Senator Jon Tester Floor Speech on Possible Government Shutdown Thursday, September 26, 2013 Mr/Madam President, as we inch closer

and closer to shutting down the government, I rise to remind my colleagues what a shutdown would mean for our constituents. I also want to remind my colleagues that it doesn’t have to be this way. Budget battles and debt ceiling debates are the norm in Congress right now, but there was a time when both parties worked together. And the American people benefitted. It hasn’t always been rosy. The budget battles of the mid-nineties shut down our government for nearly a month. Personal insults – here in the “world’s greatest deliberative body” – used to be common. And back in the 1850s, a Senator was beaten on the Senate floor. But through it all, Americans trusted their government to meet its Constitutional responsibility and keep the lights on. After all, if we couldn’t agree on anything else, we could at least keep the lights on. Today, constant political brinksmanship and grandstanding replace common-sense compromise and actual governing. Mr/Madam President, it’s taking a toll on Montanans and all Americans. With a government shutdown once again a real possibility, Americans’ frustration is reaching new heights. For some folks, a shutdown is another opportunity to shake their heads and bemoan the state of affairs in Washington. They are the lucky ones, because for others, a shutdown will hurt their health, their wallets, and their bottom lines. I’m talking about the veteran in Helena, Montana whose disability case appeal could be delayed. The senior citizen in Poplar waiting for her Social Security check. And the small business owner from Kalispell who won’t be getting that next contract to improve our decaying roads. Hotels and other businesses around our National Parks are also holding their breath to see what we do here in the coming days. If the Parks close because the government is shut down, that’s money coming right out of the pockets of folks in West Yellowstone and East Glacier. Everyone knows about the Bakken oil play that’s driving economic growth in North Dakota and eastern Montana. But if the government shuts down, the Bureau of Land

Management’s Permitting Office might be shut down, too. And that means new wells are delayed, as are the jobs that come with them. Since the House Republicans have been unwilling to begin negotiations on a new Farm Bill, farmers and ranchers are going to have lots of questions come October 1st. On that day, not only will the government shutdown, but the Farm Bill will expire as well. So not only could some folks lose critical nutrition assistance, but farmers and ranchers with questions about what the lack of a Farm Bill means for planting decisions and for placing land into conservation won’t be able to ask their local FSA office. Like other government offices, no one will be there to answer the phone. In Montana, Washington is now shorthand for uncertainty. Congress is shorthand for dysfunction. And faith in government is being eroded because some folks around here are more concerned about raising money on C-SPAN than the American people and the American economy. It needs to stop. Mr/Madam President, the American people expect members of Congress to make smart, responsible decisions based on the best information we have. That means advocating for the issues that matter, but compromising to get something done. That means giving a little, and getting a lot in return. It’s called governing. That’s a lesson some folks around here need to learn. I would have thought that flirting with a government shutdown and costing taxpayers billions of dollars in 2011 would have been a sufficient lesson. Or maybe coming within hours of falling off the so-called Fiscal Cliff in 2012 would have been a sufficient lesson. I would have thought causing an unprecedented credit downgrade two years ago by threatening not to raise the debt ceiling would have knocked some sense into folks. And I would think that the American people’s overwhelming desire NOT to shut down the government this week would cause my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to use common-sense. But here we are, continuing to play politics as regular Americans twist in the wind. There is a way forward, Mr/Madam President, and it doesn’t start with political games at the eleventh hour. It starts by working through the regular budget and appropriations process and NOT proposing amendments just to slow down the process.

Funding the government is the easy part, however. In less than a month, we once again will reach the debt ceiling. If we don’t raise it before then, we won’t be able to pay our bills and our economy will be devastated. Crashing into the debt ceiling will cause our credit rating to drop and increase interest rates for the government and for anyone with debt. If you don’t believe this farmer from Big Sandy, Montana, maybe you’ll believe Mark Zandi, an economist who has advised presidents, presidential candidates and Fortune 500 companies. He said failing to raise the debt ceiling will hurt consumer and business confidence, force businesses to stop hiring, and raise borrowing costs for average Americans. He’s far from alone. Former Republican Senator Judd Gregg says failing to pay our bills would “lead to job losses and more debt.” He calls failing to raise the debt ceiling “terrible policy that would produce difficult times for people on Main Street.” Senator Gregg spent 18 years here in the Senate. He also knows that as long as Congress fails to provide the American people with political and economic certainty by funding the government and raising the debt limit, we won’t be able to tackle other important issues. Like replacing the sequester with smart budget cuts. Or striking a long-term budget agreement that will put this nation on solid economic footing. Mr/Madam President, a government shutdown would be irresponsible and unnecessary. Congress needs to do its job and find a way to responsibly keep the government running. We cannot keep holding businesses, seniors, working families, veterans, students – even our military men and women – hostage to the political whims and aspirations of a select few. When I was member of the Montana State Senate, my colleagues and I knew what we had to get done every session. Passing a budget was at the top of our list. Even if we didn’t agree on where to cut and where to spend, we worked together to figure it out. And just like my former colleagues in Montana did this spring, we passed a budget and kept the state government running. Here in Washington, there are a lot of pressures we don’t face at the state level. There are news channels that give any Senator the chance to get on TV. And every issue has an advocacy group fighting for its share of the pie. But real leaders make tough decisions. Real leaders work together to find common ground and move our nation forward. Real leaders put their constituents first.

It’s not too late for us to regain the trust of the American people. But it’s going to take a lot of work. We won’t be able to do it right away, but we can start this week. We can start by responsibly funding the government and providing our economy and our nation with the confidence they need. That’s what we did in Montana, and that’s what we used to do here in Washington. The American people are calling for an end to brinksmanship and an end to gridlock. It’s time we started to listen to them.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful