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Patty M.
Democrat WA

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  • Continuing Appropriations

    by Senator Patty Murray

    Posted on 2013-10-02

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    MURRAY. Mr. President, Democrats and Republicans have some serious differences when it comes to our policies and our values and our priorities. But one thing we should be able to agree on--the bare minimum expected of us in Congress--is that we should not actively allow our constituents to be hurt.

    That is why Senate Democrats will be here today with a clear message to Republicans: Open the government. End the shutdown. Allow the government to open, make sure our families and communities that we represent do not have to pay the price for the disagreements we have and then come back to the table and work with us on a long-term budget deal to avoid these constant crises.

    Majority Leader Reid has made it very clear to Speaker Boehner that he is willing to sit down and talk, and I truly hope House Republicans take him up on that.

    On Monday night, as the government was shutting down, Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans lurched even deeper into the theater of the absurd. I was shocked. I could not believe my ears when I heard, with minutes to go before the shutdown began, Speaker Boehner was asking us for a conference on the spending bill. I thought: Is he serious? Is this some kind of joke? Even by the standards of a party that shut down the government to stop the health care reform law that was going to come online yesterday, no matter what they did, that was bizarre.

    I say to Speaker Boehner today: Yes, let's start a budget conference. It is a bit late. I have been fighting to start one for 6 months, but better late than never. Let's sit down, let's negotiate, let's work toward the balanced and bipartisan long-term budget deal that our constituents are expecting--a real budget conference, not like the photo op we saw in the House of Representatives yesterday; a budget conference where the two sides can sit at a table, offer some compromises and work toward a balanced and bipartisan long-term budget deal the American people expect.

    But there is one condition. It is a reasonable one. It could not be more important. Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans should stop allowing our families and our communities to be hurt while we negotiate. They should pass our short-term bill, reopen the government, and then join us at the table for a budget conference where we can work together toward a long-term deal. This is common sense. It is the responsible thing to do. There is absolutely no reason why we should not get the government back open, right now, while all of us get in a room and work on a deal.

    Given that Republicans spent the day yesterday talking about their newfound interest in a conference, I think it would be helpful to go back a bit to remind people who are following us here today how we got to this point.

    For 4 years Republicans in the Senate and in the House said it was critical that the Senate pass a budget. They came here to the floor, they blasted out press releases, they made it part of every one of their campaigns across the country.

    At the beginning of this year, it seemed that Democrats and Republicans agreed on at least one thing: The budget debate should proceed through regular order. The House was going to pass their budget, the Senate was going to pass ours, and then we were going to get together in a conference room and work out our differences.

    Senator McConnell said back then that once the Senate and House passed budgets, ``the work of conferencing must begin.'' Republicans said a conference was the ``best vehicle'' for the budget debate ``because we are doing it in plain sight.'' I absolutely agree. The Senate Budget Committee wrote our strong progrowth, pro-middle-class long-term budget. I am sure the hours that we spent debating this budget are not forgotten by anybody on this floor. We spent a week here in an open process debating and voting on amendment after amendment until the very wee hours of the morning. On March 23, the Senate passed our budget. We all remember that. The House, by the way, passed theirs earlier that day.

    I thought the next step would be we would go to a conference as quickly as possible. I went to the House Budget Committee chairman, Chairman Ryan. I told him the American people were expecting all of us to get in a room and work it out. I thought it was a no-brainer. We had significant differences between our two budgets, but I was ready to go to work with my colleagues and make compromises.

    With 6 months to go before the end of the fiscal year, we had plenty of time. But I was absolutely floored when I heard the House Republicans had changed their mind. They no longer wanted to go to conference. They no longer wanted to follow regular order.

    I am sure the idea of debating their budget and having it compared in an open and public forum was pretty unpleasant to them. They knew how unpopular their plans were to end Medicare as we know it and to cut taxes to the rich. But they put it in their budget and now it was their job to negotiate with them.

    I came here to the Senate floor and I asked for consent to go to a budget conference. I was joined by Senator Reid and many others. We asked to begin bipartisan negotiations. But Senate Republicans said no. We tried again and again and again. On April 23, we were blocked--April 23, blocked by Senator Toomey; on May 6, Senator Cruz stood up and objected; on May 7, May 8, May 9, May 14, and May 15, Senator McConnell said no; on May 16, Senator Lee said no; on May 21, Senator Paul blocked our negotiation; May 22, it was Senator Rubio; May 23, Senator Lee; June 4, Senator Rubio; June 12, Senator Lee; June 19, Senator Toomey; June 26, Senator Cruz; July 11, Senator Rubio; July 17, Senator Lee; on August 1, Senator Rubio blocked us from starting a conference, right before the August recess.

    We have come here 18 times. Every single time we tried to get in that room, every time we tried to start a conference and negotiate, Republicans stood and they blocked us.

    By the way, it was not just Democrats either. Quite a few of our Senate Republicans joined us in pushing for a conference. My colleague Senator McCain joined Democrats on the floor and said blocking a conference was ``incomprehensible'' and ``insane.'' Senator Corker said to ``keep from appointing conferees is not consistent.'' Senator Flake said he ``would like to see a conference.'' Republicans offered one excuse after another. By the way, none of them add up. First, they said they wanted a preconference framework, even though that is exactly what a budget is, and was exactly what we were negotiating over.

    Then they said they would not allow us to go to conference unless we guaranteed in our budget that the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations would be protected from paying a penny more in taxes. Then they said they did not want a bipartisan conference to take away the leverage that they would have during a debt ceiling debate. Then they called for a ``do-over'' of the budget debate, including another 50 hours of debate here on the floor, and a whole new round of unlimited amendments, even after, I will remind all of us, many of them praised the open floor debate that we had during the Senate budget debate.

    Their story kept changing. Senator McCain said Republicans' preconditions and excuses were ``absolutely out of line and unprecedented.'' Senator Collins said that even though there is a lot we do not see eye to eye on, we should at least go to conference and make our best effort to make a deal.

    The stalling from some Republicans was, to quote Senators McCain and Collins, ``a little bit bizarre'' and ``ironic, to say the least.'' Republicans kept making excuses for stalling. But the bottom line was that after spending years saying the most important thing was for the Senate to pass a budget, once we did, they ran away as quickly as they could. You know, I told Republicans again and again, right here on the Senate floor [[Page S7126]] and when I talked to them in private, if you do not join us in a conference and give us the time we need to work out a deal, you are going to be pushing us into a completely avoidable crisis. They did not listen. They did not want to conference. They did not want to negotiate. They thought they would have more leverage in a crisis. They were doing everything they could to push us to one. Well, they were right; they pushed us into a crisis. Now families across our country are paying the price.

    If Speaker Boehner truly wants to negotiate and end this lurching from crisis to crisis, he would let the House vote to keep the government open. It would pass, by the way, with a strong bipartisan vote. Then he would join us at the table in a conference that I have been trying to start for months.

    I am going to ask unanimous consent for the 19th time to start a budget conference. To be very clear, this is not a replacement for an immediate end to this shutdown. It would build on a short-term bill to end this crisis. It is not to negotiate a short-term deal while our families and our communities are being hurt by a shutdown. It is to make sure the door is open for long-term negotiations that can start as soon as the threat of a shutdown is taken off the table.

    I am hopeful our Republican colleagues on the other side of the aisle who have watched as our constituents look on in amazement at the Senate and House as they say: We were unable to do the job that we have been asked to do, which is to govern the country in a responsible way--I would hope they would take a moment to pause and to say: It is time to stand. It is time to be a leader. It is time to stop holding our country and our communities hostage. It is time to stop putting fear into the lives of so many people. It is time to say, yes, we are going to open the government, we are not going to hold this country hostage, we are going to do our job. That is simply what we are asking to do today, allow the Senate bill to come up for a vote in the House. It will pass. We know we have the votes, Republicans and Democrats together, who want to stop this crisis.

    Then we will sit down and do what we have been asked to do by the Republicans for a number of years now, to write a budget, to have the House write a budget and sit down and work out our differences.

    I see Senator Durbin here on the floor. Senator Durbin worked on the Simpson-Bowles Commission for many years to try and resolve our differences. I think he would agree with me, it is time to get this done.

    I see Senator Warner on the floor right now. He has spent a great deal of time working to get us to a point where we can solve this crisis and have a way to go forward and a path that our country can rely on.

    I think many of our colleagues are ready to get past this crisis, are ready to open the government, and begin the responsible thing of working in the way we are supposed to. I hope they listen to Senator Reid and what he offered them today. I hope they do the right thing so families across our country do not have to continue bearing the burden of the Republican Party's dysfunction and division.

    With that, I ask unanimous consent that when the Senate receives a message from the House that they have passed H.J. Res. 59, as amended by the Senate, the Senate then proceed to the consideration of Calendar No. 33, H. Con. Res. 25; that the amendment at the desk, which is the text of S. Con. Res. 8, the budget resolution passed by the Senate, be inserted in lieu thereof; that H. Con. Res. 25, as amended, be agreed to, the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table; that the Senate proceed to a vote on a motion to insist on its amendment, request a conference with the House on the disagreeing votes of the two Houses, and authorize the Chair to appoint conferees on the part of the Senate, with all of the above occurring with no intervening action or debate.

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