Schumer Floor Remarks Urging An Immediate Return To A Bipartisan Appropriations Process, Celebrating Increased Transparency In Agricultural Relief Programs, And Urging Republicans To Stand Up To The NRA To Pass Bipartisan Gun Safety Legislation

September 19, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the Senate’s refusal yesterday to divert military construction funding to pay for President Trump’s border wall, provisions in the continuing resolution that will increase oversight of funds in the Commodity Credit Corporation, and called on Republican leaders and President Trump to stand up to the NRA and support commonsense bipartisan gun safety legislation . Below are his remarks, which can also be found here.

Yesterday, the Senate failed to advance a motion to proceed to a package of appropriations bills, demonstrating something that Leader McConnell already knew: there are not enough votes in the Senate for the president’s wall.

The Senate refuses to fund the border wall that the President promised Mexico would pay for, especially not at the expense of our troops, and their families, and important public health programs like childcare and Head Start.

Just yesterday, the Pentagon warned of dire outcomes if the money to fund the military is not provided. Read today’s Washington Post: our military people are upset with this. Now they’re chain of command – they’re not going to publically say it – but we know it.  Over 120 military projects stand to lose funding, and we aren’t talking about fixing parking lots. We’re talking about military readiness. We’re talking about medical facilities for troops in North Carolina. We’re talking about schools for military families in Kentucky. We’re talking about explosives stored in unsafe conditions. We’re talking about a very important engineering lab at West Point to train our future soldiers.  Even Hurricane recovery projects in Florida are at risk. The Defense Department was very clear: without this funding, lives would be at risk.

But that’s what Republicans on the Appropriations Committee proposed. The Senate—rightly—rejected that idea. The Republican Leader is saying we’re hurting the military? Give me a break! We are defending the military! How much bull does the Majority Leader think the American public will swallow? They’re taking money out of the military to put it into the wall? And he says that we are hurting the military? Oh no. Leader McConnell you are hurting the military and we defended them. We defended them because we want the money to go to the military. Not to the wall. And by the way, in that regard, Leader McConnell did not stick with the agreement. The agreement was not only on the 302a’s but there be bipartisan agreement on where the money – on the defense side and non-defense side—would be distributed. And instead of consulting Democrats they tried to jam something down our throats, taking money out of defense, out of Head Start and other programs in the Health and Human Services budget and put it into the wall. Well that wasn’t going to stand. It isn’t going to stand. And it will not stand.

Leader McConnell I hope you’ve learned your lesson. Shutting down the government or trying to eyeball for the wall isn’t going to work. Let’s roll up our sleeves and work together.

My friend the Republican Leader and Chairman Shelby have now shown the president that they tried again to fund his wall. They have seen, once again, that the votes are not there. They have seen, once again, that when Senate Republicans do the president’s bidding and refuse to engage in Democrats, the only thing that they accomplish is wasted time.

This pattern repeats itself far too frequently. The same impulse to do the president’s bidding--they’re so afraid of this president, and that’s what led to the 35-day Trump shutdown earlier this year. Let’s not repeat that, Republicans. Let’s learn our lessons. The same impulse led Republicans to deny, for months, disaster aid to Puerto Rico. But in each case, whether it be taking money out of needed places like the military and putting it into the wall, or not being fair to Puerto Rico when it came to aid, they had to relent and work with Democrats. Glad they did for the good of the country.

So enough time has been wasted this work period. Leader McConnell, Chairman Shelby: it’s time for you to sit down and negotiate with Democrats on the way forward.

Now, there’s another bright spot: the short term CR that was released last night. The continuing resolution is an important measure to keep the government open until late November and allow appropriators to get a bipartisan agreement for the Fiscal Year 2020.

One program that has not received enough attention is the agricultural relief program, known commonly as the Commodity Credit Corporation. This is an important program that should help all farmers suffering from certain exigencies of the market, like price declines and natural disasters.

Unfortunately, over the past year, the president turned this important agricultural relief program that we all support into a giant slush fund.

The relief payments have gotten political: crops in red states have received outsized subsidies, while crops in blue states were shortchanged. Cotton, for example, has gotten a huge subsidy compared to dairy and specialty crops: fruits and vegetables. The payments were not matched to the damage caused to each crop. Even soybeans, the supposed reason for this, at the beginning was greatly shortchanged for cotton. And even now cotton is being treated better.

In addition, and just as bad if not worse, there has been a huge amount of waste and abuse in the program. Large agribusinesses, including some foreign agribusinesses like a Brazilian beef corporation, are receiving funding through this program while American dairy farmers are passed over. There are limits on the CCC program. If you make over $900,000, you shouldn’t get any money. The most any farm can get is $250,000 if there are two farmers in the family – a husband and a wife. Those don’t seem to be obeyed either.

So we’re very pleased that Republican acceded to our wish. Democrats were able to inject some transparency into the agricultural relief program. In this short-term CR, we require reporting on whether the funding is going to foreign sources and justification for why money went where it did. We’re going to look at this report before we move to the full appropriations bill in a month or two to make sure money is going to our American farmers who need it. Not foreigners, not wealthy agribusinesses, not all slanted to one product like cotton when there’s so many other needs. This is a good victory for Democrats in a day with some victories for Democrats.

Finally on guns. Yesterday, according to reports, Attorney General Barr came to Capitol Hill to discuss a one-page proposal on gun legislation that he had put together. It became clear soon after that the White House, seemingly out of fear of reprisal by the NRA, was unwilling to embrace its own Attorney General’s proposal, and, once again, the White House refused to take a stand on what they propose to do on the question of gun violence.

President Trump and Senate Republicans are trying to find a way to have their cake and eat it too—searching for a plan that the public will accept and won’t offend the NRA.

It’s a fool’s errand. Leader McConnell and President Trump, you can’t please the NRA and at the same time do good gun legislation that will save lives. You cannot please the NRA unless you do something that is either regressive or, at the very best, toothless. Get it through your heads. That’s how it is. So if you want to do something real on gun legislation and save lives, you have to reject the NRA’s administrations.

The NRA is wildly out of step with the views of the American public, its policies are reactionary, its leadership recalcitrant and divided. Look no further than universal background check bill: 93% of Americans—and a great majority of gun owners, 80% of Republicans—support the idea. But not the NRA. As for yesterday’s plan, floated by the Republican Attorney General, a plan that would only modestly expand background checks, representatives of the NRA called it a “nonstarter.”

The views of the NRA and the views of the American public are fundamentally incompatible. President Trump, Leader McConnell, Senate Republicans: Which side are you on? Are you with the NRA or are you with the American people? I yield the floor.