Floor Updates

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Apr 17 2012 10:00 AM

The Senate Convened.

Reid, McConnell

Opening Remarks

Apr 17 2012 10:23 AM

Senator Reid: (10:03 AM)
  • Today --
    • The Senate will proceed to a period of Morning Business until 11:00 AM, with Senators permitted to speak up to 10 minutes each. The time will be equally divided, with the Republicans controlling the first half and the Majority controlling the second half.
    • Following Morning Business, the Senate will resume consideration of the Motion to Proceed to S. 1789, the Postal Reform bill, for up to 10 minutes of debate, equally divided.
    • Circa 11:10 AM, the Senate will conduct a ROLL CALL VOTE on the Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Motion to Proceed to S. 1789, the Postal Reform bill.
    • At 12:30 PM, the Senate will recess until 2:15 PM for the weekly caucus lunches.
  • Spoke on the Buffett Rule.
    • SUMMARY "Our legislation would have protected 99% of small business owners and maintained deductions for charitable giving. And it would have been a small but meaningful step to reduce our deficit at a time when every penny in this case every billion counts. Doesn't seem radical to see me some request Warren Buffett who made almost $63 million in 2010 to pay a higher tax rate than his secretary. You can remember when he came and spoke to a group of democrats and he carried around his tax returns for the last several years. He's the one who told us how much he made in 2010 and lamented the fact that he was paying the tax rate that was. Well, it doesn't seem radical to me, it didn't seem radical to Ronald Reagan, and it doesn't seem radical to three quarters of the American people. The wealthiest Americans take home a greater percentage of the nation's income than any time in nearly a century yet they enjoy the lowest tax rate in more than five decades. The lowest tax rate. So it's no surprise Americans believe millionaires should shoulder their fair share. Even two-thirds of millionaires and a majority of Republicans around the country agree it's time to fix the system rigged to favor the richest of the rich. Republicans in congress aren't the only ones that are on board on this issue. If you need evident that millionaires and billionaires can afford to contribute a little more, consider this fact, this simple fact: last year there were 7,000 people who made more than a million dollars last year but didn't pay a single penny of federal income tax. Not a penny. Thanks to Republicans, these lucky millionaires can keep gaming the system while middle-class workers keep picking up the tab."

Senator McConnell: (10:09 AM)
  • Spoke on the Buffett Rule.
    • SUMMARY "President Obama only seems to care about Warren Buffett's opinion if it polls well. The President's goal isn't to do something about the problem, it's to make people think he's doing something about the problem until the next crisis comes along. And that's the larger problem. That we've got a President more concerned about looking like he's doing something than in actually doing what's needed to tackle the challenges we face. We've got a President who told us he was a different kind of politician doing is same old things and using the same old talking points politicians in Washington have been peddling for literally years. Weren't these kinds of gimmicks and stale talking points precisely the kind of thing President Obama campaigned against four years ago? I thought he was offering something new. Something different. I think the Associated Press summed up the President's latest proposal pretty well this morning. The White House plan which Obama was to unveil Tuesday the AP said is more likely to draw sharp election-year distinctions with republicans than to have an immediate effect on prices at the pump. AP pretty well summed it up. They said it's more about drawing a distinction. Look, we don't need new distinctions. We need solutions. Americans need lawmakers who are more concerned about with facing up to the problems we face than getting re-elected. They need a President who thinks about solving a problem, a president who thinks solving a problem involves more than giving a speech about it and pointing the finger at whatever doesn't poll well that particular day. As if said yesterday, the president seems to have forgotten why he was elected in the first place. He seems to have forgotten his own campaign rhetoric. That he was going to be different, that he would bridge differences, that he would bring people together. The reality couldn't be more different. Or more disappointing. The sad truth is, it's all politics, all the time in this White House They're out of ideas, they've got nothing new to offer. Today's announcement is all the proof you need of that."

Moran, Paul, Lieberman, Collins

Morning Business/Postal Reform bill (S. 1789)

Apr 17 2012 11:19 AM

Senator Moran: (10:14 AM)
  • Spoke on Iran.
    • SUMMARY "Iran's nuclear program threatens American interests. First Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons jeopardizes the security of the United States. If last two nations to acquire nuclear weapons, Pakistan and North Korea, have presented numerous challenges to America's security interests. North Korea provoked a condemnation last week when it launched a rocket. In Pakistan a December report in the Atlantic called into question the security of that country's nuclear arsenal stating that Pakistan regularly transports nuclear weapons throughout its city streets without much security. If Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, other nations in the middle east may soon follow. Saudi Arabia has already said it will consider seeking nuclear capabilities if Iran's program is not stopped. Second, a nuclear Iran could increase support for terrorism. Irons had is already one of the leading sponsors of terrorism, funneling weapons and money and training for terrorists, including Hezbollah and Hamas. With a nuclear weapon Iran and its allies may be emboldened to carry out even more attacks. Furthermore, what would prevent Iran from giving nuclear weapons, sharing its capabilities with one of the terrorist groups? Third, a nuclear Iran could exert more influence over world oil markets. A direct link exists between volatile oil prices and Iran's nuclear program. Prices have risen when tensions increase and when tensions recede, prices typically decline. American consumers and businesses are directly affected by volatile prices that negatively impact our economic well-being. Although Saudi Arabia has pledged to boost production to make up for the loss of Iranian oil, this will reduce that spare production capacity and leave our country and global economies vulnerable to any reduction in supplies whether from conflicts within oil producing nations or natural disasters. Finally, other a nuclear Iran would threaten the safety of American troops serving in the Middle East. For years Iran has supported tariffs groups that targeted and killed American troops. They supported the terrorists responsible for the 1996 attack on U.S. military residents in Saudi Arabia that killed 196 our service men. Iran has long-range missiles that could hit baseness the region including ones in turkey, Afghanistan, Bahrain and Kuwait. And Iran's nuclear program threatens the existence of our ally, Israel. President of Iran has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, they will have the capability to do the things they speak up. Understandably, Israel is worried. Israelis know too well the price of war because they have witnessed that war and destruction. They know what can happen when evil men gain the ability to carry out evil deeds. While some would have us believe that its Israel's problem, we should not be fooled. Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons threatens owl nations who care about peace and stability. We cannot leave Israel to deal with this crisis alone. American leadership is needed now more than ever to stop Iran."

Senator Paul: (10:36 AM)
  • Spoke on the Paul amendment to end aid to Egypt.
    • SUMMARY "I offered this amendment earlier this spring when Egypt was detaining our citizens, pro-democracy workers and was not letting them leave the country. Since then they have let them leave the country but sort of in an insulting fashion in the sense that they have let them leave when we had to pay basically ransom. We had to pay about $5 million in ransom. $300,000 per person to let them leave Egypt. So they came home and Egypt could only get paid if the administration certified they were pro-democracy. Within days Secretary Clinton released the said aid and said they were achieving their democratic goals. I wrote a letter to Secretary Clinton and asked her not to do this because the prosecution still goes on. The U.S. citizens had to pay $300,000 in bills but had to sign a statement saying they're coming back for the trial. Everybody signed of said if doubt they're ever going back to Egypt for those show trials but then it gets worse. It turns out that in December of last year President Obama signed an executive order - this is order 135-24 - that gives Interpol, the International Police Organization, gives them immunity in our country. We also have an extradition treaty with Egypt meaning if you're accused of a crime in Egypt, we can send you back. The danger is, are these pro-democracy workers safe in the United States? You have Interpol agents in the united states who now have immunity, we have an extradition treaty with Egypt. There are definitely problems to allowing this to go on. This is an indication to me that maybe Egypt is not pursuing democratic goals and maybe certifying them as a democratic country is not in our best interest and maybe sending nearly $2 billion of taxpayer money to Egypt who continues to prosecute our citizens is not a good idea ... This amendment will say no aid to Egypt until they end this prosecution. No aid to Egypt until they end these red letter warrants that they've asked on U.S. citizens to be extradited back to Egypt. We can't allow U.S. citizens to be sent to a foreign country to be tried in a country where blasphemy is a crime. Those are not American values, those are not American ways, and we can't allow U.S. citizens to be subject to foreign laws and foreign crimes. So I will ask today for a vote on an amendment that will end Egyptian aid or at least delay Egyptian foreign aid until they relinquish this persecution of our citizens."

Senator Lieberman: (11:08 AM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "I rise to urge all of our colleagues to support the pending cloture motion filed by the leader so that we can begin a debate that will help decide whether the United States Postal Service, this iconic American institution created more than two centuries ago, embedded in the constitution, created in the age of ink wells and quill pens, will survive in the age of e-mail and the internet. To me, this cloture vote should be an easy one. Because if you vote against cloture, you're essentially saying two things I think. One is you don't want to do anything. And if you don't do anything, the Postal Service is going to run out of money and his its borrowing limit later this year, forcing it to miss payments and unnecessarily to begin to shut back or close down operations, which is the last thing the country needs at this point. Frankly, the other thing that you'll be doing if you think we should do nothing is to leave the - the Postmaster General of the Postal Service with an unlimited right to take steps that I believe a majority of members of this body don't want to be taken precipitously, without considering alternatives, and that is closing thousands of post offices around the country, including in small towns and rural areas and dramatically and quickly cutting back on the number of mail processing facilities and, therefore, the standards by which mail is delivered and the speed with which it's delivered in this country. So I hope our colleagues consider this an easy vote which is simply not to turn away from the crisis that the Postal Service is in We have a substitute that's a bipartisan proposal that I think will help really save the post office but also force it to begin to make tough, cost-efficient steps to keep itself in fiscal balance. Let me just give you a sense of the scope of this. The Postal Service today, if it were a private corporation, would be the 35th largest company in the United States based on revenue. But putting it just ahead of Apple. And it would be the country's second largest employer just behind Wal-Mart. The 32,000 post offices in America represent more domestic retail outlets than Wal-Mart, star bucks and McDonald's combined."

Senator Collins: (11:13 AM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "There are many different views on how to save the Postal Service but there can be no doubt that the Postal Service is in crisis. We are at a critical juncture. Without passing legislation, the Postal Service will simply be unable to meet its payroll perhaps as soon as this fall. We simply cannot allow that to happen. The Postal Service is vital to our economy. It is the linchpin of a trillion-dollar mailing industry that employs nearly 8.7 million Americans in fields as diverse as printing, catalog companies, paper manufacturing, newspaper and magazine publishers. These industries and the jobs that they sustain are in jeopardy. If we fail to act, we will deliver a critical, crippling blow to the postal service. As Senator Lieberman has indicated, the Postal Service is in crisis ... First-class mail volume has dropped by 23% over the past five years, 12% over the past two years. The Postal Service has a debt to the U.S. Treasury of $13 billion and will max out its credit limit of $15 billion this year. We have to address this crisis. It would be irresponsible for members to simply vote "no" on the motion to proceed if they have other ideas on how to address this crisis. I have urged a full and open and fair amendment process so that members can bring forth their alternative plans for saving the postal service. But we simply cannot allow the Postal Service to fail. The stakes are too high for our economy and for Americans across this country. Finally, I would remind my colleagues that the postal service's roots go back to our constitution. This is an organization that is vital to our heritage and to our future."

Apr 17 2012 11:47 AM

Agreed to, 74-22:
Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Motion to Proceed to S. 1789, the Postal Reform bill.
The vote results will be posted here within one hour.

Apr 17 2012 12:45 PM

Senator Lieberman: (11:47 AM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "Let me now describe some of the major parts of the substitute bipartisan bill that's come out of our committee. The bill includes two measures that will relieve some of the immediate financial pressure on the postal service. The first is based on an office of personnel management determination that the Postal Service has overpaid its contributions to the federal employee retirement system by roughly $11 billion. Call it a misunderstanding, call it a clerical error. It is fortuitous for the Postal Service and the trouble it's in. Our bill directs OPM to refund its money to the Postal Service and then directs the Postal Service to use this money to provide retirement incentives to employees and to pay off some of its debt. Let me explain what I mean about those incentives. S. 1789, the substitute would direct the Postal Service to use part of these refunds from the federal employee retirement system to reduce its labor costs which make up about 80% of its budget. There is no way the Postal Service is going to get back in balance without continuing to do what it's been doing. Tens of thousands, reducing the number of employees it has. But the aim here is to do that as a result of a voluntary buyout program. The fact is that approximately half of the postal service's current work force is eligible for either full or early retirement. If 100,000 workers took advantage of the program, which is below the full amount eligible, the Postal Service would save $8 billion a year. That's the single most significant saving item in the package that we bring before you today. And we set a goal here which is that the Postal Service should aim to reduce its work force by this incentivized retirement program by approximately that 100,000 workers or 18% of its current work force. Our bill also reduces the amount the Postal Service must pay into its retiree health benefits account over the next 40 years. The current formula or schedule of payments was part of the postal reform passed some years ago. We conclude that the payments required are larger than is necessary to sustain the viability of the retiree health benefits plan, so we mandate an updated amortization schedule based on projections of what will be needed to fund postal retirees' health care in the future. Not just an arbitrary number. That we think means that the Postal Service is likely to see a significant cut in its annual $5 billion bill to prefund retiree health care, which, of course, would take further stress off the postal service's annual operating budget. We expect as this debate goes on to have as close as possible of an exact projection of how much that change would save from the Postal Service itself."

Senator Collins: (12:16 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "The postal office is in debt to the United States Treasury by $13 billion. By the end of the year, it is likely to reach its statutory debt limit of $15 billion. Driving this crisis are many factors, not the least of which is that the volume of first-class mail has fallen by 26% since 2006 and continues to decline, as this chart shows. Reflecting that sharp drop in volume, revenue has plummeted from $72.8 billion in 2006 to $65.7 billion in 2011. The Postal Service is part of our culture and economic fabric. Its failure would deliver a crushing blow to our economy, at a time when the economy is already fragile, and it would be particularly harmful to people living and working in rural America. That means that we must pass a bill. Doing nothing is only an option if we're willing to let the Postal Service fail. That is the choice that we face. And failure would impale a vital component of our economy. For the Postal Service, the linchpin of a trillion-dollar mail-related industry that employees near 8 million Americans would face as diverse as catalog companies, magazine and newspaper publishers, and paper manufacturing to name just a few The rapid transition from traditional mail to electronic communication has come at an enormous cost to the postal service. The loss of so much mail, coupled with unsustainably high labor costs and exacerbated by the worst recession in decades, has left the Postal Service on the brink of collapse. Despite these head winds, the Postmaster General is inexplicably forging ahead in favor of reduced access, slower delivery times and higher prices. His plans, I fear, will force many of the Postal Service best customers to pursue alternatives. I cannot think of another major business in serious financial trouble that would risk alienating its remaining customers by slashing service and raising prices. That is a recipe for disaster. We recently learned that the Postal Service's own preliminary analysis submitted secretly to its regulators reveals that the destructive service reduction plan to slow mail delivery and shut down postal plants will lead to a more than 9% decrease in first-class mail and a 7.7% reduction in all mail. The Postal Service itself made a preliminary estimate that the first-year losses alone would be $5.2 billion. That would consume a major portion of any supposed savings intended by the postal service's plan."
The Senate stands in recess until 2:15 PM.

Cardin, Sanders, Reid, Paul, Levin

Postal Reform bill (S. 1789)

Apr 17 2012 3:29 PM

Senator Cardin: (2:27 PM)
  • Spoke on S. 1760, the End Racial Profiling Act.
    • SUMMARY "This legislation would make it clear that racial profiling will not be allowed in this country. Racial profiling is un-American. It's against the values of our nation. It's contrary to the 14th amendment of the constitution which provides for equal protection under the law. It's counterproductive. It doesn't keep us safe. You're using valuable police resources in a way that is wasting those resources. It's sloppy police work. If you try to identify a problem by race rather than looking for good police work to identify the real perpetrator of a crime. It also creates a mistrust in the community that you're trying to protect. A community who you need to help you, cooperate with you as far as keeping a community safe. So for all those reasons, racial profiling should have no place in modern law enforcement. We need a national law. I was impressed at the hearing today that there was general consensus that we have a problem in this country, that there is a problem of law enforcement using racial profiling, which should not be done. S. 1670 would prohibit the use of racial profiling. That is making a decision based upon race, ethnicity, national origin or religion. Basically what you're doing is subjecting an individual to a spontaneous investigation based upon that person's race, religion, ethnic background or national origin. That should have no place. What we're talking about is someone being stopped for a routine traffic stop based upon the person's race or being subject to a search or being subject to interrogation solely because of that person's race. Or an investigation the scope and substance of law enforcement activities are following initial investigation, investigative proceeding is determined because of race. That should have no place in America. My legislation would apply to all levels of government, not just the federal, but the state and local. It requires mandatory training. Here is an issue that I think we all should be in agreement. Perhaps the tragedy that happened with Trayvon Martin may not have happened if Mr. Zimmerman had been trained on the issues of what is good police work and what is not good police work. How racial profiling needs to be eliminated. We feel very strongly on the need of mandatory training. The legislation requires data collection by local and state law enforcement, state and local law enforcement must maintain adequate policies and procedures designated to eliminate racial profiling. And they must eliminate any existing practices that present or encourage racial profiling. Simple what the legislation does. The Department of Justice granted authority to make grants to promote best practices, so one jurisdiction can learn from another as to what is the best practices in order to make sure that this practice is not being used, that we're doing everything possible to keep communities safe by good police work, not by sloppy police work. I want to point out that the overwhelming majority of people that are law enforcement do it the right way."

Senator Sanders: (2:47 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "Let me begin by touching on some of the improvements that I think we have brought about. Number one, the manager's amendment brings more protection for rural post offices. I come from a rural state. I know how important rural post offices are, and the manager's amendment provides more protection for these rural post offices. The substitute amendment would prevent the Postal Service from closing any post offices until it has established a set of service standards that would guarantee all postal customers regular and effective access to retail postal services nationwide on a reasonable basis. The Postal Service is required to establish these standards within six months. The service standards would be required to take into account the following factors. What we are talking about here is that before a rural post office could be shut down, certain standards are going to have to be addressed. Number one, a, a consideration of the reasonable maximum time a postal customer should expect to travel to access a postal retail location. In other words, if you shut down a post office and somebody has to go 20 miles and spend money on gasoline, an enormous amount of time, it doesn't make sense to shut down that rural post office. Furthermore, we want to look at the age and disability status of individuals in the area. If you have elderly people, if you have a large number of disabled people and you shut down that postal service, those folks are really going to be for all intent and purposes isolated. Don't shut down that postal service, that post office. C., there would be a requirement that the Postal Service serve remote areas and communities which have transportation challenges. What happens if I live in a community and I don't have a car, how do I get to a Postal Service that is - a post office that is five miles away from here? The effects of inclement weather or other natural conditions that might impede access to postal services. In other words, if you live in a climate where you have a whole lot of snow, how are people going to get to another post office? Second issue: the manager's amendment protects regional overnight delivery standards. The manager's amendment requires that the postal service retain a modified overnight delivery standard for three years. Ensuring that communities across the country continue to receive overnight delivery of first-class mail. A very significant step forward for small businesses and for people throughout our country. A maximum delivery standard of three days would also be maintained for first-class mail sent anywhere in the continental united states. Originally postmaster general had suggested maybe we can lengthen the time from three days to five days. We keep it at three days. The retention of a modified overnight delivery standard would result in at least 100 mail processing facilities remaining open that are now scheduled to be closed. Number three, the manager's amendment makes it harder to eliminate six-day delivery, the substitute amendment would prohibit the postal service from implementing any plan to eliminate Saturday delivery for at least two years. After two years, Saturday delivery could only be eliminated if the postal service has first attempted to increase revenue and cut costs through other means and the GAO. And the postal regulatory commission conclude that eliminating Saturday delivery is necessary for the long-term solvency of the postal service."

Senator Reid: (2:57 PM)
  • Unanimous Consent:
    • All post-cloture be yielded back and the Motion to Proceed to S. 1789, the Postal Reform bill be Agreed to (Paul objected).

Senator Paul: (2:58 PM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "Egypt currently gets $2 billion from our company from the U.S. taxpayer, and my question is that a country that gets $2 billion a year, should we be sending it to them when they continue to seek to prosecute American citizens? Now, recently, President Obama's administration, freed up that money and said Egypt is pursuing democratic aims, and so we freed up the $2 billion. How did Egypt respond to this? Egypt basically thumbed their nose at us. Egypt said we are now issuing international warrants to get American citizens, extradite them, take them back to Egypt for a political show trial. So we give money to a country that insults us. I think this should end. I think this deserves 15 minutes of senate time where we discuss whether or not America has money to be sending to Egypt when we have 12 million people unemployed in this country, whether or not we have needs here at home that need to be met before we send $2 billion to Egypt who turns around and insults us by prosecuting American citizens. So I respectfully object and seek a vote on this amendment that would end their aid if they do not end the prosecution of American citizens."

Senator Reid: (2:59 PM)
  • Unanimous Consent:
    • Senate consider amendments relevant to the Postal Reform bill (Paul objected).
  • Filled the amendment tree.
  • Filed cloture on Lieberman/Collins substitute amendment #2000 to S. 1789, the Postal Reform bill.
  • Filed cloture on S. 1789, the Postal Reform bill.
  • On the Motion to Proceed to S. 1925, the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill.

Senator Levin: (3:09 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "What we have just witnessed here is an example of why the United States Senate is too often tied into knots. We have a bill that's critical to every one of our states that's pending, the Postal Reform bill. The leader tried to move this bill forward by saying let's stick to relevant amendments, relevant to the bill which is a broad standard, a lot broader than a germaneness standard. Then there is an objection to that because there's another matter which the Senator from Kentucky rightfully has an interest in, we all have an interest in various matters many of which are $2 billion or more in terms of costs but that amendment of the Senator from Kentucky is not relevant to this bill. And unless he says he gets his way and has a 15-minute debate on a $2 billion subject, he's going to object to us addressing a subject which is involving every one of our states. Now, this is why we have so many difficulties here at times, at least, moving forward in the senate. Because any one of us at any time can object to moving legislation that is relevant and amendments that are relevant in order to get his or her way on a totally unrelated amendment."

Alexander, Brown-MA, Reed

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill (S. 1925)

Apr 17 2012 3:48 PM

Senator Alexander: (3:21 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "What I'm about to say I don't want in any way to diminish the right of every senator, such as the senator from Kentucky, to have an opportunity to object to a unanimous consent request. But when you have - when everyone has a lot of rights, unless we have some agreement, it's hard to get much done. And I have been sometimes critical of the Majority leader but I've also tried to support and praise things that he's done when I can because I know that either being the Democratic or the Republican leader is not an easy job. So I want to commend the Majority leader for offering to accept all relevant amendments, which is a broad category, and which this bill seems particularly appropriate for that because we have competing visions for what to do about the post office. It's gone through committee, the regular order. The bills are bipartisan. There's not a lot of partisan differences here. There are a lot of differences and they need to be worked out, and probably we've got two weeks to do it. So this is a ripe situation for that if we can get consent to do it. I'm disappointed that the majority leader felt he had to go on and offer cloture to move on because he already had control of the situation with the right to fill the tree. So I would hope that we could respect the Senator from Kentucky's right and that of other senators to offer unanimous consent - to object to a unanimous consent agreement but see if we can't find some way to move ahead with an agreement on relevant amendments. That means the majority leader doesn't pick the amendments. We all get to offer them if they're - if they're relevant. The Majority leader has a difficult job so I hope as he reflects on this, he'll consider that it's much easier to get an agreement for relevant amendments in our caucus. I don't know what it's like in the democratic caucus. If we're able to talk it through a little bit. And secure consent for that before it's offered. That would be the job of Senator McConnell, the Republican leader. So here we are. We were on the postal bill for five full minutes and now we're off on a wrong track. We can move back very easily. "

Senator Brown-MA: (3:25 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "Listen, we need to step back and move back a little bit here I'm hopeful also that the Majority leader will step back, because before we left, we had two great weeks of working on relevant issues We should have the ability, when you have amendments or issues that involve our members that they have the right to bring forward in any forum that they want, we should have the ability to get together with them before we move on to another totally different, very important issue, the Violence Against Women Act, which I'm also a cosponsor. So I don't care what one we go to. But this one is relevant, it's time sensitive, it needs to be addressed right away And we're here today and we were here today because the post office is clearly at a crossroads. They're in deep trouble. And for more than two centuries, it's played a key role in both our economy and for our communities. And for decades, communities large and small and citizens far and wide have come to depend on the regular and dependable service six days a week for a reasonable price of their mail. It's plain and simple. And in the past, a steady volume of mail has provided that adequate revenue. But things have changed. Yet in the face of the technological changes and difficult economic conditions, first-class mail volume, as you know, has dropped by over a quarter in the last five years and it's forecasted to do the same thing over the next five years. And the business model that proved successful for generations is now sinking the postal service in a pool of red ink. And as we all know, they've lost over $13 billion dollars in the last two years and almost on the verge of bankruptcy. As we know, the work force is too big, costs are too high and operations are being maintained at a capacity unequal with the revenue that's actually coming in, and we need to stop that right away. And a number of the delivery addresses increases every day and the postal service' liabilities to its employees grows each and every day. And the longer we wait, the more difficult it becomes and we are up against a deadline and we do need to work together in a bipartisan, bicameral manner. This is not about Democrats or Republicans or independents. It's about us as a body trying to reestablish that trust with the American people, that accident my goodness, the United States Senate can do something together, as we did with the jobs bill, assist we did with the Arlington Cemetery bill, as we did with the 3% hold, as we've done most recently with the insider trading. We can do these things. This is a no-brainer. Everybody here agrees that we need to save the post office. And we all have some very real concerns. We're all concerned, the city has concerns, everybody has concerns and we need to air it out. And I would once again encourage the Majority leader to step back from the path he's chosen on moving on another bill because one member had a deep concern about what's happening in Egypt, as many of us do. Would it hurt to give him his 15 minutes and then move on?"

Senator Reed: (3:35 PM)
  • Spoke on the Student Loan Affordability Act.
    • SUMMARY "On July 1 if we do not act, the interest rate on subsidized student loans will double from 3.4% to 6.8%, impacting more than 7 million students, including more than 36,000 in my home state of Rhode Island. I've introduced legislation, the Student Loan Affordability Act, to stop the doubling of student loan interest rates as of July 1 this year If we do not act, the average borrower will have to pay approximately $2,800 more in interest on their loans. Student whose take out the maximum $2 3,000 in student loans could owe more on this $5,000 more. This particular measure will hit middle-income families the hardest. Because they are the ones who rely most significantly on these stub subsidized student loans. The subsidized student loan program is a need-based financial aid program. To get the low rate and the in-school interest subsidies, students must demonstrate economic need. Nearly 60% of the dependent students who qualify for subsidized loans come from families with incomes of less than $60,000. And that is literally the middle class and the working poor of this country. This is an issue of fairness, and at a time ironically of historically low interest rates, the Federal Reserve has set the target interest rate for federal funds between 0% and .25%. The Fed is lending money to banks at .25%. We, at the same time, are asking middle-income families to pay twice as much, 6%, a huge discrepancy, in the loans they pay for education. We also recognize, all of us, that the key to our future is an educated America. It just seems, again, given the interest rate, where banks can get money at .25%, it doesn't make sense. It is in our national interest to ensure that these students not only get educated but leave school with a mountain of detect that they'll never be able to scale. We need more students graduating from our colleges and our universities and our professional schools because that's what's going to power our economy in the future. We won't be globally competitive if we to do that."

McCain, Brown-MA, Lieberman, Collins

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill (S. 1925)

Apr 17 2012 4:41 PM

Senator McCain: (3:41 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "Let's find a graceful exit and at the same time preserve those functions of the Postal Service that will be around for a long time. And there are functioning that could stay around for a long time. But in a dramatically changed world. We now have instant communications. We have instant news cycles. And we have a proliferation, thank god, of information and knowledge unknown in previous years, or in history; we have today. And there are up sides and there are down sides. The Postal Service delivering letters does not play any role in the future of information being shared and made available to citizens all over the world. First-class mail - first-class mail makes up more than half of postal revenues. It's down more than 25% since 2001. In the last 11 years, it's down 25%. And I promise you that will accelerate. It continues on a downward spiral with no sign of recovery. This combined with unsustainable 80% labor costs and labor contracts that contain no layoff clauses points to the hard reality that the Postal Service is broken. By the way, that is also the conclusions of the Government Accountability Office which just recently issued a report that, entitled "Challenges Related to Restructuring the Postal Service's Retail Network." In 2011, the American Postal Workers Union and USPS management negotiated a four-year agreement that limits transferring of employees of an installation or craft to no more than 50 miles away. How? How in the world do you negotiate an agreement that you won't transfer anybody farther than 50 miles away? If USPS management cannot place employees within 50 miles the parties are to jointly determine which steps may be taken which includes putting postal employees on stand-by, which occurs which he workers are idled but paid their full salary due to reassignments and reorganization efforts. I am not making that up. If you are a Postal Service worker and you are, want to be reassigned more than 50 years, you cannot do it, and if you can't do it, you put employees on, quote, stand-by, and they are idled but paid their full salary due to reassignments and reorganization efforts. My friends, it helps us understand why 80% of their costs are in personnel costs It's time that we stop this incredible hemorrhaging of money, including, according to the Postal Service itself, by 2020 they're expecting to face up to a $238 billion shortfall. $238 billion shortfall in just the next eight years. $238 billion. The Postal Service has reached its borrowing limit of $15 billion, and even with dramatic cost savings of $12 billion in workforce reduction of 110,000 postal employees none of the past four years - in the past four years, the Postal Service is still losing money. It said it could lose as much as $18 billion annually by 2015 if not given the necessary flexibility it needs to cut costs and transform."

Senator Brown-MA: (4:03 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "Any legitimate reform of the Postal Service needs to recognize that we need to cut costs and we need to streamline an organization that is simply too big, especially in light of the future mail volumes and the potential decreasing of the future mail volumes. Our bill recognizes this necessity, but where it differs from the Senator from Arizona's approach is in our recognition of the full enact that major service changes will have on postal customers and future revenues. The Saturday delivery service of the Post Office is one of the strongest benefits that it has. I mean, when you're competing out with the other entities that are delivering mail or delivering packages and the like, that is the leg up that the Postal Service has and we want to deliver that I just want to address two other things. It's not the taxpayers that are paying this money. It's the ratepayers that have already paid into the system and has in fact overpaid into - into the Postal Service and some of their retirement issues that they - retirement program that we have. We're merely giving them that money back to allow them to get their fiscal and financial house in order, in order to offer some buyouts to get these 100,000 people retired so we can reduce the cost of the Postal Service. And once we make these changes, the Senator from Arizona also referenced that it's going to take a two-year study. No, it's not a two-year study to see if we're going to cut down Saturday service. They want to just cut it right off. If we do all of these other changes, the consideration that we did in a joint and bipartisan manner was to determine whether, in fact, hey, if we have done these, do we still need to cut the Saturday service? Which, by the way, is the benefit that the Postal Service has over everybody else. So are we going to contribute to that downward spiral or are we going to actually work together and give them a little bit of flexibility and say oh, my goodness, we have done all these changes, we don't need to cut Saturday delivery. We can still do it. We may need to streamline it. We may need to do curbside instead of going to the door. We may need to do clusters. We may need to shift it into rural areas. We have already cut, we have consolidated. That's what the two-year study is. If it doesn't work, we'll cut it, bang. But just to cut off your nose to spite your face, it makes no - no sense to me."

Senator Lieberman: (4:12 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "Too often the public is so frustrated and angry at us because we leave problems unsolved because we get stuck in partisan or ideological or procedural gridlock. This is a real problem. The post office lost more than $13 billion in the last two years. Would have been $5 billion more if we hadn't waived a payment responsibility that the post office had to the retirees' benefit health plan. This can't go on this way. If we don't act, it's not as if nothing will happen. Something will happen. The post office will continue to spiral downward and the postmaster will inevitably have to impose really dramatic cuts in services and personnel. So I think it's our responsibility to create a set of rules and procedures here that acknowledge the need for change in the postal service, create a process, really actually authorize the post office to do some things it hasn't been able to do to raise more money and to create a process for changing the business model of the U.S. Postal Service so it can survive in a very different age, the age of email, and also flourish. Because so many people in our country depend on it for doing so. 563 million pieces of mail get delivered by the U.S. Postal Service every day. So this is not some kind of irrelevant, antiquated relic somewhere. This is a beating, functioning, critically important element of our life, our commerce, and our culture, and a lot of people depend on it. So we got a responsibility to change it to keep it alive."

Senator Collins: (4:22 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "There's so many creative ways that we can preserve Postal Services in rural areas and yet reduce costs. And I think the Postal Service needs to be far more creative in its approach. But I do not support the approach that Senator McCain has laid out. One of his proposals would create a new bureaucracy. I thought we were against creating new bureaucracies around here. A new control board that would be over the board of governors and would have these dictatorial powers over the postal service. That's a proposal that I don't think makes sense. Our approach is to have a commission that would examine the governance of the Postal Service but perhaps what we should be doing if there's something wrong with the structure of the board of governors, it was substantially revised in 2006 but if there is something wrong with it, we should revamp the board of governors, not create this new super-bureaucracy on top of that. I agree with the comments of the Senator from Massachusetts on Saturday delivery. The provision that Senator McCain has to move directly to five-day delivery and his comments, his negative comments on the fact that we would prohibit that from happening for two years misunderstands the intent of our bill. It is not to say that that might never happen, and it is to say that reducing service should be the last resort, not the first option. And the Postal Service has an advantage that it delivers six days a week. Now, if in fact after all the cost and waste and excess has been wrung out of the system and the Postal Service is still not solvent after two years, then we may have to move to five-day delivery. But to give up that advantage immediately, I can tell you what's going to happen. The volume of mail will decline further. And if the volume of mail declines further after having a 26% decline over the past five years, what's going to happen? And once the big mailers in particular leave the postal service, they are not coming back. And the Postal Service will sink further and further into a death spiral. So my approach is to try to keep and grow the customers for the Postal Service. And I think moving to Saturday delivery would drive more mail away, and would hurt service and thus decrease the volume. So I do not think that that is a good approach. But the reason for our two-year delay is - is not an endless study, as has been described by the senator from Arizona, it is to allow time for the retirement incentives to go into effect, the downsizing of the work force to go into effect, the workers' comp reforms to go into effect, the new arbitration provisions to go into effect, the administrative efficiencies that we mandate, countless, countless provisions of the bill to go into effect. And I believe that if they are aggressively and well implemented by the Postal Service leaders, if they are, that there will be no need to eliminate Saturday delivery and that is the reason for the provision in our bill."

Lieberman, Carper

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill (S. 1925)

Apr 17 2012 5:25 PM

Senator Lieberman: (4:12 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "I hope and I believe that this is temporary, that Senator Reid's intention is to do exactly what Senator Collins has said she would like to see happen which is that we negotiate an agreement. Hopefully it will have to be adopted by consent but we can do amendment by amendment where we go back and forth and consider amendments from each side of the aisle. I know Senator Reid has filled the tree. It's not as if there are not amendments that members of the Senate Democratic caucus want to offer to the bill. There are. There are several of them. And I know there are several on the Republican side. We worked very hard on this bill as Senator Collins has said. The meetings did seem endless. I would probably say sometimes seemed excessively endless. But nonetheless, we reached across the aisle and we reached a compromise. But this is not a perfect piece of work and it's an important subject so it deserves to be considered, debated and amendments to be offered. And I'm confident that that's exactly the direction in which the majority leader wants to go, the sooner the better."

Senator Carper: (4:49 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "Last year, the Postal Service suffered an operating loose of more than $5 billion. It will see a similar loss this year, even if it finds some ways to avoid making retire refunding payments due in coming months. Then the losses accelerated to $6.5 billion in 2013 to $10 billion in 2014 to more than $12 billion in 2015 and to more than $15 billion alone in 2016. But these losses are only theoretical. I say that because the Postal Service is close to exhausting its $15 billion line of credit with the treasury and by this time next year will be on its way to running completely out of cash. If that were to occur, the Postal Service's ability to continue operating will be in jeopardy. The Postmaster General Donna Hu has said repeated lid that he and his team will do everything they can do to keep the mail moving even as the postal service's financials deteriorate. I believe him. But make no mistake, if the Postal Service is not permitted in the very near future to begin making the adjustments needs in response to the likely permanent declines in mail volume, especially first-class mail that we've witnessed in recent years, that Postal Service will drown in red ink. The ripple effect of losing the Postal Service and the still very valid services it provides would deliver a body blow to our economy at the very time our economy is recovering. We're on the brink of this impending disaster in part because we're expecting the Postal Service of 2012 to try and be successful with a business model created in the 1970's ... The managers' amendment that Senators Lieberman, Collins, Brown, and I include a number of safeguards crafted to ensure that the changes that'll occur in the accompanying months and years are implemented in responsible ways, ways that are consistent with what I can describe as the golden rule, that we treat others the way we want to be treated. That includes customers of the postal service, employees of the postal service, and taxpayers of this country. We also seek to provide assurances in our managers' amendment to those who still rely largely on the Postal Service, including rural customers without access to broadband will continue to have access to the services that they know and need in the years to come. We also take steps in this bill with this managers' amendment to ensure that this effort to saving the Postal Service isn't all about closing facilities and cutting services. Recognizing the questionable policy decisions made over the years regarding the Postal Service's pension and health care obligations as part of the Postal Service's financial the Postal Service has overpaid in the federal employees retirement system. A portion of that refund, that $10 billion, $12 billion, whatever it turns out to be, would be used to encourage at least some of the 125,000 postal employees at or near retirement age today to retire now or within the next year or two savings the post service billions of dollars annually."

Senator Lieberman: (5:17 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "It's my understanding that both caucuses now are hot-lining a request to senate offices. If you have an amendment, you want to introduce on this postal reform bill, let your respective cloakroom know so we can see what the universe is and then see if we can work out an agreement where we alternate submitting amendments and we can begin to get into the substance of the bill and hopefully move it to a point where before long we can actually adopt something."

Brown-OH, Landrieu, Whitehouse

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill (S. 1925)

Apr 17 2012 6:33 PM

Senator Brown-OH: (5:53 PM)
  • Paid tribute to the 80 brave American airmen who volunteered for the Doolittle Raid.
  • Spoke on the Auto Industry.
    • SUMMARY "Three years ago the auto industry, as we know, was on the verge of collapse. Threatening to take down with it thousands of auto supply - auto parts suppliers. American manufacturing got down to four employees. They had been 125. They supply container crates, metal container crates for the auto industry. Had once been 125, down to four employees. President Bush tried but was in assistance for the auto industry. President Obama, with a strong Democratic majority, over the opposition of many, many Republicans, although some Republicans in my part of the country, the industrial areas around Ohio, including Ohio, were supportive, were able to rescue this industry. We knew that rescuing the auto industry was way more than about helping Chrysler and General Motors. We knew that it mattered for not just those large companies and their workers, but mattered for Johnson Controls, it mattered for magnum, it mattered for small companies like American manufacturing in Toledo, companies that depended on the auto industry. In fact, estimates are that 800,000 people in Ohio are in the auto industry one way or the other, directly or indirectly work for auto companies. These 800,000-plus jobs were dependent on Congress moving forward in early 2009 and doing the right thing. The decision wasn't popular. There were all kind of naysayers. There's no question now that it was a success. A number of people from Governor Romney to lots of people around the country, lots of conservative politicians in Washington said let the companies go into bankruptcy. We can structure it but let them go into bankruptcy. Let them put the financing together to come out of bankruptcy much the only problem is that nobody, nobody, from Bain Capital to others were willing to lend money to these two companies who were in such terrible problems. The government loaned the money. Much of that money is paid back, and things are better. But let's not forget that in January 2009 when President Obama took office, we were losing 800,000 jobs a month. Our economy was in freefall. This is the time the auto industry was going down. To stop the bleeding one of the things we did was unlock the frozen credit market for small businesses and manufacturers through the small business administration. Through these SBA loans, we saw a local bank in Toledo, Ohio, a new bank, a bank that had been around for a handful of year, step up, invest capital in American manufacturing in this company in Toledo, and this company now just is about who hire its 100th person. This company is successful because of the art owe rescue and it's successful because of the small business administration coming out of the recovery act, having enough money to guarantee loans with this local community bank. Not a Wall Street bank but a local community bank to get this company back on its feet."

Senator Landrieu: (6:10 PM)
  • Honored Dr. Kenneth Hall, CEO of Buckner.

Senator Whitehouse: (6:14 PM)
  • Spoke on the Highway bill.
    • SUMMARY SUMMARY "This is a bill that's not being held up in the house because there is an important interest that was overlooked or that is an adversary to it. It's just being held up for, I don't know. I would say Washington insider reasons, having to do with the politics of the House of Representatives. But when there are three million jobs at stake, that's a real shame. And it started to be noticed by, for instance, the rating agencies. Standard & Poor's just published on April 2, a report entitled: "Increasingly Unpredictable Federal Funding Could Stall U.S. Transportation Infrastructure Projects." Well, when you stall U.S. transportation infrastructure projects, you kill jobs. And that's what's happening. Here's how they describe it: "Currently the Surface Transportation bill remains mired in uncertainty. Holdups in funding reauthorizations, and/or significant cuts in infrastructure programs are delaying some projects and forcing others to be scaled back." Delaying some projects means taking away jobs. Forcing others to be scaled back means taking away jobs. Here's what happened as they describe it: "With the March 31 expiration of the highway trust fund looming, congress passed on march 29, last minute, yet another extension to fund U.S. highway programs. This latest continuing resolution, the ninth, provides funding through June 30, 2012. As construction season begins in the northern half of the country, this continuing uncertainty in funding could force states to delay projects rather than risk funding changes or political gridlock come July." And that's exactly what's happening in Rhode Island and in many other states."
Senator Landrieu: (6:25 PM)
  • Spoke on the Highway bill.
    • SUMMARY "I can't for the life of me figure out why the house would not move with more quick action to pass a longer-term bill. Now maybe if they can get just anything out of the House, we could get to conference and start negotiating some things that might be better than a three-month short-term authorization which. I hear nothing but complaints from everyone, from the left of the environmental movement to the right of the business community, they said, Senator, we can't live with these short-term authorizations. We need two years. We need three years. We need five years. We need something that we can build on, count on, budget for and fend on. Other - and depend on. Otherwise it's too expensive. It's start-and-stop projects. You have to lay off a crew, then hire them the next day. Or you can't place your orders in an efficient fashion. The Senator from Rhode Island knows, you just raise up the cost of all the projects. So why would a house claim to want to be so fiscally conservative but act in such a way that is the opposite? That is really making all of these projects more expensive."

Apr 17 2012 6:54 PM

Senator Reid: (6:45 PM)
  • Performed Wrap Up --
  • Tomorrow --
    • The Senate will convene at 9:30 AM and resume consideration on the Motion to Proceed to S. 1925, the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill. The first hour will be equally divided, with the Majority controlling the first 30 minutes and the Republicans controlling the second 30 minutes.
    • Pending is S. 1789, the Postal Reform bill. The amendment tree has been filled. All first degree amendments must be filed at desk by 1:00 PM.
  • On Tuesday, Majority Leader Reid filed Cloture on:
    1. Reid (for Lieberman/Collins) substitute amendment #2000 to S. 1789, the Postal Reform bill; and
    2. S. 1789, the Postal Reform bill.
  • Unless an agreement is reached, the cloture VOTE(S) will be held on Thursday.
The Senate stands in adjournment until 9:30 AM Wednesday, April 18th.