Ahead of Senate Vote to Re-Open the Federal Government, Portman Urges Colleagues to End the Shutdown
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ahead of a vote later tonight to re-open the federal government, U.S.Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor this evening calling on his colleagues to end the government shutdown. Portman discussed real-world impact of the shutdown as well as his bipartisan legislation called the End Government Shutdowns Act to avoid these types of unnecessary disruptions that ultimately hurt our economy, hurt families, and hurt our troops. Said Portman in his speech, “This shutdown isn’t helping anyone. It isn’t helping Americans who need access to vital government services. It isn’t helping federal employees who should be working instead of being furloughed. And it sure isn’t helping nine million children who need basic health care services. Let’s re-open the government and let’s get back to work.”
Mr. President, tonight I want to talk about our responsibility here in the United States Senate to re-open the government, to get back to work solving real problems and fixing the system so we aren’t tempted to play political games with government shutdowns in the future.
“We’re now in the second day of what I think is a senseless shutdown. It’s not helping anybody—a lot of disruption, dislocation, dysfunction for no reason. The situation was perhaps best described by Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer in 2013 when he said, and I quote, ‘Look, I believe in immigration reform. What if I persuaded my caucus to say I’m going to shut the government down, I’m not going to pay our bills unless I get my way. It’s a politics of idiocy, of confrontation, of paralysis.’ I think Chuck Schumer was right, by the way.
“I think the lesson of the 2013 shutdown is that they don’t work. I think they are a bad idea. They are unnecessary disruptions. They hurt our economy, they hurt our families, and our troops. Ultimately, they also cost the taxpayers more money, not less. That’s been the history. That’s why for six years now, I’ve been fighting to pass legislation called End Government Shutdowns Act. It’s a very simple piece of legislation. By the way, my efforts in that have spanned presidents of both parties and of majorities here in the Senate of both parties. It’s not a political issue.
“We should end government shutdowns. More on that in a minute, but let’s take a look at the real world impact of a shutdown. In my home state of Ohio nearly 50,000 federal workers are seeing their paychecks halted through no fault of their own. This includes rangers at parks across the state, like Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This includes employees at NASA Glenn, 3,000 of them. It includes thousands of civilian employees at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and thousands of other federal employees around the Buckeye State who are going to be hurt. Hurt why? Because of partisan politics here in Washington, D.C. By the way, federal contractors I’m told are being told they can’t go to work, and yet they’re going to get paid after the fact.
“How does that help taxpayers? How did we get here? Spending goes through Congress. Congress alone has the power of the purse. Every time appropriation of spending has to go through this place. Unfortunately, since the fiscal year ended on September 30, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have been unable to agree on an overall budget plan that allows us to fund what are 12 annual spending bills. Since then we have passed three of these so-called continuing resolutions that are also called CRs. They provide short-term funding for the government, basically a continuation of the spending of last year, just to keep the government from shutting down.
“That’s what CRs do, but they don’t include new policies typically, the new spending levels for the fiscal year, but it’s just to keep things going and keep government operating. Nobody likes them. I don’t like continuing resolutions, who would? But the alternative is either come to an agreement on these 12 annual spending bills we talked about or have the government shut down. That was considered unthinkable the last four months when the continuing resolutions were passed by big partisan majorities of the House and Senate. By the way, 8 of these 12 annual spending bills I was talking about, they actually passed out of committee with big bipartisan votes. So 8 of the 12 actually have been passed. They’re ready to come to the Senate floor, but they haven’t come to the Senate floor because they require 60 votes out of a hundred to be brought up and Democrats, not having a solution to what the overall spending levels will be, have not cooperated to bring those individual spending bills to the floor. That’s obviously the best way to do this is to have these 12 spending bills come to the floor, have the debate, put the best policies in place, have the right level of spending for this fiscal year. That hasn’t happened, so you have these short-term continuing resolutions.
“You might ask, how can the continuing resolutions pass because they don’t seem to, you know, be very popular. But they’re better than a shutdown. By the way, they also require 60 votes, but again, it’s the one thing we’ve been able to pass over the past four months to avoid shutdowns while we negotiate our differences over the levels of spending, over the policies that are going to be in place between now and the rest of the fiscal year. And they’ve always passed, again, in a broad bipartisan basis. Some Democrats have voted with us to keep our government open in the past because, as the Democratic Leader has said, shutting down the government just doesn’t make any sense.
“In order to pass a CR, a continuing resolution, only 39 senators can vote no. Because, again, you have to get 60. On Friday night, 44 Democrats chose to vote down the latest CR even though almost nothing of substance has changed in the continuing resolution since the last continuing resolution that was voted on, again by big majorities. The only thing that’s changed is that there was added a very popular and urgent extension of a health care program called the CHIP program, which stands for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. It’s absolutely critical that we pass that because in the next couple weeks we’re told, some states will begin to run out of money. CHIP expired actually back in September and it’s had short-term fixes since then. In this continuing resolution, same as the last continuing resolutions basically, nobody really objects to what’s in the continuing resolution, but the addition has been this really important program, CHIP is reauthorized.
“By the way, it’s reauthorized for its longest reauthorization ever in the history of the program, a six-year reauthorization which I strongly support and I think my colleagues do across the board. If we don’t deal with CHIP, again, this is urgent enough that some states are actually going to run out of money. So some are choosing to shut down the government even though they can’t point to anything in the short-term continuing resolution that they disagree with and even though it endangers the health care of children and families around the country. That’s where we are.
“The main reason we’ve heard from Democrats who oppose an otherwise acceptable continuing resolution is what we just heard tonight from some of my colleagues on the other side, including colleagues I work with a lot on other issues and I respect them, but they have said this is about something else, not the spending bill but it’s about how we deal with DACA and broader immigration reform. I want to resolve DACA, too, and I believe most of the members of this body sincerely want to resolve DACA. It was an administrative program that was appropriate to be legislated. They gave us until March to deal with it.
“We must and should deal with it, and there’s an ongoing good-faith effort to resolve the DACA issue as well as broader immigration issues, like boarder security, and to do all that before DACA expires on March 5, which is six weeks away. There’s been a lot of finger pointing and there’s always plenty of room for that around here, let’s face it. But the situation is clear—we are in day two of a shutdown because my Democratic colleagues are holding hostage the entire federal government and children in need of health care through CHIP for a non-spending issue that’s being worked on and we all know expires on March 5 and we need to deal with.
“Without a spending bill or a continuing resolution to keep the government open short term while we come to an agreement on larger issues, there are a bunch of federal workers who are going to wake up tomorrow morning and find themselves furloughed. Many won’t be able to go to work because their offices are closed. Some will, I’m told, have to report to work but they’re not going to get paid, at least until the government re-opens. And, again, the taxpayer always ends up getting the short end of the stick on this. I just think it’s crazy that we’re allowing this to happen. It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t get it. Yes, there are some larger issues we’ve got to come together on and solve in a bipartisan way, but we should agree to a short-term funding deal to just get the government up and running and then move on to solving those problems because we’re not working on them now, I can tell you, because everybody is distracted by this issue, a government shutdown.
“My understanding is we’re going to vote on a new proposal tonight to re-open the government. It’s shorter term. Why? Because a number of Democrats have said that they think that the previous continuing resolution, which was for four weeks was too long. So this one will be just two and a half weeks, until February 8. That’s fine with me. I think that gives us enough time to resolve these issues and yet enough time to actually put the changes into legislation, two and a half weeks. That would be pretty fast by congressional time. I understand the new CR proposal will also be coupled with these important CHIP funding proposals. In other words, the long-term extension of the children’s health insurance program, which is important. And a commitment to continue the negotiations to address all the outstanding issues, including DACA, including defense spending, including disaster relief. Let’s support it. Let’s get this behind us.
“Let’s be sure people don’t wake up on Monday morning to find that they’re furloughed and then let’s get back to these hard issues that we were hired to resolve. I know it’s a lot harder dealing with the substantive issues than dealing with these political issues. It’s easy to shut down government. That doesn’t take any ingenuity or imagination. That’s easy. It’s harder to deal with these tough issues but that’s what we’ve got to do.
“Shutdown is not the answer. The situation tonight is a reminder that we should end government shutdowns for good. Again, that’s why I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation I mentioned earlier called the End Government Shutdowns Act to avoid these types of unnecessary disruptions that are unproductive and unfair to our constituents.
“The bill would simply continue spending from the previous year for 120 days if any appropriations bill or any CR is not agreed to by the established deadline. And then it would gradually decline that funding by one percent and then one [more] percent to give lawmakers the incentive that’s needed around here to actually come together on a funding agreement. I think it’s sensible. I think it’s common sense. It’s always been bipartisan in the past. Hopefully we can get it done.
“I first introduced this bill in 2012 with my Democratic colleague Jon Tester from Montana when a Democratic president, President Obama was in the White House and Democrats controlled the Senate. So this is a common sense solution that benefits the country, not one political party or another. It’s what’s best for our country. If this bill were law, we wouldn’t be in this situation. Instead we’d be talking about the substantive issues, how we resolve DACA, how resolve defense spending.
“We’ve had 18 shutdowns in our country’s history and none of them would have happened if this was law. There would be no last-minute political brinkmanship on issues unrelated to funding our government. Our constituents, including federal employees, would not have their lives disrupted. Taxpayers wouldn’t get fleeced by shutdowns and the back pay that happens and the inefficiencies.
“Our legislation is bipartisan but, frankly, we need a lot more members to support it and help us put in place a long-term solution to make sure these shutdowns don’t continue to happen. So I urge my colleagues tonight and any staff that might be watching, please sign up on this legislation. We need your help. It’s common sense. It’s a time at which I hope we all realize these shutdowns don’t make sense, and we have an alternative.
“A shutdown isn’t helping anyone. It isn’t helping Americans who need access to vital government services. It isn’t helping federal employees who should instead be working, not be furloughed. And it sure isn’t helping the nine million children who are in need of basic health care services under CHIP.
“There are bipartisan discussions going on right now. I’ve talked to colleagues on both sides of the aisle this afternoon and this evening. I think those discussions have been productive. Let’s hope they’re successful. Let’s hope we can resolve this thing tonight. Let’s hope we can have a vote to give the American people the certainty and predictability they’re looking for. Let’s re-open government and let’s get back to work.
“I hope all my colleagues will join me in doing that tonight.”