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John R.
Democrat RI

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  • Continuing Appropriations

    by Senator Jack Reed

    Posted on 2013-10-03

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    REED. Mr. President, first let me commend the chairwoman for her extraordinary leadership in so many different ways, including her articulate explanation of the crisis we face at the moment and her compelling argument that a piecemeal approach to resolving the government shutdown will not work, since the pieces are so critically interrelated.

    I rise to speak about this government shutdown as well. Today is day three of the Republican government shutdown, and it seems increasingly clear that Speaker Boehner is trying to drag this out long enough to merge the shutdown with brinkmanship over whether to pay our Nation's bills. This attempt to gut existing law and put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk is no way to run a country. If we are dragged into the commingling of the Republican government shutdown and the Republican proposals to default on our debt, we could be facing a catastrophic financial situation that would affect not just government operations but markets worldwide, and that is not something we should even contemplate. So we have to move very quickly to a resolution of this manufactured crisis.

    When I hear a discussion of what is going on, the words I hear used are words such as ``reckless,'' ``irresponsible,'' and, indeed, words much worse than these all across this country. The bottom line is the average American is fed up. They expect government to open, to serve them, to perform its basic function--not selective functions but its full range of functions.

    Survey after survey notes two simple things: No. 1, the government should be reopened for business. No. 2, the effort by some to connect the Affordable Care Act to funding the government should be ceased. These aren't the views of one particular political party; they are the views of a very, very large majority of Americans, and I share their sentiment. The government should not be closed. The Affordable Care Act should not be tied to reopening the government.

    There is a very simple solution here: Pass the short-term, continuing resolution at current levels of spending so then we can begin the process of resolving the budget impasse. Let me say that again: Pass the bill that funds the government at the current level of spending. Doing so means keeping, in effect, the sequester--something that many on the other side of the aisle have demanded. Frankly, I would hope that having done that, we could then seriously get into discussions with the leader and with the chairwoman on our side about how we create a budget for 2014 that does away with the sequester. This was inherent in the budget resolution which I supported last March.

    Regrettably, the tea party has refused to allow negotiations on the budget, even though we heard day in and day out complaints by our colleagues in a previous session of Congress that we need a budget, we need a budget, we need a budget. Well, we produced a budget, and now we are being blocked.

    What is happening instead of moving to meaningful, comprehensive budget negotiations is that we are in a government shutdown, and now the Republicans are trying to extricate themselves from this manufactured crisis, created by their own hands, by sending over piecemeal bills to fund preferred and selected agencies of the government. As the chairwoman pointed out, it doesn't work, because the government is related. NIH can make discoveries, but if the FDA is not authorized and operating so they can approve their use by people, it doesn't work. We can't disassociate these things.

    We saw today in Rhode Island about 26,500 women and children might lose their WIC benefits, their nutrition benefits, their support. Ignoring them and helping others is not going to benefit this country. In fact, it will contribute, I think, to decline.

    We have looked at the National Guard, veterans' benefits, and national parks. Those are all worthy elements, but they are not the entire range of elements we must perform. I believe the other side is trying to come up with some type of coherent argument for their actions. Is this about the debt? We have made progress in reducing our deficit. Because of actions we have taken, we have reduced projected deficits over 10 years by $2.4 trillion. Do we have to do more? Yes. But we have to do it in a current, thoughtful way.

    Is it about the sequester? Well, let's talk about the sequester. Let's talk about it in the context of a budget and appropriations bills for 2014.

    Is it about the Affordable Care Act? Well, it has begun. There has been a huge demand in the first few days and it is working through problems. And there will be problems. There is no major initiative of this kind that is rolled out by any business or any government that doesn't have issues, and those issues will be dealt with.

    What is very clear, though, is closing the government and then, in sort of an ad hoc way, opening up parts is no way to operate. It is unfair to the American people who aren't getting services they expect and deserve. Also, it's unfair to furloughed Federal employees at the Defense Department and elsewhere--not just the Defense Department but all Departments--some of them are working without the certainty that they indeed will be paid.

    There is a simple way to avoid this situation. The House should stop preventing an up-or-down vote on the Senate's continuing resolution and open the government. The Speaker can call up that vote in less than an hour, get it on the floor, and go ahead and reopen our government. Then reopen the thoughtful, careful, collaborative discussions about where we are going in terms of our budget, in terms of our deficit, in terms of serving the American people.

    I have heard a lot of talk such as: Oh, we have to have a lot of negotiations and compromise, et cetera. I have supported legislation I believe in strongly. I have opposed legislation, but I don't think I have ever stood up and said it is either my way or nothing happens. That is not the way to responsibly represent the people of America. It is the give-and-take of principled compromise. Sometimes there is legislation that reaches this floor that I can't support, but I think in a democracy it is the majority, ultimately--after we go through our procedural convolutions--it is the majority ultimately that prevails.

    There is a strong sense, as reflected in the newspapers, that the majority of the House of Representatives wants this situation resolved. They want all government agencies opened. And through the procedural votes on this side, it is very clear that our colleagues were willing to allow a majority vote to come to this floor, which carried. So the majority of the House and the Senate are with the American people. We just have to get the leadership of the House to get with the American people.

    We have to talk about some of these serious issues, but I think the best place to do so, in my view, is in the context of budget negotiations, and we have been repeatedly blocked from bringing the budget to conference. In fact, many of our Republican colleagues--and I will give them credit; many of them have stood up and said we have to go to the budget negotiations in the conference. Senator McCain said, for example, ``It's not the regular order for a number of Senators, a small number, a minority within a minority here, to say they will not agree to go to conference.'' That is what is happening. It is happening in terms of a minority of Republican Members in the House who are demanding that this Speaker not relent on this government shutdown, and it is happening here to a degree with respect to the conference committee on the budget. We have to go ahead and do our job.

    We have had colleagues on the other side talk about how the closure has detrimental effects. The Member who represents Yosemite National Park was very sad it was closed. I am also distressed that it is closed. I chair the subcommittee that appropriates funding for our national parks. We do our best to maintain the parks, to make sure we support those individuals who work for the Park Service. I understand the impact is not just within the confines of the park, it is the businesses all around the park. That is [[Page S7153]] what we said a week ago. That is what I said a week ago, asking, in terms of our deliberations, that we pass a continuing resolution. So this should come as no surprise to those people who voted against keeping the government open.

    But this is not just about the value of a national park. It is about all the functions the government performs. It is about those women and children who receive benefits through the WIC Program. It is about those Federal workers who are furloughed who cannot perform their duties. We have to go ahead and open up our government. We have to recognize what a democracy ultimately is all about: It is the will of the American people--the majority of the American people--that has to be reflected, ultimately, by the Representatives and the Senators.

    Again, I think it is very clear, except for the bottleneck at the House leadership, that the majority of the House and the majority of the Senate want this government to open up. Let's do it. We need a vote. We have to stop relitigating the Affordable Care Act. It passed. It was upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court. It is open for business starting on October 1, with significant interest by the public. There were 3,000 page-hits per minute in Rhode Island as it opened up on October 1, which I am told by the technologists is an amazing number. There were 2,000 calls to our call center--people who were looking for insurance, to buy it in a private marketplace, which is the core of the Affordable Care Act.

    So we have to move forward. If we do not move forward, SBA lending is effectively cut off, so small business men and women, who are struggling to get their businesses going, to keep them going, and hire Americans, will not have that ability to receive support from the SBA.

    We need, as they say--and everyone has become familiar with this term--a clean CR that opens everything up. If we do not, then we know the impact is going to be dramatic.

    In 2011, economists estimated that a shutdown would cost the economy 0.2 percent of GDP each week. And it accumulates.

    Looking back to 1995 and 1996, when a Republican House also shut down the government for 27 days, it reduced GDP growth by roughly 0.5 percent. Those are jobs, not just statistics. Those are lots of jobs and confidence in our economy. If we do not have jobs and confidence, then we are not doing our job and we are not fulfilling what we were sent here by the people to do: grow the economy, give us work, give us confidence that you can at least perform the basic functions of government.

    Now we have to move forward. I am uncertain as to how long this will continue to fester. We should do this immediately. As I said, procedurally the House--and I had the privilege to serve there for 6 years--can bring this continuing resolution up on very short notice and get, which I believe they have, the majority votes they need to pass it. That should be done. Then we can sit down and work again--work hard on those issues that face us in the context of budget negotiations and a conference and also recognize that while we are here involved in this manufactured crisis, the world is moving. The world is moving in ways in which we cannot be so preoccupied that we do not sense: foreign affairs issues in Syria, foreign affairs issues across the globe; international economic issues; future competitive issues with other economies. While we are fixated and focused on this manufactured crisis, which is completely unnecessary, we are not doing the important work, we are not anticipating the problems that are developing right now in the world or in our economy, we are not investing in jobs and in job creation, we are not looking ahead. We have to do that also.

    I would urge a quick, decisive vote on a continuing resolution so we can get back to the business of leading America.

    With that, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. Baldwin). The Senator from Connecticut.

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