BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. KAINE. Madam President, I rise today to talk about the continuing efforts by a minority of this body to block a Federal budget by blocking a conference with the House to find compromise. I spoke about this one week ago, but the stalemate continues.
Today there was an announcement that in my Commonwealth, 90,000 civilian Department of Defense employees and hundreds of thousands of DOD civilians nationally will be furloughed for 11 days between now and the end of the year. This furlough announcement--along with ample other evidence we have discussed in this body in the last few weeks--demonstrates that budgetary gridlock, budgetary indecision, and budgetary stalling has real-life consequences.
I rise to implore my Senate colleagues to do what is right and to do the job the American public has sent us here to do. This is not only about budgets, it is also about something even bigger than budgets. It is about something fundamental to the entire system of government we have; that is, the willingness to work together to find common ground and find solutions.
I truly view this budgetary stalemate as an attack on compromise. We cannot survive as a Senate or as a Congress or as a nation without finding common ground.
I know the Presiding Officer, like me, was out on the campaign trail a lot in 2012. I heard a repeated critique of this body during the campaign. I heard that this body was unable to produce a budget since 2009. There were some arguments back and forth about whether that was technically accurate. As I looked at it as a candidate, it was at least clear that a normal budgetary order in accordance with the Budget Act of 1974 had not been followed for a number of years.
As a candidate and citizen of the Commonwealth and country, I said: If I have the opportunity to serve in this body, I am going to work with my colleagues to make sure we do the public's business in the way that was contemplated in that statute.
Although I didn't ask, I was assigned to be on the Senate Budget Committee as soon as I got to this body. I immediately made clear--along with many other Members, both newcomers and Members who had been on the committee for a while, including the new committee chair, Senator Murray--that this body needed to return to normal budgetary procedures.
It seemed as though over the past few years, Congress tried a lot of other things--supercommittees, sequesters, and continuing resolutions--none of which were working to do the Nation's fiscal business. Along with many Senators of both parties, I said the right strategy for us is to return to normal budgetary procedure. We can make it work just as Congresses in the past have made it work.
I entered the body on January 3--more than 4 months ago--with the profound belief that we needed to embrace the normal procedures about doing a budget. Those normal procedures are known to all. People read in textbooks about how bills become laws. Essentially, in the spring the Senate and House, under normal procedure, would each pass a budget. Those budget bills would likely be significantly different.
Even when the parties controlling the two Houses are the same, the two House budgets are different. There is then some effort to find a compromise between the two differing versions often through use of a conference committee. Once that compromise is found, then that compromise is sent back to each House for a vote, and it then becomes the guidance that is used by the Appropriations Committee to write the bill's appropriating dollars for the next fiscal year. That is the normal process, and it is the way Congress has operated under both parties, under split Houses for many years.
Here is the good news: The Senate Budget Committee embraced this challenge. Chairman Murray worked with staff and members of the committee to create a draft budget, and then early in mid-March we had robust committee hearings, a full debate, and a full amendment process about a Senate budget.
In March the committee ultimately considered the chairman's mark for 13 hours, and we had a full amendment process. We voted on over 30 amendments, the majority of which were made by Republican members of the committee. We debated and voted on those amendments. I sat there and voted for a number of the Republican amendments to the budget that then became part of the ultimate committee product.
Republican members offered numerous amendments. In response to an amendment offered by a Republican member, I remember my colleague from Maine, Senator King, asking: If I vote for your amendment, are you going to vote for this committee budget? The answer was given in public.
The answer was: No. I want you to vote for my amendment, but I am still going to vote against the budget. I am going to vote against it because the House will produce a Republican budget, the Senate will produce a Democratic budget, and then we can get those two budgets together and find compromise going forward.
That was what was said when we met as a Budget Committee. At the end of the day, the Senate Budget Committee passed that budget in mid-March, and passed it without a single Republican vote. The budget was passed and forwarded to the Senate floor.
I know the Presiding Officer remembers this, as it is emblazoned upon all of our memories. We took the budget to the Senate floor in late March. The budget was the subject of floor activity in this body for 39 1/2 hours. We don't do a lot around here for 39 1/2 hours, but the budget was subject to floor activity and numerous speeches by Senators, just like me, over the course of that week.
The entire body then considered, debated, and voted on nearly 110 amendments to the budget. We passed 77 of the amendments. The amendments that were passed were offered by both Democrats and Republicans. I remember voting for many of the Republican amendments that then became part of the ultimate budget bill. This amendment activity--110 amendments, 77 passing--is significantly greater than has been the norm in earlier Senate deliberations.
At 5 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, March 23, the Senate passed its first budget in 4 years. Not a single Republican voted to support that budget even though many of their amendments had been included either in the committee or in the floor amendment process we had during those hours in late March.
I have done a lot of budgets as a mayor and as a Governor. Along with my colleagues on the Budget Committee, I worked hard in the committee and on the floor. My staff--as well as the Senate Budget Committee staff and the staffers of all the members on that committee--also worked hard on this bill.
I am proud we passed a budget on March 23, and I believe firmly if that budget were implemented today, without changing one apostrophe, comma, or punctuation mark, it would do a number of things: It would help create jobs, it would help the economy, and it would deal with our debt and deficit in a fiscally responsible way.
I also understood this: that the Senate budget we passed was not the final product. It was the Senate's best effort to find a budget that would move our economy and our country forward. We knew that budget would be placed in a conference with the House budget. The House passed their budget the same week. We knew there would have to be discussion and compromise in an effort to find common ground, but we did our best version and the House, I assume, feels as though they did their very best version.
The two budgets are very different. I deeply believe the Senate budget is superior and the American people, watching the discussions between the two Houses and comparing them, would reach the same conclusion. But at the very least I know this: The American public are entitled to see that debate and discussion. They are entitled to look at the House budget and look at the Senate budget and compare them, just as the conferees would be comparing. They are entitled to watch that process of dialog and debate and, hopefully, compromise. That is, in fact, what they have sent us here to do, and that is what Congresses have done for many years and decades.
The process of a budget conference would not be an easy one because the two budgets are quite different, but there is no substitute for dialog and compromise. In fact, I think all of us in this body know dialog and compromise at its core are what we are about here.
When the Framers of our Constitution, in article I, set up a legislative branch with two Houses--a bicameral branch--and required that most items to pass through Congress would have to go through both branches, they understood very well what they were doing. They were creating a system of checks and balances that required dialog and listening and compromise in order to do good for the benefit of the Nation. At our very root, a bicameral legislature, existing in a system of checks and balances, with a judiciary and an executive branch, depends upon public servants who are willing to find common ground.
Well, since March 23--nearly 7 weeks--a small minority of Senators, often one at a time, has done all it can to block a budget conference from even beginning and, therefore, to block compromise. As we have taken steps to begin a budget conference with the House leadership to put these two budgets together and find compromise, again and again individual Senators have stood on the floor of this body and, in my view, abused the UC rules to block a conference from even beginning. Even as budgetary indecision and sequester are leading to furloughs, they have blocked a conference from even beginning. Even as we are seeing reductions in the number of people who are able to receive Meals On Wheels or children in Head Start, they have abused Senate rules to block a budget conference from even beginning.
I serve on the Armed Services Committee. We are working on the Defense authorization bill now, and we have the service chiefs come in and talk to us every day about the challenges they are facing, about the degraded readiness. One-third of our air combat command units are standing down because of these budgetary challenges. We hear the steady drumbeat, day in and day out, about degradation in readiness and challenges to our modernization programs. We had a hearing about the Marine Corps this morning. Yet even as we are hearing this testimony in hearings in the morning and in the afternoon, Members come to this floor and stand and try to block a budget conference from even beginning.
This is very serious. When we are talking about the readiness of our military who are facing challenges--just pick up today's paper and read headlines about Syria or North Korea or Iran--as we are facing continuing challenges in Afghanistan, to have Members in this body block efforts to find compromise is very chilling.
Let's be clear about what this is. This is not just an attack on the budget itself, because those who want to attack the budget voted against it in committee. Those who didn't like the budget had a chance and voted against it on the floor. Even in the event a conference committee would produce a budget compromise, that compromise would come back and those who didn't like that budget would have a chance to vote against it again. That is how we attack a budget. That is how we express disagreement with a budget. A Member stands on the floor of this body and votes against it. The Members have had a chance to do that in committee and on the floor and they will have a chance to do it again at the end of the conference process.
The effort that has been underway in this body since March 23 is not fundamentally an attack on budgets, it is an attack on the whole notion of compromise. To block a conference committee from beginning so House and Senate conferees can sit down and listen to each other and try to iron out their differences is fundamentally an attack on compromise. We have seen that too much in this body. Anyone in this room knows that, if a person is not a hermit, if a person is a member of a family or a member of a parish council or a member of the PTA or part of an organizing group of a Little League, if a person has a business or if a person is elected to a school board or to the Senate--everybody knows if we participate in life, it has to be about compromise. Our Founders knew it and they created a system that relies upon compromise.
What we have seen in this body since March 23, after people had a full opportunity to amend and vote on a budget, is not about a budget, it is an attack on compromise.
I conclude by saying that just as no family can succeed without compromise, just as no community, just as no business, just as no school board, just as no group of people can succeed without compromise, Congress, the Senate, and our Nation cannot succeed without a spirit of compromise.
So I implore and I ask my colleagues to rethink the path they are on, to stand down in this attack upon compromise, to allow the budget to go to conference so we can do the tough work of listening to each other and finding common ground for the good of the American people.
Thank you, Madam President. I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.