Over the last few weeks, I've heard your expressions of frustration that the Senate, House, and White House have been unable to work through our policy differences to reach an agreement on government funding. This is a challenging time and I share your frustrations. I did not want to see the situation come to this point, and I am redoubling my efforts to work towards a solution.
In the House, we've been in legislative session nearly every day since the partial government shutdown. While there has not been universal agreement to restart all of government services, we've voted on many separate legislative proposals to restart idled government branches, which I've supported.
But as important as these votes are, I've also been focused on working out of the spotlight to bring people toward a solution to end this stalemate. In the past two weeks, I've met privately with the Speaker, Majority Leader, Majority Whip, committee chairmen, and lawmakers on each side of the aisle to find common ground. You did not see me sounding off on cable television shows or denouncing my colleagues or laying down threats. Provocation only results in more stalemate.
My message is simple: We must do what is best for the country and resolve this situation.
The threats against negotiating a solution, or even against having a conversation, are counterproductive. I support a resolution to this impasse that bring all sides to the table, finds workable solutions and continues to reduce spending while maintaining accountability, transparency and efficiency of necessary government functions.
While we still remain at an impasse over funding for government operations, progress is being made.
To jumpstart negotiations, the House passed the Deficit Reduction and Economic Growth Working Group Act this week. This measure establishes a joint negotiating team to find a resolution for the debt limit and other fiscal issues. Much like how a congressional conference committee works, under this bill a bipartisan group of 10 congressmen and 10 senators, equally divided between the parties, would immediately begin discussions to find a path forward. The proposal provides another venue for finding a solution to re-opening the government, addresses the nation's borrowing limit in a fiscally responsible manner so that we do not default, and dealing with our nation's $17 trillion debt.
Towards that end, Thursday night in the White House Roosevelt Room, House leadership discussed with the President a proposal to temporarily extend the debt limit, formally appoint budget negotiators, and begin immediate discussions on a path to re-open all government operations. Although no final decisions were made, by all accounts it was a useful and productive conversation and negotiations are continuing day and night. In fact, the President and leaders agreed to continue communicating throughout the night and they have been talking in good faith negotiations and constructive dialogue to work towards a solution.
Right now, one of the proposals to resolve the fiscal impasse would temporarily increase the federal debt limit to allow payments on our debt in exchange for a broader discussion on reforms to the 73,954-page tax code and to mandatory spending programs. Several of these ideas are included in the President's budget proposal. Many agree that the tax code us hopelessly complicated and fraught with loopholes, and that high tax rates to pay for unnecessary spending and massive debt is unsustainable. We'll be working to make changes to this system.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has acted on more than a dozen individual funding bills to re-open government. By tomorrow, the House will have passed separate funding bills covering over half of the entire federal government in an attempt to come to an agreement so agencies can function.
I'm encouraged that several of these measures were signed into law, including:
The Pay Our Military Act to ensure active-duty service members would not be affected by the shutdown.
Honoring the Families of Fallen Soldiers Act grants specific authority to the Department of Defense to make death benefits available to all families of fallen heroes. The Senate unanimously approved the measure on Thursday, and the President followed the Senate action by signing it into law.
Federal Worker Pay Fairness Act to compensate federal employees who continue to work during the lapse in appropriations.
The Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act to provide back pay to furloughed workers. The bill passed unanimously in the House, 407-0.
The House has also passed individual appropriations bills to get the following agencies up and running:
Honoring our Promise to America's Veterans Act to continue funding for veterans disability payments, the GI Bill, education training, and home loans through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Research for Lifesaving Cures Act to keep open the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the NIH clinical hospital where children and adults with rare diseases are receiving experimental life-saving treatments. During debate on the bill, Rep. Murphy took to the House floor, urging his colleagues to end the impasse and "keep alive the hopes of those who wait for a cure." (Click here to watch).
The Pay Our Guard and Reserve Act to compensate reservists and guardsmen who perform their drilling and training responsibilities.
The National Parks, Smithsonian, National Gallery of Art and Holocaust Museum Act to reopen national parks including the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The National Emergency and Disaster Recovery Act to continue operations at the Federal Emergency Management Agency as Tropical Storm Karen looms in the Gulf of Mexico.
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Low-Income Women, Infants, and Children to provide nutritional foods needed by pregnant and nursing mothers, and babies and young children.
Head Start for Low-Income Children Act to provide funding for early childhood education.
Food and Drug Safety Act provides immediate funding for the Food and Drug Administration at the same rate and under the same conditions as in effect at the end of the just completed fiscal year for the purposes of overseeing medical products and tobacco, foods and veterinary medicine, global regulatory operations and policy, and operations.
Flight Safety Act provides funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at the same rate and under the same conditions as in effect at the end of the just completed fiscal year, including paying aviation safety inspectors and other personnel impacted by the funding lapse.
Impact Aid for Local Schools to compensate approximately 1,200 school districts nationwide for loss of local tax revenue for properties located on federal land and to support the children of military families.
Border Safety and Security Act provides immediate funding for critical operations within the Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard, and more.
To stay connected with you throughout this process, I convened a live telephone town hall on Tuesday evening to discuss these issues in greater detail. Eighty percent of listeners said the government should reopen, with or without additional spending cuts. We also talked about controlling spending. I thank the thousands in Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland Counties who joined me and shared their views on spending cuts, the Affordable Care Act individual mandate, and the government shutdown.
As I explained during the call, one of the factors behind the current impasse has been the failure of the two chambers to agree on doing the work Congress is obligated to do under the 1974 Congressional Budget Act: namely, crafting individual appropriations bills to fund government operations according to a budget resolution. Since 2009, the two chambers have not come together on individual funding bills for the President to sign into law. The House has passed over forty of these appropriations but the Senate hasn't acted. Therefore, Congress has only been able to pass large "omnibus" spending bills or "continuing resolutions." Known as "CRs" these spending bills do not change funding levels or priorities; they fund government agencies at existing levels, regardless of need or efficiency.
One of the lessons coming out of this impasse must be that Congress returns to "regular order" where lawmakers thoughtfully deliberate and vote on each measure independently so we can enact sensible spending cuts in the future.
I'll be continuing to work through the weekend as the House remains in session and voting. I'm confident that productive discussions on reopening the government and dealing with the country's $17 trillion debt will continue. Although Monday is a scheduled federal holiday, the House of Representatives will be in legislative session. Please also note, while all of this has been going on, I am continuing to develop a package of reforms to our nation's mental health system, local military base issues, and our energy needs. To stay current of the latest updates, please visit my Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/RepTimMurphy.
As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.