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Public Statements

Sportsmen's Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. INOUYE. Mr. President, today, as we near the end of the current fiscal year, the Senate is considering H.J. Res. 117, a continuing resolution to ensure that the Federal Government will remain functioning through March of next year in the absence of regular appropriations. Last Thursday, the House passed this measure by a vote of 329 to 91.

This bill provides total discretionary spending of $1.047 trillion. This is the funding level the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended on an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 27 to 2 and the level agreed to last year in the Budget Control Act, but this bill is $19 billion more than what was approved by the House in the Paul Ryan budget. I am encouraged the House has finally repudiated its own budget. I am only sorry it has taken them this long to come to their senses. One of the primary reasons Congress now faces this CR is that the House broke this agreement on spending.

I want my colleagues to know I support this measure even though it is far from perfect. In fact, I would say it is not a good bill, but passing it is much better than allowing the government to shut down over a lack of funding.

Continuing resolutions are not new. As some of my colleagues are aware, I have served in this Senate for 49 years and 9 months. During my tenure, this Congress has completed its work and enacted all of its spending bills without needing a continuing resolution on only three occasions. In 49 years, three times. This is not a record we should be proud of, but it demonstrates how difficult it is to agree on funding for each of the thousands of Federal programs that the Appropriations Committee reviews annually. However, never before in history has the Congress passed a stopgap resolution in September to fund the entire government for half the coming fiscal year. It is unfortunate that it has come to this.

Seven months ago, as we began this legislative session, the mood was quite different. There was broad support for acting on appropriations bills. Several Members on both sides of the aisle came to the floor to speak about restoring regular order and passing all 12 appropriations bills. Both the Republican and Democratic leaders spoke in favor of considering all of these bills. The Appropriations Committee was urged to conduct a budget review as quickly as possible and report bills to the Senate for consideration, and our subcommittees embraced this challenge. We shortened our hearing schedule, conducted thousands of meetings with executive branch officials and the public, and began to mark up bills shortly after receiving our allocation from the Budget Committee.

In most years the Senate Appropriations Committee begins its markups in June. This year the committee reported its first two bills in April and had nine bills ready for floor consideration by the end of June.

By July the committee had reported out 11 bills, 9 of which were recommended with strong bipartisan votes, and by that I mean 30 to 0 or 29 to 1. Despite the work of the committee, none of those bills have been considered by the Senate. The decision by the House to break faith with the Senate and the administration on funding levels and the inclusion of outrageous legislative policy riders in their bills drained the enthusiasm for acting on those measures. But the real culprit thwarting the efforts of the committee was a handful of my colleagues who insisted on delaying the business of the Senate.

We have heard our distinguished majority leader cite the statistics. In 382 instances in the past 6 years he has been forced to file cloture to break filibusters. It is becoming very clear filibusters are crippling the Senate. This year, this Senate has been in session for 105 days. By my count, on 31 of those days the Senate has done nothing but consider motions to proceed, as we are doing with this motion, or to invoke cloture. That means nearly 30 percent of the Senate's time this year has been completely wasted.

Moreover, the Senate has only voted on amendments and legislation on 21 of those days that we were in session. On 21 out of 105 days, we actually legislated and worked. The rest of the time was spent on a backlog of nominations or breaking filibusters.

I have never experienced anything like this in my many years in the Senate. It is true that for some time the use of filibusters has been increasing, but this year it has truly exploded. I do not oppose filibusters. I believe the filibuster is one of the most critical tools Senators have to protect the rights of our constituents. This is especially true for small States, such as Hawaii, which are at a disadvantage in the House of Representatives compared to States with very large delegations. In fact, the first speech I delivered in the Senate was in defense of the filibuster. I supported the filibuster. Times were different then.

For example, I waited until April of that year before speaking on the Senate floor, and I spoke on the filibuster. When I delivered my maiden speech, legendary Senators such as Everett Dirksen, Richard Russell, Mike Mansfield, and John Stennis were all in attendance. Truly, times have changed, but the most striking difference between then and now is that a filibuster was used very rarely in those early days and only for matters of extreme importance to Members and their States.

I did not agree with those who used the filibuster in the 1960s to try to stop civil rights legislation. I disagreed with those who used the filibuster against health care reform in 2010. But in both cases I defended the right to do so.

This year the Senate has been held up, delayed, and rendered ineffective for at least 30 percent of its time by the abuse of the filibuster. These filibusters were not to highlight important policy differences, nor were they to protect a Senator's constituents. Instead, in virtually every case it was simply to thwart the ability of the Senate to function.

So today is a sad day. The Senate is forced to take up a 6-month continuing resolution instead of acting upon regular appropriations bills. The bipartisan zeal for regular order last spring has been crushed by dilatory tactics of a few Members who have wasted the Senate's time. At some point, this body needs to alter either its behavior or its rules.

In addition to discretionary funding, this resolution also provides $99 billion for overseas contingencies as requested and necessary for the coming year. Further, it continues funding at current levels to pay for disasters under FEMA and to fight fraud, waste, and abuse in the Social Security Program. Each of these is consistent with the authorities included in the Budget Control Act.

In addition, the bill before the Senate provides only the bare minimum that is necessary to maintain the functions of our Federal Government. The administration sought approximately 78 proposals to ensure that critical programs and authorities could be continued for the next 6 months. This bill includes only about half of them because the House was unwilling to allow more.

Provisions deemed essential by the Secretary of Defense to preserve authorities for ongoing programs in support of our efforts in Afghanistan and in Iraq are not in this measure. Special provisions to allow the Department of Defense to award contracts for critical programs were denied. Additional funding to activate new Federal prisons that currently sit empty was not included.

This bill denies necessary authorities for dozens of programs. In some cases, the administration will find cumbersome work-arounds. For others it will have to slow down work on ongoing programs, and this increases costs and brings about inefficiency. Many programs will simply have to cease activity and await additional action on appropriations bills.

We urged the House to include many of the provisions requested by the administration, but they refused. The bill would have been far better had more of these requirements been met. Yet I would point out that the House has not played favorites. No department was granted the authorities it required. The Defense Department has not been singled out for special help by House Republicans. If anything, it has been treated more harshly than many other agencies.

So I support this bill because opposing it is not a responsible alternative. No one should be interested in delaying or defeating this bill. We simply cannot afford to shut down government operations.

I urge my colleagues to join me in voting for this bill which will preserve our government. It is lean and it is stripped down, but it contains the funding and minimal authorities essential to ensure that the services provided for all Americans can be continued over the coming months.

I yield the floor.


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