Mr. President, I come to the floor to implore my colleagues and the President to end the shutdown and reopen the Federal Government. We are now on day 34 of this shutdown, which is well past being the longest in American history. When you think about what our country has been through: the Civil War, World War I, World War II; you think about the protests we had; what we had with the country in the Depression; what we had only a decade ago with the biggest downturn since the Depression— through all of that, even through a few shutdowns, we somehow, in this Chamber and in the House and in the White House, were able to get our act together and were somehow able to keep the government open.
Now is the time to open the government, Mr. President. The 800,000 Federal employees who are not being paid are keenly aware that this is the longest shutdown on record. Another sad milestone is coming if the shutdown continues through tomorrow. These workers will miss yet another paycheck.
These are workers, like a Federal prison worker in Rochester, MN, who noted to me that the inmates were getting paid but the prison workers are not. She was so excited to get this job a few months ago. Her child was in daycare. She is a single mom, and now she has to decide between taking some other job and moonlighting. What does she do about the daycare if she takes another job and takes her child out of daycare and stays home with her child, which would make some sense, except she wouldn’t have enough money, and then she would lose her spot in the daycare. It is very hard to get daycare in Minnesota.
Instead of working on those kinds of what I would call opportunities, at a time when our economy has been stable after we had gotten out of the downturn, we have been working out of chaos. Instead of helping her to afford childcare and figuring out smart solutions, or doing something about pharmaceutical prices, or doing something about college costs, or training our workers for the jobs of today and tomorrow, or enacting comprehensive immigration reform so our rural areas in my State, where we don’t have enough workers on our farms and in our fields and in our factories—we should be working on those opportunity issues—instead, we are trying to crawl out of chaos.
We need to reopen the government and get these workers back on the jobs providing vital services for the American people. Once it is open, as my colleagues have made clear and as leadership has made clear, we can continue negotiations with the President about border security. I am someone, as is my colleague from Pennsylvania, who voted for a bill that had over $40 billion in border security that was part of comprehensive immigration reform.
We did this, but was it a wall through the entire border? No, it was not. It allowed the experts to decide where there should be technology, where there should be fencing, where there should be barriers, where there should be personnel. That is the way to do this.
There is no reason our Federal workers and the American taxpayers who rely on the vital services provided by the Federal workers should be held hostage while these policy negotiations take place.
The pain that this shutdown is causing is real, and it is getting worse. The administration has implemented many creative measures to try to blunt the public outcry against the shutdown, but these measures are being held together by duct tape. We use duct tape a lot in Minnesota. We try to put things together, but we shouldn’t be using duct tape to tape together our entire government.
Our Agencies are running out of money, and many are reaching the breaking point. Earlier today, the five former Secretaries for the Department of Homeland Security, including our first DHS Secretary, Tom Ridge, and John Kelly, President Trump’s former Chief of Staff, wrote a letter urging an end to this shutdown and full funding for the Department of Homeland Security.
In their letter, the former Secretaries noted that Congress always prioritizes funding of the Defense Department as a matter of national security. Congress does so because putting national security at risk is an option we simply can’t afford. DHS should be no different.
The administration continues to explore ideas like a national emergency declaration to bypass Congress. The irresponsibility of all of this is breathtaking.
Yesterday, the presidents of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the Air Line Pilots Association, and the Association of Flight Attendants released a terrifying joint statement pointing out the risk the shutdown presents to air travel: In our risk-averse industry—That is putting it mildly— we cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point where the entire system will break. It is unprecedented. I have talked to the air traffic controllers in my State. I have talked to the TSA workers who sit there every day and do their job without pay. In this letter, they go on to state that the ‘‘air safety environment . . . is deteriorating by the day.’’
Reading this statement does not give me confidence, nor does the fact that a full 10 percent of our Transportation Security Administration agents are now missing work because of financial limitations—meaning they can’t cover the daycare and transportation expenses required to come to work. Those who can come to work are surely distracted by worries about how they will pay their bills.
As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle last year to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. We were rightly proud of the law, including the third title, simply titled, ‘‘Safety,’’ which had 90 individual provisions designed to maximize the safety of air travel for the American people. We required updated safety training procedures for airline professionals, sought to improve safety on our Nation’s runways and in rural areas, and updated the laws regarding engine safety. This matters a lot in my State. We are a major hub in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. We are the State that manufactures jets up in Duluth at Cirrus.
We are the State that has major Minnesota National Guard facilities that train flight inspectors and aviators and people all over the country. Aviation is incredibly important in my State. In our bill, we required updated safety training procedures for airline professionals, sought to improve safety in our Nation’s runways and rural areas.
As the Senator from Pennsylvania and Florida know, rural air service in our States are key, and we updated those laws. We are hearing the entire system of air travel may break, and for what?
What does air travel have to do with border security? The short answer is, air travel has nothing to do with border security, except when we are checking our airports and making sure they are safe when there are border flights. If we are talking about a wall across the southern border, that has nothing to do with our airports in Minnesota and in Pennsylvania and in Florida. I have long favored increasing our border security through smart technology.
As I mentioned, our 2013 immigration bill, which passed this Chamber with a number of Republican votes—many of whom are still here—included money for an additional 40,000 Border Patrol agents.
As we know, most drugs come into this country through our ports of entry. If we want to do something about the various problems with the drugs coming into our country, things like heroin from Central America and from Mexico and things like other opioids, then we should be doing something about those ports of entry. As has been the case all along, there are proposals on the table that will reopen the government and end this senseless shutdown. The House has now passed legislation that will fund the government under any number of arrangements.
It includes bills that fund all remaining government Agencies through the end of the fiscal year— bills that fund individual Departments and Agencies, most having absolutely nothing to do with this debate that is raging in the White House. The last bill that was passed through February 8, a short-term basis that would have taken us through February 8, would have allowed the President and Congress to negotiate a longer term proposal. That was the bill we passed in the Senate. This last bill was even coupled with additional funding for disaster relief—a priority for both parties that wish to help Americans in States that have suffered through hurricanes and wildfires. Earlier this afternoon, the Senate voted on the short-term funding proposal.
While the proposal did not gain the required 60 votes to gain consideration, I was encouraged by the fact that 5 Republican Senators joined Democrats in voting to consider this bill. This is progress, and we need to build on that momentum by working together to do the right thing for the American people.
On Monday, we celebrated Martin Luther King’s life. One of the things Martin Luther King once said was that ‘‘the time is always right to do what is right.’’ This is the right time. We can’t just keep waiting while government Agencies remain shuttered. There are 6,100 Federal workers in the State of Minnesota who are not receiving their paychecks. Farmers, small business owners, and taxpayers are going without vital services from their government, major portions of which have been closed for 34 days. It is time to reopen the government.
I yield the floor.