Videos & Speeches
The bill we are debating, the so-called continuing resolution, spends slightly more than $1 trillion between now and the end of the fiscal year. As those who were either on the floor or watching a few moments ago discovered, the opportunity to amend this bill in even a minor fashion, although, in my view, an important fashion, was denied. So the Senate, in passing the CR, will spend more than $1 trillion, and we have had the opportunity to vote on two amendments; potentially three. That’s the total extent to which 100 Senators representing millions of Americans have had the chance to influence the outcome, the content of a significant bill that spends lots of money.
The amendment I have been trying to offer, in my view, is an important one. One of the things the administration announced following sequestration was that the control tower program, which provides about 179 air traffic control towers across the country, would be eliminated. That certainly is of importance to those who fly. It is important to people in our states, rural America. But this is not just a rural issue. These control towers are located in large cities across our country.
I have been trying to fathom why the Department of Transportation would, in a sense, single out this program. It is hard for me to fathom a good answer to that question. As close as I can come is there are those in Washington, DC, who wish to demonstrate we can't cut a dime. We can't cut $85 billion from federal spending, a $3.6 trillion spending program. We can't eliminate 28 days of spending at all. To prove that point, they apparently wish to target—want to single out programs which are the most important to Americans.
The idea we would put at risk an air traffic control tower program which is so important to the flying and traveling p ublic is amazing to me. Again, it is not I think that the sequestration and the five percent cut in this program could not be handled by the Department of Transportation, but that is not what the Department of Transportation is doing. In fact, the amendment which I hope to offer continues the sequestration and reduces the program spending by five percent. What the Department of Transportation is doing is eliminating the program, reducing the spending in this program by 75 percent.
Again, I can't figure out why this program of such importance would be treated in this fashion unless there are those who simply wish to demonstrate anytime we attempt to reduce spending—it is actually not even reducing spending; sequestration reduces the increase in spending. The only thing I can think of is there are people who wish to demonstrate here that we cannot do that without having huge consequences to the safety and security of Americans. In my view, that concept certainly is false. We can find savings, but beyond that it is a dangerous game to play in trying to prove a point we can't cut spending by putting at risk those who utilize air traffic control towers.
My frustration is increased by the fact we are spending all this money and the bill comes to the floor. I serve on the Appropriations Committee. I ought to have the opportunity to deal with this bill in the committee on which I serve. That hasn't happened. I think what is my next opportunity, since I didn't have one as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee? Maybe I ought to find colleagues from across the aisle, from around the country, rural, urban, Republican, Democrat, who would understand the value of this program. I did this and we found 23 sponsors of this amendment. We could probably find more. The point I wish to make this evening is 13 of those 23 are Democrat sponsors.
This place ought to function. We have been asked, why can't we work together? Why can't we find bipartisan ways to work together, 23 Senators, 10 Republicans and 13 Democrats come together to say, yes, this needs to pass? Yet I have had no opportunity to offer that amendment. Numerous members of the Senate from both sides of the aisle, but especially Democratic Senators, visit with me on the Senate floor saying, why can't you get this amendment made in order? It’s a good amendment. I don't have a good answer for that question.
We have worked hard with the chairperson and the ranking Republican on the committee. We have worked across the aisle and worked with the leadership, trying to make clear how important this amendment is. Yet we will spend more than $1 trillion. And one amendment which transfers $50 million from two accounts, from unencumbered balances and from research funds, to keep the air traffic control program alive and well, is not in order.
And again, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, my hope was I could solve this problem in the normal appropriations process. We spoke about this tonight. The majority leader spoke about getting back to the regular order and working on appropriations bills. Presumably sometime this week—although as a result of this amendment not being made in order, it will be later in the week than expected—we will get to the budget. Presumably we will pass a budget and go through the appropriations process.
The problem is I, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, and my colleagues who care about this program, who serve on this committee and who serve in the Senate, will have no opportunity to save this program. The Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Transportation, is going to terminate this program on April the 7th. By the time we ever get to regular order, if and when we do, the program will be eliminated. We will have lost the only opportunity, which is now on this continuing resolution, to make certain this program remains in place.
If we do what we ought to do here, come together and find a solution, reach bipartisan agreement, we ought to have the opportunity to address $50 million out of a more than $1 trillion bill. The idea we would pass a $1 trillion appropriations bill, with only allowing two, maybe three amendments, is something which again suggests we do not have our order in the appropriate place. This is certainly important to folks across the country, and it is something that deserves attention and deserves a vote. It is something the American public ought to insist we not play the game of whether we can cut anything and put their safety at risk.
My plea to my colleagues tonight, having voted to advance this bill and cloture has been granted, which means no amendments are in order, I would ask our colleagues to realize the importance of this amendment and potentially others. Other members of the Senate wish to offer amendments to establish and prove our priorities and, as the majority leader, demonstrate we can govern. The majority leader spoke about proving to the American people we can govern by passing this bill. It seems to me governing is something more than passing a continuing resolution without the opportunity for members of the Senate to make their imprint on behalf of their constituents, and in my case Kansans, on behalf of the American people.
The air transportation system is essential to local communities, It’s is vital to our economic engine. It matters across the country. This amendment, if I am allowed to offer it, would continue access to the system which has worked so well for so many communities across our country. My plea is that between now and when the 30 hours runs on the post cloture debate of this bill, there are those in the Senate who will work with me and others to see the amendment process works and we return to the days in which a Senator has the ability to influence the outcome of important pieces of legislation.