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Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, yesterday the White House said it is ``winning'' the shutdown debate, and that it is ``not concerned'' how long the shutdown lasts.
The Democrats may be content with playing political games. The Republicans remain focused on finding a solution to reopen the Federal Government. When the White House says it is winning--maybe winning the political debate or winning the political game, if you will--it is the American people who are losing.
The Obama administration said yesterday it would support a measure providing retroactive compensation to furloughed Federal workers. Yet it continues to oppose funding for the National Guard and Reserve, veterans services, nutrition assistance for low-income Americans, FEMA, lifesaving medicines and cures at NIH, and the national parks and museums.
What I would simply say is that there are bills that have been sent here by the House of Representatives that are available to be picked up by the Senate at any time. We could fund all of those various things right now. The bills are from the House. All we have to do in the Senate is to pick them up and pass them, and there wouldn't be any objection on this side of the aisle.
We could fund the National Guard and Reserve, we could fund veterans services, we could fund nutrition assistance for low-income Americans, we could fund FEMA, we could fund lifesaving medicines and cures by funding NIH, and we could fund the national parks and museums. It is that simple.
Our colleagues on the other side consistently talk about this particular program that is not being funded or this particular Federal issue that is not being addressed right now in terms of funding. It can all be solved that easily.
All they have to do is pick up the bills that have come over to us from the House of Representatives and pass them right now without objection on the Republican side, and all of these things that are being talked about could be funded. It is that simple and that easy.
I hope in the end there would be some colleagues on the other side who would agree with us that that is the simplest way to deal with the immediate crisis. We obviously have other issues at work and at play that will be discussed. I wish to talk about one of those in just a minute, but in the meantime, if we are concerned about some of these important programs that are not being funded, we can do that right now. We can take care of the things that benefit people in this country, such as, the people who defend us, the National Guard and Reserve, and the people who want to see our national monuments and parks open. We have heard stories about how those are not available to people across the country. It is very simple. Pick up the bills and pass them right now.
What I would like to talk about, in addition to getting the government back up and running, is doing something to address our Nation's debt. We find ourselves now on the fifth day of a partial government shutdown that--from my perspective--was completely avoidable. We know the government shutdown is only one of the challenges we are currently facing. The Treasury tells us we are going to be reaching our debt limit in the coming days, which astonishingly stands at almost $17 trillion.
As we look at the near future, we need to address the debt limit, and we need to end this partial government shutdown. I think it is unavoidable. Those two issues have sort of converged and come together. At one time, we were going to be talking about addressing one and then subsequently dealing with the debt limit. Now it looks as if those are all going to be one big debate and discussion.
What I am perplexed about is our friend on the other side of the aisle and the President who continue to insist they are not going to negotiate on those issues. When the people of South Dakota sent me to Washington, they did so with the expectation that I will continue to stand for their values. They also know that when it comes to governing, there will be differences of opinion. Oftentimes that means we are going to have to sit down together with people on the other side of the issue to find common ground.
But to say it is my way or the highway is not the way to approach these issues. These are issues that are important to both individuals and our economy, and they just can't say we are not going to negotiate. That is not a viable or a reasonable position in the eyes of the American people.
To put a fine point on that, earlier this week the majority leader was quoted as saying:
The president said he's not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling. He's not going to negotiate, we aren't either. It has never happened in the history of the country.
At the end of last week while the President was out giving political speeches, instead of engaging with Congress to solve these issues, the President made this statement:
And that's why I said this before. I am going to repeat it. There will be no negotiations over this.
That is the President of the United States.
There will be no negotiations over this, reiterated by our friends on the other side of the aisle in the Senate.
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Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, I think the reason Republicans here in the Senate find this stance so perplexing is that the characterization we have never negotiated around a debt ceiling is absolutely not true. Deficit reduction measures over the last several decades have been paired with increases in the debt ceiling. Almost 30 years ago, we had the Balanced Budget Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, otherwise known as Gramm-Rudman-Hollings. I was a staffer here at the time. That was done in the context of the debt ceiling.
We had several measures in the 1990s that reduced our deficits that were done in association with an increase in the debt ceiling.
Most recently, we all remember the Budget Control Act of 2011, which resulted in restraint largely on the discretionary side of the budget, which many of us would like to change; but it has also resulted, for the first time since the 1950s, in 2 consecutive years where the Federal Government spent less than it spent the previous year--the first time since the Korean war. The common denominator is that these deals were paired with an increase in the debt ceiling.
The point I am trying to make, for those of my friends who are arguing that negotiating around our debt ceiling is unprecedented, is perhaps they ought to take a closer look at history.
This week, Kevin Hassett and Abbey McCloskey of the American Enterprise Institute wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal entitled ``Obama Rewrites Debt-Limit History,'' which I think characterizes the history of the debt limit in a more accurate way. They write:
According to the Congressional Research Service, Congress voted 53 times from 1978 to 2013 to change the debt ceiling.
So 53 times in those 35 years of recent history.
They go on to write:
Congressional Republicans who want legislative conditions in exchange for a debt-limit increase are following a strategy that has been pursued by both parties the majority of the time. Of the 53 increases in the debt limit, 26 were ``clean''--that is, stand-alone, no strings-attached statutes. The remaining debt-limit increases were part of an omnibus package of other legislative bills or a continuing resolution. Other times, the limit was paired with reforms, only some of which were related to the budget.
To reiterate, out of 53 increases in the debt limit, less than half were what we say are clean or stand-alone measures. The others had other legislation associated with them, in many cases an omnibus package of legislative bills or continuing resolutions or deficit reduction measures.
To make that happen again, what we need is leadership. We need leaders on the other side of the aisle, including the President, to come to the table in good faith to make the tough decisions.
I have to say I find it concerning that instead of coming to the table this week, the President has embarked on a media blitz suggesting Republicans in Congress want to default on the debt. In an interview this week with CNBC's John Harwood, the President stated that he recently told representatives from the financial services sector visiting Washington that they should ``be concerned.'' They should be concerned over a faction of Congress that is willing potentially to default.
In my view, these statements are both unproductive and misguided. Nobody wants default. Nobody wants a government shutdown. I can assure the President and my friends on the other side of the aisle that Republicans here in the Senate couldn't agree more that those are things we need to avoid.
What I would suggest is that instead of simply kicking the can down the road, instead of pushing the difficult decisions off until tomorrow, we have to get serious about the long-term fiscal health of our country so we can grow our economy and help strengthen our middle class. Rather than stoking fears that rankle financial markets and damage the economy, now is the time to move beyond politics and to work with congressional Republicans to make a significant downpayment to address America's long-term debt problems.
Republicans are seeking responsible and reasonable solutions. South Dakotans, and I think the American people, understand that choosing to do nothing when it comes to the debt while piling it on the backs of future generations is not a responsible way to continue to govern our country. I would pose to my Democratic colleagues that Republicans stand ready to come to the negotiating table and act in good faith to get the government up and running again and to make responsible spending reforms that address the true drivers of our debt.
I hope our colleagues on the other side of the aisle will take a lesson from history and not suggest they are not going to negotiate. That is not a viable position in the eyes of the American people, and it is not a viable position if we want to work in a way that is going to lead to an accomplishment and a result here in Washington, DC, on these issues and matters that are of great importance not only to today but to the future of this country.
I would simply say again, as I said when I began, having a position that we are not going to negotiate on a government shutdown and we are not going to negotiate on a debt limit increase is inconsistent with what the American people have said they want to see done. The latest poll I saw shows that by a 2-to-1 margin, Americans think we ought to be around the debt limit increase figuring out what we are going to do about the debt. That is what the American people think. It is also unrealistic to think we are going to be able to solve our problems, and it is inconsistent with what history has shown us in the past, that when we have been able to accomplish something, we have been willing to sit down together in the context of raising the debt limit which, by the way, will be over $17 trillion when this is all said and done. I think the American people believe we are going to ask for another debt limit increase to raise that by perhaps another $1 trillion, borrowing limit. They would like to see us do something meaningful to address the incredible, burgeoning, exploding Federal debt we are putting on the backs of our children and grandchildren.
I see the Senator from Rhode Island is up next, and if he would like, on his time, to ask a question, I would, through the Chair, entertain it.
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