the government.

    I can go on and on.

    There are many Republicans in the Senate and Republicans in the House who do not like ObamaCare. They understand that we don't shut down the government only to make a point. We don't throw 800,000 workers who work for the Federal Government, whose lives depend on a paycheck, out on the street in order to make a point.

    I think Jim Risch--Republican Senator from Idaho--had it right. I will repeat what he said: There isn't anybody that thinks that ObamaCare is going to get defunded. It cannot happen. . . . We were elected to govern--you don't govern by shutting down the government.

    Senator Risch is exactly correct.

    Where we are right now is that there are many Republicans in the Senate, there are Republicans in the House, and there are millions of Republicans all over the country who say they have disagreements with ObamaCare, but it was passed by the Congress almost 4 years ago and signed by the President. When it was challenged by the Supreme Court, it was upheld as being constitutional. We had a Presidential election where the Affordable Care Act was one of the major issues being debated. President Obama won by 5 million votes. We had Senate races, and Republicans lost two seats in the Senate. They lost seats in the House.

    There are sensible Republicans all over the country saying: Look, there are ways to deal with this issue, but don't shut down the government. Don't punish 800,000 workers. Do not deny benefits and services to tens of millions of Americans.

    I would like to go to another area and suggest--although I think the Presiding Officer well understands this--that what we are seeing today in terms of the attack on ObamaCare is not only some isolated act on the part of rightwing Republicans. I think many Americans are not aware. People may like ObamaCare or may not like ObamaCare. As we well know, today was the first day the exchange was open. Guess what happened. Millions of people went to the Web site. Guess what. When we have 48 million Americans who have no health insurance and millions more who are in need with high deductibles and copayments and they are given the opportunity to buy insurance, shock of all shocks, many of them are now going to the Web site. Our Republican friends are saying: No, no, we don't want to see that.

    My point--and I hope everybody understands this--is that this attack on ObamaCare is only one small part of a rightwing extremist ideology which is incredibly reactionary and which really intends not only to repeal ObamaCare but to repeal virtually every major piece of legislation passed in this country in the last 80 years that protects the interests of the elderly, the children, the sick, the poor, women, the environment, and people who are vulnerable. That is what their agenda is.

    I will give a few examples. The Environmental Protection Agency works hard to make sure the air we breathe is clean. There are many rightwing Republicans who don't want only to cut funding for the EPA, they want to abolish the EPA.

    We have a major crisis in this country in terms of millions of American workers being forced to work for very low wages. People are working for 8 bucks an hour, 9 bucks an hour. They can't raise a family working for these very low wages. Many of us believe it is important that we raise the minimum wage. Do people know what the rightwing agenda is, the agenda funded by a family like the Koch brothers, a family worth $70 billion that is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into these rightwing extremist groups? Do you know what they say about the minimum wage? They say: Let's abolish the minimum wage.

    People think I am kidding. The view now of the majority of the Members, the Republican Members in the Senate and the House, is not only not raising the minimum wage, it is to abolish the concept of the minimum wage. What that means is that if you are living in a high- unemployment area and the wages that are being offered to you by an employer are 3 bucks an hour or 4 bucks an hour, those are the wages you will have to accept because there will be no Federal floor. The Federal floor is $7.25, and that is much too low. Get rid of that, and we will have people working for $3 and $4 an hour.

    One of the most significant pieces of Federal legislation ever passed was passed in 1935--Social Security. Today we have over 50 million Americans who are benefiting from Social Security. If you go to the Texas Republican Party platform--their recent platform, and they are one of the most powerful Republican parties in the country--they are pretty up front about what they believe. They want to end Social Security. They want to privatize it. That is their goal.

    The Veterans' Administration--and I speak today as chairman of the Veterans' Committee--today we have quite good VA health care through 152 medical centers run by the VA, 900 community-based outreach clinics, many vet centers. VA does, most veterans consider, a pretty good job in providing [[Page S7099]] health care. Do you know what some Republicans want to do? They want to privatize the Veterans' Administration. Check it out. This is the Texas Republican Party platform, which speaks for Republicans all over this country.

    It is not only the VA and it is not only Social Security, it is many other programs. We recently saw our friends in the House cut food stamps by some $4 billion this year. That is what they believe. Meanwhile, we have more people living in poverty today than at any time in the history of the United States. Many want to make devastating cuts in Medicaid, food stamps, and many other programs that people in this country are living on.

    I will conclude by saying that we could end this crisis in a very few minutes. All that needs to happen is the Speaker of the House has to bring up the clean bill we passed here in the Senate and give all of his Members a chance to vote on it. If he does that, this crisis will be over.

    It is morally wrong and it is extremely dangerous from a precedent perspective to allow this government and our President to be blackmailed or for the American people to be held hostage. If we were to succumb to that blackmail today, I can absolutely guarantee that in 2 weeks, when the United States is going to need to pay its debts, and we don't, for the first time in the history of this country, have the money to pay our debts, and when the economists are telling us that if we don't pay our debts, there could be an international economic crisis leading to huge amounts of job loss all over the world, not only for the United States--if we surrender to them now on this issue, they will be back. They will be back and they will say: If you don't cut this and don't cut that, we are not going to allow you to pay the debts the United States owes. It will go on and on. Next year they will come back and they may say: Well, we are not going to fund the government unless you end Social Security or unless you cut Medicaid drastically.

    This is not the way a government in a democratic, civilized society can operate. We have our disagreements. God only knows we have that. We have debates. But there is a process.

    What the Republicans have not yet recovered from is the simple fact that they lost the Presidential election, they do not have control over the Senate, and they only have one body. They think that from controlling one body they have a right to control the U.S. Government. This is not how it works.

    I hope that people all over this country, whether they are conservatives or progressives, Democrats or Republicans, will listen to what some of the sensible Republicans are saying. In essence, what they are saying--and I have read many of the quotes from John McCain and others--is this: Yes, we have differences of opinion, and, yes, some of them disagree strongly with ObamaCare, but there is a process you go through to make those changes. Do not shut down the government, impact the entire economy, throw 800,000 people out of work, and deny services to millions of Americans. That is not the way to run the government in a democratic society.

    Let me conclude by hoping very much that the Speaker of the House will recognize that he is the Speaker of the entire House, not only of the Republican Party, and that he will let all of his Members vote on the legislation we passed in the Senate.

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