Hire More Heroes Act of 2015—Continuedby Senator Angus S. King, Jr.
Posted on 2015-09-16
KING. Mr. President, what is the status of the session at this
point? Are we in a quorum call?
The PRESIDING OFFICER. We are not in a quorum call.
Mr. KING. I ask unanimous consent to address the Senate as in morning business for approximately 10 minutes.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Governing in the Senate Mr. KING. Mr. President, one of the peculiar aspects of my service in this body is that I was sworn in as a U.S. Senator 40 years to the day from the day I entered Senate service as a staff member in January of 1973. Consequently, it has given me an interesting perspective about the operation of the Senate compared then and now.
I am sure that some part of my memory of working here in the early 1970s and mid-1970s is colored by the rosy view of nostalgia, looking back at one's youth and one's past; but, even correcting for that bit of nostalgia, it is my observation that in those days we spent about 80 percent of our time governing and about 20 percent of our time on politics.
And there were plenty of politics. This was during the Watergate period. There was a Democratic Senate and Republican President. President Nixon resigned during the period I was here. It wasn't as if politics were not a part of our life, but the work of the government continued, and the governing, which was done by this body and the House of Representatives, continued even in an era of very intense politics in our Nation's history.
A friend asked me the other day: What is the difference between then and now? I said: Well, in those days my recollection is that it was about 80 percent governing and 20 percent politics. Today it is reversed. It is 80 percent politics and 20 percent governing.
I want to talk a bit about governing. Probably our most fundamental responsibility after national security is a little matter of the Federal budget. It is something that we have to do every year. It is something that is in the Constitution. It is one of our most basic responsibilities. Yet here we are, 10 legislative days away from the end of the fiscal year with no budget, no appropriations bills that have been passed in both Houses, no conference committees, and as far as I can tell, no negotiations at the highest level in order to resolve what could be an impending shutdown of the U.S. Government.
In addition, we have the sequester facing us, which was designed to be stupid. It was designed to be so unacceptable to both sides of the political aisle that a solution would surely be found.
I remember being asked about it when I was running for this office in 2012. People said: Well, what do you think of this sequester that might happen next year? I said it will never happen because it is so unacceptable, both on the defense side and on the domestic side. Surely, Members of Congress will come together and find a compromise solution. That happened with the Murray-Ryan arrangement 2 years ago.
But here we are again, facing a potential shutdown. I don't have to enumerate the problems that creates: problems of national security, problems of the effect on the overall economy, problems of confidence and trust in the government itself. So here we are, and we are not governing when it comes to a budget.
The highway fund is an even worse embarrassment. We have patched the highway fund temporarily 34 times, most recently this summer. That expires in October. I have not heard a great deal of discussion about what the resolution of the highway fund is going to be, and I will make a bold prediction. Come October, there is going to be somebody who comes to this floor and says: We are close to a solution.
[[Page S6683]] All we need is 2 more months. So let's extend it to January, and then we will solve the highway problem once and for all.
That doesn't pass the straight-face test. Here we are. We have the budget in 10 days, the highway fund in October, and we have the tax extenders, which last year we passed and they only affected 2 weeks of the year. Yet we expect American businesses to make plans, investments, and look ahead. They don't know what the Tax Code situation is going to be until the last 2 weeks of the year, and they have gotten to the point where they expect this: Well, OK, it looks like they are going to take care of it.
But that is not governing, and there is a cost to that and a cost to our economy. I have been in business, and I know that one of the most important things to a business is certainty, knowing what the rules are, knowing what the Tax Code is, knowing what the regulations are going to be. Business people can deal with regulations or tax policy.
The very difficult thing, however, is uncertainty. When you have uncertainty, you have a lack of confidence; and when you have a lack of confidence, you have a lack of investment; and when you have a lack of investment, you have a lack of jobs. I don't have the econometric analysis, but in my view the uncertainty, the instability, and the unpredictability of this body and of this institution has significantly put a damper on economic growth in this country.
I don't know whether it is half a point of GDP, a full point or a quarter point, but it is a lot because people don't feel they can have confidence in what the rules of the game are going to be.
To pass tax extenders for 2015 in the last 2 weeks of 2015 is just embarrassing. Oh, I think I said the highway fund was embarrassing. They are both embarrassing.
Then we have the Export-Import Bank, whose charter expired at the end of June. This is one I really don't understand. This is a government agency that is 70 years old or 80 years old, provides support to businesses across the country, including in my State of Maine with some very small businesses, and it fills a market niche that the private sector is not filling. It returns money to the Treasury, and it helps to create jobs in the United States. What is there not to like? For reasons that I can't discern, it tends to be something about ideology, because you don't want to have--heaven forbid there should be a government agency that works. So we better put it out of business. It is not making any more loans.
Yesterday General Electric, one of our most important national companies, announced the elimination of 500 jobs, including 84 jobs in Bangor, ME, because of the lack of the support provided by the Export- Import Bank. By the way, every other industrialized nation in the world provides some level of support and encouragement for exports--except us as of June 30.
For a staff member for the financial services committee in the other body, which handles this, their comment about the 500 layoffs was this: Well, 500 jobs is a drop in the bucket for GE.
Eighty-four jobs is not a drop in the bucket for Bangor, ME. Those are families; those are real people. It makes a difference in our community, and it is ridiculous. If there were some policy reason for it, if there were some controversy, I could understand it. But to do it just because we don't like the idea of this agency, even though it is effective in its mission and returns money to the Treasury, just doesn't make any sense.
So the budget we are not doing; the highway fund we are not doing; the tax extenders we are not doing; the Export-Import Bank we are not doing.
What are we doing? We are spending another week on the issue of Iran, which we thoroughly debated and voted on last week. And I understand we may spend another 2 or 3 days on it next week for a series of amendments that can appear, to me, to be strictly designed to embarrass some Members of this body and to create fodder for 30-second ads a year from now. That is not governing. That is pure, unadulterated politics, and it is not dealing with the problems of this Nation.
We debated the Iran issue thoroughly. I have never worked so hard on a single issue in my life. We all had the entire recess to work on it, to think about it, to talk to people, and to read the agreement. Before the recess, there were innumerable hearings, briefings, and classified briefings. We have now had two identical votes.
Yesterday, one of my colleagues said: I feel like I am in ``Groundhog Day.'' We are voting again on exactly the same issue. Now I understand we are going to have more votes.
I have never known an issue where every single Member of this body has expressed themselves on one side or the other. There is no question where anybody stands. Everybody has expressed themselves. Everybody has announced their position. One hundred Senators have announced their position.
I have to say a bit about 60 votes. To argue that this issue of such momentous import should not require 60 votes, when virtually everything else we have done around here since I have been in the Senate for the past 2\1/2\ years has required 60 votes, is just preposterous.
I remember standing on the floor a year ago hearing one of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle talking about some obscure amendment to some bill and saying: This amendment should be subjected to the normal 60-vote requirement.
And I said: Normal? When is it normal? Well, it has become normal. It was the rule for the last 2 years. Now, suddenly, it was a bulwark of democracy. I remember talking about how should we modify the filibuster rule? No, we can't do that. The 60 votes is a bulwark of democracy. That protects the minority. That is built into the essence. That is what it is all about. Now, all of a sudden, it is not so important. People say: Well, this was a procedural vote, and you had a filibuster. How dare you filibuster? Let me say, unequivocally, that the proponents of the Iran agreement are prepared to have an up-or-down vote on that agreement this afternoon as long as a 60-vote majority is part of the agreement about the vote. The only reason there was a 60-vote threshold on a filibuster motion, on a cloture motion, was so that the majority would not put that issue on the table--an up-or-down vote with a 60-vote margin. Yet everybody knew when this bill passed--when the Corker bill passed--that it was going to require 60 votes. Senator Corker is on the record on the floor talking about this: Of course, it is going to require 60 votes. And even the famous letter to the Ayatollah in the second paragraph said: Of course, agreements like this are going to be subject to a three-fifths majority.
Everybody knew this was going to be 60 votes, and to express shock now reminds me of the end of ``Casablanca,'' where the inspector says: I am shocked, shocked to see gambling here. I am shocked that there should be a 60-vote requirement.
But, of course, there is going to be a 60-vote requirement as there has been for every other substantive issue--and a lot of not so substantive issues--for the last 2\1/2\ years. Now we are going to start to vote, apparently, on other issues not in the Iran agreement: Bring home the hostages; recognize Israel. Those are desirable ends. I support them entirely, but that was not what this negotiation was all about.
This negotiation was to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon now. It was to roll back their nuclear program. That is what the negotiation was. It wasn't about the hostages. It wasn't about Israel. It wasn't about Iran's malign activities in the region.
One of my colleagues on the floor a few minutes ago said: Iran is a malign state, a rogue state. They are going to get money from the sanctions relief.
Yes, they are. But the only thing worse than a rogue State with money from the sanctions relief is a rogue State with money--as the sanctions erode--with nuclear weapons, and that is what this is all about.
When President Kennedy was negotiating with the Soviet Union to get the missiles out of Cuba, at the end of the negotiation he didn't say: By the way, Castro has to go--or you, Soviet Union, have to foreswear your enmity to the West.
And, by the way, we have heard Iran say ``Death to America,'' and the Soviet leadership said: ``We will bury you.'' It is the same deal, the same [[Page S6684]] level of threat. But President Kennedy was focused on getting those missiles out. That was the threat, just as today the threat is to keep nuclear arms out of the hands of Iran, which we all agree is what we need to do.
We have debated Iran. We have taken two identical votes. The outcomes are the same. I predict the outcome will continue to be the same, and yet every minute we now spend on an issue that has been resolved is a minute that we don't spend on issues that need resolution: the budget, the highway fund, the debt limit, the Export-Import Bank, the tax extenders. That is governing, and that is what this body should be doing.
I hope my colleagues at some point in the very near future will decide that it is time to attend to those issues. And if we disagree with a policy decision that has been made, so be it. But we need to move forward and not continue to politicize an issue that, in my view, should not have been politicized in the first place. These are weighty and important issues. The Iran decision was the hardest that I have ever had to make, but I have made it. We voted. It is done. We need to move forward, and we need to move forward to meet the urgent needs of the people of this country.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Alaska.