Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2013—Motion to Proceed—Continuedby Senator John Cornyn
Posted on 2014-01-15
CORNYN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for
the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. King). Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, today the Gallup organization released a new poll that asked the American people a simple question: What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today? The results should not shock anyone. Twenty-one percent of the American people think the Federal Government is the problem. This is a quote from the poll: ``Dissatisfaction with government/Congress/politicians; poor leadership/corruption/abuse of power.'' Eighteen percent of the American people say the economy is the biggest problem facing the country. So 21 percent say it is Washington and the Federal Government, and 18 percent say it is the economy.
I would point out that, not coincidentally, Politico has a story this morning that highlights one of the sources of this dissatisfaction. It cites senior White House officials describing the Senate Democrats meeting with the President at the White House this afternoon to talk about their 2014 playbook, and some of it is going to be to cover the themes the President is going to talk about at his State of the Union speech. According to Politico, the aim is to highlight the differences with the GOP and to provide fodder for the Democrats along the campaign trail even though these measures stand little chance of passing in Congress.
There is nothing wrong with our Democratic friends having a philosophical difference with the Republicans, or political differences, for that matter, and it is logical that there would be different approaches to solving our Nation's problems. But this calculated effort--starting at the White House with the President of the United States having a team meeting with our Democratic friends to look at how they can contrast their agenda with that of the Republicans--strikes me as a shallow and cynical effort to distract people from the fundamental problems which are facing our country.
We know the President has been in office 5 years now. The economic recovery, after 2008, has been anemic. After the Federal Government has paid out almost $\1/4\ billion in deficit spending for unemployment benefits on an extended basis, you would think the kind of meeting the President would want to have--not with just Democrats but with Republicans--is to figure out what we can do together to deal with this anemic economic growth and get America back to work.
The President's promises about ObamaCare, one after another, have proven to be untrue. The statements he made about his health care plan--such as if you like what you have, you can keep it; the price of your health care will go down an average of $2,500 a family; if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor--have not proven to be true. None of it has proven to be true.
So why in the world can't we work together to try to address the problems? The problem about lack of access to health care isn't going to go away, but it looks as though all of this has been put on the shelf in an effort to try to drive a wedge between Americans for no other reason than to shore up his political base leading up to the 2014 midterm election. Why else would the President use his bully pulpit to stump for legislation that has no chance of passing in Congress? This last exercise--actually a very sad exercise--started about a week ago when the majority leader brought a bill to the floor that would extend long-term unemployment benefits. It wasn't paid for. In other words, it would add $6 billion to the national debt, and it would be for 3 months.
Well, on Monday of last week when we had a vote--the Presiding Officer will remember we had a lot of bad weather--17 Senators were not able to be here for that vote. It was as if the majority leader intended to go forward knowing 17 Members of the Senate were not going to be here, because he really wanted the bill to fail, not to succeed. Well, I and others encouraged him to reconsider, and thankfully he did. So we had that vote on Tuesday a week ago, and we got on the bill.
The President ought to be bringing Americans together, not pitting them against one another. Of course, the President isn't the only one to blame for the people's dissatisfaction with government. I am sure there is plenty of blame to go around, but Majority Leader Reid has to accept a major part of the responsibility for the dysfunction of the Senate and for the failure of the unemployment insurance extension bill.
Republicans, in an act of good faith, filed 36 amendments that we believe would have made that bill a better bill. The majority leader said, no, there will be no amendments, no votes. Take it or leave it. He then came back later on and said: We will make these other changes, but these are the only changes we are going to make, and we are not going to have an open amendment process and vote. So instead of allowing the Senate to function, the majority leader filled the amendment tree and blocked every single Member of the Senate--Democrats and Republicans alike--from offering even the most reasonable amendments.
Senator Coburn, for example--Senator Toomey was down here talking about this today--had an amendment which would have ended unemployment compensation for millionaires and billionaires. What could be more common sense than that? Why can't the Senate--Republicans and Democrats alike--come together to vote on such amendments? Well, you will have to ask the majority leader about that because the Senate voted on a similar amendment in 2011 and voted 100 to 0, but the majority leader still decided to block this amendment on this bill even though it would have improved the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance Program.
Many other colleagues worked in good faith with the majority leader through the weekend to try to come up with another option. Senators Collins, Hatch, Inhofe, Paul, Scott, Thune, and Portman all filed amendments which would have created jobs in a variety of ways and help grow the economy. What better way to deal with the problem of unemployment than to help grow the economy and create jobs? The alternative seems to be: Let's just give them unemployment compensation and they will be happy. I daresay there are very few people who are unemployed who are happy accepting unemployment compensation. They would much prefer the dignity and self-respect that comes along with working if they could simply find a job to do.
Irrespective of this demonstration of good faith by Republicans to try to improve the bill and help grow the economy and get people back to work, the majority leader's response was to block every single vote. He instead chose politics over commonsense proposals that would help get Americans back to work.
I must say this is in stark contrast with what we have seen happening in the House of Representatives. This is a shocking figure, but the House of Representatives has passed 170 pieces of legislation--many of which deal with the poor growth of the economy and the need to create jobs--that the majority leader has ignored. One hundred seventy pieces of legislation have passed the House. Basically all of them passed on a bipartisan basis, but the majority leader of the Senate has ignored them.
These include the Northern Route Approval Act, which approves the Keystone XL Pipeline. By the way, the President said he would announce his decision on whether to approve the connection of this pipeline which would connect the pipeline from Canada all the way down to Port Arthur, TX, [[Page S351]] where refineries exist that would make this into gasoline and jet fuel and other byproducts.
The House passed a piece of legislation called the Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act, which prohibits the IRS from implementing ObamaCare. I understand that is controversial. The majority leader wants to try to protect ObamaCare, with all of its flaws, which are becoming apparent on a bipartisan basis.
Here is another one that should have enjoyed bipartisan support in the Senate. It is something called the SKILLS Act, which eliminates and consolidates Federal job training programs. There are over 40 different job training programs in the Federal Government. Can you imagine what might happen if those programs were consolidated so the money that is now used for overhead and administration could be used to actually train people and provide them the skills they need in order to qualify for many high-paying jobs that go without trained workers? If Senator Reid were serious about that, he would have taken up that bill and allowed Democrats and Republicans to improve it with their amendments. Yet he refused to allow it to even be considered.
Then there is the REINS Act, which allows Congress to vote on major regulations that cost the economy over $100 million a year.
One big frustration back where I come from in Texas, when I go home every weekend, is people ask: How come nobody seems to be held accountable? When things don't work, how come nobody gets fired? How come Congress and the President kick the can down the road? Well, of course, one of the biggest challenges we have when it comes to accountability is the regulatory state--the bureaucracy, the people who are appointed by the President who have the authority to issue regulations. As the Presiding Officer knows, this isn't legislation that people vote on. These are regulations that are promulgated by administrative agencies. But when they have an impact of over $100 million on the economy a year, doesn't it make sense that Congress--the only people the American people can hold accountable--would get a chance to actually vote on whether they should be approved and have a discussion on the cost-benefit analysis rather than have the regulatory agencies run amok and have litigation as our only recourse? Well, you get my point.
The majority leader has shut down every effort by the House of Representatives to pass legislation and have it come over here to the Senate to try to improve our anemic economic recovery since the great recession of 2008. That is the reason economists say this is an atypical, an unusual recovery from a recession, because usually it is kind of V-shaped. Once you hit bottom, you bounce back pretty quickly. What we have is a U-shaped recovery that is almost flat-lined with an economic growth that is not fast enough to keep up with the population increase. So not only do we have 7 percent or higher unemployment, we have--at least for the last 30 years--a historically lower percentage of Americans actually participating in the workforce.
One of the reasons the unemployment figures are coming down is not necessarily because the economy is getting that much better, but because people are giving up. They quit looking for work. That is an American tragedy.
The House is acting not only to try to earn the American people's trust and confidence but to get the government out of the way and to let the private sector create more jobs.
Conversely, the Senate, under the iron rule--and some might say the dictatorship--of the majority leader, is neither afforded the opportunity to actually consider this legislation that has passed in the House nor to offer amendments and improve legislation that is on the floor of the Senate, such as the long-term unemployment insurance bill that was on the floor this last week. That is one reason why I think Gallup says that 21 percent of the American people cite that as the biggest problem facing the American people today: dissatisfaction with government, poor leadership, and abuse of power. It doesn't have to be that way, and it won't be if the American people give our side of the aisle the majority in November. It will be different.
I thought the Republican leader, Senator McConnell, gave a really important speech last week, saying if the voters give us the responsibility for leading in the Senate, we will return the Senate to its prior reputation as the world's greatest deliberative body. Whether a person is a Democrat or a Republican, whether I like an amendment or not, we will all have an opportunity to offer our ideas, and we will have a chance to vote them up or down. That is the way the Senate used to work. That is the way I think most Americans think it should work, and that is the way it will work if we are given that opportunity.
On the topic of the health care exchanges that opened on October 1 under ObamaCare, we learned that the first reports about the composition of the pool of people who signed up for ObamaCare has caused reasons for grave concern. The vast majority of people who signed up under the exchanges are older and sicker. That, of course, is their right. But many young people--necessary to provide the actuarial stability and success of these exchanges--have chosen to take a pass. We have asked for those numbers to be released on a weekly basis. As a matter of fact, the House is going to take up a bill that will increase transparency in these insurance exchanges so Congress and the American people can be better informed about what is exactly happening with the implementation of ObamaCare.
I remember 5 years ago I was out on the Capitol steps when the President, in his inaugural speech, told the American people--he said these words: ``Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this Presidency.'' Those are stirring words. As an advocate of open government, transparent government, and freedom of information, I thought that was a very positive statement by the President. But, today, in light of what has happened since that time, they seem to be a bad joke.
ObamaCare is the most recent example. It has been 3\1/2\ months since these Federal exchanges officially came online, and the administration still won't provide the American people with reliable, detailed information on exchange enrollment numbers and the problems with the Web site. I don't have any doubt that the Web site problems are going to be and have been substantially repaired. One problem the House has pointed out is there is still no guarantee that if a person puts their personal information into the Web site, that it will be protected against cyber attacks and identity theft--something that ought to concern everybody. One would think that the majority leader was concerned about that too, that he would give us a chance to vote on the legislation that passed the House earlier this week.
In order to help Americans get better information about ObamaCare, Senator Alexander, the senior Senator from Tennessee, has introduced legislation that would require the administration to provide weekly updates on exchange enrollment and Medicaid enrollment, as well as Web site problems and other issues. The cost of this legislation, according to the Congressional Budget Office, which is the gold standard when it comes to scoring the cost of legislation, is zero. It is a big goose egg. I am proud to be a cosponsor of that legislation. Unfortunately, the White House has already issued a statement saying it would veto the legislation if it passed because it would be ``too costly.'' The majority leader and the President have been pursuing legislation this last week that would have increased the deficit and the debt by $6 billion, but they are unwilling to consider this transparency legislation that would cost zero because they say it is too costly.
It is true the problems with ObamaCare go well beyond just a lack of transparency, as we all know. For starters, the President continues to treat ObamaCare as a law that means whatever he wants it to mean, whenever it is convenient for him, because he continues to change the law by executive waiver. This is another common question I get back home. People say: How can the President delay the employer mandate while the penalty against me as an individual--the individual mandate-- remains the law of the land? How can he carve out or exempt certain parts of the population [[Page S352]] from the application of the law? How can he claim executive privilege when it comes to cooperating with oversight investigations by the Congress? How can he do all of these things in a country that is founded on the rule of law and where no man and no woman is above the law, and no man and no woman is below the law? We are all entitled to equal protection of laws. How can the President choose which laws to enforce and which laws to ignore? Sadly, I don't have a good answer for that. Congress has the authority to pass the law, but the executive branch, under our Constitution, is the one that is supposed to enforce the law. But when the executive branch refuses to enforce the law or ignores the law or purports to waive the law, there isn't a lot of recourse, other than private litigation which takes months and years to conclude. From my perspective, these waivers reflect an utter disregard for the constitutional duties of the executive branch of government. If the President feels as though certain aspects of ObamaCare have become unworkable, it is his duty to come to Congress and say: Work with me to change it. But he refuses to do that. I think some of the most popular words out of his mouth are: I will go it alone. I will issue an Executive order. I will ignore Congress and the constitutional coequal branches of government, and I will do it alone.
The President knows just how unpopular his signature legislative achievement, ObamaCare, has become, even among many Democrats. I talked about accountability a little earlier. Many Democrats who walked the plank with him on ObamaCare and actually believed and, indeed, repeated the promises he himself made about how the law would work are going to be up for election in 2014. He won't be on the ballot. He has been through his last election. There is no way to hold President Obama accountable for his broken promises on ObamaCare. But there is a way to hold the people who supported the President accountable and who repeated statements which have proven to be false about how ObamaCare would work. But if the President feels as though the law isn't working the way it should or if our Democratic colleagues feel as though-- notwithstanding their hopes and their aspirations for how it might work--it didn't turn out that way, then what we ought to be doing is working together in order to fix the problem, not perpetuate it.
We know the President is acting as if he is above the law. He is acting as if he can selectively enforce the law based on political expediency. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that this behavior is undermining our democracy and making the American people even more cynical about Washington, DC. Again, I don't think it is any coincidence that the Gallup poll cites the government as the single biggest problem in America today, according to the people polled in this Gallup poll published January 15, 2014.
This administration was supposed to be defined by transparency and the rule of law. That is not what I said; those aren't my words. Those are the President's words. In reality, it has become an administration defined by obstruction, deception, and partisan power grabs, and that is a sad development. One of these power grabs, of course, is ObamaCare itself, which passed on a party-line vote in 2010. But, amazingly, it wasn't really implemented until 2013, starting in October, and people are just now beginning to see what ObamaCare is really like.
We know, as a historical fact, that it was muscled through on a party-line vote, despite major public opposition. Thus far, it has been a complete disaster on just about every level. First, the administration wanted us to believe it was all about the Web site: Yes, we have a bad Web site contractor, but we are going to fix it. These are glitches that can be repaired, and everything will turn out just fine.
But the reality is far different. Much of the regulatory confusion surrounding the President's health care law is a result of conscious decisions and politically motivated delays.
People don't have to take my word for it. The Washington Post reported last month that the White House ``systematically delayed''-- those are their words--``key provisions of ObamaCare''--and this again is another quote from the Washington Post--``to prevent them from becoming points of contention before the 2012 election.'' There was a conscious decision to delay the implementation of ObamaCare until after the President ran for reelection, and now we have seen many aspects of ObamaCare unilaterally delayed until after the 2014 midterm elections.
What about accountability? While the White House is trumpeting a recent increase in signups for ObamaCare--as I said, they are unwilling to release on a real-time basis what the facts are--the number of signups is still dwarfed by the number of people who have had their health coverage canceled because of ObamaCare. If we look back to 2010, it was the very regulation that would result in the estimate by the Congressional Budget Office that tens of millions of Americans would lose their existing coverage under ObamaCare, primarily because of the mandate in terms of the coverage.
For example, a person has grandparents who are required to buy health insurance that includes maternity coverage they don't need and they don't want, so why should they have to pay for it? Well, because ObamaCare says they have to. Why should young people have to pay more for their health insurance when it doesn't really cost that much for them to get the medical care they need? Because they have to subsidize the older generation.
Perhaps no one other than the President has maneuvered more to cover up ObamaCare's shortfalls than the person at the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. My colleagues will recall that back in 2010, Secretary Sebelius threatened to ban certain insurance providers from ObamaCare if they communicated with their own customers. They wanted to tell their customers what would happen to their existing insurance coverage if this law passed, and they were threatened by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who said: If you communicate with your own customers, you are going to be punished.
Last year, it came out that Secretary Sebelius later on was shaking down private insurance companies to help fund ObamaCare's implementation. For that matter, when Americans began to lose their existing coverage because of ObamaCare regulations, the President initially blamed it on what he called ``bad apple insurers,'' even though this administration knew years ago that the law would force millions of people to forfeit their existing coverage. Yet the President--I think it was almost 30 times; certainly more than 20 times--said: ``If you like what you have, you can keep it.'' But he said that knowing that tens of millions of Americans would lose their existing coverage, and many of them would lose the ability to continue to be treated by a doctor of their own choosing because they would no longer be part of their plan.
I submit that what I have just recited has contributed a lot to this poll which has said people think government is the biggest problem facing the country today. I have just a few final thoughts--I see the Senator from Missouri here--before I yield the floor.
I conclude by saying that the core conceit of ObamaCare, indeed, the most offensive part of it, is that the folks who supported it--from the President to those who voted it into law--understand that the health insurance needs of individuals are better decided by those individuals and their families and the doctor they trust. But as a result of this arrogance, millions of health plans have been canceled, and millions more will be in the future. The premiums and the cost of health care coverage have skyrocketed, together with huge deductibles, which essentially would leave people self-insured. Many people have been forced into ObamaCare plans that have $5,000 deductibles. So for all practical purposes, people are self-insured.
We know that health care providers have also been forced to deal with enormous uncertainty. I hear it every day from the physicians and hospitals and health care providers in Texas.
We also know that America's already weak recovery has been made even weaker. As I said earlier, historically, a rebound after a recession is sort of V-shaped. After you hit the bottom, you bounce back, and you get a spurt of economic growth. But not this time, not with the ObamaCare recovery or lack thereof.
[[Page S353]] The National Bureau of Economic Research has said that ObamaCare may eventually ``cause substantial declines in . . . employment,'' and that seems very intuitive in what we are seeing happening today.
It did not have to turn out this way. How was ObamaCare sold to the American people? Well, under false pretenses. We know that because 90 percent of people polled said they liked their current coverage. That is why the President said: If you like what you have, you can keep it-- which has proven to be false. But the premise of ObamaCare was everybody gets covered. But even under the Congressional Budget Office estimate, ObamaCare will leave 31 million people uninsured by 2023. So not even the underlying premise of universal coverage under ObamaCare is true.
Republicans believe that expanding health care choice and health care portability are important ways to reduce costs across the board, and really the reason why people are uninsured is because they cannot afford it. We need to bring down the cost, not to raise the cost, which has happened under ObamaCare.
I believe, and I believe my colleagues believe, that by adopting sensible, targeted reforms--not to undermine the coverage for 90 percent of the people who like what they have but to deal with the 10 percent who do not like what they have or do not have coverage they can afford--we need those kinds of targeted reforms to help the uninsured and help those with preexisting conditions, without disrupting everyone else's existing coverage, without throwing out the baby with the bath water.
We believe families understand better than the bureaucracy what the health care needs are in each family. If given the opportunity, we will start over, once ObamaCare collapses of its own weight or when finally there is a universal recognition in the halls of Congress that we have to start over and do better, but do it better by replacing ObamaCare with patient-centered reforms that I know the American people want and they deserve.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Coons). The Senator from Missouri.