Transcript: Floor speech by Sen. Susan Collins on her plan to avert default & re-open government – Oct. 9, 2013

Partial transcript of floor speech by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on her plan to avert default and re-open government. The speech was delivered on Oct. 9, 2013:

Mr. President, the government shutdown represents a failure to govern and must be brought to an end.

Disabled veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country are waiting for their claims to be handled. Pregnant women and small children are at risk of their WIC benefits not being funded. Crucial bio-medical research is being disrupted and the sickest of children are being turned away from clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health.

And the impacts go far beyond the direct consequences for federal employees and the programs that they administer. One has only to look at the impact of the closure of Acadia National Park in my state of Maine to see the ripple effects on shopkeepers, servers at restaurants, inn owners and others who depend on revenue from these disappointed tourists.

And that is why I’ve worked hard to put together a three-point plan to bring this impasse to a speedy end, and I’m very delighted that my friend and colleague from Alaska – Sen. [Lisa] Murkowski – has joined me in shaping and supporting this plan.

Let me quickly describe it, and let me give credit to those who have talked about concepts that have been incorporated into this plan – people like my colleagues, Sen. [Orrin] Hatch, and Sen. [Pat] Toomey and on the House side – Rep. [Ron] Kind and Rep. [Charlie] Dent.

First of all, the first point of the plan would fund government for the next 6 months at the level of $986 billion. So that would allow for government to immediately re-open.

Second, it would repeal the tax on medical devices and equipments such as x-ray machines and pacemakers. This tax will only serve to drive up the cost of health care because it will be inevitably passed on to the consumer. It will stifle innovation. And industry estimates it will lead to the loss of some 43,000 jobs. It is a tax that does not makes sense.

Now, the administration has pointed to the $30 billion that would be raised by this tax over the next 10 years. Fair enough. There is a way to replace that revenue and it is a way that has beneficial consequences to many employers who are struggling to make pension contributions in this difficult economy and it would do so without in any way weakening the pension obligations to their workers.

It’s a complicated issue – it’s call pension smoothing – but it’s one that this body’s dealt with before in the transportation bill as known MAP 21. So we would extend that pension smoothing on the contributions, which has been produced by the fact that the Federal Reserve has held interest rates at a very low level. I’ll describe this in more detail in a written statement. It’s a statement that I made on the Senate floor on Saturday.

But suffice it to say that by smoothing these pension contributions, we can replace the lost revenue that will result from the repeal of the 2.3% tax on medical devices and equipments.

The third point of our plan – the Collins-Murkowski plan – includes a bill that Sen. Mark Udall and I introduced earlier this year that would provide flexibility to federal managers in dealing with sequestration, but it does so in a way that preserves the important congressional oversight.

Mr. President, sequestration is a flawed policy because it does not discriminate between essential programs and those that are duplicative and wasteful. But if we are to have sequestration, surely we should give federal managers the ability to set priorities and apply common sense in its administration instead of having across-the-board equal meat axe cuts for every line item in their budgets.

But to ensure that this flexibility is not abused, we would have the Appropriations Committee oversee this process and have the right to reject the plans. It’s very similar to the re-programming requests that the Appropriations Committee receives now and either accepts or rejects when agencies want to move money from one account to another.

Mr. President, this would represent a modest proposal that could bring this impasse to an end, allow government to re-open, give those on both sides of the aisle who have voted during the consideration of the budget resolution by 79 votes to 20 something votes to repeal this harmful tax on medical equipment and devices and yet replace the revenue so the administration – I don’t see how the administration could object to that because the revenue would be replaced yet this harmful tax would be repealed and we would give federal agencies the flexibility to deal with sequestration.

Mr. President, there’s something in the Collins-Murkowski plan that everyone on both sides of the aisle can point to and yet it would get us out of this impasse that is increasingly harmful to our country and its image in the world.

Mr. President, it is past time for us to come out of our partisan corners. It is past time for us to stop fighting. And it is past time for us to re-open government.

We all have made crystal clear what our positions are on Obamacare at this point. Let’s proceed with governing rather than continuing to embrace a strategy that will lead us only to a dead end and whose consequences will be increasingly felt by our economy and by the American people. We can do this.

I ask my colleagues – my Democratic colleagues – to take a close look at the plan that we’re putting forward. It is a reasonable approach.

I ask my Democratic and Republican colleagues to come together. Let’s get this done. We can do it. We can legislate responsibly and in good faith.

Thank you, Mr. President.


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