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Sen. Rounds: Short-term spending bill must include Defense Department assurances

Will Senate Republicans support a short-term government funding solution if it passes the House? Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., says he and others would like to “keep the heat on” to get a longer-term omnibus bill. Rounds joins Judy Woodruff from Capitol Hill to discuss the chances of passing the House bill in the Senate, confusing signals from President Trump and funding for Medicare and Medicaid.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to the 11th-hour race to fund the federal government and avoid a shutdown.

    A short time ago, I spoke with Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota.

    A key question facing Republicans, will they support a short-term solution if it passes the House?

    Senator Mike Rounds, thank you very much for joining us.

    If the House of Representatives goes ahead and passes a short-term spending measure tonight and it goes to the Senate, are you prepared to vote for it?

  • Sen. Mike Rounds:

    Not until we know what's in their proposal. If it's a proposal that they have offered earlier, which was until February 26, then I think we have got a problem with it, just in terms of the impact that it has on the Department of Defense.

    We have been asking for some assurances that the Department of Defense would be able to move forward with their contractual obligations, that they would be able to move forward with some of their readiness issues and their ability to actually repair some of their equipment using some funds that we have already appropriated for this next year, but has not yet been adopted by the full Senate.

    So, right now, what we're saying to our leadership is, is, look, we want to get to yes on this, but until you can at least provide us some evidence that we're doing the right thing for the Department of Defense, there are several of us that are no votes on the Republican side.

    At the same time, if there is a shorter-term C.R. — and I think there is a possibility of that as well — if that comes in, it is a little bit easier for us to provide leadership with an opportunity to try to get to a longer-term solution in terms of finishing out the rest of the year with an omnibus bill, which is what we are really after.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are you saying that if it is a short-term measure, that they were to come back in just a few days, rather than a month, that there might be the ability to get some of these things done that you and others would like to see get in there?

  • Sen. Mike Rounds:

    I think so.

    And let me explain just about my logic on this. First of all, I think there are a number of us who would like to keep the heat on for getting an omnibus completed, which is basically using the new appropriations that we're trying to fund and also the new authorizations that provides the Department of Defense and other agencies with more up-to-date information.

    But, second of all, if we do a short-term, it means, for the Democrats, they may very well have an interest in or at least they may very well see it as an opportunity to work with the president of the United States in terms of putting together a final border security arrangement, including addressing the DACA issues.

    For me, it means the visas, the H-2B visas, that we need in South Dakota for our businesses during the tourist seasons that we have already run out of. So there are a number of items that could be addressed if we do a short-term.

    And one of the reasons why we talk about it is, is we have got the State of the Union coming up. And a lot of that would be great information to be able to provide and a real chance for the president to celebrate some victories.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I guess my question is, is that sort of really short-term possibility a real prospect here, because I understand from Republican leaders in the Congress they're saying no, we are not going to do that?

  • Sen. Mike Rounds:

    And that is their position right now. They would like to do a 30-day.

    And we understand that. We are just not sure whether or not Democrats would agree to that. And they really do control it in the Senate, regardless of whether or not those of us who are defense hawks, whether or not we decide to vote for this as the best alternative or not.

    Right now, I'm a no vote. I told them I'm still open for discussion based upon what alternatives they can provide us for the Department of Defense. But there are Democrats here who, if they vote no, we wouldn't get to the 60-vote margin.

    And so they really do control it at this stage of the game.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me ask you about the president — the president's role in this.

    Early this morning, the president tweeted that he was upset because the children's health insurance provision, CHIP, wasn't in there for a longer period of time, which is what he wanted. And then the White House later seemed to pull that back.

    What is your understanding of the president's position on all this?

  • Sen. Mike Rounds:

    I think he's pointing out that what kind of a bargain is it where you can do a 26-day extension or whatever, or a 30-day extension, and in return for that you give away one of the most powerful bargaining chips, which is the extension of CHIP for a long period of time?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

    But I guess my point is that the president made a statement in a tweet, and then the White House clarified it back in the other direction.

    Meantime, you have your own Republican majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who said yesterday- "I'm looking for something that President Trump supports. He has not yet indicated what measure he's willing to sign. And I would be" — he said, "As soon as we figure out what he's for," he said, "then we can move ahead."

    Is it your sense that the president is being helpful in all of this?

  • Sen. Mike Rounds:

    Does it make it more challenging? Yes, it does.

    But it also means that he's really trying to stay in touch with his base. And, sometimes, if he doesn't have all the facts right available to him or if he is looking at data, and he doesn't realize that there has been additional movement in his direction, then we do have some problems that develop.

    So far, look, I think he's moving in the right direction. I think he could make his job easier if he would maybe not tweet as much, and if he would stay in more in communication with leadership here, and make the deals, get them done, and then tweet about the successes afterwards.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, just finally, just continuing in that vein, this is — will be — if it passes, it will be the fourth short-term spending measure this Congress has passed.

    And you have Republicans in charge of the House and the Senate and the White House. How do you explain this?

  • Sen. Mike Rounds:

    In the Senate, it takes 60 votes. We don't have 60 votes. So, while we may have the majority, we don't have a working majority, which in this case is defined by 60 Republicans. We have got 51.

    You need 60 to get anything on the floor of the Senate, so Democrats control that part of it. But the second part is this. This is not a new problem. And this is one of the reasons why I have a difficult time supporting these short-term continuing resolutions.

    We have in the last 44 years actually made the appropriations process work the way that it is supposed to four times. And now, in 2018, if you take a look at the amount of the total budget that we actually vote on, even if we were to pass all 12 appropriation bills, and do it before October 1, it would amount to about 28 percent of the entire budget that we actually spend, because Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and interest on the debt are not included in this omnibus proposal or in the appropriations bill.

    That is all on autopilot.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it is quite a process for the American people to watch.

  • Sen. Mike Rounds:

    It has to be fixed. That's what we're talking about. It has to be fixed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Mike Rounds:

    Thank you.

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