Mr. President, I rise to join with my leader on the Appropriations Committee, Senator Byrd, to explain how the Republican's failure to act on the annual funding bills will hurt our communities.
As Senators, we have a job to do in passing the annual spending bills that fund our government. It's one of our most basic responsibilities. On the Appropriations Committee – under the leadership of Chairman Cochran and Ranking Member Byrd - we've done our job. But here on the Senate floor, the Republican leadership has blocked our progress – and American families are going to pay a price.
When I talk with people throughout Washington state, they tell me that they want our country to be strong again. And the way to be strong here at home is to invest here at home. That's what I've fought to do in my work on the Appropriations Committee. But the Republican Leadership is refusing to allow us to move forward on the investments we've agreed on. In fact, it's refusing to even let us debate making those investments. That just shows how wrong their priorities are.
Some people may suggest that if we pass a Continuing Resolution then everything will be fine. They claim there is no real difference between passing the bill's we've worked so hard to craft – and just putting our government on autopilot for a few months. Don't believe it. It's not true. There is a real cost to failing to act on the appropriations bills.
We're going to pay a price in airline safety. We won't be able to rapidly hire the air traffic controllers or the safety inspectors we need. We're going to pay a price in highway safety. We won't be able to rapidly reverse the increases in traffic fatalities. We're going to pay a price in the fight against terrorism. We won't be able to rapidly fund the Treasury Department's efforts to stop terrorist financing. We're going to pay a price in educating our children, improving our communities, and training our workforce. Almost everywhere you look, we will pay a price if the Republican Leadership succeeds in blocking action on the annual appropriations bills. I want to share some specific examples of how what the Republican Leadership is doing will hurt our country.
Hiding Their Wrong Priorities
But first, I want to say a word about WHY this is happening. It's not because of partisan gridlock. It's not because we haven't had enough time to act – all of our bills have been ready to go since August. It's because the Republican leadership does not want to have a public debate about America's priorities just weeks before an election. And I suspect it's because they realize that their priorities are out of step with the American people.
And there may be another reason to stall these bills – it hides the true cost of their wrong priorities. When we bring these bills up on the Senate floor, we have a chance to see what's being funded and what's not. We have a chance to offer amendments and have a real debate about priorities that deserve more support. But by blocking that debate, the Republican leadership is hiding the true cost of their policies.
Just as they've used supplemental spending bills to hide the true cost of war, they're failing to act on the annual spending bills to hide the cost of their misplaced priorities.
They prefer to mask from the voters the tough funding choices their policies will require. They prefer to deny almost three quarters of the Senate the opportunity to have any input into the Appropriations bills – by sending these bills directly from the Committee to conference. They prefer to set up an end of year train wreck that will require a massive Omnibus Appropriations Bill that will shortchange America’s needs with a minimum of debate.
Senators Byrd & Cochran
I want to thank Senator Byrd for taking this time to call this issue to the attention of the entire Senate as well as to the entire nation. I also want to thank our Committee Chairman, Senator Cochran, for his very capable leadership of our Committee. I only wish Senator Cochran was empowered to control the Floor schedule, not just the Committee schedule. Last year, Senator Cochran surprised many of us – and earned the respect of all of us – in doing what seemed impossible. He succeeded in sending eleven individual Appropriations bills to the White House for signature. He showed how it should be done.
This year, when it came to the management of our Committee, Senator Cochran actually improved on last year’s record. Last year, the Appropriations Committee reported all but one Appropriations bill to the Senate Floor prior to the August recess. This year, Chairman Cochran saw to it that each and every one of our Appropriations bills was reported to the Senate Floor before the August recess. That involved some very hard work and some very long mark ups. And no one worked harder at this than Chairman Cochran himself.
Unfortunately, this year the Senate Republican Leadership does not share Chairman Cochran’s commitment. That is a change from last year. Last year, the Senate Republican Leadership saw to it that all twelve of the Appropriations bills were considered on the Floor prior to adjournment.
Today, we find ourselves just hours away from the beginning of a long Fall recess. And yet the Senate Republican Leadership has seen fit to call up only two to the twelve Appropriations bills our Committee reported back in June and July. That record is shameful.
The full Senate has only debated two funding bills this year – Defense and Homeland Security. They are certainly very important, but they are just two of the 12 bills we're charged with passing.
Neglecting Other Priorities
The others are important as well. They ensure the care of our veterans returning home from Iraq, the education of our children, the housing needs of our citizens, and the healthcare needs of our seniors. They support our efforts to fight crime and drug abuse, provide disaster assistance to struggling family farmers, and invest in our roads, bridges and rail systems. As far as the Republican Leadership appears to be concerned, these issues can just "rot on the vine." According to their plan, these functions of government will be subjected to a continuing resolution that guarantees them only the lowest possible funding level.
Worst Progress I've Seen
Mr. President, I have had the privilege of serving on the Appropriations Committee for every one of my fourteen years in the Senate. And I am certainly aware that the Congress does not have a great track record when it comes to finishing all of its Appropriations work before the beginning of the fiscal year.
But in my fourteen years, I cannot remember a time when the Senate has made so little progress in executing its most basic responsibilities. The new fiscal year starts this coming Sunday. I had my staff go back and check the record. And I can tell my colleagues that, in the last fourteen years, we have never begun a new fiscal year having passed as few as two Appropriations bills out of the Senate. It is a deplorable record.
Looking forward, we hear rumors that the other ten Appropriations bills are never coming to the Senate Floor for debate. We hear rumors that we are going to be sent straight to conference with the House of Representatives to concoct a massive omnibus Appropriations bill.
Denies Senators a Voice
Mr. President, I hope that is not the case. That approach, frankly, is an insult to the 72 members of the Senate who do not serve on the Appropriations Committee. As a Member of the Committee, I had the opportunity to review each of the bills the Committee reported. I had an opportunity to offer amendments in subcommittee and Full Committee mark-ups. But 72 of my Senate colleagues have never had that opportunity. Those 72 Senators were elected by the people of their state to oversee and influence decisions regarding the way their tax dollars are spent. By denying these 72 Senators the opportunity to debate these bills, the Senate Republican leadership is denying these Senators' constituents the right to be heard. This is not the way that the Senate should do business.
Mr. President, our country will pay a high price if we fail to act on the appropriations bill. Some may claim that it doesn’t matter when we actually get around to finalizing the Appropriations process. Well, as the Ranking Member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, the Judiciary and HUD, I want to tell my colleagues that it does matter. Let me just give you a few examples.
Air Traffic Controllers
Just last month, we experienced a tragic plane crash in Lexington, Kentucky. The NTSB has not yet reported to us on the actual cause of that crash. But it was revealed that the air traffic control tower at Lexington had only one controller on duty, contrary to the FAA’s own policy. When this incident occurred, it was discovered that several other towers were also operating with only one controller.
Everyone involved in aviation policy knows that the FAA needs to hire more controllers. They need to fill vacancies and replace a growing number of retirees. There is money in the FAA’s budget to hire more controllers. We put money in the House and Senate Appropriations bill to hire more controllers. But, until the FAA Administrator gets a final budget, she won't know how many controllers she can hire or how quickly she can hire them. This is an issue of basic safety. But it is a safety issue that the Senate Republican Leadership is happy to have wait on the back burner for a few more months.
Air Safety Inspectors
A similar situation exists in the hiring of more air traffic safety inspectors. We desperately need more safety inspectors to ensure that financially-strapped airlines are operating safely. An increasing amount of airline maintenance for US-flag airlines is being conducted overseas. We need inspectors to visit these foreign repair stations to make sure all appropriate procedures are being followed. Just this week, the National Academy of Sciences reported that the FAA needs to modernize its system for determining how many inspectors they need and who to hire. But the FAA can’t address any of these deficiencies until it gets its final budget for the year. This is another safety issue that the Senate Republican Leadership is happy to have wait on the back burner for a few more months.
Fighting Terror Financing
The Republican Leadership's failure to act could also hurt our efforts to fight terrorism. The Treasury Department has a critical role in combating terrorist financing. They are on the job morning, noon and night trying to interrupt the cash flow between the terrorists and those who fund them. Ever since 9/11, the Treasury Department has been seeking increased resources from our Subcommittee to fight terrorist finding. Our Subcommittee has provided every dollar that the Treasury department has requested for this function, including the funding for increased personnel and infrastructure for fiscal year 2007.
However, this increased funding sought by the Treasury Department will just have to wait for a few months. Why? Because the Senate Republican Leadership does not want us to debate the Transportation/Treasury bill before the election.
Security for Courts & Judges
Mr. President, one of the issues being discussed in the closing days of this session is the security of our courts and our judges. An effort is being made to provide an authorization for additional court security in the Department of Defense Authorization bill. The brutal murder of the father and mother of a federal judge in Chicago showed the urgent need for better security. The Transportation/Treasury Appropriations bills -- as passed by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees -- include sizeable increases for court security. We are not talking about an authorization here -- we are talking about cold hard cash that will go out to better protect our judges. But of course, that money can’t go out until our Appropriations bill is signed into law. And that can’t happen if the Senate Republican Leadership slows the Appropriations process to a crawl.
Finally, Mr. President, I want to talk about the critical need for improved safety on our highways. One month ago, our nation received a wake up call from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For many years, our country made steady progress in reducing the overall fatality rate. But last month, the fatality rate on our highways started to move back up. Deaths from motor vehicle crashes jumped up 1.4 percent over the level in 2004. We had 43,443 deaths on America’s highways in 2005. Mr. President, that is the highest number of highway deaths since 1990.
We have also begun to see the number of road fatalities involving large trucks head back up. We made progress between 1998 and 2002, but since that time, the number of large truck fatalities is moving in the wrong direction.
More and more people are dying on our highways, and the Congress has sought to respond. There are increased funding levels -- consistent with the SAFETEA-LU authorization law -- both for highway safety and motor carrier safety in both the House and Senate Appropriations bills.
But these additional resources to save lives on our highways will just have to wait. Why? Because the Senate Republican Leadership didn’t want to debate Transportation Appropriations bill prior to the election.
Failure to Act Has Real Consequences
These decisions by the Senate Republican Leadership to stall the Appropriations process can and will have very real consequences. So, in conclusion, Mr. President, I want to state my deep disappointment that the Senate Republican Leadership has done such an abysmal job in fulfilling its most basic responsibility to fund our government.
It didn’t have to be this way, Mr. President. Rather than spending the month of July and September debating bills for political reasons, we could have been debating the bills that are critically needed for our safety and security.
We could have been fighting for the citizens of this country. We could have been meeting their basic needs, protecting their livelihoods, and ensuring their safety. But the Republican Senate Leadership said "no," and now families are paying a price. Mr. President, the Senate deserves better – and more importantly -- the American people deserve better.