Dec 12 2014
I rise in opposition to the spending bill before us today. I rise in opposition to the cynical substance of the legislation. I rise in opposition to the un-republican and undemocratic process by which a small collection of political and economic insiders crafted it, to benefit each other at everyone else’s expense.
And finally, I rise in particular opposition to the signals this so-called CRomnibus sends: the signal it sends to political insiders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue; the signal it sends to special interest cronies on Wall Street and K Street; and the signal it sends to working families struggling on Main Streets across this country who have been waiting for a decade for someone in this city to start putting them first.
And those problems with this bill – each alone enough to merit opposition – do not even speak to its greatest weakness: its failure to correct the president’s lawless executive amnesty.
Since last night when it was taken up in the House of Representatives, supporters of the CRomnibus have couched their support in the language of compromise. “This isn’t a perfect bill,” they say.
But on the contrary, Mr./Madam President: it is perfect. As a representation of everything wrong with Washington, D.C, and as an example of exactly the kind of unfair, unrepresentative legislating that triggered successive electoral waves of bipartisan condemnation in 2006, 2008, 2010, and again in 2014 – the CRomnibus is perfect.
Nor do members of my party have the luxury today of blaming this latest failure on the outgoing Senate majority. No. This one is on us.
Americans just last month thought they went to the polls and voted for change to stop this kind of thing – unread, thousand-page bills written in secret, filled with hidden favors for special interests while funding the lawlessness of an out-of-control president.
Americans looking for that change won’t find it in this bill. Rather, they’ll find what the discarded revolutionaries of Animal Farm found at the end of George Orwell’s classic:
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Mr./Madam President, Americans across our country today are facing a new and unnatural squeeze, an Opportunity Deficit that is warping our free enterprise economy and our voluntary civil society. This Opportunity Deficit is not siply the result of globalization or technology or free trade.
It’s the result of politicians creating a welfare system that traps poor families in poverty and locks lower skilled workers out of potential jobs... an education system that traps poor kids in bad schools and college students into a lifetime of debt... a health care system that locks the poor in second-class care and erases what few wage gains middle class families ever see... a tax system that unfairly discourages work, saving, investment, marriage, and children.
Government policy today unfairly protects the privileges of those who have already climbed the ladder of success, while pulling that ladder out of the reach of those who have not yet grasped its bottom rungs.
On Wall Street, corporate profits continue to soar. And here in Washington, the influence-economy booms on. But almost everywhere else, take home pay is flat. Jobs remain scarce. Small businesses are struggling to grow, while new businesses are struggling even to get off the ground.
More and more today in America, the people who work hard, play by the rules, and live within their means are being forced to subsidize political and economic elites who don’t.
It’s not big business or big special interests who created this toxic environment – all they can do is ask. Only government – big government, this government - can rig the system.
Only government can carve out a regulatory exception for certain Big Banks while intensifying its regulatory squeeze on smaller banks, or tweak accounting rules to line the pockets of certain Big Insurance companies, or create new taxpayer subsidies for certain industries, or cynically present all of the above as unamendable take-it or shut-down-the-government propositions... as this bill does.
And we wonder why the American people distrust their government. We wonder why the principled grassroots of both parties – conservatives and progressives - are up in arms against their Washington establishments over this bill. The American people do not trust Congress because, as we are proving once again today, Congress is not trustworthy.
And yet, Mr./Madam President, as rotten as this CRomnibus before us is... I want to state for the record that this week leaves me with nothing but optimism about the prospects for reform and revival in coming years.
The miserable process we have witnessed this week represents the last gasping throes of a discredited Washington status quo. Ten years ago, this bill would not have been controversial. Five years ago, an easy majority would have been purchased with earmarks. This week, with the full weight of both party’s leaderships, it barely made it over the finish line.
Change comes slowly, as we know. And it comes slowest to those institutions that make the rules.
But change is coming. The era of passing 1600-page bills, written in secret, via a process that includes lobbyists but excludes the American people is coming to an end. The era of big government rigging the rules for big business and big special interests while leaving everyone else behind is coming to an end.
A new era is coming, in which Washington will once again be forced to work for the American people instead of the other way around.
To those Americans who have watched with dismay what Congress did – and didn’t do – this week, who made their voices heard by flooding both sides of the aisle with phone calls and emails... take heart. It may not look like it today, but they are winning. America is winning.
The Beltway establishments of both parties are exhausted: out of ideas, and running out of time. Next year, a new unified Congress has an opportunity to reshape the national debate, to challenge Washington’s failing status quo and its failed champion in the Oval Office.
We can finally begin the hard, overdue work:
- of rescuing our economy from the grips of government dysfunction and political privilege;
- of rescuing our healthcare system from Obamacare;
- of reviving our education system and modernizing our transportation system;
- of fixing our broken immigration system;
- of ending special-interest manipulation of our tax system and reforming regulations to level the playing for small and new businesses.
And we can look to our own house, to reform the way Congress conducts the people’s business, the way we budget and spend the people’s money, so embarrassments like this CRomnibus are relics of a discredited past.
We can. And we will.
For too long, the working families of and aspiring to America’s middle class have been fighting a lonely battle to keep up and get ahead. And for too long, Washington has been an obstacle, even an opponent, in that fight. That fight will remain uphill, but for the first time in a long time, there is hope. There is a real chance that fight may get a little less steep, a little less lonely. Help is on the way.
Mr./Madam President, I know it’s hard to see right now. It’s hard to see in Washington, and it must be even harder to see out in the country. But change is coming. A new Congress is on the way – with new ideas, and a new sense of purpose.
Temporary setbacks like this bill should not discourage us. For the only way to keep winning is to keep fighting.
Washington may still be broken, but America is ready to fix it, no matter how long it takes. Our opportunity to finally begin that work is almost here. We just have to know where to look for it.
“... not by eastern windows only
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
But westward, look, the land is bright!”
I yield the floor.