Floor Updates

Grassley, Mikulski, Harkin, Lee, Durbin, McCain, Reid (UC), Tester

Flood Insurance bill (S. 1940)/Tax Credit/Bonus Depreciation bill (S. 2237)

Jun 25 2012

05:29 PM

Senator Grassley: (2:46 PM)
  • Spoke on Europe's fiscal situation.
    • SUMMARY "Despite the clear results of the most recent American experience with stimulus spending, liberal pundits are now blaming Europe's current economic troubles on efforts to reduce government spending. They say that savage cuts by pro-austerity governments in countries like Britain, France, and Spain have actually damaged their economies. So just how deep did these countries of Europe actually cut? Spain increased spending after the recession started, then implemented some modest cuts, but is still spending more than it did before the recession. Britain and France have continued to increase spending. So much, then, for savage spending cuts. It defies common sense, but as you know in this town smaller increases in spending than previously planned can qualify somehow as a cut in spending. However, to most Americans cutting spending actually means spending less than you were the year before. The fact that there have been no serious spending cuts in these supposedly pro-austerity countries is enough to dismiss the accusations that spending cuts are the cause of Europe's troubles. But there's another part of the story that is too often ignored. Governments that talk about the needs to reduce deficits but are too timid to enact necessary spending cuts invariably turn to tax increases. For instance, since the recession started, Britain has raised the top marginal income tax rate as well as increasing capital gains tax, the national insurance tax, and the value added tax. Spain has enacted hikes in personal income tax and property taxes and seems to be planning even more taxes. This year, the Spanish government is looking to address its deficit with a $19.2 billion package of spending reductions paired with another $16 billion worth of tax increases. Of course, to us here in the United States that sounds a lot like what Democrats have been calling a balanced approach. And so it is. Just like giving a patient an equal dose of medicine and poison would be a balanced approach. However, across Europe there has been a lot more emphasis on the poison of tax increases than on the medicine of spending cuts. In fact, while government spending across the entire European Union fell by just $2.6 billion between 2010 and 2011, taxes rose by a staggering $235 billion. So while critics of austerity are flat-out wrong to blame the lodge mythical spending cuts for Europe's economic troubles, they may have stumbled onto something. To the extent that as territory really means big tax increases rather than serious spending cuts, I think it identifies a big part of Europe's fiscal and economic problems."
  • Spoke on the FDA Reauthorization bill.

Senator Mikulski: (3:27 PM)
  • Spoke on the FDA Reauthorization bill.
    • SUMMARY "I went to listen to those biotech companies. I said to them tell me how your government is helping you. Tell me how your government is impeding you. Tell me where you want your government to get out of the way and where do you need a more muscular government? Well, we heard quite a bit from them. The first thing that they told me is they need a Food and Drug Administration, because when they are approved for public safety and efficacy in the United States of America, they can sell their products anywhere in the world, and it means often countries, small countries, countries with modest means with limited they know they can never afford an FDA, they know if the United States of America says it's okay for their citizens, any other country in the world knows it's okay for theirs. So it's very good to be able to export these products with confidence and reliability. This is fantastic in their mind. Second, they say they did need more help from FDA not only to expedite, but they wanted better communication. They also needed to be able to incentivize for those rare diseases that we often hear about where there are small markets with big investment to achieve in it. They outline the fact that they needed to be viewed not in an adversarial way but a collaborative way. Well, thanks to business sitting down with FDA and business sitting down with members of Congress, we have been able to do exactly that. We have approved efficiency, predictability, the regulatory environment, at the same time insisting on safety and efficacy. This is going to be great for patients. Millions of Americans rely on drugs and biologics and on medical devices. If we're going to improve health care and rein in the cost of health care, we have got to use drugs, biotech products and medical device that is improve lives and extend lives. If we fail to authorize this legislation, we are going to be in big trouble. How are we going to be in big trouble? Well, first of all, we will have to give notices to FDA that they are going to be laid off. That means we would have to send out notices in July telling 4,000 people, look, we know you're the best and the brightest and we want you to have integrity as well as regulatory sensibility and a great deal of scientific competence, but we couldn't get our act together, so you're going to be laid off. Hello. We want these people out there helping America be able to provide health care in a way that's safe and has efficacy. If we don't act, again, as I said, thousands of FDA people will be here. And it's not about government. If those people are laid off, it means every single drug that is now in the pipeline, its review process will come to a halt. So we're hurting patients, thousands of people who need either new drugs, new ways of helping them, whether it's with that dreaded c word like cancer or diabetes that takes so much of our national budget to manage chronic illness. And what about the breakthroughs when this epidemic of Alzheimer's that we have and autism. We need all the help that we can develop, and if America's going to continue to be America the exceptional, we have got to do an exceptionally good job of making sure we produce some of the newest and most reliable drugs, biotech and medical devices. This is why I think we have good legislation."

Senator Harkin: (4:07 PM)
  • Spoke on the FDA Reauthorization bill.
    • SUMMARY "A sizable part of FDA's budget comes from user fees that industry agrees to pay to allow FDA to review product applications. We need to authorize FDA to implement those agreements if we want to keep FDA running at full steam, which is critical to preserving jobs at both the agency and in the industry. And to ensuring that FDA has the resources to get safe medical products to patients quickly. I want to be clear, these agreements affect all of us by helping maintain and create jobs in our home states. For example, in my state, these agreements will support our burgeoning bioscience sector which saw employment grow by 4.5% between 2007 and 2008. Implementation of these agreements will continue to foster biomedical innovation and job both if all of our states. The bill before us reauthorizes the prescription drug user fee agreement and the medical device user fee agreement, both commonly known as PDUFA and MUDFA, which will continue and improve the agency's ability to speed market access to prescription drugs and medical devices while ensuring patient safety ... It provides that type of support so that we can hire more people, to make sure that we get these products to patients quickly but to make sure that they are safe. The bill also authorizes a new generic drug user fee agreement which is expected to slash review times to a third of the current levels, from 30 month to months. Drastically improving the speed with which generic products are made available to patients. The new generic user fee agreement will generate significant savings for patients and our health care system. In the last decade alone, from 2001 to 2010, the use of generic drugs saved the health care system more than This agreement will ensure that we continue to see these savings and that patients have access to cheaper drugs. This bill also authorizes the new biosimilar user fee agreement The use of generic drugs has saved over $931 billion in the last decade. $158 billion just in 2010 alone. So we can see that the better we are able to get generic drugs approved and in the pipeline - again, safely - the better off we're all going to be and the more money that not only will we save as individuals but our entire health care system will save. That's almost $1 trillion over just the last ten years The bill modernizes FDA authority in several critical ways. It authorizes key user fee agreements to assure timely ... of medical products. It streamlines the device approval process. It modernizes FDA posts global drug supply chain authority. And that's so important. It spurs innovation and incentivizes joint development for life-threatening conditions. It reauthorizes and improves incentives for pediatric health care. It helps prevent and mitigate drug shortages and it increases FDA's accountability and transparency. It addresses a broad array of critical issues we face in today's economy, and it's imperative our regulatory system keeps pace with and adapts to technological and scientific advances and that patient protections remain strong in this era of dynamic change. Keeping pace with the ever-changing biomedical landscape is precisely the aim of the FDA Safety and Innovation Act."

Senator Lee: (6:34 PM)
  • Spoke on the Leahy-Thurmond rule.
    • SUMMARY "Pursuant to this tradition and this precedent, the Senate will cease confirming nominees to the federal court of appeals until after the presidential election in November. Many of my colleagues from the other side of the aisle have previously affirmed the propriety of this rule and enforced its standard. For example, in the last year the Bush administration, the Majority Leader noted that "in a presidential election year, it is always very tough for judges. That is the way it has been for a long time and that is why we have the Thurmond rule." The Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who has cited the Thurmond rule more frequently than any other senator has likewise state that had "in a presidential-election year, after spring no judges go through except by the consent of the Republican and Democratic leader.â€? In 2008, for example, one of my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee argued that for federal appeals court nominees, once it comes to June, generally everything stops in an election year. Indeed, on June 12 of that same year, another Judiciary Committee colleague stated that the Senate was "way past the time of the Thurmond rule." Now history further confirms the propriety of invoking the Leahy-Thurmond rule at this time. It is extremely rare for the Senate to confirm an appeals court nominee after June of a presidential election year. In fact, it has happened only once in almost two decades when in 2000 the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed one of President Clinton's nominees. It is simply not true as comments from some of my colleagues have implied that in recent presidential election years we have confirmed appellate court nominees in July, August, or September. Moreover, this year we have already confirmed five of President Obama's federal please court nominees. This incidentally is the same number of appeals court nominees that the Senate confirmed in 2008, the most recent presidential year on record. In 2004 the Senate confirmed only four such nominees. Indeed, dating back over 100 years from President William Howard Taft to President Obama, the Senate has confirmed an average of just four appeals court nominees during presidential election years. This year we've already exceeded the historical average and confirmed five of President Obama's appeals court nominees. There is no reason to depart further from the historical norm and confirm additional nominees. The suggestion by some that application of the Leahy-Thurmond rule somehow affects court vacancies deemed judicial emergencies are false and indeed recklessly so. Of the four judicial emergencies on the federal court of appeals, President Obama has nominated only one individual, and because that nomination who was so recent, even absent Leahy-Thurmond rule, that nominee would not be scheduled for a vote any time soon. I would also remind my colleagues that Democrats enforced the Leahy-Thurmond rule in June 2008 during a time there was twice as many judicial emergencies in the circuit courts as there are right now. The overall vacancy rate on our circuit courts was much higher in June 2004 when President Bush was in the final year of his term, yet Democrats did not hesitate to block several qualified appellate court nominees in the months leading up to the 2004 presidential election. Enforcement of the Leahy-Thurmond rule does not currently apply to district court nominees. This year the senate has already confirmed 23 of President Obama's district court nominees, many more than were confirmed during comparable years during the Bush presidency or the Clinton presidency, and we will continue to confirm more qualified nominees. Application of the Leahy-Thurmond rule beginning now will thus not implicate any district court judicial emergencies. The urgency for such vacancies lies not in the Senate, which to this day has acted responsibly on the nominees, but with President Obama, who to this day has failed to nominate individuals for many of these seats."

Senator Durbin: (4:33 PM)
  • Spoke on the Supreme Court's ruling on Arizona's immigration law.
    • SUMMARY "The Supreme Court today struck down several parts of the Arizona law, including the provision that would have made it a crime in Arizona to be an undocumented immigrant and the provision that would have required legal immigrants to carry documents proving their legal status at all times. The Supreme Court is right. States do not have the right under the constitution to enact immigration laws that contradict federal law. Many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle strongly criticized the Obama administration for even challenging the Arizona immigration law. There was even an amendment offered to try to block the Justice Department from pursuing the litigation that was brought to the Supreme Court. Fortunately, the vast majority of Democrats joined by two Republicans, Senators Johanns and Voinovich, blocked that amendment. Now the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy, has sided with the Obama administration in holding the vast majority of the Arizona law unconstitutional. I am troubled that the Supreme Court upheld one of the provisions in that law in Arizona, section 2-b, which requires Arizona police officers to check the immigration status of suspected undocumented immigrants. But it's important to understand that court decision on that section is a narrow one. The only question before the court was whether that section, 2-b, was preempted by federal immigration law. The court said it is open to future challenges once the law goes into effect and this provision could still be held unconstitutional like the other provisions in the Arizona law. According to law enforcement experts, section 2-b is likely to encourage profiling which would violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the constitution. Specifically, section 2-b requires police officers to check the immigration status of any individual with whom they have lawful contact if they "reasonable suspicion that the person is an undocumented immigrant.â€? So what is the basis for a reasonable suspicion that the person they pulled over is, in fact, an undocumented immigrant? Well, the guidance on the law issued in the state of Arizona says that police officers should consider things such as how a person is dressed or their ability to communicate in English ... I'm confident that section 2-b will eventually be struck down as the other two provisions were in the Arizona law. Arizona law is the wrong approach for America. It is amazing to me how this nation of immigrants of which we are all part of the family has struggled for so long to deal with the whole issue of immigration. I think it is wrong to treat people like criminals simply because of their immigration status, and it's not right to make criminals of people who literally go to work every day cooking our food, cleaning our rooms and caring in nursing homes for our children, day care centers for our children, nursing homes and our parents and grandparents. Here's the reality. Treating immigrants like criminals will not help combat illegal immigration. Law enforcement doesn't have the time or the resources to prosecute and incarcerate every undocumented immigrant among the ten million or 11 million in this country. Making undocumented immigrants into criminals simply drives them into the shadows. That's why the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police opposes the Arizona law considered by the court today. They say it will make it more difficult for them to make Arizona a safe place. Immigrants are less likely to cooperate with the police if they fear they are going to get arrested for even trying to help. Instead of measures that harm law enforcement and promote racial profiling, low-income the Arizona immigration law, we need practical solutions to fix a broken immigration system."

Senator McCain: (4:46 PM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "The fact is that the irony of the Supreme Court decision today is that the Supreme Court said that it is a federal responsibility to ensure our borders and not the state's responsibility. The irony of all this is that the state of Arizona acted because the federal government wouldn't act because our borders were broken, because the people in the southern part of our state were living in fear, that a rancher was killed by someone who had crossed our border illegally, that the flow of drugs guided by people on mountaintops today, guiding drug runners across our border in Arizona following up to Phoenix where drugs, Phoenix, Arizona, where drugs are distributed all over this nation ... Because the federal government would not secure our borders, then the state of Arizona felt they had to act because people in the southern part of our state and even other parts of our state were living in fear. They were living in fear because of the drug dealers who were coming across, because of the coyotes, and the mistreatment of the people that they were bringing. Of course we want to address the issue of children who were born here but we also have an obligation to have our borders secured. I repeat today, I say to my friend from Illinois, there are people sitting on mountaintops hired by the drug cartels that are guiding the drug runners across our border up to Phoenix and you can ask the DEA and these drugs are distributed throughout the country from Phoenix, Arizona. People are killed, people are murdered, the violence on the other side of the border threatens every day from spilling over to our side of the border, and so I hope as a result of this decision that the administration will get serious about actually securing our border. And everyone, everyone agrees, every expert agrees because of the work done in California and Texas that it has funneled up through the state of Arizona and have there been improvements? Of course there have been improvements. Is it still going on? As long as you have guides on mountaintops guiding drug dealers all the way up to Phoenix, Arizona, we haven't got a secure border, and that's what the people of Arizona not only want but they also deserve."

Senator Durbin: (4:52 PM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "He knows as I do that the DREAM Act was called, the first part, we thought the introductory, maybe the easiest part of immigration reform, it was stopped by a Republican filibuster. Republican filibuster."

Senator McCain: (4:52 PM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "I don't dispute that point I say to my friend from Illinois. There was no comprehensive immigration reform proposal that came over from the White House or from the Democrats as was promised by then-Senator Obama when running for the presidency. That's a fact ... Running for president said but first I'm coming over with the DREAM Act. He didn't. He said my first act will be comprehensive immigration reform. It was invited over to the White House in the year 2009. We talked about comprehensive immigration reform. I said I will await a proposal from the administration on comprehensive immigration reform. My phone never rang."
  • Spoke on PhRMA/prescription drug importation.
    • SUMMARY "During Senate consideration of this bill, I offered an amendment to allow safe drug importation from legitimate Canadian pharmacies but the pharmaceutical industry spread misleading and inaccurate information about the amendment as they have done time and time again. As I said then, there is no greater example of the influence of special interests on this body than the failure to enact an amendment that would have allowed from Canadian pharmacies who are legitimate pharmacies that people could purchase their much-needed medications at sometimes half the cost of what it is in the United States of America. I'm embarrassed to this day that nine of my Republican colleagues voted against it. I don't know if there was a sweetheart deal to protect PhRMA at the expense of patients. But we do know PhRMA was protected by the White House and Senate Democrats from provisions they didn't like in Obamacare only after they offered up advertising exchange for more accommodating policies. From a recent house policy and energy committee investigation, it is revealed that PhRMA had a deal with White House. I might point out then-Senator Obama supported drug importation and this, my friends, is what happened. This is how the New York Times described the scenario as the deal that was done in exchange for reportedly $150 million in advertising to support Obamacare. This is from the New York Times. They describe the scenario. June 8, 2012. "After weeks of quiet talks, drug industry lobbyists were growing nervous. If they were to cut a deal with the white house on overhauling the health care they needed to be President Obama would stop a proposal by his liberal allies intended to bring down medicine prices. On June 3, 2009, one of the lobbyists emailed Nancy Ann Gapali. She sent a message back reassuring the lobbyists although Mr. Obama was overseas, she wrote, she and other top officials "made a decision based on how constructive you guys are have been to oppose importation to the bill.â€?. Just like that Mr. Obama's staff abandoned their support for re-importation of prescription drugs and solidified a growing compact with an industry he had emphasize on the campaign trail the year before. A president who had once promised to air negotiations on C-SPAN cut a closed-door deal with a powerful pharmaceutical lobbying signaling a loss of innocence or a triumph of cynicism. Still, what be distinguishes the Obama industry deal he had so strongly rejected that sort of business as usual. Ironically, candidate Obama sang a different tune on the campaign trail in 2008. "I don't want to learn how to play the game better. I want to put an end to the game playing.â€?"

Senator Reid: (5:16 PM)
  • Unanimous Consent --
    • All remaining post-cloture time is yielded back and the Motion to Proceed to S. 1940, the Flood Insurance bill, is Agreed to. The amendment tree has been filled.
    • The Senate is on the Motion to Proceed to S. 2237, the Tax Credit/Bonus Depreciation bill.

Senator Tester: (5:20 PM)
  • Spoke on the Flood Insurance bill.
    • SUMMARY "These provisions include one that addresses a critical issue in my state. When this bill is passed, the army corps of engineers and FEMA will finally have to work together to develop common standards that allow existing corps levee inspections to meet FEMA levee certification criteria. We also lengthened the phase-in period for homeowners who must purchase flood insurance for the first time as a result of being mapped into a floodplain so that as changes to the map occurs folks are not forced merely into high priced premiums. This bill takes important steps to more closely align risks with premiums. It makes changes to protect taxpayers. And it puts the program on a more solid financial ground. The House and Senate never produced two flood insurance bills as closely aligned as the bills that we have before us. And I'm not sure that we've ever had the same strong, broad support that we have now from homeowners and realtors, insurers, state insurance regulators and environmental groups. That is a real testament to my colleagues on the Banking Committee, and I look forward to finally sending a long-term reauthorization reform bill to the president's desk for his signature. Unfortunately, we've seen the consequences of reauthorizing this program on a short-term basis and we've seen the consequences of letting this program lapse. We've been down that road before, and seen how unproductive and destructive lapses can be. Past lapses in the program have created uncertainty for homeowners and created significant burdens for those participating in the flood insurance program. When the program lapsed in 2010, about 1,400 home sales were canceled each day during those 53 days that the program lapsed. At a time when the housing market is still fragile, this is something that we cannot afford. For me this is an issue that hits home. The unprecedented flooding in the Missouri river basin last year which affected folks throughout central eastern Montana demonstrates the need for reauthorization and reforms to ensure levees are certified properly and efficiently. I also care deeply about this program because in addition to protecting Montana homeowners, there are jobs tied directly to the flood insurance program. In Kalispell, Montana, two of the largest national servicing organizations that employ over 500 people, jobs that could be put in jeopardy without a long-term agreement. We must offer Americans certainty in the face of risk. Now at long last comprehensive, bipartisan, long-term reauthorization of the national flood insurance program is within reach. Let's quickly act to provide security and peace of mind to the six million Americans who rely on the national flood insurance program."