Schumer Floor Remarks on the January Negotiations

January 8, 2018

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding budget negotiations and the legislative priorities that must be included.  Below are his remarks which can also be viewed here:

Mr. President, we have two weeks until funding for the government runs out. Alongside our talks about extending government funding, we have also been engaged in serious bipartisan negotiations on a number of issues that should coincide with that deadline. We have to lift the spending caps, pass disaster aid, a health care package, and reach an agreement to enshrine DACA protections alongside additional border security. And of course there’s the issue of 702 FISA as well.

Those negotiations, though difficult, have been proceeding quite well. In fact, the four Congressional leaders met with representatives from the White House last Thursday and had an encouraging meeting.

Unfortunately, following that meeting, the White House issued a series of unreasonable demands, entirely outside the scope of our ongoing negotiations about DACA and border security.

It is part of a pattern of behavior on the part of this White House during sensitive bipartisan negotiations. Over the past year, the Trump White House has much more frequently been a disruptive force rather than a unifying force. To throw down a list from the hard, hard-right wing of the White House at the last minute, is not a very fortuitous or smart thing to do. 

I hope we can keep going on the good track we were on, because the issues we face are mounting, and a major deal requires a dedicated, bipartisan effort. Democrats are going to keep working towards a global agreement with our Republican colleagues: one that lifts the spending caps for defense and urgent domestic priorities in tandem; that sends our men and women in uniform the support they need and puts a down payment on tackling pressing issues here at home, like combatting the opioid epidemic, improving veteran’s health care, and shoring up pension plans.

These are every bit as important as helping our troops. Our troops are extremely important, but we’re a great country, and we don’t have to say to help the troops we can’t help the victims of opioid addiction. To help the troops we can’t help the veterans who once were troops themselves. To help the troops we can’t help working Americans keep the pensions that they’ve paid into year after year after year, and all these folks want is to retire in a life of some degree of dignity.

When the Majority Leader says this morning that he was not for parity, he is saying that we can’t do both. He is telling victims of opioid addiction, many of whom are soldiers who have had PTSD, he is telling pensioners and some miners in his own state, he is telling veterans who have to wait on line for healthcare, that this country can’t do both -- can’t protect our military, give them the funds they need, and deal with our domestic needs.

When President Trump ran he said ‘we’ve got to pay more attention to America.’ The Majority Leader is saying, that’s not the case. Let no one be fooled, when the Majority Leader says he is not for parity, he is not for helping opioid folks to the extent they need. He is not for helping veterans to the extent they need. He is not for helping pensioners to the extent they need. We Democrats stand for both: helping the military and helping these folks here.                                                                                          

Well, over the weekend I was in White Plains – that’s a suburb of New York City - where I stood with a mother who lost her son to an opioid overdose. A mother should never have to bury her son. Especially Stephanie Keegan, whose son Daniel was a veteran who served our country bravely in Afghanistan. Did really well in school, but had a duty to country. Was in the intelligence unit for a while, he was so brilliant. Daniel came back home as some do, nerves shattered by war, struggling with a severe case of PTSD. Stephanie told me her brilliant, beautiful son Daniel – I saw his picture, an all-American boy if there ever was one - waited 16 months for treatment by the VA and died two weeks before his first appointment.                                                           

“There are so many things that can be done to change this situation,” she said, and she’s right.

We can make a real investment in combatting the scourge of opioid addiction, putting real resources into treatment and recovery programs, as well as interdiction. We can make a real investment in improving health care at our veteran’s hospitals, so kids like Daniel don’t have to wait almost a year and a half for treatment they desperately need.

And what about millions of hardworking Americans who need pensions? Retirement is one of the things Americans are most worried about. For years, teamsters and miners and carpenters and more paid into these plans, week after week, month after month, year after year.

They took a little less salary in their negotiations because they wanted to know when it was time to retire, they could retire with some degree of dignity. No one is going to get rich on these pensions, but at least they are there and provide a little bit of a nest egg for people in their golden years. They were told as they put the money in week after week, month after month, year after year, ‘when you retire, you may not be rich, you may not be able to buy luxuries, but at least you’ll have a life of dignity.’

And now those pensions may be stolen from so many people throughout the country. These folks who contributed to and earned every penny of their pensions. Are we going to shrug our shoulders, say we can’t do that? Most Americans want us to do that. They don’t want it to be an either-or situation. And here our colleagues would say ‘well that might increase the deficit.’ Don’t come talking to us about the deficit anymore when you put together a $1.5 trillion increase in the deficit, the majority of which went to tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals and the biggest, fattest corporations in America. No more deficit talk from my colleagues here. Uh-uh.

When we Democrats ask for parity in budget agreements, this is what we mean. We mean opioids, we mean veterans’ health care, we mean pensions. We need to defend and support the middle class here at home just as we must protect America from her adversaries abroad, which our military does so proudly and bravely. We agree that we need to support our military, wholeheartedly. But we don’t think that’s a reason to leave the middle class behind.

Let’s do both. Let’s lift the spending caps equally for defense and these urgent domestic priorities.                                                                

Our two parties can reach a deal like that; just as we can reach an agreement to pass a disaster aid package that treats all states and territories fairly; just as we can reach a deal on a health care package that acknowledges the new reality of the healthcare markets, which were disrupted by Republicans when they repealed the mandate in the tax bill last year; just as we can reach a deal on DACA, protecting folks who were brought here as kids, through no fault of their own, while at the same time making a reasonable, appropriate and smart investment in border security – something in the past that both Democrats and Republicans support.

So in conclusion Mr. President, an agreement can be reached on all of these issues. Nobody wants a shutdown, and nobody wants sequestration to come into effect for the military or the domestic side of the budget. So let’s commit to continue working together, in good faith, to make progress on these issues and get it done before January 19th.