Rules Changesby Senator Michael B. Enzi
Posted on 2013-01-01
ENZI. Madam President, we are busy patting ourselves on the back
for avoiding the fiscal cliff. I don't know how much congratulations we
ought to have for that.
Yesterday, I was buying some groceries, and the guy at the checkout stand had no idea who I was and shouldn't have. He said: What is going on, on Capitol Hill? What are those people doing? We ought to fire everybody in Congress. They can't get their work done. We have to get our work done. They don't have to get their work done.
He made a good point. I am telling you, it is down to the level of grocery store checkout people--and I suspect different levels than that, different occupations than that. Americans, because they are kind of tuned in to the news media, which is kind of an information media or an entertainment media, built this fiscal cliff so it appeared to be Niagara Falls with money running over it. It is more of a gradual slope. But we have to stop the downward slope we are on. It is important we do that. And this is a body that can do that. Congress can do that.
We conduct a war of words around here--of this protecting the ``rich''--and it sticks. You know, I don't know of anybody who is trying to protect the rich. The problem comes with the definition of ``rich,'' and that is a hard one to explain. Any attempt that looks like that, and we go back to the sticky word of ``rich,'' whom nobody is trying to protect.
I used to be in business. I used to be one of those small businessmen, and I knew that at the end of the year, the business would show a profit. Now, unfortunately, we couldn't take the money out of the business if we were going to continue to grow the business, if we were going to bring on more people. It also meant we needed to have more product, and that meant we had to have more investment in the business. So the money we could have taken out that showed as ``profit'' actually went back into the business.
We kept saying: How can we have so little money when we make so much money? Well, that is the position a lot of the small business men and women are in around this country. They are having to put all their money back into their businesses. And I understand when people say don't protect the rich--those making $250,000 or $400,000 or $450,000, whatever the amount comes out to be--but the person working in that business, probably making $30,000, $40,000, $50,000, or $60,000, says: If all I am making is that amount and they are making $250,000, we really ought to tax them. You know, it is a fairness issue. But when it gets down to the point of what they actually get to take out, what their take-home is, it is a lot different. They look really good on paper, they look rich on paper, but the money they get to take out is significantly less than that, and that is where the divide came in when trying to solve this problem. Now, could it have been solved? Yes, it could have been solved.
What we need to do around this institution is to start legislating and stop deal-making. We are a legislative body. You can't have 100 people involved in a deal, and consequently we don't. We have the group of 2, as in the case of this one, or a group of 4 or 6 or 9 or maybe as many as 12 getting together and putting together some kind of comprehensive package to put before this body, and those who aren't in the group are really kind of insulted by it. They do not make a big deal out of it because that has become the tradition, but that is not how it is supposed to work.
[[Page S8616]] I have been there. I have gotten to legislate. It is one of the privileges of this country. The main person with whom I legislated was Senator Kennedy. Senator Kennedy was considered one of the most liberal people in the Senate, and I have always been considered one of the most conservative people in the Senate, but we were able to work together to get 38 bills out of committee and through this body, and the worst vote we ever got was 15 votes against. How did we do that? Well, we didn't try to solve the world's problems all in one bill. We took an issue at a time, and we found the common ground. We found what we could agree on, and that was usually about 80 percent of the whole issue. That is pretty good.
We worked on issues that had been around here 10 or 12 or 15 years without passing, having come to the floor numerous times, and mainly what we did was we would sit down with the stakeholders, who were intensely interested in the bill, who had been lobbying on that bill for years and years, and we would say to them: This is what we can get. This is what we have to leave out.
It wasn't compromise. Compromise is when you give up half of what you believe in, I give up half of what I believe in, and we wind up with something that neither of us believes in. But common ground happens. There is common ground on every one of these issues, and that is what we have to find--the common ground.
So we would meet with these stakeholders, and they would say: No, you are leaving out the most important part of this whole bill. This is what we really want.
If it was Senator Kennedy's constituency, he would have to make the comment, and if it was mine, I would have to make the comment: How long have you been working on this? They would say: We have been working on this for 10 years.
I would say: How much of it have you gotten? Then they would say: Well, nothing.
I would say: Here is what we can get for you.
And I would outline it again, and I would say: Isn't that better than nothing? The light would come on, and they would say: Oh, that would be good progress.
Then they would quit pushing against us, and they would get together with us.
It is amazing sometimes that the advocates for a bill are really sometimes the ones who are stopping the bill from happening, and it is over the issues--that 10 percent on each side, which amounts to 20 percent--that we are not going to get resolved. There are some basic values on both sides, and they are important to both sides and they are both right, but they are not common ground.
But this is where we have to go. We have to get to common ground again, and the way we do that is by legislating. We put out a bill that is 80 percent of the whole issue, not 100 percent of the whole issue because that is comprehensive. We need to put out the 80 percent both sides agree on and then allow amendments on it. That is something we haven't been doing around here for a long time.
First of all, a bill needs to go to committee. The committee is where the people intensely interested in that particular bill preside and work and exert their efforts. That is where they want to concentrate.
When a bill comes to committee, you can have maybe 200 or 300 amendments in committee, and the chairman and the ranking member--that is the name we give to the person with the most seniority in the minority--can sit down together and sort through these amendments. Out of the 200, there are probably 100 that nobody in their right mind would really offer. Out of the remaining ones, you will find there are people on both sides who have very similar ideas on how to solve that problem, so you get those people to sit down together and take a look at all the amendments that are similar to that one and see if they can't come up with a single amendment that will solve that part of the problem. And you know what. They do. Now, it might not be 100 percent of what they want. It is probably, again, only 80 percent of what they want. But it is something on which they can all agree.
Here is the really magnificent part that helps a bill get through committee: They can all say: It was my idea. They can all go to the media and put out the release that says they solved this particular problem, and that helps a lot around here.
So committee work is extremely important, but when a bill comes out of committee, it is not perfect. When Senator Kennedy and I were working the bills, we not only recognized they weren't perfect, but we were able to talk to those Members whose problems we weren't able to solve by the time the amendment process came up in committee, and we promised to work with them until the bill got to the floor and not to take the bill to the floor until we had a solution to that problem or the right for them to offer an amendment. That helped a lot to get the bill out of committee.
Once a bill comes out of committee in a bipartisan way--meaning people from both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats and Independents, support the bill--then there is a chance of bringing it to the floor and actually getting some time to debate. And the debate part is important. That is kind of where we bring America along. There is coverage during the committee process, but that is a little harder to follow. The debate here on the floor is where we bring America along on whatever ideas we have, and so the debate here is very important.
Over time, there has been this process where the leaders have invented some things that actually concentrate the power in the hands of the leaders rather than the body as a whole, and that is the filibuster process, and that filibuster process can be manufactured.
I have to tell a couple of stories. One bill I worked on around here had a solution for health care. I called it small business health plans. The idea behind the bill was that small businesses could get together through their association or any way they wanted to, across State lines, even nationwide, to form a buying group big enough to take on the biggest of the insurance companies. Think about that--the power to take on the biggest of the insurance companies. Yes, there was some opposition to that--call it the insurance companies. But many of them worked with us and began to understand how they could participate in the process and then went along with it.
One of the biggest insurance companies in the Nation had some ads out of Massachusetts opposing the bill, and eventually that helped to keep the bill from ever happening. But the biggest thing that kept the bill from happening--Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to speak for another 10 minutes or the right to allow the Senator from California to speak and then have it come back to me.
Mrs. BOXER. I am wondering if the Senator can finish in 5 minutes, and then I would speak, and then he can have more time.