Governors are sent by Him to punish the evildoers and praise the virtuous (1 Peter 2:14).

Congressional Record2017/1/3Senate | House | Extensions

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[Pages S12-S14]
From the Congressional Record Online through GPO


Mr. MERKLEY. Mr. President, this is the first day in which a new Senate is assembled in which we ponder traditions of this body. Indeed, it has been described, as my colleague from Texas mentioned, as the world's greatest deliberative body. But over the time I have been familiar with the Senate, it has lost the ability to claim that title, the “greatest deliberative body.” It is a completely different institution from the one I first saw in 1976 when I came as an intern for Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon, because at that point we [[Page S13]] saw deliberation on the floor about the issues we face. We saw that the use of the filibuster to obstruct ordinary bills was rarely invoked. We saw bipartisan cooperation on big issues facing America. But that dialogue on the floor is largely missing.

One reason I wanted to sit here and listen to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle speak today was to ponder that tradition in which people listen to each other and ponder the opportunity to address those substantial issues that we have before us. My colleague from Texas, the Republican leader, noted that this past election, the people of America spoke loud and clear about the direction they want this country to go in. Well, certainly that is not the case. The majority of American citizens rejected the policies put forward by President-Elect Trump. By 3 million votes, the citizen election overwhelmingly rejected those policies. Indeed, had it not been for a strategy of voter suppression on the Republican side, it would have been far more than 3 million votes rejecting those policies.

Let us be clear that this strategy of voter suppression is an attack on the Constitution. Our Constitution was founded on the principle that we would pursue policies here that support the success of all Americans. That is where our Constitution starts, with these three words: “We the People.” That is why the Founders wrote those three words in supersized font--so when you saw the written Constitution from across the room, you couldn't read the fine print but you could see the mission statement: “We the People.” It is why Abraham Lincoln summarized the genius of our country as being a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Let us be clear. Without voter suppression, those 3 million votes, the majority that rejected the Trump policies would have been far larger. Let's remember that if it were not for Russian hacking of the election, that 3-million vote majority that rejected the Trump policies would have been larger yet. Let's remember that if it were not for an out-of-control FBI Director intervening in the final days of the campaign, the citizen vote rejecting Trump would have been even larger.

By the citizen-vote calculation, Trump lost the debate over the direction of America. If we consider the votes cast for Members of the Senate, overwhelmingly those votes rejected the Republican agenda. So here we are with colleagues who say the American people spoke loud and clear. If you consider the vision of our country and the citizen vote for the Presidency and the citizen vote for Members of the Senate, that loud and clear message is a rejection of the Trump policies.

There is no mandate here to throw millions of people off of their health care. My colleague from Texas said the American people deserve health care they can afford. Well, isn't that the challenge, that when health care has a price tag and there is no ability afforded you, you get no health care? You get health care for the upper middle class and health care for the wealthy but not health care for every citizen. Shouldn't we have a nation in which quality health care is accessible, is affordable to every single citizen? Twenty million more people have access to that now than they had 8 years ago. It is an incredible change.

A woman came up to me at a fundraiser for multiple sclerosis, and she said: Senator, things are so different this year.

I said: What do you mean?

She said: A year ago, before we had the Affordable Care Act, if you got a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, you were in deep trouble. It is a complicated, mysterious disease. It is an expensive disease, and if you had insurance, it likely wasn't going to cover the costs associated with it because of annual limits or lifetime limits.

She noted that if you didn't have insurance, you wouldn't be able to get insurance because you would now have a preexisting condition and no insurer would give you the opportunity to be able to have an affordable health care plan.

She said: Well, what a different place we are in now because now we have the peace of mind that our loved ones afflicted with this terrible disease will be able to get the health care they need.

Isn't that what we should seek--a health care system where people have peace of mind, where we no longer have thousands of bankruptcies based on health care costs, bankruptcies that you don't see in other developed nations that have done a better job of making health care available to every single citizen?

Let's not turn the clock back to whether health care was only for the healthy or the wealthy. Let's not turn the clock back to where our young folks were in a health care desert between the time they left their parent's policy and before they had a career of their own, before we said they could stay on their parent's policy to age 26.

Let's not turn the clock back to the point where we didn't make preventive policies for seniors free, and we found that that ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure. We did that in the Affordable Care Act, and people across the Nation have appreciated that.

It is not just on health care that we see no mandate for the Trump agenda; we don't see any mandate for the Trump agenda on the environment. There is a proposal by the President-elect to put an individual in charge of our environmental policies who has been all about increasing pollution--increasing fine particle pollution that causes asthma and other diseases; increasing mercury pollution, which is a toxic attack on the nervous system and affects the development of our youngsters. A neurotoxin like mercury is something to be controlled, not increased.

There was a commentary by my colleague from Texas that we should expedite the nominees. We know full well that my Republican colleagues did everything they could to obstruct President Obama's nominees. It was not so long ago we were here on the floor and we couldn't get a Department of Labor nominee through this Chamber, or Gina McCarthy with the Environmental Protection Agency, or various judges slated for the DC Circuit Court.

I believe the nomination system needs to be reformed. I believe a President's nominee should get a timely vote. So why don't we consider the possibility of establishing a rule that gives people a timely vote? Why not put a 100-day clock on all nominees but the Supreme Court? If that 100 days ripens and we haven't had a vote on this floor and if a group of Senators wants a vote, then why not hold that vote, with an hour of debate, and hold the vote the next day? But to do that, we would have to have a debate over the rules under which this body functions.

There is no clear path to consider rules, which means we are often trapped by the precedents of the past that have become unworkable. So shouldn't we consider a rule change that gives a clear path for rule changes to be considered on this floor? Isn't that something on which Senators could come together on a bipartisan basis? And by establishing such a course of action, we could consider the possibility of having a 100-day clock on nominees so that they would not be trapped forever in purgatory, not knowing if they are ever going to get a vote. And we know that so many of President Obama's nominees were trapped in purgatory. It has had a terrible impact on those who are willing to consider the possibility of serving the executive branch, not knowing if they will ever get a vote. Couldn't we improve on this?

Isn't improving the nomination process something that is important in the balance of powers, the balance between the legislative branches? Our Constitution created three coequal branches, not a vision in which the legislative branch or half of a legislative branch can run a continuous attack on the judiciary, a continuous attack on the executive branch.

There are other rule changes we ought to consider. We could consider that for Supreme Court nominees, if they are filibustered, it has to be a talking filibuster so that it takes time and effort to obstruct, using the power of the minority, so that there is a conversation directly held day and night, on through the weekend, on through the next week and the following week, on whether debate should be closed on a nominee to the Supreme Court. Currently, we don't have a talking filibuster for the Supreme Court, so if you simply can't get enough votes to close debate, this Chamber is silent. It sits silent rather than being in an engaged dialogue in front of the American people so the American people can weigh [[Page S14]] in on whether the use of the filibuster on a Supreme Court nominee makes you a hero or makes you a bum.

Should we not consider a strategy by which, on ordinary issues of policy, the filibuster is restricted to final passage of a bill rather than having obstruction with each amendment and obstruction with the motion to proceed to a bill, so that we can spend our time debating bills rather than debating whether to debate bills? And what goes hand in hand with moving the filibuster only to final passage is a clear way for amendments to be offered by Members on both sides of the aisle that are relevant to a bill, that are germane to a bill. If we have the ability to clearly debate amendments, we will be closer to being a deliberative body and therefore maybe even the possibility of becoming a great deliberative body or even the world's greatest deliberative body once again. But when we are paralyzed and unable to get bills to the floor or when they are on the floor but we are unable to propose amendments, we won't be there. These two things go hand in hand.

These are all ideas I advocated for when I was in the majority. Today I stand here in the minority arguing for these same fundamental changes. They will strengthen the success of this body for the majority and the minority and strengthen our ability to work together to produce legislation that addresses the big issues facing this Nation.

Let's be clear. There is no mandate for the Trump agenda, no mandate for dismantling health care for millions of Americans. There is no mandate for increasing air and water pollution, no mandate for tax giveaways to the richest Americans, no mandate for increasing the disparity in compensation between ordinary workers and the best off, the most powerful, and the most privileged.

We will indeed, as our Democratic leader noted, hold the President- elect accountable. The President-elect said, “I am going to drain the swamp,” but he has proposed turning the economy over to Goldman Sachs, to the banking world, and he has proposed turning over our foreign policy to Exxon, the fossil fuel world. That is the opposite of draining the swamp. We will hold the President-elect accountable.

The President-elect said he was going to fight for working people. Well, proposing a Secretary of Labor who is against working people getting fair compensation is inconsistent, to say the least, with a pledge to fight for working people. We will hold the President-elect accountable.

There is much work to be done, but if we hold as our North Star the vision that we are here as a legislative body to fight for the vision of “we the people,” policies that lift up all Americans, give an opportunity for every American to thrive, then perhaps we will find a course in which we can work together in a bipartisan fashion to make America greater and greater.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. ____________________

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