Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Speech: "Amendments to the Appropriations Bill"

June 19, 2014 - June 19, 2014

Let me see if I can say something that contributes to progress, especially while the Senator from Maryland, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, is on the floor. 

She has really done a terrific job in working with the Republican and Democratic leaders to try to get us back to the business of appropriating.  We are not that far away.  We have three bills ready to come to the floor.  We have consent on the Republican side – which had to be unanimous over here to be able to bring it up in this way. 

Now we have a difference of opinion between the two leaders about whether all the amendments ought to be 60 votes.  I would respectfully suggest that is not the norm.  

It is true that the Republican leader has said many times that an important amendment ought to be 60 votes.  Recently, when we were working on the Child Care and Development Block Grant or some other legislation, we would say the norm is 51 votes.  But for a non-germane amendment, or if it was an especially controversial amendment, then maybe it would be 60 votes.  That was a matter of negotiation. 

So my hope is that we could move through these appropriations bills in the normal way, which would mean most votes would be 51.  Occasionally, there might be a 60-vote vote.  That is what we usually have done.  That is what we historically have done.  The majority party has 55 members last time I checked.  It has a President who can veto anything, and it takes 67 to override him.  So they have plenty of advantages on their side.

Now, let me conclude in this way – and I said it this morning in our Appropriations Committee.  Last week, I was visiting with some senators and an ambassador.  We had dinner at the home of an ambassador from a country who greatly admires the United States.  He was saying how much he envies this great tribunal – the Senate, and how other countries in the world envy it, and how it is the only tribunal like this anywhere in the world that is set up to have extended debate on important issues until we reach a consensus and stop debate and come to a result. 

That is the history of the civil rights bill, the Medicare bill, and the student loan bill last year, and bills even more recently than that. 

What that means in very simple terms is that the majority decides what we are going to talk about, the minority decides what amendments it would like to offer, and we keep talking and keep talking until it is time to cut off debate and try to come to a result.  That is what we should be doing. 

I would respectfully say that this business of not being willing to vote on amendments because it might hurt some individual senator is not really worthy of the Senate.  It is not practical, and it really doesn't make that much difference in campaigns. 

The idea that only 9 Republican amendments have received votes out of more than 800 amendments offered since last July is probably a record in the Senate.  What is even worse is that – according to the Senator from Wyoming, who has counted these – there were only 7 Democratic amendments voted on out of nearly 700 offered since last July. 

Now, why are we here if we are not here to speak on behalf of our constituents about Benghazi, about the new health care law, about whether we need a college rating system from Washington, DC, about fixing No Child Left Behind?

I remember in Senator Byrd's book he talked about the Panama Canal Treaty that he and Senator Baker marshaled through.  It took 67 votes – a very divisive issue.  He said:  We allowed nearly 200 amendments, reservations, and other codicils to the amendments, and we killed them all.  We beat them all.  But, he said:  We never would have gotten the treaty ratified if we hadn't allowed senators to have their say. 

So we have gotten to this level of distrust between that side and this side.  And most of us are trying over here to say, “All we want is an opportunity to have amendments offered in the regular order, a chance to debate them and a chance to vote on them, and if we are defeated, so be it.  To impose a gag rule on us imposes a gag rule on the people who sent us here.  This morning in the Appropriations Committee, that gag rule moved from the Senate floor to the Appropriations Committee. 

If the Republicans were in charge of the Senate, the Democrats wouldn't put up with that.  I don't know why they are putting up with it today. 

I know there is distrust on both sides.  But we are very close to a situation where we have three major appropriations bills which are on the floor.  We have a disagreement only about whether all amendments ought to require 60 votes.  That has not been the norm before.  We should be able to work that out and use our time to represent the people of the United States so that ambassador, when he has another group of Senators out there, can say, “You belong to the tribunal that is unique in the world that every country in the world wishes it had, because it is a forum – the only one in the world of this kind – where you have extended debate on major issues until you get a consensus and come to a result.”

That is the only way to govern a complex country like the country that is the United States of America.  We are getting back toward that, and I hope that our leaders and our Appropriations Committee members can make the next few steps and let us all go to work like we aim to do. 

We have some pretty talented people here.  We have Rhodes Scholars and former Governors and people who have been here a long time and people who have been here a short time.  It is not easy to get here, and it is not easy to stay here.  So while we are here, we would like to work – which means we would like to speak, have our say, vote, and, if we can, get a result.