Continuing Appropriationsby Senator Roy Blunt
Posted on 2013-10-01
BLUNT. Mr. President, I am disappointed that the process has
failed us in the last week for my friends in the House and in the
Senate who, as I did, when we ran for these jobs, said we would do
everything we could possibly do to not go down this path where the
government gets between people and their doctor. Those are heartfelt
and sincere views. If we were in the majority and had a President on
our side, we would have already taken care of this issue.
For those who mistakenly thought if we didn't have any appropriations bill that somehow the President's health care plan wouldn't move forward, we now see today that was a mistaken view of what would happen. Most of the President's health care spending is mandatory. It is something the Congress doesn't even vote on. The way not to move forward is to change the law, but we have not had any opportunity to change this law. We didn't have an opportunity when the Presiding Officer and I served in the House together to change the law. This is a law that never was amendable on the floor of the Senate or the House.
It is hard to imagine that we have decided to restructure 1/16th of the whole economy and everybody's health care relationships without ever having a chance to amend the law. Surely my friends on the other side who have supported this bill, are supportive of this [[Page S7070]] law, understand the frustration we have when there has never been a possibility to bring an amendment to the law and say: Let's see if we can't make this part of it work better.
What was the amendment yesterday? The amendment yesterday to the law that the House offered the Senate--the principal amendment was: Let's not have the individual penalty for a year. The President, on his own, decided we won't have the corporate penalty for a year, that we wouldn't have the business penalty for a year. This is sort of a strange place for us to wind up. On this side of the Senate we are saying: Don't give job creators--we like to talk about job creators on this side of the Senate aisle--a break and not give people working at those jobs a break.
The President, on his own, can apparently amend the law without us. This is also pretty unusual, that the President, on his own, without us, thinks he can amend the law, but we have no avenue to amend the law. The President, on his own, said: We are going to eliminate the corporate penalty. We are going to say that for this first year, businesses that have more than 50 employees don't have to offer insurance or pay a penalty; that is what the law says was supposed to happen on January 1. But the President said: No, we are not going to do that; that is too hard to do. We are going to take a $12 billion hit in funding this program because that is what the estimated penalties might have been. Frankly, that might have been low because a lot of businesses that were offering insurance I think will not offer insurance when we get into the requirement to offer insurance.
I think that was probably a low number, but it was a number. It was $12 billion. Our friends in the House sent something over here that said: If we are going to waive $12 billion, let's waive $4 billion. Let's waive the penalty for individuals if they don't have insurance. By the way, many of those individuals were led by this law to believe they were going to get insurance at work. The President said there is no penalty for not offering insurance at work for this first year, but we are still going to penalize individuals who don't have it. If you are an individual and for whatever reason you can't afford or don't have insurance, you will have a $95 penalty the first year, and it goes up after that. That was a chance to amend the law in the right way. The House would have voted, the Senate would have voted, and the President would have signed a bill. Imagine that. The House votes, the Senate votes, and the President signs a bill. I think that is the way the process is supposed to work. How we could have a $12 billion waiver for the employer and have a $4 billion penalty for the employee doesn't make any sense to me.
This law was not amendable, so, sure, would it be better not to amend it on a resolution to support the government? Absolutely that would have been better. Would it have been better for the Senate to pass a single appropriations bill of the 12 that were supposed to be passed before the spending year begins? Absolutely. That would have been a lot better. Would it have been better for the Senate to prioritize anything? Senator Mikulski, the chairman of my committee, the Appropriations Committee, as was mentioned earlier, voted out most of the bills. Some of them were voted out on a partisan vote, some of them were voted out on a bipartisan vote, but only one got here, and it was one the leader knew couldn't possibly pass. So we haven't passed one bill. It would have been better to do it that way. We wouldn't be at this moment if in fact we passed the appropriations bills and agreed with the Senate.
Then the majority leader talks about the hardworking chairman of the Budget Committee, and said we can't do our work because we don't have a budget conference. Last year the majority leader said we don't even need a budget. It is too late for the budget. The spending year has begun. That was months ago when that should have happened. Why didn't that happen? Because the House passed a budget that obeyed the law and the law says we can't spend more than $967 billion. That is the law, like it or not. Just like on my side of this discussion, ObamaCare is the law, like it or not.
Apparently that is a law we have to enforce, but we don't have to enforce the Budget Control Act because the Senate budget was over $1 trillion--$1.038 trillion was the Senate budget. Of course we are not going to have an agreement if we are $70 billion or $80 billion apart and one side obeys the law and the other doesn't.
Essentially for a week now Republicans in the House have been negotiating with themselves because there is nobody who is willing to negotiate. The President says negotiating on the debt ceiling is blackmail. It has never been blackmail before. In fact, we wouldn't have the Budget Control Act if we hadn't negotiated on the debt ceiling.
So it is blackmail to negotiate? This is a process where the House, the Senate, and the President are supposed to work together to move forward. The debt ceiling has been used over and over to talk about spending. It has been used a number of times to talk about things that weren't spending. Usually Congress is controlled by Democrats with Republican Presidents. And they said, ok, the President doesn't want to talk about this issue without the debt ceiling, so we are going to add it to the debt ceiling discussion. But more often than that, it has been used to talk about spending.
If you go to the banker and say: I have spent all the money you have given me, used up my line of credit, so I would like to extend the line of credit, I guarantee your banker will say either no, you have already exceeded what we told you you could borrow from us to spend, or if we are going to do that, let's talk about your spending habits. Show me a plan that shows you will spend differently in the future than you spend now. But the President says that is blackmail. More than anybody else in the United States of America, the President of the United States is in a position to figure out what he is for that the Congress would be willing to do. That is not happening, and that has not happened.
There is plenty of blame for the fact that there is no funding today, but there are also plenty of victims. Everybody who depends on the government is a victim. Social Security checks are going to go out, but you can't apply for Social Security if you don't have it. If your check is lost or didn't go out, you can't find out why that happened. People in harm's way: The border control agents, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement people are out there, but their paycheck for their family is not coming.
How could we have solved that yesterday? I am confident that one of the ways we could have solved that is by saying, okay, we won't collect this $4 billion from individuals just as we are not collecting the $12 billion from companies.
The reason this health care law continues to be such a problem is it was never amendable, and it was never discussed. Even the President said, as he does some of these unilateral things, if this were a normal circumstance, I would go to Congress and ask them to change the law, but it is not a normal circumstance. I can't find that anywhere in the Constitution where the President gets to decide if the Constitution applies or doesn't apply.
Everybody is to blame here because the Congress is not doing the work Congress is supposed to do and the President is not leading. Americans are going to suffer because the Congress and the President haven't done their job.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Wyoming.