Levin floor statement urging House Republicans to avert a government shutdown

Monday, September 30, 2013

Mr. President, earlier today the Senate rejected for the second time a House Republican continuing resolution and along with it, we again rejected House Republican attempts to deprive millions of Americans of health insurance.  It’s not going to pass here. And I would say to Speaker Boehner – we have given your proposal a vote. Now you owe it to the American people to hold a vote, a vote on the clean continuing resolution to keep our government open that the Senate just sent you just a few hours ago. The only thing preventing us from keeping this government open is the Speaker’s refusal to bring the Senate’s clean CR – a CR I think most Republicans over there acknowledge would pass – to the House floor.

The Senate just a short time ago approved a measure to allow for the pay of our men and women in uniform to continue in the event of a government shutdown. This measure was necessary because requiring our military to go into combat with only an IOU instead of pay would be a travesty. But don’t be fooled – it’s just one travesty among many, even if we restrict our view to the impact of a government shutdown on the military, there are many other terrible impacts of a shutdown.

While military members would be paid, there are other unthinkable outcomes of a government shutdown: Family members of military members who die in combat would not receive death benefits during a shutdown. It defies belief that in the pursuit of a narrow ideological goal, House Republicans would prevent the payment of benefits for those who die defending our country. That is the result from a government shutdown.

In the event of a shutdown, the Department of Defense would further reduce already curtailed training and bring routine maintenance to a halt, exacerbating the corrosive effects that sequestration is already having on military readiness. The department would be barred from entering most new contracts. That harms modernization programs. A shutdown would severely curtail medical services for troops and their families. Commissaries would close. Hundreds of thousands of civilian employees, workers vital to our defense, would be laid off. Outside of DoD, a shutdown would disrupt operations at the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide benefits for those who have served.

And there is the extraordinary disruption of having to plan for this absurdity. As Under Secretary of Defense Hale said on Friday: “Even if a lapse never occurs, the planning itself is disruptive. People are worrying right now about whether their paychecks are going to be delayed, rather than focusing fully on their mission. And while I can't quantify the time being spent to plan, it has or will consume a lot of senior management attention, probably thousands of hours in employee time better spent on supporting national security.”

And again, that only covers the impact on our military and our veterans. While Border Patrol agents and FBI agents would continue to work, they would be putting their lives on the line for an IOU instead of a paycheck. Health clinics would stop taking new patients, life-saving research would grind to a halt. The far-reaching effects of a shutdown on government services across the country should give us all pause – as should the fact that a shutdown is likely to damage the all-too-fragile economic recovery.

This has gone on far too long. Speaker Boehner can end it, now. There is still time for him to bring to the floor of the House a clean continuing resolution and avert a government shutdown. For the good of our men and women in uniform and our national security, for the good of our economy and of the millions of American relying on our benefitting from important federal programs, I hope he does so.

Even this late in the game, I have hope that reason will prevail. I hold that hope in part because while House Republicans have put tea party ideology ahead of the good of the nation, many of our Republican colleagues here in the Senate have not.

These members recognize that there is a difference between, on the one hand, debating serious policy preferences, and on the other hand, threatening government shutdown if you don’t get your way. All of us in the Senate have issues on which we feel every bit as passionately as the opponents of the Affordable Care Act feel about that law. I feel strongly that we should have universal background checks for firearms purchases. By the tea party method of proving the strength of my belief, I should threaten a government shutdown if I don’t get what I want on that subject. If all of us threatened legislative anarchy in pursuit of our goals, democracy would cease to function.

As appalled as I am that some members would threaten such damage to our nation, I am heartened that many of our Republican colleagues here in the Senate have spoken out in opposition to this approach.

When I came to the floor last week to speak on this topic, Senator Ayotte was speaking. I commended her for saying that the American people expect us to keep the government running, even though I disagreed with much of what she said about the Affordable Care Act.

I commend Senator Collins for saying that a shutdown “will only further damage our struggling economy” and that we should resolve our differences “without resorting to constant brinkmanship and the threat of a government shutdown,” even though I disagree with her on the Affordable Care Act.

I commend Senator Portman for saying that differences on the Affordable Care Act “ought to be handled outside the context of a government shutdown.”

I commend Senator Chambliss for saying that while he’d “love to” defund Obamacare, a government shutdown is “going to do great harm to the American people if we pursue that course.”

I commend Senator Kirk for saying, “Let’s not shut down the government just because you don’t get everything you want.”

And there are others who have made that critically important distinction between opposing a certain policy, and shutting down the government if one doesn’t get his or her way.

I welcome spirited debate. I welcome differences of opinion. As my friend Senator McCain said last week, there was plenty of both during the debate on passage of the Affordable Care Act. It is deeply distressing to hear members of Congress argue that the litmus test of whether you’re fighting for your beliefs is whether you’re willing to shut down the government if you don’t achieve a particular goal. That’s not fighting for your position, that’s wanton destruction. I hope at least some House Republicans will come to see the difference between fighting for your goals and sowing anarchy in pursuit of them.