When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced a massive and unprecedented $10 billion omnibus spending bill this week comprised of about 35 of the 200 bills I have declined to help pass without debate this Congress, he argued his effort would end my “unprecedented obstruction” and advance the priorities not of politicians seeking reelection but the American people. What the Majority Leader’s tactics are more likely to achieve, however, is a Senate that is less deliberative, less open, and less capable of responding to the urgent challenges facing our country.
It’s important to note that what the Majority Leader defines as “unprecedented obstruction” is my desire to see an eight percent decline in the number of bills that pass the Senate with no debate, no amendment and no recorded vote. In the 110th Congress, I have helped the Majority Leader pass 855 bills by unanimous consent while I only have holds on about 77 bills presently. If anything, I owe taxpayers an apology for being so permissive when we have a $9.5 trillion national debt.
The first reason Reid’s package of bills should not proceed at this time is because the Senate has so far failed to act in a meaningful way on America’s true priorities, beginning with our energy crisis. Passing a bill that regulates primate ownership, celebrates the War of 1812 and allows politicians to micromanage medical research at NIH will do nothing to lower the price of gas.
In fact, the timing of this debate is an effort by the Majority Leader to distract the public from his obstruction of a comprehensive energy plan. Yet, even if Congress were to pass a meaningful energy plan I would still insist that this body live within its means like every other American. After all, working Americans live in a world of offsets, budget choices and priorities because they have no choice. Congress needs to reenter this world not just as a matter of principle, but as a matter of national survival.
If energy and housing is today’s crisis, tomorrow’s crisis is the impending bankruptcy of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. Congress may not want to consider offsets today, but it surely will tomorrow.
This impasse over offsets, more than any other issue, has brought us to this cloture vote. I have prevented many bills from being hotlined even when I supported the underlying policy because I believe that we have to start finding offsets now, not after it’s too late. When a community knows a river is rising the responsible thing to do is to put the sand bags in place before the flood arrives, not after.
Yet, instead of simply paying for new programs by agreeing to spend less elsewhere, I’m disappointed the Majority Leader has offered excuses rather than solutions.
For instance, Reid claimed negotiating with me was a “waste of time” even though his own party’s nominee for president, Barack Obama, has singled me out as Republican he’d like to work with if elected because of our proven ability to work together on common sense solutions. Reid also hasn’t acknowledged the dozens of bills I’ve held then let go, like PEPFAR and GINA, after the bill sponsors sat down for a reasonable give and take negotiation. Unfortunately, the Majority Leader hasn’t responded to my offers to limit debate, and he has ignored my menu of offsets.
Another excuse for not finding offsets is the intellectually dishonest inside-baseball argument that authorization bills don’t spend money and don’t need to be offset. This argument fascinates me because if the bills I am holding essentially do nothing and provide no resources for the various causes in the bill what am obstructing? Am I obstructing real legislation or press conferences with interest groups?
Also, if Senator Reid accepts this logic, has he informed the beneficiaries of his bill, such as victims of heinous civil rights crimes, that his bill provides no resources as he promised and that the Senate has no plans to pass appropriations bills this year to fund their cause?
A quick survey of the Majority Leader’s press releases shows that he believes authorizations do matter, particularly if they go to Nevada. I believe Senator Reid’s press releases, which don’t treat authorizations as a vague contingency. I share Reid’s view, and the view of most honest observers, that authorization bills are a serious intent to spend real money. Plus, my colleagues know that authorizations often open the door to spending far in excess of authorized amounts, such as with the PEPFAR program that received appropriations double the amount of its authorized level last year.
If Senator Reid would simply agree to pay for his new programs most of his package would pass today. He could even maintain his belief that authorizations don’t matter. If my de-authorizations are budget neutral why oppose them?
The Majority Leader can attempt to file cloture on his “Coburn Omnibus,” but he can’t file cloture on economic reality. Sooner or later, he and every member of Congress will be forced to confront an economic day of reckoning that will arrive, whether we like it or not.