Hire More Heroes Act of 2015—Continuedby Senator Bob Corker
Posted on 2015-07-28
CORKER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for
the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Gardner). Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. CORKER. Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the highway bill. I understand there will be a cloture vote tomorrow and then potentially, if that is achieved, final passage the day after. I want to say again that I appreciate the efforts of so many in various areas, that my comments today are not intended to be directed at any individual or either side of the aisle.
I was elected in 2006 and I came in during 2007, so I have been here roughly 8\1/2\ years. One of the reasons I ran for office was to deal with our Nation's fiscal issues. I was so concerned about the direction in which our country was going. As you know, just about every military leader we have will tell you that the greatest threat to our Nation's national security is us, those of us here in Congress, and the way we deal with our fiscal issues.
The simplest fiscal issue I know of to solve is the highway bill because it is simple math. It is not like Medicare, where all these actuarial issues have to be dealt with and you have to make assumptions about the impact on care and all those kinds of things. The highway bill is just simple math. It is so easy. There is money that comes in and there is money that goes out.
I think everybody in this body knows the highway bill was set up based on a user fee program where people who are using the highways pay for that through user fees and then the money would be there in a trust fund--a real trust fund--where, in fact, the money would go out. So we would have a system in our country where we would pay for our highways and other infrastructure in that regard. As a matter of fact, the State of Tennessee has zero road debt because that is exactly the way they handle their State portion.
I know a lot has been said about this Presidential race and what is driving some of the interesting anomalies that are occurring right now. People are saying: Well, certain candidates are receiving a lot of attention because of the anger people in America have toward Washington. I would just say that this bill--this is an outline of it-- should be exhibit A as to why people in America are angry at Washington. Both sides of the aisle, both ends of the Capitol, this is exhibit A.
Again, I understand this was a combined effort with lots of people, but let me point out a few things.
No. 1, we have had five general fund transfers--in other words, taking money out of our general fund and sending it over to the highway trust fund. That has totaled $60 billion since 2008.
We have these wonderful young interns who come up here to learn about Washington. They come up here to experience Washington. They have read in their history books and other places--in civics--about this being the greatest deliberative body in the world. I would think that in most cases they probably look up to people here on the floor. Some of them may aspire to [[Page S6065]] someday actually serve in the Senate. But what they are going to be witnessing should this bill become law is 100 folks in this room--not all of them but a number of people in this room--voting to basically steal money from them.
They are stealing money from you so that all of us can look good to our constituents and pass a highway bill. So we are going to steal money from you so that we don't have to deal with this issue. It is called generational theft.
So to the pages and to the people you have been working with for so long, just know--and I don't know any other way to describe this. Let me explain. This is a 3-year bill we are going to pay for over 10 years. One hundred percent of the spending, in other words, takes place between the years 2016 and 2018--100 percent of the spending--but 69 percent of the offsets, the money coming in, actually comes in--you heard me say 2016 to 2018--between 2022 and 2025. So that would be like your mother or father going to the grocery store and buying groceries and saying: Well, I am not going to pay for this today; I will pay for this in 7 or 8 or 9 years down the road. Every time they went to the grocery store, they did that. You can imagine how your household finances would operate if that is what they did. If this bill becomes law, that is what the people in this body will be doing to you. It is generational theft.
We use these tricky accounting rules around here where if we pay for something over 10 years even though we spend the money in 1 year, we count that, believe it or not, as paid for.
It is even worse on something like a highway trust bill. See, this is something where money is supposed to come in at the same rate money is going out. You can expect some aberrations on when money comes in and when money goes out on other kinds of programs--you can expect that-- but not on the highway trust fund.
This is the kind of math, by the way, each of you probably knew about in the third or fourth grade, where you could figure out how much money is coming in and how much money is going out. But on both sides of the Capitol and on both sides of the aisle, since 2008, instead of dealing with this issue--which, by the way, means you have to make some tough choices. You could spend less money in the trust fund. That would be a way to make it add up. You could devolve some of the responsibilities back to States. By the way, so many roads are now becoming roads the Federal system pays for, there might be a good argument for that. There is a good argument for that. Or you could just increase revenues and make sure those who are driving on the roads in our country today pay more to do it. But that is not what is going to happen. We are going to pull a trick on the American people. And here I get back to that anger issue and the reason so many people are upset with Washington. Again, this is exhibit A.
As a matter of fact, only 9 percent of the money coming in over this 10-year period comes in during the period of time we are spending on the highway bill. Can you believe that? Yet we say it is paid for.
Let me tell you what else we are doing. This is fascinating to me. Congress, in its brilliance, has created a system where only Fannie and Freddie--remember the two behemoths that had $5 trillion in housing mortgages in our country, the big giants that failed back in 2008? What we have done in this bill--I am not going to do it, but if people vote for this bill, what they will be agreeing to do is to extend the guarantee fee on mortgages out, by the way, the last couple of years of this bill, so, again, money comes in way beyond the time we spend it.
So let's say you guys go to college. I know many of you will. When you get out, you decide to buy a home. Let me tell you how we, in our wisdom, have decided to pay for our highways. We are going to make you pay more for your mortgage. You are not going to know that, by the way; we are going to hide it in your mortgage.
See, we want to make sure the American people don't really know how we are paying for these things. We try to hide these things from folks so that when we run for reelection, we don't create any ire amongst the public.
This one is hard for me to believe. Now, I can understand some people in this body supporting this, those who support Fannie and Freddie continuing on forever, because what we are really doing is now the Federal Government, in order to pay for our roads, is relying on Fannie and Freddie. So how could you do away with them? Think about it.
We have had so many people in this body talk big about winding down Fannie and Freddie and about how they are a threat to our Nation. I have actually written a bill to try to deal with that and had a lot of support from people on both sides of the aisle. We all talk big, but let me tell you what we are going to do. To pay for the highways, we are going to continue the policy of making sure that every time somebody gets a mortgage, they pay a little more for that mortgage--the entire time, by the way, that mortgage is in place. That generates about $2 billion. Of course, the American people won't know or see that, and so that, of course, makes it very popular.
Let me talk about another one. This is fascinating to me. The Federal Reserve System has been paying a dividend to member banks that invest in their regional Feds. Since 1930, that dividend rate has been 6 percent. I don't know if that is the right number.
By the way, some people are confusing this with a monetary policy issue, which is the amount that is being paid on the reserve. That is not what this is. This is something which has been in place since the 1930s. We never had a hearing on it, by the way, and I have no idea what we should be paying, OK? I have no idea. But just out of the blue, to generate $17 billion--without a hearing; never been a hearing; as a matter of fact, I would say most people in this body have never heard of this issue--to pay for our roads and again make sure we stay in great stead with our constituents back home so we don't have to make any tough choices, we are going to change that from 6 to 1.5 percent. That generates $17 billion. But, again, it keeps us from having to deal with this issue head on. By the way, a lot of that money comes in way beyond the period of time we are spending the money on the roadways.
This is the one that gets me. I love this one. I love this one. We are going to sell 101 million barrels of oil from something called the Strategic Petroleum Reserve from 2018 to 2025. We have a big Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which is in our national security interests. As a matter of fact, I would say that if President Obama were to propose this particular pay-for, most everyone on our side of the aisle would just raise unbelievable--I need to choose my words--would be very upset. It would be dead on arrival because what it does is it weakens our national security.
We have the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. In a time of crisis, we want to make sure the people in America have access to this Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
This is so grave. We are generating $9 billion, by the way, in the years 2018 through 2025--again, beyond the time of even paying for this highway measure. So again, it is generational theft--selling assets down the road to pay for things today. It generates $9 billion, and half of the sales occur in 2024 and 2025. So it is kicking the can down the road.
For America, please, please, be upset about this. Please, please, be angry about this.
Let me tell you what we are doing. We all make investments and pay attention to the markets a little bit. We hope we can save some money. Oil is selling today at under $50 a barrel. But let me tell you at what we have decided we are going to sell this oil. We are just going to make it up--at $89 a barrel. Think about that.
Congress in its wisdom has decided we are going to sell 101 million barrels of oil. We are so bright and we can anticipate the future so well that we know, by golly, that when we sell this oil between 2018 and 2025, it is going to be at $89 a barrel, even though it is under $50 a barrel today. But we know that because we represent America. We have been elected to the Senate.
So that is how we are generating it. By the way, if during that period of time oil happens to be selling at $74 a barrel, we break even. If it sells for anything under that, it is less. But by the way, there is $9 billion of made-up money just because we have decided [[Page S6066]] that is what the price of oil is going to be at that time.
I just have to say that this is one of the most irresponsible pieces of legislation I have seen come this far in the Senate. Let me say this one more time. This has to be one of the most irresponsible pieces of legislation that I have seen make it this far in the Senate.
I am very disappointed with where we are. I am not directing that at anybody. People on both sides of the aisle are involved in getting it where it is today. People on both sides of the building have used these types of gimmicks and tricks to basically involve ourselves in abject generational theft, keeping us from making tough decisions today. They are not even tough, to be honest--just using our God-given common sense, the same thing that most Americans get up every day and have to deal with.
I have been so uplifted in my home State and by my home town of Chattanooga to watch how ordinary citizens with huge patriotism and large amounts of common sense have dealt with the tremendous tragedy in our hometown. I have just been overwhelmed by it. I wish all of America could see the response of people who wake up every day carrying out their ordinary duties, husbands and wives and sons and daughters. They care about our Nation. They care about its future. They care about our military. They care about people who protect us. I wish that somehow people could see that. I know people see it in all of their hometowns around the country. I know people see this greatness. Yet in this bill, I don't see any common sense. How could we pay for our highways utilizing this type of pay-for? So I rise to say that I don't support this piece of legislation. I think that has been made clear. I hope that as people analyze the pay- fors--which, again, in my opinion could not be more ridiculous on something like a highway bill--this bill will go down, and we will figure out a way to deal with this in a more productive way. Again, the right way to deal with this, if you have a trust fund, is to have fees that come in and the same amount that go out.
I think in this minor conversation here, these pages probably get that. I think America gets that. I hope, again, this bill does not pass. I hope it does not become law, and I hope we can gather and figure out another way of dealing with this in a responsible way that doesn't use gimmicks, as this certainly uses.
I don't know how anybody could say: By the way, the Senate has assumed that in the years 2024 and 2025, oil will sell at $89 a barrel. Now, if the Senate was that good at giving financial advice--certainly, if we look at our balance sheets and the deficits we have been running, people would know that is anything but the truth.
The fact is that this bill should not become law and should not be supported. I intend to vote against it. I intend to encourage others to vote against it. I hope that at some point in my tenure here we will actually begin to deal with our fiscal issues head on, in a direct way that solves them for the long term and really doesn't sweep them under the rug for this generation, unfortunately, to have to clean up our mess.
I yield the floor.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.