GOVERNMENT FUNDING; Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 9
(Senate - January 16, 2019)

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[Pages S280-S282]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                           GOVERNMENT FUNDING

  Mr. MERKLEY. Mr. President, the most important words of our 
Constitution are the first three: ``We the People.'' Those three words, 
written in big, bold, beautiful script, convey the mission of our 
Constitution. We are a nation, as Abraham Lincoln opined, ``of the 
people, by the people, and for the people.'' That was the mission.
  Our Constitution also lays out how our Founding Fathers intended to 
be a nation of, by, and for the people to be governed by coequal 
branches, with the branch carrying the weight of policy development 
being Congress: the House, and the Senate. The Executive is to have 
quite a different role in executing the laws. Judiciary has yet another 
role in weighing whether the laws are in accordance with the parameters 
of the Constitution--the principles of the Constitution.
  So there we are, the branch of government--the Senate and the House--
with the power of the purse, with the responsibility for laying out the 
governing vision and rules for our Nation.
  Yet, one-quarter of our government goes unfunded for a fourth week. 
Why is this Chamber not full of Senators? Why are we not debating 
funding bills? Why is there not a bill before the Senate right now? It 
is because the rhythm of the floor in this Chamber is guided by the 
majority leader. The majority leader refuses to put the bill on the 
floor so we can go about our work, putting the government back in 
business and ending this shutdown.
  The majority leader has refused to have the Senate fulfill its 
responsibility and, indeed, has said: `` . . . will not take up any 
proposal that does not have a real chance of . . . getting a 
Presidential signature.''
  In the Constitution, we have the ability to set law without a 
Presidential signature. It is certainly not a waste of time to be here 
debating proposals for funding the government. In fact, this is a 
complete abdication of our responsibility. It is an abdication at a 
time when 800,000 American families have a mother or father who is not 
getting paid, when many more thousands of contractors are not getting 
paid. Millions of Americans are seeking government services and finding 
there is no one to answer their phone call or their letter or process 
their online application, whether for an FAA mortgage, whether for an 
agricultural grant or loan for the next farming season, whether it is 
any of a host of hundreds of roles the government plays in facilitating 
the commerce and life of this Nation.
  President Trump and the Senate majority are holding seven funding 
bills hostage. Hostage-taking is not the wisest move. Only one of these 
hostages has anything to do with the battle over the border. So why not 
release six of these hostages? Why not end the Trump-McConnell shutdown 
and release six of the seven hostages and on the seventh do a 
continuing resolution so we can continue debating the issues at stake 
while putting people back to work. That is a pretty good idea.
  Here is the genius of the idea, which is, these are bills that 
already have support in the Senate. If we were to look at that support, 
we would find it was substantial when these bills came through in a 
bipartisan fashion under a Republican-led Senate. You have the 
Republican endorsement from here and you have the Democratic 
endorsement from the House. That is the making of a path forward.
  Yet we need to remind the Members how our Constitution is 
constructed. Article I section 7 says in an abbreviated format: ``If he 
approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his 
Objections.'' Then it goes back to the House and Senate, whichever body 
first initiated it. `` . . . and if approved by two-thirds . . . it 
shall become a Law.''
  Let's recognize that the vision of our Constitution was not for us to 
sit on some chair or bench somewhere waiting for someone far down 
Pennsylvania Avenue to tell us what to do. That is not fulfilling our 
job. The President is supposed to implement the laws we pass--the 
vision we adopt--not for us to sit here doing nothing, waiting for the 
man in the Oval Office to tell us he has some message from on high on 
what we are supposed to do. No, that is not the vision of our 
  It is disturbing that a responsibility we all signed on to--we took 
our oath of office--is being neglected in this Chamber at this moment, 
when so many Americans are suffering as a result.
  Those funding bills that I was speaking of and that partisan support, 
how strong it was--the Agriculture bill, Interior, Financial Services, 
General Government, Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development. 
Those passed this floor just a few weeks ago on a 92-to-6 vote. How 
much more bipartisan does it get?
  The State and Foreign Operations bill passed out of the Republican-
led Appropriations Committee 31 to 0. The Commerce, Justice, and 
Science spending bill passed 30 to 1 in our spending committee. 
Homeland Security passed out 26 to 5.
  So these have a powerful imprint of overwhelming bipartisan support 
in this Chamber, and yet we sit here afraid to take action and lay out 
the vision we have a responsibility to lay out.
  I hope every Member will say back home that they invite the feedback 
of their constituents; that they will hold townhalls because then they 
will hear what I hear, which is that is an absurdity. It is an 
irresponsibility. It is a failure of leadership. It is a neglect of 
duty, and that is not what this Chamber should be about. It is not a 
proud moment to have such dysfunction in the heart of the Senate.
  I am reminded of the historical reference: ``While Nero fiddles, Rome 
burns.'' It is a reference to the year A.D. 64, when Rome burned to the 
ground. The historian Suetonius records that Nero was responsible for 
the fire, and he watched it from a tower while playing an instrument 
and singing about the destruction of a different place--the destruction 
of Troy.
  Here we sit today with our leadership's fiddling while our Nation 
suffers, while our leadership watches from afar from the tower, playing 
some fiddle for its amusement, instead of taking action here on the 
floor of the Senate.
  While the Republican Senate leadership fiddles, our farmers aren't 
getting the funds or assistance they need to get through the winter to 
prepare for the next season because the Department of Agriculture is 
closed for business.
  While the Republican leadership of this Chamber fiddles, firefighters 
whom we ask to risk their lives in fighting massive infernos in our 
Nation's forests are missing out on critical training and preparation 
time for the next fire season. In addition, the work being done to thin 
the forests, to make the forests more fire resistant, is suspended. The 
work getting the fuel off the forest floors to make them more fire 
resistant is suspended. The prescription burns being done to make the 
forests more fire resistant are canceled. Yet this is the time they 
have to happen. While the leadership fiddles, it is setting the stage 
for more savage forest fires to wreak havoc on the Western States in 
the United States in the summer to come.
  While the Republican leadership of this Chamber fiddles, 100,000 low-
income tenants are at risk because there is no staffer in place at 
Housing and Urban Development to renew the 1,100 affordable housing 
contracts that expired last month.
  While the leadership fiddles, small, rural economies, like that of 
Lakeview, OR, are stuck in limbo and are unable to move forward on 
critical projects. According to the South Central Oregon Economic 
Development District's director, they are working at trying to give a 
loan to a small business in Lakeview, but they need EPA staff approval 
to be able to use the grant funding for an environmental assessment 
before they can borrow funds to buy a building. So they are up the 
creek while the Republican leadership fiddles.
  The real victims in this misguided standoff are the hundreds of 
thousands of Federal workers who aren't being paid and the contractors 
who might never be paid. Let's listen to them. What do they have to say 
about this? Are they writing and saying: ``Love this dysfunction in the 
Senate. Love

[[Page S281]]

the failure of leadership. Love the incompetence. Love the fact that 
nobody is working here to solve the problem''?
  No, that is not what they are saying.
  Erin, a furloughed Forest Service employee of Sandy, OR, writes that 
both she and her husband are Forest Service employees who have been 
furloughed in the Mt. Hood National Forest, and they are terrified 
about their personal finances.
  Erin writes:

       I have two boys that I will still have to continue to pay 
     daycare for so I do not lose their spot. That's $1,400 a 
     month alone.

  She went on to write:

       We have to be smart on how we balance our finances because 
     the cost of living is going up, but our salaries have not 
     been increased besides a minor cost-of-living adjustment last 
     year. So I am very worried what a long shutdown means for my 
     family and my coworkers.

  Erin and her husband have every right to be worried about what is in 
the future for her family. They are suffering the effects of this 
shutdown through no fault of their own.
  Steven, of southeast Portland, writes:

       I am writing as a constituent, residing in southeast 
     Portland, and as a furloughed Federal employee. I do not in 
     any way support President Trump's efforts to build a wall 
     along our southern border. The proposed wall is unneeded. It 
     would be a wantonly wasteful use of taxpayer money. It would 
     be environmentally destructive, and it would further the 
     inhumane disregard of the rights of those seeking asylum.

  Steven is a Federal worker who is not being paid, and he doesn't 
support this shutdown.
  Julie, the wife of a firefighter in Redmond, OR, wrote last week that 
her husband ``isn't able to work because of the government shutdown.'' 
In just over a week, they are supposed to hire all of their seasonal 
firefighters for the summer. If they can't work, the hiring will get 
delayed or not happen, which will put communities at serious risk this 
summer from wilderness fires. This risk for this coming summer is very 
real in our State of Oregon.
  Julie writes:

       In no way is it OK to let the government shut down. . . . 
     Don't participate in holding our own country hostage.

  Dr. Genevieve Grady, of Sheridan, OR, wrote:

       I am a licensed clinical psychologist who is working at the 
     Federal Bureau of Prisons in Sheridan, OR. I am also a single 
     mom with two children under the age of 5. As an essential 
     Federal employee, I am required to continue to work without 
     being paid. As a licensed psychologist, I could cultivate 
     outside work with Agency permission to supplement my income. 
     However, I am unable to do this due to having to continue 
     working full time. Given that I am a single mother of two 
     small children, I must provide care for my children during 
     all other hours of the day. In order to maintain a roof over 
     my and my children's heads, I have had to contact my Federal 
     student loan company to seek relief. Unfortunately, they 
     cannot alter my student loan status any earlier than February 
     6. My daycare provider, who watched my children so that I may 
     continue going to work without pay, is an in-home provider 
     with three teenaged children of her own. I cannot ask her to 
     go without pay as she too needs to continue keeping her 
     family financially stable.

  She writes:

       There are very few expenses in my life that can go without 
     money: food, daycare, gas to get to work, car insurance to 
     drive legally, a phone required for my job to contact me in 
     an emergency, medical expenses. Both of my kids have been 
     sick during this furlough and have had to see the doctor to 
     get medication. After 26 days without pay, these bills 
     continue to require cash to pay, and I continue to wonder 
     how much longer I should keep coming to work or when I 
     should look for another job.

  Linnea from Roseburg, OR, writes:

       The unrepentant hostage holding of people's wages is cruel 
     and shows just how removed the Trump administration is from 
     the American people. I live in a single-income household in 
     which the only breadwinner is a government employee, my 
     mother. This means that we went through the holidays not 
     knowing when the next paycheck was going to come. We still 
     don't know.

  Britt, a furloughed IRS worker who was proud of his government 
service and called it his small way of participating in our democracy, 

       My savings is small and will not last through an extended 
     shutdown. I have already applied for unemployment insurance 
     compensation, but that process takes several weeks before I 
     actually receive any money. I have never had to file for 
     unemployment before, and it's quite unsettling that I am 
     forced to resort to government aid.

  Like so many other Oregonians in a State that is 20-percent National 
Forest, Brien, of Pendleton, OR, writes:

       As a United States Forest Service employee, I am waiting 
     for relocation reimbursement on a current move. I used most 
     of my savings to move duty stations 2 months ago, and with 
     the current furlough, I cannot afford to miss a pay period 
     even if I will get it in the end. I am currently paying 
     interest on my move that was to be covered by the Forest 
     Service. If the furlough lasts longer than January 13, it 
     will be extremely difficult to avoid late payment charges on 
     utilities, mortgage, and other bills. Don't hold me and my 
     middle-class family hostage to rich men's antics.

  That is exactly what is happening with a President who is so far 
removed from the reality of ordinary people, with a President who 
worked with the leadership of this body in the Senate to approve a 
series of spending bills that we passed by a vast bipartisan majority 
but who then changed his mind and withdrew his support after they were 
passed. The President switched his position after the bills went 
through the Senate. The President bragged about owning this shutdown. 
He didn't have 1 second of worry about the plight of an ordinary 
American who was struggling to pay his bills.
  From his ivory tower, his skyscraper in Florida, and his club--and, 
oh, he is still happy with his golf courses--he has no idea of the pain 
this is inflicting on people. If someone explains it to him, he doesn't 
care. That says a lot about the failure of leadership. As this writer 
said, ``Don't hold me and my middle-class family hostage to rich men's 
  Air traffic controllers are essential to the safety of our air 
traffic across this country. I received a stack of handwritten letters 
last week--old-fashioned, ink on paper, all kinds of paper, all colors 
of pens. They were handwritten by Oregon air traffic controllers who 
have been absolutely incensed with what is going on. Being an air 
traffic controller is an unbelievably tough job. Air traffic 
controllers are responsible for thousands of lives at any given moment. 
They have to be on their game 100 percent of the time. It can't be 99.5 
or a plane is going to crash on you that day. These folks are working 
without pay. It is inflicting stress and anxiety on people who should 
have their absolute, full attention solely on the job of making sure no 
plane hits another.
  James Ferguson, of Forest Grove, writes:

       If the shutdown lasts any longer, I will lose my health 
     insurance and will no longer be able to pay for my 1-year-old 
     son's physical therapy, potentially adding additional months 
     to correct his spine and neck muscle problems.

  This is another example of the pain. Here is a parent who feels the 
medical affliction of his child is going to be accentuated by the 
actions of the Republican leadership in the Senate and President Trump 
in the Oval Office. James isn't complaining that he needs to go 
shopping for new clothes or that he wants to check out a new car. He is 
worried about getting medical care for his infant child. He is worried 
about his infant child's recovery and of his improvement being stalled 
or damaged by this callous, inhumane shutdown.
  Trevor Stokes, of Hillsboro, OR, and his wife are veterans of the 
U.S. Navy. They certainly are no strangers to sacrificing for their 
  In fact, in his letter, Trevor writes:

       Over the past few weeks, during the shutdown, I have worked 
     both Christmas and New Year's as well as their eves. I was 
     not able to spend time with my family, which is a necessary 

  Then he writes:

       Now our financial future is uncertain due to a potentially 
     long unpaid period. I've had to withdraw from mutual funds 
     just to cover monthly financial obligations. My family and 
     the families of my air traffic colleagues have suffered from 
     the sudden loss of income. Please end the shutdown.

  We ask so much of these people. We ask long hours and missed holidays 
in the name of protecting us as travelers. Shouldn't we also be looking 
out for them in their time of need?
  Why don't we reopen the Department of Transportation and make sure 
our air traffic controllers start getting paid? All of these 
individuals are saying: Do your job. Do your job. Do your job. Senate 
leadership, do your job.
  Put the bills that have passed the Senate already back on the floor 
so that we can send them to the Oval Office. Let us do our job.
  This Trump-McConnell shutdown, this inaction of the Senate, 

[[Page S282]]

its responsibility--isn't that exactly parallel to Nero fiddling while 
Rome burned? That fire here in America is touching the lives of so 
many. There are 800,000 workers without pay. Thousands more are 
contractors. Millions of Americans are caught in limbo in the midst of 
an important transaction--applying for an agricultural loan, trying to 
get a mortgage, signing up for help from the Small Business 
Administration to launch their business, getting their paperwork 
processed in one of 1,000 different ways, and here, the leadership 
fiddles while the American public suffers. It is wrong.
  It may not be comfortable to have a debate on the spending bills. It 
may not be comfortable to vote on these bills. It may not be sweet to 
support or oppose a particular amendment, but do you know what is 
worse? What is worse is doing nothing.
  That is what this Chamber is doing right now. It is doing nothing, 
despite our responsibility to millions of Americans to act. Let's 
change that. Let's change it now.
  I understand that the majority is going on a retreat. Instead of 
going on a retreat to play the fiddle, how about you be here on the 
floor and put these bills on the floor? Let's get all 100 Senators on 
the floor to actually talk to each other, to actually wrestle with the 
issues, to actually make our arguments, and to actually take the votes 
instead of going off somewhere to party. That is just wrong.
  I encourage the majority leader to read the letter that was sent to 
him today from the freshmen from the House of Representatives down the 
hall. The freshmen haven't been here long enough to become cynical. 
They haven't become trapped in the partisan boundaries and warfare that 
seem to ensnare so much of this Chamber and the Chamber across the way. 
No, they are here, fresh from other occupations and other 
responsibilities, still full of common sense and the passion to do what 
is right for the American people. So let's listen to them.
  Today they sent a letter to Majority Leader McConnell, which I read 
on the floor earlier today, and they said: Put the bills on the floor, 
put the spending bills on the floor--the bills that have already passed 
here in the Republican-led Senate or that passed overwhelmingly by the 
Republican-led Appropriations Committee, endorsed by the Democratic 
House. Put them on the floor and act.
  Let's listen to the freshmen down the hall. They are reminding us 
that we have a responsibility to act, and let's do so immediately.
  Thank you.