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Barbara M.
Democrat MD

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  • Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski

    Posted on 2014-01-08

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    MIKULSKI. Madam President, I rise to speak on actually two topics; one on extending the unemployment benefit program that is so essential to the people of Maryland and to other fellow Americans and also to comment on the National Security Agency surveillance programs, the need for reform of the program but the need not to reject the mission of the agency and cast a disparaging light on the men and women who work there.



    Let me start first though talking about unemployment benefits. I come with a great sense of urgency and passion that we need to extend these unemployment benefits that expired January 1. This is one of the coldest spells we have had in decades in the Northeast-Midwest area. I find it unfathomable, when it is so cold, that the big chill in Washington is that we are not going to extend the unemployment benefits, extending a warm helping hand to Americans who have lost their job through no fault of their own and have been unemployed for more than 6 months.

    Where are our national priorities? If we cannot help one another, be a bridge to get to a job, then what is our government all about? We spend billions overseas--and I support that. We spend billions on tax breaks to send jobs overseas. I do not support that. I want to make sure that for the men and women who do not have a job today but are looking for one every day, that we help them out.

    Senator Coons, the Senator from Delaware, just spoke and said today it could be your neighbor, tomorrow it could be you. I think we are going to be unemployed unless we start focusing on how to help the middle class. The middle class is shrinking and unemployment is staggering. We have to lower the unemployment rate, although I want to make sure that during this time while we look at how to create jobs, we continue to provide a social insurance program that helps people when they are laid off through no fault of their own.

    My own home State of Maryland is right this very minute affected by 23,000 people--that is 23,000 families--who have now lost a modest benefit which averages out to about $313 per week. That enables people, while they are looking for work, to be able to pay for their housing, pay for their food, and pay for their heat.

    There are those who are implying that if we provide unemployment compensation or assistance we are going to encourage sloth, laziness, laggardness; that they are going to kind of lounge around not looking for work.

    Let me tell the story about Western Maryland. This is not Barbara Mikulski; this is reported in the Baltimore Sun and in the Washington Post. We have a community called Washington County. The unemployment rate is 7.3 percent. Just a few years ago they had a Good Humor plant. They made ice cream. I visited that ice cream plant. Everybody was happy, and they were busy producing Good Humor, which was sold all over this country. Well, 2 years ago it closed, and 400 good-paying jobs left Hagerstown. That is the bad news.

    The good news is a co-op dairy farmer came in, purchased it, and is now producing milk and ice cream but in smaller amounts. Guess what. They received 1,600 job applications for 36 job openings. They had 36 job openings, and 1,600 people in that small rural county applied for those jobs. There were 44 people for every job available.

    Hagerstown has a great sense of patriotism. They sent many men and women to fight and die in the two wars we just fought. They have a great work ethic. They need an opportunity to have jobs. Don't tell those people in Hagerstown or in Salisbury or in Baltimore or throughout my State that they are too lazy. Maybe we are lazy; maybe we don't get the job done.

    One of the quickest ways to jump-start the economy, if we want to, is to pay unemployment compensation. All the data shows that unemployment insurance adds about $1.60 back into the economy.

    I want to create a sense of urgency. I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle: Over a decade ago, you had a man run for the President of the United States who won. His name is George W. Bush. He campaigned on something that I thought was so interesting. I looked forward to actually hearing more about something he called a compassionate conservative. We understand that people are conservative. We understand that people are fiscally conservative, but the message was that we can be compassionate conservatives.

    I say to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle: Remember the compassionate conservative message from [[Page S104]] a decade ago, and remember that man's father said we need the points of light to light up America. I say, let's be a point of light here. Let's add a beacon of hope to the unemployed so we can help them. Don't be critical of those who can't find work.

    Let's look at how we can have a job strategy. Let's get our infrastructure back so we can create jobs in the construction industry. Let's eliminate the tax breaks that send jobs overseas and bring the jobs back home. Let's do the tax extenders so we can get people working again. Let's put people back to work.

    Pass unemployment compensation. Let's pass some job creation bills. Let's get America working again, and in order to do that, we need to get to work and pass the unemployment compensation bill.

    National Security Agency I want to also comment on something else, and that is the NSA, the National Security Agency, which I am very familiar with as a member of the Intelligence Committee, and it is also located in my State. I know the men and women who work there, and I know the mission they provide. I also know that a few months ago a man by the name of Edward Snowden lit up the airwaves with his illegal barrage of revelations about the role of surveillance that the National Security Agency played. Mr. Snowden provided a titillating, mesmerizing inside view of the United States. Whether he was a whistleblower or a traitor, I will leave that for another discussion.

    Right now we know about NSA surveillance, and it sparked a lot of debate. I think that is good. I think that is healthy.

    I come to the floor today, first of all, to thank President Obama for establishing a commission to look at this and make recommendations. My view is that we ought to review the recommendations of the Presidential commission. We need to make reform where reform is necessary, but let's not reject the mission of the National Security Agency that has protected us for decades and decades. Let us not reject the men and women who work there every single day, standing sentry to protect us against attacks, whether it is a terrorist attack or a cyber security attack.

    Yes, we need to protect the civil liberties of the United States of America and honor our Constitution. As a member of the Intelligence Committee, and as part of my principles, I have always said: Before we ask NSA agents--or any member of any intelligence agency--to do anything, we should ask: Is it constitutional? Is it legal? Is it authorized? Is it necessary? Remember the criteria. I recommend that this be the grid of the prism we look at: Constitutional, absolutely; legal, a necessity; and authorize. NSA doesn't do it on its own. The authorization comes from the President and his intelligence apparatus. And last but not at all least, is it necessary to protect people? I think we need to really work on this. President Obama established a review commission. I think it is great, and I think Congress should review it. I know appropriate hearings are already looking into that.

    At the same time, we should practice reform. I am absolutely on the side of reform. I have joined with my colleagues in supporting reform for these programs. For years I led the fight on the accountability of leadership. Back in 2007, I wanted the head of the National Security Agency confirmed by the Senate. I was stiff-armed by the Congress. I was held back by the Armed Services Committee. We had to deal with the turf wars at the Pentagon: Don't meddle with our generals. Well, I wasn't meddling with the generals. I just think the head of the National Security Agency should be there. So let's get off of the turf wars and fight terrorist wars. Let's restore confidence in the National Security Agency and have its head confirmed by the Senate. I am a great admirer of General Alexander.

    The committee also recommends that the next head of NSA be a civilian. I think we ought to look at that. I think we ought to examine that and see what is in the best interests of the mission of the agency and what we need to be able to do. But whoever is the head of the National Security Agency, be they civilian or military, I think they ought to be confirmed by the Senate.

    I also joined across the aisle with my great colleague Senator Coats of Indiana to ask that the NSA inspector general also be confirmed by the Senate to make sure that we have a confirmable position so there is a bona fide whistleblower route with a confirmable inspector general to make sure that NSA is doing the right thing and whistleblowers have an avenue to do it.

    I also supported transparency to make sure that those NSA programs are accountable and as transparent as they can be. That doesn't mean we reveal the secrets of the United States. Joining with Senators Wyden, Udall, and Heinrich, I have introduced an amendment to make the secret FISA court opinions were publicly available under certain circumstances.

    I also worked with Senators King, Warner, and Collins to bring greater transparency to the FISA court through amicus curiae, or friend of the court, to assist in the consideration of novel interpretations of the law. There are those who say, in the President's report, that there should be a civil liberties council and a red team that can go in there. Let's talk about that. Let's debate it. Let's make sure there is more than one opinion before the court on its legality. I support those suggestions.

    Let's look at the constitutionality. One judge recently said the NSA surveillance program, particularly under something called section 215, was shocking, and he said it was not constitutional, but 36 other FISA court opinions by 15 judges said it was constitutional.

    I am a social worker. I am not a constitutional lawyer. Do you know who decides on what is constitutional? The Supreme Court of the United States. I think that Congress ought to call for--or the executive branch and the President--an expedited review of these programs. I would like to settle, once and for all, whether the programs and laws passed by the Congress in the area of surveillance--I would like to know if they are constitutional. If they are, then we know that. If they are not, then that ends the program. We will follow the law, and we will obey the Constitution of the United States.

    Let's get to work here. Let's go to work here. Let's make sure that we are bringing about reform.

    I want to talk about the mission of the agency. The National Security Agency is not a puzzle palace, and it is not some sneaky surveillance agency with people in tan raincoats and fedoras, hiding behind doors and spying on people. In fact, remember what they think they do--they think what they do is constitutional, legal, authorized, and necessary.

    We need the National Security Agency. There is only one thing the 215 program does: It protects us against counterterrorism. They are there to protect us against counterespionage. They are there to protect us and make sure that weapons of mass destruction are contained. They are advocates for nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction in cooperation with the CIA and NRO.

    They also protect us in the area of cyber security. Those 80 million people who recently had their credit cards stolen at Target--we don't know if that was a job that was done in the United States of America. For all we know, it was organized cyber crime coming out of Albania or another Eastern European country with shoddy rules and regulations. We don't know. However, we do know the FBI and the NSA are working on it, as well as others. NSA's job is to look at what is over there. Some of our biggest bank heists in organized cyber crime are coming from over there. Did you know that one of the biggest thefts out of the Medicare Program was done by a cyber heist by organized crime out of Albania? Can you believe that? It was caught. In working with the inspector general at CMS, the FBI, and the NSA, we caught them, got our money back, and now we are back on track. So they do a good job, and we are kind of losing sight as far as these concerns about surveillance.

    There is no doubt that we protect the civil liberties of the United States of America. We do believe in privacy. I am not going to describe the program or go into it, but I will tell you what really bothers me. What really bothers me is that somehow or another, through the media, and even conversations in this body, we are painting NSA [[Page S105]] as if it were a bad, villainous, duplicitous, surreptitious agency. That could not be further from the truth. Somehow or another, the men and women who work there every single day, standing sentry on behalf of the United States of America on signals intelligence, are somehow or another to feel that something is wrong. The morale at that Agency is terrible. The morale at that Agency is falling. The morale at that Agency is not in a healthy situation.

    We have to do something about that by showing respect for the men and women who work there. Most of them are civilians. They are some of the brightest people in the world. Did my colleagues know that the NSA is the largest employer of mathematicians in the world because of the code breakers, the cryptologists? They break codes. Who uses codes? It is not Mother Teresa.

    Respect. Let's have respect because they are hard at work. While the rest of us were home for Christmas enjoying turkey or home for Thanksgiving, they were out there working. They were making sure there wasn't another Underwear Bomber. When our defenses appear to be lowest--when people are traveling on airplanes, when people are in the holiday spirit--they are working. They are working right now to make sure our Olympic athletes are safe, working with appropriate international law enforcement. They are at it every single day. Can't we give them respect while we sort out constitutionality and legality? Let's sort it out, but let's stop the finger-pointing.

    I must tell my colleagues that I was taken aback today when I got my National Journal Daily and read where it says ``Obama Invites NSA Top Congressional Critics To Meet.'' I think it is always great when the President speaks with Congress, but he invited the critics of the program to the White House. I think that is good. I would prefer, though, to read--instead of ``inviting the critics,'' the phrase would have said ``reformers.'' Put me in the ``reformer'' category. If there are abuses, I am one of the first to criticize them. I have been part of reform. I intend to be part of reform, but I don't intend to be a part of rejecting the mission, and I don't intend to be a part of any effort that downgrades or downplays the contribution of the men and women who work there. So call the people reformers.

    I hope the White House and this Congress will signal to the men and women at the National Security Agency that they are respected, that they are valued; as we pursue reform, we will always do our duty to ensure that what they do is constitutional, legal, authorized, and necessary. But don't blame them for the job we asked them to do. I think if we proceed with a spirit of reform rather than blame, we will be able to accomplish a great deal.

    This is a big day in the Senate. Let's pass unemployment compensation. Let's do the reforms we need, and let's do a good job, as we are supposed to do.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Washington.

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