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Mr. COATS. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to comment on a couple of things. One is the dialog that took place this morning between the majority leader and the minority leader regarding how the Senate should function. There were two different views on this between the two, and they had quite a back-and-forth exchange. I am not sure how many people in America were watching that conversation this morning, but I watched in my office while I was trying to catch up on some other work and then found myself pretty engaged in that discussion.
It all stemmed from the fact that the majority leader announced he was not going to bring any of the appropriations bills to the floor for debate, consideration, amendment, or voting. I am a Member of that Appropriations Committee. The initial information passed on to us was that we would return to regular order; that is, the committees forming, through the committee process, how we spend our money, the limitations, where it should be sent.
We have held all the hearings. We bring in all the agencies. Everybody presents their budget, defends their budget. We make decisions, and we come up with legislation--13 separate pieces of legislation--that essentially covers the functions of this Congress and how we are going to pay for it.
So we go through all this work. We work through subcommittee, then we work through the full committee, and then the bills are ready, stacked up, waiting to be brought to the floor to be debated by Members--both Republicans and Democrats, both sides of the aisle--with amendments offered.
The same process happens in the House. We merge the two bills. We bring one product here. We make a final vote on that and send it to the President. He either signs it or rejects it. But that is a necessary procedure that is a written part of the way this Congress is designed to function.
Yet that procedure has essentially been discarded. To then hear that after all that effort by all of us in our respective committees, including the Appropriations Committee but also authorizing committees in terms of how we are going to spend the money and what direction it goes--after all of this effort, we are told: No, none of those bills will be brought to the floor.
Well, that is not the function of the Senate. The response is, well, we will put it all into one big bill at the end--13 bills, called an omnibus bill. Earlier, we had something put together called a minibus--they took three major bills, and put them together--and we were then asked to have either a ``yes'' or a ``no'' vote on the whole thing.
You know, there is a reason the public is so frustrated with the Congress. They cannot get clear answers from their respective Members as to whether they are for something or against something because when you combine all of those bills together, of course you are for parts of it and you are against parts of it, but Members are only allowed one vote, yes or no.
When I ran for office in 2010, I pledged to the people of Indiana that if I were elected, I would let my yes be yes and my no be no as it applied to a specific program or a specific spending item so that they could then evaluate their Senator in terms of how he was representing them. And they could then make a judgment that, I want to support this person or I am opposed to supporting this person because I do not agree with his vote on this or I support him because I do agree with a vote he took. That is the clarity and transparency the American people are asking for. Of course, they are getting exactly the opposite here.
The other problem with not bringing these bills to the floor one by one and having open debate, with the opportunity to offer amendments, to adjust them--you either pass your amendment or you do not pass your amendment, but in the end the whole thing has been vetted, vetted in front for the American to see, for us to understand, and therefore, when we do vote, we know that our yes means yes and our no means no.
So it is a mystery to me why this year and in previous years under the leadership of the majority leader we have not done what the Senate, historically is designed to do and has done and what I think is a duty and a responsibility to the people whom we represent.
Now, in normal times of economic growth, maybe you can get away with something like this. But at a time when lack of action in Congress contributes to an already staggering economy--many analysts say we are heading back into recession--when we look at the situation around the world and see the slowing down of economic activity and the problems in China and Brazil and in India, the major markets, and we see what is happening in Europe, and we read from analysts their evaluation of our current economic situation and this fiscal cliff that we are driving toward by the end of the year unless we address it, how uncertainty over all of that is negatively affecting our economy and affecting those who are in a position to either buy new machinery for their plant, increase employment, do more research, or expand a business. They are frozen in time saying: I cannot make decisions because there is uncertainty about what money will be available, what our budget will be, what our tax rate will be, what our health care obligations will be, what the Federal Government will be doing with this budget and how it affects our business.
So whether it is paving roads or funding hospitals, addressing education issues or any other function that Federal, State, local governments or individuals and businesses get involved in, this cloud of uncertainty that has settled over this country has kept us from putting those policies in place that are going to restore our country to economic growth, that are going to put people back to work and get our country back on track toward fiscal health.
This is an issue that should not be dividing us on a partisan basis. Whether you are listening to a liberal economic commentator or conservative economic analyst, there is a growing consensus that inactivity, this stalemate that exists is contributing significantly, and the failure to address the fact that we are heading toward this fiscal cliff, with all its ramifications, will have enormous negative consequences if we do not take some action.
So it is not just about the appropriations process, although I think that speaks to the dysfunction of this Senate. It is also about the larger question of some of the major issues that lie before us that the Congress is simply not addressing. We are viewed as a dysfunctional institution, either incapable or unwilling to address the critical issues facing our country--in particular, the dismal state of our economy and the fact that we have now for 41 straight months had unemployment above 8 percent.
This morning more than 12 million Americans woke up without a job and many others woke up with a job much below their abilities, much below what they had hoped to gain in a salary and a pay package that allows them to pay the mortgage, buy the groceries, save for their children's education. So the underemployed combined with the unemployed is a staggering number. That is something I believe we have a moral duty to address.
We may have a disagreement on the policies to address this crisis. I understand that. But when we are not even allowed to come down to this floor and debate those policies and have a package of legislation in front of us that we think will address some of these situations, that is simply taking a pass at a time when our country desperately needs us to be engaged.
If you looked at the Washington Post this morning, you saw the account of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, his testimony before the Senate yesterday, and I want to quote what he said:
The most effective way that the Congress could help support the economy right now would be to work to address the Nation's fiscal challenges in a way that takes into account both the need for long-run sustainability and the fragility of the recovery.
I think if that question was posed to a Member of this body, whether that Member is conservative or liberal, Democratic or Republican, I think most would simply say: I agree with that. I cannot find fault with what he said.
You know, we look to the Fed to solve all of our problems but the Fed has used about every major tool they have--they might have a couple of little ones left. You can only do so much with monetary policy. The problem is fiscal policy, and fiscal policy is the responsibility of the Congress and the executive branch and the President.
Look, it is clear that we are not going to get any leadership from this President, at least until after this election has taken place. He is clearly in campaign mode. He is not doing business out of the White House relative to policy. He even said months and months ago: Well, we are not really going to do any more this year.
So that has all been put on hold. Well, in normal times, that might be what Presidents ought to be doing. These are not normal times. We are not getting the leadership we need. And everything we tried to do in 2011 was stopped simply because we did not get support from the top.
But let's set that aside right now and acknowledge that what the Federal Reserve Chairman has said will have a major negative impact on this economy if Congress does not step up and take its responsibility and do what we all know we need to do. I repeat again that statement by the Federal Reserve Chairman:
The most effective way that the Congress could help support the economy right now would be to work to address the nation's fiscal challenges in a way that takes into account both the need for long-run sustainability and the fragility of the economy.
Economists from across the political spectrum are sounding the alarm. Analysts report that the threat of the fiscal crisis in Europe is now being displaced by the threat of our country's inaction and refusal to address this fiscal cliff now. The American people and American industry and American businesses need to know what our plan is to stabilize our economy. Yes, it is important what Spain is doing and Italy is doing and Greece is doing and Germany is doing and France is doing to work on the European situation. Those of us who live in glass houses should not be throwing stones. There is a lot of criticism over what they are doing or not doing across the Atlantic. But we ought to be looking at ourselves and saying: How dare we tell them what they need to do--as some have tried to do--when we are not doing anything ourselves to address this.
The failure of Congress to act is having a negative impact, not only in my State but across the country. Household confidence is waning. Retail sales are down, according to the latest report. The manufacturing sector is taking a hit. As I said earlier, there have been 41 consecutive months of unemployment above 8 percent.
So it falls to Congress to act. Unfortunately, now we have been told that even on the regular process of how we act on a year-by-year basis to set the spending standards for the taxpayers' hard-earned money out of this Federal Government, set those standards, we are unwilling to have open debates, we are unwilling--the majority leader will not allow us to have amendments, will not even bring the bill to the floor. All of this legislation is needed to ostensibly run this Federal Government. Yet it is being run in a way that throws everything into the pot. It goes right up to the edge, and we have this drama about whether they will pass it or not pass it. In the meantime, the negative impact that it has on our economy is very troubling and not something we ought to be doing.
So here I am again voicing my frustration over our inability to step up to the responsibility that has been given to us by the American people to come here and do our very best, make our best arguments, put forward our best plan, but come to some conclusion as to where we are going in this country in dealing with this fiscal cliff.
It is not just a fiscal cliff, it is a whole range of issues that have enormous implications for our national defense, for our economy, for our budget, for going forward for our retirees, for those beneficiaries of some of the programs of the Federal Government--major implications--and all of that is left in a cloud of uncertainty.
The interesting thing to me is that whether you are a Democrat or Republican, whether you are President of the United States or a candidate for President of the United States, good policy is what the American people are looking for. Action is what they are looking for. Debate is what they are looking for, and then putting that forward with some sense of certainty in terms of where we are going. But right now politics seems to be dominating the Presidential race. I do not think there is anything we can do about that, but what we can do here in this body is acknowledge what was acknowledged by a lot of Democrats and a lot of Republicans in 2011 but not accomplished; what we can do is what we have the responsibility to do, and that is to step into the breach and do everything we can to put those policies in place that I think there is substantial agreement on, put those policies in place that will get our economy moving again, and, most important, put some certainty into what the future looks like so that those who go shopping and those who make products and those who are part of our American economy have the certainty of knowing what the future looks like so they can make decisions.
We have a chance, Mr. President--even as recent discoveries can lead us to energy independence, given our established rule of law, given the fact that right now America is the only safe haven--even though it is getting less safe--to invest your money if you are overseas--we have the opportunity, if we step up to our responsibilities, to open a new chapter and put America back in its place as that ``shining city on a hill,'' that place of freedom and opportunity where you want to put your money and invest, raise your children, an opportunity to be the country the world looks at to take the lead.
We have a golden opportunity now to send that signal. I think the investment markets would respond dramatically, we would start putting people back to work, and get our economy humming again. People would then look at us and say: They are taking this debt and deficit situation seriously. They put a credible long-term plan in place to address it, and we have the confidence to go forward, knowing that America will still be the place to live, work, raise a family, and invest. We can bring our economy back.
I am trying to end on a positive note simply by saying good policy is good politics. The people are hungry for us to stand up and basically say this is what we believe in, what we stand for. Yes, we had to modify this or that in order to get consent on going forward, but we are going forward. We know what the plan will be, and we can send a signal to the world that Congress has lived up to those responsibilities. You are not going to get it out of the White House--at least until November. This is the body where the responsibility falls. I think we all need to stand up and understand not only our constitutional duties but our moral responsibility to move forward and in the regular order address these issues that are so critical to the future of this Nation.
With that, I yield the floor.
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