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Mr. KAINE. Mr. President, I rise in support of the motion of Senator Warner and his argument for budget compromise and a budget conference that would enable us to find that compromise for the Nation. During my campaign for the Senate I heard this over and over. Every time I would turn on the TV it seemed there would be someone, even a colleague from this body, arguing that the Senate had not passed a budget in 2 years or 3 years or 4 years. That was a point that was repeated over and over. Then, coming into this body, often sitting there in the presider's chair, I have heard that speech delivered from the floor of this body in January and February, often with charts demonstrating the number of days it had been since the Senate passed a budget.
We know as part of the debt ceiling deal a bill was passed, signed by the President so, arguably, even the claim of no Senate budget was inaccurate. But taking that claim at its word, that the Senate had not passed a budget in 4 years, you would think that, having passed a budget, everyone would be excited and would be willing now to move forward to try to find a compromise for the good of the Nation.
Instead, what we have is an abuse of a Senate rule, an individual Senator standing up--even though they had a chance to vote against a budget and to vote on 100 amendments about a budget--they are utilizing and abusing a prerogative to block a budget conference.
For those listening to this who do not understand what a conference is, it is exactly what it sounds like. We passed a budget. The House passed a budget. The next step in normal business would be for the two budgets to be put in a conference and House and Senate Members to sit down and, God forbid, listen to one another and dialog and hopefully find compromise.
That is all we are asking to do, to have a process of listening and compromise. Yet individual Senators are objecting, blocking even the opportunity to have this discussion. In the 4 months I have been in this body we have had two major budgetary issues and I think it is important to point them both out. The first was the issue surrounding the sequester, a designed regimen of nonstrategic, stupid, across-the-board budget cuts that were never supposed to go into place. In late February this body developed a plan that was able to attain more than 50 votes, to turn off the sequester, to avoid the harm to the economy and other key aspects of the military, and to do it and find first year savings. That proposal was able to get more than 50 votes in this body. It had sufficient votes to pass. But the minority chose to invoke the paper filibuster process to block it from passing. They were not required to. Fifty votes is normally enough for something to pass. We could have avoided the filibuster altogether. We could have avoided the sequester altogether and the harmful cuts. Yet the other side decided: We are going to invoke the filibuster to block it from happening.
That was the first instance of an abuse of the Senate rules to proceed with normal budgetary order.
Now we are in the second such instance. On March 23, this body passed a budget in accord with normal Senate order, and as we have seen over the past few days, the very group of people who criticize the Senate for not wanting to pass a budget have done everything they can and pulled out every procedural mechanism they can come up with to block the us from coming up with a budget. This is an abuse of rules, and it is directly contrary to the Members' claims--now for years--that they wanted to pass a budget. This is not just a matter of budget nor is it a matter of numbers on a page. This is hurting our economy.
Everyone in this Chamber will remember that when the American credit rating was downgraded in the summer of 2011--in the aftermath of the discussion about the debt ceiling limitation--the reason cited for the downgrade was not that the mechanics of the deal were bad; instead, our credit was downgraded because of the perception that legislators were engaging in foolish behavior and threatening to repudiate American debt instead of focusing upon their jobs and trying to do the right thing for the economy.
It was legislative gimmickry, not the details of the deal, that caused us to have a bond rating downgrade for the first time in the history of the United States. It hurts the economy when we elevate legislative gimmickry above doing the Nation's business, especially on matters such as the budget.
There are some signs of economic progress these days. The unemployment rate is moving down, the stock market is moving up, the deficit projections going forward are moving down, but we know we have a long way to go. There is more work to be done, and finding a budget deal that addresses the components which Senator Warner mentioned is one of the factors that can create confidence to additionally accelerate the economy.
A budget deal will provide an additional acceleration to the economy. I have to ask the question: Is that what people are truly worried about? Are they worried about doing the budget deal that will accelerate the economy because it might not work to their particular political advantage? That is the concern I have; otherwise, why wouldn't they be true to the cause they have had for the past few years to actually have a conference and find a deal?
This is not only hurting the economy, this is hurting defense. The hearing I had earlier with Senator King was the hearing of the Seapower Subcommittee of Armed Services. In that hearing we talked about the effect on the Nation's security and on our defense that is being visited upon us as we are going through budgetary challenges, including the sequester.
We talked about the effect of the sequester on what the witnesses called the platform, the shipbuilding, and the assets we need to keep us safe in a challenging world. We talked about these budget crises and how they hurt our planning. Because instead of planning in a forward-looking way, we are tying up all of our planning time to meet one self-imposed crisis after the next. We talked about the effect on readiness. Because of the sequester, one-third of the air combat command units in this country are standing down at a time when we may well need them today or tomorrow.
Finally, and most important, we talked about the effect of this budgetary uncertainty on our people, whether it is civilians being furloughed, whether it is private sector ship repairers getting warning notices because the ship repairing accounts cannot be done consistent with the sequester. This also affects people who are trying to make a decision about whether they want to make the military a career, and they look at Congress's unwillingness to provide budgetary certainty so they may decide maybe it is not the best thing to do right now.
Whether it is our platform, whether it is our readiness, whether it is our planning or whether it is our people, this sequester and these budgetary challenges and crises are hurting our ability to defend our Nation at the very time when the world is not getting simpler or safer but it is getting more challenging.
Many of my colleagues came from a joint session this morning with the President of South Korea, who is visiting at a time of incredible concern because of Northern Korea's nuclear ambitions that will call upon us, the United States--just as with so many other challenges around the world--to have a well-planned and well-financed defense of the Nation.
I join Senator Warner in expressing disappointment. We passed this budget. We passed it 46 days ago. We were here until 5 in the morning. We voted on 100 amendments. Everyone had a chance to have their say and have their vote. Guess what. After our conference, they will have a chance to have their say and vote again. They will have a chance to express their opinions.
I urge my colleagues to rethink their position and allow this budget to move into conference so we can do the business of the United States of America.
I thank the Presiding Officer and yield the floor.
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