October 03, 2013

On Senate Floor, Kaine Calls for House Vote to Reopen Government

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Thursday, October 3, Senator Kaine spoke on the Senate floor on the need to reopen government. A full transcript of his remarks is below:

“Madam President, I rise to talk about the need to reopen government, and not to reopen government in a piecemeal way, one bit this week and then another bit next week, which seems to be the newest gambit on the table, but to reopen government because government of this country should never have shut down in the first place. Few states are feeling the impact of the shutdown more than Virginia, and I just want to tell two stories, a personal one and then a story about one community in my state. Many federal employees live in Virginia. About 150,000 federal employees are jeopardized currently by this shutdown. And 70,000 of them are D.O.D. civilians who were already furloughed earlier this year. One of the employees who is jeopardized is a Major in the air force reserves by the name of Erik Brine who lives in Northern Virginia, married and has four children.

“Erik had a distinguished career in the Air Force and then retired and became a civilian, rejoined the Air Force Reserves and is currently working at the Pentagon. At the Pentagon as a civilian, he is currently furloughed, with a wife and four children to support. Erik is a Presidential Management Fellow and has been loaned to my office for a period of time, and so he showed up at the Pentagon Tuesday to get furloughed and then he came to my office to hear me deliver my furlough speech to all of my employees. He got the double dose that day. This afternoon, I have the honor of going and participating in the promotion ceremony for Erik Brine from Major to Lieutenant Colonel. And I'm going to talk about him and his qualifications, but it's going to be a bitter moment for all of us as I engage in that promotion for this wonderful person who first served the nation flying dozens of missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and now serves the nation in a new way but has been furloughed twice this year, once in the summer because of the sequester and now because of the shutdown. And we have tens of thousands of Erik Brines who are going through just the same experience.

“Second, a community story. If you were to ask where in Virginia would you really feel the impact of sequester, Madam President, I think most people might think the neighborhoods around the Pentagon or Hampton Roads where there is Naval power, but the effects are being felt everywhere. Let me talk about one community, Chincoteague. The barrier island off the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The subject of the famous story Misty of Chincoteague. The beautiful community, tiny small town. Chincoteague's economy is fundamentally about the visits to the National Seashore, Assateague and Chincoteague Island, but those parks and natural resources have been closed. And so I got a call right away on Tuesday morning from friends in Chincoteague saying Chincoteague’s motels, Chincoteague’s restaurants, Chincoteague’s grocery stores and gas stations and people that sell sun tan lotion and sunglasses, and because of the closure, the entire economy has just had its guts pulled out during the federal shutdown. Moreover, there is a lighthouse at the wildlife refuge that has been restored. It's taken six years to restore it, and this weekend was the celebration and the opening of the lighthouse. They expected visitors to come from everywhere. That's been canceled.

“Chincoteague has one other industry that's really important. They didn't want to just be about tourism, so over the last 15 or 20 years, they have really worked to build up the capacity of NASA Wallop's Island which is five miles from Chincoteague Island so kids who graduate from Chincoteague high school who are interested in science and math don't have to move away from them. They can come back and work as rocket scientists. 80% of the NASA employees at Wallop's near Chincoteague have been furloughed as a result of this shutdown. And so the experience of Major, now Colonel, Erik Brine who works in my office and the experience of this community, small community on the eastern shore of Virginia demonstrate how serious these effects are.

“The good news is we can solve this like that [snaps fingers]. We can solve it like that if Speaker Boehner will just allow a vote to reopen government. You know, Madam President, I know you know this because we sat through it together, but it just bears a little bit of repetition. The Senate passed a budget on March 23 that funds all of these issues at the level that the Senate thinks is right. And the same week, the House passed a budget funding government at levels they think is right. And under the Budget Control Act Of 1974, the right strategy at that point was to put the two budgets in conference and let conferees figure it out. And just for folks who aren't familiar with it -- and there may be some here or listening -- budget conference is a pretty simple thing. When I was governor of Virginia, we had them all the time. Two houses would pass different budgets. Each house takes their budget, you go into a negotiating room, you sit down, you compare. One side wins on this issue, one side wins on the other, on a third issue you might split it 50-50. The House budget and Senate budget are very different. But that's what we do. We sit down and we listen and we dialogue and we compromise and solve the problems of the country.

“19 times since March 23 we have stood up on the floor of this body and said we want to go to conference with the House on the budget, and 19 times, the last of which was yesterday, a small handful of Senators – and that was a phrase that the Senator from Utah used once on the floor in blocking this -- we're a small handful of senators, and the House Republicans have blocked a budget compromise. So for six and a half months, we have had the ability to sit down and dialogue. And again, for folks who don't know how a budget conference work, if in a conference a compromise is reached, it doesn't just become law like that. The compromise has to come back to both houses, and both houses debate the compromise and both houses vote on the compromise. And so everyone's interests are protected. They can look at the compromise and decide whether they like it or they don't, but for six and a half months, we have been blocked in an effort to go to a budget conference. So imagine, Madam President, you know, our amazement in this body on Monday night after the house shut down government, three hours later they passed a bill and said we have an idea. Let's have a conference finally after six and a half months, after they shut down government, but let's have it be a real particular kind of conference. Not a conference about the budget of the United States, but let's have a conference about whether or not the government of the United States should be open or closed.

“Now, I know I can speak for my colleagues who are here. Our view is we'll negotiate and we'll compromise and we'll listen about any policy issue. Budget negotiation is exactly how you do this or policy debates are how you do it. But what none of us in this body or the House should ever negotiate is whether the United States government exists or not, whether it's funded or not, whether it's open or closed. I believe that it's got to be open. That's essentially what our oaths of office require us to do when we say we will faithfully discharge all the duties of the office to which we have been elected. And we also won't negotiate whether the United States should pay its bills or not because the 14th amendment to the Constitution in section 5 makes very plain that the public debt of the United States, its validity shall not be questioned. So, Madam President, there's a way forward here, and it's such a simple way forward, and that is this – Speaker Boehner needs to allow a vote in the house. It's simple – allow a vote. And not only allow a vote, allow a vote on a budget number that he's already agreed to.

“The continuing resolution, the Senator from Connecticut talked about it, that is currently pending funds government for an interim period of time at a budget level that was the House's number. It's not a number that I liked. We had a different number in the Senate, a higher number that we wanted to fund it at, but we accepted the House's number for the short-term spending bill out of a spirit of compromise, and we sent it back to the house, and we said we're compromising. And we're not even going 50-50. We're compromising by accepting your budget number. This isn't, as the Senator from Utah, said we want to fund everything or nothing. No, we have other things we'd like to fund that we're not funding in this bill because we accepted everything that the House wants to fund in their C.R. and so they just need to accept yes for an answer. The good news is that this is not a partisan issue because many Senate Republicans want to do exactly what I am suggesting, and based on current reports in the house, there are numerous House Republicans, four of whom from Virginia are publicly on the record. They want to do exactly what we're suggesting.

“Speaker Boehner, bring your own spending bill up for a vote. If you do, it will pass. If it passes, government will reopen. Once government's reopened, we can have a budget conference and talk about any issue the House wants to talk about, any issue that we want to talk about, but it's time to end hostage politics and reopen the doors, and the Speaker has it in his hands to do that simply and immediately.”