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Washington, D.C. – Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) today outlined on the Senate floor a plan to end the shutdown of government.  Saying that “the shutdown represents a failure to govern and must be brought to an end,” Senator Collins outlined a plan by which (1) government would be funded; (2) the medical device tax imposed by Obamacare would be repealed but the lost revenue fully offset; and (3) federal agencies would be given the flexibility to manage the across-the-board cuts in their budgets caused by sequestration, subject to congressional oversight.

In presenting her plan, Senator Collins told her colleagues that “It is time that both sides come out of their partisan corners, stop fighting and start legislating in good faith.”

The Senator’s full statement follows:

Mr. President, today marks the fifth day of the government shutdown.  With each passing day, the consequences are felt more broadly, and the implications grow more serious.

Federal civilian employees working to support our National Guard, overhaul our nuclear submarines, and analyze the latest terrorist threat are furloughed, leaving us less safe as a country. It is my understanding that in response to a letter from many of us, Secretary of Defense Hagel has begun recalling certain civilian employees, but that does not solve all the problems.  Disabled veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country are facing delays in the handling of their claims.   Pregnant women and little children who depend on the foods provided through the WIC program are at risk.  And vital biomedical research is being disrupted such that the very sickest children cannot enroll in clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health.

And the impact goes beyond these services provided by essential federal programs.  Jobs in the private sector are affected as well. In Maine, our gem of a national park, Acadia, is shuttered during the peak of the foliage season.  That not only disappoints tourists, it hurts the innkeepers, bed and breakfast owners, servers at restaurants, and the small gift shop entrepreneurs who depend on these tourists during this time of year.
The list of harm goes on and on.  It is time for this shutdown to end.

Mr. President, from the start of this debate, I have urged our House colleagues not to adopt a policy that linked Obamacare with the funding of government.  I have been outspoken in my own opposition to Obamacare and have cast many a vote consistent with that position.  I have sponsored and cosponsored bills to reform the law so that we can better rein in health care costs and truly help the uninsured without imposing billions of dollars in new taxes, fees, and penalties that discourage job creation and drive up costs.

But the fact is, the Democratic Senate is never going to pass, nor is President Obama ever going to sign, a bill that would repeal his signature accomplishment.

So now that we have all made crystal clear where we stand on Obamacare, it is past time that we reason together on how to bring this impasse to an end.  In that regard, I must express my disappointment in the lack of results from the President’s meetings with congressional leaders, and I do not understand the President’s unfortunate refusal to engage in negotiations with Congress.

So let me present for my colleagues and the President’s consideration a proposal to bring an end to the shutdown.  This proposal is based on concepts that both Senator Pat Toomey and Congressman Charlie Dent have discussed, and it also reflects numerous conversations that I have had with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

Mr. President, even the strongest advocates of Obamacare – including the President – recognize that it is not perfect.  What 2000-plus-page law dealing with extremely complex issues could be?  The President himself has delayed implementation of the employer mandate and certain consumer protections.  I have, therefore, searched for common ground on reforming Obamacare – seeking a proposal that has widespread bipartisan support – in order to attract the necessary votes of House members of both parties.  That is the repeal of the 2.3 percent tax on the sales of medical equipment.  When an amendment repealing this tax was considered by the Senate during the budget resolution, it passed by a resounding vote of 79 to 20. 

This 30 billion dollar tax on medical devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators will cause the loss of as many as 43,000 domestic jobs according to industry estimates, will reduce investment in new medical devices, and ironically, will increase health care costs because device manufacturers will simply pass the costs on to consumers.

Now the Administration has protested the idea of repealing the tax because it would lose $30 billion in revenue over the next 10 years.  Fair enough.  Let’s make up for the lost revenue by providing an offset.  It is a complicated one but works – it would “smooth out” the amounts of payments into pension plans.  New York State, for example, adopted a pension smoothing plan earlier this year that lets local school districts reduce their annual pension payments somewhat next year in exchange for higher payments in future years.  The result of allowing private businesses to smooth out their pension contributions would produce the tax revenue by lowering their deductions.  That would be used to offset the repeal of the tax.

Second, I would propose that the continuing resolution funding government include the bipartisan bill that Senator Mark Udall and I introduced earlier this year to give agencies flexibility to deal with sequestration.  It makes no sense at all for federal managers not to be able to set priorities and then submit their plans to the Appropriations Committees as they do now with reprogramming requests.

Sequestration is a flawed policy because it does not discriminate between absolutely essential programs and those that are duplicative, wasteful, or less important.  Congress should be making those decisions, but if the across-the-board meat ax cuts of sequestration stay in effect, the least we can do is let federal managers set priorities and manage their budgets, subject to appropriate congressional oversight.

Mr. President, it is my hope that if repeal of the medical equipment tax, offset by the pension-smoothing proposal, plus the Collins-Udall flexibility bill, were combined with a continuing resolution to fund government, we might well have the combination necessary to secure the votes and reopen government. 

Surely, it is worth a try.  So on this Saturday afternoon, I offer this proposal and urge my House colleagues to send us such a bill, which I would urge the Senate Majority Leader to schedule for an immediate vote.

Mr. President, we have a lot to do to restore the public’s confidence in our ability to govern.  We can start by offering and voting on specific proposals such as this one.  It is time that both sides come out of their partisan corners, stop fighting and start legislating in good faith.  The shutdown represents a failure to govern and must be brought to an end.