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Public Statements

Space Launch Liability Indemnification Extension Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. President, I will join my friend and long-time colleague, the senior Senator from Maryland and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee Senator Barbara Mikulski, who has just spoken, in strongly supporting passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2014. This bill is a product of a bipartisan and very collegial negotiation between both parties in both Houses of Congress. It is in very large part a compromise of what the House and Senate produced in their respective committee processes last summer.

We, of course, have our differences and each of us would like to have many features in this bill different, but that is the nature of a negotiation and ultimately of a compromise, and that is where we are today.

There is much we would like and much we do not like in this bill, but on balance I believe it represents a middle ground upon which we can all comfortably stand. It is certainly far better than the alternative, which would be another confrontation, another government shutdown, and another giant step further away from establishing some sense of regular order.

It is a matter of record that I did not support the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. It is and remains my strong preference that we continue to reduce our discretionary spending levels and, more importantly, our long-term mandatory spending levels. As I have said many times, once the Congress has decided what our spending levels are to be, I believe it is the responsibility of the respective appropriations committees to decide how those funds will be spent. The bill before us does exactly that.

This legislation adheres to the statutory budget caps for defense and nondefense spending set by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. It carries forward a spending level for defense programs that avoids a $20 billion sequester for 2014. The bill funds total discretionary spending below the 2004 level when adjusted for inflation.

Enacting this funding measure will allow Congress finally to advance its current priorities instead of relying on the spending priorities of the past, which of course is the unavoidable consequence of a continuing resolution. Seven out of twelve bills in this omnibus have been relying on appropriations priorities dictated by the fiscal year appropriations for 2012. Instead of giving the executive branch virtually unfettered discretion, this bill includes hundreds of limits on how the executive branch can spend taxpayer dollars. It provides continuity for key government functions and avoids the uncertainty of additional continuing resolutions.

Since the President took office, we have enacted 20 continuing resolutions. This bill today provides no new money to implement ObamaCare by holding flat the funding for certain accounts at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Internal Revenue Service. It funds the financial regulators who implement Dodd-Frank at a level that is $424 million below the President's request.

We will hear many times today that this bill is not the bill any individual Senator would have written, and that is true. It includes concessions that many would not like to make. But it also contains funding or limits on funding for priorities that are important to Members of both sides of the aisle. In my view, this is the prerequisite for a legislative compromise and is what we have achieved with this bill.

I again thank the chair of this committee Senator Mikulski and commend her for setting a tone that made this agreement possible. I join with her in strongly urging our colleagues to support this measure, just as the Members of the House did yesterday by a vote of 359 to 67.

I yield the floor.

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The remarks by the Senator from Oklahoma are very interesting and telling. I listened to him carefully, and I believe basically he is right on the point. I believe basically that we all agree with the Senator that it is important to reduce the waste and duplication in our government. He points out a lot of it. GAO has done it too.

Our staff has met with the GAO several times on ways to address this problem. We know the problem; we have to act on it, and we have to take it very seriously. GAO, as Senator Coburn said, is coming out with a new report. If we work on this, the government is going to be more efficient. We are going to save money, and we are going to respond to problems in America much better. We are a long way from doing this. I appreciate his remarks this afternoon and I hope a lot of my Senators were looking at that and listening to him.

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Madam President, I want to pick up on what Senator Mikulski was talking about. Senator Nelson has not only been an advocate for the space program for NASA--and he is. As most everybody knows, has been up there. I was traveling with him one time, and I believe we were over Asia, and he was showing me from the plane--we couldn't see as well as he could--the rotation. I was very impressed.

He has been a stalwart in the advancement of the space program. We both worked hand in glove with him.

I do believe this is a pretty good appropriation considering where we are. I am hoping we will get back to regular order since Senator Mikulski and I have advocated for this. We are hoping maybe later today we can vote this bill out with a vote like the House had yesterday.

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Madam President, I would like to respond to some of the remarks by my colleague and friend from Iowa. I think he is right on point when he said this is the first time we have been able to bring the appropriations process--I hope--back to regular order, which is what we need. No one wants to shut the government down. My goodness, neither side wants to do that. It is no good, and the American people don't want it. This is a good bipartisan effort. Senator Mikulski and other members of the Appropriations Committee have worked together.

I have been at odds sometimes--and a lot of times together--with Senator Harkin. I first met him 35 years ago when I first went to the House. He had been there a couple of years--a veteran. We have worked together on a lot of issues.

Senator Harkin is absolutely right when he says we can't say enough about the leadership of the chairperson of this committee, Senator Mikulski. She has reached out to both sides. She wants the process to work, as do most of us, and this is an example of that.

I hope later this afternoon that we are going to get a good vote, just as the House did, on this bill. This a big step in how we should be running the government.

I yield the floor.

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Madam President, we have had a spirited debate today for very important reasons, and I will conclude my remarks on this bill by observing that, with very few exceptions, we have heard nothing but positive comments from our colleagues today here in the Senate.

We have also heard what an important step this will be to reestablish the regular order of the Senate appropriations process. In the appropriations world, regular order means receiving the President's budget, holding hearings, marking up bills, and bringing them to the floor of the Senate with an open amendment process, which both sides of the aisle need and want.

The passage of this omnibus bill will be a giant step, I believe, in that direction, which is in the best interests, in the long run, of each individual Senator as well as this entire institution.

I would be remiss if I did not once again recognize the chair of the Appropriations Committee Senator Barbara Mikulski, my colleague, and the leadership that she demonstrated in creating an environment in which a compromise could be reached here. Anyone who has attempted to bring a single bill to the floor of the Senate understands what a difficult undertaking that can be. This particular legislation contains 12 separate appropriations bills.

I also recognize the efforts of the respective ranking members of each subcommittee. The Christmas holiday, as we all know, is usually an opportunity to refocus their attention on their families and their home States. This past year, however, we asked them to once again go the extra mile, to skip their holidays, to make this bill a reality. Because of that and their work, they have done that--without hesitation.
As has already been mentioned by a number of my colleagues, no bill ever reaches the floor of the Senate without the effort of many different staff members. In this instance it took the effort of literally dozens of staff from both sides of the aisle to bring this together. I personally thank them all for their incredible dedication and professionalism and literally unceasing effort over the past several weeks.

I urge my colleagues once again to support this important legislation, to fund the government and move this body one step closer to being the place we would all like it to be.

I yield the floor.

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