Continuing Appropriationsby Senator Elizabeth Warren
Posted on 2013-09-30
WARREN. Madam President, I come to the floor today in a state of
disbelief. With millions of people out of work, with an economic
recovery still far too fragile, with students and families being
crushed by student loan debt, with millions of seniors denied their
chance at one hot meal a day, with Meals On Wheels, and millions of
little children pushed out of Head Start because of a sequester, with
the country hours away from a government shutdown and days away from a
potential default on the Nation's debt, the Republicans have decided
that the single most important issue facing our Nation is to change the
law so employers can deny women access to birth control coverage.
In fact, letting employers decide whether women can get birth control covered on their insurance plans is so important that the Republicans are willing to shutter the government and potentially tank the economy, over whether women can get access to birth control in the year 2013,-- not the year 1913, the year 2013.
I have a daughter and I have granddaughters, and I will never vote to let a group of backward-looking ideologues cut women's access to birth control. We have lived in that world and we are not going back--not ever.
This assault on birth control is just one more piece of an ongoing Republican assault on the orderly functioning of our government and the orderly functioning of our economy. In effect, the Republicans are trying to take the government and the economy hostage, threatening serious damage to both unless the President agrees to gut the Affordable Care Act.
[[Page S7030]] This assault is utterly bizarre. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to solve real, honest-to-God problems. Our health care system is broken. Forty-eight million people in this country had no health insurance. Women couldn't get access to cancer screenings. People with diabetes were denied health insurance because of a preexisting condition. People with cancer hit the caps on health insurance spending. Health care spending in this country was growing way too fast. So we worked hard. We compromised. We came up with a solution--a solution that will substantially improve the lives of millions of Americans--because that is the way democracy works.
It is time to end the debate about whether the Affordable Care Act should exist and whether it should be funded. Congress voted for this law. President Obama signed this law. The Supreme Court upheld this law. The President ran for reelection on this law. In fact, his opponent said he would repeal it and his opponent lost by 5 million votes.
I see things such as this and I wonder what alternate reality some of my colleagues are living in. So let me be very clear about what is happening in the real world. The ACA is the law of the land. Millions of people are counting on it--people who need health care coverage, people who need insurance policies that do not disappear just when they are their sickest. Women will get insurance coverage for birth control. The law is here to stay, and it will stay. Earlier today the Senate emphasized that reality by flatly rejecting the Republicans' newest ransom note, just as we did last week.
We should be having a real debate about our budget because we have real problems to solve. Earlier this year automatic across-the-board cuts went into effect throughout the Federal Government. That is the sequester. The sequester hits American families where they live. During my visits to cities and towns across Massachusetts, I have heard from families, small business owners, and community development organizations--from the Berkshires to the Cape. They tell me what it is like trying to stay afloat with mindless, across-the-board spending cuts weighing them down.
More than a thousand employees at Westover Air Force Base and Barnes Air National Guard Base in western Massachusetts are facing furloughs. This fall, more than 2,000 Massachusetts kids could not get into Head Start because of cuts, and the Head Start Program in Billerica will close completely at the end of this year. Federal workers across our State stand to lose as much as 30 percent of their salaries. Every one of those losses will tighten family budgets. And when families make less money, they have less to spend with local merchants and less money to pay off bills and less money to save and less money to do all that keeps our economy humming.
In fact, the Congressional Budget Office says ending the sequester would add 900,000 jobs to the economy by the end of next year. Next time you think about someone you know who is looking for a job or who is working part time but hoping to get full-time work, think about the 900,000 jobs the sequester has destroyed.
Scientists and medical researchers in Massachusetts are also getting pounded by the sequester. They are working hard to expand our medical knowledge and develop new cures for devastating diseases. They are working on discoveries that will help us in ways we cannot even imagine. Yet here we are, bluntly hacking away at their funding, delaying their research, and cutting off promising new work before it even starts--not because we have to, not because it is inevitable, but because Washington has its priorities all wrong, and it is making some truly terrible decisions.
Consider the Framingham Heart Study. It is a generations-long study of the causes of heart disease, a study that has helped create groundbreaking advancements in medical knowledge. There are people across this country who are alive today in part because of the work that began with this study. This study continues to yield extraordinary results, but it is scheduled to lose 40 percent of its funding--40 percent. Next time you think of someone you love who has heart trouble, think about the sequester cutting one of the world premier heart research programs.
Senate Democrats have put forward alternatives that would adequately fund the government while also addressing our budget deficits. Back in March the Senate passed a budget that would have ended the sequester. It was not easy. We had to make some compromises. No one loved everything in the final bill, but we debated it and we passed it. This is what Congress is supposed to do. But after we did all of that, Senate Republicans decided to filibuster the budget again and blocked us from going to conference with the House on the final bill. That is just pure obstruction, plain and simple.
In July the Senate attempted to pass the first of several appropriations bills to keep the government open and to end the sequester. We had a bipartisan Transportation and Housing bill that would have helped repair crumbling roads and bridges in our communities. It would have created more jobs, and it would have rolled back sequestration in these programs. But, once again, Senate Republicans filibustered and blocked that bill.
Now we are just hours from the government running out of money. We have not fixed the sequester because of all the obstruction. We have not finished a budget because of all the obstruction. We have not even passed a single appropriations bill because of all the obstruction.
The least we can do--the bare minimum we can do--would be to pass a continuing resolution to keep the doors open and the lights on. We can ensure that over a million Federal workers are not simply sent home for no reason. We can avoid a government shutdown. But the Republicans have refused to do even that. They have continued to threaten to shutter the government unless the President agrees to gut the Affordable Care Act. The Senate rejected that position twice. Yet the Republican response has been to continue to threaten to shut down the government.
These threats may continue, but they are not working, and they will never work because this is democracy, and in a democracy hostage tactics are the last resort for those who cannot win their fights through elections, cannot win their fights in Congress, cannot win their fights for the Presidency, and cannot win their fights in the courts. For this rightwing minority, hostage taking is all they have left--a last gasp for those who cannot cope with the realities of our democracy.
The time has come for those legislators who cannot cope with the reality of our democracy to get out of the way so that those of us in both parties who understand the American people sent us here to work for them can get back to work solving real problems faced by the American people. We have real work to do, and that is what we should be doing.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.