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Public Statements

Making the Senate Work

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. PRYOR. Madam President, I likewise wish to thank Senator Boozman. He keeps calling me the senior Senator. We are partners. He does great work for the State of Arkansas, and I appreciate his leadership. Although he has been here a short time, his presence has definitely been felt in the Senate already, and I look forward to working with him as long as we are both here.

I really appreciate him being here tonight because the hour is late in Washington. It is after 6:30 now, and I appreciate him carving out some time.

Article I, section 9 of the U.S. Constitution simply states that ``no money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.'' Like a lot of things in the Constitution, it is a fairly simple statement, but it is loaded with importance. We can all talk about this clause as a power given to Congress in the Constitution, and I think that is true, but I also classify it as a responsibility.

As a congress, it is our responsibility to write annual appropriations laws to fund the government's commitments to its citizens. It is our responsibility to do that. The principle of an appropriation is a basic rule of governing, and I think a lot of people would agree that we have lost sight of many of the basics around here. I believe the basics are important, and I would like to get back to them, which includes the Senate--and hopefully the House--passing the annual appropriations bills through what we call the regular order.

This is where I wish to thank the two leaders, Senator McConnell and Senator Reid, because they have a commitment. They have committed to each other--with the chairman and the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee--that we will try to get back to regular order and do things the way we should be doing them around here and should have been doing them around here all along.

Regular order is something we talk about in this Chamber, but it is something many Members of the Senate, unfortunately, have never experienced. Last year the Senate Appropriations Committee dutifully passed all 12 individual appropriations bills. Yet, when they came to the floor, gridlock struck and the Senate was not able to pass these one by one as we should have. In fact, the last time we passed them one by one was in the year 2006, and even in that year the Congress did not get them done on time.

What the leaders are talking about now is getting them moving through the appropriations subcommittee and the full committee and bringing them to the floor. As we say in regular order, let the Senate debate, amend, and vote on these as we go. Hopefully we will get all of these done on time and in the normal order, as we should. The last time Congress completed all of the appropriations bills one by one and on time was in fiscal year 1995. So we have not done a very good job, and this is one of the things that I think really frustrate the American people. It is beyond time that we get serious about this responsibility.

Here again I wish to thank Senators Reid and McConnell for their leadership. I think we see our leaders acting like leaders and trying to get things moving for the fiscal year 2013 appropriations bills, but I must say we all recognize this is easier said than done. We all know that. I want them to know they have many, many of their colleagues who support them in this goal of getting all of the appropriations bills done as we should.

We have two very respected and accomplished Senate leaders here on the floor, but we also have two very accomplished and respected Senators who run the Appropriations Committee. We could all talk a long time tonight about the chairman and ranking member, and I am confident that if as a Chamber we stand behind them and stand behind the two leaders, we can break this cycle of inaction here in the Senate.

The good news for this year is that we have already enacted into law our top-line spending number--in technical terms, people call that a 302 A allocation--so we know how much money we can spend on discretionary programs under the law. We passed that law last year. Even though we didn't pass a budget resolution, we did pass the Budget Control Act, and that total for spending is $1.047 trillion, and that is $686 billion for security building and $361 billion for nonsecurity. This was supported by 74 Members in this Chamber, 269 Members down the hall in the House, and it was signed into law by the President. It is now the law of the land, so we now have our top-line spending numbers in law, and hopefully that will help us jump-start the fiscal 2013 spending appropriations process regardless of what happens to the budget resolution, which, by the way, totally supports getting a budget resolution passed. Nonetheless, we have this already in law for this year.

I would like to end by saying that I believe we can pass all 12 appropriations bills this year, and I think we can do it in a way that gives us ample opportunity for input, debate, and a chance to amend. Whether or not we will pass all 12 spending bills on time this year will depend on whether Members of Congress will have the will to get it done. I think the American people want us to get it done. They want to see us work together.

Madam President, if I could ask a question of the Senator from Tennessee through the Chair, I would like to get his reflections, because Senator Alexander has been around this place for a long time, going back to Senator Howard Baker, who was one of the legends in the Senate, and Senator Alexander was able to work with him and for him and see the Senate as it ran differently back in those days.

Madam President, I would like to ask through the Chair why Senator Alexander thinks it is so important that we get our appropriation bills back on track.

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Mr. PRYOR. Madam President, I have one thing to say in closing while my two colleagues are still on the floor: Today, Senator Shaheen read Washington's Farewell Address which we have been doing in the Senate since 1888. One of the reasons we do that is because President Washington calls to us through history to do our best.

We talk about this issue in South Carolina--deepening the port of Charleston. Certainly President Washington knew about the port of Charleston. It was a huge asset for this fledgling Nation of ours. He had no idea about a Panama Canal. He had no idea about goods coming over from China. He certainly had no idea about goods coming in from the west coast because at that point he was hoping we would get to Appalachia. He had no idea what was going to happen here. But he calls to us from history to do our job and accept the challenges that come our way.

The appropriations bills shouldn't be a challenge. That is nuts-and-bolts good government.

This week in Arkansas we had five townhall meetings and they were great. I got lots of good questions; a few pointed questions. My colleagues know how it goes because they have participated in those as well. It was great. It is democracy in action. When people can show up in a community and ask their Senator questions, that means the system is working. It is working back home, but we need to get it to work up here. That is what I heard over and over this week in Arkansas, is the expectations for this Congress are very low for this year. We talk about a 10-percent approval rating. I am sometimes surprised it is that high.

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Mr. PRYOR. That does go back to the appropriations process, because obviously those things require money, they take investment in our future. But the truth is if we are stymied in our appropriations process, there are a lot of good things that we can't get done. But when they go through, we can take care of the challenges that present themselves around the country. We have a lot of need in this country. I am certainly a promoter of investing in infrastructure, and the ports are very important to our Nation.

With that, I yield to the Senator from Tennessee.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I thank Senator Alexander from Tennessee for his leadership on this issue. He is the one who wanted to come here and praise the two leaders for their leadership. Again, they are demonstrating leadership by reaching this agreement and trying to change recent practice around here. They want to set a new standard for getting it done as we are supposed to get it done.

So I thank my friend and colleague from Tennessee for all of his hard work, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. He is working on many ways to try to make this institution run better and to make the American people proud of the Senate. So I thank the Senator for that.


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