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Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2014

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. MURRAY. Madam President, I rise to strongly oppose this motion that is now before the Senate. I urge all of my colleagues to vote against it as well. Senator Collins and I have worked very closely together to write a bipartisan transportation and housing bill that works for our families and our communities. We have been working here together on the floor to have an open debate and accept amendments from both sides of the aisle. We just accepted a number of them a few minutes ago.

In addition to six Republicans who explicitly supported this bill in committee, along with all of the Democrats, a total of 73 Senators voted to start debate on this bill. But now this motion that is now before us would take all of that bipartisan work we did on this bill in committee and it would take the strong bipartisan support coming out of committee and just throw it all away and ask us to simply now adopt the House Republican budget and start all over again. There is absolutely no reason for us to go back to the drawing board, especially not under the conditions that are laid out in this motion.

Back in March we had a very vigorous debate here in the Senate about our values and our priorities when it came to the Federal budget. We debated about the future of Medicare. We talked about how the wealthiest Americans should contribute their fair share. We debated what should be done with overall spending levels and the automatic cuts from sequestration that were put in place in the bipartisan Budget Control Act in order to bring both sides to the table to replace them with more responsible deficit reduction.

Everyone will remember that we spent dozens of hours debating the budget on the Senate floor. Then my colleagues had a choice. We ran an open process. Any Senator could bring an amendment to the floor. We considered over 100 of them from Democrats and Republicans. One of my Republican colleagues even offered the House budget as an amendment, which locks in that overall sequestration level but actually ignores the Budget Control Act by simply pushing the entire burden onto seniors and families in our communities. But, as we all know, the House budget was rejected by the Senate. It got only 40 votes here, and 5 Republicans actually voted against it. The Senate budget we ended up passing replaces sequestration with an equal mix of responsible spending cuts and new revenue by closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans.

The House passed their budget that locks in sequestration on steroids. The Senate passed our budget that replaces sequestration with more responsible deficit reduction. I absolutely agree with my colleagues that we cannot finish that budget process until we find a way to bridge that divide between the House and Senate. But I want to be clear here. A motion to recommit on an appropriations bill is not the place to have the debate on the overall spending levels. That is what a budget conference is for. That is where the two sides need to go to work out a deal. But, as my colleagues all know, despite the efforts of many Republicans and Democrats alike, a few Senators--very few Senators--continue blocking a bipartisan budget conference. So far we have been unable to even get in a room to talk about that.

We are going to keep trying to start a budget conference and work toward a bipartisan deal. Until we do, the bipartisan work that is being done in the Appropriations Committee now, led by the chairwoman Senator Mikulski has to continue.

Now that my colleague has brought this motion to the floor that attempts to lock in sequestration and force the House budget onto our transportation and housing bill, let's talk about it for a few minutes.

The bill we are debating right now, the transportation and housing bill, could not exist at the worse-than-sequestration levels that are being pushed in this House. My partner on this bill, Senator Collins, has been clear, as I have, that the differences between the House and Senate transportation bills could not be more stark.

Our bipartisan bill here in the Senate continues to invest in our communities through the Community Development Block Grant Program, CDBG, while the partisan House bill cut that in half to the lowest level ever, which would mean 40,000 fewer jobs in this country. Communities across the country would have to halt projects they are planning to help get their communities moving again.

Our bipartisan bill in the Senate invests in Essential Air Service and makes sure there is enough in the program to cover all the communities that currently participate in it.

The House partisan bill that this motion would recommit and put us back into the position of considering would shortchange the entire program and cut it more than one-third. It includes additional language that would kick out communities in States such as Montana and New Mexico that absolutely depend on this.

The bipartisan bill the Senate has invests in our families to make sure they have a roof over their heads when they need it most, to help them if they are disabled or seniors who need to stay off the streets. The partisan House bill would serve 132,000 fewer people, many of whom would end up homeless without this support.

Those are only a few examples. I could name many that are in this bill. If sequestration numbers were to be blocked in the way this motion that is before us envisions, we will continue seeing the impact across our entire Federal Government.

As Secretary Hagel has made very clear, the defense worker furloughs would continue and get worse. In my home State of Washington--I talked about it on the Senate floor this morning--we have seen the consequences of those cuts. Do you know where we are seeing them? In places such as Madigan Hospital where a young woman came and told me about being furloughed on Fridays and what it translated into in terms of people having their brain surgeries delayed because of the shutdowns on Friday. This is what we are talking about, doctors and nurses being furloughed in our Army hospitals as we have injured soldiers who need care.

This sequestration is going to impact funding for our firefighters who are protecting our homes and lands, civilian employees, and it will hit the law enforcement officials who are protecting our cities from the threat of terrorism. It will strip funds from cancer research at NIH. Our roads, bridges, and rails will continue to crumble, and small businesses will pay the price.

This would be happening while a lot of other countries that are our competitors in the global marketplace are doing the opposite. They are investing in themselves. They are setting themselves up to compete in the 21st century economy.

This is the reality of sequestration. It may not make the news every single day in every paper. We may not see all the impacts right away, but it is very real, and it will truly be devastating. It will be devastating for our families. It will be devastating for our national security and our long-term economic growth if we don't replace it. By the way, it is not just Democrats who are saying this. Economists such as Ben Bernanke have said it is hurting the economy. Many of my Republican colleagues have spent a lot of time going around the country talking about how devastating it is on the defense side.

I am happy to have this debate. I don't think this bill, the appropriations bill, the transportation and housing bill, is the place to do it.

If the Senator from Pennsylvania and others wish to start a debate and a negotiation between the Senate budget and the House budget, they should stop objecting to us going to conference. That is where this should occur.

Until then, I urge my colleagues to reject this motion and allow us to continue working on the bipartisan bill we have worked so hard to bring to the Senate. Let's work in creating jobs, investing in communities, and lay down a foundation for long-term and broad-based growth.

I move to table the motion, and I ask for the yeas and nays.


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