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Press Conference Re: GOP Welfare Reform and Jobs Bill

Location: Washington D.C.




SEN. SANTORUM: Good afternoon, everybody.

And let me begin by saying this is another disappointing day in the United States Senate, where we were attempting-I'll look at the other side first if you'd excuse me, Jon-to move through with our agenda of FSC/ETI; with the jobs and manufacturing bill; medical liability, we've had several cloture votes on that; energy, came up short on that; with workforce investment, which passed and has not been allowed to go to conference; judges we cannot get up-or-down votes on; small business, same thing, can't get to conference; class action, we can't get cloture on it; faith-based, again passed and we can't get to conference; child welfare; and here we are.

We now have to add to that list. The Democrats-we want to go and the Democrats now say stop. And unfortunately, what game is being played, which I hope you will all explain, is that we have said that we were willing to give votes on all of the amendments-as they refer to them as their "message amendments"-we're willing to give votes on their "message amendments" in exchange for votes on passage of welfare reform and our jobs bill and going to conference.

And what Senator Daschle said, oh, we'll be happy to give you a vote on welfare reform, we'll be happy to give you a vote on passage. But of course, he won't let you go to conference, and so the net effect of that is we can't get to a conclusion. In other words, we can't get a final bill done. In other words, this, in Senator Daschle's eyes, is just another message moment. It's a message that somehow we've done something on welfare, and then of course pull the football out underneath Charlie Brown at the moment you think you're going to kick the field goal and actually get something done.

What we have asked Senator Daschle is to simply let us finish some work around here to help the American public, to help create jobs and to help improve the lot of people who are on the edges of society. And I've said this once, I'll say it again: we are willing to pay a ransom-we're willing to pay a ransom, but we expect our victims back.

And right now they are not giving us welfare reform to get to conference, to get passage, or the jobs bill to get to conference to pass. And that is unacceptable.


SEN. HUTCHISON: Well, it is another disappointing day. We have the headlines saying that the governors of America have asked Congress to please pass an extension of welfare reform. It's been one of the most successful programs for states that we have ever passed out of Congress, and yet now, trying to pass that extension, we are once again thwarted.

The energy bill-I go to the people that I represent, and they're really complaining about the high cost of gasoline. And here we have an energy bill that would increase supply, would increase the research and the capabilities to have renewable energy. It has incentives for conservation. And yet we passed an energy bill out of the House-out of the Senate, passed it out of the House, went to conference, came with an agreement, and we're two votes short of getting it through. The Democrats have changed their minds once again. We need an energy policy for this country that will make us more self-sufficient. Anyone in America sees the need for that as we are watching the problems that we have in the Middle East and in South America, which are our largest importers of natural gas and oil.

So I would hope that the Democrats would take the long weekend and start thinking about the importance of passing legislation, work with us, try to come forward with some original ideas. We're willing to negotiate. We don't want to spend two weeks on a bill that we've already passed, but we would be reasonable if we could just go forward in the normal course to pass the major legislation that is left is hanging by the Democratic filibusters.

SEN. ALEXANDER: Thank you. Let me try to put the Washington business in a little local perspective. Before I came to the Senate, I was chairman of the Red Shield Family Initiative in Nashville. That was the Salvation Army's coalition to try to implement the federal welfare-to-work law. It basically helped people in Nashville move from welfare to work to independence. I know how hard that is. I know how important it is. I know how much it means. And I know how much-how successful it's been.

We are trying to reauthorize the welfare reform law. This law includes enough money to help 100,000 -- mostly women-pay for child care, so they can go to work. We want the movement from welfare to work to be a door to opportunity, not a revolving door back to welfare. And child care means a pathway out.

There is no excuse whatever for the Democrats to be blocking 100,000 poor women in America from having the chance to have child care so they can go to work and become self-sufficient. This was a bill that was-a law that was put in place by a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, in 1996 and by a Republican Congress with many senators who are now serving, working in the House of Representatives. It has cut in half the welfare rolls in the country.

The hardest cases are left. This is an opportunity to help 100,000 more poor working women have child care, and the Democrats are blocking it. There is no excuse for that. And I hope very much that we'll be able to move ahead with welfare reauthorization in the next few days.

SEN. GRASSLEY: I'm a firm believer that if you're right, you eventually win. We lost today, but I think we win in the end. Exactly how we get from here to there, I'm not prepared to say and I don't think anybody can. But eventually right wins out.

What we're faced with is a party that is more concerned about politics than product. And I think that if we can just, in a broader sense other than just this bill, show that there's been a consistent pattern of obstructionism on the part of the minority party, and particularly hoping that they learned a lesson from two years ago when they tried to do it that they wanted issues instead of a law in 2002, thinking it would benefit them to maintain the majority and enhance their majority, and they found out just the opposite: that the Daschle graveyard became an issue in the election and the Daschle graveyard was really a very understandable thing by most of the electorate and they turned against the Democrats.

So I think they're playing with fire the way they're approaching this in the same vein as they did two years ago. And eventually it's going to catch up with them. And if it does catch up with them, then that's when we get an opportunity to get through these bills that are being filibustered.

I intend to continue to work with everybody to see what we can get done in this area, but we're obviously stymied for a short period of time.

SEN. KYL: Let me just conclude by thanking Chairman Grassley for all of the hard work that I know he put in in trying to get this welfare package put together in a way that was acceptable to Democrats and Republicans. And it is disheartening to see pure politics brought to the Senate floor to defeat even the opportunity to vote up or down on the bill.

Americans have a good sense of democracy and fair play. Majority rules. But of course, that isn't always true in the U.S. Senate because a few senators can actually block action on a bill, and that's what happened today. A minority of senators said we're not going to allow a vote on this important welfare reform.

Senator Alexander explained as well as Senator Santorum why it's so important to get this legislation passed now. The same thing is true of the FSC/ETI bill, which Chairman Grassley could have talked about, the jobs and manufacturing legislation with the trade court ruling that we have to change our trade laws or expect retaliation by our trading partners. These are things that have to be done, as are the confirmation of judges.

Now, everybody understands that, at a certain point-August/September-prior to a national election, must judicial confirmations begin to slow down and eventually come to a halt because of the expectation that a new president will nominate for the vacancies. This is March, or I guess this is April 1st. The bottom line is that never in the history of the Senate has the confirmation process come to such a screeching halt so early in the process.

No more judges, our Democratic friends say, will be confirmed in the Senate, unless of course the president makes the unprecedented -- (chuckles) -- commitment to them that he'll appoint no more judges as recess appointments to fill critical vacancies. Well, since roughly half of the vacancies today are declared as judicial emergencies and since no one can ever predict when an emergency might arise where the president would have to make such an appointment, such a demand on the president is of course not just unprecedented, but improper.

So the bottom line here is that the Democrats have decided, as Senator Grassley just said, to engage in the same obstructionism, the partisan, negative obstructionism that they did before the last election, hoping that it will pay political dividends. Just as then, when the American people saw through the ruse and said we'd rather see you work together to produce important products like a welfare reform bill, a jobs and manufacturing bill, confirmation of the president's judges and all of the other important items on the agenda here, when they come to understand that that's what the American people want, not a lot of political posturing, then this will change. Until then, we're going to continue with all of our effort to try to bring these issues before the Senate and advance not just political messages, but actual programs for the benefit of the American people.

SEN. SANTORUM: Questions?

Q The first item on your list is the corporate tax bill. Do you think you'll have a chance to get that-a vote on that? And also just as to negotiations on that, are the Democrats just asking for floor votes on certain items, or do they actually want an agreement through conference on certain issues?

SEN. SANTORUM: My understanding is that they're asking for floor votes, and we're willing to get them floor votes in exchange for votes on passage and going to conference on bills.

Q Can you state a prognosis on that?

SEN. SANTORUM: Well, if this most recent foray into welfare reform is any indication, they are not interested in-they certainly weren't interested in passing welfare reform. And I think the fact that we had an amendment that was brought up-I mean, let's review the bidding here of what happened.

An amendment was brought up that certainly a number of Republicans did not support-me being one of them-to greatly expand day care. It was a relevant amendment, they had a vote on it. It was a big vote for them -- $6 billion in day care. It's the biggest increase in day-care funding ever in the history of this country, something that every Democrat, I think save one, voted for. And we gave an up-or-down vote, and a vote that very much divided Republicans.

And we said, look, we're willing to take another tough vote. I mean, there are a lot of things in this welfare bill that members on our side are divided on and that Democrats would like to see done, and we're willing to take them. But what do they do? Well, as soon as they got their $6 billion, now they've started their "messaging" amendments. And we're saying, just take your messaging amendment off and let's see if we can work on the bill; let's see if we can get a bill that will bring us to closure, and maybe we can get an agreement to-you know, to vote on your amendment down the road, but let's do some work on the bill. No, nope, we've got to have our messaging amendment.

And that kind of political gamesmanship in the face of a very important bill leads me to a couple of conclusions. Number one, that either everybody-that many on that side of the aisle want nothing to occur, and so this is all about themes and message amendments. Or there are a group of senators in particular who didn't want this bill to pass, who are not for welfare reform, and know that if we do not pass a welfare reform extension, a majority of people in welfare will no longer have a work requirement, which many on that side of the aisle weren't for in the first place. So there may be some ulterior motive behind this specific blocking of this bill.

Q Senator, Senator Daschle has said that he's willing to agree to go to conference if he's given assurance of full participation in conference committees, so why is that --

SEN. SANTORUM: And we have done that.

Q So what's the problem?

SEN. SANTORUM: Senator Frist has given Senator Daschle a commitment of full participation in conferences. And when Senator Frist did that, Senator Daschle came back and said, "Oh, well, and you have to commit the House will give full participation to House Democrat conferees."

Well, I don't think Senator Frist can guarantee anything that-what the House will do. What we can do is guarantee participation of the Democrats, and we said we would do that; they would be invited to all meetings and fully participate. That doesn't mean they're necessarily going to win.

I mean, they are going to be outvoted in many circumstances, but they would be able to participate fully in those conferences. And I think what the Democratic leader hopes to do is to dictate the end result of conferences, not full participation, but he wants to be able to dictate what the result of these conferences are. And that is not acceptable, for a minority branch-a minority in one of the three branches of the legislative process, the president, the House and the Senate, to dictate what the result will be on that bill.

Q Why --

Q What --

Q Go ahead.

Q Why didn't you just let them have these votes? I mean, maybe they're not germane specifically to welfare, but the Senate is adopting non-germane amendments all the time. So aren't you afraid of the message that would get passed for people in your caucus by having to vote on these minimum wage --

SEN. SANTORUM: Well, let me say there are three amendments that they consider message amendments. One is unemployment insurance. We have voted on employment (sic) insurance at least two, maybe three times in the last six months. So you know, I don't know how many ads they can run against me on voting against unemployment insurance, but at some point, you know, the number sort of becomes meaningless. So they've had their message amendment on unemployment insurance.

The other was on the issue of overtime. There has been a vote on the Harkin overtime-it's the same amendment. And so they want another vote on something they've had already their message moment on. And yet they now hold up the FSC/ETI bill for amendment they've already voted on.

SEN./MR. : And the third is --

SEN. SANTORUM: And the third is unemployment-and-no, is minimum wage. And we have said we're willing to give them a vote on minimum wage. We want side-by-side. Senator McConnell is working on an alternative amendment, which I will support. I'm a supporter of an increase in the minimum wage. But in exchange for that, we would like, you know-there is-this is so hard, to get things done, that if we're going to, in a sense, do something that they would like to do, then I think we have a right to ask for something in return for that. That's the way things get done here in the United States Senate. We just don't get things done by giving Democrats everything they want and asking for good faith. It's rarely rewarded.

Q Well, suppose that you had the vote on the minimum wage thing as part of the welfare reform bill. And I don't know how it would have come out, but --

SEN. SANTORUM: I don't either.

Q Okay. Were you afraid of how it might come out? Or what? Help me understand --

SEN. SANTORUM: I don't think it-again, I'd go back to the fact we're willing to give the vote --

SEN. KYL: Let me-might I just make this point --

SEN. SANTORUM: -- but we want to assure that we get to a conclusion on the bill, and they would not give us that conclusion.

SEN. KYL: That's the-the leader offered on the jobs and manufacturing bill that precise agreement: a vote for the Democrats on all three of those items that they wanted, notwithstanding what Senator Santorum said has already occurred. That offer was made. And all that was asked in return was that we have a final vote on the jobs and manufacturing bill and go to conference.

And the answer to that was no. And so, we've made the decision that with respect to the welfare bill, if we made the offer to have the votes and we weren't going to be able to, in effect, get the hostage back after we paid the ransom, that obviously, we wouldn't go down that path. And that's why we're not going down the path of having votes on things when there's no assurance at the end of that path that we'll be able to vote on the bill and go to conference.

SEN. SANTORUM: You know, everything in the United States Senate works on leverage. One of the great leverages in the Senate is recesses. And other leverage is trading as we've done in the past: votes on nominations for a vote on this. And that-as you know, the Senate, it's almost impossible to get anything done, and so you have to horse trade to move the process forward. Well, they're-they've hung up a sign that they're out of business and not willing to trade any more. And my sense is that that's because either they don't like the substance of what we're doing, or more likely is they don't want to do anything. And they want to point the finger, say Republicans can't get-see, they control everything, and they can't get things done. That's the message moment. It has nothing to do with the specific issues. It's the message that, you know, we're trying to get important things done; they don't let us vote on them, and they can't get anything done-which I think is a hollow message.

Q Senator, has there been any effort to discuss with the House the-you know, the demands of the Democrats --

SEN. SANTORUM: I would ask you, you know, go to Senator-excuse me, go to the speaker and Congressman DeLay and ask them what their opinion is on participation of members in conference. I think you'd probably find that they would be very open to participation of Democrats in conference, just like we would be here.

Q Senator, the only thing is-my understanding of what led the Democrats to this was their exclusion, or mostly exclusion, from conferences last year when it was done by the House leadership in-or, the House-chairman of the House conference affecting Senate conferees. Don't you think the Senate-the Senate Republicans have some responsibility to assure bipartisan participation, if you're going to use that as an argument against taking up Democratic amendments?

SEN. SANTORUM: We-we-do-we can guarantee bipartisan participation. I mean, we have said that we will certainly, in all the meetings, invite --

Q But how can you if, say, Chairman Thomas excludes --

SEN. SANTORUM: Let's take Chairman Thomas. Yeah.

Q-specifically excludes Senate Democrats from participating in the conference?

SEN. SANTORUM: Go ahead. If you were on the --

SEN. KYL: Since I was on that conference committee, go back and remember the history of it. The offer was made for those who were willing to support a Medicare bill to begin meeting. And we began meeting 7:00 in the morning, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate from the Finance Committee, those who were supportive of moving forward with the Medicare bill.

The two Democrats who were meeting were, of course, Chairman Baucus-Vice Chairman Baucus, Ranking Member Baucus-and Senator Breaux. And they continued to meet throughout the entire process. At any point when they felt that Democrat views were not being considered, they could have picked up and left and walked out. But they represented their conference in those meetings, night after night. Senator Baucus would say, "I've run that by our senators and they can't buy this or that. They can agree with this, but they can't buy that." So it would be incorrect to say that the Democrat point of view was not represented or that Democrats were not present.

What was done was to ensure that the people who were there were people who were committed to getting a final product, not people who would use that forum as a way to obstruct achieving a final product.

Q (Off mike.)

SEN. SANTORUM: Our intention is to go back to the jobs, manufacturing bill, and we will continue to work to try to get closure on that and passage. And again, we're willing. It's not that we don't want to vote on things. We have voted on things. And we fully anticipate having a vote on minimum wage.

But let me just bring up the issue of minimum wage. Let's review the bidding on that. Did they offer-when the Democrats were in the majority and controlled the floor of the Senate, did they offer a minimum wage increase? Answer? No. No. For a year and a half, the Democrats had the floor of the Senate and they could have offered a minimum wage at any point in time. Did they? No. For 15 months the Democrats could have gotten on the floor of the Senate and offered a minimum wage bill. Did they? No. They wait till when? Till after they have a nominee, and we have message moments.

This is all politics. And to expect Senate Republicans-who are serious about doing things, who have a real agenda to try to change the lives of American people-to be sucked into a political game where we give them votes on message amendments without anything happening positive for the American people is unacceptable.

Q Can we go back to the question of conference for a second? (Off mike) -- procedure. Isn't the Democratic concern that there is a number of issues that have passed the Senate and have passed the House that have been stripped out, so that they feel that the majority positions in both houses have gone away in conferences, like in the prescription drug bill that you had -- (off mike). And aren't they concerned that that's going to happen --

SEN. SANTORUM: Excuse me. The stuff that passed in the Senate was the language that was in the final bill.

SEN. : That's correct.

Q You mean like overtime.

Q Yes.

Q There was a number --

Q Well, I think in the omnibus spending bill you had overtime, you had the --

Q Cuba.

Q-Cuba and, well, several other things where you did have votes in both houses and then you stripped them out.

SEN. SANTORUM: And that is in the process of working with an administration who was threatening vetoes in those situations if they were done. So, I mean, when we negotiate in conference, it's just not the House and Senate; the administration sits in and we try to work bills that will actually not get vetoed, that are important pieces of legislation, like the omnibus. The president was very clear about what he was going to do if those provisions were included. So maybe the Democrats prefer shutting down the entire operation of the government to deal with this particular regulation. Our feeling was that wasn't worth the price. And so to suggest somehow or another that that was summarily dismissed because we were ignoring the will of the House or Senate does not factor in the issue of a veto, and the seriousness of a presidential veto, on an issue that we thought was very important to get done.

Q Is this a foreshadowing of what's to come for the rest of this year? Are we going to be back here at this time next week having the same discussion?

SEN. SANTORUM: Tune in same time next week.

Q And what, if anything, outside of the obvious, can be done-outside of the Democrats? What can you Republicans do to change the tide?

SEN. SANTORUM: (To Sen. Kyl) Do you want to say something?

SEN. KYL: Yeah. This is what I was trying to say before and I think Senator Grassley alluded to it, too. I think that some Democrats are nervous about this strategy of trying to prevent any progress on substantive legislation. At the end of the last election it was pretty clear that the American people wanted progress on legislation. They actually wanted results on some things. And if the Democrat mantra is Republicans were in charge and they couldn't get anything done because we wouldn't let them, that's a message that will be out to the American people. The American people will understand it. There will be political repercussions of that. And we'll have a list up here every week of all the things we tried to achieve but simply couldn't get a vote on. Maybe we win, maybe we lose, but we couldn't even get a vote on it.

At a certain point in time, my guess is that the Democrat strategists will realize this is a losing strategy, not a winning strategy, because at the end of the day, the American people want us to work together on sensible solutions to problems for real people, like welfare reform. And when the Democrats won't even let us get a vote on that, that's going to turn the people against them. When that happens, then maybe we can begin to make some progress.

SEN. SANTORUM: Let me-I just want to pick up on the last comment about things that were dropped in conference. There's nothing in this bill that's going to be dropped in conference. There's nothing that passed both houses that's controversial. There are issues here that are serious issues that need to be resolved, but there is nothing that's going to be thrown out that the Democrats want. It's just a matter of how much we're going to do of certain things, which we have to negotiate, and have negotiated in the past with Democrats.

The same thing with here. No controversy here about what's going to be thrown out. In fact, if we're able to pass something here, the House very well may pass exactly what we want. But they won't let us get to that issue.

Energy-I mean, obviously, there are some things in it, but again, there wasn't anything I'm aware of that got thrown out. In fact, everything that the Democratic leader wanted with respect to ethanol is in this bill. And he's run ads on it about how important this is, and it's in here, and he still didn't come up with the votes to get cloture done.

On medical liability, they just fundamentally don't agree with any kind of thing that affects trial lawyers, so that's just a philosophical thing, and they won't let us proceed to try to even work on trying to find a compromise on that.

Again, JOBS, FSC/ETI -- 19 to 2. There's one of the two votes against the bill in the Finance Committee. Every Democrat voted for this thing-every Democrat voted for this. And the House hasn't even passed the bill yet, and we're not even asking to go to conference on this because we can't because the House hasn't acted yet. All we're asking is to let's pass it. As opposed to today, the tariffs go up to now 6 percent as a result of the EU tariffs that have been levied. So we're now not a 5 percent tariff, we're at a 6 percent tariff.

There's nothing in this list-and welfare reform the same thing. With the $6 billion that was added in child care-and I gag every time I think about it-but when we add that much money and the House has $2 billion more, we're going to get somewhere between $2 billion and $6 billion more in day care money, and with a very minor increase in work requirement. There's nothing horribly controversial here.

And so I understand that there may be some offense that a couple of things they really wanted to have happen didn't happen because the president said he'd veto a bill, I think on two or three occasions. But to block an entire agenda, where none of that likelihood is apparent is just politics.

Q Senator, on the class action bill, as I recall that fell like one or two votes short --


Q-and you have since-one. And you have since picked up --

SEN. SANTORUM: We believe we have.

Q Why don't you bring it up?

SEN. SANTORUM: Because the-well.

(To Senator Kyl) Do you want to talk about this? This is your bailiwick.

SEN. KYL: Because I think there's been a Democratic agreement that whatever the legislation-that is to say an agreement among Democrats that whatever the legislation, they will require that we vote on a few of their, quote, "message" amendments.

SEN. SANTORUM: Which would result, potentially, in one of them passing, and then the ability for us not to have that bill then adopted by the House, which means we'd have to go to conference, and Daschle won't let us go to conference.

SEN. KYL: So on the class-action bill, for example, there may well be a consent request propounded before too long, sometime toward the end of this month, and it might well include some of the Democrat messaging amendments as long as we're able to go to conference and have a final vote on the bill. So we'll have to wait and see what the state of play at that time is. We want to get the class-action reform done, but it's been clear among the people who were the new converts and some of the people that supported this in the past on the Democratic side that one of the prices to be paid for that, even if we could get it, would be message amendment votes for the Democratic leader.

SEN. SANTORUM: Okay. Thank you all very much. Appreciate it

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