Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2012

Senate Opening

Senate Opening

Mar 14 2012 09:30 AM

The Senate Convened.


Opening Remarks

Mar 14 2012 09:36 AM

Senator Reid: (9:32 AM)
  • Today --
    • The Senate will proceed to a period of Morning Business for 1 hour, with Senators permitted to speak up to 10 minutes each. The time will be equally divided with the Republicans controlling the first 30 minutes and the Majority controlling the second 30 minutes.
    • Thereafter, the Senate will resume consideration of S. 1813, the Highway bill, with the time until 11:30 AM equally divided.
    • At 11:30 AM, the Senate will conduct 3 ROLL CALL VOTES on:
      1. Boxer amendment #1816 (sense of Senate re: expeditious environmental reviews);
      2. Paul amendment #1556 (emergency exemptions); and
      3. Passage of S. 1813, the Highway bill, as amended.
    • A managers' package has been agreed to (Boxer amendment #1830). Permitted are applicable budget points of order and applicable motions to waive.
    • Upon disposition of S. 1813, the Highway bill, the Senate will proceed to a period of Morning Business until 2:00 PM, with the time equally divided and Senators permitted to speak up to 10 minutes each.
    • At 2:00 PM, the Senate will proceed to Executive Session for up to 30 minutes of debate, equally divided.
    • At 2:30 PM, the Senate will conduct up to 17 ROLL CALL VOTES on the Motion to Invoke Cloture on following nominations:
      1. Executive Calendar #408, Gina Marie Groh, of West Virginia, to be United States District Judge for the Northern District of West Virginia;
      2. Executive Calendar #441, David Nuffer, of Utah, to be United States District Judge for the District of Utah;
      3. Executive Calendar #461, Michael Walter Fitzgerald, of California, to be United States District Judge for the Central District of California;
      4. Executive Calendar #462, Ronnie Abrams, of New York, to be United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York;
      5. Executive Calendar #463, Rudolph Contreras, of Virginia, to be United States District Judge for the District of Columbia;
      6. Executive Calendar #464, Miranda Du, of Nevada, to be United States District Judge for the District of Nevada;
      7. Executive Calendar #497, Susie Morgan, of Louisiana, to be United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana;
      8. Executive Calendar #509, Gregg Jeffrey Costa, of Texas, to be United States District Judge for the Southern District of Texas;
      9. Executive Calendar #510, David Campos Guaderrama, of Texas, to be United States District Judge for the Western District of Texas;
      10. Executive Calendar #528, Brian C. Wimes, of Missouri, to be United States District Judge for the Eastern and Western Districts of Missouri;
      11. Executive Calendar #568, Kristine Gerhard Baker, of Arkansas, to be United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas;
      12. Executive Calendar #569, John Z. Lee, of Illinois, to be United States District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois;
      13. Executive Calendar #570, George Levi Russell, III, of Maryland, to be United States District Judge for the District of Maryland;
      14. Executive Calendar #571, John J. Tharp, Jr., of Illinois, to be United States District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois;
      15. Executive Calendar #610, Jeffrey J. Helmick, of Ohio, to be United States District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio;
      16. Executive Calendar #612, Mary Geiger Lewis, of South Carolina, to be United States District Judge for the District of South Carolina; and
      17. Executive Calendar #613, Timothy S. Hillman, of Massachusetts, to be United States District Judge for the District of Massachusetts.

Coburn, Durbin, McConnell, Sessions

Morning Business

Mar 14 2012 10:26 AM

Senator Coburn: (9:36 AM)
  • Spoke on judicial nominations.
    • SUMMARY "What we're about to see today carried out is the placing of partisan principles on both sides of the aisle ahead of the principle of advice and consent in the Senate's role and, unfortunately, our leader didn't protect the Senate's rights under the constitution with the last four nominations in terms of recess appointments, and we can debate that but the fact is, the institution, whether it had been a Republican leader or Democratic leader, the number-one thing that needs to be protected are the rights of the Senate as it relates to the other branches of the government and I think that's unfortunate, and I think that's part of our problem today as we fail to trust one another to do the right thing. So let me go back to leadership. The real qualities of great leaders is they bring people together of disparate views and they solve those problems, and they don't reject or they never accept the fact that an impasse is the answer and what we have queued up to set up today is going to be an impasse. Everybody knows it. It's going to be an impasse and all that does is reflect poorly on the Senate as a whole and on the leadership of the Senate on the whole on both sides. So my caution would be to return back to what chaplain black said. There's greater wisdom than we have. That's the wisdom we ought to be drawing from. As we reconcile differences in the Senate rather than destroy the comity of the Senate and destroy the ability of us to work together in the nation's best interest in the future. I would also tell you that the other thing I'm disappointed about is that we have the Senate focused on that small issue instead of the very great issues in front of our nation. The very fact that we're going bankrupt, that we've not done one thing this year to actually trim the excesses of the federal government, we've not addressed in any way, shape, or form the very problems that are going to create tremendous burdens, not only on our children but those people who through no fault of their own will not have a safety net in the future because we failed to make the tough decisions today and that's wrapped up in political expediency."

Senator Durbin: (9:50 AM)
  • Spoke on GOP obstructionism of judicial nominations.
    • SUMMARY "When you take a look at the record here, President Obama has faced the obstruction from the Republican side of the aisle is unprecedented. President Obama's districts court nominees have been forced to wait on average more than four times longer than those confirmed under President Bush or under President Clinton. Overall at this point in their terms, President Obama has had only 131 nominees confirmed, while President George W. Bush had had 172, President Clinton 183. Right now there are 39 judicial nominees pending either on the judiciary committee or the Senate floor. Promptly confirming these 39 would bring the President's overall number close to parity with President Bush. It wouldn't give him an advantage. It's time to stop the delay. I think it's important for us to confirm these nominees as quickly as possible. We don't have to go through this painful and embarrassing charade of calling cloture vote after cloture vote on nominees that were accepted on a strong bipartisan vote, have been approved by Republican senators and are simply being held up on the hope by some Republican senators that the day will come when there's a Republican President who can fill these vacancies. That isn't fair. Taking that approach is what gives our chamber a bad name. Ten of these nominees reported out of committee last year. Why continue to delay them? I note during President Bush's first term the Senate confirmed 57 district court nominees within seven days. These nominees languished on the calendar for months. If there is a legitimate objection to any nominee, step forward and state the objection. If you oppose the nominee, when the vote comes, vote "no." For goodness sakes, to let these names and nominations languish on the calendar isn't fair to the nominees and it isn't fair to the courts that are facing in many instances judicial emergencies because of these vacancies.

Senator McConnell: (9:56 AM)
  • Spoke on judicial nominations.
    • SUMMARY "This week the average price of the gallon of gas is $4. The national unemployment rate is 8.3% and if one includes those who are frustrated, so frustrated they've stopped looking for work altogether, of course the unemployment rate is much higher than 8.3%. With all of this, the Democratic majority is about to spend more of the senate's time on another heavy-handed power play that won't get them anywhere but it will make clear yet again how out of touch they are with the needs of the American people. First, we need to make clear what this is about and what this is not about. This is not about making sure the President's Judicial nominations are being treated fairly. Despite what the majority would like you to believe, the President is doing quite well on that score, as is clear from both the facts and the admissions of our Democratic friends themselves. As Senator Alexander noted yesterday, the Senate confirmed 76 out of 78 district court nominees whom President Obama submitted in his first two yearsThe President withdrew the other two. That's a 97% success rate. Not bad. The Senate confirmed 62 of President Obama's circuit and district court nominations last year alone and if you look at President Bush and President Obama's lower court confirmations when they both had two Supreme Court appointments for the senate to consider, President Obama is doing much, much better than President Bush. President Bush had a total of 120 lower court judges confirmed in four years, while President Obama already had 129 lower court judgeships confirmed in just three years. So President Obama has had more confirmations in a much shorter period of time. To the extent that there's anyone here to blame, the Obama administration and Senate Democrats should actually look in the mirror. Of the 83 current vacancies, over half of them - 44 - don't even have nominees. Let me say that again. Of the 83 current vacancies, over half of them - 44 - don't even have nominees and as for the minority of the vacancies for which the President has actually submitted a name, almost half of those are still in the Judiciary committee. So nearly three-fourths of the current vacancies - 61 of 83 - are due either to the administration failing to nominate someone or the democratic-controlled judiciary committee failing to move them out of committee."
Senator Sessions: (10:01 AM)
  • Spoke on judicial nominations.
    • SUMMARY "Under President Obama's term in office, since he's been in office, he's had on a percentage basis about the same number of confirmations that President Bush had during the same period of time. He's had fewer lower-court nominations, though. He submitted fewer nominations, about 20% fewer nominations, than President Bush had and the average time from nomination to confirmation of President Obama's nominees is within a week of the average time for a nomination - one of President bush's nominees. The process is working okay here. What is happening? I tell you, I know what's happening. This Democratic leadership in the Senate, make no mistake, they control this body. They've been trying to create a perception that there is obstruction going on. They're going to pretend that these 17 judges who have been coming up for their routine time to be confirmed are being blocked. They've been moving at the regular pace. It is a gimmick, a stunt to create an impression politically. We need to working on things that are important."
  • Spoke on energy and gas prices.
    • SUMMARY "How do we create growth? Well, one of the things we need to do is produce more American energy. We don't need a Secretary of Energy. I've taken to calling it the Department of Anti-Energy - that says in 2008 he wants to see the price of energy goes up. He was asked, I think, yesterday in the committee, do you still believe that? Well, no I've changed my mind since 2008. The economy is not doing well and maybe I don't now - now at this point I don't think energy prices should go up. Can you imagine, the Secretary of Energy fundamentally having as his guiding principle that he wants to raise the price of energy? And the President said himself before he was elected. This is a radical idea driven by extremists who don't understand that the cost of energy hammers the American people said that the average American is spending $4,000 a year on gasoline and almost $400 a month. You were spending $200 a month when President Obama took office on your gasoline. You're now spending twice that much, $400 a month. In the form of a basic tax on you and we're importing oil but what we're finding is, we're finding more in the United States and we've got better techniques for bringing it out of the ground and we can produce a lot more. Private lands are showing increases in energy production and exploration. They're doing a good job but the government lands are down 14% because the President is blocking production on government lands, blocking offshore production. He really is. We were projected to have issued lease sales from the Gulf of Mexico of 12 major tracks. That's been reduces to just two in the last two years. This is putting us behind. Production of oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico is down, jobs are down, and when we allow drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, oil companies bid for those right. They pay money to the United States government. Not only do they create jobs in America, they pay us for the money to get the right to drill and then they pay us for every barrel of oil they produce. It creates wealth for America."

Boxer, Merkley, Gillibrand, Paul

Highway bill (S. 1813)

Mar 14 2012 11:14 AM

Senator Boxer: (10:25 AM)
  • Thanked colleagues and staff for their work on the Highway bill.

Senator Merkley: (10:41 AM)
  • Spoke on GOP obstructionism of judicial nominations.
    • SUMMARY "Why in the past few years have we allowed partisanship to overtake our duty to maintain a functional judiciary? Simply put, what has happened is some senators in this body, motivated by misguided notions of partisan warfare, have decided to abuse the supermajority power of this chamber in order to undermine the judiciary. This bears little resemblance to the Senate of 1976 when I first came here as an intern, when the power of the majority was recognized as an exceptional act, exceptional act of conscience to be used only under the most enormous issues. Enormous issues, when you were willing to stand on the floor of the Senate and make your case before the American people as to why the simple majority envisioned in the constitution for this body to act should be obstructed but now what we see is folks exercising their power to obstruct a simple majority, and not coming to the floor to defend their position. They're afraid of the public reaction to their obstruction to this body because they know the public expects us to be responsible in reviewing and voting on nominees for the executive branch and for the judiciary. The Senate of 1976 would never have entertained the idea that well-qualified nominees would be routinely subjected to filibusters and indeed, even throughout most of the last decade this has not been the case. So imagine my surprise when I came here as a new senator in 2009, revisiting the chamber that I came to as a youth back in 1976, and I discovered that the two senates bore little resemblance to each other. That the reasonably responsive, bipartisan, collaborative body of 1976 had been replaced by a group now paralyzed by the abuse of the filibuster and the supermajority. Instead of debate and deliberation followed by up-or-down votes, senators have been even blocking the motion to proceed, in other words, blocking the ability to debate whether to get to a bill to debate an issue, two levels removed from actual discussion and decision-making."

Senator Gillibrand: (10:57 AM)
  • Spoke in support of the Abrams nomination.

Senator Paul: (11:02 AM)
  • Called up Paul amendment #1556 (emergency exemptions).
  • Spoke on Paul amendment #1556 (emergency exemptions).
    • SUMMARY "We have gone crazy with these regulators. We want some rules. We don't want anyone to pollute your neighbor's property, but the EPA is out of control. What we need to do is in emergencies or urgencies, when a bridge collapses or a roadway is washed away, we don't need to spend a year or two or four or five years doing an EPA study which basically enriches some contractor who counts the mussels. We don't need to be counting the mussels in the stream. We need to get to repairing the bridge which we're going to do anyway. We're just going to waste a year counting the mussels and paying some contractor $100,000 a year. So this amendment would allow states to opt out. When we have a problem - the bridge we have out in Kentucky has two communities. Many people live in one community and have to drive to the other community. They can't get there because of the bridge. They want to wait a year because they have to count some barnacles are on the bridge. This is a commonsense resolution and should pass but I will tell you the way Washington works. the other side doesn't want my amendment to pass even though it has common sense, so they are going to offer an alternative. Their alternative is say something but do nothing. it's called a sense of the senate resolution. They will proudly proclaim that we need to make it better and please, Mr. Regulator, make it better but they won't change the law. Mine would actually change the law to allow you to start rebuilding your bridge or repairing your road almost immediately in the same location free of the government regulations. We need to do this at all levels. This is a very small, incremental step forward."

Senator Boxer: (11:07 AM)
  • Called up Boxer amendment #1816 (sense of Senate re: expeditious environmental reviews).
  • Spoke on Boxer amendment #1816 (sense of Senate re: expeditious environmental reviews).
    • SUMMARY "I just have to say that Senator Paul's amendment is a broad overreach that would endanger the health and safety of the people that you represent, that I represent and every senator represents and what I have is essentially a side-by-side amendment that encourages and tells the agencies the senate supports a very speedy process which is already in the law to review and approve health and environmental protections when we have to rebuild. You know, the current law is flexible. If you look at the reconstruction of the bridge in Minnesota, everybody knew what happened there. It collapsed in August 2007, and the bridge was completely replaced by September 2008. Without these draconian types of measures that my friend put forward. In other words, he's looking for a problem. The fact of the matter is we were able to see that bridge rebuilt in a year. That's amazing and no environmental laws were waived. People just worked and made sure that they all were expedited. So there is a difference between expediting a review which we support. As a matter of fact, the underlying bill is very strong on that. We expedite reviews without giving up anything for the people. They can still make sure their rights are protected. Let's say a highway is washed away in a flood. If you were to follow Senator Paul's advice on his amendment, you would virtually have no studies to take a look at whether it makes more sense to rebuild it perhaps just a few feet away from where it washed out. It might avoid then the cascade of water that washed it away in the first place. you may have a situation where you're rebuilding a bridge, and as you put the foundation in, you find out through these studies, because they perhaps were never done before, these bridges are old, that there is a drinking water aquifer right below there. So if you move that a few feet, you resolve the problem. What is the point in not having information and making a huge mistake and rebuilding?"

Hutchison, Sanders, Boxer, Carper

Highway bill (S. 1813)

Mar 14 2012 11:38 AM

Senator Hutchison: (11:22 AM)
  • Spoke on Hutchison amendment #1568 (prohibit new tolls).
    • SUMMARY "It is time that we have a real discussion and a debate about having tolling that would cover all of the free lanes of our federal highway system be able to be allowed by any state or any entity of government. We need to bring this out and I would ask the senators who are - the Chairman and Ranking members of the committee to have a hearing and let's talk about this, because I believe that when President Eisenhower said we need a national highway system for national security - that was his major purpose, but it has always been a huge help for commerce and the ease of commerce and travel among our states. He never envisioned that a state would then put up tolls across an entire federal highway and make the taxpayers who have paid for 50 years to build these highways, many of which are not in their states, pay then again to use the highways that they have built with the vision of President Eisenhower to have a system for national defense, connectivity, and commerce."

Senator Sanders: (11:28 AM)
  • Thanked colleagues for their work on the Highway bill; Expressed appreciation for the inclusion of a Sanders amendment that increases the federal cost share for emergency relief and permanent repairs in extreme disasters.

Senator Boxer: (11:29 AM)
  • Unanimous Consent: McCain amendment #1669, as modified be withdrawn and the Shaheen amendment #1678 no longer be in order as these issues were resolved in the manager's package last evening. Further that the Carper amendment #1670 and the Hutchison amendment #1658 no longer be in order as they no longer intend to offer these amendments and finally, that there be two minutes, equally divided, prior to each vote and all after the first vote be ten-minutes (without objection).

Senator Carper: (11:33 AM)
  • Spoke on Carper amendment #1670 (removal of federal program limitations).
    • SUMMARY "Under the amendment that we filed, some additional states could choose to apply for that same flexibility. States would only or could only use toll revenues, a type of user fee, to pay for additional transportation investments along those roads that are actually being tolled. In Delaware and a handful of other states, interstate toll revenue is an important part of our state's transportation budget. Senators Kirk, Warner and I believe that other states should have the same option available to them. However, in an effort to move this critical transportation legislation forward, Senator Hutchison and I both agreed not to offer our competing amendments on this subject to the bill. With that being said, I filed this amendment, in part because congress needs to face the facts when it comes to transportation funding and declining gas tax revenues. We're using less gas. We have more energy-efficient vehicles. We - the cost of roads, highways, bridges and transit continues to go up and we need to be able to pay for them. We can't just borrow money from around the world to do this kind of thing. We want to pass another transportation bill when this legislation that we're debating does expire in two years, we must address structural flaws in the highway trust fund that are making long-term investments nearly impossible."

Vote Results (Corker amendment #1810, Alexander amendment #1779)

Highway bill (S. 1813)

Mar 14 2012 11:41 AM

Not Agreed to by Voice Vote:
Corker amendment #1810 (limit expenditures to amount in Highway Trust Fund) to S. 1813, the Highway bill; and

Agreed to by Voice Vote:
Alexander amendment #1779 (overflights of national parks) to S. 1813, the Highway bill.

Vote Results (Boxer amendment #1816)

Highway bill (S. 1813)

Mar 14 2012 12:05 PM

Agreed to, 76-20:
Boxer amendment #1816 (sense of Senate re: expeditious environmental reviews) to S. 1813, the Highway bill.
The vote results will be posted here within one hour.

Vote Results (Motion to Waive Paul amendment #1556)

Highway bill (S. 1813)

Mar 14 2012 12:31 PM

Not Agreed to, 42-54:
The Motion to Waive the Budget Act with respect to Paul amendment #1556 (emergency exemptions) to S. 1813, the Highway bill.
The vote results will be posted here within one hour.

Vote Results (Motion to Waive Paul amendment #1556)

Highway bill (S. 1813)

Mar 14 2012 12:36 PM

Not Agreed to, 42-54:
The Motion to Waive the Budget Act with respect to Paul amendment #1556 (emergency exemptions) to S. 1813, the Highway bill.
The vote results will be posted here within one hour.


Highway bill (S. 1813)

Mar 14 2012 12:43 PM

Senator Reid: (12:30 PM)
  • Unanimous Consent: Cloture be vitiated on the 17 judicial nominations (without objection).

Vote Results (Passage)

Highway bill (S. 1813)

Mar 14 2012 12:53 PM

Passed, 74-22:
S. 1813, the Highway bill, as amended.
The vote results will be posted here within one hour.

Inhofe, Landrieu, Schumer

Morning Business

Mar 14 2012 01:17 PM

Senator Inhofe: (12:53 PM)
  • Thanked colleagues and staff for their work on the Highway bill.

Senator Landrieu: (12:56 PM)
  • Thanked colleagues and staff for their work on the Highway bill.
  • Spoke on the RESOTRE Act.
    • SUMMARY "We tried to make this bill appropriate, leaving 20% in the general fund, which will secure doubling the amount of money in that liability trust fund. That's a benefit to the nation. We put in some money for land and water. That will benefit the nation and there is money to establish an oceans trust. That will benefit the nation but the bulk of that penalty money will go to the Gulf Coast and it will not be wasted, I promise you. The Gulf has tight guideline about the way that money is spent, rebuilding our coastline which we've lost the size of the state of Rhode Island."
  • Unanimous Consent: The order to proceed to Executive session at 2:00 PM be vitiated and Morning Business be extended until 5:00 PM, with Senators permitted to speak therein for up to ten minutes each and that the time be equally divided (without objection).

Senator Schumer: (1:06 PM)
  • Spoke on energy and gas prices.
    • SUMMARY "Everyone's asking, what are short-term solutions? Well, to me, there's obviously one that would matter more than all the others and that has the best hope of getting something done, and so two weeks ago, in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I asked the State Department to pressure the government of Saudi Arabia to use its excess oil capacity as a means to calm oil markets. It's been my position that this is the quickest way to bring down gas prices and the reason is very simple. The number-one thing jacking up prices right now is the fear in the markets that Iran will shut off its production. We have an economic boycott, many nations of the world, a majority of the nations of the world, to Iran to prevent them from going nuclear and what are they doing? Sheer saber rattling. Saying if you squeeze us too hard, we'll cut off oil. In fact, they've cut off oil sales to Britain and France, though they were just symbolic because Britain and France don't buy much Iranian oil but with Iran's saber rattling that they might well cut off oil exports, the price has gone up and up and up and those who speculate in oil use that and probably have it go up even further. and so that is why I've been for the last two weeks suggesting that Saudis say that they will produce more oil, that they will replace every barrel of production that Iran takes off the market for the foreseeable future with a new barrel and the Saudis, of course, can do that. The Saudis have 2.8 million barrels of extra production, they in the gulf states. Iran's total sales to the rest of the world is 2.2 million barrels a day. Therefore, they have the ability to do it. Well, today I was pleased that Saudi Arabia declared it will fill any oil gap as a result of the Iran oil embargo. At the 13th international energy forum in Kuwait, the largest gathering of oil producing and consuming countries, the Saudi oil minister, Ail al-Nami, said the following "Saudi Arabia and others remain poised to make good any shortfalls, perceived or real, in crude oil supply." Right after the Saudi oil minister made this announcement, prices dropped .6%. My belief is if the markets believe this is real, the price will come down significantly further and so we are asking the Saudis to repeat this promise, because make no mistake, the more the Saudis repeat the promise to offset Iran's output, the more explicit they are, the more emphatic they are, the more they assure the markets that they're for real here, that this is not just a psychological device to calm the markets for the moment, the more the markets will calm down more permanently and the more the price will come down."

Cornyn, Schumer

Morning Business

Mar 14 2012 02:19 PM

Senator Cornyn: (1:36 PM)
  • Spoke on the Texas voter ID law.
    • SUMMARY "There they go again. On Monday the Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, added another count to its litany of shameful actions by refusing to preclear a commonsense Texas state law that would require all voters to show a photo ID prior to casting their vote. The Justice Department's refusal to preclear this change in Texas law by the Texas legislature is simply inexcusable. The Texas voter ID law is constitutional and it is a popular measure necessary to protect the integrity of the Texas election process. This is national and should not be a partisan. The polling that I've seen shows that Republicans, Democrats and independents in the 70% range all agree that voter ID laws are commonsense responses to the concerns that many have about the integrity of the election process but, unfortunately, I can only conclude that Attorney General Holder and the Justice Department have chosen the low road of politics as opposed to the high road of the rule of law. I believe, unfortunately, the evidence supports the conclusion that this represents the lowest form of identity politics. In the face of high gas prices, the sluggish economy, and a struggling - and a rising national debt, the Obama administration has done everything - has used every tool in its political toolbox to try to distract the American people from their priorities - jobs, the economy, and debt and, unfortunately, divide the American people while they distract them from the real issues. Political games should not force the state of Texas or any other state to spend its taxpayer dollars suing the Department of Justice in federal court, which it now must do, to enforce a state law that is clearly constitutional. You don't have to take my word for it. Just read an opinion by Justice Stevens in 2008 upholding the constitutionality of a similar Indiana law back in, as I said, in 2008. It's nearly identical to the one in Texas, and it is justified by a valid interest in protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process."

Senator Schumer: (2:09 PM)
  • Spoke on judicial nominations.
    • SUMMARY "I just wanted to rise today to praise the majority and minority leaders for coming together to make sure that we get our pending judicial nominees confirmed in a timely manner. Today the Senate is back on track to do what we've always done for decades - confirm judicial nominees, the vast majority of whom are totally uncontroversial as part of our day-to-day business. Thanks to the hard work of the leaders of both caucuses and to Chairman Leahy, who has been persistent and smart and focused on this issue, we were able to avoid having 17 cloture votes this afternoon on judicial nominees, most of whom were unopposed, 13 in fact, were supported by their republican home-state senators. While the details of the agreement have not yet been announced publicly, and they will be by Senator Leahy and leader Reid and Senator McConnell, we know that there is an agreement and that's a good thing. The bottom line is that I hope we can continue at least at the same pace when we have cleared the backlog that has existed. Let's be clear, this is what doing our job is, and it's doing exactly what we have done literally for decades, nothing more, nothing less. You know, we can I suppose each side can point fingers at the other as to why this degenerated but that's not the point today. the point today is that we have come to an agreement and hopefully it will set the ball rolling on much smoother approvals of judicial nominees in the future with less altercation, more comity and actually filling the bench more quickly. There are more judicial vacancy now that - vacancies now than any time in recent history. One out of every ten judgeships is empty and as a result of these vacancies families and businesses must wait sometimes over two years before their civil trial can even start."

Rockefeller, Manchin, Barrasso

Morning Business

Mar 14 2012 03:03 PM

Senator Rockefeller: (2:32 PM)
  • Spoke on the retirees at Century Aluminum in Ravenswood, WV and the expected ratification of a decision reached by the steelworkers, led by a local heroine Karen Garrell.

Senator Manchin: (2:39 PM)
  • Spoke on the retirees at Century Aluminum in Ravenswood, WV and the expected ratification of a decision reached by the steelworkers, led by a local heroine Karen Garrell.

Senator Barrasso: (2:48 PM)
  • A Second Opinion.
    • SUMMARY "The President talked about protecting Medicare. Did he that in an address to Congress in 2009. Yet, with the health care law, they took $500 billion away from Medicare not to save Medicare, not to strengthen Medicare, but to start a whole new government program for other people. So when I talk to seniors, they have great concerns about the way that Medicare has been handled in this health care law. Specifically, their concern is they're not going to be able to find a doctor, a doctor to take care of them. when I talk to doctors at home in Wyoming and I practiced medicine for 25 years, what I hear and what I see is that for patients - these doctors' offices are all full. in terms of the health care law, I think it failed in helping us have more doctors and nurses and nurse practitioners and physician assistants. When I talk to them, they say patients that I've taken care of for years, who are on Medicare, I continue to take care of them. Patients who are turning Medicare age continue to take care of them, but in terms of someone who may move to a town or someone whose doctor may retire, it is getting harder and harder for patients on Medicare to find doctors to take care of them. A lot of it has to do with the concerns about reimbursement, the so-called doc fix that is part of the debate that recently was extended with payroll tax holiday legislation but there's very little certainty that comes out of Congress, and doctors look at that and say how can I make decisions about my practice and my life when I don't know if they're going to cut Medicare fees by 27% or 30% at the end of the year. They faced a similar situation at the end of last year. They faced a similar situation at the end of February. So it's not a surprise that doctors are more and more reluctant to accept new Medicare patients when their offices are already full with patients."


Morning Business

Mar 14 2012 04:56 PM

Senator Durbin: (4:08 PM)
  • Spoke on the JOBS Act.
    • SUMMARY "This bill is really designed to change disclosure, accounting and auditing standards and to exempt many firms and corporations from the Securities and Exchange Commission oversight. One part of this bill exempts newly public firms with less than $1 billion in revenue from certain disclosure, accounting and auditing standards over a transition of a period of five years after they first go public. It exempts firms with less than $1 billion in revenue and less than $700 million in traded stock, which they characterize as emerging growth companies, they would be exempt from regulation for the most part. That would in fact exempt more than 90% of the companies going public in America. The so-called emergency emerging growth companies would be exempt from stocks 404-b which requires a firm's auditor to attest to and report on controls. It would exempt firms from safeguards that we adopted in this country after Enron. There is little justification for rolling back the Dodd-Frank provisions on executive compensation, but firms would be exempt in many respects because of this bill. It is hard to imagine that a firm with $1 billion in revenue doesn't have the resources to disclose golden parachutes in executive compensation agreements. Exempting firms from new accounting standards would create a two-tiered accounting system that's bound to be confusing. The financial accounting standards board, says provisions would undermine the rigorous process already undertaken. We're other part of this bill increases the amount of capital private companies may raise under a public offering from $5 million to $50 million annually and remain exempted from SEC oversight. They want to take a lot of this capital formation and business formation off the grid. They don't want oversight and disclosures and transparency. That's what this bill does. It fails to include a multiyear cap on the amount firms may raise and allows firms to raise $50 million annually indefinitely while avoiding SEC registration and disclosure. It goes on, something called crowd funding. It allows firms to remain exempt from SEC registration and raise up to $1 million annually through crowd funding. What does that mean? Large numbers of individuals contributing a small amount of money to a company. retail and unsophisticated investors will be allowed to invest up to $10,000 through crowd funding sites with few disclosure requirements. There's another provision that allows private firms that sell more than $5 million in securities to generally solicit or advertise private offerings without being required to register with the SEC provided the firm verifies all purchasers or credited investors. The risk of fraud through cold calls and other sales tactics increases significantly with the elimination of a requirement that firms have a preexisting relationship with potential investors."

Reid, Grassley

Morning Business

Mar 14 2012 05:36 PM

Senator Reid: (5:04 PM)
  • Spoke on judicial nominations.
    • SUMMARY "I'm pleased that my friend, Senator McConnell, and I have been able to reach an agreement to approve a number of judicial nominations in the coming weeks ... While I still believe the Senate should confirm all these nominations this afternoon to address the judicial vacancy crisis we face had this country, the step forward is one we should all feel good about. The Senate will hold up-or-down votes on seven district court judges before the end of this work period. We'll vote on another five district court and two circuit court nominations by Monday, May 7."
  • Spoke on the JOBS Act.
    • SUMMARY "We must act quickly on the small business jobs bill passed overwhelmingly by the House. Democrats are eager to move this bill forward, which will improve innovators access to capital and streamline how companies sell stock. Bipartisan legislation will also be introduced regarding the Ex-Im bank which will create 300,000 jocks and generate more than $1 billion in new revenue for our country. The minority leader is supportive of the export-import bank in the past. This legislation also has the support totally of the National Chamber of Commerce. So it will build on the important work we've done this week to help create jobs. It isn't a 2.8 billion job builder like our Highway bill but it will allow capital formation to be made much more rapidly."

Senator Grassley: (5:09 PM)
  • Spoke on judicial nominations.
    • SUMMARY "In the case of the total of 88 vacancies, the President has only set up 43 nominees for those 88 vacancies. So I want to make it very clear - something that's quite obvious - that the United States Senate or any of its leaders can't expect the Senate to act upon vacancies where there aren't nominees because we have to wait until the president sends somebody up before we review and before we can vote on them. I think that it's easy to make it and it's intended to make Republicans look bad when they use those vacancies as a statistic without making it clear that the President of the United States is the one that is dragging feet as far as filling those vacancies. Then if they get up here and we don't act on them, then obviously we're the ones that are responsible for that."
  • Spoke on the DoD audit reports.
    • SUMMARY "In the last two years, I've been very critical, and I'm somewhat critical now, but there's been vast improvement by the Department of Defense in responding to their use of and the quality of their audits. So I'm coming to the floor once again to report on the latest results of my ongoing audit oversight review and I'll refer to some figures, but to kind of give you an overview for the last three years, we've roughly reviewed between, in my office, between 100 and 120 audit reports and so, you know, three years of each year somewhere between 100 and 120 and the reason that I emphasize you have all those reports, they have recommendations in them, and we've seen a reluctance to move ahead, to carry out the results of those audits, and in so many instances we'd save so much money if the audit reports were carried out and when you spend $100 million every year in the Inspector General's office of the Department of Defense, you would expect that you ought to get some result from that $100 million expenditure and we're seeing some improvement. Our work examines audits issued by the office of inspector general of the Department of Defense. After receiving anonymous letters in early 2009 alleging mismanagement of audit resources, I and my staff initiated an in-depth oversight review. This is my third report in that series. The goal of the report is to assess audit quality in 2011 and make recommendations for improvements. I'm doing this work for one important reason: like investigations, audits are a primary oversight tool. In fact, audits may be the most important tool; that is, because the auditor's core submission to watchdog how the taxpayer's money is being spent in the department of defense. That puts them on the money trail 24/7. If fraud is occurring, that's where it will happen. That's where they need to be, and hopefully the auditors will find them Today I'm issuing my third audit oversight report. This one examines the latest batch of reports, the 121 reports issued between October 1, 2010, and September 30, 2011. They're known as the fiscal year 2011 audits. I'm giving those reports an overall score of 3.51, or "C." As my report indicates, there was an across-the-board improvement in every category except one, timeliness. I'm very happy to report to my colleagues that audits' quality appears to be improving. The best possible indicator of improvement is the doubling of top-rated reports. Those numbers jumped from 27 reports, or 25% of the total, in the year 2010 to 70 reports, or 58% of the total production, last year. That's better than a twofold increase. The auditors have achieved a breakthrough. The parent progress is promising. The most important area of improvement in audit quality was in the strength of the recommendations. There was a surge in this key area. It was propelled by calls for accountability and recovery of wasted money. Though modest and limited number, these initiatives had force. Recommendations are the business end of an audit, and these recommendations were based on rock-solid findings. At least 50 reports of the 121 arrived at findings that documented flagrant mismanagement, waste, negligence, fraud and even potential theft. 16 of these reports recommended that responsible officials be considered for administrative review. A comparable number contained recommendations for the recovery of improper payments and ten reports, largely those on stimulus projects coming out of the $814 billion stimulus bill that was voted on in February of 2009, recommended - on those ten reports recommended that wasteful projects be terminated."


Morning Business

Mar 14 2012 06:11 PM

Senator Udall-CO: (5:43 PM)
  • Spoke on the JOBS Act.
    • SUMMARY "We're moving to the art our business startups act or the JOBS Act if you follow the acronym that the House passed last week. That bill is aimed at increasing the availability of credit to startup companies by expediting and easing the process of undergoing an IPO, an initial public offering. I think that's a noble goal, especially as our economy still struggles to create jobs but the problem is we're still leaving the little guys behind, the people in each and every one of our neighborhoods that want to expand our businesses and hire people as soon as possible and, unfortunately, the JOBS Act is aimed at companies with revenue under $1 billion. Let me repeat, billion with a "bâ€?. These companies may well need help with IPO's, but I'm talking about offering relief to traditional main street businesses. So in light of this, I'm still committed to allowing credit unions to increase the amount of money they can lend to small businesses. So I will once again introduce the bipartisan Small Business Lending Enhancement Act as an amendment which would open up additional credit to small businesses without costing taxpayers a dime My amendment would be the only single piece of the JOBS Act that would actually help small businesses or directly create jobs. Put simply, credit unions specialize in these small, small business loans. In fact, the average credit union small business loan is just $219,000 and in contrast, the Federal Reserve have told us that many banks have quit considering loans under $200,000 because they're not worth their time. Credit unions know these small business owners and they have money to lend to them. Unfortunately, federal law still limits the amount that small business loans a credit union can extend to 12% of their assets. Nearly 350 credit unions are facing this cap, and over 500 are having to slow down or stop their business lending altogether, I should say. That's hard to believe. It seems like such a missed opportunity. In effect, we in government are telling these financial institutions that they cannot help create jobs in their local communities. That's why my amendment would double the amount of money that credit unions can offer small businesses."

Reid, Merkley (The Senate Stands Adjourned)

Morning Business

Mar 14 2012 06:49 PM

Senator Reid: (6:29 PM)
  • Unanimous Consent: At 11:00 AM Thursday March 15, the Senate proceed to the consideration of H.R. 3606, the JOBS Act (Merkley objected).

Senator Merkley: (6:30 PM)
  • Spoke on the JOBS Act.
    • SUMMARY "I can't speak to the challenges with all the portions of the House bill, but I can speak to a specific section of the House bill called crowd funding because I have been working with others, including the distinguished presiding senator, Senator Bennet from Colorado and Scott Brown from Massachusetts to say let's utilize this crowd funding tool but do it in an effective manner. Now, what is crowd funding? Crowd funding is saying let's take the power of the internet, just as we have person-to-person lending facilitated by the internet. Let's take the power of the internet and enable people who see small start-up companies who are seeking capital investments and give them a chance to present their ideas and for folks to invest in those companies. So they might receive thousands of small investments enabling them to take their dream forward, to the benefit of the investor and the benefit of the company but what is wrong with the way that the house drafted this? I'm going to give short examples. It enables companies to raise up to a million dollars by providing no financial information, no financial information. That is not an investment market that is a scam. Second, companies do not have to go through a registered intermediary. So, in other words, you or I tomorrow could start up a web site and say companies sign up and investors sign up with no sorts of protocols for the registering of information and no system required for the protections of investors. So that is a major mistake in this legislation. Third, under the House bill, a person could say hey, here are ten stocks, ten potential companies to put your money into, and through that action could take 100% of your income, your annual income in one fell swoop. So as we create this new, this particularly interesting marketplace full of potential, we don't want it to be a place where no financial information occurs, no rules for the intermediaries and people can be taken for their whole annual income in one fell glance. That is no way to build this wonderful potential marketplace."
  • Withdrew objection to H.R. 3606, the JOBS Act.

Senator Reid: (6:41 PM)
  • Performed Wrap Up --
  • Tomorrow --
    • The Senate will convene at 9:30 AM and proceed to a period of Morning Business until 11:00 AM, with Senators permitted to speak up to 10 minutes each. The time will be equally divided with the Majority controlling the first half and the Republicans controlling the second half.
    • At 11:00 AM, the Senate will begin consideration of H.R. 3606, the JOBS Act.
    • At 1:45 PM, the Senate will proceed to Executive Session for up to 15 minutes of debate, equally divided, on: (1) Executive Calendar #408, Gina Marie Groh, of West Virginia, to be United States District Judge for the Northern District of West Virginia and (2) Executive Calendar #461, Michael Walter Fitzgerald, of California, to be United States District Judge for the Central District of California.
    • At 2:00 PM, the Senate will conduct up to 2 ROLL CALL VOTES on confirmation of the nominations.
The Senate stands adjourned until 9:30 AM Thursday, March 15th.