Speeches & Floor Statements

Alexander Floor Speech on Government Shutdown

Posted on January 22, 2018

I spent a good deal of time with the Democratic Leader in 2013 reopening the government after Republicans shut it down. And I'd like to say three things about where we are today. First, in my view, shutting down the government of the United States of America should never ever be a bargaining chip for any issue. Period. Shutting down the government of the United States of America should never ever be used as a bargaining chip for any issue. Period. It should be to governing as chemical warfare is to real warfare. It should be banned. It should be unthinkable. We should not even allow anybody on either side of the aisle to seriously consider it, yet we're in the middle of it. 

Mr. President, I was sent here from Tennessee not to shut the government down but to make it work for taxpayers. I've worked hard to do that. I continue to do that, and I think my friends on the other side of the aisle know that I know how to work in the Senate. If you want a result, that means 60 votes. I respect the fact that the minority has prerogatives. I don't think the Senate is a place where a bulldozer runs over the minority. So we work together and we get important results that are lasting on issues like fixing No Child Left Behind, on 21st Century Cures. Senator Murray of Washington state and I are working on the first bipartisan modifications to the Affordable Care Act. I hadn’t had any conversations on those in seven years, to lower health insurance premiums. We can do that. When we do it, it works. But we should never ever say if you don't do what I want, we're going to shut the government down because we can. We did that on the Republican side in 2013. We shouldn't have done it, but we did it. Barack Obama was the President of the United States. What did he say? He said I will not negotiate with the Republicans who have shut the government down over the Affordable Care Act while the government is shut down. So we went on day after day after day, and the government shut down. And in my part of east Tennessee, where the Presiding Officer has visited, it happened to be right in the middle of the fall tourist season, so all the little businesses who make their living off tourists coming to the Great Smoky Mountains to see the colors, they lost a lot of their livelihood. Military people weren't paid.

The taxpayers lost hundreds of millions of dollars because we Republicans shut the government down in 2013.

President Obama said I won't negotiate with anybody over any issue when they use as a bargaining chip shutting the government down. He stuck to his guns and we capitulated in two weeks, and we got the blame for it, and we deserved it.

We were not sent here to shut the government down. We were sent here to make the government work for taxpayers.

Now who's shutting the government down? It's obvious who's shutting the government down. The Republican House passed a continuing resolution to keep the government open. More than 50 Senators last night, including almost all Republicans and 5 Democrats, voted to keep the government open. The president has said he would sign the continuing resolution to keep the government open. The Democrats are closing down the government because they want a result on an important issue, and they want it now. Their way.

Mr. President, I respect the issue. It's an issue I'm trying to solve too. But we should not be shutting the government down to resolve the issue of these children who were brought here years ago. I want to talk more about that. But we know who's shutting the government down. The Republicans are voting to keep it open. The Democrats are voting to shut it. Nobody should be shutting the government down.

Now second, there's a lot of talk about what the president does and what the House does. One of the things I've learned about Washington is that we have three branches of government for a reason, and that we have two independent houses for a reason. The assistant Democratic Leader, the Presiding Officer both served in the House of Representatives. I didn't have that privilege. Sometimes we have Senators who want to run over to the House and get them to do things our way. I found that doesn't work very well. We have a lot to say over here. Usually the best thing for us to do is to do what the Senate can do and say here, here it is and say that to the president and say that to the House, and often when they do that, then they agree with us or modify and we get a result. So it's a pretty poor excuse to sit here and say we can't deal with President Trump. We don't have to deal with President Trump. We're the United States Senate. We can make our own decisions about DACA. We can make our own decisions about health insurance. We need his signature to make it a law, but maybe it's a lot easier if we pass what we can pass and say here, Mr. President, here's a solution to an important issue. You can be Nixon to China on the immigration issue. You said you want to do that. Do it. But first here's a specific solution we can do. And as far as the House of Representatives, we can't say that Speaker Ryan, now, Mr. Speaker, before we do anything in the Senate we want you to write the bill and approve it and send us this, that and the other. We can have a discussion with him but that's not the way the system works. We should do what the Senate can do, and we should do it with respect to the House. We should show them what we're doing. We should talk to them about it. Nothing wrong with that. We should consult with the President of the United States. We want his signature. We want the House’s approval. But the main thing for us to do is to do what we can do. 

How does that happen? In the current circumstances I think there's one obvious way to do that, and I suggested it to the Majority Leader, Senator McConnell, earlier. He didn't do that a couple of weeks ago. I suggested look, we've got a tough issue with DACA. We've got a lot of Republicans who would like to get a result. We want the result by March 5 because that's when time runs out for these, these people who have been living in the United States who were brought here illegally as children through no fault of their own. So the best way to do that -- why don't we just vote on it? Why don't we take some time on the floor of the Senate and rather than negotiate in the back rooms and say if we can't get the President, can't get Paul Ryan, can't do this, why don't we just put up the Alexander bill or the Daines bill or the Durbin bill or the Schumer bill or the Graham bill. Put it on the floor. Let Senators amend it and see if we can get 60 votes. If we can, then we can say to the President of the United States, Mr. President, we've solved the problem here. We'd like your support. We can say to the House of Representatives, we'd like you to support it or if you have a better idea, let's see it or put it in a bill we're going to send it. In any event, we're in much better shape. Instead of just talking, we've actually done something. I think the Majority Leader could shorten the period of time of the continuing resolution. I think that would be a gesture of good faith to the Democrats and second, say during if that period of time a group, such as the whips on our side and you can include the whips on the other side, but a group of Senators cannot come to an agreement on a bill, then we will do what the Senate is supposed to do. We will put the bills on the floor and we will vote on them. We will vote on them. We'll do it in the light of day. We'll let people see who's for it and who's against it and whose amendments work and who don't. Lots of times we come to a better result that way.

So that would be my suggestion, that we don't need to shout at each other. We don't need to go on forever. That's bad for the country, bad for the military, bad for us, bad for the government. It's unthinkable that we should be shutting down the government of the United States of America. Let's open it back up. Let's shorten the period of time. Let's say if we don't have the DACA decision worked out among a group of Senators who are talking today, then we put it on the floor and we stay here until we get it done.

Now, finally, Mr. President, we're on the verge of doing some really important things for the American people in the United States Senate. And I think almost everybody knows that. I noticed the temperature in here last night despite the fact we were in this absurd situation of shutting down the government, people were very respectful of one another because they know that we're on the verge of passing a number of important issues that will help our country. 

Number one, a two-year budget agreement which will give the military the funding it needs and at the same time it will give significantly more funding for biomedical research, for national parks, for -- as well as national defense, national laboratories. We're close to that. I'm not really involved in that very much, but everyone says we're close to a two-year agreement on that. We can write our appropriation bills in three weeks. We can have that done by the end of February. That's the first thing. The second thing is the children's health insurance program. There's an agreement on a six-year extension. All over the country people want that to happen. Third is what's often called Alexander-Murray, Collins-Nelson. We've been in the Hatfield-McCoy mud fight for seven years. We actually have some agreement on a way to bring down health insurance rates for self-employed people like farmers, small business women, song writers. Senator Murray and I have worked on that. Senator Nelson. Senator Collins have worked on that. The President supports it. The House is interested in it. Now, we haven't said that they've got to pledge allegiance to it before we pass it, but they do know what we're doing. We have consulted with them, and we're working it out here. So that's the third thing.

So we have the two-year budget deal. We've got children's health insurance. We've got the Alexander-Murray-Collins-Nelson lowering the insurance rates for three people. That's three things. 

We have disaster aid after three big hurricanes that hit us. We can get an agreement on that in a matter of days.

And then we have what we call DACA, the children who were brought here through no fault of their own. Now, that's the toughest issue. But a lot of work has been done. We have to be finished by the 5th of March. My sense is that everybody on the Democratic side wants to get that done, and most of us on the Republican side want to get it done. So let's get back to work. Let's don't be in a stalemate for a day or two or even an hour or two or a week or two when we could be taking five major bipartisan steps that are good for the American people. The American people sent us here to make the government work for them, not to shut it down. That should be unthinkable. That should be like chemical warfare. We should never even consider that. So I urge my friends on the other side, let Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer who are veteran Senators, they respect this institution, they're friends with all of us, they're able to make a decision, let them sit down themselves and find an agreement to get this government back open. Let's go to work on the two-year budget agreement, the children's health insurance for individual Americans on the DACA bill and on disaster. Let's get that done in a very short period of time. 

That is my hope. That's the way I like to work in the United States Senate. And my view is that's the way about 90 of the 100 Senators would like to see this resolved, sooner rather than later. I thank the President. I yield the floor.