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Mr. THUNE. Madam President, today we continue to find ourselves in the unfortunate position of a partial government shutdown. Following a veto threat from the President, last night Democrats in the House of Representatives killed three spending bills that would have funded parks and monuments, veterans programs, and the DC government. Senate Democrats have already rejected four House-passed proposals that would have provided Americans with relief from ObamaCare while ensuring that government operations continued. Senate Democrats even rejected one proposal that would have sent the two Chambers to conference--the House and Senate--to work out some sort of a solution to this standoff we find ourselves in, but they haven't even been willing to talk. In fact, when that request from the House came to the Senate to create a conference that would allow the House and Senate to come together to try to find a solution, it was tabled. It was soundly rejected--tabled--by the Democrats here in the Senate.
So we are continuing in this holding pattern as the House continues to send proposals over and they continue to be rejected by the Senate, with Senate Democrats not even wanting to sit down and talk with the House about how we might resolve this.
I am happy to hear the President has, after a week of essentially ignoring congressional Republicans, called the leaders to the White House tonight. I am a little confused, however, about the purpose of the meeting, as the White House continues to say they are not going to negotiate. I hope the President does change his mind on that, that he is evolving on it, and that he will at this meeting express a willingness to work with Republicans because it really is important for the President to be engaged in this process.
I can't imagine a scenario where we have consequences such as these, with a continuing funding resolution still not approved, a partial government shutdown, a debt limit coming up in the middle of the month, and the President essentially saying: I am not going to negotiate. I am not going to negotiate on any of this.
I think that is a position that is completely unreasonable, and I think the American people find it to be completely unreasonable as well.
In the meantime, we have an opportunity now to address some of the concerns that have been raised by people about various parts of our government that as a result of this unnecessary shutdown are not open. So Republicans continue to try to work to open government and at the same time to provide ObamaCare fairness for all.
I have said this before, but I get the sense some of our colleagues on the Democratic side and the President seem to be content with shutting down the government. Well, we Republicans are not. We are consistently trying to come up with solutions.
The House of Representatives will be meeting today, and they are going to be voting again on some of the same proposals that were voted down last night by House Democrats. They are commonsense spending bills that would ensure that important functions of government can resume. These bills would ensure that benefits for our Nation's veterans continue uninterrupted, they would allow our members of the National Guard and Reserve to be paid, and they would provide funding for the National Institutes of Health to ensure this senseless shutdown does not prevent patients from receiving lifesaving treatments.
I will explain briefly what some of these bills would do that are going to be coming over later today from the House of Representatives to the Senate, where, at least to date, none of the proposals that have been advanced by the House of Representatives have been accepted here in the Senate. They have been tabled by the majority leader. That is unfortunate because it is the essence of what the American people believe we ought to be doing, which is working together, coming together to find a solution to some of these big problems. Unfortunately, as I said before, when the request came over to go to conference with the House, that was tabled as well. So there has been no discussion, no willingness to talk, no willingness to think and cooperate in a way that would help us get the fundamental operations of government up and running again.
Anyway, these bills are going to come over from the House today, and they follow, as I said, the same track they tried to get approved last night. One deals with the availability through the annual appropriations process of the Department of Veterans Affairs to continue to serve veterans--namely, veterans' disability payments, the GI bill, education and training, and VA home loans--under the same conditions that were in effect at the end of the just-completed fiscal year. In other words, it would take all those programs that benefit veterans and make sure they continue uninterrupted and are funded just as they were at the end of the fiscal year until such time as Congress can come up with a longer term solution. That might be an appropriations bill--which, frankly, should have been passed much earlier this year and wasn't because none of the appropriations bills were moved here in the Senate--or another temporary funding measure, such as a continuing resolution, that is put forward. A similar proposal was introduced by a number of Senate Democrats. So when it comes over from the House of Representatives today, I hope we will have broad bipartisan support in the Senate for making sure veterans programs are continued and are funded.
There is also going to be a bill coming over that deals with national parks and museums, and it would provide immediate funding for National Park Service operations, the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, and the U.S. Holocaust Museum at the same rate and under the same conditions as were in effect at the end of the just-completed fiscal year. So the same thing I mentioned with regard to the veterans programs--these functions of government would be funded at the same level they were at the end of the year we just completed until such time as an appropriations bill is passed or a temporary funding measure is put in place.
That was something the House voted on yesterday, and it was defeated. I shouldn't say Democrats universally defeated it, but almost so when that measure was brought up yesterday. Hopefully, today they will get a different outcome in the House. I think they will, and it will come over to the Senate.
Another bill the House will move today will provide for the immediate availability of local funds--which are subject to the control of Congress through the annual appropriations process--for the District of Columbia, again under the same conditions as were in effect at the end of the just-completed fiscal year.
Finally, there will be a bill that comes over from the House that provides funding for the pay and allowances of military personnel in the reserve component who are in active status. So it will fund the Guard and Reserve. Those funds would be made available at the same level as the just completed fiscal year until such time as Congress takes more formal action.
Finally, there will be a fifth bill coming from the House that will provide immediate funding for the National Institutes of Health at the same rate and under the same conditions as in effect at the end of the just completed fiscal year. So the important work done by the National Institutes of Health will continue--if the bill is enacted here in the Senate--and go on even in the midst of a partial shutdown.
What I am saying is Republicans are trying to address all of these concerns that we have about various elements of our government that are not functioning today because of this partial shutdown. Last night they were met with resistance in the House of Representatives and they were voted down by Democrats. We are hoping for and I think we will have a different outcome today in the House of Representatives, at which point those bills will come here to the Senate.
So if the Senate is interested in going on the record and making sure there is funding available for veterans programs, for the museums and our monuments, for our Guard and Reserve, for the National Institutes of Health, and for the District of Columbia--which is under the jurisdiction of the Congress when it comes to funding--the Senate should vote affirmatively and actually ensure that those important functions of our government are addressed and funded.
What I am simply saying is that time and time again the House of Representatives has sent to the Senate legislation--measures--that would continue to fund the government, and in earlier cases when they came over here addressed what I think the American people have said they want to see addressed in ObamaCare.
The President of the United States has granted a 1-year delay to employers in this country from the employer mandate. So essentially he gave a delay--a waiver--to big business. The House of Representatives in one of the bills they sent to the Senate said we ought to in fairness give the same break to individuals. There is an individual mandate in the ObamaCare law that kicks in, and we ought to be able to give individuals in this country the same treatment that we give to big businesses. So as a matter of fairness that was proposed by the House of Representatives.
When that bill came over, it also included a provision that would ensure that Members of Congress and their staffs and the staffs at the President's office and in the executive branch of the government are all subject to the same law and to the same provisions--that the ObamaCare law is applied in the same way as to other Americans. So we had a 1-year delay--a temporary relief from the individual mandate--included in that, and a provision that ensured that those of us here and our staffs and members of the executive branch are treated the same way as are other Americans. That too was tabled in the Senate.
It strikes me that as we think about the impact of this law, we ought to ensure that middle-class Americans deserve the same relief that the President and Democrats here in the Senate have already given to Members of Congress and to their staffs, as well as to big businesses in this country.
We had an opportunity to do that the other night. That was rejected by the Senate. I think the question that every American ought to be asking is, Why wouldn't Democratic Senators give the same break to the American people that big businesses have received? I would again argue this is an issue of basic fairness. We think it ought to be delayed for all Americans, not just for the favored few.
There is bipartisan support for this. I mentioned before that we have a Democratic Senator in the Senate who has said a delay in the individual mandate is a very reasonable and sensible approach. I hope at some point that view will start to spread to others, and we will be able to actually provide some relief to the American people from the harmful effects of ObamaCare.
But at least while we are in this period, as this continues to be discussed and hopefully, eventually a solution reached, we ought to be protecting those Americans who are being hit by the shutdown.
When these bills come over from the House of Representatives today, I hope the Senate will pick them up quickly and act on them.
We had an example or incident yesterday where a number of World War II veterans came here to Washington, DC, as Honor Flight guests. This is an organization that brings World War II veterans here to see their monument--the World War II monument--here in Washington, and they couldn't get access to it because of the shutdown. That should be unacceptable to every American. We need to ensure that never happens again.
There was even reporting that they had made a request of the administration to be able to go there and they were turned down. I can't imagine turning down a group of World War II veterans who simply wanted to see and have access to the very memorial for which they fought and defended our country.
So those are the types of things that action taken by the Senate here could prevent, if in fact when these bills come over from the House of Representatives the Senate will act in an expeditious way, pick up those bills and pass them, so we can ensure that people have access to those types of monuments and memorials. We can ensure that veterans programs continue to be funded and operational. We can ensure the National Institutes of Health and the important work that it does continues, and we can ensure that our National Guard and Reserve also are funded through this time. It strikes me that is a very commonsense way to approach the situation in which we find ourselves today.
I hope that at the end of the day we can come to some resolution that would allow the government to be funded on a more sustainable basis. I think when we continue to do these things on a short-term basis, it is not a good way to govern a country as large as ours. We can do better. The American people deserve better. But at least, at a minimum, until we get that broader issue resolved, we ought to work and ensure that veterans and members of the Guard and Reserve, people who are visiting our country wanting to see the memorials and museums and that sort of thing have the opportunity to do that. We can do that today by picking up and passing the bills coming over from the House of Representatives.
Madam President, I yield the floor.
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