Posted July 19, 2012
Alexander: “There Is No Excuse Whatsoever” for Not Debating Spending Bills
Says “we have nine appropriations bills ready to work on right now—this month we could debate them…we could reduce spending…we could do our job”
“We’re wasting our time at a time when the United States government is borrowing 42 cents out of every dollar we spend. We're not even going to do our job and consider appropriations bills on the floor and amend them. What will the whole world think? What will our constituents think about our ability to govern ourselves if we can't even consider an appropriations bill?” – Lamar Alexander
WASHINGTON – In a speech Wednesday on the floor of the United States Senate (Video HERE) , U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to “not go back on” his agreement with the Senate Republican Leader earlier this year to bring appropriations bills to the floor for a vote.
Alexander said: “We're in the midst of a fiscal crisis—we’re borrowing 42 cents out of every dollar we spend. One way to deal with that is through the appropriations process. That's our first constitutional responsibility.”
He continued: “There is no excuse whatsoever for not bringing up appropriations bills on the floor of the Senate. If you think the Solyndra loan was a bad idea, [appropriations bills are] the place to take it out. Or if you want to spend more money for national defense, that's the place to put it in. Or if you think we're wasting money on national parks or too much government land, that's the place to take it out. Are those bills ready to come to the floor? Yes, they are. In the Senate we've been doing our job in our committee—we have nine of our appropriations bills that are ready to come to the floor, ready to go to work on right now.”
Excerpts of the Senator’s floor speech are below:
“Mr. President, earlier this year I came to the floor with a group of Republican and Democratic Senators to congratulate the majority leader, Senator Reid, and the Republican leader, Senator McConnell, as well as the leaders of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Inouye and Senator Cochran. The reason for the congratulations was this: They said they were going to do their best to bring all of the appropriations bills to the floor and pass them. That may not seem like such a monumental pledge or promise, but it, in fact, is, because only twice since the year 2000 has the Senate gone through the whole process of bringing all 12 appropriations bills to the Senate floor and enacting them in time for the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1.
“Why is that so important? Well, we are in the midst of a fiscal crisis. We are borrowing 42 cents out of every dollar we spend. One way to deal with that is through the appropriations process. That is our first constitutional responsibility.
“So when the majority leader and the Republican leader said, ‘Yes, we are going to do our best to bring all of those appropriations bills to the floor,’ I thought the Senate had taken an important step in functioning the way the American people expect the Senate to function. The American people expect us to get about the serious business of this country so that, in the words of the Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, we can show the people we recognize that we are really one budget agreement away from reasserting America's preeminence in the world. We have that within our power.
“The economy of the country, the economy of other countries depends, to a great extent, on our ability to govern ourselves properly.
“I regret to say I am equally disappointed that the majority leader suddenly announced last week he won't bring any appropriations bills to the floor. The reasons he gives are very puzzling to me. He says, Well, the House is using a different number than the Senate. What is so new about that? That is why we have the House and the Senate. They are one kind of body and we are another kind. They have their opinion; we have ours. We vote on our opinions. Then we have a procedure called the conference in which we come together and we get a result. We have had so few conferences lately that maybe some people have forgotten we do that, but we have a way to do it.
“If we think the Solyndra loan was a bad idea, that is the place to take it out. Or, if we want to spend more money for national defense, that is the place to put it in. Or if we think we are wasting money on national parks or too much government land, that is the place to take it out. Are those bills ready to come to the floor? Yes, they are. In the Senate, we have been doing our job in our committees. I believe we have nine of our appropriations bills that are ready to come to the floor, that we are ready to go to work on right now. The House of Representatives has already passed 11 of the 12 appropriations bill through committee and 6 of those have been passed by the House. So this month, we could be debating any of those appropriations bills.
“That brings me to my second disappointment. I was greatly encouraged this year -- and a lot of the credit goes to Senators on the Democratic side as well as some on our side -- who are saying, Wait a minute. We are grownups. We recognize we are political accidents. We have been given the great privilege of representing the people of our State and swearing an oath to our Constitution of the United States so we can help lead this country. So we want to go to work. We want to go to work.
“The Postal Service bill, the farm bill, the FDA bill, the highway bill -- these are all important pieces of legislation that affect almost every American family, and what did we do? They went through committee; they had the expertise of the members who work on those committees; they came to the floor; we had a lot of amendments, we voted on them, and they were passed by the Senate. In other words, we did what we should do.
“I thought we were on a lot better track until the last 2 or 3 weeks. Suddenly, what has happened? All that ends. We revert to political exercises -- little bills of no real importance compared to the bills we should be debating.
“We are wasting our time at a time when we could be debating all of the appropriations bills of the U.S. Government. At a time when the U.S. Government is borrowing 42 cents out of every dollar we are spending, we are not even going to do our job and consider appropriations bills on the floor and amend them. What will the whole world think? What will our constituents think about our ability to govern ourselves if we can't pass -- even consider -- an appropriations bill in the U.S. Senate?
“On top of that, we haven't had a budget for over 1,000 days. I remember when Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, came back and met with a group of Senators. She came back from Iraq early after their government was formed and she said, They can't even get a budget over there in Iraq. Senators looked around at each other, and here we have been a Republic for a long time and we can't get one, either. So I am very disappointed by the fact that after such a promising surge of activity that was bipartisan and that got results, we have suddenly reverted back to forgetting that we have a way to deal with our differences.
“It is not because we don't have anything to do—we are in a fiscal crisis, looking at a fiscal cliff which, if we don't solve, according to the Congressional Budget Office and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board yesterday, it will plunge us into a recession in the first 6 months of 2013. Those are the stakes we are playing with.
“To my great surprise, the majority leader said at the beginning of this Congress that he wouldn't seek to change the rules of the Senate except according to the regular order -- except according to the rules of the Senate which say we have to have 67 votes. That is what the rules say. We agreed on that. What that meant was we needed a change in behavior, not a change in the rules, to show that the Senate could function.
“Last night on television, apparently the majority leader said that in the next Congress -- he had changed his mind and that if he is the majority leader, he will seek to change the rules of the Senate by 51 votes. That will destroy the Senate. That will make it no different than the House. When it gets to the Senate we stop and think and minority rights are protected. As a result, usually that forces us to have a supermajority – 60, 65, or 70 votes – in order to do anything big, such as the time when finally the civil rights bill was enacted in the 1960s. Senator Russell, who led the debate against the Civil Rights Act, filibustered it. He was finally defeated.
“Now we are coming up on what the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board has called the fiscal cliff. This is a convergence of big issues ranging from the debt ceiling to how we pay doctors to the spiraling, out-of-control entitlements we have, to the need for a simplified Tax Code, to the need for lower rates. We have been working on this in various ways across party lines for several months.
“There is a growing consensus that the time to act is after the election. It will require Presidential leadership, whether it is newly inaugurated President Obama or a new President Romney, and our job will be to see that the newly inaugurated President succeeds, whether he is a Republican President or a Democratic President, because if he does, then our country succeeds.
“But if we cannot even bring up an appropriations bill to debate it, to amend it, to vote on it, and to pass it, if we suddenly are dealing with bills that have not gone to committee, that are nothing more than a political exercise, if we are sitting around in the Senate with nothing to do of significance -- and there is only one person who can bring up issues here; that is, the majority leader -- how is that going to convey to the American people we are capable of governing ourselves? I think it sends a clear message that we are failing to do that.”
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