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Jeff M.
Democrat OR

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  • Continuing Appropriations

    by Senator Jeff Merkley

    Posted on 2013-09-30

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    MERKLEY. Madam President, do I need to request a specific amount of time in which to speak? Are we under any rules? The PRESIDING OFFICER. Senators are permitted to speak for up to 10 minutes each.

    Mr. MERKLEY. Madam President, I appreciate the opportunity to express my feelings this evening.

    Quite frankly, I was one of the optimists in this body. Many of my colleagues have been saying the determination to run our economy over a cliff is so powerful, we are going to end up with a government shutdown. I kept saying, I don't think so. I think in this Senate and across the Capitol in the House there are reasonable folks who know that this type of brinkmanship is doing intense damage to our Nation, and I don't believe we will end up there. So here is my faith in the common sense of a collection of 435 Members of the House and 100 Members of the Senate--my faith in their reasonableness. Apparently, that faith has been misplaced, because we are now just 27 minutes away from a government shutdown. And to what point? We have just heard from the House leadership they want to have a conference discussion over the budget. Well, certainly, so do we. Six months ago, we passed a budget. The Senate passed a budget. We sought to have a conference committee to resolve those two budgets as a common foundation for a set of spending bills--our appropriations bills--and our Republican colleagues blocked that budget conference committee. They have come to this floor 18 times and blocked the dialogue necessary to take the conversation forward over our budget and spending plan. That is what led us here tonight. The obstruction didn't start a week ago or 2 weeks ago; it started 6 months ago, in not allowing a common conversation.

    I am deeply disturbed about the profound dysfunction that now grips this body. I first came to the Senate when I was 19 years old as an intern for Senator Hatfield. When legislation was brought up, it would be debated, there would be a simple majority vote; sometimes we won, sometimes we lost. We then send a bill over to the House. Then we have a conference committee and we get on with things. We make decisions. We test ideas. Sometimes those ideas work well and we keep them and sometimes they don't work so well, and we either amend them or throw them out or the public says, the bums who brought us those ideas that didn't work, we will throw them out. We had a completion of the democratic circle.

    We don't have that completion now because we can't have a simple majority vote. Our colleagues have so abused the filibuster process; the courtesy of letting everyone have their say is to never let us get to a final up-or-down vote. So instead of 12 appropriations bills being passed year after year after year, we have zero this year. We only had one in 2011-2012, only one.

    Citizens across the country are seeing this and saying, what is wrong with the Senate and what is wrong with the House? The House has its own form of supermajority: the Hastert rule. They are saying, We are not going to put on the floor things we know will pass unless they belong to the ideology of the far right, because we know that right now, if the Speaker of the House wants to put on the floor of the House the bill passed by the Senate--a clean, simple extension of a continuing resolution--it would be adopted. The leadership does not believe in allowing a vote in that Chamber, just as a minority of colleagues here in this Chamber have blocked us from having a simple majority vote time and time and time again.

    We need to have a more substantial conversation about how to make both Chambers work better. But in the near term we have to find a path in which we stop careening from crisis to crisis.

    Let's say, in the final 23 minutes now before midnight, that we were able to find an answer to pass a continuing resolution. Let's say we were able to do that. Is there no harm done? Well, I wish that were the case, because there has been a lot of harm done; because what businesses know across America is that this process of brinkmanship, of hostage-taking, of threatening to throw the economy over the cliff is happening time and time and time again. Already, Members on the House side are saying, Well, let's not only make these arguments tonight, let's make them in a couple of weeks over the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling--the decision on whether to pay the bills we have already incurred; the decision on whether to honor the good faith and credit of the United States of America.

    President Reagan spoke on this multiple times, telling folks, We don't mess with the good faith and credit of the United States. His team undoubtedly recognized that when we do so, we raise the interest rates, we endanger the dollar as a reserve currency, we weaken our purchasing power around the world, and we do deep damage. But that reasonableness, that common sense that we don't take hostages and we don't threaten to destroy the economy that is going to hurt the middle class is gone.

    I live in a working class community. Folks don't have a lot of savings. They have been hit hard. They lost a lot of their savings in the 2008 meltdown, a meltdown that came from deregulatory actions, that allowed predatory mortgages and securities based on predatory mortgages. They know that governance matters. They know we could create a lot of jobs if we could pass those bills for low-interest loans, for energy saving renovations that would put a huge amount of the construction industry back to work. That bill passed here in the Senate, but the House hasn't taken it up. They haven't passed it.

    They know we would have a lot more jobs if we invested in infrastructure. China is spending 10 percent of their GDP on infrastructure. Europe is spending 5 percent of their GDP on infrastructure. And what are we spending here in America? We are spending 2 percent--not enough to repair the infrastructure that is wearing out across America, that needs replacing, let alone establishing infrastructure for the next generation. In a 10-year period, 2 trips to China, I saw Beijing go from bicycles to a bullet train. That is what happens when a society spends 10 percent of GDP on infrastructure. We build the economy of tomorrow for the generation of tomorrow that is going to thrive in that city.

    When we underinvest, we imperil the future. When we underinvest in education, we imperil the future of our kids, and we are certainly underinvesting in education. But for each of these policy issues we have to be taking on, we can't succeed if a small number in the Senate and in the House can paralyze this process, can go to extraordinary lengths to basically hold hostage and damage the United States of America.

    This process must end. The Senator from Vermont who spoke a few moments ago said, If we yield to this hostage-taking now, we will see it time and time and time again in the future. We will see the threat to end Social Security, et cetera. Well, we are not going to go in that direction.

    The House has said they want a conference. Great. Let's not do so at the same time we are taking down the economy. So put the Senate resolution on the floor of the House right now, with 20 minutes left, give it an up-or-down vote, pass that bill so that we have just these few short weeks, from now until November 15, to hold that conference and to work out a deal without taking the American economy down with ObamaCare.

    We wait for common sense and reasonableness to return to a dialogue so [[Page S7052]] that we can have a legislative process the American people can believe in, because we are tackling the big problems facing America. But as of tonight, with now 18 minutes to go, we do not have that process, and that must change.

    Mr. LEVIN. Will the Senator yield for a question? Mr. MERKLEY. Yes, absolutely.

    Mr. LEVIN. The Senator just made a reference to the fact that the Speaker of the House has refused to put the Senate resolution up for a vote in the House of Representatives. It seems to me this has not been adequately illuminated to the public. It is not just that we insist that there be a clean CR--which we do, because we don't want every other issue that people feel passionate about to be insisted upon as the price of keeping the government going. Each one of us has issues we feel very passionately about. But I don't know any of us--at least on this side--who have said that unless we pass, for instance, an infrastructure bill--unless we pass a bill that includes background checks for people before they can buy an assault weapon--I feel very passionately about that. But the idea that we or any of us on this side of the aisle would say the government is going to close unless we get our way on a particular issue that we feel passionate about is absolutely anathema to us. Nonetheless, there are a few folks who are willing to do that.

    But when we say we insist we have a clean CR--in other words, that it not be linked to some issue that some faction is insisting upon--what we are really saying is something even deeper than that, more basic. We simply want them to vote on a clean CR. We are very confident it will pass if there is a vote, because it will have bipartisan support.

    For some reason over in the House, bipartisan support for a bill is now anathema. Apparently, it is called the Hastert rule. The Republican leaders over there say they are not going to pass any bill that relies upon any Democratic votes, which is the exact opposite of what bipartisanship should be. Over here, we rely on votes from both sides of the aisle for just about everything we pass. But over there they have this policy now, which is the most partisan kind of policy one could imagine. If someone could design a partisan policy, it would be, We will not have any reliance on the other party for votes; only our party can be relied upon for votes. We are not going to pass anything which depends upon the other party. That, to me, reeks of partisanship. Whenever I hear the Speaker or any of the Republicans in the House talk about bipartisanship, the first thing they ought to do is get rid of the Hastert rule, because the Hastert rule guarantees partisanship. It bakes partisanship into the process over there.

    But back to the narrow point I wish to ask the Senator about: Tonight, as in previous nights, all we are saying is not just we insist upon a clean CR, which is not linked to some faction's passion, which in this case is getting rid of ObamaCare; what we are saying is vote on the Senate CR. Just put it up for a vote. We are confident it will pass. But does the Senator agree it is even something less than saying it must be a clean CR that we are insisting upon? What we are saying is, vote on a clean CR. We are very confident it will pass, but put it up for a vote. Does the Senator agree with that? Mr. MERKLEY. Absolutely. I appreciate the point the Senator is accentuating. When the Senator says this has not gotten enough attention, he is absolutely right. The House has refused to have a budget resolution pursued--a continuing resolution that does not have extraneous policy attached to it. They have absolutely said they will not take the Senate version, which did not put on the things the Senator and I might wish to attach, and did not put on the things my colleagues from across the aisle might wish to attach. It said: Let's keep the government open. Let's keep it operating, using, by the way, the budget number proposed by our colleagues in the House.

    So if our colleagues in the House say, wouldn't it be great if the Senate would compromise with us, well, we went farther than a compromise. We did not say: Let's split the difference between the Senate number and the House number. We will take their number. And let's get rid of these extraneous policy issues and then put it up for a vote. I think it is a simple request to make.

    Doesn't it make sense to give a bipartisan group the opportunity now, with just 14 minutes left, to actually end this process of driving our economy over a cliff? Mr. LEVIN. At least vote as to whether to do it.

    Mr. MERKLEY. At least have that vote.

    Mr. LEVIN. Is it also not true that we have voted twice on the House continuing resolution? We have rejected it, but we voted on it.

    Mr. MERKLEY. My colleague is exactly right. They sent it to us and we voted on it.

    Mr. LEVIN. All right. They have not voted once on what we have sent to them.

    Mr. MERKLEY. The Senator is right.

    Mr. LEVIN. That is not something you have to go to conference about. That is something which is sort of kind of fundamental. We have voted twice on your proposal. We have rejected it. You refused to vote on a Senate proposal. Why? Because you are afraid it will pass with some Democratic votes. That is anathema to the House of Representatives Republican leadership now to pass legislation that depends upon Democratic votes. And at the same time they talk about bipartisanship, they have that fixed, rigid rule that they will not depend on Democratic votes to get something passed in the House of Representatives. The first step toward bipartisanship in the House would be to end that approach.

    But I thank my friend from Oregon. It is amazing to me that the refusal of the House of Representatives to even vote on the Senate proposal which we sent to them has had such little play in the media because I think if the public understood that, they would then--without any doubt--instead of it being 60 to 30 that it is the Republicans who are bringing this government to the brink of closing down, it would be 80 to 10, when the public understands that it is the refusal of the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives to allow a vote on the Senate proposal.

    Mr. MERKLEY. Yes.

    Mr. LEVIN. I thank my good friend.

    I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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