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John T.
Republican SD

About Sen. John
  • Student Success Act—Conference Report—Continued

    by Senator John Thune

    Posted on 2015-12-08

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    Read More about Student Success Act--Conference Report--Continued

    THUNE. Madam President, just a few days ago on the Senate floor, the Senate Democratic leader said: One of the newspapers here has a Pinocchio check, and they look at the facts and analyze them and then they can give up to four Pinocchios meaning people simply didn't tell the truth. . . . So, this is the most unproductive Senate in the history of the country, and there are facts and figures to show that.

    That was said by the Senate Democratic leader on December 2 on the floor of the Senate. Well, unfortunately for him, the Washington Post, which runs the fact checker, fact checked his statement and it came back with three Pinocchios. The most you can get is four Pinocchios, and they gave him three Pinocchios. There are degrees of falsehood, and I think three Pinocchios denotes a pretty big whopper. The Senate Democratic leader, by suggesting that this is one of the most unproductive Senates in the history of the country, was busted by the fact checker with three Pinocchios for making what was a false statement.

    The truth of the matter is, contrary to the assertions of the Senate Democratic leader, it has been a very busy year here in the Senate-- from voting to repeal ObamaCare to passing the first long-term Transportation bill in a decade and, I might add, the first balanced budget bill in 14 years. Republicans have been working hard to fulfill our promise to get Washington working again for American families.

    If you listen to the media, sometimes they would have you believe that nothing ever gets done in Washington, but the truth is that we have been able to make progress on a number of important issues this year. One accomplishment I am particularly proud of is the [[Page S8474]] long-term Transportation bill that Congress passed this last week. It is the first long-term Transportation bill in a decade.

    Over the past several years, Congress has made a habit of passing numerous short-term funding extensions for Federal transportation programs. In fact, I think prior to the passage last week of this long- term highway bill, there have been no fewer than 37 short-term extensions. That is an incredibly inefficient way to manage our Nation's infrastructure needs, and it wasted an incredible amount of money. It also put a lot of transportation jobs in jeopardy. Hundreds of thousands of jobs around the country depend on the funding contained in Transportation bills. When Congress fails to provide certainty about the way transportation funding will be allocated, States and local governments are left without the certainty they need to authorize projects or to make long-term plans for addressing various transportation infrastructure needs. That means essential construction projects get deferred, necessary repairs may not get made, and jobs that depend upon transportation get put in jeopardy.

    The Transportation bill we passed last week changes all of that. It reauthorizes transportation programs for the long term and provides 5 years of guaranteed funding. That means States and local governments will have the certainty they need to invest in big transportation projects and the jobs that they create, and that in turn means a stronger economy and a more reliable, safe, and effective transportation system.

    This new Transportation bill will also provide much needed accountability and transparency about where taxpayer dollars are spent. As chairman of the commerce committee, I spent a lot of time working with committee members on both sides of the aisle to develop the bill's safety provisions.

    One portion of the bill includes a host of important safety improvements, including enhancements to the notification process to ensure consumers are informed of auto-related recalls and important reforms of the government agency responsible for overseeing safety in our Nation's cars and trucks.

    Another important bill we passed this year is the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act. Cyber attacks are increasing, and it seems that every week we hear of a new breach putting Americans' private information at risk. According to the security firm Symantec, last year alone more than 300 million new types of malicious software or computer viruses were introduced on the Web. That is nearly 1 million new threats every single day.

    In October, the Senate passed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, which will help keep Americans' data safe from hackers by increasing the exchange of cyber threat information between the public and private sectors.

    As Members of Congress, we have a responsibility to ensure we are meeting the needs of our men and women in uniform and of our Nation's veterans. This year, under the new Republican majority and the leadership of Chairman Isakson, the Senate has worked in a bipartisan manner to advance numerous bills to serve our veterans. We passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which provides additional resources to help combat the tragedy of veteran suicides.

    We have improved the Veterans Choice Act to better realize the intent of Congress, and that was to make sure veterans don't have to face significant wait times or travel distances over 40 miles to receive the care they need. We expanded eligibility to permit more veterans to seek care close to home and increase the number of non-VA providers in our communities that can deliver that care.

    Congress also continues to examine the issue of VA accountability to make sure our veterans never again have to suffer delays in treatment, as we saw with the national embarrassment of falsified wait times that the VA revealed last year. I believe this oversight by Congress is an important first step in making sure the VA works for our veterans and not for the VA bureaucracy.

    Congress also passed the Defense authorization bill this year, which incorporated a number of critical reforms that will expand the resources available to our military men and women and strengthen our national security.

    The National Defense Authorization Act for 2016 tackles waste and inefficiency at the Department of Defense and focuses funding on our war fighters rather than on the Pentagon bureaucracy. This bill also overhauls our military retirement system. Before this bill, the system limited retirement benefits to soldiers who had served for 20 years or more, which means there were huge numbers of soldiers, including many veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who retired after years of service without having accrued any retirement benefits. The National Defense Authorization Act replaces this system with a new retirement system that would ensure the majority of our Nation's soldiers receive retirement benefits for their years of service to our country, even if they have not reached the 20-year mark.

    One thing Republicans were determined to do this year as well was to send legislation repealing ObamaCare to the President's desk. Five and a half years after the so-called Affordable Care Act was signed into law, it has become abundantly clear that the law is not working. It is not lowering premiums. Premiums are going up. It is not reducing health care costs. Health care costs are going up dramatically. It costs $4,000 for the average family. It is not protecting access to doctors or to hospitals. In fact, for some Americans, ObamaCare has driven up the cost of health care to unimaginable levels. I heard from 1 constituent in Hill City, SD, whose family's 2016 health care bill will be $25,653--$25,653. In the words of this constituent: How can a yearly bill of $25,653 be affordable to a retired couple? The answer, of course, is that it can't be; $25,653 or $2,137 a month is approximately double the average family's monthly mortgage payment. People are paying twice as much for their health insurance as they are paying for their mortgage.

    The ObamaCare repeal bill that the Senate passed last week starts the process of moving away from ObamaCare and toward the kind of real health care reform that Americans are looking for--an affordable, accountable, patient-focused system that gives individuals control of their health care decisions.

    I am also pleased that the ObamaCare repeal bill protects unborn Americans by redirecting funding for Planned Parenthood, an organization that performs well over a quarter million abortions each year. It shifts that funding to organizations like community health centers, which provide affordable, essential health services to women across the country, and funding them is a far better use of taxpayer dollars.

    In my State of South Dakota, these centers are in more than two dozen rural communities and in towns where there is no Planned Parenthood, so redirecting these funds makes it easier for women across my State to have access to affordable, essential health care services.

    While all Americans agree that we should protect our air and water and use our natural resources responsibly, under President Obama the Environmental Protection Agency has run amok. During the course of the Obama administration, this Agency has implemented one damaging rule after another, from a massive national backdoor energy tax that would hurt poor and working families the most to a new rule that would subject ponds and puddles in America's backyards to a complex array of expensive and burdensome regulatory requirements. Containing this out- of-control government bureaucracy is a priority for Republicans, and we have taken up multiple pieces of legislation this year to check the EPA's overreach. While the President may have blocked our efforts for now, we are going to keep working to protect Americans from damaging rules like the waters of the United States rule and the national energy tax.

    Over the course of the Obama administration, our national debt has gone from $10.6 trillion to a staggering $18.8 trillion. Meanwhile, entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security are heading rapidly toward bankruptcy. If action isn't taken soon, our financial situation could end up crippling our economy.

    [[Page S8475]] While there is a lot more work left to do, this year's Senate Republicans took steps toward improving our Nation's fiscal health. In the spring, we passed a balanced budget--the first joint House-Senate balanced budget in 14 years. Every American family has to stick to a budget and Congress should be no different. This year's balanced budget needs to be the first of many going forward.

    Entitlement reform is also essential if we want to protect Americans' entitlement security. This year we began the process of putting both Social Security and Medicare on a more stable financial footing so these programs will continue to be available to current and future generations of Americans.

    I could go on and talk about the Education bill that we are considering right now that will return power to States and local school boards or the legislation that we passed to give law enforcement new tools to fight human trafficking and expand the resources available to victims or the bill that we passed to expand opportunities for American workers and open new markets for goods marked ``Made in the USA.'' I want to stop here and say, while Republicans are proud of what we have accomplished this year, we know there is a lot left to do. Wages are still stagnant, our economy is still sluggish, and too many families are still struggling under huge health care bills.

    In addition to the challenges facing Americans at home, we face a number of challenges abroad, foremost among them the threat posed by ISIS, which is responsible for the deadly attacks in Paris last month, as well as a campaign of havoc and bloodshed throughout the Middle East. Even here at home we received a grim reminder of the global influence of ISIS's twisted ideology last week with what appears to be a terrorist-inspired attack that took 14 American lives in San Bernardino. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and the families.

    While the President should be playing the leading role in building a coalition to destroy this terrorist organization, unfortunately his speech Sunday night demonstrated that he has little to offer beyond the same failed strategy that has helped us end up where we are right now-- with an emboldened terrorist organization carrying out and inspiring mass casualty attacks far beyond Iraq and Syria.

    We are at a tipping point in the fight against ISIS, and if we don't come up with an effective political military response in the very near future, we will be facing the prospect of even greater bloodshed in the Middle East and more terrorist attacks here in the homeland.

    While we succeeded in having a number of bills become law this year, unfortunately many others were stopped by the President. Still others, such as our efforts to protect unborn children capable of feeling pain from being killed by abortion, were stopped by Democrats in the Senate. While we have temporarily lost some of these battles, the debate will continue. Republicans will not give up. Whether it is protecting families from the President's national energy tax or repealing ObamaCare, we will redouble our efforts to make sure Washington is meeting the needs of American families and addressing the American people's priorities.

    We plan to spend the second year of the 114th Congress the way we spent the first: fighting to make our economy stronger, our government more efficient and more accountable, and our Nation and our world safer and more secure.

    Madam President, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Oregon.

    Paris Climate Change Talks Mr. MERKLEY. Madam President, I rise to share a little bit of details about the climate talks that are going on in Paris at this very moment. A number of us in the Senate were able to go to Paris last weekend and to be engaged in that dialogue.

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