Transcript: Press briefing Q&A with Senate Democrats on the GOP’s CR to repeal women’s preventive care & government shutdown – Sept. 30, 2013

Partial transcript of press briefing Q&A with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) on the House Republicans’ continuing resolution amendments to repeal women’s preventive care and the government shutdown. The press briefing was held on Sept. 30, 2013:

…If shutdown can’t be avoided, members of Congress like yourself will continue collect a paycheck. You’ll still be paid. Is that appropriate?

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.):
No, I have a bill – S. 55 – it would stop us from getting paid if we didn’t continue the government and if we didn’t pay our bills and we defaulted.

I asked everyone to become a co-sponsor of that bill. We passed it once before. We sent it over to the House the last time they played these games. The House killed it.

So it’s absolutely inappropriate. We should be treated the same as everyone, and I think I speak for my colleagues on that.

You mentioned the Medical Device Tax. There is support for doing something on that. Can you give me any idea what the caucus might consider as an appropriate pay-for if they were to repeal that?

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.):
I want to say this. We are having a caucus meeting. But I don’t want to confuse things with you.

Sen. [Harry] Reid, as recently as five minutes ago, said that we’re going to handle this message from the House the same way we handled their first bill. And that is we’re going to strip anything extraneous from it and send them back a clean CR.

That means they have two clean CRs over there. That’s what they’re going to have.

Getting into the details of what we could talk about on some other playing field as was suggested, we have to do our work and there’s a lot of issues we could take up, including the Medical Device Tax.

But I want to just speak personally about this. For a Republican Party that is haranguing the Democrats about the deficit better wake up and smell the roses. The deficit has gone down by 50% under this President. The last time we had a surplus was when Democrats were in control.

And now this just shows how hypocritical they can be by putting a repeal of a tax in there and not replacing the revenues. And so this shutdown plan of theirs adds $30 billion to the deficit over 10 years.

And they should be ashamed of themselves. In this version, they add $30 billion to the deficit. We could argue the Medical Device Tax, believe me, and a lot of people really want to get rid of it, trust me. But it has nothing to do with this particular situation that we’re in now, which is that we don’t want to add to the deficit, we just want to keep the government running…

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.):
I would just agree with Sen. Boxer… This is a 6-week CR. As somebody who’s been very involved in the whole effort around medical devices – in fact, we cut in half in the final bill the original tax for medical devices – there are other opportunities and ways for us to move forward and be able to continue to improve on health reform.

That is not what this is about. I mean, this is about 6 weeks of supporting our troops, our veterans, our seniors, our children, our families, the economy. 6 weeks. And we need to just come together, make that commitment to continue public services for the next 6 weeks without people losing paychecks and being harmed. And then as we go forward, we’ll have a number of opportunities where we talk about ways to work together.

Can you address what this means to people in Michigan…?

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.):
Well, many many ways in which this affects people, whether we’re talking about someone who just turned 65 and wants to sign up for Medicare, for instance, where they won’t have the ability to go in and sign up. We see potential threats of veterans’ payments and disability payments. We potentially in Michigan as a contractor for a lot of defense work around suppliers and manufacturers, we don’t know how it will affect payments to our small businesses. We will see the potential payments going out around farm programs, for farmers, or around food programs. I mean, it’s very unclear because the administrative structure will be closed even though some things will continue like Social Security payments and so on. But if you are newly retired and want to be signing up, you won’t have the opportunity to do that. If you are going on travel with your family, the ability to get a passport – something as simple as that – will not be available. So from payments for small businesses to the regular functions of government to those who are signing up for health care, veterans’ benefits, and so on everyone will be impacted in some way.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii):
I’d like to add that every state has federal programs and federal employees and so all of these programs and employees will be affected.

There are people spending hours and hours trying to figure out what they’re going to do to keep essential services going, essential employees doing those services, already in preparation for a shutdown.

So let’s just remember every single state has federal employees.

And of course, in the state of Hawaii where we have a large military presence, they are going to be affected.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.):
I would just say to add to everything that’s been said coming from a border state, we have special problems there. We also have some magnificent parks that people plan for years and years to bring their families only to find out if we have a shutdown they can’t enjoy those places. We have all kinds of superfund toxic waste sites that need to be cleaned up from former defense installations. People live near those sites. Children live near those sites.

There’s just no end of hurt and the longer it goes on the worse it is…

…If John Boehner would take our bill, we’re going to now have a second one clean, and just put it on the floor like he finally did with the Violence Against Women Act which he could not get done with just his members, we would not be here now. We would be fine.

So I have that message to John Boehner. Act like a Speaker of the House, not just like the Speaker of the Republicans, and pass my bill so your people don’t get paid. You’d be surprised how fast they’ll come to the table.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.):
…We’re going to strip out the amendments that extraneous, that attack women, that bust the budget, that have a futile delay in Obamacare, and we will send back a CR. And by the way, it’s the numbers they want! So don’t just say reject. We are taking their numbers. We’re not happy about that. We’re willing to compromise and take their numbers for the 6-week period. We want it clean. As far as what Boehner does at that point, he’ll have two clean CRs in front of him, and then he has to decide…

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.):
…What we will send back is already a compromise. It continues cuts to small businesses in the defense industry and the sequester in defense at their lower level. It continues cuts in education and the National Institutes of Health. It continues cuts in every part of the budget that frankly we want to fix and replace to be able to restore critical investments. But we are willing to compromise for a 6-week period and give the House the funding number that they want. So that is a compromise.

What we’re not willing to do is stop…tens of millions of Americans from being able to get health care maybe for the first time for their family.

The House is considering sending back a bill that would have the so-called Vitter amendment which would eliminate subsidies for the purchase of health care on the exchange for the Congress and for their staff…They think that this is going to split the Democrats…

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.):
Oh I’m so glad you raised that…Okay, let me make something really clear right now. No United States Senator is forced in any way from taking a large employer contribution to their health care.

Sen. [David] Vitter today, yesterday, and several years ago could have said I don’t want this employer benefit and could have sent the check back to the Treasury. He could also call in his staff and say, “I’ve been thinking about it. I don’t think you deserve to have an employer contribution for your health care therefore your pay will now be reduced to equal the size of your contribution and I am sending it back to the Treasury.” This is something that can be done right now. You don’t need legislation to do it.

So I say to all my colleagues who feel that they deserve to have an employer contribution – give it back. And if you don’t think your employees deserve it, cut their salaries and send it back.

If there’s a government shutdown, will you all forgo your pay and will you be sending some of your staffers home without pay?

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.):
Well, nobody gets paid in a shutdown except members of Congress. So I am pushing my bill to make sure that we do not get paid and that we are treated just like our staff because they don’t get paid either.

I want to pass my bill, and I’d probably give it away to a lot of good and deserving people. But that’s not the way it should be.

The way it should be is the people who are forcing this shutdown should go on my bill, and John Boehner shouldn’t crush my bill like he did two years ago. That’s how it should be, not a few of us saying, “Well, we feel compassionate so we’re going to make some contributions.” What ought to happen is he ought to say if he’s going to force pain on everyone else, he ought to take the pain – he and his members. Really.


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