Continuing Appropriationsby Senator Sherrod Brown
Posted on 2013-10-01
BROWN. Madam President, I think the Senator from Rhode Island had
it exactly right calling it a tea party shutdown. It is unnecessary, it
inflicts pain on far too many Rhode Islanders and people from
Massachusetts and Ohioans. It is all so needless. It is so simple: Open
I think Speaker Boehner needs to make a decision: Does he want to be Speaker of the far right wing of the Republican Party or does he want to be Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives? If he chooses to do the latter, it will mean putting what is called the continuing resolution to reopen the government on the floor in the House of Representatives down the hall, allowing all 430-something Members of the House to vote--Members of both parties, all duly elected in November, all sworn in on January 3 of this year--allow them to vote. If they vote, I am confident that Democrats and Republicans together will reach a strong majority, that legislation will then be sent to the White House, the President will sign it, and the government shutdown will end. It is irresponsible not to let the House of Representatives vote.
Yesterday or earlier today the President said: One faction of one party of one House of one branch of government shut down the government. This whole lurching from one crisis to another by design, by sort of a manufactured crisis that we have seen over and over, is something that simply doesn't work for the American people.
I come to the Senate floor from time to time and read letters from constituents. I won't read letters today because the Senator from Arkansas will be speaking in a moment, but I will tell a few quick stories.
A number of working Ohioans--from the small business owner in Lima, in western Ohio, waiting for a loan, to the farmer in Chillicothe looking for help from the USDA, to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, employees on the base and contractors off the base--are all affected by this.
Ninety-one World War II veterans who stepped off an Honor Flight in Washington, DC, on Tuesday to visit the World War II memorial--their memorial--are affected.
I have been to those Honor Flights when they visit. They visit Arlington and the World War II memorial, which is a fairly new memorial on the Mall. Many of those soldiers and sailors and air men and women who have come from my State have never been to Washington before. This is their first trip. They are often in their eighties.
Those 91 World War II veterans--many in wheelchairs, many with walkers--came anyway even though they heard the place was shut down. They weren't letting a government shutdown prevent them from paying their respects to their brothers and sisters who died during World War II or fought in that war and have died since. They persevered just as they had fighting in World War II.
These organizations give back to the men and women who gave so much to our country.
These 91 World War II veterans prevailed even though the memorial was shut down. They pretty much forced their way in, with help from a number of others.
But too many Ohioans will be hurt.
Sharon Purdy of Spencerville, OH, wrote to me, concerned about the status of this weekend's National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service held each year in Emmitsburg, MD. Her husband Lee was killed in the line of duty in the year 2000 and was memorialized there 12 years ago. Sharon goes back every year to pay her respects. Two Ohio firefighters killed in the line of duty will be honored this year--Michael Burgan from the Sugarcreek Fire Department and Rocky Duncan from the Niles Township Fire Department. Thousands of firefighters and their families will be coming from across the country to pay their respects, but presumably the gates will be closed. That is how government is repaying them for their sacrifice because some people want to score political points instead of doing their job and are irresponsibly shutting down the government--the so-called tea party shutdown.
I received a letter today from Judith Cowan, the president of the Ohio Energy and Advanced Manufacturing Center. She is building a state- of-the-art manufacturing center in Lima, OH--investing in new electromagnetic forming technology. She has been partnering with the Economic Development Administration to build the center.
She received a notice today that her reimbursement check from EDA is on hold due to the shutdown. EDA is not allowed under the law to do that. Because they can't pay the bills, they must stop because of this irresponsible tea party shutdown of the government. Her project is in midconstruction, supplies have been purchased, concrete has been poured, and workers' time has been set aside. She told my office she makes an effort to hire local contractors and use small businesses in her supply chain. She is concerned that these small businesses that live paycheck to paycheck depend on her. Think of the people who poured the concrete. Think of the small companies that did the ironwork. Think of the other companies that have sold to her for this EDA-financed project and you realize some of these small businesses are going to face very hard times, again because of this hard-headed, far-right tea party shutdown which was simply unnecessary.
Contrary to the political games the far right in the House, the radicals, are playing, this is not a game. These are real people facing a real and devastating impact. They do not deserve to be punished for the political ideology of a few.
Remember, one faction of one political party in one House of one branch of government has held hostage the whole rest of the government and these hundreds of thousands of Federal employees and the millions of people affected by them. This is not about whether we will or will not agree to go to conference on the budget. This is about whether Congress in this country can continue to govern.
Senate Democrats have compromised on funding levels. According to reports, the Senate-passed resolution comes at a level 18 percent below what the President proposed 5 years ago. It is 17 percent below what the Democratic Congress proposed 4 years ago. It is 10 percent below what Republicans proposed 3 years ago and 3 percent below the debt ceiling of 3 years ago. This is not about spending. This is not about fiscal issues. This is about attaching one party's--in this case the Republicans'--political platform--presumably out of the 2012 Republican Convention--to simple legislation to make the government work, to keep the government going.
It is a waiting game they are willing to play. The American people are not willing to play. For some it is OK to hurt 1,000 small businesses as the SBA loan program is furloughed. For some it is OK to put 50,000 Ohio Federal employees and hundreds of thousands more around the country out of work. For some it is OK to deny senior citizens, in Mansfield or in Ravenna or in Youngstown, a new Social Security benefit.
It is not OK with me. It is not OK with most of the Members of the Senate. It surely is not OK with the American people. It is time to stop these political games. It is time to put the American people first.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Arkansas.
Mr. PRYOR. Madam President, I rise to say I have disappointment and frustration and that is what is causing me [[Page S7093]] to speak today, because this is the day I worked very hard to prevent. I think many in this Chamber, on both sides of the aisle but particularly on this side of the aisle, have worked very hard to prevent this day from happening. Our government has shut down. It hurts our economy just when we are turning the corner, and this is something I think the economists are talking about. When we talk to our colleagues, not just in this Chamber but around the country, when we talk to Governors and talk to State legislators and businesspeople, people we know from all around the country, they are so disappointed that it has gotten to this point.
I think most people express what I heard about 10 days ago when I was in Arkansas. I was at a big dinner to raise money for cancer research at the University of Arkansas for medical sciences. By the way, they raised about $1 million that night. It was a great evening. They honored my parents, which was very nice. But nonetheless, when we were there, I bet I had a dozen people come up to me and say: What is wrong with the House? Have these people lost their minds? What are they doing over there? This is back about 10 days ago when they voted the way they voted recently on the farm bill. That was on a Thursday. On Friday, they took that step that was leading to where we are today on shutting down the Government.
What I tell the folks in Arkansas is: Look, hyperpartisanship has taken over here. This is one of those situations where if we look at the track record of the Senate--I know it is not true in every single case--but if we look at the track record of the Senate in our Chamber, we try to work in a bipartisan way. Because of the nature of the rules, because of the size of the body, because of the traditions, quite honestly because of the Constitution, because of our DNA, we tend to work together in this body. That has been a key to the Senate for years and years.
What it has led to in this particular case is we have passed four what I think of as very responsible measures to keep the government open. These are four responsible measures we voted on fair and square. They came to the floor. The votes were not all 100 to nothing, but nonetheless people are working together to try to get this resolved.
You go down the hall to the House and what you see down there is ``my way or the highway'' politics. My fellow Americans know it is true that these are dead-end politics. It is leading us nowhere.
We have to think of where we have been in the last few years. Think about how bad things were in the great recession. Think about the progress we have made since then. Look at our housing market. It is so much better today than it was 5 years ago. Consumer confidence is back, headed in the right direction. It is good. It is getting stronger all the time. Look at sales of trucks and cars in this country. They have reached their fastest pace since November of 2007, before the crash.
In the private sector, month after month they continue to add jobs all around the country. Those are good results. Why in the world does the House want to put this all in jeopardy? I have been concerned because in the last few days I have had reporters who kind of stalk us out in the hallways on our way in and out of the Capitol or when we are voting--I have had more than one stop me and say: You realize when we go down and cover the House, they talk about red State Democrats. They talk about your race in Arkansas.
It is going to be a very sad day in this country when we learn this is all about politics. I sincerely hope it is not all about politics. I hope we do not have people down in the other Chamber who have elevated politics above what is best, what is right for our country.
When I hear those questions from reporters, there certainly are people down there who are talking a lot about politics when this Nation is in crisis. I think we should all be concerned about that. I think we should make sure that is not the case. If they have a legitimate philosophical issue, that is one thing. But if this is all about politics, if these irresponsible set of votes to shut down the Government is all about politics, then shame on them. Because when we look at the impact this is going to have--the Social Security Administration will be forced to reduce staff. That causes delays for our seniors as they file for benefits and as they apply for replacement Social Security cards. The progress we have made with the VA--I have been very involved in trying to cut back the VA backlog of claims. That progress we have made there is going to stop. It is going to force our vets to wait even longer to get the benefits they have earned.
When we look at small businesses with the shutting down of the Small Business Administration, we are going to have hundreds and hundreds of small businesses that are going to lose their access to capital just in the next few days. The national parks, wildlife refuges, recreational areas--it is a terrible thing for American families who want to take their children out and want to take their families out to explore and experience the great outdoors here in America, some of the raw beauty America has to offer. But it is also bad for business. We have a lot of businesses in my State, we have a lot of businesses around the country that are around these areas. They thrive on things such as canoe rentals, camping equipment, et cetera. It could be bicycling, could be hiking boots, whatever it is. These businesses depend on that type of activity. They depend on those facilities being open, and they depend on Americans having the ability to go out and see and experience the great things in this country.
I am also chairman of the subcommittee on agriculture appropriations. I know firsthand the devastating impact this shutdown will have on our agricultural industry. It is going to have negative ripple effects all around the Nation's economy.
One thing I have learned the hard way in Washington in the last 10 or 11 years, there are a lot of people inside the beltway who do not understand agriculture. They do not get excited about agriculture. They do not care about agriculture. Sometimes they take it for granted. But the truth is agriculture is one of the core strengths in the U.S. economy. It is something we do better than everyone else in the world. Everyone else in the world wants to be like us. It is something we can be proud of. It adds a lot to the Nation's economy. It is also great for our trade.
If we take my one State of Arkansas, it is our largest industry. It supports one in six jobs in my State. It also creates about $17 billion of economic activity, and overall, when we look at the State's economy, it is about 25 percent of the economy of Arkansas. That is going to be true--maybe those numbers are not exactly the same--that kind of ratio, those kinds of numbers are going to be true in every State in the Union.
I know Senator Stabenow is chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. She talks about how everybody thinks about Michigan as heavy industry, the auto industry, et cetera, and all that is true. But the second largest industry in Michigan is agriculture.
It is just like if we go to a State such as Massachusetts. The mix of agricultural products in a State such as Massachusetts is going to be very different than what we have in the State of Arkansas, but it allows Massachusetts to utilize its natural advantages, natural resources. Things such as specialty crops are going to be very important up there. We have some of that in our State. But every State has a different mix and it is important that every State be very strong in agriculture.
One of the newer areas in agriculture, which is good, is organic farming and the like. Certainly, that is part of the future. That is something in the Senate farm bill. It is something we want to see get done. We don't want to see that brought to a halt or hampered in any way.
We don't want to see our food supply and fiber supply jeopardized by rank politics down the hall in the House of Representatives. The House has already created turmoil in this vital industry by shutting down the government. But to complicate matters, they have also taken another very irresponsible set of actions in the last few weeks; that is, they have allowed, because of their own problems down the hall, they have allowed the 2008 farm bill to expire.
Last night at midnight we went from the 2008 farm bill to the 1949 law. The United States of America is currently [[Page S7094]] under the 1949 agriculture law. The problem is there is no solution in sight.
God bless Debbie Stabenow. Senator Stabenow has been an amazing champion for agriculture. I mentioned her--agriculture is the second largest industry in Michigan--but she has worked so hard in the last couple of years to try to get this Chamber to do right on agriculture, and it has.
Last year we passed a farm bill. It went down the hall and died. This year we passed a farm bill. It went down the hall and they blew it up.
We see us working in a bipartisan way. By the way, that farm bill in the Senate got something like 66 votes, a good, solid bipartisan vote. But the House Members, they continue to wreak havoc with this economic powerhouse.
Right now, think about agriculture, one of the core strengths, one of the pillars of the U.S. economy. We see it facing a double whammy. They got the slowdown. Now they have the expiration of the 2008 farm bill.
What does that mean? If you are a farmer, you will know what this means. The Farm Service Agency, Rural Development, the Natural Resources Conservation Service--the county offices will all be closing. We had farmers today call us and say: Can I get this payment? I can make this happen? Can I apply for something? A lot of times the answer to that is going to be, no, because those offices will be closed. When they need help, there is not going to be anyone there to help them. When they go there, basically they are going to knock on the door and it is going to be locked up. They are going to be closed for business. This means that new USDA loans and grants are being stopped. This means the cutting-edge agricultural research that America is famous for is going to stop.
It also means that when it comes to food inspection and those workers, that is going to be in jeopardy as well. That is something we fought very hard on. I was allied with many of my Republican colleagues on that matter.
The worst part about this--and maybe the saddest part about this--is that it was all so preventable. We can still prevent it from happening. We can do something today to make this go away. But, nonetheless, here again the House refuses to compromise. It is this ``my way or the highway'' attitude, as I said before, that is leading us to a dead end.
About 2 weeks ago, several of us were fortunate enough to listen to Tom Carper come and speak to us about some things that were on his mind. It was a bipartisan group. There were 15 or 20 of us there. Tom singled out one of our great colleagues, Mike Enzi. Mike Enzi has been a stalwart conservative, red rock Republican, but he is someone we all know, trust, and respect.
He talked about when Mike Enzi and Ted Kennedy were paired up as chair and ranking member of the Senate HELP Committee. That is a very unlikely pair. They don't get any different than that in philosophy, personality, background or regions of the country. Nonetheless, those two Senators adopted what they called the 80-20 rule. They knew they didn't agree on everything so they said: Let's find 80 percent of the things we can agree on. Let's work on those and let's get it done and that is what they did. It is a great example of bipartisanship.
Senator Kennedy, as liberal as he was--he was a great liberal lion, and everybody knows that. He was very staunch in his views and very serious about how he took those views, but he was also very much willing to reach across the aisle. That 80-20 rule is what is missing down the hallway. We still have it in the Senate, to some extent but not as much as we used to. We need to make sure we reestablish this 80- 20 rule and find areas of common ground where we agree so we can work with each other in every single situation we possibly can. But down the hall, that is gone, and that is the problem right now in Washington.
There are a lot of people in the Congress--some in the Senate as well but in the House and Senate generally--who say: I want 100 percent or nothing. If I can't have 100 percent, you get nothing. They will do everything they can to stop it, and that is exactly what happened. That is why we have this crisis today. It is completely manufactured by the U.S. House of Representatives.
I feel that I am elected by my people to make the hard decisions, do what is best for the country, do what is right, and use my best judgment. All of these are judgment calls, and they are tough calls, but that is what governing is about. It is about making those tough calls and showing some leadership.
So tonight I urge our colleagues in the House, all 435 of them, to stop the hyperpartisanship, especially those on the Republican side of the aisle who just can't seem to say yes when it comes to a bipartisan solution. I urge them to stop the hyperpartisanship and work with the Senate to reopen our government.
I will be working very hard to find a responsible agreement, and I sincerely hope we have a sufficient number in the House who will join me, and let's get this done.
With that I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Iowa.
Mr. HARKIN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. HARKIN. As chair of the HELP Committee--that great committee upon which the Presiding Officer also sits and a valuable member of that committee--I was just informed by our staff that as of this last hour, over 2.8 million people have gone on healthcare.gov to get information and sign up for the Affordable Care Act.
In fact, there were so many people online that at different places in the country, the Web site froze. Then I heard some of my Republican friends were saying: See, we told you it wasn't ready. The Web site is not working right. If very few people had signed up, they would have said: See, we told you no one is going to sign up for it. They are trying to have it both ways.
There were 2.8 million Americans on the first day logged on to healthcare.gov to get this information, and, again, to sign up. By tomorrow we will have some data and some statistics on how many people who not only inquired but have actually signed up on the Web sites. We will have some more information on that tomorrow. Obviously, the interest is there, and we knew it would be.
Leader Reid told a story today about how years ago he went out and visited Google in California. At the time they were telling him that when they first started Google, they didn't realize how many people would be using it, and they kept crashing and freezing. So they had glitches of their own. There are some glitches in this system because a lot of people are coming on and wanting the information and wanting to sign up. That is the good news, and it is what we always knew.
We knew that when we passed the Affordable Care Act, if we approached it in a diligent, forthright way but cautiously and in an orderly manner, it would work, and that is why it has taken us almost 3 years to get to this point because we wanted to do it right. We wanted to do it in a way that would work.
I think today is a remarkable day in the history of our country in that we are now going to have affordable health care insurance for every American that cannot be taken away if you get sick. They can't deny it to a family because somebody had a preexisting condition. Everyone will have health care insurance that will be affordable and can't be taken away, and we will have a whole new suite of preventive care measures and wellness programs to keep people healthy and to prevent illness in the first place.
We have turned the corner on bringing health care to every American regardless of their health status, regardless of their economic status, regardless of whether they have a job or don't have a job, no matter how old, no matter how young, and no matter the circumstances. Everyone will be able to be covered by health care insurance.
I guess I might also say it is another red letter day because of the closedown of the government. We have the House of Representatives that, again, will not even put the bill on the floor of the House for a vote that will keep the government running. Think about that.
[[Page S7095]] They will not even put it on the floor for a vote because they know if they put it on the floor, they will get enough Republicans and Democrats to vote for it, and it will pass.
So the tea party extremists in the House--instead of putting it on the floor and passing it tonight so the government could be back in business tomorrow--are trying to make a little deal. First it was to defund and delay ObamaCare. Now they have something they are doing on the House floor where they are going to fund some little TV programs. It is nonsense. This is not worthy of a great country.
I had a nice conversation with Secretary of State Kerry this morning--not necessarily just about this, but, of course, we talked about the government shutdown. I asked him: Secretary, you are close to this. How is this playing in other countries? Secretary Kerry said: It is painful for us in the State Department--representing the government of the United States in a nonpartisan way--to have other countries look at us, scratch their heads, and wonder why we are doing things like this. He was just pained, not for himself but for all of his wonderful diplomats and ambassadors all around the world who represent our country and what they must have to go through to have other countries see what we are doing and question our judgment.
That is what the tea party people are doing. They are driving this country down. What they are doing is very dangerous. It is ideologically driven obstructionism, and it has taken a dangerous turn.
Again, despite the efforts to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government, the House Republicans have shut down the government because we will not submit to defunding or delaying ObamaCare, or the Affordable Care Act, whichever you call it.
It seems as though we see this crisis differently. I was reading a newspaper report that one Member of the House Republican caucus said with a big smile: We are very excited. It is exactly what we wanted, and we got it. This is exactly what they wanted, a government shutdown and they got it? We are excited, she said.
The article also notes the reaction of another representative who reportedly said: It is wonderful. We are 100 percent united. Again, that was from another tea party Republican.
What are they excited about? Are they excited about the hundreds of thousands of Federal workers who are on furlough today? Are they excited about the closed monuments and the national parks? Are they excited about the delayed veterans' benefits, Social Security, loss of economic activity and jobs? After more than three decades in Washington, it is difficult to shock me, but the sheer cynicism and fundamental lack of decency we are witnessing right now is nothing short of breathtaking.
As I understand it, this is just the first step. The tea party Republicans continue to threaten that if the Senate and President Obama don't submit to their demands, they will create another economic crisis by causing our country to default on the national debt in the middle of the month.