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Public Statements

30-Something Working Group, 1/31/07

Location: Washington, DC



Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Altmire, I want to tell a little story because I am really pleased that you raised this issue, and that you have been the champion of ensuring that we don't, as we move through what is an unfortunate but necessary situation with this continuing resolution, I want to tell anyone listening a little story about an exchange that you and I had the other day on the House floor.

I have the privilege of serving as a Chief Deputy Whip for the House Democratic Caucus, and you are one of my assignments. We divide the House Democratic Caucus members up into groups, and you are included among the Members that I am typically engaged in lobbying. And when I approached you about whether you were going to be supportive of the continuing resolution that we voted on today, your immediate response, which was the right one, was, well, not if we are cutting money for veterans. And I was really proud that you did that and that you were absolutely not going to move forward on your support for the continuing resolution unless you were able to get the information that you needed to ensure that, in fact, not only were we not cutting funding for veterans but, we in fact, increased funding for veterans. And so the notation in your hometown paper was apt and appropriate, and I commend you for your advocacy because that is what this is all about.

The new direction that the American people demanded, that they chose on November 7 included selecting people like you to send to Washington to make sure that when there was no one standing up, we certainly were all standing up united as a minority; but that there were not enough people in this body standing up for veterans. On the contrary, as you just outlined through the charts in a chronological way, the Republicans and the Republican administration were doing the opposite, were actually making it more difficult for veterans to get the services that they need and that they were entitled to and that they deserved through their patriotism and devotion to this country. So I commend you on that.

We were in a situation in adopting the continuing resolution today that was the result of the mess, as you said, that the Republicans handed us. I mean, how irresponsible to just not complete nine of the 11 appropriations bills. I sit on the House Appropriations Committee now. I am just at the beginning of that process, but it is mind boggling to me, how, really, I mean, the Constitution says the only thing we have to do, the only thing Congress has to do is pass the budget. And they didn't do it. They didn't do it because it is hard. It is difficult. You have to make tough decisions. And you know, right up in front of an election, where they were struggling as it was, they didn't want to make those difficult decisions. And we have a lot of our Members, some in tough districts that are going to have to go home and have to answer some difficult questions, because obviously, you know, we didn't like everything that we had to do. But if we didn't go forward and try to get to the 2008 budgetary process and make sure we could do right by the people in this country, then we would have been in an even worse mess.

So kudos to you for standing up for veterans and for adding another voice on their behalf where there wasn't one before.

And if the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Murphy) wanted to jump in I would be happy to yield to him.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Altmire, let me just jump in while the gentleman from Florida is listening, because one of the things I think it is important to point out is when we talk in the language of government, it is difficult for regular folks to understand what we are saying. So we are talking about the CR, the continuing resolution, the terminology that we deal with on a daily basis. But that is not what sort of every day folks understand.

And the continuing resolution, it is important to point out, is the budget, the Federal budget that keeps the lights on. And people will recall a number of years ago when the Republican Congress decided that, in retaliation for who knows what, because they couldn't get the Clinton administration to agree to what they wanted, because they thought that brinksmanship was the most appropriate strategy, they shut the government down. People were furloughed. Government programs that were vitally important to different constituencies around the country came to a halt.

What we have done is, and Chairman Obey has been the champion of this. What we have done is, not only have we made sure that that doesn't happen, because brinksmanship and engaging in irresponsible actions like that make no sense, we have made some difficult decisions. But we haven't made irrational decisions that would be harmful to people.

For example, we could have passed a continuing resolution that simply adopted the 2006 spending levels, the same spending levels that we had in 2006 and just moved forward. But that would have resulted, as you pointed out for veterans, in some cuts. And in our discussion on the floor the other day, you pointed out that unless there were increases, essentially, because of inflation, because of the adjustments in cost of living that are necessary, and because there are simply more people, more service men and women who are in need, we would not have had the money we needed to meet the needs of veterans.

But beyond that, let me just talk about what, because our good friends on the other side of the aisle are, of course, being critical that we didn't just pass a straight continuing resolution. Let's talk about what that would have done. Essentially, that would have jeopardized our national security. If we did that, if we simply passed the same level budget that we adopted in 2006, that would have resulted in thousands of layoffs, cuts for health care workers, cuts for members of the Armed Forces, cuts for veterans.

For example, the Food Safety and Inspection Service would face a month of furloughs. Can you imagine a month of furloughs in the Food Safety and Inspection Service? That means that we could end up with rotting meat in supermarkets and people potentially buying them. Or let's not use language that is too strong. Questionable meat. I mean, if we don't make sure that we have our food inspected, then we are going to jeopardize people's health. That would have also resulted in the closure of 6,000 meat processing plants that could not have been inspected.

The Federal Judiciary would have had to fire 2,500 workers. The Small Business Administration, and Mr. Meek, this is incredibly important to our area because how often we face natural disasters through hurricanes. But the Small Business Administration's disaster loan assistance program, which provides back up for FEMA's individual assistance program, that would have been run dry by the end of February.

Now, given how many people are still suffering from the aftermath of Katrina and Rita and Wilma and the other hurricanes and the other natural disasters that have hit around this country, I just cannot imagine what the consequences would have been. Actually, I can imagine what the consequences would have been for millions of Americans.

So we struck a balance here. We were being fiscally responsible, but at the same time, not hanging Americans out to dry without regard for their well-being. And that is what the Democratic Caucus's approach always is. You have to think about the fact that all of the decisions that we make here, Mr. Altmire and Mr. Murphy and Mr. Meek, affect real people.

I have often thought over the time I have served in the Congress and in the State Legislature in Florida, in Florida, and I am not sure how far your State capital is in Connecticut from your home, Mr. Murphy, but Tallahassee is 450 miles from where I live. And I served in the State Legislature for 12 years. Mr. Meek, I think, served in the State Legislature for 10, between the House and the Senate. It is so easy, I mean, we are obviously even further away from our homes, I certainly am. But you are pretty far from your homes, too, making decisions in Washington. And it could be argued that it would be so easy to make decisions in a vacuum here. The people we affect, whose decisions that we make, who we affect, they can't come in this Chamber. They are not in the room with us. The folks in the gallery are that are watching, but it would be so easy to just forget that every decision, every vote, every time we put our card in that slot and our name lights up on the board ``yea' or ``nay,' the decision we make affects a human being.

But you become desensitized to it. There is a danger that you could become desensitized to it. Certainly the Republican side of the aisle became desensitized to it. For years and years, they didn't think about the results, they didn't think about the consequences. Well, that is the balance the Democrats strike. Pragmatism with a healthy dose of thoughtfulness and compassion. That is what it is all about.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Unless the gentleman from Pennsylvania knows, I do know that we got an average of 62 Republicans to vote with the Democrats on the Six-in-'06 agenda on making sure that the Federal Government can negotiate for lower prices for the Medicare part D prescription drug plan; making sure that we fully implement the 9/11 Commission Report; making sure that we repeal the subsidies to the oil industry; making sure that we do the job that the people sent us here to do and that they spoke so strongly about through their vote on November 7. An average of 62 Republicans voted with us on each of those items.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. You know, just the way you are going back and forth on the Republican's response to the process, you know, it is just really, gosh, I can't say what comes to mind. It is galling. It really is galling that they do have nerve to talk about process.

Because just in my 2 years of experience, and certainly two wrongs don't make a wrong, but there is no second wrong here. I mean, in my experience in the last 2 years, and Mr. Ryan and Mr. Meek, you have had more experience and more lengthy experience than I and Mr. Altmire and Mr. Murphy have had, but I recall votes being held open for 40 minutes to several hours to twist enough arms to get the votes. We, of course, haven't had to do that because not only do we get all of our Members to vote for our legislation, but we get a good chunk if not, and in one case, a majority of theirs.

I remember being shut out, completely shut out on every major question over the last 2 years, no amendments allowed, no commentary except in a token way. And now they are whining about process?

You know, the small point I wanted to make, and Mr. Altmire, you are a dad, you have young kids; I am a mom, I have young kids; Mr. Meek has young kids, and some day Mr. Murphy and Mr. Ryan, I am sure you will have young kids too.

But you know, when your kids whine at you and complain about something that you know is just their immaturity, their wishing something could be the case, but when they get a little older they will realize that they were wrong? That is what this is.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. It is nerve is what it is. It is just pure unadulterated nerve. The American people see through this. They don't have any substance to talk about. They can only whine about process.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. I think they should have their say. I really do. Going forward, when we hear legislation and get into the regular order, we have markups in committee hearings and legislation that Members file, we will do that. But we are still cleaning up their mess.

The Six in '06 agenda is an agenda of the major issues that the American people voted for us to come here and do that we offered as amendments.

We offered the minimum wage, we offered fully implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations, and through all of the other procedural attempts we made within the confines of their limiting us, we offered repealing the subsidies to the oil industry.

We offered legislation and amendments that would have the student loan interest rate and make higher education access more affordable. And they said no. They said no, no, no, over and over and over again.

Sorry, now it is our turn. It is time to implement the agenda that the American people asked us to. It is time to clean up their mess.

Mr. Ryan, going forward, I am all for what Speaker Pelosi has said that we will do, which is give them the most bipartisan House of Representatives that history has ever seen. But the mess has to be cleaned up before we can do that.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. If the gentleman would yield, I would like to interject on that point.

Because the funny thing, ironically funny, about what you are talking about, where we have an average of 62 Republicans supporting the Six in '06 agenda and 57 supporting the continuing resolutions appropriations bill today, the last 2 years, our experience, Mr. Ryan's, Mr. Meek's and my experience, is watching the Republican leadership wrench our colleagues's arms behind their back; and, in many cases, new Members replaced those Members. Those Members caved. Those Members either didn't vote their conscience.

We used to talk about, in the 30-something hour, about how it seemed they checked their consciences and their beliefs and their constituents' beliefs at the door. They would come here and allow themselves to be influenced by their leadership and vote differently in some cases than they publicly said they would vote.

I think that actually happened with your predecessor, Mr. Murphy.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Two things that we did not mention that were also part of the Six in '06 agenda were ethics reform and the PAYGO rules. Mr. Altmire, I know you have been a supporter of both of those things.

We had a culture of corruption hanging over this institution and over this Capitol, and we were able to adopt some ethics rules that make sure that we can restore the American people's confidence in their government again. That is what our freshman class on the Democratic side ran on. One of the issues that they ran on was making sure that they could inspire their constituents to believe in what we are doing here again.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. I think your comments are a good segue to where we should close which is that the Congress has now finally reasserted our constitutional role to be a check, a check and a balance over the other branches of government, particularly over the executive branch in which that authority and oversight was completely ceded over the last 12 years.

I sit on the House Judiciary Committee. We had an oversight committee today on the presidential signing statement where the President, this President in particular more than any other President combined, has issued signing statements, his opinion and his interpretation of legislation which is really the judicial branch's responsibility, that he would just choose not to implement or implement in the way that he wanted to, a particular section of law, wholly inappropriate.

Congress is back in our appropriate role, and I yield to the gentleman from Pennsylvania to talk about our Web site, but first to the gentleman from Connecticut.


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