Senator Lankford Celebrates Women’s History Month, Discusses Budget Process on Senate Floor

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today delivered remarks on the Senate floor in support of Women’s History Month and to discuss the President’s budget proposal and the process by which Congress funds the government. March is National Women’s History Month, and Lankford took to the floor to highlight some of Oklahoma’s women leaders and pioneers.

Additionally, Lankford discussed President Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposal, released on March 11, 2019, and discussed his solutions to improve the current budgeting process. Lankford also discussed his bill, the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act, a bipartisan proposal that would prohibit official travel by Members and their staffs, Cabinet members, and Office of Management and Budget leadership and staff if all appropriations bills are not passed by both chambers and signed by the president by October 1.


On Women’s History Month

Mr. President, I want to be able to talk about a couple of subjects today, but I want to be able to set the context on these by the recognition about Women’s History Month. There are a lot of fairly remarkable ladies in Oklahoma that have set American history and world history into a different pace based on what they have done in the past. But I can’t help—when I’m talking about Women’s History Month—to be able to start talking about my own mom who was a pacesetter in her own leadership. Student, librarian, mom went through elementary school librarian, high school librarian, and then became the director of libraries for a very large school district. She led the way in our family and in the community even leading for the American Library Association and for teacher librarians around the country. She was a pacesetter. 

There are other pacesetters that I would highlight that are Oklahoma pacesetters. 

Clara Luper, born in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma, in 1923. Clara Luper was the first African American student to enroll in the History Department at the University of Oklahoma. She was a civil rights leader. She led Americans at lunch counters in 1958 as she was seated there and helping train youth to be seated at lunch counters to break through the racism that was existing in Oklahoma City and in Oklahoma. Clara Luper herself was arrested 26 times just eating lunch or just leading out for the rights of what every single human being should be allowed to do in our great country. After 26 arrests and the breakthrough leadership that she experienced, she now has been recognized with over 500 different awards and honors in her lifetime. She taught in the Oklahoma City area for 41 years, was a senior advisor for the NAACP, the Youth Council in Oklahoma City, a member of now the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

Another great leader from Oklahoma, Shannon Lucid. She was raised in Bethany, Oklahoma. In 1979 she became an astronaut in a time period when ladies did not become astronauts. She set the pace. She was the chief scientist at NASA from 2002 to 2003. She served as the capsule communicator for numerous space missions. She was the first woman to receive the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

Jeanne Kirkpatrick is another Oklahoman. Born in 1926, she was the first woman appointed to serve as a permanent representative to the United States for the United Nations. She served from 1981 to 1985. She served on President Ronald Reagan’s cabinet, was a political science professor at Georgetown University, and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. She made Oklahoma proud.

Let me tell you a current one now: Rita Aragon. Rita Aragon was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, but she was raised in the big town of Dale just outside of Shawnee. She became the first woman to hold the rank of brigadier general in the Oklahoma Air National Guard and the first female commander of the Air National Guard. Before her military career she was an elementary school teacher and a principal, and after the retirement from military to return to education to serve as the Director of Advanced Programs at the University of Oklahoma College of Continuing Education. Then, January 2011 she started serving as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for the state of Oklahoma. She is a remarkable military leader from our state and a tremendous role model for people in our state, boys and girls.

Maria Tallchief. She was born in 1925 in Fairfax, Oklahoma, a member of the Osage Nation. At age 17 she did a crazy thing. She moved to New York City to pursue her dream of becoming a dancer. As her career began to take off, people tried to persuade Maria Tallchief to change her last name so that she wouldn’t face the prejudice of being Native American. She refused to do that. She continued to work and to prove herself, and in 1947 she became the first American to dance with the Paris Opera Ballet. She led the way, and she set the pace. Oklahomans are proud of these ladies and many, many others that have not only done great work but have made remarkable advances. And we are proud of them. 

On the federal budget and spending process

From recognizing Women’s History Month, let me make a comment, though, of something currently happening right now in the Senate. Right now in the Senate, the Senate Budget Committee is continuing to be able to work on a budget. The president turns in a budget, and as many people know, since 1974 the president’s budget is just a document of ideas. The Senate and the House agree together on a budget, set a number, and then do appropriation bills. That’s how we actually do the spending for the federal taxpayers’ dollars. That typically begins, since 1974, with a budget document from the Senate and from the House. Well they’re working on that budget document right now in the Budget Committee, but here’s the difficult thing: in all likelihood that budget document will come out of committee and will never come to this floor and will never be voted on because of the difficulty we have facing right now on our deficit and the challenges that budget will have to be able to move through the process. This body will in all likelihood do what they call ‘deem’ a budget number—no real plan, just set a budget number and then move on and start heading towards appropriations.

Layer upon layer of debt and deficit is added to where we are as a nation, and our simple challenge is: how do we get around this? Sixteen members last year met—eight Senators, eight House members, eight Republicans, eight Democrats—to try to strategize: how can we change the budget process? Because though the Budget Committee is acting—and I commend Chairman Enzi and his work, and he does remarkable work in his thought and has an incredible staff—once again that document will not make a difference on this floor, and once again it will not set us on a long-term path to getting back to solvency. We have got to change the process of what we do. Those 16 members met all last year to set a set of ideas of how we could change the process, and it failed in December. I’m challenging this body to step back up to it again and to reengage on some simple sets of ideas of how we can get our budget back in balance and how we can do better planning. Because though we do budgets and though we’ll do deeming of a budget number, there is no real plan of how things get better. We’ve got to get better at planning.

So let me give you some simple ideas that were birthed out of the conversation last year. We do debt ceiling votes, which supposedly are supposed to limit our debt but they never do—they did decades ago but they haven’t for decades. We’ll have 12 appropriation bills in some form in some way to actually do the spending in the next several months, but there will be no bill dealing with: how do we reduce spending? A simple idea that came out of that conversation last year was: how do we add a 13th bill? As simple as I can say it: we have 12 spending bills, and the 13th bill is every single Congress there would have to be a bill set aside for: how are we going to reduce our deficit? We have a structure to do that. It is the reconciliation process which certainly needs work to be able to reform that process. But we have a process in place right now that we could use but we don’t. What if we mandate it each year? We had our 12 spending bills in whatever format they may come out, but every single session of Congress we have to have some conversation about: what are we going to do to reduce spending or to be able to fix our deficit? It’s not an unreasonable proposal. It’s an opportunity for us to sit and plan and to actually think about things and to be able to work it out.

Senator Maggie Hassan and I also have another idea that we’re working through the process: how do we end government shutdowns? How do we stop the perpetual cliffs of budgeting issues? There is a simple way to do that. The simple way to do that is, as odd as it may sound, is that Members of Congress and our staff, members of the staff of the Office of Management and Budget from the White House—those individuals cannot travel if you get to the end of a budget year and the budget’s not done. As simple as I can say it, it would be ‘you can’t leave until the work is done.’

Now that may sound overly simplistic, but I guarantee you if this body has to work through two weeks with no one having the opportunity to travel. Everyone has to be here days and weekends. There is no official travel. There is no opportunity to head back and see your family. There are no CODELs or STAFFDELs or any other kind of opportunity to be able to leave. If each day we had to have a quorum call to be here until the work gets done, we’ll solve this. 

Last December, we had this protracted shutdown that began when Members of Congress left for Christmas. Just left. With an unresolved budget issue here. If what Senator Hassan and I were to pass, we would have finished that work last December and Americans would have never experienced that protracted government shutdown. We have differences of opinion. It’s who we are as Americans. That’s what we represent here in the United States Senate. But we should not punish the federal workers and the American people because we’ve not worked out our differences here. We should stay until the work is done. We should keep negotiating until we’re finished. That is a simple, straightforward way to be able to resolve this. Adding a 13th bill that we have to be able to plan toward how are we going to deal with debt and deficit. There is some moment that is created every year compelling us to actually be here until our work is done—having a more systematic structure of how we’re going to do budgeting. All these are simple ideas but ideas that will help us get on top of a $22 trillion debt and an approaching $1 trillion yearly deficit.

It’s as if we’ve lost the importance of this and we cannot. My challenge to this body is: let’s make the budget mean something again. Let’s actually do long-term planning, and let’s figure out how to be able to make a process work for the taxpayers. We can figure this out, and we can work together to do it. With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.