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Public Statements

Continuing Appropriations

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KING. Madam President, my intention coming here was to help solve problems, to find common ground, to work together with colleagues from both sides of the aisle. That is my history, and, in fact, that was my primary motivation for running, for stepping into the shoes of my illustrious predecessor, Olympia Snowe of Maine. In fact, that is what we did this summer on student loans when a small bipartisan group of Senators worked together to find a compromise, work it through both sides of this body, both parties, then through the House and then get the signature of the President. We got 81 votes in the Senate and 392 in the House. That is what I want to try to do. That was a validation of what I am here for.

This situation we are in now cries out for resolution. It cries out for finding common ground, for compromising, getting everybody back to work, getting the government shutdown over. So why are we not doing it? Why aren't we out cutting a deal? Why are we not out compromising?

I talk to my colleagues here in the Senate on both sides of the aisle, talk to House Members, both Republicans and Democrats, and there are lots of options. In fact, the House has sent us a series of options. The first one was essentially to defund--effectively repeal the Affordable Care Act, then it was to delay the Affordable Care Act, then it was to delay a part of the Affordable Care Act. But the important thing about these options and this discussion is that it is all taking place in the context of a government shutdown. That is not where negotiations should be made. That is not where negotiation and discussion should be had, when essentially the government has been shut down and one side is saying: We won't allow the government to operate unless you give us what we want on a substantive piece of legislation.

This is the problem. This is why I think in this one case negotiation really is not the right course. It is a process problem, it is a practical problem, and I believe it is a constitutional problem. It is perfectly appropriate to negotiate budgets. As a Governor, I did it four times for biennial budgets and innumerable supplemental budgets, and it is perfectly appropriate to negotiate up to the deadline--lots of late nights. That is when this work, for some reason, seems to get done. But in the context of budgets, of negotiating the most fundamental governmental document, you negotiate about numbers, about details, about allocations.

You don't negotiate about entirely separate substantive pieces of law.

In fact, that happened 1 month ago right here when Leader Reid and Speaker Boehner negotiated a continuing resolution on what the numbers should be, and it was a hot and heavy negotiation. The leader compromised. He said: Let's go forward because we can do this cleanly with a continuing resolution at a lower level than the Senate Democrats felt was appropriate than what was in that budget that was passed earlier this year.

But that is not what is going on here. We are not negotiating about the dollar amounts of the budget or the details or the allocations, such as how much will be allocated to defense or how much will be allocated to Head Start. This is an attempt to rewrite a major piece of substantive law through holding the government hostage, which is a result that cannot be achieved through the normal democratic and constitutional processes. That is the core of this current situation, and that is what is bothering me about it. I don't mind negotiating budgets. I do think we shouldn't use the threat of a government shutdown--or now the reality of a government shutdown--to obtain legislative and policy benefits that we can't otherwise obtain through the normal constitutional process. In a very real sense, this is a frontal assault on the Constitution itself.

Ironically, it is being led by many of those who wrap themselves daily in the Constitution. I don't have one of those books, but we all know those books, such as, ``How a Bill Becomes a Law.'' I can guarantee you can read those books until, as my father used to say, the spots come off, but I guarantee there is nothing in there that says if all else fails, hold the government hostage and then you can make a law. That is not what it says.

My wife Mary got me a book when I was first elected called ``Congress for Dummies.'' Even in ``Congress for Dummies,'' it doesn't say you can make laws, change laws, rewrite laws in the context of holding the country hostage. It is an attempt to create an alternative process, a new shortcut way of achieving political ends without having to deal with those pesky elections.

Here is the electoral history of this bill: In 2010, the Affordable Care Act was passed in the early summer. There were elections in 2010, and, indeed, the Republicans gained substantial seats in the House probably because of concern about the Affordable Care Act. I will concede that. But the Senate didn't turn over. By the way, that is the way the Framers planned it, and that is why there are 6-year terms, so public passions in one electoral cycle don't entirely change the government.

Then there was another election in 2012. In that election, in which the Affordable Care Act was a major factor, Democrats gained seats in the House, gained seats in the Senate, and the President, whose name is attached to the bill, won by 5 million votes.

In my election in Maine in every debate--and goodness knows there were probably over 20 of them--my Republican opponents started the debate by saying: I want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That was the whole mission. I defended it--not in every detail because I think it needs to be fixed--and I won that election and here I am. Mr. Romney said: I will repeal ObamaCare on day one, but he lost.

Here we are, in effect, trying to effectuate that agenda--that policy position--through an alternative process that skips around those annoying elections. The passionate opponents of this act are acting as if those elections didn't happen.

Let's be clear about what this is: This is one faction of one party in one House of one branch trying to run the entire U.S. Government.

That is not the way our Constitution is supposed to work. I am confident of that statement because from talking to my friends in the House, I believe it is highly likely that if a clean continuing resolution--that means one without any strings, without any political baggage, without any repeal of the Affordable Care Act--went before the House today, tomorrow or Monday, it would pass. With most of the Democrats and enough Republicans to achieve the majority, the bill would pass and all of this would be over.

Yesterday, Speaker Boehner said two things that I think were important. One I agree with and one I don't. The one I agree with was when he said this isn't a game. It is not a game. It is it deadly serious. It is deadly serious because of the impact this shutdown is having on our country. It is having a serious impact on people throughout the country and in Maine.

Let's talk about this from a national standpoint. Approximately half of the civilians in the Department of Defense and 70 percent of our intelligence agencies' personnel have been furloughed. Air squadrons have been grounded, there are people who are not being trained, and our defense industrial base is already suffering.

In Maine we have 1,500 people on furlough at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and more coming at Bath Iron Works. Almost half of our National Guard people are on furlough.

This is not a game. But all of this is being done in the name of effectively repealing or crippling the Affordable Care Act. Even if they don't think it is a good law, this is not the way to go about dismantling it. It is not the way our Constitution is designed.

Why won't we even negotiate? Why aren't the Democrats negotiating on this and maybe nick the Affordable Care Act? It reminds me of a story of a city guy who came up to a farmer in Maine. He said: I like the looks of your land. I would like to buy your farm. The farmer said: It is not for sale. The city guy said: How about the 50 percent on the river, I would like to buy that. The farmer said: It is not for sale. The city guy said: How about just the quarter acre where your house is on the road? The farmer said: It is not for sale. Then the city guy says: Why won't you negotiate? Because it is not for sale.

This is not the place or time to negotiate. Listen, I think there are problems with the Affordable Care Act. I would love to sit down in good faith with people and try to fix them--starting with making the Web sites work better. But I think the way to do that is not in the context of the government being held hostage.

Here is the real problem: If we do it now, this will become the normal way we legislate around here. This is a 6-week continuing resolution. So we nick the Affordable Care Act in this one, then next time it is going to be, OK, we will take another nick.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator's time has expired.

Mr. KING. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to have 4 more minutes.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection? Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. KING. I am afraid this will become the normal way we do things around here. Police, intelligence people, and military officers tell us they don't negotiate with hostage-takers, and the reason they don't is because they would empower, enable, and ensure it will happen again, and that is what worries me.

Our constitutional system has two principles in tension; one is governing and the other is checks and balances. Governing is to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare; and, of course, checks and balances is the rest of the Constitution so we are not abused by our government. If we take away the governing part, which is what the budget is, nothing is left but checks and balances. The Framers thought of this.

Madison in the 58th Federalist addressed it directly. He said: It might be a good thing to have minorities have additional power above a quorum. He then said:

But these considerations are outweighed by the inconveniences in the opposite scale. In all cases where justice or the general good requires new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed--

By minority rule.

It would no longer be the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority.

Lincoln put it much more succinctly:

If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the Government must cease. There is no other alternative, for continuing the Government is acquiescence on one side or the other.

That is what is at stake--governing. I understand the opposition, although I frankly don't fully understand not wanting people to have health insurance. I understand the passion, and I understand the attempt. I think the Speaker is a good man, and he wants to do the right thing.

I understand the need to get something and win something in this weird atmosphere where everybody has to win or lose. They gave it their best shot. It didn't work. Let's move on. Let's have a clean vote in the House so the American people and the world know we still know how to govern. I want to talk, I want to negotiate, and I want to solve problems but not at the expense of this institution, not at the expense of the Constitution, and not at the expense of the American people.

I yield the floor.


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