Floor Updates

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Jun 27 2012 9:30 AM

The Senate Convened.

Reid

Opening Remarks

Jun 27 2012 9:42 AM

  • Today --
    • The Senate will resume consideration of the Motion to Proceed to S. 2237, the Increased Payroll Tax Credit and Bonus Depreciation 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. 1940, the Flood Insurance bill. Pending to S. 1940 are Reid (for Johnson (SD)/Shelby) substitute amendment #2468 and Reid (for Pryor/Hoeven) amendment #2469 (residual risk) to Reid (for Johnson (SD)/Shelby) substitute amendment #2468. The rest of the amendment tree was filled with date changes.

Senator Reid: (9:33 AM)
  • Spoke on immigration reform.
    • SUMMARY "The onus is on Congress to repair the broken system. No one denies the system is broken but in the 48 hours since the Supreme Court ruling Republicans have engaged in revisionist history to explain why it's taken so long to fix it. Here are the facts: when Democrats brought a comprehensive immigration reform bill to the floor in 2007, Republicans filibustered the legislation. This legislation was led by Senator McCain and Senator Kennedy, among others. The Republicans filibustered this legislation even though Republican President Bush supported it. They twice filibustered the DREAM Act, which allowed children brought to the United States by their parents to go to college. It would allow them to go to college, serve in the military and work towards citizenship. Democrats have done everything humanly possible to pass comprehensive immigration reform. We've been trying to do it for years. Two congresses ago we spent more time on immigration on the floor than any other issue. And we were spending that time because we were being slow walked by the republicans. The Republicans are divided on this issue. We're not. 90% of Democrats support comprehensive immigration reform and of course the DREAM Act. Every time Democrats offer to work together on comprehensive immigration reform, even bring to the floor bipartisan ideas originally proposed by republicans, the other side finds an excuse not to support the change. On the floor today is the senior senator from Illinois, the assistant majority leader. He was one of the pushers of the dream act, but he had with him two Republican senators who were with him pushing just as hard. But those two senators have disappeared in supporting the legislation. Republicans blame Democrats for inaction. Well, they can't have it both ways. They can't blame Democrats for not passing a bipartisan immigration bill when they are the ones who blocked the bill. Moving forward, Congress has two things in its favor. Thanks to President Obama's decisive action, the specter of deportation no longer hangs over the heads of 800,000 young men and women brought to the country as children. And the Supreme Court offered yet another affirmation that a long-term fix for a broken immigration system must come from congress and not from the states. Now is not the time for the republicans to continue this harangue that they've had. It's not our fault. It's time for them to work with us for a reasonable solution, one that continues to secure our borders, punishes unscrupulous employers, improves our dysfunctional immigration system and requires the 11 million people who are undocumented to register with the government, pay fines, taxes, learn English and then they don't go to the front of the line. They go to the back of the line. They do this in order to change their status."

Durbin, Whitehouse

Increased Payroll Tax Credit and Bonus Depreciation bill (S. 2237)

Jun 27 2012 10:14 AM

Senator Durbin: (9:40 AM)
  • Spoke on the DREAM Act.
    • SUMMARY "I had a meeting, several meetings yesterday that were as touching emotionally as anything that I've witnessed as a senator. There were students who came from all over the United States of America to walk peacefully in front of the Supreme Court. They were dreamers: undocumented students who have attended schools or add tending colleges and schools in America. They're not asking for a special treatment. They are asking for a chance, a chance to earn their way into the only country they've ever called home. These poor kids out there literally have no country. They were brought here to the United States as babies and infants. They didn't have a choice in the matter. They were packed into a car or on to a bus, and they grew up in America. As Senator Menendez often says, from New Jersey, he comes to the floor and reminds us these kids put their hands on their hearts and pledge allegiance to the flag every day. They only know one national anthem: Americas. And they're just asking for a chance to be a part of this country. 11 years ago I introduced a bill called the DREAM Act. It was a bipartisan bill."
  • Spoke on border security.
    • SUMMARY "What Major Garrett wrote in this National Journal Daily after President George W. Bush's attempt at comprehensive immigration reform failed, Congress adopted a default reduction of spending more every year on border control patrol agents and equipment. From 2006-2012, the number of border patrol agents has increased 73% from 12,350 to 21,370. The number of agents assigned to the nation's southwest border increased 67% from 11,032 to 18,415. The house homeland security spending bill for fiscal year 2013 devotes $11.7 billion to customs and border patrol, 77% million more than the president asked and pay spending for ICE which is the immigration control agency at $5.8 billion, $132 million more than the president asked. The nation how has more border patrol agents and ICE detention - 34,000 of them - than at any time in history. For context, border patrol apprehensions totaled 340,252 in fiscal year 2011. That's down 53% from 2008, due in part to the recession and lack of available work. But that number of apprehensions was 1/5 the total of the year 2000. Criminal and noncriminal deportations are also up, way up. This, too, is bipartisan. He goes on to cite numbers showing that the Obama administration has deported more in the name of prioritizing deportations than even the Bush administration. So those who say we need to get tough at the border and tough in terms of deportations, I would say the evidence is there. In fact, it's overwhelming that we have done that. Now my challenge back to them is now can we talk? Can we talk about what to do about 10 million or 11 million Americans living here who are in questionable status or undocumented? Can we come up with a reasonable approach to this that is fair to them, to the family, to the nation, to the workers of this country? I think we can. We should. Why else are we elected if we don't face an issue like that?"

Senator Whitehouse: (9:51 AM)
  • Spoke on last week's remarks on the Utility MACT Rule Resolution of Disapproval.
  • Spoke on climate change.
    • SUMMARY "This was a good news week from the EPA they have fought hard to show that carbon dioxide is in fact a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. That case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court agreed that that could be the case if the EPA determined that those greenhouse gases might "reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare." The EPA went forward and in 2009, they made this endangerment finding. There had been some delays along the way, but I won't get into the history of that rule under the Bush administration right now. The EPA made that endangerment finding and they promulgated three additional rules. One was the tailpipe rule which sets greenhouse gas emissions for motor vehicles. The second is what's called the timing rule which clarifies when the stationary sources are required to meet pollution standards for greenhouse gases. And the third is the tailoring rule which limits the application of this rule to the big polluters so that you're not going after small or inconsequential sources, that you're really targeting the folks who are putting out tons of pollution. So that was a very good day. The DC circuit decision was really quite strong, and I'd like to take a moment to read some of it into the record. Industry petitioners, the court said, assert that the scientific evidence does not adequately support the endangerment finding. As we have stated before in reviewing the science-based decisions of agencies such as EPA, although we perform a searching and careful inquiry into the facts underlying the agency's decisions, we will presume the validity of agency action as long as our actual basis for it is presented. So they went on to see what the rational basis was, and they say as follows "the body of scientific evidence marshaled by EPA in support of the endangerment finding is substantial. EPA scientific evidence of record included support for the proposition that greenhouse gases trap heat on earth that would otherwise dissipate into space, that this "greenhouse effectâ€? warms the climate, that human activity is contributing to increased atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, and that the climate system is warming." Based on this scientific record, EPA made the linchpin finding in its judgment the root cause of the recently observed climate changes "very likelyâ€? the observed in anthropogenic, mean man made greenhouse gas emissions. They continue below, relying again on substantial scientific evidence, EPA determined that genetically induced climate change induces public health and public welfare. They found that extreme weather events, changes in air quality, increases in food borne and water borne pathogens and increases in temperature are EPA's conclusion that climate change endangers human welfare by creating risk to food production and agriculture, forestry, energy, infrastructure, ecosystems, and wildlife. Substantial evidence further supported EPA's conclusion that the warming resulting from the greenhouse gas emissions could be expected to create risks to water resources and in general to coastal areas like my home state of Rhode island, I will interject, as a result of expected increase in sea level. Industry petitioners, the judges said, do not find fault with much of the substantial record EPA amassed in support of the endangerment finding, nor could they, I would interject. Rather, they contend that the record evidence is too much uncertainty to support that judgment. But the existence of some uncertainty does not, without more, warrant invalidation of an endangerment finding. As we've stated before, awaiting certainty will often allow for only reactive and not preventive regulation. The language in the Clean Air Act describing endangerment findings "requires a precautionary forward-looking scientific judgment about the risks of a particular air pollutant consistent with the clean air act's precautionary and preventive orientation.""

Thune, Barrasso, Hutchison

Increased Payroll Tax Credit and Bonus Depreciation bill (S. 2237)

Jun 27 2012 10:50 AM

Senator Thune: (10:13 AM)
  • Spoke on jobs and the economy.
    • SUMMARY "Last week the Obama administration hailed the advent of the summer of economic recovery. The president claimed "the economy is headed in the right direction." Vice President Biden predicted the creation of 250,000 to 500,000 new jobs a month. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner published an op-ed in the New York Rimes boldly entitled "welcome to the recovery." Two years later Americans are still waiting for the recovery. Today's jobs figures are well below the 250,000 to 500,000 jobs per month that Vice President Biden forecast. This year the economy created a dismal 77,000 jobs in April and just 69,000 jobs in may; less than half of the 150,000 jobs that are needed each month just to keep up with population growth. Unemployment, which the White House predicted would shrink below 6% by April of 2012 remained at or above 8% now for 40 straight months. Looking at the facts, it is clear that the private ... Country worse. The President seems to prefer more stimulus spending from Washington, DC but the president's $831 billion in stimulus money has not led to the job creation he claimed it would. Under this administration, there has been a record four years with deficits over a trillion dollars. The federal government now borrows roughly 40 cents out of every dollar that it spends. The fact is we do not need more government spending that explodes the national debt. Instead, we need to cut reckless government spending and tackle the mounting debt crisis through tax and entitlement reform. If we don't take action soon, our country could end up in the kind of financial disaster that Greece and Spain are now facing. The economic situation in Europe is a clear warning sign for our country that if we don't get on a sustainable fiscal path, we will face a similar fiscal crisis. Our children and grandchildren should not have to pay for Washington's inability to stick to a budget. We owe it to the next generation to leave the country better than we found it."
  • Spoke on the fiscal cliff.
    • SUMMARY "One aspect of the fiscal cliff that we're talking about is the pending $1.2 trillion sequestration scheduled to go into effect on January of 2013. I along with Senator Sessions and others have pushed for more transparency from the administration as to how they plan to implement sequestration, a provision that was adopted just last week as part of the Farm bill. This information is critical so that Congress and the American people have a full understanding of sequestration's impact. If Congress is going to consider delaying or replacing the defense sequester, we need this information in order to make those decisions. House Republicans passed a bill last month that replaces the defense sequester scheduled to go into effect next year, and it does so by finding savings elsewhere in the federal government, yet the administration continues to stone wall requests by Congress to help us better understand where the planned sequester cuts will take place. On the tax side, a family of four earning $50,000 per year would see their tax bill increase by $2,200 next year, according to the House Ways and Means Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation. The Joint Committee on Taxation also estimates that nearly one million business owners would face higher taxes if the top two tax rates increase. Not one vote has been scheduled in the senate to prevent this taxmageddon. In contrast, House Republican leaders have a different view, and it's expected the House will consider an extension of the current tax rates next month, which will then come to the United States Senate. The economy continues to grow at a very slow rate. Unemployment remains above 8%. Congress must get to work to jump-start our economy and put this country on a sustainable fiscal path. We need to act now rather than to kick the can down the road. To put a fine point on that, the fiscal cliff that we will run into at the end of the year, as I mentioned, we already know that it's going to have a profound impact on the economy next year because the Congressional Budget Office and other analysts have looked at it and determined that it could cost us as much as 1.3% of economic growth in the first half of next year, which translated into actual jobs numbers is about 1.3 million jobs that would be lost because of this fiscal cliff if it's not dealt with."

Senator Barrasso: (10:23 AM)
  • A Doctor's 2nd Opinion.
    • SUMMARY "I come to the floor today to talk a bit about things that have happened since the health care law was passed because President Obama and Democrats repeatedly promised that the health care law would do several things. One, they said it would make health insurance more affordable, and they also said it would help create jobs for millions of Americans. Millions of Americans, they said. In fact, after the Senate completed passage of the health care law, the Majority Leader, Senator Reid, "this, of course, was a health bill." He went on. He said it was also a jobs bill. He went on. He said it was also an economic recovery bill. He said it was a deficit reduction bill. He said it was an antidiscrimination bill. He said it was truly a bill of rights. He went on to say, and now he said it is the law of the land. An economic recovery bill, he said, a jobs bill, he said. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi added it's about jobs, she said. She said in its life, health care reform would create, she said, four million jobs, 400,000 jobs almost immediately. Well, that's not happened. It's not happened. Another broken promise to the American people. And that's why I have come to the floor week after week to point out issues with this health care law which I continue to believe is bad for patients, bad for the providers, the nurses and the doctors who take care of those patients and terrible for taxpayers. One of the key components of the health care law that the president promised would help create jobs was what he referred to as the small employer health insurance tax credit. Back in April of 2010, the president said "this health care tax credit is pro jobs, it's pro business, and he said and it starts this year. Well, in essence, the credit was supposed to offset the cost of health insurance for small businesses so that they could provide insurance to their employees. The president's Council on Economic Advisors made some estimates. They estimated that about four million, four million small businesses, they said, would be eligible for the credit ... According to the nonpartisan government accountability office, only about 170,000, actually 170,300 employers were able to claim the credit. Not four million ...the credit only benefited about 4% of the businesses that the president promised to help. 96% of the businesses that the president promised to help got nothing. Only 4% of the businesses were able to benefit at all, at all, and even a smaller number than that were able to take full advantage."

Senator Hutchison: (10:38 AM)
  • Placed S. 3342, the SECURE IT Act, on the calendar under the provisions of Rule 14.
  • Spoke on the SECURE IT Act.
    • SUMMARY "The nation faces an evolving array of threats from hackers, criminal groups and terrorists that seek to sabotage networks, gain access to sensitive government information and steal valuable intellectual property. SECURE IT is centered on consensus items it sets aside controversial provisions that are of questionable value at this time and we believe our bill can pass both chambers. It offers a balanced approach that will significantly advance cybersecurity in both the public and private sectors by focusing on four issues and areas we believe everyone can agree. First, to facilitate sharing of cyber-threat information among private sector entities and to and from the government. Second. To better secure federal networks, including requiring federal contractors to notify the federal law enforcement agencies of cyber-attacks that would threaten government infrastructure. Third, to strengthen the ability to prosecute cybercrime. And fourth, to prioritize cybersecurity research and development so that our nation will continue to lead the world in this area."

Conrad, Sanders

Increased Payroll Tax Credit and Bonus Depreciation bill (S. 2237)

Jun 27 2012 12:36 PM

Senator Conrad: (10:50 AM)
  • Spoke on jobs and the economy.
    • SUMMARY "The economic crisis of 2008 and 2009 was the worst recession since the great depression. By the way, this was not the creation of Barack Obama. He inherited this mess. He has done really quite a good job of getting us moving in a better protection, but more of that later. Remember in the fourth quarter of 2008 - that's the last quarter before this president took office - the economy was actually shrinking at a rate of almost 9%, and in the first month of 2009, we lost 800,000 jobs. The housing market was in crisis. Home building and sales were plummeting. We faced record foreclosures. The financial market crisis was threatening global economic collapse ... Here's the economy in the fourth quarter of 2008 before SUMMARY "resident Obama took office, shrinking at a rate of almost 9%, and in the subsequent quarters, it continued to shrink until it began to get better in late 2009, frankly because of stimulus and tarp that helped start to turn things around, and since that time, we have had consistent growth in the economy. Not as robust as we would like, but nonetheless consistent growth. A rather remarkable turnaround given how serious the economic downturn was. We also see the same pattern with respect to the private sector jobs picture. Again in January of 2009, in one month alone, we lost more than 800,000 jobs. Those were private sector jobs. More than 800,000 jobs in a month. Again, in about 2009, things began to turn. We got back to growing jobs. In fact, we have had over 4.5 million jobs in the private sector created since the turnaround began. And again, job growth not as robust as we would like but nonetheless quite a remarkable turnaround from where it was What is holding back the U.S. economy from a stronger recovery? Well, we've identified these elements. Number one, the European debt and financial crisis has thrown a cloud over global markets, and they are still our biggest trading partners. So a chilling of economic activity in Europe has had an adverse effect on our own economic performance. Second, the Iran/Middle East situation has threatened to disrupt oil supplies. That creates uncertainty because we know if the Straits of Hormuz were closed, economic activity would weaken and we would be hurt. That has led companies even though they have $2 billion on their books to be cautious about expanding hiring. Federal, state, and local government cutbacks have also created economic drag ... The political deadlock on fiscal issues here in Congress has created uncertainty, and we face of course the threat from the fiscal cliff. The fiscal cliff is the fact at the end of this year all of the Bush tax cuts are going to expire which means an automatic tax increase for virtually every American. We also face additional spending cuts, $1.2 trillion in the so-called sequester, about evenly shared between defense and nondefense. That would reduce demand, that would further reduce economic growth. And, of course, the housing market continues to pose a threat at least in many parts of the country."
    • Spoke on the Budget Control Act.
      • SUMMARY "Sometimes I wonder if our colleagues pay very close attention to what they're voting on here. Because last year instead of a Budget Resolution, we passed the Budget Control Act, a law. Now, what's the difference between a resolution and a law? I think almost any high school student can tell you a resolution is weaker than a law. And yet our colleagues continue to come to the floor and complain and say we have not passed a resolution in more than a thousand days. That's true. What we did do is pass a law called the Budget Control Act. We passed it last year overwhelming vote here in the United States Senate. Bipartisan vote. It also passed in the House of Representatives, and was signed into law by the president. A Budget Resolution never even goes to the president. A budget resolution is purely a congressional document. So a law is stronger than any resolution What did that law do? One of the things it did was cut spending $900 billion over the next ten years. I can tell you, it put in place ten years of spend caps. Ten years of spending caps. A typical Budget Resolution only deals with one year. The Budget Control Act, the law that we passed last year put in place ten years of spending caps, saving $900 billion. In addition, it said we're going to create a special committee to deal with the entitlement programs and the tax system, and we're going to say to that special committee if you can come to an agreement, you will not face a filibuster, you will not face delays, you will be able to bring that proposal right to the floor of the United States Senate and get a vote. And they further said but if you don't agree, there will be another $1.2 trillion of spending cuts imposed. And of course we all know now the special committee couldn't agree. And so that additional $1.2 trillion of spending cuts is now the law of the land on top of the $900 billion of spending cuts that was in the budget control act as well. So let's do the math. $900 billion of discretionary savings in the budget control act plus the sequester, the $1.2 trillion of additional spending cuts focused on defense and non-defense discretionary spending for a total of $2.1 trillion of spending cuts that were in the Budget Control Act passed last year that is now the law of the land. That is the biggest spending cut package in the history of the United States."
    • Spoke on U.S. debt.
      • SUMMARY "Here's what they concluded after studying 200 years of economic history, 44 different countries. We examined the experience of 44 countries spanning up to two centuries of data on central government debt, inflation and growth. Our main finding is across both advanced countries and emerging markets high debt to GDP levels, 90% and above - again, this is gross debt. When you get to a gross debt of 90% or more, are associated with notably lower growth outcomes. This isn't just about numbers on a page. This is about future economic prospects, future economic opportunity, future job prospects, future wealth of a nation is hurt when you get to a gross debt of more than 90% of your GDP the previous chart I showed is that we will be at 104% of GDP at the end of this year. So absolutely we have got to focus on deficits and debt. But we should not lose sight of the fact that you can't pivot and do that when the economy is weak or you'll make the economy even weaker. So the initial steps we need to take are to strengthen growth. At the same time we ought to put in place a plan that gets us back on track fiscally. That deals with this debt problem for the longer term. Because this is not a matter of you get to this point, you fall off the cliff. It doesn't work that way. What is critically important is we adopt the right economic policies now to strengthen the economy, to lift growth. But at the same time to put in place a longer-term plan that deals with deficits and debt. Here's where we're headed if we fail to act. This is according to the Congressional Budget Office. It's nonpartisan. We've got a debt, gross debt that I was referencing before, 104%. You'll look at this and you'll say, gee, it's not 104% on this chart. That's because this is not gross debt. This is debt held by the public which most economists like to talk about. I talk about the gross debt because gross debt includes what we owe to the trust funds ... So if we're going to compare ourselves to the research they did, we have to be talking gross debt. This is debt held by the public, and this is what CBP says is going to happen to debt held by the public if we fail to act. We're going to have a debt more than 200% of GDP that's the track we're on. So, hey, we've got to sober up. We need a plan that gets us back on track. And when we analyze how we got in this situation, what's critical is that we look at spending and revenue because it's that mismatch that leads to deficits. It's when you're spending more than you're taking in, it's when your outlays are greater than your revenue that you have deficits. And it's the accumulation of deficits that is the debt."
    • Spoke on tax reform.
      • SUMMARY "I don't know what could be more clear that we need tax reform in this country. The tax code is out of date, inefficient, hurting U.S. global competitiveness. The complexity imposes significant burdens on individuals and businesses. The expiring provisions create uncertainty and confusion. We're hemorrhaging revenue to the tax gap, to tax havens, to abusive tax shelters ... We need to restore fairness. The current system is contributing to growing income inequality. I don't know how anybody can deny we see a dramatic growth in income inequality in our country. One of the reasons is we have a tax code that favors those at the very top - at least some of them. It is very interesting, because not all - some people at the top pay a lot taxes. Some people at the top and some companies pay nothing, even though they're highly profitable. That's not fair. That's not right. And it is hurting the country. And our long-term fiscal imbalance must be addressed. Revenue must be part of the solution. Martin Feldstein, a distinguished conservative economist - nobody ever accused Martin Feldstein of being a liberal - said this: "cutting tax expenditures is really the best way to reduce government spending. Eliminating tax expenditures does not increase marginal tax rates or reduce the reward for saving, investment, or risk-taking. It would also increase overall economic efficiency by removing incentives that distort private spending decisions. And eliminating or consolidating the large number of overlapping tax-based subsidies would also greatly simplify tax filing. In short, cutting tax expenditures is not at all like other ways of raising revenue." In this case, I think Martin Feldstein has got it about right. One way we could raise additional revenue is to reform the current tax system, making our system more competitive and at the same time raising additional revenue that could be used to help reduce the deficit, along with reform of entitlement programs, along with additional spending restraint ... These tax expenditures go overwhelmingly to the top 1%. Here is the increase in a after-tax income from tax expensed expenditures. The middle quintile gets $3,200 a year of value. The top 1% get over a quarter of a million dollars a year. Overwhelmingly, these tax expenditures which are now costing us $1.2 trillion a year are going to the wealthiest among us."
    • Spoke on the Simpson-Bowles plan.
      • SUMMARY "We took that balanced approach and yes, we reformed the revenue system to have a more tax system, to shut down abusive tax havens and loopholes, but also to have further savings on the spending side of the equation. This is an overview of the fiscal commission plan. $5.4 trillion in deficit reduction over ten years. Lowered the deficit to 1.4% of GDP in 2022 from the peak which is around 10% of GDP stabilized the gross debt by 2015, reduced discretionary spending to 4.8% of GDP by 2022 which has already been done as I've indicated in the Budget Control Act. Build on health care reform savings, called for social security reform with the savings to be used only to extend the life of social security itself. Social security was not part of a deficit reduction plan because social security has not been a contributor to building these deficits and debt. But we also know social security is in trouble. Its solvency is in question. And we recommended any changes to social security be purely for the purpose of extending the life of social security itself given the incredibly important role it plays in our country. And we also included fundamental tax reform to raise revenue and to go after these tax havens, to go after these abusive tax shelters. And yes, to ask the wealthiest among us, some of whom, not all, some of whom have gotten away with paying very little, to ask them to pay that are fair share. This is what would happen to the deficit as a percentage of GDP under that plan. You can see it would be reduced dramatically from 7.6% of GDP in this year to 1.4% of GDP by 2021. And really dramatic reductions as a percentage of GDP by 2016. And this is what would happen to the debt. Instead of the debt continuing to grow to more than 119% of GDP by 2022, that debt would be at 93% of GDP by 2022. So we would get in the near term debt would go up some more, absolutely, because we got to deal with this economic weakness but over the full ten years of the plan, the debt would be brought under control and be brought down somewhat."

Senator Sanders: (11:50 AM)
  • Spoke on Wall Street.
    • SUMMARY "The American people are angry. They are angry because they are living through the worst recession since the great depression. Unemployment is not 8.2%, real unemployment is closer to 15%. Young people who are graduating high school and they're graduating college, they're going out into the world, they want to become independent, they want to create jobs, there are no jobs. There are workers out there and I'm sure you know them, 50, 55 years old who intended to work out the remainder of their work lives, suddenly they got a pink slip, their self-esteem is destroyed, they're never going to have another job again and now they're worried about their retirement security. What the American people are angry about is they understand that they did not cause this recession. Teachers did not cause this recession. Firefighters and police officers who are being attacked daily by governors all over this country did not cause this recession. Construction workers did not cause this recession. This recession was caused by the greed, the recklessness and illegal behavior of the people on Wall Street. And what these people on Wall Street did is spend billions of dollars, billions of dollars, trying to deregulate Wall Street and they got their way. $5 billion in ten years is what they spent, and then they were able to merge investment banks with commercial banks, with insurance companies. They got everything they wanted. They said get the government off the backs of Wall Street. They got it. And the government off the backs of wall street. They got it. And the end result was that they plunged this country into the worst recession since the great depression ... One might have thought that perhaps they learned something, that maybe the lesson of the great financial crisis was you cannot continue to maintain the largest gambling casino in the history of the world. But apparently they have not learned that lesson. They are back at it again and we have recently seen the $2 billion or $3 billion gambling losses at JP Morgan Chase. What we need from Wall Street if we're going to put people back to work is investments in the productive economy. Small and medium sized businesses all over this country need affordable loans and that's what financial institutions should be doing. They should be helping us create jobs, expand businesses, not continuing to engage in their wild and exotic gambling schemes."
  • Spoke on deficit reduction.
    • SUMMARY "I agree that deficit reduction is a real issue and I think we have got to deal with it. But we are not, if I have anything to say about it, going to deal with it on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick, the poor and the hungry. The way you deal with deficit reduction in a responsible way, in a fair way is you say to the billionaires in this country, who are doing phenomenally well, you make the point that Warren Buffett made, that there's something a little bit absurd that millionaires and billionaires today, in the midst of the deficit crisis, are paying the lowest tax rates that they have paid in decades. So, yes, we're going to have to ask the wealthiest people in this country to start paying their fair share of taxes. I saw a piece in the paper the other day. It was quite incredible. The rich people apparently are leaving America, they're giving up their citizenship, they're going abroad. These great lovers of America who made their money in this country, when you ask them to start paying their fair share of taxes, they're running abroad. We have 19-year-old kids in this country who've died in Iraq and Afghanistan defending this country, they went abroad not to escape taxes, they're working-class kids who died in wars and now the billionaires that want to run abroad in order to paying their fair share of taxes. What patriotism, what love of country. So, yeah, we've got to deal with deficit reduction. But you don't cut Social Security, you don't cut Medicare, you don't cut Medicaid, you don't cut education. You ask the wealthiest people, the millionaires and billionaires, to start paying their fair share of taxes. You end these outrageous corporate loopholes. Senator Conrad showed a picture of a building in the Cayman Islands where there are 18,000 corporations. They're there in the Cayman Islands using a postal address in order to avoid paying their taxes. We're losing about a hundred billion a year. You've got large corporations making billions, paying in some cases paying nothing in taxes. That's the way you go to deficit reduction, not on the backs of people who are already hurting. So, we are in a very difficult moment in American history. We are in the process of losing the great middle class. We're seeing more of our people being poor. We're seeing savage attacks being waged against the elderly in terms of cuts in Social Security and Medicare, attacks against those who get sick in terms of going after Medicaid and Medicare. And I think what the American people are saying is enough is enough. This country, this great country, belongs to all of us. It cannot continue to be controlled by a handful of billionaires who apparently want it all."

Tester, Pryor, Durbin

Increased Payroll Tax Credit and Bonus Depreciation bill (S. 2237)

Jun 27 2012 3:36 PM

Senator Tester: (12:37 PM)
  • Spoke on wildfires.
    • SUMMARY "The problem is the dry climate, the lack of preparation, and lack of resources available to contain these fires. I first want to express my sincerest appreciation to the brave firefighters battling these blazes. On behalf of Montanans and the folks across the west, I want to thank you for all that you do. Firefighters risk your lives every day for folks that you've never met. We owe you our respect and our gratitude and my thoughts and prayers are with you. We also owe them the resources that they need to efficiently fight these fires and we owe them the policies that will best benefit the landscape that they are working so hard to protect. Forest service fire officials say that there are three parts to preventing and controlling wildfires. The first is reducing hazardous fuels. Especially in the wild land urban interface. The second is protecting towns with community fire plans and implementing defensible space around structures and the third is that we must provide and be ready with the resources to fight fires once they've started. Yet Congress has consistently reduced the resources set aside for the forest service to proactively reduce the risk presented by fires. Hazardous fuel reduction funding has declined over the past few years and this year the administration proposed to continue reducing these funds. In the House of Representatives is also failing to give the forest service the tools it needs to address this growing problem by playing politics with solutions that will improve the health of the exact forests where these fires are raging in Montana and Colorado. For four years, I have worked to pass a forest management bill that would reduce these trees that are providing dangerous fuel for two of these fires in Montana. Additionally, the Senate created the flame wildfire account to specifically put money aside for this exact kind of emergency situation. Yet this year the president's budget reduces the flame account by nearly a half a billion dollars. We've been robbing this account to keep the forest service afloat, but the forest service has still lost nearly 40% of its purchasing power over the last 20 years as the number, cost, and frequency of these fires increase. Back in 2000, not that long ago, there were more than 40 forest fire fighting plants. Today there are ten and nine are from a fleet of planes used during the Korean War. This spring I asked the chief of the forest service if we were ready in case of a bad fire season this year. He admitted that the forest service did not have the resources to deal with an above-average fire year. This issue won't go away when the fire season comes to an end. With large parts of the west getting hotter and drier over the past few decades, our efforts to improve forest health and give the firefighters the resources they need cannot stop when the weather gets cold. We need to commit to providing proper resources to the firefighters today, who are protecting our communities. And we also need to provide the forest service and the bureau of land management with the tools and resources they need to prevent catastrophic wildfires in the first place. Some of us have been talking about hazardous fuel reduction in western forests before today but it has fallen on deaf ears. Now I ask you to heed the call and provide the necessary resources."

Senator Pryor: (2:48 PM)
  • Spoke on the Flood Insurance bill.
    • SUMMARY "Insurance is a concept that should be based on risk, and flood insurance has always been based on risk. In fact, if you talk to any private insurance company, that's what they're doing, they are managing risk, they are assessing risk, they're looking at risk, they're looking at the chances of something going wrong and some damages occurring. You know the third party, the insurance company, paying for those damages and making people whole. Well, flood insurance is really no different. It's never been any different. The private sector for years and years offered flood insurance. Now the federal government is the only one offering it. I think in the whole country. There may be a few isolated areas where they do offer it, but I think basically the private sector has gotten out of the flood insurance business because of the enormous cost when there is a flood, and they basically have priced themselves out of the market because the premiums don't cover the payouts now. But nonetheless, risk has always been fundamental to the whole concept of insurance. This bill changes that. This bill says that if you live behind a levee or near a dam or some other flood control structure, then you're going to have a requirement to purchase flood insurance. Regardless of the risk, if you live behind a levee, near a dam or some other flood control structure and you're in the 100-year flood plain, you're going to be required to purchase flood insurance. It's not based on risk. It's a per se mandatory requirement based on your location. I'm not sure you can find anything in the insurance world equivalent to this. Certainly I think it's bad public policy. There are many, many reasons why it's bad public policy, but the most important reason is we're going to be requiring millions and millions of Americans to purchase flood insurance that will never flood, they will never need it. The reason they'll never need it is because they're protected by levees and dams and other flood control structures. Those structures work Unfortunately, this bill would say they're going to pay twice. They're going to have to pay for their taxes to build and maintain those levees, but they're also - their people are going to be required to purchase flood insurance, flood insurance they will never need, they will never use. If you live behind a certified levee - and there are ways for levees to be decertified. Let me tell you, if a levee is not safe, if it's not up to standards, it should be decertified, but when you live behind a certified levee or dam or some other flood control structure and that is going to prevent you from flooding, the Congress should recognize that fact and not require people to purchase flood insurance."

Senator Durbin: (3:24 PM)
  • Spoke on the Flood Insurance bill.
    • SUMMARY "I do want to join my colleague, Senator Pryor from Arkansas, in raising concerns about one particular section in the bill. It creates a burden for many people across the United States, in Illinois, in Arkansas, in Pennsylvania and California and other places. It's called section 107. It deals with mandatory insurance coverage areas. It redefines special flood hazard areas. Under section 107-b, everyone in the united states living behind a levee, near a dam or near any other flood-control structure, a so-called residual risk area, will be required to purchase flood insurance. Everyone. FEMA estimates that well over 50% of America's population lives near a levee. Senator Pryor has a very revealing map of the united states. We have a lot of waterways and a lot of levees. There are levees in 881 counties throughout the United States. As many as 800,000 people in my state of about 12 1/2 million live in these areas. Many people living near a levee don't even realize it because the levees work. They've never had a flood. But under this provision, they're still required to buy insurance. The same holds true for people living near dams. There are nearly 1,400 dams in Illinois alone. Think of how many people live near those dams nationwide. Those people would also be required to purchase flood insurance under this provision. Under this section of the bill, the mandatory purchase requirement would apply to people living in residual risk areas regardless of the status of the flood-control structure. That's where I take exception to this approach. So even in communities where levees and dams have been certified safe, in many cases by the U.S. army corps of engineers, the people living behind those levees would have to purchase flood insurance The people in these so-called residual risk areas already pay for their flood-control structures in one way or another The community agreed in that area to raise taxes on themselves to pay for improvements to the levees. In other words, they weren't pointing to Washington saying, "come in and fix our levees." They said, we'll take on the responsibility and we will pay for it. They're accepting responsibility and they're paying for it Yet under this bill's mandatory purchase requirement, as it is written - and as I understand it - they also will be forced to pay flood insurance. If they had done nothing, they would still face the flood insurance premium. They did the responsible thing and they'll still being charged. Not only are they paying higher taxes to strengthen their levees, they'll pay flood insurance for floods that are not likely to ever happen. Precisely because of the improvements that they're making to those levees which protect them. To add insult to injury, if these areas are mapped into a special flood hazard area, the communities will have to pass an ordinance that FEMA requires for participation in the flood insurance program. This ordnance will restrict land use. In many cases, these ordnances diminish property values and reduce the number of jobs in the area. My colleague, Senator Cochran of Mississippi, worked with Senator Shelby of Alabama and the Banking committee to develop a compromise to this section. The compromise is a move in the right direction, I will concede, but it doesn't go far enough to help the people living near flood-control structures. The new section 107 strikes the language restricting land use in residual risk areas but it doesn't remove the mandatory flood insurance purchase requirement. The new language only delays that requirement until FEMA can develop a new way to measure each levee's and dam's strength and efficiency. But then the people who live in these areas will be forced to buy insurance. Adding up to 50% of the U.S. population into the national flood insurance program simply because they live near a flood-control structure i think does not take into account actual reality on the ground."

Senator Pryor: (3:31 PM)
  • Spoke on the Flood Insurance bill.
    • SUMMARY "My guess is that virtually every senator that's a member of this body has a similar story where the people in these areas with levees, they're taxing themselves. They're taking on the responsibility to protect their property and their communities from floods. There's no doubt at all that these folks who live behind levees are in a better position than folks that aren't behind levees, and the flood insurance program should recognize that fact. And in listening to Senator Durbin a few moments, I had a thought. And that is, if we're going to do this, if we're going to select out the people in these darker areas on this map and we're going to say, hey, just because you live in an area that has a levee, you're going to have to pay more, that's not fair. I would prefer that if we just made everybody pay - why don't we make every mortgage owner in the country pay for this? Why don't we just say, look, if you have a mortgage, you're going to have to pay $5 a month or whatever the number is, just to help subsidize everybody else? That's a fairer way to do it. Why are we singling out people that live behind levees and dams and have other flood-control infrastructure there? It makes no sense. In fact those people are more protected than other people."

Hoeven, Toomey, Pryor

Increased Payroll Tax Credit and Bonus Depreciation bill (S. 2237)

Jun 27 2012 4:50 PM

Senator Hoeven: (4:18 PM)
  • Spoke on the Flood Insurance bill.
    • SUMMARY "In short form, the individual behind the certified dike or levee required to buy flood insurance, the other individual who is in essentially the same situation but natural topography or natural geography rather than certified protection, that individual is not required to purchase flood insurance. One is protected so to speak by the natural landscape, the other by good, solid engineering and an understanding of the risk involved and wait takes to protect against flooding. But only one of them has to buy flood insurance. That's not fair. First of all, homeowners and businesses are already paying for flood protection through the infrastructure they've elected to build to protect themselves and their property. So they're already paying for it when they build that certified infrastructure. Nobody is more aware of their flood risks than individuals in those situations, whether it's their home or their business. Communities that have already invested in flood protection infrastructure now in essence are going to be in a situation where they're paying twice for flood protection. Yet the Johnson-Shelby substitute would force those communities to pay essentially every year for that flood protection. They would first pay for the infrastructure that they've already paid for through their local taxes and, again, then each year through a government mandated insurance purchase of flood insurance ... The substitute amendment requires both mandatory insurance purchase for people behind certified flood control infrastructure and at the same time a study on the very same policy it intends to implement. We shouldn't be enacting a provision into law until we understand its implications and its consequences. The Pryor-Hoeven amendment allows the study to move forward but it removes the mandatory insurance purchase requirement. We should determine more about how it impacts individuals and communities before this new mandate is considered."

Senator Toomey: (4:34 PM)
  • Spoke on the Flood Insurance bill.
    • SUMMARY "We have in this underlying bill a federal mandate that forces people to buy homeowner insurance. And it forces a new category of people to buy homeowner flood insurance and the new category are those people who live behind a levee or a dam. Now, a lot of folks have contributed a lot of money over many years to building levees and dams precisely so that they would be protected from the risk of floods. And, in fact, that works every day all across America. And yet we're going to ask those people to also have to pay as though there were no levee there. This strikes me as a profoundly flawed approach. It completely ignores the investments that these communities have made for years and in the process, it discourages future flood mitigation measures, it discourages the maintenance of existing levees and dams. It discourages the building of additional ones. I think this is a bad idea. It's bad to create these kind of incentives. And I will say candidly, this disproportionately has an adverse effect on states that have, over the years, a long history of building levees and dams ... There are a lot of communities that would like to have additional levees and dams to have more protection than we have today. And what this measure would do, would say well, don't do that. You know, what good does it do? You're still going to have to pay for flood insurance. So I think this is a badly flawed approach. And finally, let me just say once again, there's something very wrong with this process. This is a big deal to ask 1 million to 2 million additional Pennsylvanians - to not ask, to force them into a program where they would be forced to buy an insurance product whether they want it or not. By the way, nothing stops them from voluntarily choosing to purchase flood insurance but that's not what this bill is about. The bill is about forcing them to buy this product. And to think that we're going to create this huge new mandate on what could be 2 million Pennsylvanians alone, many more millions across the country, to do it without a full debate on the Senate floor without the opportunity to consider this legislation, without the opportunity to consider and debate and vote on amendments I think is a big mistake."

Senator Pryor: (4:39 PM)
  • Spoke on the Flood Insurance bill.
    • SUMMARY "We should let the Senate be the Senate. We should bring the National Flood Insurance Program bill to the floor by regular order. We should debate it. We should offer amendments. We should vote on those amendments, vote on final passage. Shouldn't have any funny business with. This is an important piece of legislation. But right now the funny business with this legislation is not the fact that there may be extraneous amendment or two that's totally unrelated to the subject matter. The funny business right now is they're trying to jam this down the throats of other senators, especially when they know that there's an amendment that's relevant, that's germane, that's in order and that amendment would probably get well over 50 votes. They're thwarting the will of the Senate if they include this in the legislation. So I would implore my colleagues who are involved in this conference effort to try to bring the Surface Transportation bill, which I support, and try to bring the Student Loan bill, which I support, try to bring those bills to the floor, I would implore them to not include the offending language of section 107. If they do, I want to state my intention to object to that language when it comes here to the Senate. And that is not a very pleasant prospect because that means the House may have to stay longer, the Senate may have to stay longer. This is completely avoidable. I think that we haven't mechanism in place where we can either take this legislation, the flood insurance legislation, up tomorrow and dispense with it, and pass it, I hope, or amendment it, I hope. And we can file cloture, if there's problems with extraneous amendments, we can file cloture more or less tomorrow and then after the 4th of July recess, where we'll be back home in our home states, we can then take it up the first day or two we get back. So there's way to do this."

Senator Hoeven: (4:43 PM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "I'd like to join with Senator Pryor in this objection. We've clearly laid out a resolve the situation and that is to have a vote on the amendment that we've put forward. And there are other ways to resolve it as well. And, you know, we've made that very clear. But, look, this is a clear case where in order to make a policy change of that magnitude, it needs to be properly discussed, properly debated and certainly voted on. So this is a situation where we've clearly laid out any number of ways to resolve the issue. But this legislation, the section 107 that Senator Pryor referred, to should not be included in this legislation. And if it is, then I would seek to join Senator Pryor in his objection."

Durbin (The Senate Stands Adjourned)

Increased Payroll Tax Credit and Bonus Depreciation bill (S. 2237)

Jun 27 2012 5:24 PM

Senator Durbin: (5:11 PM)
  • Spoke on Obamacare.
    • SUMMARY "According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Affordable Care Act will reduce the deficit over the next ten years by over $200 billion, and then another $1 trillion in the second decade. This is a, an important measure to reduce health care costs, reduce government outlays and reduce the deficit. So the decision of the court will have an impact on that particular element. The law does a number of specific things to reduce health care costs while saving lives. Because of the Affordable Care Act, preventive services for many Americans are now free. In Illinois, my home state, last year 1.3 million people on Medicare - that's about 10% of our population - and 2.4 million people with private health insurance received preventive care at no cost. This is important because preventive services like mammograms, cholesterol screening can really help lower costs, prevent illness and save lives. And on the subject of prevention, the law provides help with states with their prevention programs. Programs, for example, that try to discourage kids from smoking, programs that detect and treat diabetes at an early stage, heart disease, arthritis, so many other areas that can be treated successfully if there are preventive efforts. Another reason this law is important, because of lifetime limits. Before this law was enacted, insurance companies routinely told families, sorry, you hit your limit. We're not going to pay for any more of your chemotherapy or your premature baby's illness. People didn't know it was a limit until it was too late. The law changed that. Because of this law, 4.6 million people in my state, Illinois, 4.6 million got the care they needed last year without having to worry about the insurance companies cutting them off saying they reached the limit. In these tough economic times, many young adults are having trouble finding work. Another thing this bill did was to extend the coverage of family health insurance to cover those through the age of 25. Because the Affordable Care Act, parents can keep their kids under their policy until the young people reach the age of 26. Across the country, 2.5 million young adults, including 102,000 in my state of Illinois, have been able to stay on their parents' insurance plan ... The law says insurance companies have to spend at least 85% of their premiums on health care rather than spend it on advertising, overhead or executive compensation. $61 million has been returned in my state to over 300,000 people in the form of rebates because of this medical loss ratio, 85% to be spent on health care. That's money that flows back to families and individuals and businesses."
  • Performed Wrap Up --
  • Tomorrow --
    • The Senate will convene at 9:30 AM and Majority Leader Reid will be recognized. The first hour will be equally divided, with the Republicans controlling the first 30 minutes and the Majority controlling the second 30 minutes.
    • Pending is S. 1940, the Flood Insurance bill. Pending to S. 1940 are Reid (for Johnson (SD)/Shelby) substitute amendment #2468 and Reid (for Pryor/Hoeven) amendment #2469 (residual risk) to Reid (for Johnson (SD)/Shelby) substitute amendment #2468. The rest of the amendment tree was filled with date changes.
    • Pending is the Motion to Proceed to S. 2237, the Increased Payroll Tax Credit and Bonus Depreciation bill.
    • The Senate is expected to take action on a Highway/Student Loan bill before it adjourns for the week.
The Senate stands adjourned until 9:30 AM Thursday, June 28th.