A picture of Senator Michael F. Bennet
Michael B.
Democrat CO

About Sen. Michael
  • Continuing Appropriations

    by Senator Michael F. Bennet

    Posted on 2013-10-08

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    BENNET. Madam President, before he leaves the floor, I want to thank the Senator from Oklahoma for his commitment to this issue, for his candor. We do not necessarily agree on every single thing, but I do know he is a man of great conviction and we are lucky to have him in the Senate. It is my hope we can get to a place where we actually are together addressing these budget issues in a way that is not management by crisis or one across-the-board cut after another but actually is a thoughtful plan to relieve our children and our grandchildren of this burden we are threatening them with.

    So, through the Chair, I thank my colleague.

    Madam President, I come to the floor today, after the Senator from Oklahoma described today as a day of petty kindergarten political games, to talk about a place where they are not playing any of those right now, and that is a town in Colorado that I represent called Estes Park, which has been a beacon of resilience. It is in the mountains just northwest of Boulder. It is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.

    I can see from the Presiding Officer's reaction that she may have been there.

    The town has several thousand residents and hosts close to 3 million visitors a year, including an average of over half a million visitors in the month of September.

    This time of year is peak tourist season. The weather is beautiful. The aspens' leaves are even more beautiful than the weather, and the elk famously wander through the park and through the town. Whether you are coming to rest or recreate, Estes Park welcomes you, and it always has.

    In 2011 visitors generated $196 million in tourism spending and supported more than 2,700 jobs. By some estimates tourism accounts for 43 percent of local employment. But when the floods hit in Colorado, Estes Park was almost entirely cut off from the outside world.

    As shown in this picture, here is Route 34 going to Estes Park.

    Two of the major roads into town were wiped out for miles at a stretch, leaving only one road into town. Many homes and businesses were destroyed. But the residents of Estes Park picked themselves up and began the recovery process. Limited access to the town has been restored. Folks had just started opening their businesses again. Visitors had just started to return to Rocky Mountain National Park. And then Congress stepped in and dealt an unbelievably cruel blow by shutting down this government.

    Let me quote what Estes Park resident Tom Johnson said on the Tuesday of the shutdown: I think politicians are playing around, like they do, and it's the people who wind up-- ``And it's the people who wind up''-- with all the problems for it. Man, they did it to Estes Park, when they shut down that park.

    Rocky Mountain National Park closed with the shutdown. Hundreds of campers have had to cancel their reservations, and likely thousands more canceled their plans to visit.

    The Denver Post reported that if visitors to Estes Park decline by 70 percent, it could mean the loss of 1,100 jobs, $90 million in spending, $5.8 million in State sales tax revenue, and $4.4 million in local taxes. This is one community in Colorado, one community in the United States of America tonight, as we horse around here in the Congress.

    The shutdown is a kick in the teeth to our local governments and small businesses in their efforts to recover from these floods.

    One of the area's more famous businesses is the Stanley Hotel. John Cullen, the hotel's owner, told us that while it is booking visitors for long weekend trips, it has been slow to bring in the usual number of guests during the week. He says it is because locals cannot come to Rocky Mountain National Park for the fall foliage. He tells us they have done everything they can to keep the hotel open because it is a major employer in Estes Park, but he is losing money on a daily basis.

    Diane Muno is a local business owner in Estes Park, with four retail shops. The Spruce House and the Christmas Shop are two local Christmas and holiday stores; the White Orchid and the White Orchid Bridal Shop sell clothing and other apparel.

    Some of these businesses have been serving customers in Estes Park since 1969. They are institutions in this Colorado community.

    The flooding damaged three of four of her businesses. One was seriously damaged and has not yet reopened. The other two rushed to reopen to recover, and they would have been fine except we closed Rocky Mountain National Park, and that has slowed foot traffic in a significant way. Diane's October revenue for these four stores is down 67 percent--two-thirds down--from this point in October last year. She typically has 12 to 15 employees, but she is working a skeleton crew of 6.

    Another business damaged by the floods was Kind Coffee. Its owner, Amy Hamrick, has been relying on Internet sales while she is working to reopen the store. The community has rallied around the store, as our communities that have been struck by the floods have done. It bought coffee beans and mugs and T-shirts online and helped clean up floodwaters. But the same story holds: She took a huge hit when the government shut down. Making horrible things worse, Amy's husband David Hamrick, a firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, has been furloughed.

    This is what this inability of Washington's politicians to get done the most basic function we have--to keep the government running--has wrought in this one Colorado community.

    Amy told National Public Radio: We carry on through the middle of October with tourism dollars and locals coming to see the elk rut and to go into the park and see the color. . . . And the national park is also our largest employer in town. So our community now has lost a lot of jobs in the interim.

    This is exactly why it is the wrong moment for Colorado, for Estes Park, to have Washington's dysfunction come crashing down. They do not deserve it. They do not deserve it. But, as they are now saying in Estes Park, they are mountain strong and they will get through it. And I know they will.

    Amy Hamrick took the time to remind us that 90 percent of the town is open, dry, and ready for customers. She said: The town . . . is beautiful and the golf courses have elk on them 24 hours a day.

    Estes Park, like much of Colorado, has taken a hit, but it will not stay down. The community continues to pull together and recover. As expected, its neighbors are going the extra mile to help everybody out.

    This quote from Jeannie Bier captures the spirit of Colorado. She said: We live down in Loveland and it is difficult for the people down there right now-- I know it is difficult down there because I was there last week with the mayor and county commissioners and others looking at devastation in Loveland-- but we also knew it is just as difficult up here in Estes and they are our neighbors, so we took the roundabout way to get up here to support Estes as well.

    The floods will not deter them, and neither will the outrageous stupidity of this shutdown.

    Rocky Mountain National Park is closed, but there are still plenty of other reasons to come and enjoy Estes Park.

    Earlier today somebody who works with me named James Thompson spoke with the town's mayor Bill Pinkham and asked him what is the one thing he would want me to say on this floor. The message was plain and simple. He said: Michael, tell them it's spectacularly beautiful up here. It's still a great experience. We're open for business! This town has been through a lot and has risen to its challenges.

    So I say to everybody, come to Estes Park. Enjoy the beauty. Shop at our businesses. Dine at our restaurants. And meet the folks who would not let a natural disaster or a manmade disaster stop them from succeeding. You can learn more about a trip to Estes Park at visitestespark.com.

    To my colleagues, I urge you to come to Colorado for a different reason. Maybe we could all learn something from these incredible people about what it means to pull together in the face of a crisis.

    For those of us playing politics with this shutdown and playing politics with this fiscal cliff, I would really encourage you to spend a single moment in one of our flood-ravaged towns. That [[Page S7306]] might bring some welcome clarity to the debate.

    With that, I yield the floor.

    I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

    Mr. BENNET. I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. BENNET. Madam President, most of us here in the Senate have read at least something about our Nation's founding. Although it is striking, what is almost always overlooked is the Founders' use of the language of ``the republic.'' Asked by a citizen on the street which was being created behind closed doors in Philadelphia, ``a Republic or a monarchy,'' Benjamin Franklin famously said: ``A republic, if you can keep it.'' As with most foundational decisions, the Founders made this choice deliberately. The idea of democracy frightened Hamilton, Adams, and others, because they equated it with mobs in the street. They worried that mob rule would overcome rights bestowed not by their government but by their Creator. They studied the classics and their models were the Greek and Roman republics.

    They set out to do something never done before, to create a republic of the scope and scale never before attempted, and one that could expand as the country grew.

    Today we are the world's oldest and greatest democracy. During the last century, America has expanded the constitutional rights of women and people of color well beyond landowning White men, originally privileged. In our time, we have come to understand that democracies are about the rights of citizens, but a republic, the Founders understood, is about the duties of citizens, the obligations a citizen has to a society whose constitution guarantees his or her rights.

    Basic duties are to pay taxes levied by a representative government, to defend our country when called upon, and to obey the law. Our Founders had something even greater in mind, qualities that would make a republic endure. Like republics from ancient Athens forward, they believed in popular sovereignty, based on citizen participation in government. They believed in the commonwealth, all those things we hold and value in common, such as our defense and our shared infrastructure, and the welfare of the next generation of Americans.

    They believed in putting the common interest above personal or narrow interests, a sense of the national interest. How else could committed slaveowners and abolitionists form a country and a government? They believed in resistance to corruption, those who would turn the national interest to personal gain. We were founded as a republic and we have become more democratic across time. We are democratic and republican. Interestingly enough, what came to be the semblance of the first political party in America called itself the Democratic Republicans. It was founded in 1791. Sounds pretty weird today, I know, but it simply meant those who believed in democratic equality and freedom, working to uphold the ideals of the Republic. One of our bedrock American principles is that we must protect our rights through performance of our duties. That is not some abstract political theory. This is a definition of who we are and how we must govern ourselves.

    We have rights and responsibilities as citizens and as Senators. We have the right to free speech but the responsibility not to shout ``fire'' in a crowded theater. We have the right to assemble but the responsibility to do so peacefully. In this body we have the right to filibuster but the responsibility to govern on behalf of the American people.

    But the fewer the Americans who exercise the most fundamental right, I would say duty, of voting, the more political influence extreme groups in our society have. This is where we find ourselves at the dawn of the 21st century, with a Senate that at times is dominated by a small faction that does not represent the mainstream of American political thought, and a House that is gerrymandered into dysfunction. This institutional paralysis has created a vacuum into which a million special interests happily roam.

    Actually, I should call them narrow, not special, interests. From ancient Athens onward, narrow interests have been the enemy of every republic. That has never been truer than it is today. Keeping the Republic created by our Founders should concern every generation of Americans, including our own. The sovereign power belongs to all the people, not just a vocal few. It is our responsibility, it is our duty, as elected officials when that ideal is tested, to work together to restore a sense of the commonwealth and the common good that enabled us to prevail in world wars and to overcome depressions.

    This is our cause, but we are stuck. We are stuck because we are fighting over yesterday's battles instead of seeking to anticipate, as our Founders did, how we will manage change. To one degree or another, all Senators and possibly all Americans are conservative. If conservative means to protect our Nation's principles and ideals, I am a conservative. If conservative means to preserve a culture of tolerance, justice, and equality, I am a conservative. If conservative means to respect the unique cultural heritage of America, I am a conservative. If conservative means to protect our natural heritage, I am very much a conservative.

    But while we protect and preserve the best of what makes us who we are, we must adapt to change. Scarcely one of us in the Senate has ever sought office without advocating some kind of change: change of officeholder, change of party, change of policy. That is good, because the future is arriving faster and faster and we have gotten no better at anticipating it.

    Even with the seemingly endless crawls of the words ``breaking news'' at the bottom of our screens, no one predicted the Arab spring before it sprung. That is the most closely watched region in the world.

    There are great historic tides that demand that we change and adapt to them in order to preserve and protect and conserve our central values. We do not live in a stagnant world. Indeed, we are living in the midst of great revolution that makes the 21st century as different from the 20th as the 18th century was from the 17th. We are living through what may be the peak years of change on the scale of the Industrial Revolution. But even though we may come here oriented to change, the institutions of government, Congress included, are oriented to the past. Our committee structure and our regulatory agencies imagine an economy that existed deep in the last century. We are designed to support incumbent interests, not the innovators that will drive job growth and wage growth in the 21st century. This is a fatal flaw, if we are ever going to tackle the growing income inequality that our Nation faces, an inequality that has been unmatched since 1928.

    We are regulating the telegraph when the world is wireless. Just one example: Almost a year ago I visited Apple out in Silicon Valley to learn something about their work in education. A little over 4 years ago, when I was superintendent of Denver Public Schools, I did not spend one second thinking about how to apply a tablet to the education of our kids, because there was no such thing as a tablet--a little over 4 years ago.

    Today the tablet, combined with platforms such as the iTunes platform, presents an unbelievable opportunity for our children and children all over the world to learn and to teach each other. It was amazing to see.

    In any case, Apple presented a slide showing that 75 percent of their last 12 months of revenue was derived from products they did not sell 5 years before--75 percent of their revenue came from things they did not sell 5 years before.

    We have not updated our Tax Code since 1986. I was in college in 1986. What are the chances that our Tax Code is helping drive job and wage growth in 2013, 27 years later, more than a quarter of a century later? In this Congress and in this government, we are desperately out of sync with the world as it is. It is, in fact, an irony that we must change and adapt to preserve the principles that we treasure. But we must.

    Today, many flying the tea party banner resist all change. Indeed, they [[Page S7307]] want to go back, often to a past that never existed, or to a time that has no relation to our time. Too often, their politics embrace old interests that will not drive us forward to an economy that is creating jobs and raising wages.

    Our founding principles should not change. I agree with that. But our practices and methods must change to become relevant. These two parties, or three with the tea party, have to escape their orthodoxies for this to be possible. Efforts to maintain the status quo or to return to some mythical past are doomed to fail. That is simply because time and the tides of human affairs will not stand still. We do not control history and cannot dictate to it. Change is the one constant. How we attempt to shape it to our purposes, by creative, imaginative public policies will determine whether we can preserve the best of our past, our principles, our heritage, and our values.

    Those who seek to protect our Nation against change by sitting on the beach before a massive incoming tide with shovel in hand will be swept away as surely as King Canute. As I mentioned earlier, anyone who believes their orthodoxy or their ideological orientation prepared them for the Arab spring or made us safer is deluded. Our job must be to create a shared understanding of the facts when we work in a town that is arranged to obscure them.

    Despite the desires of nostalgia, we are not going back to the laissez faire world of Herbert Hoover. Social safety nets are here to stay to protect children, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, and to protect our ability to call ourselves a civilized nation. But even they will have to be changed if they are going to survive for the next generation of Americans.

    The revolution of globalization and information has transformed the world's economy and cultures and societies all across the globe, including here in the United States. These revolutions, like the Industrial Revolution before them, cannot be stopped. It is up to us to decide whether we can accept this new reality and position our country to lead, as it has since our founding, or whether we shrink into an imaginary conception of what the world once was and what the United States once was.

    With all of this change and pace of globalization comes fear of the future and a sense of loss of what once was. That is human nature. I do not exempt myself from that. At a time of uncertainty, it has become fashionable in some political circles to capitalize on it politically. This kind of demagoguery is not unknown in American history. Anytime Americans become fearful or worried, there have always been those who saw personal advantage in fanning those flames. But they do not join an honor roll of history, an assembly of our greatest leaders. Media attention, which is easy and cheap, is not a measure of leadership. Division does not require moral authority.

    If we are at another of history's turning points, as many believe, as I believe, one road leads to the worst of our past. The other leads to a new definition of our freedoms. We treasure the freedoms incorporated in the First Amendment to our Constitution.

    We remember at the height of the Great Depression that Franklin Roosevelt declared four new freedoms: Freedom of speech and worship and freedom from want and fear. Today, in the middle of what one might characterize as a political depression, let's consider some new freedoms for the 21st century: Freedom from foreign oil; freedom from false patriotism; freedom from the politics of division; freedom to create a constructive future; and, yes, freedom from unconstitutional government surveillance.

    We have duties to perform far greater than merely funding the government. Just ask any poor child or her teacher in a typical American school. The good news is that fear has never and will not now dictate the fate of our Republic. History's dustbin is filled with failed demagogues. And we are not going back. But we need to hurry. The world is not waiting for us.

    Americans want us to move forward into the 21st century with the imagination, creativity, adaptability, and values that have made this country so great from its founding. The stakes are simply too high in our time to allow our institutions to be crippled by politicians who color far outside the lines of conventional American political thought and who react with angry and mock surprise when their policy objectives are not achieved.

    It is time to close this sorry chapter in the history of the Congress, reopen our government, preserve the full faith and credit of the United States, and work together as Senators from the various States on the people's business. I suspect that is why most of us wanted to serve to begin with.

    Madam President, I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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