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Default Prevention Act of 2013-- Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Oregon for speaking so forcefully and ably about the real-life stories in his State--stories of people affected very directly by the shutdown and the prospect of the greatest Nation in the history of the world failing to pay its bills on time. As powerfully as he spoke, so did our colleagues from California and Maryland, emphasizing again the evidence of how deep and broad the cumulative effect is of the shutdown.

I had occasion to speak to people across Connecticut, as I know my colleague, the Acting President pro tempore, has done over the past 10 days. He and I have talked about how Connecticut is affected and about the individuals there who have borne the burden of this shutdown. As in Oregon and California and Maryland, there are real-life stories of people who have been affected not just temporarily but lastingly and enduringly.

I had occasion over the last 48 or 24 hours to talk with many of them out of the glare of the public eye--privately, candidly--and I want to tell some of their stories today, beginning with a meeting I had this morning in East Hartford at VFW Post 2083, at the invitation of my good friend CDR John Hollis of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a group he helped to invite--veterans of conflicts ranging from Korea, to Iraq, to Vietnam, to Afghanistan--all ages, all races, religions--more than 20 of those veterans telling me their stories and imparting to me their message: Get the job done. Reach a bipartisan compromise and make sure the government opens and end the shutdown and pays its bills on time, as befits the United States of America, for which they fought, the Nation they served and sacrificed to keep free.

I was drawn by young men such as Micah Welintukonis, Jordan Massa, Michael Scavetta, David Alexander, veterans of the most recent conflict in Afghanistan; and John Hollis, Ed Dettore, Lester Yarmiel, Richard Kennedy, Mel Huston, Lucius Miles, who have fought in previous wars.

As a matter of fact, Micah Welintukonis has recently returned from Walter Reed, where he had to undergo the latest round of surgery to his arm, which was severely wounded in Afghanistan in combat there. That wound led him to receive the Purple Heart. He was there with his wife Camilla and his three children to talk to me about his fear that he will be denied benefits and compensation that he is due, he deserves, and needs--the disability claim that he may apply for.

Of course, Jordan Massa is also a Purple Heart recipient as a result of a wound that he likewise received in combat. He waited for 2 years to receive approval of his disability claim, only to learn on October 1 that he will very likely have to wait longer because of the VA furloughing so many of its employees.

Others who came to this meeting: Mike Scavetta from Wethersfield--a veteran who served in an Air Force military police unit deployed to Afghanistan, who needs the GI bill, which he credits as reconnecting him to a civil society after his return. He has applied for a higher disability rating with the Department of Veterans Affairs based on his continued experience of post-traumatic stress.

Jake Demaskiewicz in Rocky Hill, who has served not only in the Army in Operation Enduring Freedom, but on his return now in a nonprofit organization, is assisting other veterans. Thirty percent of his paycheck comes from the VA's vocational rehabilitation program, and he receives disability payments.

These payments, compensation claims will run out at the end of October, and the delays are present even now, discouraging and failing these brave combat veterans who have endured so much for our Nation--the Nation that now has shut down these services because of a small fringe of extremist ideologues in one House of this Congress, one branch of this government, who have succeeded in paralyzing the process.

There are many other impacts on veterans in the denial of programs that are so important, many of which I have mentioned on the floor, such as the Education Call Center, personal interviews at regional offices, education and vocational counseling, outreach programs, including at military facilities and VetSuccess on Campus.

These programs and benefits and claims cannot be sustained by a piecemeal allocation of money. The claims need to be verified by going to other agencies such as the IRS. The labor training programs need to be provided by the Department of Labor. Opening one agency is no substitute for a comprehensive approach to serve these veterans and the people of the United States, whether it is Head Start children who depend on that program, or seniors who depend on nutritional services.

Over these past 2 weeks, I have spoken to home buyers whose loans cannot be processed by government agencies or by banks, business owners whose borrowing cannot be approved, potential victims of health threats who cannot be protected by the FDA or the CDC. There are researchers at the NIH and at places such as Yale who cannot continue their vital work to learn of new treatments, of advances in medicine that can help save people's lives and prevent suffering, and medical school applicants and Ph.D. candidates whose financial aid is in jeopardy and who cannot even, many of them, travel with government support to interview for their next possible assignment and study.

These ramifications are not limited to veterans. They affect our economy at its core. I warned about the effect on job growth and economic recovery and now it is visible, literally visible in the businesses and offices and places of employ throughout Connecticut.

Just yesterday in the Connecticut Post there was this story. The picture is of Robin Imbrogno. This picture of Robin Imbrogno from the Connecticut Post in yesterday's newspaper is of her at a meeting with her staff, preparing for their work. Their office in Seymour, CT, provides human resource services for businesses from California to Maine, across the country, to more than 150 business clients.

It begins:

Robin Imbrogno pulled her staff together after work on Thursday for an update. How, she asked, has the federal government's partial shutdown impacted business at her company, the Human Resources Consulting Group. ``Even more ways than I'd thought,'' she said moments later.

I am going to quote the article.

At the company's office in downtown Seymour, the staff of about 30 was having trouble carrying out a host of tasks for their more than 150 clients located from California to Maine: For one, they can't access [the central source of information in the government.] For another, they can't finish background checks or file equal employment opportunity reports. Most vexingly, perhaps, they got more phone calls than ever on Monday complaining that paychecks hadn't arrived in people's mailboxes across America--even though the U.S. Postal Service is supposed to be fully staffed.

Their report is about new businesses that cannot open, retail businesses that cannot go into business because they cannot ``procure the necessary business license.''

As Robin said, ``It wasn't a fun phone call.''

There is evidence of this effect on employment in businesses across this country, across the State of Connecticut. This relatively modest-size business in Seymore, CT, the Human Resources Consulting Group, founded and headed by Robin Imbrogno, is just one of many across the country.

Her reports about the effects on jobs--we are talking jobs--is a wake-up call for this body. It is a wake-up call for not only the Congress but for everyone in positions of leadership, because this effect will be enduring.

In the same article from the Connecticut Post, it talks about the SBA not providing loans to small businesses: $150,000 worth of loans every day in one Congressional district in Connecticut alone. Eight companies slated to get SBA-backed loans from a private nonprofit organization will not receive them because of this shutdown.

There are other individuals. I cannot share all of their stories, but just a few. Mary Brady in Durham is trying to buy a home. She cannot do it because she is unable to verify Social Security numbers and income with the Internal Revenue Service; Jesse Pannell, who contacted my office because the buyer of his home in Union, CT, cannot process a loan from the USDA because the USDA employees are furloughed and there is no one to process his buyer's application.

In the city of New Haven, which I visited over the weekend, urban renewal is halted because of the shutdown. This city relies on the Department of Housing and Urban Development to proceed with foreclosure actions on developers. Those developers are subject to foreclosure actions when they fail to maintain their property, when that property becomes a blight on the neighborhood. But, of course, HUD employees are furloughed and they are not at their desks to help the city of New Haven.

This ripple effect spans the State and the country. It goes from loans to a physical therapy company, a car wash, a catering company, a dental firm, small businesses that populate Main Street. As much as we focus on the markets, on Wall Street, we are talking about Main Street in jeopardy because of this shutdown. These are real-life tragedies. There are real consequences to real people, real harm and hardship in real lives. This body has to listen to them, as I did, and as I have done over the past couple of weeks.

Behind all of this real harm to real people is the prospect of an even more horrendous possible harm resulting from this Nation failing to pay its bills on time. The havoc and chaos that would result, the calamity and catastrophe across the globe, the lasting impact on our Nation, on our credibility as a world power, simply is unthinkable and unimaginable.

How would we face our children if we were to allow this Nation to go into default? How would this generation explain itself to the next and the one after? Every generation enters into a compact in America that we will leave this Nation better than we found it, just as the World War II generation fought to preserve freedom and democracy and gave of itself in combat and then came back to build the interstates and desegregate our schools and put a man on the Moon. In peace as well as war, our veterans are coming back eager and ready to contribute to this country.

The men I just mentioned and met with in East Hartford at VFW Post 283, veterans across Connecticut, veterans across the country, expect more from this government and are eager to leave this Nation greater than it was left to them, and there are millions of other Americans who also are contributing and giving back in their own ways and who are committed to following that model of courage and dedication that has characterized previous generations. How do we face the next generation if we allow this great Nation to fail to fulfill its most basic obligation that every family meets--paying its bills on time.

It is often said America always does the right thing, after it tries everything else. I know I am paraphrasing, not quoting directly. Winston Churchill said democracy is the worst of all possible governments, except for all the others.

We do not have the luxury today of trying everything else before America does the right thing. We do not have the luxury of failing democracy and failing to pay our bills on time. We must meet this challenge and follow the example of those veterans and millions of other courageous Americans who have said to all of us, as they did to me this morning: Get the job done. Make sure the Government of the United States serves the people and pays its bills on time.

I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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