Schumer Floor Remarks On The Tentative, Bipartisan Agreement Reached To Avoid A Government Shutdown And Challenges Facing The Free Press

February 12, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the tentative agreement reached by members of the bipartisan conference committee to avoid a government shutdown and challenges facing the free press. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Madam President, last night, the country heard some good news. The members of the conference committee announced a tentative agreement to keep the government open past Friday as well as provide additional border security. It was welcome news. Everyone on the conference committee worked very hard and should be commended for their efforts. I talked to them regularly. Everyone wanted to get something done. Everyone wanted to avoid a government shutdown.

And so while the details are still being hammered out, the tentative agreement represents a path forward for our country – away from another round of fraught negotiations up against a government funding cliff, away from a dreaded government shutdown.

Over the past few months, we’ve been lurching from one manufactured crisis to another. It would be a wonderful thing for this Congress to pass bills that settle the budget issues for the rest of this year, and for the country to finally move past it.

Hopefully, that’s what this agreement will portend.

Hopefully, this agreement means that there will not be a government shutdown on Friday, sparing the country another nightmare of furloughed federal employees, snarled airports and economic hardship.

And hopefully it means that we will pass not only the DHS appropriations bill but also all six other appropriations bills done in a bipartisan way that have been caught in the tangle of these negotiations since last year.

Each of these bills is the product of bipartisan consensus. Each contains more support for programs to help the American people: additional funding for infrastructure, housing, money to combat the opioid crisis and more. We should pass these appropriations bills alongside this agreement on DHS later.

These months of shutdown politics must come to an end. We now have a bipartisan proposal to accomplish our goals, better secure the border, and avoid another senseless government shutdown. I don’t know the details but the parameters of this are good.

So I thank the members of the conference committee and I’d make one more point: I urge President Trump to sign this agreement. We must not have a re-run of what happened a few months back when legislators – Democrat and Republican, House and Senate – agreed and President Trump pulled the rug out from under the agreement and caused a shutdown. If he opposes this agreement, the same thing could happen again. We don’t need it. So I strongly urge President Trump to sign this agreement. No one gets everything they want in these agreements. President Trump must sign it and not cause another shutdown.

Now on another matter. Late last week, I had the privilege of addressing an audience at the Newseum about the current challenges facing the free press in America.

One of the most significant challenges the press faces, of course, is economic. Besieged by a fractured media landscape and rapidly changing technology, newspapers have been forced to adapt or die. Some have adapted, but many have died.

One area where it’s particularly troubling to me is in smaller markets, in mid-sized and smaller cities. In those areas, local newspapers have been the glue that keeps communities informed and stitched together. I’ve seen it in cities in Upstate New York – small and mid-sized. Big companies have left. Some of the community banks have been bought up by major banks and the things that keep a community together are greatly deteriorating. Newspapers are one of the few glues these communities have. They are vital way beyond the profit and loss they might make. The external benefits of these newspapers, as economists would say, are large. But they’re in trouble because of all the economic issues I mentioned.

Now there’s a new threat on the horizon. A few weeks ago, a hedge fund known as the “destroyer of newspapers” announced a bid to take over Gannett, which, in addition to USA Today, publishes a lot of small and mid-sized newspapers four important papers in my state: the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Binghamton Press & Sun, the Poughkeepsie Journal, Journal News in Westchester, and newspapers in Elmira and Ithica.

On the front page of the Washington Post this morning is an article about the business practices of Alden and its subsidiaries. Essentially, Alden’s strategy is to buy up newspapers, cut staff, and then sell the commercial real estate of newsrooms and printing presses for profit. The article quotes several experts who have said, of Alden: “they are the ultimate cash flow mercenary. They want to find cash flow and bleed it to death.” Their principle is “no new investment and sell off what you can while you can,” according to analyst who study them. An analysis of the newspapers owned by Alden revealed that they cut newspaper staff at more than twice the rate of competitors. And it’s in all likelihood when they sell the real estate, the vast majority of the money does not go to revitalizing newspapers as a newspaper itself would do when it sells real estate, but goes elsewhere.

For Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund, the acquisition and “streamlining” of Gannett newspapers might increase its profits a couple of percentage points. But the loss of the Press & Sun and the Democrat & Chronicle would be incalculable. Let me ask the American people and every one of my colleagues here, what’s more important: having our newspapers, which are so important to local communities go on? Or having a hedge fund raise its market profits by 5 points if they’re public or by a certain amount? What is more important? I would argue the newspapers.

The Gannett consortium was already the result of a consolidated news business, one reporter working multiple beats and placing stories in multiple newspapers – I’ve seen that in upstate New York. What was already an overburdened, under-resourced operation now faces potential annihilation by an indifferent media conglomerate backed by an even more indifferent hedge fund.

What do we do about this?

I don’t know how to solve the broader economic problem for newspapers big and small. I hope there is one. The only antidote to these problems I have seen is the rarer and rarer presence of generous, civic-minded families and individuals who own news outlets for the right reasons -- not simply to maximize profits, although profit is still important, but because they feel an obligation to advance journalism for the greater benefit of us all.

Everyone has seen this work at flagship newspapers, but the family model has worked in smaller markets as well, including several papers in upstate New York.

So I would propose that charitably-inclined institutions and individuals should begin to think of journalism as a philanthropic endeavor. If it became a worthy endeavor to buy a local paper and preserve its size and independence – just as it’s a worthy endeavor to support the local hospital, school, or charity – many more might consider doing it.

As Americans, we must continue to support the First Amendment; the freedom – and viability – of the press. Our Democracy depends on it.