Alexander: Senate Democrats “May as Well Be Home Watching Television” If They’re Unwilling to Debate Defense Funding Bill

After blocking defense spending bill, Senate Democrats relent and allow debate on veterans funding bill

Posted on November 5, 2015

 ***Click HERE for video of the senator’s remarks***

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2015 – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today spoke on the Senate floor, threatening to lead an “irreversible trend of partisanship in the Senate” before Senate Democrats blocked the fiscal year 2016 Defense Appropriations Bill for the third time. After blocking the Defense spending bill, Senate Democrats allowed debate on the fiscal year 2016 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill.

 “I am glad Senate Democrats reversed course and put the Senate back to work on veterans issues as Veterans Day approaches. But how do they explain not working to fund salaries for 1.3 million active-duty men and women keeping our nation safe?” Alexander said.

Earlier in the day, as senators threatened to block the defense appropriations bill, Alexander said, “What they propose to do is block our moving to the appropriations bill for the defense of this country for the third time – for the third time. And there is no justification to do that,” Alexander said. “[Senate Democrats] say, ‘If we don’t get everything we want, we are not going to have an appropriations process.’ Well, we’ll see how that goes.”

Alexander continued: “[Senate Democrats] are going to set in motion an irreversible course in this Senate—and I’m going to lead it … If they’re going to play that kind of game, we can play it, too. I’m not one who usually does, but I’m able to play or I wouldn’t have gotten here. I say to my friends on the other side: Don’t go there.”  

By blocking debate on the bill, Democrats have prevented the 70 senators not on the appropriations committee from offering input in the legislation, Alexander said.

“What are they here for if they don’t want to have their say on appropriations? They might as well be home watching television. They should be here deciding the issues that face our country,” Alexander said.

The fiscal year 2016 Defense Appropriations Bill provides funding for the U.S. Department of Defense and military programs, including pay raises for troops, military equipment and weapons to maintain readiness, and critical medical research. A cloture vote on a motion to proceed to debate the bill failed to reach the 60-vote requirement, with a vote of 51 for and 44 against. Alexander also voted for the legislation in the Senate Appropriations Committee in June, where it passed by a bipartisan vote of 27 to 3.

Despite Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pledging to allow senators to offer amendments on the Senate floor, Senate Democrats blocked the fiscal year 2016 Defense Appropriations bill from being considered by the full Senate on June 18 and September 22.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the fiscal year 2016 Defense Appropriations Bill on June 11 by a vote of 278-149.

Below are Sen. Alexander’s remarks:

Thank you, Mr. President.

Mr. President, I’d like to address my remarks to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, my Democratic colleagues. Yesterday, I spent almost the whole day working with Democratic colleagues on a variety of proposals to try to get bipartisan results here in the Senate.

We’ve gotten more bipartisan results this year than people think. Whether it’s the progress we’ve made on No Child Left Behind or on the Trade Bill or on the Doc Fix or on changing the way we pay doctors or on the USA Freedom Act, or on the Defense Authorization bill. It’s a long list.

I was working to get bipartisan results yesterday, because that’s what I am supposed to do as a United States Senator. I’m not sent here to posture or to make a political point. I’m sent here, given this privilege, in order to create an environment where we can solve problems for the benefit of the taxpayers, for the benefit of the American people.

So that’s how I spent my time yesterday. I don’t think any other Republican spent more time than I did working with colleagues on the Democratic side to do that, which is why I’m addressing my remarks to my Democratic friends.

What they have proposed to do is block our moving to the appropriations bill for the defense of this country for the third time, for the third time. And there is no justification whatsoever to do that.

What I’m saying to my friends is: Don’t go there, because if you continue to block appropriations bills, you’re going to set in motion an irreversible trend toward partisanship in the Senate and I’m going to lead it. I’m going to lead it. Instead of spending my time working with Democrats to get bipartisan results, we’re going to go in another direction.

Now why would I say that? Because, I’m not here to be a partisan. Let me give you the example of the appropriations bill that Senator Feinstein, the senator from California, and I have worked on. We worked on that bill in a bipartisan way. I think she would even say she wrote about as much of it as I did.

There’s a page full of things that she thought are important for our country that are a part of the bill. There are probably more than 75 senators, about half of them democratic senators, who wrote us letters saying: These are important provisions in the Energy and Water Appropriations bill. Those provisions are in our bill. They are ready to be considered.

Twice, the Democrats have kept us from considering the Defense Appropriations bill. Today, they’re going to do it again.

And what they’re saying to us is that we are going to come up with any reason, any excuse not to have a normal appropriations process.

The last time Democrats argued: Well, we didn’t have enough money. Well the way you deal with not enough money, if that’s your opinion, is you bring a bill to the floor. You vote on it. You pass it, if you can. You send it to the President. If the President disagrees with you, he vetoes it. It comes back and we negotiate and we have a compromise.

That’s the way it works.

You don’t just jam something through because you have the power to stop something or the power to jam it through. That’s the way you pass Obamacare. That’s the way you make sure the country has no respect for what we’re trying to do.

But that’s what the Democrats did with appropriations this year and they got a result. I am not unhappy with the result, and I voted for the budget agreement.

But what it does is create additional spending for defense and nondefense discretionary funding for the Energy and Water bill.

I’m glad to see that, because that money goes for ports, locks, and dams. That money goes towards the Office of Science, so we can have revolutions in manufacturing that create jobs – money that can help with our biomedical research that we need to do.

There are important things that we need to do and this bill will help us do them, but why would we not begin to debate that? Why would we not let the other senators debate it? All we’re proposing to do is begin to do some of what in December we should have done in June and July. Now the majority leader knows that he can’t put every one of the twelve appropriations bills one the floor – there’s not enough time left this year.

Why is there not enough time? Because the Democrats blocked it in June. They kept us from going to the bills even though this is the first time in six years that all 12 appropriations bills have passed the Appropriations Committee.

Why is that important? That's what we do here. Our job is to review the purse, to decide what to spend, more for this lock, less for that project, keep the budget in balance when we can. That's our job, and they blocked it twice and they're getting ready to block it again with a vote today.

I'm saying don't go there because you're going to set in motion an irreversible course in this Senate and I'm going to lead it. I'm going to use whatever skills and powers I have to do that. All these Democratic provisions don't have to be in the Energy and Water Appropriations bills. They don’t have to be in any of the bills because we have the majority and you don't.

So if we're going to play that kind of game, we can play it too.

I’m not one who usually does, but I’m able to play. I’m able to play or I wouldn’t have gotten here.

So I want to say to my friends on the other side, don’t go there. Vote to put the bill on the floor. Vote to give ourselves a chance to have amendments.

Why would the other 70 senators not want to have a chance to say about the appropriations bill? 30 of us are on the Appropriations Committee. We did our work. We approved the bill, in our case by a vote of 26 to 4. It’s a bipartisan bill. Why would we not put bills like that on the floor and let the other 70 senators have their say?

What are they here for if they don’t want to have their say on appropriations? They might as well be home watching television. They should be here deciding the issues that face our country.

So I hope my friends on both sides of the aisle can tell I’m not happy this morning with the direction things are taking. I don’t like the fact that I spent all day working with Democrat colleagues to get bipartisan results and they come along with a tactic for the third time that says if we don’t get everything we want we’re gonna not have an appropriations process.

Well we’ll see how that goes. And it will go not in a way that’s good for the country, not in a way that’s good for the senate. But it will allow the people who have a majority in the senate, a chance to assert themselves and write the bills. At least we can do that.

There’s no reason really we need to have 75 senators ideas about priorities in the Energy and Water Appropriations bills if the majority doesn’t want to. There’s no reason to have the ranking members’ opinions in any of these appropriations bills if the majority doesn’t want to.

Now the way that we have worked in our committee and I’ve worked with the senator from California for several years, who’s just a terrific person and a wonderful senator, is we’ve worked together. Now why should we stop that process when the bills come to the floor? So I respectfully through the chair ask my colleagues to think again, don’t do this. Don’t send us a signal that we’re never going to have another normal appropriations process for the United States Senate.

The American people don’t want that. We don’t want that and I can assure you that my friends on the other side don’t want that.

So my hope is, that one way or another the majority leader and the democratic leader have a conversation. And that the senate comes to its rational senses and begins a normal appropriations process with as much time as we have between now and the end of our time here in December, which would be a signal in a bipartisan way on a normal appropriations process for the good of the country.

And we’re not just going to try to think up any excuse we can think of not to move an appropriations bill to the floor. Two years ago the majority leader simply wouldn’t bring the bills to the floor. This time, the minority leader has blocked the bills from coming to the floor.

Let’s get back to work! For heaven’s sake! That’s what we’re here for. I’m ready to go to work. I much prefer the way I worked yesterday, working with my colleagues.

But I’m prepared to work in another way if that’s what we need to do to get some balance in the United States Senate.

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