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National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2011- Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ALEXANDER. Senator Coburn writes:

Too many Americans are upset, even angry, that their voices are not being heard in Washington. The majority's abusive practice of suppressing debate undermines the Senate's debate traditions .....

We could start out by complaining that the majority leader has cut off debate, cut off amendments at a record level. I have submitted evidence of that. But I think that would look to the American people like we are kindergartners in a sandbox. Because it is not the voice of the Senator from New Hampshire, or Tennessee, or Arizona, or Kansas that is so important. The voices of the people whom we are elected to represent are the important voices.

When 39 times in the last two Congresses the majority leader, through procedural tactics, says no to amendments, and no to debate, he is causing the Senate to deteriorate to a shadow of its former self, the kind of Senate that Senator Byrd thought was important, and the kind of Senate in which we want to serve.

Our goal is to represent the voices of the American people, to let their feelings, their anger, their hopes, all be represented here. That means we have to have a chance to offer amendments and have to have a chance to debate.

What that means is if we are successful in this election year, we are going to make sure that in the new Congress we have that opportunity. We will make sure that these voices we hear across America are heard on the floor of the Senate. The Defense authorization bill, which is being debated today, is a perfect example of why I say the Senate is deteriorating to a shadow of its former self by closing off the voices of the American people and by denying their elected Senators an opportunity to have a full debate on the issues facing them.

Mr. GREGG. Would the Senator yield on that point?

Mr. ALEXANDER. Of course.

Mr. GREGG. Because I think the Senator has addressed a core issue of constitutional government. When the Founding Fathers got together in Philadelphia and created this extraordinary Nation called America, and built the Constitution upon which we were based, and upon which we govern, was it not their intent to create the Senate as a body different from the House of Representatives?

We understand in the House of Representatives amendments are not allowed if the Speaker does not want them. It is an autocracy over there. We know that. But was not it the intention of the Founding Fathers, as the Senator has pointed out, to give the American people a chance, through their Senators, to amend complex legislation? And has that not always been the tradition since the founding of our Nation? Did Washington not explain this rather accurately when he said, The Senate is the saucer into which the hot coffee is poured? The House boils the coffee, they get all charged up about an issue, they pass it without amendments, often without any debate. It comes over here, and the American people get to hear a little more subtlely about the issue, a little more discussion about the issue. Specifically, they get to amend it and address the issue.

I know the Senator from Arizona is here. Maybe he will be able to tell us--I am sure he will--how many times we have had a bill as big as the Defense authorization bill on the floor, which is spending $700 billion, and not had a chance to amend it. But was that not the purpose of the Founding Fathers, to make the Senate the place where there was debate and discussion and amendment? Has that not been basically cut off by the majority leader and the majority party's attitude that they do not want to take tough votes?


Mr. GREGG. Those are very generous and kind comments coming from a Senator who is of huge stature not only in the Senate but in the country. I do hope to make some comments on that. It won't take me an hour because the answer is simple: Stop spending. That is pretty much the bottom line.

The point of the Senator from Tennessee and the Senator from Arizona on the issue of shutting down the amendment process is as critical to us getting better governance as anything. We can't have good governance if we don't have discussion and different ideas brought forward. Yet we are not allowed to do that any longer because the majority leader says: We will not allow any additional amendment or any discussion.

On budgetary issues, on the spending issue, independent of the Defense bill, I think one of the reasons we haven't done a budget this year is because the other side knows that if they bring the budget to the floor, they cannot shut down amendments. Amendments have to be allowed. Under the rules, we have to be able to amend the budget resolution. I don't think they want to do that. They couldn't fill the tree on the budget.

As a practical matter, this attempt to foreclose debate on core issues of public policy, such as the defense issue and spending, by shutting down the floor through filling the tree is undermining not only the Senate and its role but the whole constitutional process and the right of the people to be heard.

Mr. McCAIN. Doesn't it send a message to people who are having their budgets squeezed, having to make the most difficult decisions about their budget, that this body will function and continue to appropriate money for our functions without a budget of our own? What kind of a signal does that send to the American people? Doesn't that contribute to the disconnect and the frustration Americans feel and give rise to the tea party, which has had a seismic effect on the political landscape?

Mr. GREGG. Absolutely. More than that, it begs the question as to why is the majority party governing. If they are not willing to govern, what are they collecting their paychecks for? Governing means putting together a budget and deciding how to spend the money. They are not willing to do that.

Mr. McCAIN. One of the first decisions every family has to make is what is the budget, what are they going to be able to spend. We will be going out of session sometime here before the election without even a cursory effort at a budget.

Mr. GREGG. Absolutely.


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