Continuing Appropriationsby Senator Pat Roberts
Posted on 2013-10-09
ROBERTS. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent the order for
the quorum call be rescinded.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. ROBERTS. I understand we are in morning business. I ask consent to speak for 15 minutes.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. ROBERTS. Madam President, I wish to talk a little bit about the government shutdown--what else. It is my understanding that my colleagues across the aisle, I understand I will not have the opportunity to speak to any one of them, but should they come out on the floor--they are out on the Senate Capitol steps exhorting the House to send something they prefer over or to simply end the shutdown with a clean bill. I however would have suggested they would go over to the House steps as a gesture of good will. I am not sure any Member of the House--I know when I was in the House, I am not sure I would have appreciated either party getting on the Capitol steps and urging me to doing something when I was in the House. But be that as it may, perhaps it is a good will effort as opposed to further demands.
I want to make sure everybody in Kansas is aware--and I know I speak for everybody on our side--the Republican side of the aisle did not want to shut down the government. As everybody knows, we have the current continuing resolution. I am sorry we have to continue to go through continuing resolutions. This is where we bundle up everything from appropriations bills, some of which have already been worked through, and then simply meld them together into a continuing resolution. We do not do appropriations bills anymore. That would be called regular order. I truly resent this. I find this most unfortunate.
So here we are, trying to consider how to fund the government. Many of us believe this funding measure should do everything possible to also control spending. That seems to be the real issue. Chief among these proposals would be to defund or at least delay the health care reform law. My colleagues and I have supported multiple measures to try to avoid a shutdown.
In the past few weeks Republicans have offered no fewer than three solutions to avoid the government shutdown, and I voted to keep the government open every single time. Most recently, the House is passing mini-CRs to open the government piece by piece because we cannot come to an agreement on a continuing resolution. Most [[Page S7316]] people, if they pay attention to the media--or if the media even covers this--understand what the House is trying to do, which is to open the government piece by piece. The first item of business would be to certainly fund the Veterans' Administration. We have all seen what is going on down at the World War II Memorial and, unfortunately, at the Marine Corps War Memorial as well, where we have yet to break the barrier. Being the senior marine in the Congress, I may lead a charge at the memorial sometime later this week. I have not made up my mind yet.
At any rate, that is just not reasonable. There are a lot of things being done, including no death benefits for people who have paid the ultimate sacrifice recently in the current wars that continue to go on. That is abhorrent. Why that decision was made by the Department of Defense I do not know.
At any rate, the House is trying to target these particular items, most of which have been identified by the President. So these mini-CRs by the House mirror what the President says in regards to the hurt that is being caused by the shutdown. What the President identifies, the House is trying to fix and then send over to the Senate. It is very unclear whether the majority leader will even allow a vote in regard to these measures. Senator Cruz spoke to this in regards to a plan A, when we were discussing this in the Republican conference.
At any rate, the majority leader has refused to consider a single one. So this debate is not about shutting down the government, it is actually in part to protect Americans from what I call the disastrous health care law that is damaging our economy, raising taxes, and costing people their jobs. It is about a President who is unwilling to lead, unwilling to even come to the table to negotiate.
The President is now indicating he might want to negotiate on a short-term continuing resolution, but we do not have an agenda. We have had quite a few people offer plans. The distinguished Senator from Maine, Susan Collins, has a plan--it should be a bipartisan plan--that calls for a short continuing resolution, repeal of the medical device tax, and then fixing the sequester so the different agencies would have the authority to pick and choose how to meet the guidelines with regard to the Budget Control Act. Then it allows oversight responsibility to the Appropriations Committee to take a look at what the various Secretaries would do and make sure that is all right. This would be plan B.
We have a plan C by Paul Ryan that I just read about in the Wall Street Journal. So we are not lacking in plans. What we are lacking is a room. We don't have a room, we don't have a table, we don't have chairs, and we don't have anybody in the chairs, they don't want anybody in the chairs. By the way, I would just as soon not have another supercommittee that turned out to be not very super, selected by leadership. We could have the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction, and the Ways and Means Committee in the House, which has jurisdiction, and I will bet we could come up with something that would be reasonable. At any rate, it is still about the majority leader insisting, no, he is not going to consider something like this. Unless, of course, the President would change his mind--and I hope he does.
My colleagues across the aisle have refused to consider even the most moderate proposals such as repealing the medical device tax as recommended by Senator Collins and ensuring that Members of Congress and their staff are treated the same as the average American in the ObamaCare exchanges.
Let me repeat that: that Members of Congress and their staff are treated the same as average Americans in the ObamaCare exchanges. When that came up in the Finance Committee, long before ObamaCare was passed or, for that matter, before it left the Finance Committee to go behind closed doors, in the majority leader's office--where I think he was singing with Mr. Rich, in terms of singing behind closed doors, but that is another story--at any rate, that first time I think it was Senator Grassley who said he thinks it is only right that Members of Congress and their staff live under the same rules. He proposed that amendment. I voted for it then and I would again. It did pass then and, of course, now it is defeated by those across the aisle.
After failing to pass a budget last year and the 3 years prior to that or to pass a single funding measure this year, the Federal Government has been operating under a stopgap measure, as I mentioned before, called a continuing resolution. This is not what the people of Kansas expect from their government.
Despite multiple disruptions and critical delays, the exchanges became active as of October 1, about a week ago. However, since then we have heard feedback that the exchanges are off to a rocky start, are unusable or totally disappointing, fraught with frequent error and messages from a failure of a major software component. That is also not what people expected from any government program, and certainly not what has been sold as the President's signature domestic achievement.
Unfortunately, this was not unexpected for those of us who have opposed the law since the beginning, but it does bring up an issue. If you watch the news media--and for that matter, the comedy shows that follow later in the evening--there is always somebody who is trying to sign up on a computer and following the instructions given by the Department of Health and Human Services.
After you log on, the first page shows a smiling face, and then you get maybe three questions. I was interested in one of the questions I heard had been asked: What do you eat? What is your favorite food? If that's true what on Earth does that have to do with signing up for ObamaCare? Maybe they are concerned with somebody they feel might be obese or something like that, and maybe that is the person who ought to be signing up. I just don't know.
I know when I went through the first 16 pages--when I was reviewing as a member of the Finance Committee--of the draft on how you sign up, I got to page 3, and must say I would not give any database that kind of personal information. I think part of the delay is probably caught up on that. But you can't even get past page 3, and then it says you must wait.
I don't know how long we are going to wait. I know the President has called it simply glitches and bumps in the road. I think the front page of the Washington Post saying that many people had warned the administration that this was not going to work is certainly pertinent with regards to this discussion. I would offer up that these are system failures as opposed to bumps and glitches. I don't know when this is going to be worked out.
Despite a government shutdown, my colleagues across the aisle will not even consider solutions which acknowledge the widespread concerns expressed by the American people have with ObamaCare.
Let me also point out something else. The nominee to be the new head of the IRS--I asked him first why on Earth he would want to take on that job. He said, I am Mr. Fix-it, and that is what his resume says. I asked him a couple of questions, and I wished him well. I said: How are you going to implement and enforce this fine that is going to be on everybody if they don't sign up? I understand, from the administration, that nobody has to submit their eligibility requirements with regards to income. This is going to lead to fraud, abuse, and scamming. Second, you can't even sign up to begin with, and third, how on Earth is the IRS going to find anybody when they do not have the information or capability to do that? I asked the distinguished nominee, who will come before the Finance Committee, where I will ask him again: How are you going to do that? He said: I need 8,000 more people. I said: What do you think the chances of that happening are around here? They would have to be trained, right? He said: Right.
They don't even have the people to enforce this if, in fact, they are going to enforce the fine. So why not just tell the American people: I am sorry, but we are not ready to fine people. We are not ready to have people declare their eligibility with regards to income, and we are not ready to sign people up yet because of the glitches, bumps, or failures in the system. So just delay it. Maybe they could delay it--as one prominent newscaster has proposed-- [[Page S7317]] and just say: Look, if you want it, sign up for it, do. If you don't, you don't have to. You won't have to anyway because you are not going to get fined because the IRS has no capability to fine people. How are they going to do that? Are they going to cut your rebate check? Most of the people don't even get rebate checks. This is a mess that is just falling apart.
I, for one, am going to do everything I can to not let this stalemate stand. I am a senior member on the Finance Committee. I would encourage my colleagues basically that we meet, and that we discuss a continuing resolution that would extend funding out and allow us to try to work together on the systemic problems that face us with regards to the national debt.
I want to work toward a solution. I am going to do everything in my power to bring my colleagues to the table. I think they want to come to the table. We have a lot of responsible and good people interested who want this to end just like this side wants it to end. But we race headlong into another debt ceiling debate with the President in the exact same position as he is in the shutdown--unwilling to lead, unwilling to even come to the table, and we still have the majority leader saying no. We have White House officials running to the media declaring that we will default on our debt, the sky will fall, and this will be the fault of Republicans. These claims of inevitable default are false given the operation of the government and the cash flowing into the Treasury each month. They are clearly posturing--and dangerously posturing at that. No one wants a default or a shutdown by shotgun. Nobody wants a default--least of all me. It is the height of irresponsibility to make these claims and all along the way refuse to negotiate.
What we are asking for, and what we must do, is very simple: Consider a debt limit extension and budget changes at the same time, which would allow us to address our debt problem. Contrary to what Secretary Lew and other administration officials say, this is how these issues are handled. This is regular order. The debt limit, for at least the last 27 years, except for one small extension, has been attached to larger spending cuts and budget reforms. This is not unprecedented. This is how we do business. This is regular order.
The President's position is at odds with the stance taken by his predecessors from both parties. They saw the common sense of coupling deficit reduction with the extension of the debt limit. It is hard to figure out the President's thinking on this. Maybe now that a huge portion of Federal spending is on autopilot, he simply wants a blank check to fund the government with automatic increases in the debt limit. I want to mention something else that bothers me. I would like to go into negotiations with at least certain things that are guarantees, things which have been guaranteed before. I am talking about guarantees in the Budget Control Act, and I am talking about the so-called fiscal cliff. The fiscal cliff protected 99 percent of Americans from a tax increase and had an estate tax reform that made sense and some real progress on capital gains.
The Budget Control Act, as we all know, led to the sequester. Again, Senator Collins has a plan that would fix the sequester and would give people more flexibility on how to do it, but also with oversight by the appropriations committees to make sure it is done right.
In meeting with the President--and he indicated in a press conference the other day that maybe he would invite more people to the White House. I appreciated being invited to the White House about 6 months ago. The subject came to a grand bargain. We were asking how this would work out.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator's time has expired.
Mr. ROBERTS. Madam President, I ask for an additional 5 minutes if I may have it.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Is there objection? Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. ROBERTS. Thank you, Madam President. I will try to wrap up. I appreciate the courtesy of the Senator who wishes to speak. I will try to get this done.
We were meeting with the President. I was bringing up the issue of regulations, but the rest of the people were talking about a grand bargain and what could happen. The President said on tax reform: Why can't we start with a clean page? Basically everybody agreed. And then he said we could also take mortgage interest, charitable giving, retirement, and we can means-test those and start from there. I thought, oh boy, here we go again--income redistribution. That is not the answer.
I would just say that before we enter into any negotiations, we ought to make sure that the Budget Control Act and the fiscal cliff bill, which were negotiated in good faith with the Vice President and which have resulted in lower spending, in the first actual decreases in spending by the Federal Government since the Korean War. That is unbelievable.
So in going to negotiate, I don't want to give up in regards to those decreases, and I don't want a situation where the President has said: I gave to you on CPI so I need $800 billion in revenue. The distinguished majority leader has said it is $1 trillion. So if we are going to raise $1 trillion in revenue, then here we go again and whatever negotiations come down the pike are going to be more spending and more taxes. People are just figuring out what their tax bill is going to be with ObamaCare. We don't need a situation where we sit down and negotiate simply for more taxes and spending. Without going into the constitutional implications of granting any authority on autopilot to the President, I would say I am adamantly opposed to giving any President that much control over the budget.
Why does all of this matter? Why am I making this speech? Why is my friend across the aisle going to make her speech? The debt limit is currently $16.7 trillion. The debt has increased about $6 trillion since the President took office--more than any other President in our history. The main source of this tremendous growth in our debt is entitlement spending, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. Paul Ryan has a plan to fix that. It ought to at least be on the table, and that way we can see a path for where we can go with it.
Without changes, spending on these programs is expected to grow by 79 percent over the next 10 years. In fact, by law, there is no upper limit on how much we spend on these programs. This spending--added to interest payments on the debt--will make up close to 65 percent of the budget in 10 years. By then we won't have any discretionary spending.
The Congressional Budget Office reports that we remain on an unsustainable path. All we are asking--prudently, I hope--is that any increase in the Federal debt limit needs to be coupled with real, tangible cuts in discretionary spending and meaningful, structural reform to entitlement spending. We need to get this done to rein in our unsustainable debt and to ensure that these programs are there for our children and our grandchildren.
Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that an article by Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution from Stanford University be printed in the Record at this time.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
[From the Standard Times, Oct. 6, 2013] Who Shut Down the Federal Government? (By Thomas Sowell) San Angelo, TX.--Even when it comes to something as basic, and apparently as simple and straightforward, as the question of who shut down the federal government, there are diametrically opposite answers, depending on whether you talk to Democrats or to Republicans.
There is really nothing complicated about the facts. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted all the money required to keep all government activities going-- except for Obamacare. This is not a matter of opinion. You can check the Congressional Record.
As for the House of Representatives' right to grant or withhold money, that is not a matter of opinion either. You can check the Constitution of the United States. All spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives, which means that congressmen there have a right to decide whether or not they want to spend money on a particular government activity.
Whether Obamacare is good, bad or indifferent is a matter of opinion. But it is a matter of fact that members of the House of Representatives have a right to make spending decisions based on their opinion.
[[Page S7318]] Obamacare is indeed ``the law of the land,'' as its supporters keep saying, and the Supreme Court has upheld its constitutionality. But the whole point of having a division of powers within the federal government is that each branch can decide independently what it wants to do or not do, regardless of what the other branches do, when exercising the powers specifically granted to that branch by the Constitution.
The hundreds of thousands of government workers who have been laid off are not idle because the House of Representatives did not vote enough money to pay their salaries or the other expenses of their agencies--unless they are in an agency that would administer Obamacare.
Since we cannot read minds, we cannot say who--if anybody-- ``wants to shut down the government.'' But we do know who had the option to keep the government running and chose not to.
The money voted by the House of Representatives covered everything that the government does, except for Obamacare. The Senate chose not to vote to authorize that money to be spent, because it did not include money for Obamacare.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that he wants a ``clean'' bill from the House of Representatives, and some in the media keep repeating the word ``clean'' like a mantra. But what is unclean about not giving Reid everything he wants? If Reid and President Barack Obama refuse to accept the money required to run the government, because it leaves out the money they want to run Obamacare, that is their right. But that is also their responsibility. You cannot blame other people for not giving you everything you want. And it is a fraud to blame them when you refuse to use the money they did vote, even when it is ample to pay for everything else in the government.
When Obama keeps claiming that it is some new outrage for those who control the money to try to change government policy by granting or withholding money, that is simply a baldfaced lie. You can check the history of other examples of ``legislation by appropriation,'' as it used to be called.
Whether legislation by appropriation is a good idea or a bad idea is a matter of opinion. But whether it is both legal and not unprecedented is a matter of fact.
Perhaps the biggest of the big lies is that the government will not be able to pay what it owes on the national debt, creating a danger of default. Tax money keeps coming into the treasury during the shutdown, and it vastly exceeds the interest that has to be paid on the national debt.
Even if the debt ceiling is not lifted, that only means that government is not allowed to run up new debt. But that does not mean that it is unable to pay the interest on existing debt.
None of this is rocket science. But unless the Republicans get their side of the story out--and articulation has never been their strong suit--the lies will win. More important, the whole country will lose.
Mr. ROBERTS. I yield back any time I may have.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from New Hampshire.