Keystone XL Pipeline Act—Motion to Proceed—Continuedby Senator Roger F. Wicker
Posted on 2015-01-08
WICKER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to speak as in
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Urgent Priorities Mr. WICKER. Mr. President, these will be my first remarks of the 114th Congress. I am encouraged by the commitment of many of my colleagues, including the majority leader, to restoring the Senate as one of America's great institutions. It is time for us to get to work. We begin this Congress with a number of urgent priorities--not the least of which is job creation.
More than 9 million Americans are still unemployed. More significantly, perhaps, millions more have given up looking for work. The latest jobs report from the Department of Labor shows that the labor force participation rate is only 62.8 percent--one of the lowest levels in 36 years. This number matters because it reflects the size of the U.S. workforce. It reflects how many working-age Americans have a job or are actively looking for one.
Now, some people have suggested we should take heart in the latest job figures, that this points to an improving economy. I disagree with that. I am not at all satisfied with these employment numbers, particularly with the fact that only 62 percent of eligible members of the labor force actually are choosing to participate.
To me, a shrinking workforce points to a weak economy. Boosting the job market is important to boosting future economic growth. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance job-creating legislation that has a positive impact on American's daily lives. Fortunately, dozens of job bills were passed during the last term of Congress by the House of Representatives.
These ideas deserve consideration and debate in this Chamber. I think in the new Congress, these ideas will receive that consideration. I am aware that there is likely to be disagreement about the details, disagreement about the merits of some of the progrowth ideas that have come over to us from the House of Representatives, as well as proposals concerning energy and health care, to name a few. But resolving our differences is part of what make this Chamber and our country unique. In a floor speech early last year, Leader McConnell said: I am certain of one thing. The Senate can be better.
I think that is one of the messages from the American people in last November and last December's election. The American people believe the Senate can be better. We each have a responsibility and a role in making the Senate better. We could start by legislating through the committee process. We have begun doing that already. Instead of backroom deals, pushed through at the last minute, which has been the order of the day in past years, bills should be thoroughly debated and vetted--first in committee and then on the Senate floor.
The issues of our day deserve that attention. Forging consensus takes effort, but that is how the Senate is supposed to work. Our consideration next week will demonstrate that this is a new day in the Senate. I look forward to being a part of the debate and the amendment process on the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal.
Offering amendments is a way in which each of us can have input on the legislation at hand--input on behalf of our constituents, the people who sent us here. For too long the amendment tree has been filled by the majority leader, essentially limiting the right of every Member to voice the concerns and opinions of the people they represent, essentially limiting the our right to represent the people of our States who sent us here.
Instead of a series of continuing resolutions, we should return to the process of 12 separate appropriations bills. In doing so, we could carefully assess Federal spending and reduce waste, and I think the American people sent that message to us also in November and December. The Federal debt has reached unprecedented levels, forcing us to make tough decisions on how to do more with less.
With regard to national defense, I look forward, during the 114th Congress, to serving as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower. Our subcommittee has a wide range of oversight responsibilities, including the procurement, sustainment, and research and development needs of the Navy and Marine Corps.
From classified briefings and other hearings with senior officials in the Navy and intelligence community, I am well aware of the imminent and emerging threats facing our sea services. America should maintain its ability to project power around the world while upholding our obligations to our friends and allies.
Our Navy is now the smallest it has been since World War I, demanding, I believe, a robust investment in sea power.
In the coming weeks the Seapower Subcommittee will hold hearings to determine whether the President's budget proposals for the Department of the Navy are sufficient to meet our national security requirements. Following these hearings, we will draft the Defense authorization bill to deliver important capabilities and support for our sailors and marines. This support includes funding for construction of various types and classes of ships, such as aircraft carriers, amphibious ships, submarines, and large and small surface combatants.
I wish to note that supporting the Department of Defense is best done when Congress legislates under regular order. The Republican-led Senate [[Page S93]] should take up a defense authorization bill and a defense appropriations bill, and we are committed to doing so. Regular order will help provide our military planners with valuable budget predictability--something they have suffered without in past years.
I was very pleased to learn this week that Chairman McCain plans for the Armed Services Committee to mark up a defense authorization bill before Memorial Day. Our committee did that under the leadership of Senator Levin last year, but where this Senate fell down on its responsibility is that we didn't get the bill to the floor until December, and then it was in a rushed and unamendable form.
Our goal under regular order is for us to take up the bill on the floor this summer and have a conference report between the House and the Senate reported before August. I am heartened that Chairman McCain intends to do this. I am heartened by the commitment of the distinguished majority leader that we will indeed take up that legislation before the end of the fiscal year.
I should also observe that, absent congressional action, budget sequestration will return to the Defense Department in October of this year. Sequestration remains one of the greatest challenges facing our military. Unless we take action, the ability of our military and our industrial base to react to unforeseen contingencies will be severely eroded, and there will undoubtedly be unforeseen contingencies. There are always unforeseen contingencies, and we will be unprepared for them unless we take action to prevent sequestration.
As a member of the Armed Services Committee and the Budget Committee, I will work to help forge a bipartisan path so we can avert a return to the across-the-board defense cuts under sequestration. I am so pleased that a bipartisan task force within the Armed Services Committee is already taking shape to discuss this issue. We will begin to have discussions beginning Monday and Tuesday of next week.
With regard to commerce, I also look forward to assuming the chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. My chief focus will continue to be the deployment and adoption of broadband in rural America--something I am interested in as a Senator from Mississippi and something the distinguished Presiding Officer is interested in as a Senator from Louisiana.
Broadband has become a vital economic engine in this country and around the world. In many ways, the proliferation of the Internet is like the construction of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s. We need to ensure that people in rural areas have the same quality broadband as those in urban areas. To that end, our committee will continue to examine ways to foster broadband growth and development. We also need to find ways to make more spectrum available for wireless, which can help spur innovation and economic growth in the mobile broadband space.
I also expect the Senate this year to deal with legislation regarding the Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama administration's environmental executive overreach. The administration has proposed a litany of costly environmental rules, targeting everything from coal- fired powerplants, to small streams, to small ponds. Many would cause significant economic harm, while providing little or no help to the environment--no help to the environment but significant economic harm. By EPA's own estimates, its recently proposed ground-level ozone rules could cost taxpayers as much as $44 billion per year, making it the most expensive rulemaking to date. Meanwhile, EPA's clean powerplant rule could lead to a loss of 224,000 jobs each year. These costs are staggering.
I am pleased that the final omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015, which was passed in December, included limits on the controversial waters of the United States proposal, which regulates small ponds, streams, and puddles. However, I remain committed to ensuring that this rule will not be implemented at all. By broadening the definition of ``waters of the United States,'' Washington bureaucrats would potentially regulate puddles and ditches on farms and in backyards. Is this really what is necessary to protect the environment? Is this really what the American people require? These regulations would have significant impact on the State of Mississippi. Our economic growth depends on agriculture, and it depends on manufacturing and other energy-intensive industries.
With each new environmental regulation, the administration is compounding the financial burden on the American people without delivering any environmental benefits. We can have clean air and we can have clean water without losing 224,000 jobs. We can have clean air and water without the cost of $44 billion per year for one single regulation.
Low-cost and reliable energy is at the core of economic growth. Economic gains from the abundance of affordable energy could be lost if these rules are allowed to be put into place. In an economy desperate for growth, a regulatory onslaught is the worst way to encourage jobs and investment.
The American people also want us to address the Affordable Care Act, ObamaCare. I was particularly interested in the thoughtful remarks of the Senator from Delaware, who spoke immediately before me. The remarks of my distinguished colleague suggests that Members on both sides of the aisle heard the message from the American people in November and December in the elections. I think both sides recognize that the Affordable Care Act is not affordable and as a matter of fact is causing great hardship and pain to the majority of the American people. So I am pleased to hear Members on the other side of the aisle at least acknowledge that many major, significant changes need to be made to ObamaCare.
Overall disapproval of the President's health care law is at an alltime high of 56 percent. Americans are suffering under the law's mandates and taxes. Many are faced with the financial burden of higher copays and higher deductibles. This is a reality.
I must say that I appreciate the remarks of the distinguished senior Senator from New York recently when he acknowledged that passing ObamaCare in the way previous Congresses did was a mistake, that most Americans were satisfied with their coverage and it was a mistake to turn that entire system on its head to solve a problem which we very much needed to solve with regard to the uninsured and underinsured.
There was a better way to provide health insurance to those individuals without disadvantaging the vast majority of people who were satisfied with their health care and who now find themselves in a much worse position.
Congress has the responsibility to ease the burden of ObamaCare by repealing the law's most onerous provisions. I would like to repeal the entire act and start over with some good aspects that we could incorporate into a better bill but also start off with a better way to provide health care for Americans and provide those who were uninsured with the opportunity to get insurance.
At the very least, we should pass legislation restoring the 40-hour workweek. I hope this is one of the things my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are talking about. I note that the President of the United States has threatened to veto Affordable Care Act amendments that would restore something that has become very traditional in the United States--the 40-hour workweek. It is very surprising to me that it would be on that proposal that the President of the United States would say: No, I will not even sign legislation to restore something as traditional as the 40-hour workweek.
We need to repeal the medical device tax, and clearly there are well over 60 votes in this body today to do just that. We need to exempt veterans from the employer mandate, to provide relief to rural hospitals, and we need to repeal the health insurance tax. I hope we can do that, and I hope the sounds I hear from the other side of the aisle indicate that we can reach bipartisan consensus and send legislation to the President persuading him that there is such broad support for that and he should sign it.
We can do better for the American people than the higher copays, the higher deductibles, and the broken promises they received under the ACA.
[[Page S94]] Americans were flatly told: If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. That turned out to be a promise the administration could not or would not keep. They were told: If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. It turned out the administration was not able to make good on that promise. We can do better.
With regard to the Federal budget, the national debt now exceeds $18 trillion. During the next 10 years, interest payments on the debt will be the fastest growing budget expenditure. Interest on the debt will be the fastest growing expenditure, more than tripling to $800 billion. Put in perspective, one out of every seven tax dollars taken in by the government will be used to service the Federal debt.
Why is regular order important in this regard? In returning to regular order, the Senate Republicans will enact a budget resolution each year as required by law. We haven't done this. The law requires it, but somehow Congress has waived this requirement for themselves. This contrasts sharply with the past 5 years, during which the Democratic-led Senate passed only one budget. As a result, Congress has not adopted a joint budget resolution since 2009. This will change in this new day of Congress.
Under the previous majority, spending bills were not brought to the floor to be debated. Budget laws were routinely waived or ignored, and there has been no plan whatever for finally bringing the Federal budget under control. These are facts. We need to change that, and I hope we will do so in this Congress.
In conclusion, we have plenty of work to do. People in my State of Mississippi, like most Americans, expect results from this Congress. The challenges of our economy, the importance of our national defense, and the negative impact of intrusive executive overreach are too great not to address. We need to meet the expectations of the American people in this regard.
The distinguished majority leader reminded us earlier this week that Americans want a government that works, one that functions with efficiency and accountability, competence and purpose.
I believe we can do that, but it will take a return to regular order. It will take faith in the committee process. It will take faith in returning this institution to functioning the way the Founders intended. And it will take meaningful legislation. It is time to put the priorities of the American people first.
Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.