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Public Statements

Default Prevention Act of 2013--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. MERKLEY. Mr. President, I rise to continue the series of comments my colleagues have been making about the situation we find ourselves in at this moment, with our government shut down and with the possibility of a default on the payments of our Federal Government. This situation is virtually unprecedented, to be in a situation of near default.

I want to step back from the immediate arguments over what the answer looks like to understand that we have wandered far outside the normal, orderly lines of legislative debate. Legislative debate is like a baseball game. Folks come together, and some want plan A, some want to oppose plan A, and one team wins and one team loses. In this case, we can go back to the health care debate. Some folks wanted a health care plan that would put millions of folks without insurance into insurance and have a number of systematic reforms that would help Americans and to end abuses in the insurance industry. They wanted to create competition between companies so that customers; that is, citizens, could compare policies and thereby get a better deal, and encourage companies to drop their prices.

This debate now goes back quite a while, to 2009, 2010. The side that wanted the improved health care won. The other side normally says, Well, we will be back next year. We will be back with some changes in team members, as in baseball, and we will debate this again.

Instead of calling to have another legislative debate down the line, those who lost asked for the umpire to declare that the losing team had won. This is acceptable; that is, turning to our Supreme Court and asking them if we had violated any of the constitutional provisions that guide our Nation. In this case the answer came back, and the answer was, no, the health care plan was constitutional and it would go forward.

So now the losing team, instead of saying we are going to debate this with the public, we are going to try to get our point of view across and get people elected who support it, said, We are going to hold the crowd hostage and threaten to burn down the stadium. If a person is attending a baseball game, we know that is outside the normal rules of competition. We create these rules in a democracy so we can have an orderly process by which to consider the viewpoints of our constituents and make decisions, but threatening to hold the American people hostage is outside of the rules. Threatening to have our national government default and burn down our economy is outside the rules. Yet that is where we stand today.

Great harm, even as I speak, is coming to our communities across the Nation. This harm may not touch some of the Members of this body who may have the financial foundation to not be particularly concerned about what happens to others. But I would encourage them to go live a few days in a working-class community and find out how this impacts families across our Nation. Not only are those families who work for the government not getting their salaries as well as being furloughed, but they are not then spending their funds in the local community, which creates an impact on all kinds of other groups. It isn't just in that direct employment. We have a situation with, say, those who are affected by food stamps. If the first day of the month comes and food stamps are not available, they don't go to the stores and buy groceries, so the stores are affected. The list goes on and on in all kinds of ways.

In fact, I can turn to my home State of Oregon to demonstrate some things known to me that maybe folks haven't considered. I have here a letter from the Port of Astoria. The Port of Astoria, in order for them to receive oceangoing ships, has to have its slips dredged to a certain depth; otherwise, those ships can't dock. This letter basically is about how the government shutdown is affecting their ability to dredge and how the inability to dredge may have a profound economic consequence on the community.

The port writes, ``Every year the Port of Astoria is required to dredge to maintain operations.''

They have done that in various ways for the last 23 years. The letter goes on through all kinds of details of the process through which dredging occurs. On the third page, it gets down to this: ``Our biggest issue at this stage is the government shutdown has prevented our consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service. ..... ''

Without that consultation, they cannot satisfy the ESA requirements of section 7 of the Clean Water Act.

The letter goes on to say:

This is the only element that is holding us up. .....

You may think: Well, if they do not dredge on time, what is the big deal? To Astoria it is a very big deal. I continue with the letter:

If we are not able to dredge soon, this Port and this community could suffer immense economic damages to the tune of 5-6 million dollars of direct economic funds per vessel that fails to dock at the Port of Astoria or 10-12 million dollars of direct economic impact per month.

That is based on the fact that there are a couple major vessels per month.

The letter goes on to say:

Furthermore, if one vessel strikes the bottom [of the river] the industry and our investors, clients and tenants will be in an uproar and our entire business will be blacklisted on the international trade market.

That would be terrible, to have a ship hit the bottom and have the Port of Astoria completely shut down as a result of the fact that they cannot consult--as they point out, that part of this is their ability to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

That is just one sizable impact for a community. There are thousands of these occurring across the country.

Let me take another example. We have a company in Oregon that produces a particular device that it exports, and it needs an export license to do so; otherwise, it cannot send its items abroad to its customer. Right now it has a big stockpile of a shipment it needs to send out.

Well, they cannot get the export license because the government is shut down. This is creating a big cashflow issue because they cannot receive the funds until they ship the item, which means huge potential damage to the company--in other words, something that may not have been thoroughly thought through.

What about the rural areas in our States? Some will be surprised to find out that you have a lot more government workers per capita in rural areas than in urban areas. Many parts of my State are forested, and the forests are owned either by the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service--it is owned by the national government, in other words. If the folks are not there because the government is shut down, it has a direct impact. In fact, right now, the U.S. Forest Service is issuing directions on how folks who are in the middle of logging have to shut down, skid the logs they have cut, quit felling any more, and basically clean up and clear out--in the middle of an operation. That does not just mean losses for the company that is logging, it also means a loss of saw logs for the sawmill, which means layoffs or a shutdown at the sawmill.

Well, you can start to see how the consequences roll through the economy.

How about the superfund site in the Portland Harbor? There is an intense effort going on to get a plan to be able to clean up that superfund site. Negotiations are underway between the industries that populate that stretch and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Well, it is very important to move forward to meet deadlines. How are you going to move forward if the folks are not at the EPA?

If we go back to a timber company, it is not just the immediate impact, it is the impact a year out, because the folks who are planning the sales for a year out cannot plan those sales if they are shut down or if they are furloughed. They cannot plan those sales. And they have to have teams of biologists and folks evaluate every aspect of every sale to prepare it, put it up for auction. If you cannot put it up for auction, somebody does not buy it, there is no cutting, and then the logging companies and the mills are hurt.

This is not acceptable. What we have is a series of fiscal irresponsibilities by the group within the Senate and the House that has been blocking the budget and appropriations process. Fiscally irresponsible--let me lay that out. It is fiscally irresponsible to block the Budget Committee for the last 6 months from having a conference committee. Yet a small group has come to this floor and repeatedly objected to the conference committee meeting. Without that budget, you cannot have common numbers for the Senate and the House. That blocks the spending bills--known here as appropriations bills--so the spending bills cannot be put together. Or if they are put together, they are based on a different number than the House has, which means those become deadlocked.

That leads to a continuing resolution, which means continuing what we are already doing rather than having a new spending bill. That is a waste of money because it means we are going to keep doing things that we know are not working instead of doing the things we know are working better. That is why you have an annual appropriations or spending process so you can cast aside the things that are not working and do the things that are working. So it is wasteful to block the budget and appropriations process.

Then we have this government shutdown. What does this mean? This means less income because of less economic activity, and it means more expenses because of more safety net responsibilities, which means more deficit and more debt. So this group that is blocking the budget and appropriations process is responsible for increasing the deficit and increasing our debt.

Then let's fast forward to the threat of not paying our bills. I think everyone in America knows, as a family, if you do not pay your bills, your credit score goes down and you have to pay a higher interest rate when you borrow. It is the same with the Federal Government.

There are some in this body who have said: Well, let's make sure we pay our Treasury bonds, make good on our debt obligations, and let's just not pay other obligations. Anyone who has had a credit score knows that no matter what obligation you fail in, it becomes part of your credit score. It raises the interest. You can go for your home loan and say: I have always made my house payment, and they are like: Yes, but you did not pay your utility bill, you did not pay your car payment. That means you are a higher risk. You say: But I have always paid my house bill, always paid my mortgage. It does not matter. It shows that you are stressed and you do not have a consistent exercise of responsibility in paying your bills.

So there is no easy out, despite that my colleagues

have come to this floor, this Chamber, and said: It is not a big deal. They are, simply put, wrong. If they had come to the Committee on Banking, they could have heard expert after expert after expert say, essentially: You are wrong. All your bills matter. All your bills affect your credit rating. When your credit rating goes down, your interest rates go up.

It is very expensive for the government, and it is wasted money, money that is buying us nothing--nothing. It is just paying more for the borrowing you have to do.

It is not just government that pays. It is the families who pay. They have to pay higher interest on their mortgage, a higher payment on their home loan, if you will, their home equity loan, a higher payment on their car loan, a higher payment on their business loan. Everyone wastes money because of this group of incredibly irresponsible, fiscally irresponsible Members of the House and Senate who have brought us to this point.

I can see my colleague has come to the floor, and I am sure he has stories from his State, and he has his insights on why this is an unacceptable, irresponsible place we find ourselves. All we really need--all we need is a short-term continuing resolution at this point to reopen government while we negotiate, and we should have a long-term resolution of the default issue because that is something that should never be threatened.

It is Ronald Reagan who said: Do not mess with the good faith and credit of the United States of America. It is time everyone on both sides of the aisle listens to what President Reagan said, because he was right on on this, that that is just a shoot-yourself-in-the foot, self-inflicted wound that does no one in America any good at all.

Let's return to the normal process of understanding there are bounds on the legislative debate. If you lose with your perspective in a legislative battle, you can come back again next time around. You can come back the next year, you can come back 2 years later, you can come back 3 months later if the votes shift. You can propose amendments. But you do not--you do not--hold the crowd hostage. You do not threaten to burn down the stadium. You do not hold the American people hostage. And you do not threaten to burn down our economy and our international standing by proposing that we not pay our bills.

Thank you very much.


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