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Appropriations Bills

Sen. Robert C. Byrd

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Mr. President, as the end of the 106th Congress is fast approaching, I am deeply dismayed about the prospects of completing action on the thirteen annual appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2001, which begins October 1st. Unfortunately, as has happened far too often in recent years, much of the work on appropriations bills remains to be done. There is really no valid excuse for the Senate's failure to do its appropriations work. The House has done its work in a timely fashion.

Yet, to date, only two of the Fiscal Year 2001 appropriations bills have been signed into law--Military Construction and Defense. Of the remaining eleven bills, four have yet to even be brought up for debate in the full Senate. Those bills are Treasury, Commerce-Justice-State, VA-HUD, and The District of Columbia. As Members are aware, the conference report on H.R. 4516, the Fiscal Year 2001 Legislative Branch Appropriations is divided--broken into two divisions. Division A contains the conference agreement for the Legislative Branch bill. Division B, which was inserted into the Legislative Branch Bill without any input by Democratic Members of either the House or Senate, contains the entire Treasury-General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001. This was done despite the fact that the Senate has never taken up the Treasury-General Government Appropriations bill at all. In addition, again without any input from the Democratic Members of the House or Senate, a tax measure to repeal the telephone excise tax was inserted in this same conference report. The measure was soundly defeated in this body yesterday, as I believe it should have been.

Here we are with only nine calendar days left before the beginning of Fiscal Year 2001, and we have enacted only two of the thirteen annual appropriations bills and had them signed into law; two more were contained in the conference report on H.R. 4516, namely the Legislative Branch and Treasury-General Government bills. That leaves nine fiscal year 2001 appropriations bills remaining. Since, on yesterday, we did defeat the conference report, actually the Legislative Branch and Treasury-General Government bills have not been acted on, we have eleven bills remaining.

To conform with the Constitutionally envisioned process, all four of these bills should be passed in the Senate before being taken up in conferences with the other body. To shortcut that process means that the full Senate never has an opportunity to amend these bills or debate provisions in them. Especially when it comes to bills which spend the taxpayers' money, we ought to take the time to allow debate and amendment by the full membership of this body. I hear all of this talk about tax cuts and giving the people back their hard-earned money. How does that square with the rather cavalier attitude we sometimes exhibit here when it comes to appropriations bills? Do we forget, that when it comes to appropriations bills, we are spending the people's money? Don't Members of the Senate feel an obligation to let the full Senate scrutinize, debate, and, if necessary, amend, bills that allocate those hard-earned tax dollars? No public debate by the Senate on the billions of dollars contained in these bills for programs and projects means that the public is denied critical information about the use of the public's money. In a body formulated to foster debate and to protect the rights of the minority view, it is especially irresponsible to abdicate those functions when it comes to spending the people's tax dollars.

There is plenty of blame to go around as to why the Commerce-Justice-State, VA-HUD, and DC bills have not been brought up, as well as the Treasury bill. I do not seek to point the finger at anybody.

The chairman of the Appropriations Committee and the members of the Appropriations Committee have done their very best to work on these bills, to report them. The Commerce-Justice-State bill has been before the Senate long enough that we could have passed it, we could have stayed in on Fridays and, if need be, on some Saturdays. We have done that before, and we could have gotten that bill passed and, at the same time, let Senators have the chance to offer amendments to it. That is what the process is all about.

The leadership too often files cloture on appropriations bills and other matters, in order to limit the number of controversial and politically loaded amendments that can be offered by Senators on the minority side of the aisle. Democratic Members too often bring up ``message'' amendments over and over again on appropriations bills because they find little opportunity to have those matters debated by the Senate on other bills.

I have to say that the authorization committees, some of them at least, do not do their work and, as a consequence, the action and the responsibility then falls upon the Appropriations Committee. Members do not have an opportunity to offer amendments to authorization bills that ought to have been reported and brought to the floor. When those authorization committees do not act, naturally appropriations bills are the only vehicles to which Members can offer amendments that they would otherwise offer to the authorization bill.

Every action has a reaction. Polarization breeds polarization. Nevertheless, we must find a way to accommodate the needs of all Senators, as well as fulfill the responsibility of the leadership to move must-pass legislation.

This is not the first year that the regular appropriations process has broken down, but I urge us all to work on a bipartisan basis to ensure that it will be the last. Let us call a truce to the perennial warfare that we fight over these appropriations bills. Let us stop the drift that leads us to short cut the deliberative function of this Senate and all too often produces mammoth omnibus bills with everything but grandpa's false teeth thrown in. This one grandpa who does not have false teeth. Mine would not go in.

Huge omnibus appropriations bills make a mockery of the legislative process, and sending appropriations bills direct to conference without Senate action on them also makes a mockery of the legislative process. For FY 1997, 1999, and 2000, Congress resorted to the adoption of omnibus appropriations acts which contained a number of appropriations bills, some of which had never been brought up in the Senate. Those omnibus acts also contained massive amounts of legislative matter, as well as tax cuts--legislative matter that never saw the light of day on the Senate floor.

For fiscal year 1999, the omnibus appropriations package enacted at the end of the session contained eight appropriations bills, as well as a tax bill totaling some $9.2 billion, and more than 60 major legislative proposals. Appropriations subcommittee chairmen and ranking members were not involved in a number of major decisions in their areas of jurisdiction, nor were the full committee chairmen and ranking members included in the decisions regarding the tax bill or the major legislative proposals. In all, that FY 1999 omnibus package totaled some 3,980 pages. It was wrapped together and run off on copy machines and presented to the two Houses as an unamendable conference report. That measure provided funding of nearly $500 billion and more than half of 3,980 pages contained legislative provisions. No one could possibly have known everything that was included in that omnibus monstrosity, just as no Member could have known what was in the omnibus bill for FY 1997, or for that of FY 2000. But we are headed in that direction again.

When we wait until the end of a session to take action on the overwhelming majority of appropriations bills, when we allow ourselves to be pressured by time, when we are forced to hurry because we are about to adjourn, it is an open invitation to the executive branch to sit down at the legislative table.

The Constitution vests the power of the purse in the legislative branch. That is the House and Senate. That is where the Constitution vests the power of the purse. Yet the way we are acting, the way we delay and the results that come from such delay in the end constitute an open invitation for the executive branch to come to the tables.

In that environment, most Senators are not in the room when the decisions are made. The President's men and the President's priorities carry great weight. It is late. The President's signature is needed, so the White House has the trump hand. Having squandered the whole year on meaningless posturing and bickering back and forth--

I say back and forth. That means both sides. I do not stand here and accuse either side of having a monopoly on the bickering. We are all involved. But we are much more likely to yield to the administration's every demand then to complete our work.

I am hopeful we can avoid such a process for fiscal year 2001. I am encouraged by the fact that a number of conferences are either under way or soon will begin. I was in one yesterday afternoon, last evening, and this morning.

I urge the leadership to find a way to bring up the appropriations bills which have not seen Senate action for debate and amendment in the Senate. I think it would be useful for both leaders, if I might presume to make a suggestion, to appoint a group of Senators to discuss these remaining appropriations bills, and what amendments our colleagues deem most important to be offered. Let us reach out across our respective aisles and find a way to do our business without resorting to an always contentious, usually counterproductive, lame-duck session. That would be the responsible way to do business. That is the fair way to do business. That would be the right way to conduct the people's affairs.

The American public is disenchanted with politics as usual and with the constant warfare that seems to continually be waged in Washington. We must recommit ourselves to working together in the spirit of cooperation to ensure that we find a way to fulfill our duties and our oaths of office as U.S. Senators.

Nobody looks good in this annual mad dash to complete work on spending bills that should have been done months before. There are no winners here.

The Republicans don't win; the Democrats don't win. The people lose. The result is an institutional erosion that we see going on. The Senate is losing its powers, it is losing its prerogatives, they are being taken from us, when we do not let bills come up and be debated and be amended by Senators. There are no winners.

There are no gold, silver, or even bronze medalists. When we engage in this sloppy, annual relay race to get the job done at all costs, the baton always gets dropped, and the losers, once again, are the people we represent and the trust they have in us.

The Senate--the institution, the one place in which the people's interests can be debated at length, and where bills can be amended, and where a check can be made on the House of Representatives, as the framers intended, and where a check can be exercised against an overreaching executive branch, when that is short circuited--the Senate loses its powers, its prerogatives go by the wayside, and the interests, the freedoms, and the liberties of the American people suffer.

It is time that we talk about these things. I am the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee. I am very, very, very concerned. I was up at 3 o'clock this morning working on a speech, not this one, but one that I still intend to make about this very subject.

Mr. President, I thank the distinguished Senator from New Hampshire for his consideration and courtesy in allowing me to go forward. I hope I have not kept him waiting unduly.

Sen. Harry Reid

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Would my friend from New Hampshire allow me to enter into a brief dialog with the Senator from West Virginia? It will be very brief.

I say, through the Chair to my friend from West Virginia, that I do not believe the minority got us in this situation we are in. But I do say that we will do everything within our power to try to get ourselves out of the hole that we are in.

It is certainly not the intention of the minority to hold up Congress, to hold up these appropriations bills. As a longtime member of the Appropriations Committee, and someone who has the greatest respect and admiration for the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, I think it is important we work with the majority in trying to figure out a way out of this. Certainly we are willing to do that.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd

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I thank the Democratic whip. I know he is willing to do just what he says. He wants to cooperate.

We have to save this institution. There are Senators in this body who have never seen the institution work as it was meant to work. I will have more to say about that later. But there are Members in this institution who think that this is the way the Senate has always worked. It is not. And I am not pointing fingers at anybody. I like both leaders. But we have to do something. We just must avoid coming back after the election. That is a disservice to the Members of the other body. They have done their work on these appropriations bills and sent them over here. Now we ought to do ours. And it is a disservice to the American people.

Sen. Harry Reid

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I say to my friend, I spent all morning with you in a conference on the Interior appropriations bill.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd

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Yes.

Sen. Harry Reid

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It was a difficult bill. But that is the way things are supposed to be done around here.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd

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That is the process.

Sen. Harry Reid

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The process. And now, sometime today, there is going to be a bill reported out of that conference committee that will be brought to the respective bodies that will be approved.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd

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Absolutely.

Sen. Harry Reid

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It is a nice piece of work. If the White House does not like it, they can do whatever they want with it, but the legislative bodies have spoken. It will pass overwhelming, that bill.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd

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Yes. We have a duty. We have a responsibility.

Now, I have been leader. I have been the majority leader, and I have been the minority leader, and I have been the majority leader again. I know what the problems and the pressures and the travails and the tribulations are of a majority leader. And I know what the tribulations and trials of a minority leader are. So I am well acquainted with their problems. I have had them all. I have been there. My footprints are still there. It isn't the quality of our life--that the people send us here for. It is the quality of our work on behalf of the people who send us here.

I had bed check votes at 10 o'clock on Monday mornings. There are people who sit at the desk in front of me and there are some few Senators still in this body who will remember that: Bed check votes at 10 o'clock on Monday mornings. But I alerted my colleagues: That is what we are going to have. And we are going to have votes on Fridays. We are not quitting at 12. Now, in return for that, we are going to work 3 weeks, and then we are going to be out 1 week. So you can go home and see your constituents and get an understanding of what their needs are. But 3 weeks we are going to be here. You are off 1 week. We are going to be here 3 weeks.

And they loved it. Senators loved it. They knew I meant business. And I took the attitude: If you don't like me as leader--you voted me in--then you can vote me out. But as long as I am leader, I am going to lead. I may not have many who will follow me, but I will do what I think is right for this institution.

Well, my speech did not go over well with a few, but take a look at the record of that 100th Congress. That was a great Congress. That is the way we worked it.

I understand--as I say, I like both of our leaders. I personally have great admiration for Mr. Lott and for Mr. Daschle. They have their problems. And we have to help them. But let's draw back here and think of the institution. The most important thing in the world is not for me to be reelected. That is not the most important. The most important thing is for me to do my duty to this Senate--to the Senate, to the Constitution, and to the people who send me here. And if it means I have to work early and late, so be it.

I thank the distinguished Senator, and thank the Senator from New Hampshire again.

The Senator from New Hampshire.

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