Speeches & Floor Statements

Senate floor speech: “This Government Shutdown Is Disappointing to Me … and to the American People”

Posted on October 1, 2013

This government shutdown is disappointing to me. It’s disappointing to those who are affected by it, and I’m sure it’s disappointing to the American people. Because they’re seeing their government not function in such a visible way.

               What is especially disappointing to me is the unwillingness of the president and Senate Democrats to make a reasonable effort to resolve the real differences of opinion that exist here. 

               It’s not unusual that we have differences of opinion in Washington, D.C. In fact, the Founders created a government here with the expectation that it would kick up to the nation’s capitol the disputes we couldn’t resolve in our own families, disputes we couldn’t resolve in our city councils, in county commissions, and our state legislatures and state government. And the Founders intended that those disputes, which are in this body, not be resolved easily by creating a system of checks and balances—a Supreme Court, a presidency, and a Congress.

               And by creating, in this body, the rules that make it very difficult to come to a result.

               The idea was that we didn’t want a king. 

               A king is efficient. Tyranny is efficient.

               Our Founders didn’t want that.

               They didn’t want a despot. They wanted a way to get, eventually, to a result. They sought to avoid the tyranny of the majority by creating these checks and balances and these rules in the Senate. They sought to create a situation where the majority couldn’t ride roughshod over the minority.

               But I don’t think the Founders envisioned a system of checks and balances that produced a permanent stalemate on issues that are important to the American people. Even in the most contentious of issues—and there have been many issues in our history much more contentious than anything we are dealing with today.

               They didn’t envision that the government would simply shut down or stop operating or stop trying to come to a result. That is why I find the attitude of the president and the Senate Democrats so disappointing.

               By any fair measure, the proposals by the Republican House of Representatives to bring this to a solution are reasonable proposals. Let’s look at what they’ve proposed.

               They proposed that we continue funding the government. Every single proposal the House has made to this body is that we continue funding the government. And they’ve proposed that we also, at the same time, number one, be fair to the middle class by delaying the individual mandate in the new health care law for a year.

               Now, the president has already himself delayed seven major provisions in the new health care law that is supposed to take effect today. These include the employer mandate, which is $12 billion over ten years for corporations. Yet the president and Senate Democrats are saying we can give the employers a $12 billion break by a one-year delay, but we’re going to stick it to the middle class of America by fining them $95 if they don’t buy health care and sending the IRS out to collect it next year if they fail to do it.

               What we suggested was, since the president himself has already delayed seven major provisions, since the regulations aren’t written, let’s also delay the individual mandate for a year. That would be fair to the middle class.

               Number two, the House has suggested that we can continue funding the government and be fair to those who are ill by repealing the medical device tax.  Seventy-nine senators have voted for the medical device tax repeal, including a large number of Democratic senators.

               Number three, the House Republicans have said, let’s continue to fund the government and be fair to the American people when it comes to health care. Treat the American people the same way Congress is treated.

               And finally, most recently, the House Republicans have said, let’s continue to fund the government and can we not just sit down and talk about it? Have a conference?

               Which is the way, under our rules established by the Constitution, we’re always supposed to resolve disputes. And the answer has been no from the Senate Democrats.

               No, to giving the same consideration to the middle class, the people who are required to buy health insurance; no, to giving fairness to those who are ill by repealing the medical device tax; no, to giving fairness to the American people by treating them the same way Congress is treated; and no, to giving fairness to the system in saying can we not just sit down and talk in a conference, which is our way of resolving disputes.

               And the answer by the president and the Senate Democrats is no, no, no.

               The president’s role is to bring us together. He said that during his campaigns. He has a great capacity for persuading the American people that he’s right. He seems to be able to talk with the Iranian rulers, but not to the congressional leaders.

               Our goal is fairness for the middle class, fairness for the taxpayer. 

               Our latest offer from the House of Representatives was, let’s keep the government running and let’s sit down according to our rules and have a conference and talk about it.

               This stubbornness in the face of reasonableness will not be good for our country, will not be good for either political party, it will not help us to achieve the kind of result on this and other issues that the Founders intended by creating a system of checks and balances in our democratic form of government.