FLEMING: The Senate Needs To Act To End The Shutdown

No federal workers should be furloughed. The U.S. House of Representatives voted four times in the past week to keep the government running. Senate Democrats rejected all of those measures and refuse to even negotiate.

The mantra you hear from Mary Landrieu, Harry Reid, and the mainstream media is “pass a clean CR and then we’ll talk.” Let me translate Washington-speak: That means, ignore the federal government’s $16.7 trillion of debt, disregard Congress’ budgetary responsibilities, look the other way as Obamacare morphs the non-recovery of our economy into an economy of part-time, low paying jobs, and just spend.

Congress has a well-defined process for funding the federal government. The president first proposes a budget. However, even Congressional Democrats have soundly and regularly rejected President Obama’s budget proposals. It’s then up to the House and Senate to propose budgets. The Senate didn’t even bother offering a budget for three straight fiscal years.

Once the House and Senate have put forth budgets, the House begins to draft and approve specific appropriations bills for federal agencies. Three months ago the House approved a funding bill for military construction and Veterans Affairs by a vote of 421-4. We also passed a Homeland Security funding bill that included a fix to prevent the drastic rise in flood insurance premiums that many Louisianians are now facing. In July, the House passed the Defense Appropriations bill, to fund the military, by a vote of 315-109. Each of these bills was sent to the Senate where Harry Reid still has not brought them up for a vote.

Here’s the point: Had Senate Democrats done their job, many of Fort Polk’s federal workers who are now furloughed would never have missed a day of work. There would still be Louisianians wrongly out of work because of this unnecessary shutdown, and I have pledged to vote to support their back pay when the shutdown ends, but some of the damage we are now experiencing would have been mitigated.

But, this is not merely an exercise in what should have been done. Harry Reid, Mary Landrieu, and Senate Democrats could bring each of these appropriations bill to the floor today and immediately send thousands of people back to work. Instead, they refuse to talk and refuse to act, choosing once again to manipulate a crisis for political gain.

The Obama administration has another option at its disposal. On Monday the president signed into law the Pay our Military Act, a measure passed in the House on Sept. 28. As I explained in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, this Act gave the administration broad discretion to ensure that military contractors and Defense Department civilians were not furloughed. Sadly, President Obama has chosen not to use this authority, much as Senate Democrats have sidelined the military’s annual appropriations bills.

Unfortunately, until the Senate and President Obama are willing to act, the best we can hope for is another short-term patch that will set the nation up for another crisis in a matter of weeks.

John Fleming represents Louisiana’s 4th District in Congress. This piece originally appeared in the Leesville Daily Leader.

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