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Public Statements

Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


OMNIBUS APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2009 -- (Senate - March 09, 2009)

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AMENDMENT NO. 621

Mr. VITTER. Madam President, the distinguished Senator from Iowa, Mr. Grassley, is on his way to the floor to discuss the same issue I will be discussing, so in light of that, I ask unanimous consent that immediately following my remarks he be recognized for 10 minutes.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. In my capacity as a Senator from North Carolina, I object.

Mr. VITTER. I ask unanimous consent to be recognized for 20 minutes instead of my initial 15.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. VITTER. I stand to discuss my amendment to the omnibus spending bill, No. 621. My amendment would do something very simple and straightforward but important. It would change the present system which has been on the books since 1989 that puts annual pay raises for Members of Congress on autopilot, so there never has to be any inconvenient debate, any inconvenient votes whatsoever. They happen automatically. No votes. In fact, there is not even a line item in the appropriations bills about it.

My amendment would change that, would end that law to require that any pay raise for Members of Congress, House or Senate, would have to be debated in open before the public and then be followed by a rollcall vote.

I am honored to be joined by several Senators who support this idea and who have long tried to advance it. Senator Feingold has a stand-alone bill, as do I. He has had it for several years. I certainly want to recognize his leadership and thank him for that. He is an original cosponsor of my amendment. Also Senators Grassley and Ensign are original cosponsors of my amendment and our stand-alone bill.

This system of automatic, autopilot pay raises is offensive to the American people. Let me mention an experience I have had recently in Louisiana in the last several weeks. I have had well over a dozen townhall meetings, as I do on a regular basis all around the State. This past Friday I had two. The week before that during our recess week I had 12 all around the State.

As I went to parishes all around the State, smaller communities, Hahnville and Lake Providence, and larger places such as Gonzales in the Greater Baton Rouge area, I was struck by a message that came across loudly and clearly. The message was not about any one narrow issue, the message was the tone of all of those meetings. Because without exception, meeting after meeting after meeting, folks expressed not just concern, not just anxiety, folks expressed real anger about what was going on in our country, to our country; what was going on here in the Halls of Congress in Washington, DC.

If I had to summarize the tone I heard at these meetings, not directed at me because they knew my voting record, but directed at what is going on here in this city, the tone was, to quote that movie from several years ago, ``Network'': I am as mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore.

That was the tone over and over and over again. And why was that? Well, it is pretty simple. People see their 401(k)s cut in half, people see their life savings dwindling every day. People are facing, in some cases, real crisis in their lives: losing jobs, losing homes, with it losing crucial things such as health care.

And yet up here in Congress, a majority in Congress rolls along with policy they view as enormously irresponsible, and in some cases, downright offensive. One thing they point to as downright offensive is this system of pay raises for Members of Congress being on autopilot, happening every year without the need for any inconvenient debate, without the need for any inconvenient vote, the system that has been in place under the law since 1989.

My amendment would change that. It would simply say: We want to have a raise, we need to talk about it, we need to justify it out in public, in the open, have that open debate, and then have an actual vote on the floor of the Senate, on the floor of the House, and have a full, open, recorded rollcall vote.

That is the way we should do it whenever we debate the issue and consider the issue. That sure as heck is the way we should do it in the midst of a horrible recession, what will only surely be the worst recession we have faced as Americans since World War II.

In this omnibus spending bill, we do have a provision to forgo the one raise coming next year, and I applaud the leadership of the House and Senate for at least agreeing to that and inserting that in the underlying bill. That is the least we could do. We should have done that last December as well.

We have been suffering this horrible economy for several months. We have seen the financial collapse in September. The economy continued to go down and down and down and yet still under this system, Congress had a significant $4,700 raise. So we should have done it then too. But at least this bill does it next time.

But, quite simply, that is not good enough. What is truly fair to the American people is to do away with this system altogether, to get these issues out in the open for public debate whenever we want them to come up and demand a rollcall vote on the issue.

That is what my amendment would do, purely and simply. My amendment is supported by Senators Feingold, Grassley, and Ensign. I urge Members, Democrats and Republicans, to support this commonsense reasonable amendment that the American people surely support overwhelmingly.

In closing, let me say, in supporting this amendment, be aware of a lot of diversions and a lot of distractions and a lot of tricks that will no doubt be put before us. On Thursday night here on the floor, I finally secured a vote on the amendment. I had been trying to get a vote all last week. It was a significant amendment to the omnibus spending bill. It is even germane. Trying to get a vote never could happen.

I have to tell you, it was pretty frustrating. I would tune in my TV in my office and hear over and over the leadership say: Come on down. We are open for business. We are open for amendments. We want to make amendments in order. And then when I would try to do that, the door was inevitably shut.

Well, finally on Thursday night I secured a vote on this amendment for the very simple reason that the distinguished majority leader needed unanimous consent in order to call off the vote that was scheduled for that evening and therefore had to agree to give me a vote to get that unanimous consent. I am happy that happened.

Then the next day a funny thing happened. Out of the blue, after denigrating it, quite frankly, in our exchange on the floor, the concept of my amendment the night before, the distinguished majority leader, backed by his leadership on the majority side, introduced a stand-alone bill that was almost exactly my amendment.

Well, don't get me wrong. I am delighted to get any converts, folks who have long supported the concept, recent converts. But let's not be fooled by how the stand-alone bill might be used and abused, pointed to saying, we will get to that. We will have a debate. We have this stand-alone bill. That is not the way to enact change in the law. We all know the way to enact this change into law, if we truly support it, is to support this amendment, to put it on a spending bill that must pass at the end of the day in some form, and to hold everyone's feet to the fire. If we truly want to pass it into law, I urge all of us to come together, particularly in this moment of enormous economic suffering across all of America, come together around this reasonable amendment and support amendment No. 621.

With that, I yield for my distinguished colleague from Iowa.

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Mr. VITTER. I thank my colleague from Iowa. I thank him for all of his leadership on this issue for several years. I also recognize again the leadership of our cosponsors of the amendment, Senator Feingold and Senator Ensign. Others will join us, but I ask all colleagues to support this amendment when we present it and vote on it tomorrow.

I yield the floor.

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