Videos & Speeches
Thank you, Madam President, I rise to visit for a moment with my colleagues, both Republican and Democrat, about the ongoing debate that we are having over the appropriateness of having policy issues decided – debated and then decided in appropriation bills.
We are now at the stage in our legislative process in which it looks like we are going to complete our work on the final spending bill for the fiscal year that ended a few months ago and that by December 11, when the continuing resolution concludes, that we very well may have an appropriations bill that takes us into the new year completed.
There are some in the Senate who have argued that within this appropriations bill there is no place for policy riders, for provisions in that bill that direct in a more specific way how we spend money. I would say that is a terrible mistake on the part of members of the Senate to reach that conclusion, and I would say it’s wrong for our country. It’s wrong based upon the Constitution of the United States that creates three co-equal branches of government.
The legislative branch, we know that our role is, which is to legislate, to create the laws, to appropriate the money. And there cannot be a distinction between legislating and appropriating money. They end up being the same thing – that when we appropriate money, we are directing an administration to conduct itself according to that appropriation bill. But we have, particularly in this case, a few Democrats who are arguing that there shouldn’t be any policy riders included in that appropriations bill. I doubt that we would hear that from Democrats if this was a Republican President and a Democrat Congress. And in my view, it ought not to be any different. Congress’s role is to make decisions about how money is spent and for too long, Congress has given up the power of the purse string.
Why this is a significant development in our constitutional history is because in giving up the power of the purse strings, we authorize the executive branch – that branch of government that is to execute the laws, to administer the laws – to have significantly more power and the American people and our Constitution are harmed when any Executive – this President, previous Presidents, future Presidents – exceed the authority granted to them by the United States Constitution. Sometimes I think we end up supporting presidential decisions that we agree with and oppose those, obviously, that we disagree with. But the reality is, if those decisions are unconstitutional, if they exceed the authority that Congress has granted an executive branch, they ought to be denied regardless of whether we agree with those decisions or not. In other words, the Constitution should trump.
And in my view, again, this Congress and many who preceded us have taken the opportunity to be in the back seat and granting authority or allowing Presidents to consume additional power well beyond the Constitution. So, Madam President, I am here to encourage my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, to re-exert our constitutional grant of authority to legislate. And we ought not to pay undue deference to an executive branch whether the President is a Republican or a Democrat.
I would say that in the time I have been a Senator, in this first term of my term in office, we have seen an executive branch that has continued to increase its power and authority to exceed, in my view, its constitutional grant of authority and in so many instances exceed the authority granted to them by a statute – a piece of legislation passed by the House, passed by the Senate and sent to the President.
A President should be able to do those things which are granted to him or her by the Constitution or by legislative enactment pursuant to the Constitution. And that seemingly has been forgotten during the recent history of our country. Congress holds the power of the purse string.
There are many of us, Republicans and Democrats, who would like to direct the executive branch in how money is spent. The appropriations bill ultimately will determine how much money is spent, but, in addition to that, we have the ability to direct whether that spending can occur, shouldn’t occur or how it should occur. I offered on the Senate floor – in fact some of you have heard me speak previously, I think all of you have heard me speak previously, some of you may remember about a particular provision that I wanted included in the Interior and Environment appropriations bill related to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – the designation of the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a threatened species.
We have had this conversation. In fact, in a bipartisan way that issue was voted on the Senate floor. It was approved, but that legislation that it was attached to did not become law. So now the opportunity to instruct a federal agency arises as we appropriate the money for them to operate. There [are] five states in the middle of the country, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma, that have felt the consequences of a decision made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a threatened species. The issue that is so troublesome to me is those five states have come together to solve this problem on their own without the heavy hand of the federal government. And conservation practices were being put in place. The U.S. Department of Agriculture was providing technical and financial assistance to conservation efforts to landowners to provide the incentives to put voluntary conservation practices in place across those five states. And yet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in my view, only paid lip service to those conservation efforts. Their actions spoke louder than the words and they listed the Lesser Prairie Chicken as threatened.
This decision, at that point in time, didn’t provide enough time for local plans to prove their effectiveness, and the reality is the problem in our state and across that region of the country was we didn’t have moisture. We didn't have adequate snowfall. We don’t have adequate rainfall. When you have little or no rain, you have little or no habitat. You can’t solve that problem without moisture. Now the rains have returned and, in fact, over the last 2 years, just as you would predict, as common sense would tell us, if there is more rain, there is more habitat, there’s more birds.
And the most recent census of the Lesser Prairie Chicken indicates that in the last 2 years, the population of that bird—that species—has increased by 50 percent. Again, common sense tells us if there is rain and if there is moisture, there is habitat and the birds return. As the rainfall has returned, the habitat is growing, and it is healthy again. And local surveys indicate what we would expect: the bird's population is again increasing.
One might think it would be useful to take a second look at the listing. Despite our request of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they dismissed that with little thought that as the species has returned, that maybe it should no longer be listed. So the opportunity that I and others have to rein in decisions that we believe are poorly made, lack common sense, [and] are unreasonable occurs in this appropriations process. And my guess is that all of my colleagues have certain issues in which they want to direct a federal agency about how to behave – what rules and regulations are appropriate, where we believe they have exceeded their authority or where they just simply lack the common sense or sound science to have made an appropriate decision.
There are some who say you shouldn’t legislate on an appropriations bill. An appropriation bill is a legislative effort and it would be wrong for us not to take the opportunity to direct agencies on behalf of the American people, on behalf of the constituents – in my case of Kansas – who feel very strongly about this issue and have suffered the consequences of the listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
So despite the practical reasons that this listing should be reversed, the agency is not listening and we therefore ought to take the opportunity to direct their behavior in a legislative way. Whether or not an amendment is approved is decided here in the Senate by a majority vote. I would tell you that in the case of this issue, again, the amendment was offered in the Appropriations Committee. It is included in the Interior appropriations bill. The House has adopted similar language in their appropriation bill. So for those who say this is inappropriate, this is the legislative process as it should be. This is United States Senators and the Members of the U.S. House of Representatives speaking on behalf of their constituents in a very constitutional and appropriate way.
It is important for us to utilize our authority as Members of Congress to make decisions that benefit our country as we see best and we ought to work together to accomplish that. There will be riders, provisions that are offered that I will – that are included in an appropriations bill – that I will disagree with, but the appropriations process ought to work and I as a member of the Appropriations Committee and as a member of the Senate want to see us get back to the days in which the power of the legislative branch is able, is to be utilized and we make certain that we make decisions on how we spend the money.
Madam President, I appreciate the opportunity to be on the Senate floor today to speak as we move apparently next week toward the appropriation bill and its conclusion. And I just would say that, in a bipartisan way, we ought to work together to find opportunities to solve problems that our constituents and Americans face. And the legislative process is a way that we can do that. It’s not inappropriate. In fact, it is the constitutional response to an abuse of power in an executive branch. Whether it’s a Republican executive branch or a Democratic executive branch, we ought to work together as Members of Congress utilizing our constitutional authority to make appropriate decisions for the American people.