Floor Updates

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mar 01 2012 9:30 AM

The Senate Convened.

Reid, McConnell

Opening Remarks

Mar 01 2012 9:57 AM

Senator Reid: (9:32 AM)
  • Today â€"
    • The Senate will resume consideration of S. 1813, the Highway bill, with the time until 11:00 AM equally divided.
    • Circa 11:00 AM, the Senate will proceed to a ROLL CALL VOTE on Blunt amendment #1520 (conscience rights under PPACA) to Reid amendment #1730 to S. 1813, the Highway bill. No other amendments or motions (other than a motion to table) are in order prior to the vote.
  • Spoke on the Highway bill.
    • SUMMARY "Almost a thousand organizations want this done. Here's what the U.S. Chamber and Triple A wrote recently, "the organizations that we represent may hold diverse views on social, energy, and fiscal issues, but we are united in our desire to see immediate action on the senate's bipartisan highway and transit reauthorization measures.â€? We started on this legislation on February 7. It's the first day of March now. These groups don't agree on much, but they do agree that this legislation is too important to be bogged down with political amendments, so they spoke as one."
  • Spoke in opposition to Blunt amendment #1520 (conscience rights under PPACA).
    • SUMMARY "Today, the Senate will vote on an extreme ideological amendment to the bipartisan transportation bill. This amendment takes aim at women's access to health care. It would allow any employer or insurer to deny coverage for virtually any treatment for virtually any reason. It will allow any employer or insurer to deny coverage for virtually any treatment for virtually any reason Although the amendment was designed to restrict women's access to contraception, it would also limit all Americans' access to essential health care. Here are just a few of the life-saving treatments employers could deny if this amendment passes. Hard to comprehend but here's what some of them would be: mammograms and other cancer screenings. prenatal care, flu shots, diabetes screenings, childhood vaccinations. To make matters works, Republicans held up progress on an important jobs bill to extract this political vote. As the economy is finally moving forward a little bit, Republicans have tried to force Congress to take its foot off the gas. Every member of this body knows the blunt amendment has nothing to do with highways or bridges or trains or train tracks. This amendment has no place on a transportation bill."

Senator McConnell: (9:38 AM)
  • Spoke in support of Blunt amendment #1520 (conscience rights under PPACA).
    • SUMMARY "Democrats have evidently decided they'd rather defend a president of their own party regardless of the impact of his policies. So rather than defend the first amendment in this particular case they've decided to engage in a campaign of distraction as a way of obscuring the larger issue at stake here. If Democrats no longer see the value in defending the first amendment because they don't think it's politically expedient to do so or because they want to protect the President, then republicans will have to do it for them and we're happy to do that because this is an issue that's greater than any short-term political gain, gets right at the heart of who we are as a people, and we welcome the opportunity to affirm what this country is all about. What makes America unique in the world is the fact that it was established on the basis of an idea, the idea that all of us have been endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. In other words, rights that are conferred not by a king or a president or certainly a Congress, but by the creator himself. The state protects these rights but it does not grant them and what the state doesn't grant, the state can't take away. Now, the first of these rights according to the men who wrote the constitution is trite to have one's religious beliefs protected from government interference. The first amendment couldn't be clearer on this point. The government can neither establish religion nor can it prevent its free exercise and if the free exercise of religion clause of the first amendment means anything at all, it means that it is not within the power of the federal government to tell anybody what to believe or to punish them for practicing those beliefs and yet that's precisely what the Obama administration is trying to company do through the President's health care law. We all remember then-Speaker Pelosi saying we'd have to 35s the health care bill to find out what was in it. Well, this is one of the things we found. That it empowers bureaucrats here in Washington to decide which tenets religious institutions can and can't adhere to. If they don't get in line, they'll be penalized."
  • Spoke on the severe storms and tornadoes in the Midwest.

Vitter, Lautenberg, Hatch

HIGHWAY BILL (S. 1813)

Mar 01 2012 10:33 AM

Senator Vitter: (9:57 AM)
  • Spoke in support of Blunt amendment #1520 (conscience rights under PPACA).
    • SUMMARY "The Blunt amendment is an absolutely necessary measure to fix what is very egregious overstepping of the bound of government in terms of the new, newly articulated Obamacare mandate on religion. As we all know through the debate and discussion of the last several weeks, the Obama administration has made it clear that everyone, including persons of faith, including religious institutions, are not only going to be forced to buy a product in the marketplace - and many of us think that itself is unprecedented and unconstitutional - but it gets worse, because they will be forced to buy a product in the marketplace that violates their conscience, that violates their core beliefs. Catholics, many other Christians, many people of faith do not believe in certain activity and treatment that is mandated now to be covered by this mandatory insurance and that is crossing the line that we have never before crossed in this country in terms of government power, government mandates and government intrusion into the conscience of others and to the free exercise of religion. We absolutely need to fix this. This is a fundamental conscience issue. This is a freedom of religion issue and that's exactly why it's so important. Let me also clarify, this isn't merely about contraception. Folks on the other side of the debate and most of the media constantly puts it merely in those terms. Well, first of all, those measures in and of themselves violate the conscience of many Americans but secondly, it's not just about that. It's about abortion. It's about abortion-inducing drugs like plan b. it's about sterilization. Now clearly these measures, clearly the government mandating Americans to buy, to pay for, to subsidize these measures violate the conscience of tens and tens of millions of Americans and that's why we must act, hopefully today, starting today, by passing the Blunt amendment."

Senator Lautenberg: (10:04 AM)
  • Spoke in opposition to Blunt amendment #1520 (conscience rights under PPACA).
    • SUMMARY "We are engaged in the business of the senate, and it's not only - not always discernible that it's the business of the people. when we see what's taking place these days, the principal mantra of Republicans on the campaign trail is that they seek more freedom for the American people. The Republicans like to say they don't want government interfering in people's lives. Then I ask why the devil we are debating a republican amendment that limits a woman's freedom to make her own health care choices. With women the Republicans have a different idea about freedom. They want the government to interfere in the most personal aspects of women's lives. The amendment offered by the Senator from Missouri, the Blunt amendment, it's called, will allow a woman's employer to deny coverage for any medical service that they, the employer, has a moral problem with. Imagine that. your boss is going to decide whether or not you're acting morally. The republicans want to take us forward to the dark ages again, and when women were property, they could easily control trade, even, if you wanted to."

Senator Hatch: (10:14 AM)
  • Spoke in support of Blunt amendment #1520 (conscience rights under PPACA).
    • SUMMARY "Those who support this amendment have been unjustly criticized over the past few days and have been unjustly criticized on a political basis not really on an intellectual basis, unable to win this debate through fair criticism of the amendment, it has been mischaracterized and misrepresented. Opponents are desperate to distract the public from one simple fact: this amendment is necessary because of Obamacare, the health care law that manifests new threats to personal liberty and individual rights with each passing week. it is an indictment of the President's signature domestic achievement and all of those who supported it. Obamacare took over and regulated the nation's health care sector, one-sixth of the American economy. It stripped individuals and employers of their rights to go without coverage and the right to determine what type of coverage they would have. Obamacare is what has brought us here today. The health care law requires that women's preventive services, including sterilization and access to abortion-inducing drugs, be included in health care coverage beginning in 2012. This is a questionable policy in and of itself, like the rest of Obamacare, it assumes that the government is able to provide all good things to the American people through a simple mandate with no consequences for cost or excess. The problems with this mandate were compounded, however, when the administration deferring to its feminist allies, determined that the mandate would apply to religious citizens and institutions. To their credit, these institutions which are compelled by this regulation to violate their moral beliefs, announced that they would not comply with this unjust law. They refused to roll over and allow the government to force them to provide sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees. Religions should have a right to do that because of their own moral interpretations of religious life. They stood as a witness for constitutional liberty, the free exercise of religion and against an administration that put base partisan politics above our beloved constitution."

Bennet, Blunt, Cantwell

HIGHWAY BILL (S. 1813)

Mar 01 2012 11:05 AM

Senator Bennet: (10:32 AM)
  • Spoke in opposition to Blunt amendment #1520 (conscience rights under PPACA).
    • SUMMARY "I don't think the other purposes that are talked about in this bill have anything to do with contraception or women's health, but that's what we're spending our time debating this week on the floor of the Senate instead of passing this transportation bill and putting people in this country back to work. How is this conversation relevant to job creation? or to infrastructure? It's not. In my home state of Colorado, I have held hundreds of town hall meetings in red parts of the state and blue parts of the state and I don't remember a single time this issue, the issue that is of concern with this amendment has been raised by anybody. By anybody in three years. I can tell you what people are talking about in Colorado they want to know why we aren't spending our time working on how to create more jobs for them, more jobs in the 21st century in this country, or how to fix this nation's debt or deficit or how we pass a bipartisan transportation bill that creates immediate jobs and fixes a crumbling infrastructure. While maintaining the infrastructure assets our parents and grandparents had the thoughtfulness to build for us. Another case where political games are risking our ability to provide more opportunity, not less, for the next generation of Americans, something that every single generation until this one, at least in politicians, has treated as a sacred trust and instead over the last several weeks we've continued to debate about women and whether they should have access to the health care services they need and whether they should be the ones that are able to make the decisions about the health care services that we need and we sit here and wonder why the united states congress is stuck at an approval rating of 11%. Maybe it's because we're talking about contraception in the context of a transportation bill."

Senator Blunt: (10:38 AM)
  • Spoke in support of Blunt amendment #1520 (conscience rights under PPACA).
    • SUMMARY "Let's talk about some of the things I've heard here this morning. my good friend Senator Bennet from Colorado said if this amendment passed, 362,000 Colorado women would lose their current health care services. Now, why would that be the case at all? This amendment does nothing to modify state or federal laws that are now in effect. If you've got those services now, there is nothing in this amendment that would change the world that we live in right now. People have the same protection today to exert their religious views in their health care policies that they provide as an employer that they would have if this amendment passed. they have those protections now. They would not lose those rights, it doesn't modify any state or federal law, and there are plenty of federal laws. there's a federal law on pregnancy discrimination that says pregnancy-related benefits cannot be limited to married employees. Now, that law doesn't go away if this amendment passes. state laws that require things to be in health care policies if you have one, don't go away if this amendment passes it. Only amends the new mandate provisions of title 1 of the new health care law, the health care law that has received so much controversial attention for good reason, and this is one of those reasons. supplying the respect for religious beliefs and moral convictions is that - is already part of the federal health programs of all kinds. it just doesn't happen to be in the new law. There is no health care law since 1973 that doesn't have these provisions in this bill that are part of the law. The law is there now and the world doesn't change. No Colorado woman will lose any health care benefits they have today if this amendment passes. No New Jersey woman will lose any benefits they have today if this amendment passes. Regarding any health care service that people may be worried about, we ask one question, are people allowed to exclude this service from their health care benefit under current state or federal law? and if they're not allowed to exclude it under current state or federal law, they wouldn't be allowed to exclude it if this amendment would pass. If they're not allowed to exclude it, they're still not allowed to exclude it under this amendment and if they are allowed to exclude such service, why haven't the critics been protesting before? This amendment doesn't change anything in the law today."

Senator Cantwell: (10:54 AM)
  • Spoke in opposition to Blunt amendment #1520 (conscience rights under PPACA).
    • SUMMARY "How many more times this year are we going to interrupt the business of the congress on things like transportation, on infrastructure, to have a debate that has already been settled? I know my colleague thinks that the amendment is very narrowly written. It's not. I don't think that's the interpretation of any legal mind that it is narrowly written. It will affect and give employers the right - the courts have already said they don't have the right to discriminate. It will reopen the cases of those large employers who have already been found against and say to them, yes, you can't come up with a reason and curtail access to preventive health care for women that is so needed at this time. So I ask my colleagues to turn down this amendment, and I ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, let's get at the business at hand, focusing on our economy, focusing on jobs, and stop making women's health care a scapegoat for what you think is wrong with America. It's actually what's right with America, and let's focus on jobs."

Mar 01 2012 11:31 AM

Senator Collins: (10:32 AM)
  • Spoke in support of Blunt amendment #1520 (conscience rights under PPACA).
    • SUMMARY "I believe that a good compromise could have been reached - and should have been worked out. For example, in Maine, state law requiring contraception coverage includes a specific exemption for religious employers, such as churches, schools, and hospitals. Surely we could have reached a similar accommodation and, unfortunately, what we're left with is an issue that's important and that too many people, including this administration, are playing politics with. since I could not and did not receive a straightforward answer to my question about protecting self-insured faith-based organizations, I feel that I have to vote for Senator Blunt's amendment, with the hope that its scope will be further narrowed and refined as the legislative process proceeds and recognizing that state laws will not be preempted. I do this with - with a lot of conflict because i think the amendment does have its flaws but when the administration cannot even assure me that self-insured faith-based organizations' religious freedoms are not protected, I feel I have no choice. I hope the amendment will be refined, and I also hope that the senate will move forward to address the many important pressing issues facing our nation and stop engaging in what is clearly an election year ploy."

Senator Sanders: (11:08 AM)
  • Spoke in opposition to Blunt amendment #1520 (conscience rights under PPACA).
    • SUMMARY "In Vermont and all across this country, there is growing frustration that members of congress - mostly men, I should add - are trying to roll back the clock on women's reproductive rights; in this case, the right of women to receive contraceptive services through their insurance plans. This attack is grossly unfair, and I hope that men will stand with women in the fight to protect this very basic right and let me add my strong belief that if the United States Senate 38 men and 17 women, my strong guess is that a bill like this would never even make it to the floor. Two years ago congress passed a health care reform that will expand health care access for over 30 million Americans who are uninsured as well as millions of Americans who are covered through their employer. This bill is by no means perfect. I would go further, but it is a step forward in allowing us to catch up with the rest of the industrialized world that guarantee health care to all of their people as a right. Unfortunately, the amendment we are discussing today - Senator bunt's amendment - would undermine much of the progress being made for women's health care through a new version of a so-called conscience exemption. Not just content to attack women's rights, Mr. Blunt's amendment would go even further and seeks to deny patients access to any essential health care service their employer or insurance company objects to based sum on the employer's "religious beliefs and moral convictions." This amendment would especially have an adverse impact on women's health. Starting in august, women enrolled in new plans will have access to a range of preventive services at no cost. but allowing the kind of extreme so-called conscience clause included in the Blunt amendment would allow an employer to refuse contraceptives, annual well-visits or even mental health services or HIV/AIDS treatment based not on a doctor's recommendation but the religious belief or moral conviction of a person's employer. This is an absolutely unprecedented refusal right. This is the Blunt amendment must be defeated."

Senator Kerry: (11:11 AM)
  • Spoke in opposition to Blunt amendment #1520 (conscience rights under PPACA).
    • SUMMARY "I was interested to hear the minority leader here this morning assert some things about the first amendment. I think they are absolutely incorrect. The first amendment is a guarantee that religious liberty will be protected in America and that the government will not institute one religion or another or establish a religion for the nation and it also says that religious view will be imposed on anybody. The Blunt amendment is, in fact, an assault on that protection of the first amendment because it imposes one view on a whole bunch of people who don't share that view or on those who want to choose for themselves. The affordable care act and the President's compromise and the final rule leave all of the existing conscience clause provisions in place. Doesn't change them at all. While adding additional protection for churches and for religious organizations. The administration's compromise regulation, endorsed by the catholic hospital association and other religious organizations, maintains conscience protections so that any religious employer with protections to coverage of contraceptive services will not be required to provide, refer or pay for these services. Furthermore, all churches and houses of worship are exempt from the compromise regulation. in fact, the women's law center pointed out, makes it clear "under current law, individuals and entities who wish to refuse a role in abortion services are protected by three different federal laws.""

Senator Boxer: (11:20 AM)
  • Spoke in opposition to Blunt amendment #1520 (conscience rights under PPACA).
    • SUMMARY "I have news for supporters of the Blunt amendment. We were not born yesterday, and no matter how much you say this is nothing more than a restatement of old laws, the facts just are not with you. We have never had a conscience clause for insurance companies and if you wanted to give them a chance to say "no," a lot of them don't have any consciences, they'll take it and this is what Blunt does. it allows any insurance company that doesn't want to provide an expensive service - to say, "oh, I meant to tell you, I have a moral objection to this." What a situation. How many people have struggled with their insurance companies to get them to cover what they've paid for, for years and years and years only to have the insurance company say, sorry, sue us? Now, Mr. Blunt is giving insurance companies a way to say, "he oh, we really feel sorry that you have cancer. We're really sad that you have diabetes. We're really torn apart that you might have a stroke. But you know what? We have a moral objection to the kind of therapies that that are out there today, so we're sorry." That's what the Blunt amendment does."

Senator Murray: (11:26 AM)
  • Spoke in opposition to Blunt amendment #1520 (conscience rights under PPACA).
    • SUMMARY "We've heard a lot of rhetoric about what the Blunt amendment is. My colleague from California just described it to you. It is terrible policy. It will allow any employer in America to cut off any preventive care for any religious or moral reason. It would simply give every boss in America the right to make the health care decisions for their workers and their families. It is a radical assault on the comprehensive preventive health care coverage that we have fought so hard to make sure that women and men and families across this country have. If this amendment were to pass, employers could cut off coverage for children's immunizations if they object to that. They could cut off prenatal care for children born to unmarried parents if they object to that. The American people are watching today. Young women are watching today. Is the United States Senate a place where their voice will be heard and their rights will be stood up for?"

Vote Results (Blunt amendment #1520)

HIGHWAY BILL (S. 1813)

Mar 01 2012 11:56 AM

Tabled, 51-48:
Reid (for Blunt) amendment #1520 (conscience rights under PPACA) to Reid amendment #1730 (Banking, Finance, and Commerce titles) to S. 1813, the Highway bill.
The vote results will be posted here within one hour.

Bingaman, Hutchison, Pryor

Morning Business

Mar 01 2012 12:30 PM

Senator Bingaman: (12:00 PM)
  • Spoke on the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012.
    • SUMMARY "Starting in 2015, the largest utilities in the country would meet the clean energy standard by showing that a certain percentage of the electricity that they sell is produced from clean energy sources. The initial percentage for 2015 is within the capabilities of those utilities today and each year after 2015 they would be required to sell a little bit more of their electricity from clean sources. They can do so either by making incremental adjustments to their own energy mix to become cleaner and more efficient or by purchasing clean energy from those who provide it at the lowest cost or by purchasing credits on an open and transparent market. to be considered clean, a generator must either be a zero carbon source of energy, such as renewable and nuclear power, or a generator must have a lower carbon intensity than a modern efficient coal plant and by carbon intensity, I mean the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per megawatt hour of electricity generated. generators with low or no carbon intensity receive credits based on that criterion. For example, renewable would receive a full credit per megawatt hour. Most natural gas generators would qualify for something around a half credit and the more efficient natural gas generators would be incentivized compared to less efficient generators. A coal plant, coal-powered power plant would receive some credits if it lowered its carbon intensity by installing carbon capture technologies or by coal firing with renewable biomass. so accounting for clean in this way means that the cleanest resources have the greatest incentive. Also, it means that every generator has a continuing incentive to become even more efficient. As the standard increases over time, the generation fleet will transition naturally toward cleaner and cleaner sources to meet it. The clean energy standard sets an overall goal for clean energy but the optimal and the cheapest set of technologies to use will be determined by the free market. The rate of transition is predictable and it's achievable and the rules of the road are transparent and they are clear. In addition to driving cleaner electricity generation in the power sector, the clean energy sector - or the clean energy standard also rewards industrial efficiency. Combined heat and power units generate electricity while also capturing and using the heat for other purposes, and these units are treated as clean generators under this proposal for a clean energy standard. this will help to deploy this kind of efficiency throughout our country and will provide another source of inexpensive clean energy."

Senator Hutchison: (12:09 PM)
  • Read William Barret Travis' letter in commemoration of Texas Independence Day.

Senator Pryor: (12:16 AM)
  • Spoke on U.S. energy policy and gas prices.
    • SUMMARY "We don't want to see gas prices slow down our economic recovery that we're undergoing right now, but also we need a more comprehensive and smarter national energy policy and so I think an important first step of that is for us to evaluate what all the energy programs that we happen to have on the books already, what the Department of Energy is doing, what other many, many various departments are doing. Someone needs to be looking at all the tax credits and tax incentives when it comes to energy, and we need a comprehensive analysis of where we are as a nation, what our strengths are, what our weaknesses are and what I am proposing is a bill, the quadrennial energy review. So it's a bill that we have introduced that I am fortunate enough to have Senator Bingaman, the chairman of the energy committee as well as Senator Murkowski, the ranking member of the energy committee as cosponsors, and we would love to have other senators look at this , maybe relatively soon because we would like to start moving this through the process here if at all possible. Quadrennial energy review is based on what they do at the Department of Defense. every four years, the DoD goes through this very detailed, top-to-bottom analysis of all the things that they need to consider in the department of defense, and they come out with the quadrennial defense review, and basically it's - in looking at what you have, it also presents a road map for where you need to go. That's what we need to do with energy. We already have this model that works. This idea would be more of a government wide, not just the Department of Energy but actually government wide, and I would just encourage all my colleagues to look at this if you wouldn't mind having your staff checking back with my office. We would love to have you as a cosponsor if you're interested. I don't think it's controversial. I don't think there is much money or much requirement involved. I think it's just good government and smart government to try to come up with a great, comprehensive energy policy for our nation."

Mar 01 2012 1:59 PM

Senator Brown-OH: (12:42 PM)
  • Spoke on auto industry.
    • SUMMARY "It's so important that the president continues to move forward, and i hope more aggressively, on the whole issue of auto supply parts. We saw just ten years ago - we in a deficit with china of about $1 billion in auto parts. Today we have a trade deficit with China on auto parts of almost $10b. So I know how concerned the president is. I know that American auto companies, including Honda, want to source more and more of their products in the United States of America. They want those products to be manufactured here in addition to being assembled here and manufactured here. It obviously means it will be close to the final assembly point in the critical mass that these manufacturers want to grow jobs. So we're seeing a partnership now that we've never seen in my lifetime, I believe, between the auto industry and the United States government. Not for the government to have ownership, not for the government to tell the auto industry what to do, but the government to make the business climate for these auto companies more and more favorable and that's what's good We've seen the manufacturing job growth for more than 20 months takes us in the right direction. It's important that the naysayers just kind of dropped - they can say whatever they want about the auto rescue I don't really much care but I do care that this body, the United States Senate, focus its efforts on how do we cooperatively grow this industry. It means more union auto workers going to work. It means more nonunion auto supply chain workers going to work but all of these are good-pay jobs and that's what - what do we care about more here than - than preparing an environment for good-paying jobs that put people back to work and can help them join the middle class."

Senator Hutchison: (12:52 PM)
  • Spoke on the Secure IT Act.
    • SUMMARY "The parts of our bill that will strengthen our cyber security in this country are I think accepted in the areas where we already have expertise in this area. For instance, our bill will help prevent the spread of cyber attacks from network to network and across the internet by removing barriers to sharing information about threats, attacks and strategies for improvement of defenses. We remove these barriers through addressing the antitrust laws that would allow companies that are sharing information not to be threatened with antitrust suits because this is a security issue, it's not a competitive issue. Secondly, we want to have liability protections for those who disclose cyber threat information with their peers. These are things that would be in everyone's interest for us to do and we do need to address it in legislation. The liability and antitrust protections are available to all companies that would share information, not just those that share with the government but where they can talk to each other, understanding each other's systems. Further, the Secure IT Act would provide that federal contractors providing electronic communication or cyber security services to federal agencies share cyber threat information related to those contracts. Of course, when they have contracts with the government, those are going to be very important communications systems that would require the sharing of information about threats that might jeopardize the systems' security. In addition, the government will develop procedures for the timely sharing of classified, declassified and unclassified information to ensure that information needed to secure networks is fully accessible to trusted parties. We are concerned that there are other bills out there that will add another new bureaucracy, another layer of regulation that is not necessary and brings in another agency that would overlay the security agencies that already have systems in place. It would also allow the regulatory bodies for certain areas of interest to handle the cyber security rather than another overlay of a new department. I think, that so many people in our country who are in business feel that they are just overwhelmed with duplicative regulations and different agencies that they have to report to. We want to streamline who they have to report to and try to use existing structures and existing regulatory authorities to deal with each individual company or industry so that we don't have to give them yet another new bureaucracy that would then have regulations if they are deemed to be critical infrastructure. That's when it becomes the regulatory threat. We believe that the private sector is more aware of individual security needs, better equipped than the Department of Homeland Security to secure its own network working with the regulators."

Colloquy: (Senators McCain, Graham, Hoeven, Blumenthal)
  • Spoke on the American NGO workers headed home from Egypt.
Senators McCain: (1:24 PM)
  • SUMMARY "These young people were from national democratic institute and the international republican institute and freedom house, unfortunately, had to go to our embassy because they were going to be prosecuted under then Egyptian law and I'd like to begin by saying that our ambassador to Egypt, Ann Patterson, may be one of the finest diplomats that this nation has produced. the more the senator from South Carolina and I travel and the more representatives at the U.S. ambassadors that - embassies that we meet and have - have - have discussions and travel with, these people are enormously good and we are proud that they represent the united states, particularly Ann Patterson. She has worked tirelessly since this whole crisis began, and I believe that the majority of the credit for what the success outcome as far as our American citizens are concerned can be directly attributed to her dedication, her hard work, her tireless efforts day and night on behalf of these young people. so we are extremely proud of her."

Senator Graham: (1:28 PM)
  • SUMMARY "I'd like to add my gratitude and recognition of Ambassador Patterson, her whole team, the whole State Department team on the ground. They did a very good job making the case to the Egyptian government ... I think the reason this happened was because the collaboration between the State Department, the delegation, every aspect. American government and the people on the ground in Egypt I think understood the value of the U.S.-Egyptian relationship and the judicial system finally made a wise decision but to those left behind, we're certainly standing with you, and you will not be forgotten If this had not been resolved, if they insisted on prosecuting and having the American citizens questioned, appear in cages before an Egyptian court based on an outlandish accusation, what kind of reaction would we have had in the united states and what damage would it have done to U.S.-Egyptian relationship in your opinion?"

Senator Hoeven: (1:34 PM)
  • SUMMARY "Taking this initiative to sit down with General Marshall Tanta w. Eu, who is the leader of the military council, but also the leaders of the freedom and justice party, which is the majority party now in the parliament, and of course that is the Muslim brotherhood. We sat down with the Muslim brotherhood as well. I think those meetings were extremely important in helping to foster an understanding that broke the logjam. I too want to commend the work of our ambassador, Ambassador Ann Paterson. She did an outstanding job. I want to thank Secretary Clinton and the people at the State Department for their diligent efforts but I must say having the opportunity to be part of a delegation led by Senator McCain and Senator Graham gave us the opportunity to talk to the Muslim brotherhood, gave us the opportunity to talk to the leaders of the freedom and justice party and the next day they put out a statement, which I agree was very important in helping move things forward, because what they said in that statement were two things, two things that I do think helped break the logjam. First, that they support nongovernment organizations. They support nongovernment organizations. They recognize that these NGO's do important work, and they want to address the laws in Egypt to make sure that they have good laws that will enable the NGO's to continue. The second thing they said, which I felt was particularly important is they also expressed their concern about NGO workers and that those NGO workers be treated fairly."
Senator Blumenthal : (1:41 PM)
  • SUMMARY "Yes, we should be encouraging these nongovernmental organizations that are committed to the cause of democracy and human rights and civil society, their work in Egypt and in places like Tunisia and other areas of the Middle East as well as around the globe where democracy and freedom are at risk and sometimes at grave peril has been enormously important. I was so proud and grateful to be part of this trip led by Senator McCain and to really hear and see the kind of respect that there is in the world for his views, for his leadership as well as for Senator Graham's, and the receptiveness is probably an understatement, that field Marshal Tantawi, leaders in parliament, others in leadership had for his statements about the importance of allowing these Americans, these seven Americans who committed no crime, to leave that country and the power of his and senator graham's statements, the ability of our colleagues, such as Senator Hoeven and Senator Sessions, to speak not on behalf of the United States, because we were not there to negotiate, but really on behalf of public opinion in the United States, I think was very instrumental and shows the importance of the interchanges and the relationships that can be built when we interact face-to-face on the ground with our peers and contemporaries in foreign countries. Not that we were speaking as military people or as diplomats, but simply in reflecting the opinion of people in the united states that these Americans, innocent of any crime, should be permitted to leave the country."

Senator McCain: (1:43 PM)
  • SUMMARY "Don't you find it striking that these new parliamentarians, they were most eager to have inter-parliamentary association with us? They wanted to come to the United States to have further relations between the two elected bodies. I was very impressed by that."
Senator Blumenthal : (1:43 PM)
  • SUMMARY "I was extraordinarily impressed by their eagerness to see what democracy looks like as it really works. Remember, some of these individuals have been in prison for long periods of time. Some of them under the most brutal conditions, many of them tortured while they were there, with little exposure to the real world of democracy. I think in answer to the Senator from Arizona's question would be very helpful to them and in fact on a number of occasions, we invited them to come to this country I think that all of us feel Egypt is really a linchpin for our relationship to that area of the world going forward. So much that's exciting is happening in that part of the world, and Egypt is so critical to it."

Senator Graham: (1:46 PM)
  • SUMMARY "We will be continuing to provide economic assistance, but the end game is to create a functioning society that we can do business with, where we can create jobs in America. The main thing to do in the short term is to maintain the military relationship. the reason Egypt did not become Syria when you had people rising up against the autocratic regime is because the army stood up against the people. The relationship we've had with the Egyptian people for over 30 years paid dividends. the Egyptian officers coming to American military academies and schools have been maintained as we go forward. honor the treaty with Israel, make sure you write a constitution worthy of a bright future in Egypt and to all the political leaders in Egypt, the world is watching, the Arab world is watching, and if you have a narrow agenda, if you have an exclusive agenda, then you will be doing your country a disservice. So we will be a willing partner but not under any and all circumstances. Maybe we've learned our lesson that you just can't have partnerships without basic principles. we look forward to working with the Egypt parliament and people, but you have the chance to change the course of history. don't lose the opportunity."

Senator Hoeven: (1:49 PM)
  • SUMMARY "There's no question in my mind that the relationships that Senator McCain and Senator Graham have built overseas made a difference for the United States and our foreign policy and this is a clear example of it. When we sat down with Field Marshal Tantawi, when we met with the other government leaders, even when we met with the Muslim brotherhood, the fact that there was a relationship there, that they knew these individuals, there was some level of trust there that enabled us to engage in very important communication that produced a message that I think was integral to resolution of this situation which could have been a very bad one. So - these relationships matter when we talk about working with other countries, particularly in that part of the world when there are so many differences between our countries and how we operate, having some relationships where people can sit down, have these discussions and talk about how we work together and foster some mutual agreement and some mutual understanding is vitally important."

Hoeven, Reid, Blumenthal

MORNING BUSINESS

Mar 01 2012 2:31 PM

Senator Hoeven: (1:57 PM)
  • Spoke on the Iranian elections.
    • SUMMARY "We want to support that right for self-determination in Iran, for the people of Iran as well. Right now the only people that can run for office in Iran are people that are approved to run by the regime itself. They have the counsel of guardians and the council of guardians has to approve anyone that wants to run for office. So the reality is the government itself, the regime itself decides whether or not you can run for office and about something over 5,000 individuals applied to run for government. Of those 5,000, about 3,000 were approved by the Iranian regime to run. More than 2,000 were denied. So they can't even run. Well, how can you have a free or a fair or an open election, an election that meets independent standards, when the government itself decides who can run and who can't run? Doesn't work. That's not the way elections should work and America truly is a force for freedom and for democracy in the world and that's why we're working to call the attention of the world to these elections. It is particularly important at this time that we stand with the Iranian people in calling for free and fair elections as we impose sanctions to try to prevent the government from developing nuclear weapon. We want to make very clear that while we need to impose strong, consistent sanctions that prevent the Iranian - the Iranian regime from obtaining a nuclear bomb, at the same time we support the Iranian people's right to self-determination."

Senator Reid: (2:02 PM)
  • Unanimous Consent: Filled the amendment tree; Withdrew amendment #1730; Proposed amendment #1761; Proposed second degree amendment #1762 to amendment #1761; Proposed amendment #1764 to amendment #1763; Proposed second degree amendment #1764 to amendment #1765 (without objection).
  • The first amendment offered was Reid amendment #1761 (Banking, Commerce, Finance titles and 37 amendment cleared by the bill managers).
  • Spoke on the Highway bill.
    • SUMMARY "I offered a revised amendment a little - a few minutes ago. This amendment includes the very same consensus work that comes from the product of these three committees regarding my earlier amendment. It includes matters reported unanimously by the banking committee, strong bipartisan vote in the finance committee, matters negotiated between the chairman and ranking member of the commerce committee. What's new in the amendment that I just offered is that it now - it also includes 37 additional amendments cleared by the managers of this bill and, where appropriate, cleared by other committees. Specifically, the commerce committee and the banking committee. 37 amendments. So that's now part of my substitute that's now before the Senate. I would be very satisfied if the Senate adopted this amendment and provided it would serve as original text for purpose of further amendment. The two managers will continue to work to clear additional amendments. But we need a path forward on this bill and we don't have it now. we continue to work on an agreement to have votes on a number of non-germane amendments in which the Republican caucus say they want. On our side, if they want amendments, we could have some non-germane amendments also. I'd rather we disposed of the non-germane amendments. and i am thinking seriously of coming to the floor today and asking consent that we move forward on this bill with no irrelevant or non-germane amendments. It's vital that we complete work on this surface transportation bill. I'm determined that the Senate will do so and do so as quickly as possible. Doing so will take cooperation from different senators. so we need to keep our eye on the road. We need to get this legislation passed. Saving or creating up to 2.8 million jobs is the destination of this path that we're seeking. Let's work together to get there as soon as possible."

Senator Blumenthal: (2:09 PM)
  • Spoke on the Iranian elections.
    • SUMMARY "The parliamentary elections that will occur on Friday in Iran will be neither free nor fair. They've already taken actions to assure that it will be, as one observer said, the fakest one yet. but the brutal repression in human rights going on there are too real for those who suffer at that government's and that regime's hands. As the resolution makes clear, Iran has already disqualified 2,200 candidates from actually running for office simply based on their political views, and it maintains severe restrictions on the press, strangling a free press, preventing even the voice of America and radio-free Europe from reaching the people - radio free Europe from reaching the people of Iran. Having created a sham election, a travesty and a tragedy, the Iranian regime now will try to force Iranians to vote at the polls in an effort to show popular support, force them to vote simply to show this sham support. The truth is, it has no such support. Allowing international monitors to bear witness, as we demand in our resolution, would reveal these acts of repression for what they are and for the world to see."

Klobuchar, Cardin, Barrasso

Morning Business

Mar 01 2012 3:20 PM

Senator Klobuchar: (2: 16 PM)
  • Thanked the House of Representatives, who earlier today passed legislation that will allow construction to begin on a stronger, safer bridge in the St. Croix River Valley.

Senator Cardin: (2:22 PM)
  • Marked the 5th Anniversary of Deamonte Driver's death.
  • Spoke on dental care.
    • SUMMARY "It's difficult for Medicaid and CHIP enrollees to find dental care and working parents whose children qualify for those programs are likely to be employed at jobs where they can't spend two hours a day on the phone to find a provider. So part of the chip reauthorization act now requires HHS to include on its insure kids now web site a list of participating dentists and benefit information for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Also in 2009, Congress passed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America act. That law created the healthy futures corps which provides grants to states and nonprofit organizations so they could fund national service in low-income communities. It will allow us to put into action tools that can help close the gap in health status, prevention and health promotion. For too long, we have acknowledged health disparities, studied them, written reports about them with the help of the senior Senator from Maryland, my colleague, Senator Barbara Mikulski, we added language to that law specifying oral health as an area of focus. Now the healthy futures corps can help recruit young people to work in the dental profession where they can serve shortages - serve in areas where we have shortages of providers both in urban and rural areas. It will fund the work of individuals who can help parents find available oral health services for themselves and their children. It will make a difference in the lives of the healthy futures corps members who will work in underserved communities and in the lives and health of those who get improved access to care. In 2010, we passed the affordable care act which guarantees pediatric oral health care as part of each state's essential health care package. The law also establishes a prevention education program at the centers for disease control and prevention, targeted towards key populations including children and pregnant women and creates demonstration programs to encourage innovation and oral health delivery. It also significantly work force training programs for oral health professionals. Moving forward, the states have a critical role to play in ensuring the affordable care act benefit is designed to incentivize prevention, recognize some children are at greater risk and deliver care based on the level of their risk. Among the cost-effective ways to improve children's health care is investments in prevention."

Senator Barrasso: (3:03 PM)
  • Spoke on energy and gas prices.
    • SUMMARY "It's clear that the President is defensive on this issue, and it's understandable because the average price of gasoline of regular unleaded gasoline the day he became President - well, today it's 103% higher, it's over double what it was the day that President Obama took office. Just three years ago the price of gasoline 103% higher than the day President Obama took office. Now, there are a lot of factors at placement but I do know - and what this does show - is that the President's policies are at best ineffectual, and at worse are contributing to the higher gas prices. People on both sides of the aisle are knowing this, they're hearing it at home and this week actually one Senate Democrat wrote to the Obama administration, and he pointed this out. Specifically, he pointed out that these are "the highest prices we have ever seen for this time of year." Unfortunately, that Senate Democrat's solution is to request that Saudi Arabia produce more oil. I'll repeat that. His solution is to have the secretary of state ask Saudi Arabia to produce more oil and of course the President is also considering other proposals as well, and like asking Saudi Arabia to produce more oil, the President's ideas would put our national security at risk and there I'm referring to the President's threat to tap the strategic oil petroleum reserve. This would be the second time that President Obama has tapped the strategic petroleum reserve. Prior to the President's decision to do that last June, well it had only been tapped twice for emergencies since 1975. So between 1975 and 2011 the strategic petroleum reserve had only been tapped twice for emergencies. It was tapped in 1991 upon the outbreak Persian gulf war, and then again more recently following Hurricane Katrina. In both of these instances, we're talking about actual supply disruption. However, when President Obama tapped the reserve last year, there was no substantial prospect of a supply disruption. The decision was based on politics, as would be the decision this time."

Mar 01 2012 4:16 PM

Senator Whitehouse: (3:25 PM)
  • Honored Marie Colvin, who was killed while covering the siege of Homs in Syria on Wednesday, February 22, 2012.

Senator Schumer: (3:33 PM)
  • Honored Marie Colvin, who was killed while covering the siege of Homs in Syria on Wednesday, February 22, 2012.

Senator Brown-OH: (4:03 PM)
  • Offered condolences and prayers to the Chardon community.

Senator Portman: (4:08 PM)
  • Offered condolences and prayers to the Chardon community.

Chambliss, Franken

Morning Business

Mar 01 2012 5:02 PM

Senator Chambliss: (4:17 PM)
  • Spoke on energy and gas prices.
    • SUMMARY "The President and his administration have said some decisions that contribute to rising gas prices that prevent us from being able to take advantage of vast energy resources located right here in North America. First, the President's recent decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline was extremely disappointing. Canada is a trusted ally and friend of the United States, and by tapping into its vast oil reserves, we could have substantially lessened our need to import oil from other potentially hostile nations. Not only would this project instantly have created many jobs, it would also have helped secure or nation's energy future. In addition, the long line of burdensome regulations coming from the administration threatens both economic growth and energy costs in the United States. Instead of navigating through this unprecedented regulatory environment, more and more industries would choose to take their business overseas. This could potentially include refineries and other businesses essential to domestic energy production. In fact, we are already seeing the movement of the deep oil rigs in the gulf of Mexico move to China, a classic example of what could happen, even more so in the future. Rather than hindering domestic production of oil and gas, we must encourage the development of the abundant energy resources we have right here in the United States, and we must do so in an environmentally responsible manner. I will continue to support domestic oil and gas exploration and production. It is an essential component of a comprehensive energy policy that will enable America to become more energy-independent. as I hear more reports of new oil and natural gas deposits found within our borders and off America's shores, I am stunned that we are not doing more to encourage the development of these resources. I can't think of a better means of improving our economy, both by reducing America's energy imports and encouraging job growth. Unfortunately, the administration continues to hold up and unnecessarily delay the approval of drilling leases and permits. Now is not the time to tie up valuable and much-needed American energy production in bureaucratic red tape. A responsible energy policy that includes increased domestic energy production, improved energy efficiency through technology, improved conservation, and a diversified energy supply through the use of renewable fuel sources will keep gas prices low, lessen our dependence on foreign oil, and strengthen our economy."
  • Spoke on the SECURE Act.
    • SUMMARY "The SECURE IT Act consists of four key areas of common ground identified in various efforts. First, information-sharing, second, federal information security management act reform, third, enhanced criminal penalties, and four, cybersecurity research and development. We have seen firsthand the positive impact better information-sharing can have on our national security. Since the 9/11 terrorist attack, improved information-sharing throughout the government and especially within the intelligence community has greatly enhanced our national security. I believe that a similar improvement to information-sharing in the cyber context will pay huge long-term dividends in terms of our safety and national security. Once there is an understanding that information-sharing will work best if it empowers the individual rather than a discreet government entity, the move from a regulatory approach to one that encourages voluntary sharing of cyber threat information by removing unintended barriers quickly follows. The information-sharing title of the SECURE IT Act is based on this voluntary approach and on the principle that government account cannot and should not solve every problem."

Senator Franken: (4:50 PM)
  • Spoke on the Franken/Blunt amendment to the Highway bill.
    • SUMMARY "The bill that we're debating today consolidates many varied surface transportation programs into five main pots of money - the highway bridge program would be consolidated into the new national highway performance program, and of this new program, 60% would have to be spent on restoring national highway system roads and bridges into a state of good repair. The other 40% is more flexible and can be spent on a variety of projects, including federal aid highways that aren't on the national highway system or the NHS. However, if those non-NHS roads have a bridge that needs repair, those funds wouldn't have been an allowable use of this flexible pot of money. My amendment which has now been included in the base bill fixes that. It allows the 40% both of money to be used for repair bridges on non-NHS federal aid highways. It's just common sense if roads are eligible for this funding then bridges along those roads should be eligible as well. This is a no-brainer to me, especially given the poor state of our bridges today in our country."

Brown-OH, Murkowski

Morning Business

Mar 01 2012 5:36 PM

Senator Brown-OH: (5:02 PM)
  • Spoke on improving vehicle public safety.
    • SUMMARY "The bill would address many of the shortfalls from the Bluffton accident. It would mean better protection for occupants, it would mean - improve safety equipment and devices and the need for on-board recorders with the ability to collect crash data. The safety measures are neither exotic or complicated commonsense that have been in many cases are widely used but since they're not required by law they've not been installed in most American motor coaches. Instead of saving lives the public remains at risk. Some who oppose improved our safety standards will tell you this isn't a motor coach problem, they'll tell you they have a problem with road bus companies or bad drivers. Certainly that's part of the problem but we can't simply look the other way and reject the idea that improving the safety of motor coach manufacturing and of the motor coaches is unnecessary or fiscally imprudent We can get bad operators off the road but we must ensure passenger safety in the tragic event of an accident. If the technology to save lives and reduce injuries exists, we must put that technology to use."

Senator Murkowski: (5:20 PM)
  • Spoke on SECURE IT Act.
    • SUMMARY "Our bill focuses on four different areas that we believe can draw bipartisan support and result in good public law and those four areas are information sharing, FISMA reform, which is intelligence sharing reform, criminal penalties as well as additional research. What the SECURE IT Act bill does - and i guess what it does not do is equally important. It does not simply add new layers of bureaucracy and regulation that will serve little purpose and achieve meager results. The homeland security committee bill would arm the department of homeland security with expansive new authorities to review all sectors of our economy and designate what is termed covered critical infrastructure for further regulation. What we hear out there from industry is that this amounts to regulation almost for regulation's sake and in the electricity industry's case, this is resulting in duplicative regulation that I'm afraid will lead to a compliance-first mentality. Companies will focus on meeting new federal requirements and passing a seemingly endless string of audits. But these heavy-handed statistic requirements from yet one more federal regulator will not necessarily address the very real threats that we face. So again, the concern is you're going to have industry focused on how do we comply? How do we avoid a bad audit instead of using their ingenuity, using their resources to ensure that we stay ahead of any future cyberattack. We need to be more nimble. We have to have a more nimble approach to deal with cyber-related threats that are constantly growing and constantly changing. The threat that we see today is not necessarily the threat that we might anticipate tomorrow. so we've got to stay ahead of the game."

Mar 01 2012 6:44 PM

Senator Reid: (6:36 PM)
  • Performed Wrap Up --
  • Tomorrow --
    • The Senate will convene at 10:00 AM and resume consideration of S. 1813, the Highway bill.
    • There will be NO ROLL CALL VOTES during tomorrow's session of the Senate.
The Senate stands adjourned until Friday, March 2nd.