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Chris C.
Democrat DE

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  • Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2013—Motion to Proceed—Continued

    by Senator Christopher A. Coons

    Posted on 2014-01-15

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    COONS. I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Appropriations Mr. COONS. Madam President, today, this week, we have come together to consider an omnibus appropriations bill. That is a big mouthful--an omnibus appropriations bill--but I hope to lay out in plain language for our folks back home and for those in this Chamber why that matters, why I am excited about it, and why I support it.

    This is first time since I joined this body 3 years ago that we have considered one, and it is a real step forward. The agreement we came to on the budget and the agreement I hope we will pass on this appropriations bill means no more shutdowns, no more crises, no more autopilot, at least not for this fiscal year. This bill helps us return to regular order and to the process that, once election day is over, it is our job as the representatives of the people, elected to come together to find common ground, to solve bigger problems together, and to move the Nation forward.

    This appropriations bill is the result of a lot of hard work by Members and staff. I must begin first and foremost by thanking the Senate Appropriations Committee chair, Senator Mikulski, and the vice chair, Senator Shelby, as well as the House chairman Rogers, and the ranking member, Congresswoman Lowey, who showed great leadership and worked together on a very tight deadline to craft such a vast and comprehensive bill. Their work follows on the leadership of Senator Murray, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, and Congressman Ryan, of the House Budget Committee, after they came together on a bipartisan budget that paved the way for the Appropriations Committee to reach this deal this week.

    I applaud their leadership and thank them for the example they have set. As a member of both the Budget Committee and the Appropriations Committee, it has been a privilege to work with them to craft these bills and ensure we meet our Nation's needs.

    The bill before us is, of course, a compromise. It is the essence of a compromise that it is not perfect by any means. There are many who can find fault within it or disappointments aplenty among choices made or not made. It doesn't include--for example, to pick one thing of great importance to my State--enough funding to make real headway on Amtrak's critical infrastructure improvements that I think are essential--just in dealing with the $6 billion backlog of investments needed in aging tunnels, bridges, and tracks.

    So while this bill does provide adequate funding for Amtrak today, which I am very pleased about, it puts off those critically needed investments in repairing these essential elements of its infrastructure, which we will inevitably need to make. That is only one example, and in a bill this big there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of the tough tradeoffs that had to be made between House and Senate, between the appropriators, and between the majority and the minority.

    But as we consider our vote on this bill and how it does or doesn't meet our own priorities or our State's priorities, we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We need to remember that at least in this case the alternative to this bill isn't our own individual or perfect vision of government--whatever view we might hold. The alternative is crisis after crisis, government that doesn't move forward with the country but treads water as the world passes us by in an increasingly competitive global environment.

    What this bill does in a very real way is bring back some stability to our government, to our economy, and it allows us to make important investments in our country's growth. For instance, it takes a number of valuable steps for my home State of Delaware.

    It funds meat and poultry inspectors, critical to Delaware's chicken industry and its 13,000 jobs. It funds the next stage of an Army Corps of Engineers project to deepen the Delaware River from 40 to 45 feet so that we are ready and can be competitive when the expansion of the Panama Canal nears completion.

    It dedicates funding through the Victims of Child Abuse Act--and I am an original cosponsor of a bill reauthorizing the Victims of Child Abuse Act--for the three children's advocacy centers throughout my State. These centers are critical to delivering justice for the victims of child abuse without harming their healing process.

    The bill maintains funding for the Bulletproof Vest Partnership, an initiative that has supplied Delaware police officers with nearly 1,000 bulletproof vests in the past 2 years. Two of those vests, I should add, saved the lives of two officers during a shooting at the New Castle County Courthouse only last spring.

    These are only a few of the things for which I am grateful in this broad omnibus bill. Nationally, it also allows us to meet our key priorities of training our workforce for this century, making our communities safer, building a circle of protection around the most vulnerable in our society, and, in combination, making us safer, stronger, and more just.

    The investments it makes in America's workforce by funding education programs can last a lifetime. Head Start Programs ensure kids don't fall behind before they have even had a chance. This bill increases that funding by $1 billion to serve 90,000 more kids this year.

    There is a competitive grant program to help States and communities find innovative ways to provide high quality preschool options for low- and middle-income families that I am particularly excited about.

    In Delaware, we saw the power of this program when we competed for-- and won--Federal funding on a competitive basis for high-quality early education only last year.

    The Department of Education's first in the world initiative will help colleges to measure--and thus improve--outcomes, and it brings down costs for students and families. This bill increased our investment in job training programs such as Job Corps and the Veterans' Employment and Training Service, which help everyone from low-income Americans who failed to get on their feet in the job market to veterans who stood for us around the world and have earned our support upon their return.

    Next, this bill includes crucial funding that makes our communities safer. We are upping our investment in the COPS program--first championed on this floor by my predecessor Senator Joe Biden. It will put 1,500 more officers on our streets and in our neighborhoods, keeping us safe.

    The Violence Against Women Act, which we came together in a bipartisan manner to pass last year, is fully funded. We are taking important steps to stop the scourge of gun violence that affects each and every community: a new comprehensive school safety program I am excited about, new investments to improve background checks, and new training to help local law enforcement react and protect the public from active shooters.

    Of course, the second part of making our communities safer is ensuring that justice is delivered in our courts when [[Page S346]] crime does happen. Unfortunately, the sequester's cuts to our Federal courts cut the judiciary to the bone, imposing furloughs, and hurting our Nation's justice system by leading to layoffs of hundreds of experienced, seasoned, senior court staff. Yet, thankfully, the bill before us reverses these and many other cuts and will minimize the delays of justice that resulted and that are unacceptable to our Nation.

    Finally, this bill allows us to build and sustain what I like to call a circle of protection around the most vulnerable in our society that reflects our shared commitment to each other. Our most basic values: Investments in the WIC Program, for women, infants, and children, will make sure 87,000 more mothers and children will have the food they need at a vital early stage of development. LIHEAP--or the Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program--ensures that low-income families don't freeze during the coldest months of the year, and this bill's funding increases will ensure 400,000 more houses have this critical assistance. And lastly, when we pass this bill, which I pray we will by week's end, we will reverse the sequester's devastating cuts to housing programs and, as a result, prevent more than 100,000 American families from becoming homeless.

    Each of these investments in our workforce, in our public safety, and in protection for our most vulnerable, together make up the foundation of a safer, a more just, and a more inclusive society. But when we also combine them with investments in research and innovation and infrastructure, we lay the groundwork for growth and shared prosperity today and tomorrow.

    After the last 3 years, which in my experience have been mostly defined by bipartisan gridlock--stopgap budgets, crisis governance-- this bipartisan Appropriations bill allows us to create some stability for our Nation and our economy. I think it reminds us we are a nation that is at its best when we are determined to be open to each other's ideas, to hear each other's concerns and criticisms, and to find ways to work together.

    Although there are plenty of areas where I disagree with my Republican colleagues, as I have gotten to know them over the past 3 years we have found many more areas of common good and common work. Let me briefly mention a few of them as I celebrate what I think is the most important aspect of this bill, which is that it is truly bipartisan.

    Senator Marco Rubio and I were both elected in 2010 and came to this Chamber at roughly the same time, and we found ways to work together to invest in STEM education and to open pathways to college for young Americans. Senator Hatch and I wrote a bill together called I-Squared-- and we are joined by Senators Klobuchar and Rubio--and this is a bill that helps bring high-skilled workers to our shores and helps invest in STEM education for American citizens. Senator Kirk and I have worked together to create a national manufacturing strategy that focuses our energy and resources on creating manufacturing jobs in America. And just this Monday Senator Roberts of Kansas and I announced our partnership on a new bill to make the research and development tax credit and its funding available to startups and to young innovative companies.

    There are so many issues where we can work together to invest in our workforce, to protect the public, to sustain this storied circle of protection around the most vulnerable, to invest in long-term economic growth, and to lift up every community and every American.

    I am incredibly thankful for the leadership of Senators Mikulski and Shelby and the way they displayed that leadership with action through this process, by putting aside their differences and finding common ground. I wish to also close with a note of personal thanks to the countless committee staff on both sides who worked tirelessly throughout the holidays to make this bill a reality. With this Omnibus appropriations bill it is my sincere hope we are putting an end to a cycle of manufactured crises and we are sending to the American people and to our markets and to our communities the message that we can and will work together to confront the many challenges that remain here and in the future.

    With that, Madam President, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Oklahoma.

    Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I came to the floor to spend some time on the unemployment insurance, but I have to comment, after hearing my colleague mention his esteemed favor of the bill that will be in front of us, I have to say my perspective is totally different.

    We have a 1,500-page bill that nobody has read, other than my staff, and we have read it completely and outlined it completely. We have a bill that is dishonest, because you still have changes in mandatory funding and programs and you create $17.9 billion out of nothing, which everybody on the Appropriations Committee knows allows you to spend $17.9 billion but not pay for, and you transfer that sleight of hand to our children.

    But it doesn't seem to bother anybody on the Appropriations Committee that we actually lie to the American public about how much we are actually going to spend. The bill actually spends about $63 billion, the way you have written it, more than we did last year--about 6\1/2\ or 7 percent. The bill is loaded with parochial benefits, which is the pleasure of the appropriators, I understand, but it doesn't pass muster in terms of no earmarks.

    But there is one point that I agree with. This has been an agreement between Republicans and Democrats to bring the bill to the floor. And it will pass because it is an agreement, because people did work together. Whether I like it or not, they worked together and came to a conclusion. The only problem is there are going to be no amendments, so no way to be honest with the American people on this $17.9 billion that is supposedly paid but isn't. It is truly an untruth. It is dishonest. It has no integrity with it whatsoever. It undermines every Senator up here who is going to vote for this bill because you say one thing and you are going to do exactly the opposite.

    I was just given a poll as of today. The No. 1 problem Americans see in our country is us--the U.S. Government. Twenty-one percent of the people in this country identify us as the problem. Is it any wonder, when we tell them we are going to do X and then we don't do X? For example: We had a budget agreement, and then we changed the budget agreement because we couldn't live within our means and we wouldn't raise the revenue to be able to do that. Then we come to a new budget agreement that is much higher--don't honor the previous budget agreement. Then we put an appropriations bill on the floor that is going to fund all the Federal Government until September 30 and nobody has totally read it. They pick out the things they like in it and then talk about it. Is it any wonder why 21 percent of the people think the Congress, politicians, poor leadership, corruption, and abuse of power in Washington are the No. 1 problem with our country? You know what. They are right. It is an abuse of power to vote for a bill that you know spends $18 billion--$17.9 billion--more than what you are telling the American people it is going to spend. You do it through sleight of hand, and you pass muster with the powers that be, but it is not honest with the American public. So we are going to do it again. We are not going to have a government shutdown, everybody is going to get to go home on break and spend a week away from here and say: Oh, look at us, we are not at loggerheads anymore.

    The only reason we are at loggerheads is because we have abandoned the process of the Senate through the majority leader who does not allow the Senate to force consensus. For the life of me, I don't understand why my colleagues on the other side of the aisle accept it. They get no amendments either. So we have 1 person out of 100 who decides what amendments will be acceptable and what will not.

    Jefferson has to be spinning in his grave because he wrote the original rules for the Senate. It had nothing to do with one person deciding. As a matter of fact, until 1917, one person stopped everything in the Senate if they didn't have consensus. So the whole goal was to trade what you would like to do to give somebody else [[Page S347]] the ability to do that. When we have a czar running the Senate, we no longer have that ability. The whole purpose for having a bicameral legislature, with a minority rights provision protecting it, was so we would generate consensus so that their views could then be sold to the American public.

    This isn't about me being able to offer an amendment. This is about the 4 million people in Oklahoma not having a say in the Senate. I mean, there are some bright people in Oklahoma who have some good ideas. But those ideas cannot be heard in this body anymore. They are not my ideas. It is not my vote. It is their vote. And yet 54 of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle acquiesced their right for their States to offer their State's ideas as we debate issues in this body. They give that away and say one person gets to decide. It has never been that way in the Senate--never before.

    The prime example of that is the unemployment bill. If this were really a priority for the majority leader, why are we doing it now instead of before it expired? All the weeks of time in quorum calls in the Senate we could have been doing this. It wasn't a priority. It is a political priority.

    I actually think we ought to extend the unemployment insurance, but I think we ought to do it in a smarter way, and I certainly think we ought to pay for it. I can sit and show $9 trillion of waste and spending reductions that 80 percent of average Americans would agree with. Yet we can't find $20-some billion out of all this mess of a Federal Government to help people who are not employed.

    My colleague from Delaware mentioned job training. The only thing that has happened based on the GAO reports of this government on duplication is that the House took it to heart and they took the job training programs and they converted the 47 job training programs, spending almost $30 billion a year, and they passed the SKILLS Act, which consolidated those into 6 programs that actually have metrics.

    When you study our job training programs, regardless of whether we fund them, here is what you find. All but three of them duplicate one another--all but three--and not one of them has a metric on whether they are actually training people to do a job, giving them a life skill. So the House passes that bill and we won't even take it up. You save money and you actually improve what the Federal Government is trying to do in terms of that. So if we were to expand unemployment insurance or continue the emergency in the sixth year, might we not want to do something about the quality of the jobs programs that are available for the people who are on unemployment? Might we also not want to give people back their dignity by having them do something in their community for the earning of that? There have been no tax dollars paid by any worker for this program. They didn't contribute anything to it through their past unemployment or FICA fees. Would we not do better if we did what Norway has done, where they show that people will start hunting for a job earlier if you plus up the benefits early and taper the benefits later so that they start looking for a job long before they run out of benefits? What the studies actually show, especially the three States that have now been disqualified from this, is their employment numbers went up, their unemployment went down, and the number of people needing assistance actually went down as well.

    So it is one thing to say we want to help people; it is totally different when it is all in a political contest about the next election.

    That brings me to my final point. I believe children need to have a good start toward school. But as the Senator from Delaware just mentioned, we are going to add $1 billion to Head Start, and that is going to give us 90,000 new kids in Head Start. If anybody does the math on that, $11,000 per year for a Head Start Program? Think about that. Give the money to the States and let them run it themselves outside of the Federal Government and they will do it for $4,000 or $5,000. Because it is a Federal program, it costs twice what it should. Or if you did it through the States, you could do $180,000 versus what we are doing.

    So we are going to have a debate. Hopefully we will get back to the unemployment insurance. But if we want to have that debate, it has to be paid for. We owe that to the very people we say we want to help. And, No. 2, you have to have the input of everybody, not just one person in the Senate.

    I will finish up by saying this: When you see this poll, where 21 percent of the country thinks the biggest problem in the country is us, the government--the corruption, the abuse of power, and the poor leadership are the specific things that were mentioned in this poll-- what we ought to do is look inside and ask ourselves: Why is that? That is because we concentrate on the political and not on the people. We use them as pawns to advantage our own political careers, our own elections, and the long-term best interests of the country get sacrificed. What this poll shows is the American people are pretty darned smart, because they see the problem, they know what it is, and they know what is going to happen.

    So we are going to pass a bill that is going to spend over $1 trillion, with all sorts of favors in there--not truly earmarks, but as close to them as you can come--with new programs by the appropriators instead of the authorizing committee. That is the other thing in this bill, programs written by the Appropriations Committee instead of the authorizing committee. We are going to pass this bill, and this number is going to jump from 21 percent to 25 percent.

    The jig is up. We can no longer come down here and say with honesty: Here is what we are doing. Because what we are doing is not honest. And what the American people are saying with this is: Integrity matters, straightforwardness matters, truth in budgeting and spending matters.

    At least if we are going to do this, let's own up to what we are doing. Let's not be dishonest with the American public about the numbers.

    Mr. President, I yield the floor The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Coons). The Senator from Washington.

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