Floor Updates

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Apr 18 2012 9:30 AM

The Senate Convened.

Reid, McConnell

Opening Remarks

Apr 18 2012 10:04 AM

Senator Reid: (9:33 AM)
  • Today --
    • The Senate will resume consideration of 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, as modified, 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.
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "I really hope that we can work an agreement out on the postal reform bill. I spoke to Senator Lieberman last night, the Chairman of the Committee, and he is hopeful as I am that we can move forward on this legislation. It's a shame if we can't. As we speak, there is more than half a million men and women working for the Postal Service, 25% of them are returned veterans, and we have 30,000 post offices around the country. We have about eight million people that depend on the post office for their jobs. So to think that we can't move forward on this and be really untoward, something we really, really need to get done. And I'm hopeful that we can get that done. People can offer amendments and we should do that as quickly as possible, move forward on this legislation. If there is no agreement, we'll have to vote on the substitute amendment tomorrow morning. It would be, I repeat, too bad that we can't get it done There's more than 30,000 in America, many of them rural, will close. I've said this earlier today, I repeat it. These rural post offices is only way that people have in those small communities to communicate with the outside world. May be some medicine they're getting, may be keeping this touch with family or friends but it's their way of keeping in touch with the world. Hundreds of mail processing facilities will close. And the jobs of hundreds of thousands of dedicated postal employees are at risk. Timely, dependable mail delivery isn't the only thing at that time at stake in this debate. Today the Postal Service employs as I've indicated more than half a million middle-class workers. And the postal system gives more than 130,000 men and women who volunteered for this country in the armed services a chance to serve again. A quarter of all postal employees are veterans of the United States armed forces. So there's really a lot at stake in this debate. The Postal Service has been playing an important role in the history of this country, and the lives of its citizens for more than 200 years. It has also seen a 21% drop in mail volume over the last five years. And is on the verge of insolvency. Yesterday the Postal Service lost about $20 million. One day. Changing times demand a leaner, more modern post office and to make that possible we must pass legislation, the senate must act. We must change the Postal Service business model. They can't do it on their own. They need legislation."

Senator McConnell: (9:45 AM)
  • Spoke on energy and gas prices.
    • SUMMARY "Ten years ago today, Democrats voted down a bill to open up a tiny area of Alaska known as ANWR to drilling. They relied on the non-argument that it would take too long to get the oil to market. That was ten years ago today. Too long to get the oil to market. Every Democrat who was asked about it said the same thing - it would take too long to get the oil to market. I've got two pages of quotes from Democrats saying it would take at least seven to ten years to get the oil to market. Well, here we are ten years later. In some places, gas prices now are three times what they were in April of 2002. The U.S. still imports half its oil. ANWR is still off-limits. And if you ask Democrats why they oppose more domestic exploration, they'll tell you the same thing they did ten years ago. This is precisely, precisely the kind of thing this president campaigned against for years - four years ago. He was the one who was going to stop kicking the can down the road. He was the one who was going to tackle the problems everybody else was afraid to face. He was the one who was going to rise above petty squabbles and the tired talking points of the past and offer something different. He was a different kind of politician who would usher in a new era of authenticity. And what did the American people get? They got the same gimmicks as before. They got someone whose idea of solving a problem is to give a speech about it or to blame whatever person, place or thing doesn't happen to poll well that day. What the American people got was a president who absolutely refuses to lead. It's the same thing they got from the Democrat-controlled Senate, the same, tired talking points. The same evasion. The same refusal to address our problems head-on."
  • Spoke on Senator Conrad's "budget markup.â€?
    • SUMMARY "Yesterday the Chairman of the Budget Committee made it official. For the third year in a row, Senate Democrats will refuse to do the basic work of governance by refusing to offer a budget blueprint for government spending, by the way, as required by law. After pledging both to me and his Republican counterpart on the committee that he would, in fact, mark up a budget this year, the Chairman of the Budget Committee bowed once again to the political pressure and said he won't put his Democratic colleagues at any political risk by asking them to vote on a plan their constituents might not like; that is, not until after the election. The Democrat Chairman did suggest, however, that if Europe implodes, he might change his mind. Well, with all due respect, the statute doesn't say the majority must present a budget if the European economy implodes. That's not in the statute. It says, it must present a budget, period, so that the American people can see how much they're going to be taxed and how their tax dollars are going to be spent. So I'm having a hard time thinking of a word to describe the level of leadership we're getting from Democrats in Washington these days, whether it's the president or the Democratic Senate. Frankly, it's a disgrace. There isn't a single issue I can think of that we're willing to do anything about. Under this President's watch, Washington has been spending more than a trillion dollars a year more than it takes in and senate democrats don't even have the courage to put it all in black and white. They don't have any problem spending it. They just don't want to be on record voting for it. That's what passes for leadership in Washington these days. Well, something's got to give. Our challenges are too urgent. The status quo just won't cut it anymore."
  • Spoke on the Svinicki re-nomination to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
    • SUMMARY "Here's an excerpt from the Inspector General's Report. Several current and former commission staff members, it says, said the Chairman's behavior caused an intimidating work environment. A former chairman told OIG that the Chairman often yelled at people and that his tactics had a negative effect on people. He described the behavior as ruling by intimidation. Now, Commissioner Svinicki stood up to this guy, who somehow managed to avoid being fired in the wake of all these revelations. In an effort to preserve the integrity of the agency and to protect the career staffers who were the subject of the chairman's tactics. And now for some mysterious reason, she's being held up for re-nomination. Look, the FBI completed its background check on Commissioner Svinicki 15 months ago. Her ethics agreement was approved around the same time. She's been ready to go for more than a year. There is no legitimate reason for commissioner Svinicki not to be re-nominated and reconfirmed by now. And any further delay is unacceptable. If Commissioner Svinicki isn't re-nominated by June 30, the NRC will lose one of its finest members. The Commission's work will be impaired, and we'll be forced to conclude that the reason is related to her honorable actions as a whistle-blowing that she's being held up in retaliation for speaking up against a rogue chairman who bullies his subordinate. There's a reason congress charged five commissioners with the responsibility to protect public health and safety. Ensuring the safety of our nation's nuclear power plants is serious business. So this morning, I'm calling on the White House to re-nominate commissioner Svinicki today to ensure that this well-qualified and widely respected woman remains in place for another term. Public is best served by a commission that is fully functional. There should be no question in anybody's mind that it will be fully functional. We can't wait any longer for this nomination."

Reid, McConnell

Opening Remarks

Apr 18 2012 10:17 AM

Senator Reid: (9:32 AM)
  • Today --
    • The Senate will convene at 9:30 AM and resume consideration of 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.
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "I really hope that we can work an agreement out on the postal reform bill. I spoke to Senator Lieberman last night, the Chairman of the Committee, and he is hopeful as I am that we can move forward on this legislation. It's a shame if we can't. As we speak, there is more than half a million men and women working for the Postal Service, 25% of them are returned veterans, and we have 30,000 post offices around the country. We have about eight million people that depend on the post office for their jobs. So to think that we can't move forward on this and be really untoward, something we really, really need to get done. And I'm hopeful that we can get that done. People can offer amendments and we should do that as quickly as possible, move forward on this legislation. If there is no agreement, we'll have to vote on the substitute amendment tomorrow morning. It would be, I repeat, too bad that we can't get it done There's more than 30,000 in America, many of them rural, will close. I've said this earlier today, I repeat it. These rural post offices is only way that people have in those small communities to communicate with the outside world. May be some medicine they're getting, may be keeping this touch with family or friends but it's their way of keeping in touch with the world. Hundreds of mail processing facilities will close. And the jobs of hundreds of thousands of dedicated postal employees are at risk. Timely, dependable mail delivery isn't the only thing at that time at stake in this debate. Today the Postal Service employs as I've indicated more than half a million middle-class workers. And the postal system gives more than 130,000 men and women who volunteered for this country in the armed services a chance to serve again. A quarter of all postal employees are veterans of the United States armed forces. So there's really a lot at stake in this debate. The Postal Service has been playing an important role in the history of this country, and the lives of its citizens for more than 200 years. It has also seen a 21% drop in mail volume over the last five years. And is on the verge of insolvency. Yesterday the Postal Service lost about $20 million. One day. Changing times demand a leaner, more modern post office and to make that possible we must pass legislation, the senate must act. We must change the Postal Service business model. They can't do it on their own. They need legislation."

Senator McConnell: (9:45 PM)
  • Spoke on energy and gas prices.
    • SUMMARY "Ten years ago today, Democrats voted down a bill to open up a tiny area of Alaska known as ANWR to drilling. They relied on the non-argument that it would take too long to get the oil to market. That was ten years ago today. Too long to get the oil to market. Every Democrat who was asked about it said the same thing - it would take too long to get the oil to market. I've got two pages of quotes from Democrats saying it would take at least seven to ten years to get the oil to market. Well, here we are ten years later. In some places, gas prices now are three times what they were in April of 2002. The U.S. still imports half its oil. ANWR is still off-limits. And if you ask Democrats why they oppose more domestic exploration, they'll tell you the same thing they did ten years ago. This is precisely, precisely the kind of thing this president campaigned against for years - four years ago. He was the one who was going to stop kicking the can down the road. He was the one who was going to tackle the problems everybody else was afraid to face. He was the one who was going to rise above petty squabbles and the tired talking points of the past and offer something different. He was a different kind of politician who would usher in a new era of authenticity. And what did the American people get? They got the same gimmicks as before. They got someone whose idea of solving a problem is to give a speech about it or to blame whatever person, place or thing doesn't happen to poll well that day. What the American people got was a president who absolutely refuses to lead. It's the same thing they got from the Democrat-controlled Senate, the same, tired talking points. The same evasion. The same refusal to address our problems head-on."
  • Spoke on Senator Conrad's "budget markup.â€?
    • SUMMARY "Yesterday the Chairman of the Budget Committee made it official. For the third year in a row, Senate Democrats will refuse to do the basic work of governance by refusing to offer a budget blueprint for government spending, by the way, as required by law. After pledging both to me and his Republican counterpart on the committee that he would, in fact, mark up a budget this year, the Chairman of the Budget Committee bowed once again to the political pressure and said he won't put his Democratic colleagues at any political risk by asking them to vote on a plan their constituents might not like; that is, not until after the election. The Democrat Chairman did suggest, however, that if Europe implodes, he might change his mind. Well, with all due respect, the statute doesn't say the majority must present a budget if the European economy implodes. That's not in the statute. It says, it must present a budget, period, so that the American people can see how much they're going to be taxed and how their tax dollars are going to be spent. So I'm having a hard time thinking of a word to describe the level of leadership we're getting from Democrats in Washington these days, whether it's the president or the Democratic Senate. Frankly, it's a disgrace. There isn't a single issue I can think of that we're willing to do anything about. Under this President's watch, Washington has been spending more than a trillion dollars a year more than it takes in and senate democrats don't even have the courage to put it all in black and white. They don't have any problem spending it. They just don't want to be on record voting for it. That's what passes for leadership in Washington these days. Well, something's got to give. Our challenges are too urgent. The status quo just won't cut it anymore."
  • Spoke on the Svinicki re-nomination to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
    • SUMMARY "Here's an excerpt from the Inspector General's Report. Several current and former commission staff members, it says, said the Chairman's behavior caused an intimidating work environment. A former chairman told OIG that the Chairman often yelled at people and that his tactics had a negative effect on people. He described the behavior as ruling by intimidation. Now, Commissioner Svinicki stood up to this guy, who somehow managed to avoid being fired in the wake of all these revelations. In an effort to preserve the integrity of the agency and to protect the career staffers who were the subject of the chairman's tactics. And now for some mysterious reason, she's being held up for re-nomination. Look, the FBI completed its background check on Commissioner Svinicki 15 months ago. Her ethics agreement was approved around the same time. She's been ready to go for more than a year. There is no legitimate reason for commissioner Svinicki not to be re-nominated and reconfirmed by now. And any further delay is unacceptable. If Commissioner Svinicki isn't re-nominated by June 30, the NRC will lose one of its finest members. The Commission's work will be impaired, and we'll be forced to conclude that the reason is related to her honorable actions as a whistle-blowing that she's being held up in retaliation for speaking up against a rogue chairman who bullies his subordinate. There's a reason congress charged five commissioners with the responsibility to protect public health and safety. Ensuring the safety of our nation's nuclear power plants is serious business. So this morning, I'm calling on the White House to re-nominate commissioner Svinicki today to ensure that this well-qualified and widely respected woman remains in place for another term. Public is best served by a commission that is fully functional. There should be no question in anybody's mind that it will be fully functional. We can't wait any longer for this nomination."

Whitehouse, Wyden, Grassley, Vitter, Heller

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill (S. 1925)

Apr 18 2012 10:58 AM

Senator Whitehouse: (9:57 AM)
  • Spoke on Cybersecurity legislation.
    • SUMMARY "I'm here this morning to express four points that I believe we must keep in mind as we take up Cybersecurity legislation. The first is that Cybersecurity legislation should improve the public's limited awareness of current Cybersecurity threats and the harm that those threats present to our national security, economy, and privacy. The public for years has been kept in the dark and that is wrong. The corporate sector systemically underreports cyber attacks for fear of scaring customers, for fear of encouraging competitors or for triggering regulatory review. I was pleased that the Securities and Exchange Commission after prompting by Senator Rockefeller and myself and others issued guidance for when registered companies must disclose breach information. The government itself systemically underreports cyber attacks because it over-classes information about cyber attacks on government systems The legislation we pass must reveal the threat of the cyber threat to the American public. The act includes provisions from the Cybersecurity Public Awareness Act, Senate S. 813 which I introduced with Senator Kyl. These provisions will at least begin to improve the public's awareness of the current cyber threat environment we face. Second, we must recognize that inadequate awareness and inadequate protection against cyber risks is endemic among our largest corporations The third point I want to make this morning and perhaps the most important, is that this legislation on Cybersecurity will have failed if it does not ensure that our American critical infrastructure has adequate Cybersecurity. There must be a process for identifying critical infrastructure, establishing appropriate security standards, and ensuring that critical information companies meet the standard. If an attack comes, we must be sure that America's most capable defenses and countermeasures are prepositioned to defend critical American infrastructure. We simply cannot wait until an attack is underway on basic needs and services we depend on like our electric grid, our communications networks, and the servers that process our financial transactions ... The last point I want to make today is that Congress in this bill should consider the appropriate structure and resources for the Cybersecurity and cyber crime mission of the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and law enforcement components of the Department of Homeland Security. We do not do enough to investigate, prosecute, and take other appropriate legal action against cyber crime, cyber espionage and other cyber threats."

Senator Wyden: (10:14 AM)
  • Spoke on the Wyden-Feinstein amendment (closure of postal facilities moratorium) to the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "This amendment protects those millions of Americans from any kind of postal delay that could disrupt their ability to ensure that their vote is counted. Now, my home state of Oregon has a system in which all ballots are cast by mail. In Oregon, if the ballots are not delivered by mail to the county election offices by the deadline on election night, they are not counted. So it's essential to the conduct of fair elections in my home state that delivery of ballots cast by mail not be delayed. To prevent the potential threat to our elections from delayed mail delivery, the Wyden-Feinstein amendment would place a moratorium on the closure of postal facilities until November 13, 2012, in states that vote by mail or allow any voter to vote no excuse absentee. It would also require the Postal Service to notify election officials of closings and consolidations and require that the Postal Service study the effect of closing or consolidating a mail processing facility on the ability of the affected community to vote by mail. Now, my home state, consistently has high voter turnout. Vote by mail has been successful and it is popular. In our state, more than 85% of registered voters participated in the 2008 elections. But this kind of approach to voting, is popular not just in my home state of Oregon. In the 2008 election, 89% of ballots in Washington state were cast by mail, as well as 64% of those in Colorado, over 50% in Arizona, and it was nearly that high a percentage in California. In my home state, the Postal Service is a place where people send and receive packages, mail-order prescriptions, and it's a place that also community residents come together. And so it seems to me that if we're going to close and consolidate, you know, postal facilities, not only will it harm the delivery of ballots and campaign-related mail to voters in return of the ballots to election officials, but it also will stop much of what is vital to rural America and that's the opportunity to come and gather in one place."

Senator Grassley: (10:25 AM)
  • Spoke on energy and gas prices.
    • SUMMARY "I'm here today to point out that ten years ago this very day, this Senate decided not to drill for more oil in the United States where we know oil exists because the argument at that time was used that why drill because it's going to take many, many years to get it on-line. The Senate bought the argument that we shouldn't drill because it's going to take too long. Today, we think about more opportunities to drill in the United States for oil. I want to point out that the very same arguments that were used ten years ago are being used today, because if we drill today, we might not get some of that oil on-line for several years down the road. Well, we want to be thinking about the future, as we should have thought about the future in 2002, ten years ago, when we decided not to drill. Around the country, American consumers are paying near-record prices for gasoline at the pump Since January 2009, the regular price for a gallon of gasoline has nearly doubled. In 2011, consumers spent a greater percentage of their household income on gasoline than any year since 1981, when we thought 90 cents for a gallon of gas was a lot of money. Affordable energy is a major economic issue. Paying nearly $4 for gas acts like a hidden tax and results in people having less money to spend on other things. Rising energy prices also increase the cost of doing business for job creators and taking away dollars that otherwise could go to hiring without workers. We should be doing everything possible to prevent these high energy prices today or tomorrow. The Senate had an opportunity, as I said, ten years ago today to take action to increase our domestic oil supply. Unfortunately, the Senate missed that opportunity, missed an opportunity for lower prices today and importing something less than the $830 million we spend every day, even today, to import oil. With immediate to keep that money to this country - we need to keep that money to this country."

Senator Vitter: (10:36 AM)
  • Spoke on the Two-Year Anniversary of the Deep Water Horizon explosion and offered a moment of silence for the 11 men who were killed in the explosion.
  • Spoke on status of the Gulf of Mexico recovery.
    • SUMMARY "First is the NERDA process under federal law, the natural resources damage assessment. That is the process under federal law by which all stakeholders help assess the damage to the environment so that the folks guilty of this horrendous incident pay for those damages, pay the state, pay the federal government, pay others who will work to restore the environment. That NRDA process is ongoing. It's a multi-year process. But there is some positive result from that process already. Step one of the process was a settlement with BP for an upfront payment of about a billion dollars The second important work that's ongoing that involves all of us here in the Senate directly is the need to pass the RESTORE Act through the Highway Reauthorization bill, the Transportation Reauthorization bill. The restore act language would dedicate 80% of the clean water act funds related to this disaster to gulf coast restoration. I thank all my colleagues again for an enormously positive, really overwhelmingly positive bipartisan vote to attach that restore act language to the Senate Highway bill. And I urge my House colleagues, including House conservatives, to pass a house version of the Highway bill today. That's important for our country, for highway infrastructure, and it's important because it's a vehicle for this RESTORE Act. Now, a third and final category, that I wanted to touch on that isn't as positive, quite frankly, as the environmental rebound, is the impact of all of this and the related moratorium on drilling to our economy on the gulf coast and energy production. Immediately after the disaster, very soon thereafter, President Obama announced a complete moratorium on activity in the gulf, on new drilling. And that moratorium lasted several, several months. I think that was a bad mistake, an overreaction to the disaster. And I think that's been borne out in several ways, including that the panel of experts that the President got together, their report, we now know, was totally doctored and edited at the White House to make it seem like those true experts supported a full moratorium when we know directly from them that they did not. Well, this moratorium went in hurt to a lot of Gulf Coast residents and workers that was unnecessary. Now, of course, we needed to pause and get new procedures and some new safety regulations in place. Of course we needed to learn the lessons of the disaster, incorporate those into practices. But we didn't need an all-out moratorium for months and we don't need a continuing slowdown that continues to this day."

Senator Heller: (10:50 AM)
  • Spoke on the Nevada economy.
    • SUMMARY "I come to the floor today to highlight an issue i fight for everyday and that's jobs in Nevada. In Nevada, having a strong tourism industry means more jobs in the state. Las Vegas, Henderson, Lake Tahoe and Reno have long been favored destinations for millions of visitors, both domestically and more increasing internationally. The entire southern Nevada economy is heavily dependent on hotel, gaming, and convention industry examine employs over one-quarter of the region's labor force. Plain and simple, tourism is the lifeblood for business and job creation in Nevada. Like many taxpayers, I was shocked and disappointed to read the GSA's Inspector General's report that found inappropriate spending at the 2010 western regional conference that was held in Nevada. This conference was excessive, wasteful and it completely ignored federal procurement laws and internal GSA policy on conference spending. I believe it's appropriate for congress to exercise its oversight authority on GSA to look into the agency's practices and provide corrective oversight to ensure the taxpayers' dollars are spent wisely by this administration. However, I want to be clear. This is not an issue about location. This is the result of poor decision making and leadership by the GSA Las Vegas is one of the greatest locations in the world for a conference, a meeting or vacation, with over 148,000 hotel rooms and 10.5 million square feet of meeting and exhibit space citywide, it is ideally suited to host companies and organizations, both large and small. In fact, this past January, Las Vegas hosted the Consumer Electronics Show, which had more people attend than the Iowa caucuses. I fully agree that it was inappropriate for the GSA to waste taxpayer dollars, but it is not inappropriate to come to Las Vegas for conventions and meetings. The actions of GSA should not reflect negatively on Las Vegas, and I'm asking all of my colleagues to be mindful of that as they conduct their investigations. The viability of the economy in Nevada is dependent upon the volume of visitors to our state."

Merkley, Lieberman, Mikulski, Collins

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill (S. 1925)

Apr 18 2012 11:57 AM

Senator Merkley: (11:02 AM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "Our Postal Service is facing a challenging fiscal situation, no doubt. Americans' habits with first-class mail has changed and there's greater contribution with UPS and FedEx. Congress imposed $5.5 billion yearly financing of health care costs for health care workers 75 years in the future - that is, health care costs not just for folks who aren't yet employed with the post office but for future employees who have not yet been born. So, yes, the post office system must restructure but we're going to start with congress reversing this $5.5 billion health care requirement for advanced yearly health care requirements. What absolutely does not make sense is to close our rural post offices. In a rural town the post office is the only place where nearby residents can send and receive mail. But it is more than that. It is a shipping center for the small businesses of the communities; it is the pharmacy for seniors and others who need medicines through the mail; it is the community center where folks gather and exchange information; in short, it is at the very heart of our rural communities. Let's start by examining the critical role of rural post offices on small businesses. Virtually every small town is home to a host of small businesses that take orders through the mail and ship their products through the mail. What would happen to a small business's efficiency if it had to drive an additional 50 miles per day in order to pick up orders and mail products in well, quite obviously, it would destroy their efficiency, and they'd think about shutting down, or they'd think about shutting down. What would happen to a small business's profit margin if they had to spend more on gas, very expensive gas, as we all know? It would do a lot of did a j to their bottom line and again they would think about shutting down or moving. And what would the impact be to the small communities of the small businesses shutting down on the one hand moving? Well, it would do enormous damage. When we are talking about shutting down rural post offices that are many miles from the next possible opportunity to receive orders and ship products, we are talking about destroying the economic heart of our small towns. It is unacceptable."

Senator Lieberman: (11:17 AM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "The postmaster set as a goal at the outset to try to cut about $20 billion from the annual operating expenses of the post office - that's a tough number; that is over the next three or four years - we think this bill and the post office seems to agree doesn't quite do that but gets pretty close to it. Certainly is somewhere within the $15 billion to $20 billion range. Some of the elements that say a lot are the money we provide for incentivizing postal workers to retire early. That's an $8 billion annual savings. There are significant - $8 billion annual saving. There are significant savings in terms of the mail processing facilities, in the billions. The reality is, interestingly enough, as I think my friend from Oregon knows, that the amount of money saved if the postmaster actually closed the 3,700 post offices that he put on the list of possible closings is relatively small. We're talking about $150 million to $200 million if he closed all of them. As compared to the billions in the other items we're doing and relating that number to what you described in the examples you've given, what we heard in our committee, I think this is an area in which I personally believe we've got to tread cautiously."

Senator Mikulski: (11:24 AM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "The post office is not a business. It is a public utility, and we need to think of it as a public utility. That which provides universal service to keep the juice and electricity of our economy going. And if we think of it as a public utility, mandated by a national interest to provide universal service, then that's the way we should think about it. Will it require subsidy? Yes. Does it require an open checkbook? No. Does it require reform? Yes. But the post office has reformed itself, from the days of pony express to the days of today. They had to face the challenge when they invented western union. They faced a challenge when we had a telephone. Why do we need the post office? Time and time again the post office is needed to reform. It's time to reform again. But if we're going to reform, we need to make sure we provide safeguards to protect rural communities, to protect small businesses and to protect vulnerable populations that don't have access to the internet. We have a digital divide in the United States of America. We don't have a universal super information highway in the United States of America. We do have a digital divide, and the divide is coming because of both geography, and it comes because of income. Not everybody walks around with these cool 500 devices. So people rely on the post office for correspondence, for paychecks, for the delivery of products that have been ordered over the internet, those eBay entrepreneurs that we know about. Small business relies on them for time-sensitive business documents and time-sensitive delivery of products. This is even more important for rural areas. Rural areas have a unique geography, and they can complicate mail delivery or delay. I represent the mountain counties of western Maryland. At times that weather is so rugged up there, you need a snowmobile to get through. Then there is the eastern shore, the beautiful, dynamic, charming eastern shore. But it's nine counties stretching over 150 to close to 200 miles, sometimes in places that don't even have cell phone coverage. Reductions in delivery standards, closing a post office and, most of all, closing a processing center would have a draconian impact."
  • Spoke on Mikulski amendments to the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "I have four amendments pending to get the post office to make sure that they not only - what they're doing right now, they look at what is the impact of what they're doing on the post office. Senator Barb looks at the impact that they're having on the customer and on the community. Remember, think of it as a public utility, and we're turning the lights off on the eastern shore. So my first amendment says no processing center can be closed unless a governor from the state certifies that a closure won't harm the community or disrupt commerce. My second amendment says no processing center can be closed unless an independent third party like the commission talks about the impact on jobs, unemployment rate and small business, and to make the study public. My third maintains a standard of delivery for overnight. On that eastern shore, my veterans need their medical care, my seniors need to be able to get their social security checks, and also business. You know, parts of this come through this processing center are even live birds. Are they going to sit around and go back and forth to Baltimore? Man, does that ruffle my feathers, I can tell you that right now. And fourth, it's strictly zip code politics. I will offer an amendment to prevent the closing of the eastern post office."

Senator Collins: (11:34 AM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "I have a similar problem in my home state of Maine where a processing center has been targeted for closure that would have an extraordinarily detrimental impact on mail delivery for two-thirds of the state of Maine. It makes no sense whatsoever, and it would do away with overnight delivery just as the senator has indicated. I would encourage her to continue to work with us and also to look at the specific provisions that we put into the substitute that reflects the input that we have had from her and many other concerned senators, and one of those standards deals with the overnight delivery and the need to maintain that service of standard - that standard of service. This is an advantage that the Postal Service has and it helps it keep customers, so to do away with overnight delivery, in my view, would be foolhardy and it would actually cause more mailers to leave the Postal Service, which would produce some further decline in volume and thus revenues would plummet still further. So I understand a lot of the concerns that the senator from Maryland has raised. I do think we have taken care of some of her concerns in the new substitute that we have proposed on a bipartisan basis, but we look forward to continuing to work with her to address her concerns."

Senator Mikulski: (11:36 AM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "First of all, I really do thank you for the substitute. I think it does make substantial improvement to the bill. It demonstrates a listening to colleagues and also to people who are affected. I am familiar when we worked on home health care and you and I teamed up because in parts of Maine and parts of western Maryland, we had nurses, visiting nurses on snowmobiles and they weren't going to be reimbursed. So we have an understanding of these rural, rugged communities. I do want to work with you, and in the spirit and tone represented by you and Senator Lieberman, perhaps we could have some additional conversations."

Senator Lieberman: (11:37 AM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "We have made some changes in this substitute that still will require overnight delivery less broadly than before because we're trying to deal with how to responsibly react to the precipitous drop in mail volume because of the internet, and yet not reduce the quality of service so much that people leave the mail system even more. I used an analogy yesterday which is probably not exact, but way back when I was in the state senate in Connecticut, we had a crisis in the financing of our public bus system, and one of the things that was done that seemed quite logical at the time, raise the price of the bus fare. Well, what do you think happened in response to that? Fewer people were riding the buses, and the fiscal problem got worse. But there is a reality here. The mail volume has dropped so much that we have got to close some of the mail processing facilities or - and Senator Collins and I feel very strongly about this - we have got to thin out the number of personnel working at the facilities. We put this in here as a condition which we thought originally was what the postmaster was going to be interested in. Don't just precipitously close a lot of mail processing facilities. First - and we require this now - you've got to consider a plan to reduce the capacity of a particular facility and particularly the number of people working there before you absolutely close it."

Senator Collins: (11:39 AM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "Yesterday, I heard one of our colleagues describe this refund of $11 billion as being an overpayment that will come from taxpayer pockets. Madam president, that is just not an accurate statement. Now, I realize this bill is very complex, so I want to provide to my colleagues some additional information, so you don't have to just take my word for it. You can take the word of the Inspector General of the United States Postal Service. The FERS system does have tax dollars in it from federal agencies that are paying in for their employees, and of course the employees also contribute to the system, but when it comes to the Postal Service, the money is not coming from taxpayers. The contributions are not coming from taxpayers. They are coming from postal employees themselves, and they are coming from the Postal Service which is using its revenue from postage and other services, and thus it's the ratepayers' money. So the Inspector General makes this very clear in his letter ... The Inspector General verifies the amount of the overpayment. His letter dated February 2, 2012, says the postal surplus for the federal employees retirement system, FERS, has been projected to be $11.4 billion for fiscal year 2011. The Office of Personnel Management made this projection as of September 30 of 2011. In addition, OPM has projected the postal surplus of the civil service retirement system to be $1.7 billion for fiscal year 2011. We're not trying to deal with that. We're only dealing with the FERS surplus. Now, here's the key paragraph. The source of the FERS funding comes from two streams of revenue. First, the U.S. Postal Service contributes 11.9% of employees' salaries to the fund. And second, the employees contribute 0.8%. The Postal Service contribution comes from revenue paid for postage, and this money comes from the ratepayers. The employee contribution, as with all federal employees, is made in exchange for a defined benefit. This could not be clearer. This is not taxpayers' money and no matter how many times some understanding of how the system works I can understand the confusion, because if it were a federal agency, a regular federal agency, it would be taxpayer money. But it's the Postal Service, and it is not taxpayer money. And that is important. The other important point I want to make is that this is a real overpayment. It has been verified by an independent board of actuaries. This isn't something that the Postal Service came up with or that our committee came up with. This has been verified by the OPM board of actuaries, an independent body comprised of private-sector actuaries that advises the office of actuaries within OPM and reviews annual reports. So it's not even OPM's actuaries. It is an independent board of private-sector actuaries that is - that has verified that this is in fact an overpayment and it is $11.4 billion."

Senator Lieberman: (11:51 AM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "It is a misunderstanding, really a misstatement, to say that the money that the post - to say that the money that the Postal Service will be refunded is taxpayer money. It is not. It is the return of money that was collected, as Senator Collins has said, by the post office from ratepayers and from their own employees, which was mistakenly put into this retirement fund. This is no more a bailout with taxpayer money than in the case, which happens, where an individual or a business overpays taxes to the federal government. And when that miscalculation or error is discovered, they naturally ask for a refund. And that's exactly what's happening here with the Postal Service and is critically important to this bill and to the future of the Postal Service because we're requiring in the bill and authorizing that the money refunded not be used for more spending but be used to, one, pay down the debt and, two, make investments by incentivizing retirement of employees that will have enormously important annual effects on the Postal Service's budget, which is to say that the postmaster believes that with the money he'll receive back - and really not the majority of it - he can incentivize retirement from approximately 100,000 current employees of the Postal Service, which is the goal we set for him in this bill. That is result in savings of over $8 billion a year for the Postal Service. So this is not only a refund of the Postal Service's own money, not taxpayer money, but it's going to be used to save $8 billion a year, which is the largest saving component of the proposal that we've made."

Alexander, Durbin, Lieberman, Gillibrand

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill (S. 1925)

Apr 18 2012 12:23 PM

Senator Alexander: (11:53 AM)
  • Paid tribute to Tennessee citizens.

Senator Durbin: (12:01 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "Let us build a Postal Service that will serve us in the 21st century. Let us try to make certain that we find new ways to cut costs that are reasonable, to enhance revenue and make sense and make certain in the process we don't damage the brand. The U.S. Postal Service is the best in the world, the most affordable in the world. And we can make sure that it continues to serve our nation and our economy. It is critically important to those of us who represent states with small towns. I know that every small rural post office cannot survive, and many of them have failed in the past. But we have to understand what a critical element that rural post office is to the culture of these communities, to the identity of these communities. In some cases, to their very existence. So let us find flexible ways to reduce costs and still recognize that reality."
  • Spoke on the DREAM Act.
    • SUMMARY "11 years ago I introduced the DREAM Act. At the time Senator Hatch of Utah was my cosponsor. It was a bipartisan measure, called to the floor of the Senate. At one time we had 12 republican votes. The last time it was called, we had three. Unfortunately, over the years it has not passed the Senate. It's received a majority, I think, every time I've called it. But not the 60 votes which are now the norm in the senate. As a result, for 11 years I've been striving to change the law when it comes to immigration for a specific small group of people. We are talking about people who came to the United States as children. They have been in the United States, residents for a long period of time. They have good moral character. They graduated from high school. And they're prepared to either serve in our military or to complete at least two years of college. It's a special group of people who, unfortunately, fall through the cracks in our current immigration laws. I've met hundreds, maybe thousands of them now in the ten years that I've been working on this. I know that they dream of the day when they will have a country. Currently they don't. They're undocumented. The only country they've ever known is the United States. They just can't go forward. When it comes to college or universities, they get no help from the government except if the state that they live in has a special arrangement. Certainly no help from the federal government. When they finish school, many of them can't be the teachers, nurses, engineers, doctors they want to be because it requires citizenship that they don't have. What we're trying to do is to give them that chance."

Senator Lieberman: (12:13 PM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "I want to thank Senator Durbin for really a moving statement and for his persistence in introducing the DREAM Act, which it's been my honor to cosponsor with him, among many others, and to support it. It really is basic fairness ... One of the great market measurements of the greatness of America today is that there is not another country in the world that more people are trying to get into - legally, I'm talking about - and fewer people are trying to get out of than the United States of America. And I think the DREAM Act recognizes that reality and is totally consistent with the values of our country."

Senator Gillibrand: (12:16 PM)
  • Spoke on the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill.
    • SUMMARY "I rise today to join a strong and growing group of my colleagues in support of the Violence Against Women Act, a commonsense bill that since it was first signed into law has always been an issue that we can build a consensus around, both Democrats and Republicans alike. And the reason for this is quite simple. There is no room for tolerance of violence against women in the home anywhere in our society. When we're talking about the safety of our families, there is simply no space for partisanship. That's why I'm calling on my colleagues to not seek to block or delay this important piece of legislation any further. To do so is a disservice to the families so deeply affected by domestic violence every single day. Anyone who is guilty of domestic abuse should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Any victim of abuse should be empowered to speak out and to have access to help and support. Keeping women and families safe is a basic commonsense principle and one that we have easily found agreement on since the bill was first passed, and we should be able to agree on it again today. Every day, an average of three women are murdered by a husband, a boyfriend, a partner. Every single day, 600 women are raped or sexually assaulted. Millions of women and families rely on the help and support of the violence against women act provides to keep them safe. It's outrageous to turn the violence again women act into a political circus. When we allow ourselves to get bogged down on politics as usual, we're telling women and families across the country that their safety can wait for the next election. Let's do better. Let's be better. Let's agree that women deserve access to basic justice and basic safety, and let's show the American people that we, as a body, can do the right thing."

Sanders, Lieberman, Collins

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill (S. 1925)

Apr 18 2012 12:51 PM

Senator Sanders: (12:22 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "Everybody knows that the Postal Service is, in fact, facing significant financial difficulties. Revenue at the Postal Service has gone down from about $75 billion in 2008 to $66 billion last year. In the midst of the digital revolution, first-class mail has gone down significantly, no debate about that, and it has been replaced and will continue to be replaced by email and the internet. There is no question but that this is a real issue that has got to be addressed. But, let me be very clear that in terms of the revenue problems facing the Postal Service, the major reason, the major problems that we have are not just the decline in first-class mail. It is an issue, it happens not to be the major issue. The major issue, in fact, is that the Postal Service has seen a significant loss in mail volume and revenue due to the most severe recession that our country has faced since the 1930's. As the Postal Service indicated, on May 30, 2010, "The effects of the recession account for two-thirds of the mail volume decline." So the first point we want to understand is yeah, decline of first-class mail is a real issue, but second of all, like businesses all over this country, revenue is being impacted by the recession, and how we can get our country out of the recession, create more jobs, put more money into the hands of working people is, of course, a major, major issue that we must address. And in that regard, I do want to say that in the middle of this terrible recession, when real unemployment, real unemployment is not 8.2% but in fact it is closer to 15%, counting those people who have given up looking for work, those people who are working part time, it would seem to be that this body wants to do everything that we can not to see 200,000 jobs slashed at the United States Postal Service, many of them decent-paying jobs, many of them union jobs. Now, we may not be able to save every one of those jobs. We want the Postal Service to be efficient, but on the other hand I would hope that we see as a significant priority that in the midst of a recession, you do not want to downsize a major American institution by 200,000 jobs, many of them, by the way, jobs belonging to veterans To a very significant degree, the major reason that the Postal Service has been running a deficit since 2007 is due to accounting issues, accounting issues. For example, - and everybody has got to understand this issue if we're going to have an open and honest debate about the future of the Postal Service. Due to a law passed in 2006, the U.S. Postal Service uniquely, uniquely in America, uniquely within government, federal, state, local, uniquely in terms of the private sector, has been forced to prefund 75 years' worth of future retiree health benefits in just ten years. 75 years' worth of future retiree health benefits in just ten years. There is no other agency of government that comes close to that onerous requirement, nor are there any companies in the private sector that have been asked to do that. This mandate costs the U.S. Postal Service between $5.4 billion and $5.8 billion per year. So what I beg of my colleagues is when you look at the financial problems facing the Postal Service, which are real, do not forget that because of this 2006 legislation, the Postal Service needs to come up with approximately $5.5 billion every single year to prefund retiree health care. And this is an important point that I hope my fellow colleagues in the Senate are listening to this. 100 percent of the Postal Service's $20 billion debt from 2007-2010 is the result of this prefunding mandate without this mandate, the Postal Service would have made a $700 million profit, profit from 2007 to 2010."

Senator Lieberman: (12:37 PM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "In the Postal Reform of 2006, Senator Sanders is quite right, for various reasons which we need not go into, the Postal Service was required to make payments into the retiree health benefit fund that were beyond what most any business or other governmental entity is doing. More than was necessary to sustain the payments and in a much shorter period of time, as the Senator from Vermont said. And I'd say, just to state it as bluntly as I can, maybe too bluntly, the people advocating this were, frankly, concerned that the Postal Service might get to a point where it defaulted, it was no longer to operate, and then the fear was that the taxpayers at some time in the future would be forced to pick up the cost of the retiree health benefits and so this uniquely deed manning responsibility for payment now was put on the Postal Service. I think everybody agrees you particularly in light of all the real problems that the Postal Service has now, that that's just not sensible or fair. So I do want to point out that in the underlying bill, S. 1789, we have attempted to ease the Postal Service's prefunding requirements by immediately beginning a schedule for these payments and we require the office of personnel management when determining how much the Postal Service has to put into the retiree health benefit fund every year to use the same discount rate that's used to calculate the federal government's pension obligations to the federal employees retirement system and the civil service retirement system. And the Postal Service thinks that this accounting change will reduce their unfunded liability for their retiree health benefits plan by literally billions of dollars. The other change made here is that right now the health benefits of retired employees come out of the operating expenses of the Postal Service. That was going to be the case until a date later in this decade. But there's enough money in the fund that it can pick up money that the Postal Service has put in, that it can pick up the cost of health benefits for postal retirees now, and so we require that."

Senator Collins: (12:42 PM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "I do want to address what I believe is another misconception, understand that that the funding for future retirees' health benefits is somehow the cause of the Postal Service's financial crisis. It is not. The fact is that the Postal Service has not made its payment $5.5 billion that was due to this fund in either of the last two fiscal years. And, yet, the Postal Service lost billions in both of those years, despite not paying the $5.5 billion that was due to this fund. In total, the Postal Service has made only $6.9 billion of the $16.4 billion that was required in prefunding payments for the past three years. But has posted losses, total losses for those three years of $26.9 billion. So, it's certainly true that we can and should ease the funding requirement in light of the problems of the Postal Service. It's also true that we don't need to fund to 100%, which the 2006 law requires. And we have indeed lowered the funding level to, I believe, 80%, if memory serves me correctly. And those provisions all have a substantial impact on lowering the annual payment. But, just two final points that I want to reiterate, the prefunding requirement is not the cause of the Postal Service's financial crisis. And, second, that $48 billion liability is very real. It's not going away. And, indeed stretching out the amortization schedule, which I believe we should do, is going to actually cause that liability to increase, because we'll be paying it off over a longer period of time. Nevertheless, I think the changes that we've made in the funding for future retirees' health benefits makes sense. I think they're financially responsible and they will provide some needed relief to the Postal Service without exposing taxpayers to the possibility of having to pick up the tab and without breaking the promise that has been made to postal employees."

Barrasso, Tester, Wicker, Cardin

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill (S. 1925)

Apr 18 2012 2:02 PM

Senator Barrasso: (1:10 PM)
  • A Second Opinion.
    • SUMMARY "The Hill newspaper reported on April 9 of this year that the Obama administration is quietly sending an additional $500 million to the IRS, the internal revenue service. The headline is "Obama administration diverts $500 million to IRS To implement health care reform law." ... The money is transferred outside of the normal appropriations process, and that's a concern. The money is transferred outside the normal appropriations process. And it goes to the very tax agency that is responsible to implement many of the key provisions of the health law. You would think that maybe you would have doctors and nurses implementing many of the provisions of the help law. No, we have the IRS. This includes the controversial and unprecedented mandate that all Americans must buy a government-approved product, health insurance. We will remember that the Supreme Court just held hearings on this unprecedented mandate. 70% of Americans believe that it is unconstitutional. They believe that either part or all of the health care law ought to be ruled unconstitutional. And yet, the Hill article goes on and it says that this Obama Health and Human Services Department has to date transferred almost $200 million to the IRS over the past two years and plans to send another $300 million this year. These secretive transfers hide the true cost of the health care law. They also make it difficult for Congress to perform the agency oversight that is part of our obligations. So I look at this, and I say this law is bad, it is bad, I believe, for our patients and providers and taxpayers, and I look at the way it's been structured and the way that this money is being transferred and I think it just highlights the problems with the law. What does the IRS Intend to do? They want to hire more than 300 new employees next year to implement the tax code changes such as the taxes imposed on drug companies, device manufacturers and health insurers. This bill is a laundry list of and fees."

Senator Tester: (1:23 PM)
  • Spoke on Tester amendments to the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "Senator Franken and Senator Levin and I have introduced an amendment to prevent the Postal Service from closing a post office if it leaves rural communities without sufficient access to Postal Services. Like buying stamps to regular mail service. Our amendment gives the postal regulatory commission more teeth in being able to reject the Postal Service's effort to close post offices and mail processing facilities if the Postal Service does not follow the criteria laid out in the bill. The Postmaster General is seeking to close around 3,700 post offices and over 200 mail processing facilities in this country. This bill will result in the reduction of another 100,000 postal employees, it will rewrite the rules of workers' compensation across the entire federal government. In short, it will change the lives of many, many people. To say nothing of the millions of Americans who will be impacted by a change in mail service. So with this in mind, I think it's critically important that the upper management of the Postal Service and the board of governors lead by example. That's why I'm offering an amendment to reduce the number of governors on the postal board of governors from nine to seven. The board is currently not at capacity, and it should be encouraged to work with the six governors who presently sit on the board. Governors receive compensation for expenses and a stipend of about 30,000 bucks a year with a total compensation up to about $42,600, but it could save up to three post offices in my state. We need to make sure everyone is tightening their belts, not just the folks who depend on mail service or the employees who will be forced into retirement or laid off over the next few years. My final amendment limits the six most senior postal executives including the postmaster general, and that limit is to a base salary of not more than $$200,000 which is what a cabinet secretary makes. Some folks think the Postal Service should be a private enterprise and the pay of the postal executives should reflect that but the reality is the Postal Service is public service. It's right there in the constitution that the congress has the power to establish post offices. You can't get much more public than that. And again the savings from this amendment may seem like a drop in the bucket but saving just $200,000 a year in reduced executive compensation is the same savings you would get from the closure of a mail processing center in Helena, Montana's state capital and Havlick in north central Montana."

Senator Wicker: (1:42 PM)
  • Marked the 2-Year Anniversary of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, that took 11 lives and triggered the worst oil spill in American history.
  • Spoke on the RESTORE Act.
    • SUMMARY "Under the provisions of the RESTORE Act, local officials will have the ability to prioritize the economic and ecological projects that are most critical to their own recovery. Local communities are in the best position to make these decisions and needless government red tape should not stand in the way. Directly distributing Clean Water Act fines would ensure that the affected parties are compensated accordingly. The RESTORE Act is an encouraging step forward for all gulf coast states. I urge the House of Representatives to show the same support for the gulf coast in passing this important piece of legislation. Both parties can agree that the revitalization of our gulf states is a priority and that providing local perspectives is vital to our recovery efforts. The disaster that occurred two years ago was an extraordinary tragedy with long-term consequences, and we cannot forget about the needs that still persist. The Gulf Coast provides one-third of the seafood harvested in the continental United States. The Gulf Coast is the home to six of our country's ten-largest commercial ports. Mississippi and all Gulf States make up a vibrant part of this country, and the residents and businesses there are key contributors to the national economy. There's no doubt that keeping our gulf strong is vital to our national interest. And part of that would be the passage of the RESTORE Act."

Senator Cardin: (1:47 PM)
  • Spoke on the Highway bill.
    • SUMMARY "The House, is currently working on a bill that would be basically a short-term extension of our transportation programs. We need a long-term commitment as to the federal partnership in transportation. We need that for many reasons. We need it for predictable funding, so our local governments can commit to do the type of transportation programs that are necessary for our safety, that are necessary for economic expansion, that are necessary for our communities. We are missing construction seasons by the failure to enact a long-term transportation reauthorization plan. Major projects cannot be planned, whether it is to replace a bridge, major maintenance programs, new highways, or expansions of our transit systems. And this really translates to jobs. We're in a recovery. We all want to do everything we can to help maintain and expand job opportunity in this country so that our economy can recover at a quicker pace. The transportation reauthorization bill that passed the senate is responsible for three million jobs ... I would urge as soon as they complete, let's get into conference. Let's get into conference today. Let's resolve the differences between the House and Senate and get a bill back on the floor as quickly as possible."

Rubio, Lieberman, McCaskill

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill (S. 1925)

Apr 18 2012 2:32 PM

Senator Rubio: (2:01 PM)
  • Spoke on human rights violations.
    • SUMMARY "The reason why I say that and why I come to the floor on occasion to speak about human rights violations that are happening around the world and in our own country is to remind us that atrocities are not just something that happen in history. They're happening today. If you just open a newspaper and open your eyes, you will find modern-day atrocities that rival things you read about in history that you would believe are unimaginable and impossible are occurring in this century, and yet they are. Here in our country you have instances such as this where an estimated number of up to 300,000 children could potentially be at risk. 300,000 people, young women, children, et cetera, to be at risk in our hemisphere to be victims of human trafficking. Part of that happens in our own country. We have an obligation to focus on issues like this. So we'll continue to use this forum and any opportunity we get to highlight human rights abuses that are happening across the world and in our own country, because awareness is always the first step towards confronting these issues. The notion that you can somehow get away with this without condemnation encourages people to do more of it, encourages people to think they can get away with it, encourages people to think that they may even be culturally acceptable. It is not culturally acceptable. For any civilized people to stand by and watch human beings being enslaved or trafficked or abused or targeted. We cannot stand by silently and argue - and I'm not claiming anybody in this chamber does this, but argue somehow it is culturally acceptable to carry out an honor killing of a woman because she got married without someone's permission. That is outrageous and absurd. It has no place in our world. If this nation is to remain a leader on human rights, then those of us who serve it have an obligation to use forums such as this to call attention to egregious examples like the ones I used today and condemn them. In the weeks and months to come I hope to continue to come to the floor and provide not just examples of abuses that are happening around the world, but also examples like the one i finished off with today. That is examples of how we working together in this chamber across party aisle can work collaboratively to do something about it. And this letter to the advertisers on backpage.com and the village voice is just one example of the things we can be doing to ensure that we condemn and put a stop to some of these most heinous practices."

Senator Lieberman: (2:08 PM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "I want to thank my friend from Florida for his principled and passionate statement. He speaks from his own experience, his family's own experience, leaving a dictatorship in Cuba and coming to the freedom of this country. But he speaks more broadly from the depths of American history and American experience. We're a very different nation, and we're different from our beginning because we defined ourselves not by our geographical borders but by our values and the values expressed in the declaration of independence about those human rights - life liberty and happiness - which are the endowment of our creator. Those rights obviously were not just the endowment that god gave the people of the united states, but all human beings anywhere on this planet. It's what makes us a great nation, the extent to which we hold to that principle that was the motivation for our founding, I think is one we can measure ourselves by day by day. I really appreciate that the senator from Florida has committed himself both to the upholding an application of the principle of human rights, sanctity of human rights, and America's role in protecting them and is going to persistently continue to come to the floor to speak of particular cases where that principle is being violated."

Senator McCaskill: (2:10 PM)
  • Spoke on a McCaskill amendment to the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "This amendment would propose a two-year moratorium on rural post office closures to allow the Postal Service to enjoy some of the reforms that have been put in this bill in a very thoughtful and thorough process by Chairman Lieberman and many of his colleagues. And it would say after two years that there is a specific list of transparent criterion that must be considered before a post office could be closed. First, it would have to ensure that seniors could retain the same access to their prescriptions that they receive through the mail. That seniors and those with disabilities would have the same access to post office that they currently do. Making sure that small businesses are not financially harmed by a rural post office closure. This is not kicking the can down the road. This is being more thoughtful about preserving a part of the post Postal Service that defines it. I am hopeful that this is not a republican or a democratic issue. I am hopeful that this is a rural issue. We all know the last mile is the most expensive. Throughout the history of our country, government has stepped in and done a little more to get services the last mile. No business model in the world works when you have got to take services that last mile down that one road all the way down to a house at the end of the road. Sometimes several miles. It didn't work for electricity, so we did things to help with rural electric co-ops. It didn't work for phones so we did the USF fund to help with phones. It didn't work for broadband so we stepped in and have done things to assist with broadband. And now we're going to say to these rural communities the last mile is not as important. These post offices are not as important. We can make do without it. I think that's a big mistake, and I hope that we can save these rural post offices. It's very important in my state, and I want young girls that are growing up in these small communities to have the same warm and fond memories of the local post office that I carry with me every day."

Senator Lieberman: (2:18 PM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "What's interesting is one of those old cases where maybe you appreciate something more than you do every day when you think it may disappear. That's true of institutions as well as it is of people, and there is no question that post offices, both in rural areas and small towns and I will say for Connecticut in neighborhoods and cities, the post office has played an important community-building role, but beyond that in a tough time economically, a lot of people depend on those post offices for their mail, for their prescription drugs, for the business interactions that they need. But here is the other side of it which my friend from Missouri knows very well. We have 32,000 post offices in America. If you consider them to be retail outlets - which they are - that's Missouri retail outlets than Wal-mart, Starbucks and McDonald's combined. But we're talking here about necessities, and so we're very concerned that post offices not be closed in a precipitous manner if some have to be closed. So as my friend from Missouri knows, we put language in this bill that although it doesn't stop the process of review but forces the Postal Service to consider other options such as consolidating post offices within a reasonable distance, reducing the number of operating hours, for instance, and permitting a contractor or a rural carrier to provide retail services in the communities served by the post office. We also allow an appeal to the postal regulatory commission, and I know there are other amendments that will come in to strengthen that part of the bill. We have got to find a balance here, and between the financial pressures on the post office, which if un-responded to will take it really down, and the continuing dependence that millions of American people including small town and rural areas have on the post office. Just a final word. Some of our colleagues have come to the floor and spoken about the post office as if it was in its entirety a relic which has no purpose anymore because of the internet. Obviously, the internet is affecting the volume of first-class mail, but the fact is today, i repeat again, every day, 563 million pieces of mail are delivered by the Postal Service. As you say, consistent with the promise of universal service, anywhere you are, anywhere your business is. Incidentally, that capacity to deliver to the last mile is one of the great, unique, irreplaceable assets of the community service, so irreplaceable that big private sector companies like FedEx and UPS depend on it. So people depend on the Postal Service increasingly for packages, too."

Alexander, Franken, Blumenthal

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill (S. 1925)

Apr 18 2012 4:36 PM

Senator Alexander: (2:38 PM)
  • Paid tribute to Pat Summit, the University of Tennessee's Women's Basketball coach.

Senator Franken: (3:05 PM)
  • Spoke on a Franken amendment to the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "S. 1789 would refund overpayments that the Postal Service has made to the federal pension program. It will also reduce the requirement that the Postal Service prefund retiree health care benefits. I am very supportive of both of these provisions, which will save the Postal Service over $15 billion over the next two years. However, I believe that the bill can be strengthened to maintain delivery standards and better protect rural post offices. I have been working with a group of my colleagues, including the presiding officer, led by Senator Sanders to improve the bill. I want to thank Senator's Carper and Lieberman for working with us. The managers' amendment addresses some of our concerns. Most importantly, it would require the Postal Service to retain regional overnight delivery standards. This will protect many processing facilities and importantly for Minnesota it will likely keep the Duluth processing facility open. But the substitute still doesn't do enough to protect rural post offices. I have introduced an amendment that will give communities the opportunity to fight to prevent the closure of their local post offices and processing facilities. Right now the postal regulatory commission can review post office closure decisions but can only issue advisory options. Our amendment would give the commission authority to reverse post office and processing facility closure decisions. That would guarantee that individuals and communities impacted by closures would have real recourse. I urge my senate colleagues to support our amendment. We need to make thoughtful changes to S. 1789, and we need to act now. Last December I joined with a number of my Senate colleagues in pushing the postmaster general for a five-month moratorium on postal closure the moratorium is now running out and the Postal Service is not waiting. It can't. On May 16, the Postal Service will close thousands of centers. We need to act now."
  • Spoke on the Patient Safety and Generic Labeling Improvement Act.
    • SUMMARY "Our bill, the Patient Safety and Generic Labeling Improvement Act, would allow generic drug makers to update their warnings to accurately reflect the known risks associated with their drugs. That's it. It wouldn't require them to do so. It just lets them do what other drug manufacturers already are allowed to do. Our bill says that millions of Americans who are taking generic drugs are entitled to the same protections as people who take brand-name drugs and says that people are entitled to their day in court when manufacturers fail to disclose risks."

Senator Blumenthal: (3:37 PM)
  • Paid tribute to Pat Summit, the University of Tennessee's Women's Basketball coach.
  • Spoke on the NCAA's academic standards application to the University of Connecticut's Men's Basketball program.

Harkin, Shaheen, Isakson, Brown-OH

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill (S. 1925)

Apr 18 2012 6:10 PM

Senator Harkin: (5:23 PM)
  • Paid tribute to Matt Rutherford, who finished sailing single-handed East to West through the Northwest Passage to benefit Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating.
  • Spoke on the Rebuild America Act.
    • SUMMARY "It aims to rebuild the middle class in four broad ways: creating jobs, investing in the future, helping families and bringing balance back in to our tax system. Let me touch briefly on those four principles. One, we need to create jobs for all Americans, including for groups of Americans such as people with disabilities who have been especially hard hit by the recent recession. With the official unemployment rate over 8% and some unofficial measures as high as 17%, the middle class will continue to lose ground. When jobs are scarce, workers don't have the leverage to demand fair treatment, paychecks stop growing or even fall. And even people who are fortunate enough to have a job become fearful of losing it. People have less discretionary money in their pockets or the confidence to spend it. In the absence of robust consumer demand, businesses choose not to expand or invest. Secondly, we must invest in our future. Not only will investing in our infrastructure help create badly needed jobs in the short term, these investments will late groundwork for sustained economic growth in the long term. My bill tackles this challenge head on by providing for robust new investments in America's infrastructure, including, of course, time-tested things like roads and bridges, energy-efficiency systems, also rebuilding and modernizing our public schools, rebuilding our manufacturing base in America. In addition, there's the investment in the human infrastructure, helping to prepare great teachers, providing better pathways to good jobs for workers, job retraining so that the old jobs that are now gone, that we can now take those workers and retrain them for future jobs to ensure that current and future workers will have the education and skills they need to be successful and to be in the middle class. Three, we need to do more to help middle class families succeed. It's time for us in Washington to wake up to the harsh reality that middle-class families have been living in for the last few decades. Unfortunately, the programs and policies that help create the middle class have been either intentionally discarded or fallen victim to neglect. For example, the real value of the minimum wage has declined for the last four decades, dragging down all workers' paychecks My bill does is basically over a stage raise that minimum wage and then peg it to inflation in the future so we don't have that erosion again in the future. Also, families, workers have seen basic rights, such as the right to organize and to bargain collectively eroded. It's harder and harder and harder all the time for people to organize and join a union in this country. The right to overtime pay has been eroded under the fair labor standards act. So a lot of these things have been eroded by misguided regulations, bad court decisions and years of lax enforcement. The fourth part of the bill, it is essential that we put balance back into the economy through a balanced tax system that will help reduce our deficit, get our fiscal house in order over the longer term. To do so, among other provisions, my bill includes a tax on Wall Street trades, often called a financial transaction tax. At just three cents per $100 in trade value, that would raise $350 billion over ten years A small transaction tax would do two things. It would raise money. It would also discourage a lot of the spinning and the churning of transactions on Wall Street whereby some of these traders make hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, mega millions of dollars a year, but not really adding much to our economy at all. So a small transaction tax. In addition, the bill requires high-income taxpayers to pay their fair share. Well, sort of like the Buffett rule."

Senator Shaheen: (5:44 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "We should all be concerned about draconian proposals that seek to slash 220,000 good jobs, close 3,700 post offices and make mail delivery slower across America. The bill before us today attempts to avoid the worst of these outcomes. I want to commend all of the bipartisan managers of this legislation for their tireless work to save the united states Postal Service. I was proud to join a group of 28 senators who pushed for important changes to the bill in an attempt to better protect rural post offices, to develop new sources of business and maintain the reliable and timely service Americans have come to expect. Some of these changes have been incorporated into the legislation, and I think they are an important step toward improving it. Now, with that said, I think we have more work to do and I know that there are a lot of people in this body who would like to see us debate a number of amendments related to the bill and try and make changes to improve the work that's already been done. Rural communities rely on the Postal Service, and I think Congress and this Senate should improve the legislation to make sure that people have a real voice in the process when their post office is threatened. But if we don't act, the Postal Service could go bankrupt or it could be forced to make devastating service cuts."

Senator Isakson: (5:48 PM)
  • Spoke on Joseph Kony.
    • SUMMARY "Because of U.S. technology, U.S. resources and the commitment of these individuals, we're assisting to a much higher level in the intelligence that we're gaining on Joseph Kony. A lot of people think Joseph Kony is in Uganda. He hasn't been in Uganda for five or six years. He is somewhere near the Central African Republic, a place where it is extremely easy to hide. We thought Vietnam had jungles. You haven't seen foliage until you have seen the Central African Republic, the south Sudan and the Congo. There is no electricity, no roads, no paths. There are no listening devices. Intelligence is all human intelligence. We're fortunate to have great intelligence operatives over in that part of the world. We're great to have great resources over in that part of the world. We're gaining more and more information. I commend our forces also on what they have done in an amnesty program. They drop leaflets in villages that are known to house some of Jony's workers and cronies. They drop leaflets that offer amnesty for anyone that leaves Jony, comes back to their village and gives information to our forces and the Ugandan Army and the African Union Army as to information as to where Joseph Kony might be. We're getting closer all the time. We're not there yet. Thanks to our assistance of foreign-deployed individuals, thanks to the commitment of our country and thanks to the commitment of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and the new country, the south Sudan, we're going to close that noose and we're going to stay until the job is finished because Joseph Kony needs to be brought to justice. He is an evil man that has killed far too many, raped far too many and maimed far too many people. Africa is too good a friend to the United States of America for us not to offer the assistance necessary. So my message to the American people and our youth is we are doing our job. Joseph Kony hasn't been caught but we're in pursuit. I want to commend Senator Kerry, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Coons, the Chairman of the Africa Subcommittee, Senator Lugar and myself. We are joined together to support legislation that will be introduced in the senate to include Joseph Kony or information leading to the arrest and quick of Joseph Kony in our rewards program that we offer mostly now for terrorist capture. That is going to be incentive for more information to be brought forward so the noose will close tighter. It is time for Joseph Kony to be brought to justice and the United States of America is making every effort to assist in that process in central Africa."
  • Spoke on CARE.
    • SUMMARY "What CARE is doing in their project known as the village savings and loan, they are bringing about microeconomics to Africa and they are empowering women. The village savings and loan program is a very simple program. It teaches basic economics and capitalism to these villages. Groups form together, they are given a strongbox. Literally just like the ones that used to be on the stagecoach back in the old lone ranger days. In that strongbox, each of the women will make con tricks of the money that they have into the strongbox, and they get a passbook savings account just like the president and I used to get when we were in elementary school a long, long time ago. And then they make loans out of that money that they save to other people in the village to start businesses, whether it's making beads, whether it's using the Shea tree to make butter or whether it's doing batik cloth or whatever it might be. As those little cottage industries develop, the money they make goes back into this savings and loan to be reinvested in other plans ... They are empowering African women and African families. They are bringing about the principles of economics that you and I enjoy and appreciate. They are uplifting people who need that uplifting with empowerment so they can be sufficient on their own, so they can rise up economically and rise up educationally."

Senator Brown-OH: (5:57 PM)
  • Spoke on the Export-Import Bank.
    • SUMMARY "Since early 2010, we have seen almost every single month in Ohio and across the country we have seen job growth in manufacturing. Not enough, it's positive, but we're not clearly out of the woods yet. I fear we take a step back if Congress fails to reauthorize the Export-Import bank .. But exporting is tough, especially for small businesses. Fewer than 1% of the nation's 25 million small businesses export their products. Very few small businesses are able to export for a whole host of reasons. I hear from small business owners who want to expand, they want to get access to foreign markets, but they can't secure private financing due to the credit risks associated with some overseas investments. One of the most important resources to help small business and mid-sized manufacturers is to help them boost their exports is the Export-Import bank. Ex-Im's mission is simple. It facilitates exports. It could be tributes to job creation in the United States. It does it through loans, through guarantees, through insurance. It fills in gaps in trade financing at no cost to taxpayers. The private market, the market sometimes doesn't deliver in these situations. The Export-Import bank can fill in some gaps and help companies that have the ability to grow and export to actually do that. The Ex-Im bank generates revenue to the U.S. Treasury, yet despite this record of success, exports and jobs are at stake because congress cannot agree to Ex-Im reauthorization. The Ex-Im bank's lending authority expires May 31. We know that companies that export products, create jobs, pay higher wages and are more likely to be able to remain in business. Export-supported jobs linked to manufacturing already account for an estimated 7%, one out of 14 of Ohio's total private sector employment. So one out of 14 Ohio workers is linked to export. More than 1/4 of manufacturing workers in Ohio depend on exports for their jobs, the eighth among the 50 states. We need to do a better job in ensuring that America's small businesses have access to that global market. The Export-Import bank helps provide credit that otherwise wouldn't be available to turn export opportunities for businesses into increased jobs, higher wages, increased sales. In 2011, the bank worked with almost 100 Ohio businesses to support more than $400 million in export sales. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, Ex-Im supports 290,000 export-related jobs, more than 85% of Ex-Im's transactions supported small businesses last year. Renewing the bank's charter should be a cause that all senators support. Just like the 25 times the senate overwhelmingly reauthorized the agency since its establishment in 1934."

Whitehouse, Moran

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill (S. 1925)

Apr 18 2012 6:45 PM

Senator Whitehouse: (6:18 PM)
  • Spoke on the Highway bill.
    • SUMMARY "The state of play on that at this point is that the House has just passed another extension. We passed an extension back at the end of March that extended the existing highway program to the end of June. And what that will do is cause significant job loss because not knowing for sure what the Highway plan will be means that jobs will fall off the list of the Departments of Transportation around the country. So a further extension to September, which just passed the house an hour ago, makes that situation even worse. The solution to that problem is to make sure that the House and the Senate appoint their conferees so that we can go to conference quickly on that bill and get a lasting authorization out."
  • Spoke on climate change.
    • SUMMARY "A quick thumbnail summary of the week's climate science news. The stories from this week include that temperature variations, which relate to the extra energy put into the climate by the warming weather, could lower life expectancies of the chronically ill. That's one - the chronically ill. That's one story. Another report is a new report from NOAA that coral risks extinction due to climate change. More 50 coral species in U.S. waters are likely to go extinct by the ends of the century. By the end of the century. And the expert cited human driven increases of carbon dioxide as a driver to causing these extinctions. A third is tree diseases, according to rise by the U.S. forest service. Forest diseases are expected to spread more quickly in the western U.S. as climate change warms the regions' forests. And a fourth is a recent study publish in the journal, Nature, which finds that rising carbon dioxide levels drove temperature increases at the end of the last ice age. That at the end of the last ice age, atmospheric CO2 concentrations rose 80 parts per million. Over the past 100 years, CO2 concentrations have risen roughly 100 parts per million. So the effects are linked very closely to climate."

Senator Moran: (6:35 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "We have obligation to the United States constitution to provide Postal Service. It matters in the sense that there are many items that are transported in commerce on an ongoing, daily basis in which the Postal Service is the method by which that transportation occurs, by which we certainly deliver mail and packages, shipping occurs in the United States as a result of the viability of the United States Postal Service. It's important, in my view, especially to me as a Kansan. One of the things that's pending in the absence of reform, improvements, and financial stability in the Postal Service is the potential demise of many rural post offices across Kansas and around the country. In my view, and I've expressed this to the postmaster general, the United States Postal Service on many occasions has made decisions that I think enhances - while may save a few dollars reduces the service that the Postal Service provides and ultimately hastens the day in which the Postal Service has even more challenges in remaining viable. One of those was the decision by the Postal Service to close many rural post offices across the country, 130-plus in Kansas. We have had attendance at more than 90 of the community meetings that revolve around the potential closing of a post office, and I have expressed great concern both in the committee - and I serve on the Committee on Homeland Security in which this bill originates and during that markup and debate, I expressed concern then and expressed concern on several occasions to the Postmaster General that there is no basis on making an intelligent decision on which post office should and should not be closed and citizens across Kansas and across the country attend one of these meetings, their question is, what can our community do? What can I do to make certain that our post office remains open and we have the opportunity to receive and have mail delivered from here at the united states post office in our community? And so in working with the committee, provisions were added to the 21st century Postal Service act that create criteria by which these decisions would be made and the community has an opportunity to appeal, should the decision be adverse and those criteria not met. So there, in my view, the Senate should not delay any longer addressing the issue of what we do to make certain that the Postal Service is and remains viable today and in the future."

Apr 18 2012 7:45 PM

Senator Reid: (7:34 PM)
  • Performed Wrap Up --
  • Tomorrow -
    • The Senate will convene at 9:30 AM and resume consideration of the Motion to Proceed to S. 1925, the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill. The first hour will be equally divided, with the Republicans controlling the first 30 minutes and the Majority controlling the second 30 minutes.
    • At 2:15 PM, the Senate will resume consideration of S. 1789, the Postal Reform bill, and conduct up to 2 ROLL CALL VOTES on:
      1. The Motion to Invoke Cloture on Reid (for Lieberman/Collins) substitute amendment #2000, as modified, to S. 1789, the Postal Reform bill; and (if Cloture is Not Invoked)
      2. The Motion to Invoke Cloture on S. 1789, the Postal Reform bill.
    • All second degree amendments to Reid (for Lieberman/Collins) substitute amendment #2000, as modified, to S. 1789, the Postal Reform bill must be filed at desk by 11:00 AM.
The Senate stands adjourned until 9:30 AM Thursday, April 19th.