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Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, like many other Members who spoke on the floor today, I too want to acknowledge the extraordinary work that is done by the Capitol Police officers.
Every single day they work around here protecting the people who work and visit here. Yesterday was another great example of the skill, the professionalism, and the courage that they display on a daily basis in a very quiet and humble way, and I wish to express--on my own behalf and for the people that I represent--our appreciation for their extraordinary work and the remarkable way in which they go about their jobs and express how very grateful we all are for that.
I wish to talk about what is happening here in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, we find ourselves on the 4th day of what is a completely avoidable partial government shutdown. It is not like we didn't see this coming. The fiscal year ends every year on September 30. So it wasn't a deadline that we didn't know was coming. In fact, as I pointed out before, the House of Representatives completed work on four appropriation bills. Unfortunately, here in the Senate we didn't move appropriation bills across the floor to comply with the Budget Control Act. We didn't pass a single one this fiscal year.
Then recognizing the need to act at the end of the fiscal year as it approached, the House passed and sent to the Senate a continuing resolution on September 20--2 weeks ago. Instead of acting quickly to bring us to a resolution to keep the government funded, Senate leadership continued to stall, unwilling to negotiate.
The House has now sent us four comprehensive proposals to fund the government and to provide fairness under the law when it comes to ObamaCare. One of these proposals included a request for a conference committee so we could get to work resolving our differences. It was a very straightforward request. The other proposals that had been sent over here--which had other elements in them dealing with ObamaCare, as well as government funding--were rejected by the Senate. They were tabled here. So this was a proposal that was very simple and straightforward. All it asked was, let's have a conference. Let's sit down and try to work out our differences.
Unfortunately, the Democratic majority here in the Senate insisted that they will not negotiate. They tabled the motion--the request to go to conference with the House of Representatives.
So far this week the House of Representatives has sent us five bills to fund various parts of our government. I understand they are continuing to work on additional bills today. These are bills that would ensure that our veterans get paid and that children can continue to have access to life-saving treatments.
Yesterday morning my Republican colleagues and I came to the floor and requested that several of these commonsense bills that the House has sent to us be agreed to by unanimous consent here in the Senate.
Specifically, I asked for a unanimous consent agreement for the Pay Our Guard and Reserve Act. This bill would ensure that the men and women who proudly serve in our National Guard and Reserve--those who have bravely answered the call to protect and defend our country--continue to train and to get paid for their service. Congress should send a clear message to these men and women who stand ready to serve in overseas conflicts or to respond to domestic disasters, that they will not be impacted by the spending disagreements here in Washington. Unfortunately, our friends on the other side of the aisle objected to these requests and, unbelievably, the President of the United States has actually threatened to veto those very measures.
Congress has already passed by unanimous consent a bill to ensure that active duty military personnel are paid during this lapse in government funding. It is unclear to me why Senate Democrats wouldn't pass similar measures to fund these important services. After all, taking care of active duty military personnel is something that everybody agreed to here by unanimous consent. That rarely happens around here in the Senate. But Democrats and Republicans agreed that this is a priority. We have to make sure the active men and women in our military who defend this country on a daily basis get paid despite the dysfunction here in Washington, DC. All the bill I offered yesterday simply would have done is to apply that same treatment to our Guard and Reserve.
In my State of South Dakota, we have about 4,300 members of the Army and Air National Guard--a couple hundred of which are deployed right now, and the remainder have training functions that they perform on a regular basis. If we don't get this issue resolved, they are not going to be able to meet those training requirements. As we all know, they respond to domestic disasters, to emergencies that require their assistance here at home, as well as on a regular basis are now being deployed to meet the military requirements that we have in many of the conflicts in which we are involved around the world.
So it strikes me as very strange that Democrats would refuse to act or engage in a meaningful debate in order to find common ground on issues like this and to get our government back up and running.
I think the people I represent in the State of South Dakota, like a lot of other people across the country, expect their leaders to work together to resolve their differences. The position of the Democratic leadership is that they will not negotiate and simply work together. That is not a position I believe is reasonable. We have heard it from the President; we have heard it from the Democratic leaders here in the Senate: We are not going to negotiate.
I think most Americans believe they sent us here to Washington, DC, to work together, realizing there are differences--legitimate differences--about how to solve problems and how to approach issues. But they believe, on a very basic level, that the responsibility we have as their elected officials is to sit down and to try to figure out how to solve these problems.
To say that we will not negotiate as a starting position is a completely unreasonable position to take, in the eyes, I believe, of the American people.
The dysfunction and the gridlock that we have here in Washington, DC, is simply unacceptable.
On Wednesday, the President invited congressional leaders to the White House for what, unfortunately, turned out to be yet another photo opportunity, a publicity stunt. The President waited until after the 11th hour, 2 days into a partial government shutdown, to even engage in a face-to-face way with congressional leaders. It strikes me that when you invite people to the table and in the same breath make explicit that you are not willing to negotiate, that very little work is going to get done for the American people.
I hope we would see better from our President and better from our leaders in the Senate. It seems like the Democrats are very content to take their ball and go home. Four days into a partial government shutdown, they still refuse to negotiate.
We haven't experienced a government shutdown for nearly 20 years. I pose to my friends on the other side of the aisle that the willingness of leaders in both parties to negotiate in good faith during previous negotiations is something from which we could take a lesson.
Going back to 1995 and 1996, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, when he was talking about the shutdowns in that period, said:
Bill Clinton and I would talk, if not every day ..... we would talk five days a week before the shutdown, after the shutdowns.
We met face to face for 35 days in the White House trying to hammer things out......
As we know, ending this unnecessary shutdown is not the only challenge we are dealing with here in Washington. But when it comes to the debt ceiling--which Treasury tells us will be reached in the next few weeks--Democrats refuse to come to the table to enact responsible spending reforms as part of that package. The American people disagree.
According to a recent Bloomberg poll, Americans by a 2-to-1 margin disagree with President Barack Obama's contention that Congress should raise the U.S. debt limit without conditions.
The American people understand that if we continue to borrow and borrow like there is no tomorrow and pile that burden on the backs of our children and grandchildren--they understand that if you are going to increase the debt limit, if you are going to ask for a bigger credit card limit, that you ought to be doing something about the debt. That is why, by a 2-to-1 margin, they believe that if you are going to raise the debt limit, you ought to do something to address the underlying debt. In fact, 61 percent of Americans, according to that poll, believe it is right to require spending cuts when the debt ceiling is raised even if it risks default.
I do not believe we ought to have a default, but I believe a negotiation on the debt limit makes sense if we are serious about doing something about the debt. Every time in the past when we have had major budget deals--when we go back to the Gramm-Rudman deal in 1985 or the 1990 budget agreement or the 1993 budget agreement or the 1997 budget agreement or the one more recently, in 2011, the Budget Control Act, it was always done around and in association with an increase in the debt limit. There is a clear precedent, clear history, when we are facing an increase in the debt limit, of having a serious substantive debate in this country about how to address the debt. In many cases, those led to some of the few times in our Nation's history when we have actually gotten budget agreements that did something to reduce spending.
It might come as a surprise to some of my colleagues here also that inasmuch as many of us do not like the sequester that came out of the Budget Control Act of 2011----
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Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, what came out of that was now, for the first time since the 1950s, literally since the Korean war, government spending has gone down for 2 consecutive years.
It can be done. It can be done when reasonable people are willing to sit down and negotiate, but that requires the engagement of the Chief Executive, of the President of the United States, and it requires the good will of the people here in the Senate. It does not entail taking a position that ``we will not negotiate.'' That is not a position. What we need is an opportunity where we can sit down together and focus on these big challenges we have. In the meantime, we continue to have opportunities to vote to fund veterans programs, to vote to fund our National Guard and Reserve, to fund the National Institutes of Health--important priorities many of my colleagues on the other side have talked about.
We have bills coming over from the House of Representatives. We could do like we did with the military pay act--pick them up and pass them by unanimous consent so we do not have to worry about any of these issues not being addressed and important programs and projects not being funded. That is all it takes. I hope that can happen.
I yield the floor.
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