Videos & Speeches
Oct 29 2015
Mr. President, I spoke a few moments ago on the Senate floor and as I was leaving, I was made aware of an article in which the minority leader, Senator Reid, was quoted. And I wanted to come highlight something I want my colleagues to hear and know.
What the Senator from Nevada indicated was – the article begins: “Having secured the goal of getting a budget deal addressing the debt ceiling and sequestration cuts.” The article says the Democrats are now looking forward to the appropriations process.
As an appropriator, so am I. I am interested for us to have the opportunity, if this budget agreement passes, to make decisions about the priorities of spending within those budget numbers. But what is so troublesome to me is that the indication was that President Obama and Democrats stand firm against efforts to target environmental regulations and other contentious riders.
Quoting the Senator from Nevada: “We're holding hands with the president, we're all holding hands. We are not going to deal with these vex[ati]ous riders. We feel comfortable and confident.” He goes on to talk about the agreement.
Mr. President, this is a Congress that’s supposed to deal with contentious and vex[ati]ous issues. Why does anyone have the opportunity to say “it’s off the table”? It happened in these budget agreements in which we were told dealing with mandatory spending is off the table. And yet it is one of the most important issues we need to address, and you ought not start negotiations by saying we’re not even going to talk about an issue. In this case, “off the table, not subject to discussion” is the issue of contentious or environmental regulations.
Mr. President, Congress – Republican and Democratic Members – ought to care about the power of Congress, which is granted to us by the Constitution in our representation of the American people. We need the days in which the Congress and Members of Congress are not wedded to a Republican President or a Democrat President just because they happen to be Republicans or Democrats. We need to make decisions based upon what is good for the country, not whether we are backstopping a President who happens to be a member of our political party. Where are the Members of Congress who say about congressional authority, the constitutional grant of power to act on behalf of Americans?
Mr. President, We need not only to establish priorities as a Congress when it comes to the spending process, but we need to make decisions when an agency or a department exceeds their authority, when they operate in ways that are contrary to what we believe is in the best interest of the country, in circumstances in which they are doing things that lack common sense. The role of Congress is to direct the spending. It’s granted to us by the Constitution of the United States. And we’re saying that, while we are pleased we have a budget agreement, we will not stand for Congress determining whether or not the money can be spent in a certain way, whether it can be prohibited from being spent in a certain way. We’re taking vex[ati]ous riders off the table.
Mr. President, this is our responsibility. It is just as important for us to determine whether money should be spent at all as it is for us to determine how much money can be spent on a government program. And it’s particularly true, I don't think there is any question, but that this administration has been the most active – many of us would consider it active in an unconstitutional way – in the development of regulations, of policies, of the bureaucracy of what the departments and agencies are doing. This is an administration that cries out for congressional oversight, not for someone who says it is not even on the table to be considered.
And I would think that Republicans and Democrats both ought to have an interest in determining how money is spent as well as whether we should tell an agency, a department: they can't spend that money at all. Many of my Democrat colleagues have indicated they support a number of riders, including ones that are considered environmental.
Waters of the United States is one that I have been told numerous times that my colleagues on the Democrat side of this Congress support the rider that is in the appropriations bill. Numerous times I have been told that many Democrats support reining in the regulations that are coming from the Department of Labor related to a fiduciary rule. But now we hear that vex[ati]ous environmental riders are off the table. We ought not allow that to stand. It’s not that I expect every rider that I am for to receive approval of Congress, but, boy, those votes ought to be taken. That’s our responsibility and majority rules.
Again, the circumstance that we now find ourselves in, this is nothing that we are even going to talk about. And it’s troublesome to me that those of my colleagues who have expressed support for those riders and I guess I should explain to Kansans and to Americans, “riders” is a provision, language in the appropriations bill that oftentimes says, “no money can be spent to implement this idea, to implement this regulation.”
It is an absolutely important responsibility for Congress. It’s not unusual. It’s not something outside the boundaries of what we are supposed to be doing. It is absolutely a significant component of our responsibility and now those who claim they’re for a rider – say, the Waters of the United States or the fiduciary rule that the Department of Labor is promulgating – we have colleagues who say they are for that. Now they will be able to say: “well I am for it, but I just never had a chance to vote on it because it was off the table.”
I would again ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle: don't fall into this trap in which we are here to support ad hoc, at every instance, the executive branch just because they happen to be a member of our political party.
When there is a Republican President, I hope to abide by those same rules. I am here on behalf of Kansans and on behalf of Americans, not on behalf of an administration regardless of their political party, and we ought to demand that Congress do its work. We had an election, the people of this country asked for something different, and once again we are back in the circumstance in which no longer are we able to move forward on legislation.
And I assume by what the former majority leader is saying is that when he says “it is off the table,” it means that there will not be 60 votes for us to even consider an omnibus bill in which those riders are included. Now, what I would say is that, before long, we are going to be hearing about how Republicans are interested in shutting down government because they want these riders. The reality is that the Senator from Nevada is indicating that there is no discussion, and it ought not be the blame fall to those of us who actually wanted Congress to work. The allegation of shutting down government ought to rest on those who say, “we won't even discuss an appropriation bill that includes vex[ati]ous or contentious riders.”
Who would want to be a Member of a Congress who is unwilling and a Congress that is unwilling to deal with contentious issues? It’s our responsibility. It’s our constitutional responsibility. And the American people ought to demand the opportunity for us to address issues of importance to them, and it ought not be off the table before the conversation even begins.
Again, the point being is that we have a constitutional responsibility that we failed to exercise. When the decisions are made, it is off the table. We need a Congress that works, and we need a Congress that puts the American people above defending a President, regardless of his or her political party. Now, Mr. President, I yield the floor and I note the absence of a quorum.