Omnibus Legislationby Senator John Cornyn
Posted on 2015-12-17
CORNYN. Mr. President, this week the Omnibus appropriations bill
was released, along with the tax relief bill, that extends and makes
permanent many important tax credits and lays the foundation for
comprehensive tax reform, hopefully sometime soon. Members of this
Chamber and the House have been reviewing the text of both pieces of
legislation, and I am happy to report that the House of Representatives
has now given a resounding bipartisan vote on the tax relief bill, with
318 Members of the House of Representatives voting to support it. The
House, we are told, will move on the Omnibus appropriations bill
tomorrow morning, and then we will take up both bills tomorrow morning
in the Senate.
I want to just remember and recall for anybody listening that the appropriations process did not have to end up this way. As a matter of fact, after having passed the first budget that Congress has had since 2009, that then authorized the Appropriations Committee to begin the process of considering and passing 12 separate appropriations bills. Once they are voted out of committee, we will bring them to the floor, where they are open for amendment and debate in a completely transparent process, where people can understand the details of the legislation.
It didn't turn out that way because our Democratic colleagues filibustered these individual appropriations bills, thereby leaving us with no alternative but to consider this massive Omnibus appropriations bill.
I am tempted to call this omnibus bill an ominous bill, but I am not sure that is pejorative enough. It is not the right way to do business. I am disappointed. I am disappointed in our colleagues across the aisle who forced us to do business this way with them, but I hope next year we can have a regular and open appropriations process, one that will serve the American people far better.
I am by no means happy with the way this year-end funding bill has come together, after having been hijacked, held up, and effectively shut down, but if this sounds familiar, this looks a lot like the strategy they employed when they were in the majority [[Page S8762]] preceding the election of just a year ago. Do you know what happened? Well, it didn't work very well because they ended up losing their majority.
Needless to say, the American people actually want us to do our jobs, to look out for their interests, and to make sure we pass legislation that is thoroughly considered, transparent, and then we could be held accountable for the votes we have made. Unfortunately, this omnibus appropriation process undercuts those principles, and as I said a moment ago, it is not a good way--it is a terrible way--to have to do business.
But I am happy and proud of the fact that in virtually every other area we have undertaken--following the budget, the multiyear highway bill, the trade promotion authority legislation, the Defense authorization bill that was led by our colleague from Arizona, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act that passed 99 to 0--as I was talking about with the Senator from Tennessee, it is clear we know how to work together on a bipartisan basis, disagreeing on some issues but finding common ground where we can, and the American people end up being the winner.
Dysfunction and shutdowns do not work. That is not why most of us came here. Most of us came here to try to make this institution and the country and conditions for our constituents a little bit better, one step at a time.
In this Omnibus appropriations bill there is an issue I want to highlight, and that is a clear win for progrowth and one that will foster, not hinder, job creation, and that is lifting the decades' old ban on exporting crude oil produced here in America. This month actually marks 40 years since the United States implemented a ban on the export of crude oil, a policy that was put into place as a precaution to protect the United States from disruption in the global oil supply. But as we all know, the world looks a lot different than it did back then. The shale revolution has helped the geopolitical energy landscape turn in favor of the United States, and we have an abundance of oil and natural gas available, not only for our use here domestically but to export to our friends and allies around the world. By doing away with this antiquated policy and allowing our domestic production to reach global markets, we can kick start the U.S. economy and provide a real opportunity for job creation in the country.
Lifting the ban would not just be beneficial to people working in the domestic energy sector because the domestic energy production involves many different sectors--construction, shipping, technology. By allowing more export of our crude, we have the potential to create thousands of more jobs deep into the supply chain in a variety of sectors and across a multitude of States. In fact, one study estimated that for every new production job in the oil field it translates into three additional jobs in the supply chain and another six in the broader economy. So we are talking about a major opportunity for job creation throughout our country.
Doing away with this outdated protectionist policy also gives the United States an opportunity to promote stronger relationships with our allies and partners around the world. Today many of our allies in Europe, including some of our NATO allies, rely on countries such as Iran and Russia for their energy needs. Our allies' dependence on our adversaries for basic needs such as heating, electricity, and fuel creates a real vulnerability that exists for the United States, as their ally and partner. By lifting the ban, the United States can help offer our friends a chance to diversify their energy supplies and enhance their energy security and avoid giving people such as Vladimir Putin the opportunity to use oil and gas and energy as a weapon.
Lifting the crude oil export ban will strengthen our economy. It will actually save Americans on their gasoline prices at the pump by increasing supply, and it will help our friends and allies around the world. So it is a big win for the American people, whether or not you work directly in the industry.
Finally, I would say--and I know the Senator from Arizona is waiting to speak, so I will be brief--that I am happy to see that the omnibus also includes several bipartisan priority items that will benefit my constituents in Texas. For example, for years I have worked alongside of Congressman Filemon Vela, a Democrat from South Texas, to put pressure on Mexico to fulfill its commitment to deliver water to South Texas as outlined and required in a 1944 treaty. Now this is incredibly important for a wide swath of folks whose access to water is not always assured. This bill includes language that reinforces that commitment and includes a measure that requires the State Department to assess the impact of Mexico's water debt on Texas and the rest of the United States.
This bill also renews an innovative port of entry partnership program modeled after the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act. This, too, is bipartisan legislation in this case, which I have introduced along with Congressman Henry Cuellar, another South Texas Democrat, earlier this year. Specifically, it provides new opportunities for border communities and businesses to improve staffing levels and upgrade infrastructure at our international border crossings to help move people and goods across our border more safely and efficiently. Obviously, with 6 million jobs in the United States dependent on cross- border commercial traffic and trade between the United States and Mexico, this is really important.
This omnibus legislation also includes a provision to fully repeal the country-of-origin labeling regulations known as COOL. This has been a real problem for our livestock producers in Texas and in the United States. By repealing these costly food labeling mandates, the United States will avoid a trade war with Canada and Mexico, two of our largest export and trading partners, and will help Texas farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers back home in my State and across the country.
In terms of national priorities, the omnibus bill increases resources for our military, thanks to the leadership of people such as the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. This bill will increase resources for our Active-Duty military to make sure that those deployed around the world, as well as those serving stateside, have what they need to get the jobs done that they volunteered to do.
This legislation also blocks overreach by the Environmental Protection Agency by providing no new or expanded funding for its programs--the lowest level of funding since 2008.
Finally, this bill prioritizes our veterans and helps ensure they are better able to receive the care and benefits they deserve in a timely manner.
This legislation also includes the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act, which includes the permanent extension of State and local sales tax deductions, something that amounts to more than $1 billion in annual tax relief for Texans. This will ensure that Texans are on a level playing field with those who deduct their State income tax, because we don't have an income tax and never will. That is something that I can say that Texas will never have. As I said, it never will.
This also rolls back several of President Obama's ObamaCare taxes and can provide relief to folks all over the country being crushed by the President's failed, unpopular health care law.
So while no legislation is perfect, and indeed this process is the antithesis of perfect--it is the wrong way to do business--this is the hand we have been dealt by the filibusters of the appropriations bills by our Democratic colleagues. So we are doing the best we can with the hand that we have been dealt. In the end, nothing passes Congress and gets signed into law by the President without some level of bipartisan cooperation in both Chambers of Congress and working together with the executive branch. This legislation does include several significant wins for the American people.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Arizona.
Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to discuss the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016. I am obviously pleased we are not going to pass another continuing resolution, which I believe is irresponsible, but at the same time the process by which we are now considering this legislation is just as irresponsible.
[[Page S8763]] As my colleague from Texas just pointed out, we are here where we are because my colleague and leader on the other side of the aisle refused to allow the appropriations bills that had been passed through committee one by one to be considered and voted on and amended in the fashion that the American people expect us to behave, and, frankly, the Constitution demands. So here we are after months and months of gridlock with the Democrat leader not allowing us to bring up these bills one by one.
We are now faced with a $1.1 trillion bill that, in the view of many, is must-pass with literally hours to review and debate and no amendments--no amendments. So we are faced with a parliamentary situation of $1.1 trillion we are considering without an amendment-- without a single Member on either side of the aisle being able to propose an amendment to make it better. My friends, this is a recipe for corruption. It is a recipe for corruption.
A few people--a very few people--not all 100 Members of the Senate or 435 Members of the House but a handful of people behind closed doors work, and then 48 hours or so, or whatever it is, before the vote, it is presented to us as ``take it or leave it,'' with the choice being this: Well, you can sign on to it; you will probably have to hold your nose, but we have no choice.
Well, my friends, I believe we do have a choice. I believe we do have a choice. I believe we should behave in the manner in which our constituents expect us to behave: Take up a bill, have an amendment, have a debate, have a discussion, and do what we are supposed to do. And if the Democratic leader wants to block us, then let him take the responsibility for doing so. Now we are faced with a $1 trillion spending bill that includes numerous policy provisions that have never been debated and discussed, pork barrel spending that would never stand the light of day--never, ever--and I will be talking about some of them.
I will give you some examples of the pork that has been snuck into this bill. Let me give you a few examples here that I think might interest our constituents. This is in this bill, in law: $3.6 million for 30 vineyards, breweries, and distilleries to build tasting rooms, conduct whiskey production feasibility studies, and other alcohol marketing gimmicks. Yeah, the one thing we really want to do is give money to help alcohol marketing. There is $100,000 in funding to sell goat whey sodas and soft-serve frozen goat yogurt, $247,677 to develop pecan snacks, and $49,750 to introduce Americans to flavored beef bratwurst and beef chili. If there is anything I think the American people need to be educated and introduced to, it is bratwurst and chili. There is $49,990 for spinning raw alpaca fiber into a very fine yarn, $42,000 to produce cheese from buffalo milk, $250,000 to produce and market lamb jerky, $26,270 to determine the feasibility of producing blue cornmeal from Navajo corn, and $200,000 to make apple pies. Now this list goes on and on.
My favorite, my friends, of many of them is a thing called the catfish inspection office--the catfish inspection office. Most of us enjoy catfish and we appreciate the benefits to our nutrition and of course the sizeable industry around catfishing. What we have again this year is a Department of Agriculture catfish inspection office. Now there is the Department of Agriculture catfish inspection office, but the FDA also has a similar catfish inspection office, and the GAO, the Government Accountability Office, has issued more than six reports calling the U.S. Department of Agriculture catfish Inspection Office ``wasteful and duplicative.'' As a result of this protectionist program, an estimated $15 million of your tax dollars per year will be spent on enabling government bureaucrats to impose barriers on foreign catfish importers, which will in turn increase the price of catfish for American consumers, restaurants, and seafood producers. So, my friends, in this bill $15 million every year of your tax dollars will be spent for a catfish inspection office. That is the kind of thing that happens when you get to this date at the end of the year with a mammoth bill worth $1 trillion. It is too ripe. It is too ripe for the picking by the pork barrellers who we have in the Senate and the House.
I will quickly give a couple more examples: $1.7 million for the Senate kitchen exhaust systems upgrades; $65 million for Pacific coast salmon restoration for States. On the face of it, you would think that money for Pacific coast salmon restoration would perhaps be a beneficial expenditure of your tax dollars. Guess what. The State of Nevada is included in this $65 million salmon restoration. A cursory glance at a map of the United States might indicate that the State of Nevada is not exactly an ideal place for salmon restoration, but they are going to get some of these millions of dollars, and I am sure it has nothing to do with the makeup of the U.S. Senate from Nevada.
There is $15 million for an ``incentive program'' that directs the Department of Defense to overpay on contracts by an additional 5 percent if the contractor is a Native Hawaiian-owned company. So if you have a contract with a Native Hawaiian-owned company, the Department of Defense will add approximately 5 percent of taxpayers' dollars.
There is language that makes it easier for the Department of Defense to enter into no-bid contracts. If there is anything in my years I have seen that lends itself to outrageous spending, of course it is no-bid contracts. The Department of Defense may eliminate competition and use a no-bid contract for a ``product of original thinking and was submitted in confidence by one source.'' That is interesting.
Well, anyway, there are many more of those.
I am proud of what this Congress has done this year. There are many good things that have been done. There has been the Defense authorization bill. For the first time, there has been a budget. For the first time, we have reformed education. For the first time, we have done so many things. We have finally sent a bill to the President's desk repealing and replacing ObamaCare, but to end the bill with this is really an embarrassment.
So here we are looking at $1 trillion, and I particularly want to talk a little bit about national defense. I could not be more proud of the bipartisanship--both Democratic and Republican--that has been involved in the Senate Armed Services Committee and the bipartisanship with our friends on the other side of the Capitol.
We have come up with legislation that has been described as the biggest reform bill for defense in 30 years--I am proud of it--and we have a lot further to go. We had hours and hours of hearings, hours and hours of markups. We had over 130 amendments to the Defense authorization bill considered on the floor of the Senate.
We did things we have never done before. For example, we are completely reforming the retirement system for the military. It used to be that you had to stay 20 years before you could receive any financial benefit. Now, after 2 years and 1 month, you can get into a matching- funds agreement with the Federal Government. So now, instead of 85 percent of those who joined the military never receiving a financial benefit, 85 percent of those who join will receive it.
So I am very proud, and I am very proud of the work I did with my colleague from Rhode Island, Senator Reed, as well as our friends on the other side of the aisle.
Then at the last minute, these earmarks, these pork barrel projects, these egregious, wasteful projects are airdropped into what I believe is a 2,000-page--whatever it is, it is huge, and we saw it for the first time at about 10 p.m. or 12 a.m. last night, and they want us to vote on it tomorrow. That is crazy.
What the appropriators did, they included over 150 different programs and initiatives where the appropriations exceeded what they were authorized, totaling $9.4 billion. By passing the Defense authorization, we set an expectation on how to allocate funds. This was obviously completely broken.
As an example, the appropriators included $160 million for humvees even though the Army requested zero dollars for humvees. We had hearings on this. We had hearings on the issue of what the Army needed, and it was abundantly clear that the Army did not need any more humvees. Somehow the appropriators decided that there would be $160 million for humvees; $7 million for a machine gun--five times [[Page S8764]] the current size of the program. Again, our Army and Department of Defense said they didn't need it.
But this is the worst one of all, my friends, and it will not surprise anyone that it is manufactured in Alabama. There is $225 million for the addition of a joint high-speed vessel, which is, of course, manufactured in Alabama. This will be the 12th ship of this class. The Navy's requirement was 10--10 vessels. Remember, this is $225 million for this vessel. The Navy said stop at 10. We stopped at 10. Last year the appropriators added one for $225 million; this year, another $225 million. By my calculation, that is $450 million for two joint high-speed vessels that the military--the Navy and the Department of Defense--said they don't need or want. What could we have done for the men and women in the military with that $450 million we just wasted on two ships the Navy and the military said they didn't need? It is unacceptable.
The bill includes over $2 billion in funding--I am not making this up--it includes almost $1.2 billion on top of the $1 billion for medical research within the Defense Department. My friends, I want to emphasize that I am all in for medical research. I think medical research is vital to the future of all Americans. But what in the world does most of this have to do with Defense appropriations? Nothing. Nothing. It is the Willie Sutton syndrome at its best. Mr. Sutton was once asked why he robbed banks, and he said, ``Because that's where the money is.'' My friends, the Department of Defense is where the money is, so we have seen this gradual creeping up of funding out of defense funds for programs--which I will read a few of--that have nothing to do with defense.
I will say again that I am for funding medical research. I think it is vital, and I think it is important. But someone is going to have to explain to me how tuberculosis, autism, lung cancer, gulf war illness-- actually, that is one of them--spinal cord injury, ovarian cancer-- those research funds should come out of the Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill, not out of defense at a time of sequestration, when we have planes that can't fly and guns that won't shoot and ships that can't sail.
So what have we done? Let me show you what they have done this year. You can see the gradual increase. Beginning in 1992, there was about $20 million, I guess, something like that. Then in 1994 it went up and then up. Then something happened and it went down. Then you can see the gradual, almost steady increase of funding for medical research as the funding for defense has remained constant or even in some cases reduced.
So what have we done this year, my dear friends? Here it is: $2.2 billion of your tax dollars is now earmarked for medical research--all of them worthy causes. Almost none of them have anything to do with guns, ships, planes, barracks, or medical research that is directly connected to our military. To add to that, the Army received an additional $16 million to conduct research on Parkinson's disease, and the list goes on and on.
So what do we have here. By the way, the bill also includes nine ``Buy American'' provisions, which will inevitably add to weapons systems and other contracting costs. The ``Buy American'' provisions are a handout to labor unions and are a ploy to protect defense companies in a particular State.
I won't waste time and go too much longer except to say that today we see an interesting political environment in America. We see on the Republican side--my side--we see the leading candidates, people who are basically seeking the nomination of the Republican Party because they are running against Washington; that they don't want business as usual; that they are frustrated by the fact that, in their view, the Congress doesn't work for them.
The approval rating of Congress is consistently somewhere in the teens, and Americans are frustrated and they are angry. Many of them support an individual who says: We will make America great again; it will be huge. It is language that is not very specific, but it inspires them to see change take place.
Although I disagree with that and I think we have a record this year that we can be proud of in many respects--whether it be education reform or whether it be finally sending a bill to the President's desk to repeal ObamaCare or fixing education, as I mentioned, or better ways of defending the Nation with many reforms of how the Pentagon does business--there are many things I am very proud of. I think we can return to our constituents and tell them that for the first time this year, Congress has done some things that will be helpful to the everyday man and woman who has not received really much benefit over the last 8 years since the economic collapse.
But then we send them this Christmas turkey. We send them a bill laden with millions and millions of dollars in wasteful and unnecessary spending. We send them a bill that purchases for $225 million a ship that nobody wants or needs. That, my friends, gives substance and reason behind the frustration many of our constituents feel.
It is probably over for this year. I think it is probably going to be a situation where there are sufficient votes to pass this ``omnibus bill'' worth $1.1 trillion of taxpayers' money without a single amendment, not a single one. Then we will go home, enjoy Christmas, and then come back in January hopefully refreshed. But I hope that in January we will make a commitment to the American people that we will stop doing business this way, that we will stop waiting until the last days and having these extensions that last 2 days or 3 days before the threat of a government shutdown--which no American I have ever met enjoys--and learn that the American people expect better of us than this process.
I am not proud of this. In fact, I am a bit ashamed because, particularly on defense, there are so many critical needs of the men and women who are serving in our military. Their carriers are going on 10-month cruises. Some of our men and women who are serving are on their fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh tour to Afghanistan. Even now many are going back to Iraq, and they will be going back, my friends. They will be going back. They will also be in Syria because, I predict to you now, there will be another attack on the United States of America because this President cannot lead. We are paying the price for a feckless foreign policy that is a disgrace and will be judged by historians as one of the low points in American history as far as national security is concerned.
So instead of providing for those critical needs--and I guarantee I can come up with billions of dollars of critical needs. By the way, I can also come up with reforms that will save billions of dollars in our legislation.
We are proud of that. For example, we require a reduction of 7.5 percent per year for 4 years in the size of the staff in the military. That will save over $3 billion over time. I am proud of that. So we come to the American people with a defense bill that is lean and efficient. We have a long way to go, but we are proud of it. Then we look at things like this. It is not acceptable.
I hope I don't have to stand up here again next year. I hope we can finally sit down and work for the American people, and that means taking up the appropriations bills one by one by one and giving them the same attention the Defense bill got. The Defense bill got 2 weeks, 133 amendments, debate on every issue conceivable concerning national defense. We need to do that with each of the 12 appropriations bills. That way we can give the American people a product that is the most efficient, that is the least wasteful, and something we can be proud of.
I urge my colleagues to understand that this legislation on the Defense appropriations part of it does not help America defend itself in these difficult times. In fact, because of the waste, because of the pork-barrel spending in this, because of the earmarks in it, we have actually harmed the ability of our Nation to defend itself and the welfare of the men and women who are serving. That is something we cannot be proud of.
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.