Schumer Floor Remarks Calling For Good Faith Appropriations Negotiations And For Leader McConnell To Bring Universal Background Check Legislation To The Floor

September 11, 2019

Washington, D.C. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor, calling for good faith, bipartisan appropriations negotiations and for Leader McConnell to bring universal background check legislation to the floor for a vote. Below are his remarks, which can also be found here.

We have until the end of this work period to figure out a way to continue government funding, and there’s good talk of a short-term continuing resolution so the government doesn’t run out of money September 30th.  But the larger question is how this chamber is going to proceed—or not proceed—with the twelve appropriations bills that fund our government.

Despite many disagreements between the majority and minority in this chamber, the Senate has been able to produce several bipartisan budget deals even in the Trump era. The reason we were able to do that was that both parties committed to working together throughout each stage of the appropriations process.

Bipartisanship: appropriations can only work with it and will not work without it.

Earlier this summer, Democrats and Republicans negotiated the broad outlines of a budget deal in good faith. We allocated the 302As and came up with a side agreement.  The very first step in the appropriations process after that now is to agree in a bipartisan way with the allocations to the twelve subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee. That’s what we did in 2018, and I believe it passed the committee unanimously, or maybe with one dissenting vote. It was unanimously. On a bipartisan basis, the Appropriations Committee passed those 302B allocations, 31-0. That’s how we thought it was going to work now. But already, we are running into trouble with those allocations this time around.

The Republican majority on the Appropriations Committee has unilaterally proposed putting $12 billion additional dollars to the president’s border wall, taking away $5 billion of funding of Health and Human Services—desperately needed programs, like health care, and fighting opioid addiction and cancer research—and putting it into the wall, without our okay, without our acknowledgement, without our acceptance. They also reprogrammed funding from other sources, and backfilled money the president proposes to pilfer from military construction, which has affected, I think, over twenty states.

My Republican colleagues, my friend the Republican Leader, know very well that it will not fly with Senate Democrats. We’re not going to vote for a budget that is partisan, attempted to be jammed down our throat, that puts an additional $12 billion in the wall. Forget that.

So here we already, at step one in the appropriations process, and the spirit of bipartisanship necessary for this to work might be—might be—melting away. I’d just warn my Republican colleagues: this is not a way to produce a budget. This is the same path you tried to go down last year, shut down the government, and then had to walk it back.

We all know what a partisan process looks like. President Trump caused the longest government shutdown in American history by demanding funding for a border wall and then shutting down the government when Congress didn’t give it to him.

Let’s not go down that exact path again nine months later. There is still time to get the process back on track. The Republican majority should sit down with Democrats on the committee and, in good faith, come up with the 302B allocations, come up with the order by which we bring bills to the floor, and we can get this done. We don’t have to go back to a CR. And certainly our side wants to avoid a Republican shutdown, and we hope our Republican colleagues will have the good sense not to let President Trump lead them into that cul-de-sac once again. So let’s sit down and make this work. That’s what we want to do, not by unilaterally declaring something and saying ‘take it or leave it,’ but by working together, where each side has to give.

Now on gun safety. In response to the scenes of senseless violence in America throughout the month of August, Leader McConnell promised that the issue of gun safety would be “front and center” when Congress returned. Democrats are eager to debate this issue and we believe we have a great place to start: the bipartisan, House-passed bill on universal background checks.

Leader McConnell has also suggested that President Trump will determine if—and what—the Senate will vote on. So we need to know what the president might support. Throughout the month of August, frankly, the president was all over the map, saying he wanted strong background check legislation one day, and then saying the next day ‘we don’t need them at all.’ Makes no sense. The president doesn’t seem to know what he wants.

My Republican colleagues met with the president yesterday, and ostensibly discussed the issue of gun safety. I ask them: Where is the president on this issue? Will he support universal background checks?

We are eager to move forward with this debate. We want a vote on the H.R. 8 bill, a simple bill of universal background checks. It doesn’t impede the rights of any legitimate gun owner, only gets in the way of felons and spousal abusers and those adjudicated mentally-ill from getting guns—and no one thinks they should get them.

So the president needs to make his position clear, and soon. If he continues to refuse to state his position, or keeps flipping around, the Senate should proceed to debate this on its own. In any case, you can be sure Democrats will not let the issue of gun safety fall by the wayside.