OMNIBUS APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2009 -- (Senate - March 10, 2009)
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Mr. VITTER. Madam President, I take the floor to give a little background, important background on the amendment I will call up later today. That Vitter amendment would do away with the system that is now in place under the law whereby Members of Congress get automatic pay increases annually without any open debate and without any open, clear rollcall vote.
Madam President, I have to say, Americans--certainly Louisianans in my State--are frustrated about a lot that is going on in Washington and in Congress. They are frustrated about the direction of the country, about runaway spending, about bailouts, but they are also frustrated with how we in Congress often seem to do our business. They are not frustrated so much with disagreement. People can have legitimate disagreements, vast differences in points of view and philosophy and approaches to issues. What they are most frustrated about is pure partisanship for partisanship's sake, political games, and a cynical approach to doing what should be the people's business in the Halls of Congress.
Unfortunately, a lot of voters and citizens in Louisiana and across the country are going to view some of the maneuvering and some of the political strategizing over attempts to defeat my amendment in that light, and they are certainly going to consider it more of the same. What am I talking about? Well, we have a big omnibus spending bill on the floor of the Senate, and last week the majority leader took great pains to say--including from his spot on the floor several times--we are going to have an open amendment process; that the floor is open for business, it is open for amendments. He invited Members to come on down. We will consider them. We are moving forward and taking care of amendments, having votes, and getting back to the proper procedure of the Senate.
I was excited to hear that because I had an amendment I very much wanted to call up for debate and a vote. The problem is, when I tried to do that, both through staff and individually, we were blocked every step of the way. At every turn, my amendment would never be put in order. It was never allowed to be called up, and I was never allowed to get that vote on this pay raise amendment.
Thursday night, that changed, and it changed for one simple reason: The majority leader needed to cancel a vote. He needed 60 votes for cloture. He didn't have the votes, as he explained from his podium. To cancel that vote, under the rules of the Senate, he needed unanimous consent--the consent of each and every Member of this body. Well, I took the opportunity--after a week of being frustrated and blocked and hemmed in at every turn from getting a vote on my amendment--to say very simply, in a straightforward way: I will be happy to grant that unanimous consent request with regard to my role in this if--if and only if--I will finally be guaranteed a vote on my amendment. The majority leader had to agree, and he did agree.
So here we are today, the following week, debating the Vitter pay raise amendment to stop pay raises on autopilot. This will finally lead to a vote. But as soon as that vote was scheduled, a sort of funny thing happened. The next day the majority leader introduced his own bill, coauthored by the entire Democratic leadership, which would do the same thing. Now, if I thought I had gained that many enthusiastic converts to the cause, I would be excited. But even though I was born at night, I wasn't born last night. I know--and every observer to the process knows--something else is going on. The something else is simple: The majority leader filed his own bill regarding automatic pay raises simply to be able to point to it and say: I am offering this bill, we can push this forward through this vehicle, and therefore you must vote against the Vitter amendment to the omnibus spending bill.
Again, I think the American people are going to be frustrated by the maneuvering and the cynical political games. I think they want a full, straightforward open debate. I think they want to hear where people are coming from. If folks support this idea of changing and doing away with automatic pay raises--pay raises on autopilot and no debate, no votes, they just happen every year--then I think they are going to want to see those Members vote for the Vitter amendment on the floor of this body today.
Quite frankly, I think it is a cynical maneuver to point to a bill that will never pass, that is controlled by individuals who don't want the measure to pass, in order to defeat an amendment that can pass and that can be the vehicle for this important change and reform. So I would encourage all Members to support the Vitter amendment, to support the idea in the form in which it can actually be passed into law.
This is a must-pass bill. This is an appropriations bill--something to fund this part of the Government. Something has to pass within the next several days. In this bill--in the original version of this bill--the pay raise issue is already there. It is a perfectly germane and natural amendment to the bill and agrees with my provision to do away with automatic pay raises. Nothing could be more natural than to debate the issue on this bill, to offer this amendment on this bill, and it is the legitimate and appropriate and effective way if we actually do want to pass this into law.
The way to never pass it into law is to have a stand-alone straw man; to point to a separate bill that will never be passed, certainly in the House.
Now, I expect what will happen is, the majority leader will not only point to this stand-alone bill, but he will actually ask unanimous consent that it be passed through the Senate and sent down the road to the House in the process. Well, that would be very promising if there was any hope whatsoever that the Speaker of the House and the House leadership would take up the matter and put it on the House floor. So I would ask the majority leader and the Speaker of the House if they have had those discussions. Is there a commitment to putting any stand-alone bill passed through the Senate on the House floor for a vote in the very near future?
If there is that commitment, I would love to hear that expressed publicly, clearly, and in a straightforward way, and then that would rebut my argument that this is all a cynical, political game. I am afraid we are not going to hear those assurances. We are not going to hear that public commitment because I am afraid what is swirling around my amendment is a cynical political game. Let us treat the people's business the way it should be treated. Let us come to the floor, let us express our opinions. If we have legitimate differences of opinion, let us express them and let us debate them. But let us do it in that straightforward way and then let us have a vote on the Vitter amendment--the amendment that would do away with automatic pay raises--which is the true effective way to pass this reform into law on a must-pass appropriations bill.
I urge all my colleagues to come to the floor in that spirit. I urge all my colleagues to express themselves and wherever they are coming from in that straightforward way, in that straightforward spirit and not to drop in stand-alone bills the day after I was finally able to secure a vote on this matter, particularly when this proposal--thanks to my good friend, Senator RUSS FEINGOLD--has been around at least since the year 2000, 9 years. Neither the majority leader nor any of his Democratic leadership who are cosponsors to his brand new bill have ever reached out to Senator Feingold to express support and join him in supporting his bill, which, as I say, has been around since the year 2000.
I am now happy to yield to the distinguished Senator from Iowa.
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