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Hire More Heroes Act of 2013 -- Motion to Proceed -- Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, shortly after I arrived in the Senate, in 2002, Republicans--my political party--became the majority party, and I quickly learned a few important lessons. First of all, being in the majority is better than being in the minority. But part of the price of being in the majority is that sometimes you have to take some tough votes via the amendment process. In other words, when the Senate is operating the way it was originally intended--and which it always has until recently--any Senator has the right to seek recognition and offer an amendment on almost any topic on almost any bill. My colleagues told me at the time--they said: It has always been that way, and it is the way it always should be, if we are serious about protecting minority rights.

So why should I care, being a Member of the majority, about protecting minority rights in the Senate? Well, in the intervening years, my political party has gone from being in the majority in the Senate to being in the minority. That is one reason to care. The other reason to care is because every Senator was elected by their constituents in their State to represent their State, and when any Senator--whether they are in the majority or the minority--is shut out of the process, their constituents are shut out of the process. That is not what the Constitution contemplates when it says that each State has a right to send two Senators to Washington. If you can tell one of those or both of those Senators to sit down and be quiet, you cannot offer any amendments, you cannot get any votes on your amendments, you are effectively shutting out, in my case, the 26 million people I represent in the State of Texas.

So the message is this: If you do not want to take tough votes, you are in the wrong line of work--you are in the wrong line of work. The way the Senate should operate is that each of us is accountable to our constituents, and when they disagree with us about a vote, then they have a right to tell us. That is called petitioning your government for the redress of grievances.

Accountability, which is the way this Congress is supposed to work, can only work when we have an open process, where the minority gets to participate in the process and the majority gets to participate in the process. And guess what. If you are in the majority on a given subject, you are going to win. But that is no justification for shutting down the minority and saying: Sit down; shut up; forget about the fact that you have an election certificate from your secretary of State saying you were duly and regularly chosen by the voters in your State to represent them in what used to be the world's greatest deliberative body.

Here is something else I learned when I came to the Senate--something that does not happen as much now--but what I learned is this place works best when individual bills are drafted by Senators and move through the committee process. That is because usually the committees that have jurisdiction over those pieces of legislation have some experience and some expertise in the subject matter, and sometimes the subject matter gets pretty complicated. And it is good for the Senate, it is good for the United States to have a committee look at the legislation. People will have a chance to offer amendments and have them voted up or down before they then come to the Senate floor. Then every Senator gets to participate whether they know very much about the topic. Hopefully, all of us get to be smart pretty quickly when a bill comes to the floor because that is our chance to have a say on behalf of our constituents, whether we are in the majority or whether we are in the minority. We do not have a right to win--the minority does not--but we do have a right to a voice and a vote and to participate in the legislative process, which is what has been denied under the current majority leader.

More than a decade after I came to the Senate, I hardly recognize it; it is so dramatically different. Indeed, in some ways it is diametrically opposite from what it was when I got here and, frankly, the way the Senate has operated for a couple hundred years since the founding of our country. Only in the last few years under the current majority leader has the Senate become completely dysfunctional, where the majority leader becomes, in essence, a dictator who says: No, Senator, your amendment cannot be considered, it cannot be voted on. In other words, it is not up to the Senator to offer an amendment to try to shape legislation on behalf of our constituents, to engage in robust debate; it is the majority leader who basically becomes the traffic cop who says who stops, who goes. Of course, that is one reason why the Senate has become so dysfunctional.

Under the current majority leader, an unprecedented number of bills have come directly to the floor from his conference room, from his office, and bypassed the committee process. In fact, many of my colleagues, including many of my Democratic colleagues, have been left wondering: Why in the world have committees in the Senate if we are not going to use them, if we are not going to use the committees for the experience and the expertise those Members serving on those committees have before it comes to the Senate floor.

In addition to bypassing the committee process in an unprecedented sort of way, once the Senate legislation comes to the Senate floor out of the majority leader's conference room--or wherever it is it comes from--Senators from both parties, representing hundreds of millions of American citizens, are routinely denied the opportunity to offer amendments and engage in meaningful debate. We just saw that yesterday as a direct result of the majority leader's denying anyone--the Presiding Officer, one of our Democratic colleagues, or anyone--an opportunity to offer amendments and to get votes on those amendments on an energy bill, which is the first time we have had an energy bill on the floor since 2007. The majority leader shuts down the process and says, in essence: Sit down; shut up; good luck.

During the 109th Congress, when Republicans controlled this Chamber, Democrats were allowed to offer--that is the minority party was allowed to offer--1,043 separate amendments--1,043 separate amendments during the 109th Congress. Do you know how many amendments Republicans have been able to offer since July of last year in the Senate? Nine--nine Republican amendments in 10 months.

Majority Leader Reid has filled the amendment tree--that is the technical jargon; someone has called it basically that it is the gag rule of the majority leader, but it is technically blocking the amendment process--more than twice as much as majority leaders Bill Frist, Tom Daschle, Trent Lott, Bob Dole, George Mitchell, and Robert Byrd combined; that is one, two, three, four, five, six--six previous majority leaders did not do it as much as the current majority leader, Senator Reid; that is, block out any amendments from the minority.

I know because we have talked about this so much before most Americans really are not focused on Senate procedure and they think: Well, maybe this is just one Senator who is a little sore at being frozen out of the process and losing on a particular piece of legislation. But, again, this is not about the prerogatives of an individual U.S. Senator; this is about the people's prerogative, the people's right to participate in the process. The very legitimacy of our form of government depends upon consent of the governed. How can the people the Presiding Officer represents and I represent consent when they have been shut out? Is this what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they created our great system of government--to shut our fellow citizens out of the process, to trample on minority rights? Hardly.

Before I conclude, I want to say a quick word about some of the majority leader's most recent comments when we have had a discussion about this problem.

When Americans ponder the root causes of Washington dysfunction and gridlock, I hope they remember the majority leader of the Senate, who leads this great institution and has referred to the minority party in the Senate as ``greased pigs.'' He has accused us of wanting to suppress voting rights. He has claimed we have tried to ``dump on'' women and minorities. He describes Senators representing their constituents with amendments as ``screwing around,'' and he demonizes private citizens exercising their rights under the Constitution of the United States as ``un-American.'' I have to confess, I find these comments insulting, I find these comments disrespectful, and I find them embarrassing.

How can we ever expect to reach compromise, which is the only way things happen here? Neither party can dictate on their own what the outcomes legislatively will be, so the only way we can do it is to try to find common ground and work together, without sacrificing our principles, of course. But how are we ever going to solve some of the most complex legislative challenges that confront us--such as tax reform?

We have a bill on the floor where we are being asked to extend 55 expiring temporary tax provisions. For how long? Well, through 2015. Is that a good way to do business? Well, no. What kind of uncertainty is there when we do not even know what the Tax Code is going to say for more than a year and a half?

Then there is entitlement reform. I mentioned this before. We have these pages here who are serving in the Senate. They are in high school. Someday the $17 trillion the Federal Government owes to our creditors is going to have to be paid back--someday. When that happens, I daresay interest rates are not going to be at zero, which is what they are now thanks to the Federal Reserve because the Federal Reserve is trying to juice the economy, doing the best it can to get the economy back on track, although we do not have a lot to show for it. The economy grew at 0.1 percent last quarter.

How are we going to fix our broken immigration system if the majority leader is going to routinely slander Members of this body and our constituents? How are we going to fix what is broken if the majority leader wants to trash talk folks on this side of the aisle and people he disagrees with. He even called them un-American. For what? For participating in the political process. Well, of course, he would like to
shut them up and make them sit down so he could do what he wants without any resistance or without anybody questioning his actions.

Recently in Austin President Obama and others gathered for a historic celebration. It was the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Civil Rights Act. Do you know how many amendments were voted on by the Senate when the Civil Rights Act was passed? There were 117 amendments.

Do you think this Congress and this Senate today, under this majority leader, would have any opportunity to pass historic legislation to heal the wounds of our country that date back to the very founding of this Nation, given the fact that the minority is shut out of the process, no amendments are allowed, and no votes on those amendments? There is no way. What a tragedy--the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

Then for more mundane matters, when the Panama Canal treaties were debated in this body, there were 75 rollcall votes. That was a very controversial issue at the time. But there are nine rollcall votes in this body coming from the Republican side since July, with no prospect of allowing any amendments on the current tax bill that is on the floor.

Just like the energy bill that we concluded yesterday, there is no prospect in sight for a better outcome and better behavior by the people who should know better. How can we expect to achieve comity in this Chamber when its most powerful Member has done so much to poison the atmosphere.

The Senate of 2014 is certainly not the Senate that our Founding Fathers envisioned, nor is it the Senate that my former colleague, Senator Chris Dodd, described in his 2010 farewell speech. Let me quote just a small portion. Senator Dodd reminded us that:

The Senate was designed to be different, not simply for the sake of variety, but because the Framers believed the Senate could and should be the venue in which statesmen would lift America up to meet its unique challenges.

Unfortunately, the Senate will never be able to play that unique role in American government and American history until the majority leader shows greater respect for the constituents we represent and for this institution.

As I said, this debate is not about procedural niceties, it is not about the prerogatives of the Senator because they think they are so important. When Republicans offer amendments to pending legislation, we are trying to give our constituents the voice that they are guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America.

When the majority leader refuses to let us vote on amendments and refuses to let us have a real discussion about America's biggest challenges, he is effectively gagging millions of Americans who don't share his particular views. That is why the Senate has become so dysfunctional, because of the majority leader and his conduct.

I can only hope--indeed, I can only pray--that the majority leader will change his mind and act as the genuine leader the Senate deserves and less as an angry dictator.

I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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