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tv   US Senate  CSPAN  March 17, 2016 2:00pm-4:01pm EDT

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the presiding officer: are there any senators that wish to vote or change their vote? if not, -- if not, the vote is 96 in favor, none opposed. senate resolution 377 is agreed to. mr. mccain: mr. president? the presiding officer: under the previous order, the preamble is agreed to and the motion to reconsider are considered made and laid upon the table. the senator from arizona. mr. mccain: i ask unanimous consent the senate be in a period of morning business with senators permitted to speak therein for up to two minutes
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each, and i ask that the senator from south carolina and i be in a colloquy. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mccain: mr. president, briefly, the senator from south carolina and i discussed this announcement that russia will begin withdrawing some military forces from syria. it obviously signals that vladimir putin's belief that he's bombed and killed enough of his opponents in the murderous assad regime to assure assad survival. for four years, this administration, this president, stood by as the assad regime slaughtered nearly a half a million people in syria. then when assad appeared weak, it watched, watched as putin intervened militarily and protected his brutal regime in a move that the president described as putin going into a -- quote -- quagmire. well, apparently now vladimir putin is leaving that -- quote
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-- quagmire, and he's leaving a solid bashar assad in a position of strength, he is leaving thousands of dead moderate opposition that he has indiscriminately bombed, and the united states with their begging bowl out asking and pleading that they somehow reach some agreement general in geneva. you know, it's really embarrass embarrass -- agreement in geneva. you know, it's really embarrassing to watch this secretary secretary of state as they continue to beg vladimir putin and his stooge lavrov as they continue to place russia in a position of influence they have not had since anwar sadat threw them out of egypt in 1973. they now have a major role to play in the middle east. they have a military base, they have a naval base, they have upgraded airfields, and of
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course they have now solidified bashar assad's position in power. is there anybody that believes that russia will agree to an arrangement that bashar assad or his stooge doesn't remain in power? of course not. aren't we tired of begging punitive punitive? aren't we tired of watching the united states, the young men that we trained and equipped being bombed by punitive -- vladimir putin and killed and murdered? don't we sometime grow a little tired of that? it's no wonder that the united states of america has no standing and no influence in the region. and may i just -- i don't often quote from the "new york times". i just would ask my colleague if he has seen the russian move may be a reflection that mr. putin is now extremely confident in
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mr. assad's renewed stability and can afford to step back a bit and play statesman. mr. putin has achieved many of his main goals, bringing russia back to center stage as a global power, preventing on principle regime change by outside powers, particularly western ones, gaining a stronger foothold in syria, picking off russian jihadists on the syrian battlefield and strengthening mr. assad. and i would ask my friend from south carolina isn't it obvious what's going to happen next, and that is an increase in fighting in eastern ukraine, more ukrainian slaughtered while we refuse to give them defensive weapons, but just sufficient amount of violence and killing to prevent the united states of america or the europeans to take any significant action. indeed won't there now be pressure on the part of the special interests and the
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industrialists, particularly in germany, pressures to lift the sanctions on vladimir putin. mr. graham: i think you're right, senator mccain. let's look at what our military leaders say rather than just looking at what political people think. general du nford today, the chairman of the joint chief of staffs in a hearing that you chaired today, asked what is putin up to, what do you think he is trying to do here? he said well, all i can tell you is that the reason he came into syria was to destroy isil and help fight isil. he's proven that he did not do that. he didn't try to do that. so what general dunford said is that basically putin lied about why he came to syria. if he's leaving syria, the job against isil is far from done, but i think you know that, senator mccain, the job of propping up assad has been
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accomplished. so what general dunford said is the reason that putin came into syria was not to destroy isil but to help his stooge, his puppet assad. he believes he has achieved such military superiority on behalf of assad by bombing the people that we have trained that he can now leave. so at the end of the day, he's not leaving. there is a naval base and air force base will be in syria, he said we're withdrawing our forces, but of course we will have a naval presence and an air base. so here's what i would say, that he, if he needs to help assad in the future, he will. geneva has become a joke. there is no way you're going to negotiate a successful agreement when assad is backed by russia and iran. the opposition has been abandoned by the united states and the free world. the russian president has bombed the people the american president trained to take assad out. as to the region. mr. mccain: what does the senator from south carolina
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think that does to our reputation when we arm and train and equip young men, send them in to fight, ostensibly against isis or bashar assad, although in this case isis, and we stand by and watch the russians slaughter them from the air? mr. graham: well, i think it sends a signal that you can't relie upon. you have two training programs, one by the c.i.a., one by the department of defense. the people trained outside the department of defense have been wholesale slaughtered by the russian air attacks, and we've done nothing about it. what does the region say? we have two enemies, assad and isil. our unwillingness to confront assad has created a sense of abandonment in the entire region. assad is a puppet of iran. iran is the mortal enemy of the sunni arab states. so what has the president accomplished here? he said assad must go.
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he trained people to help take him down. russia came in and said assad won't go, they have attacked the people we have trained and we basically have abandoned the free syrian opposition. now we're in geneva talking about a peace agreement where the whole balance now is in assad's favor. does anybody really believe that there is military jeopardy to assad, and without him being in jeopardy, how do you get an agreement the syrian people can live with, and in assad or his henchmen stay in power, how do you ever end the war in syria? so what we have accomplished, senator mccain, is we have given the russians more influence in the middle east than any time since 1973, we have allowed iran to basically dictate the terms in damascus, we have jeopardized our relationship with our arab partners, we have put in question americans' reliability in terms of the people inside of
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syria. the syrian policy of barack obama has done enormous damage, and without russia being involved, none of this would have happened. mr. mccain: and you know the tragedy of all this, i would just say to my friend, is that when the united states of america was required to stand up because of the commitment of the president of the united states if the bashar assad regime had used -- used chemical weapons and slaughtered its gruesome pictures that you and i have seen and then backed off, that was one of the seminal moments that american credibility disappeared, and here we are now still refusing to arm and train and equip young men to fight against bashar assad, and in fact making them pledge that they would only fight against isis. it's not isis that's barrel bombing them. it's not isis that's dropping
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chemical weapons. it's not isis that's brought in thousands and tortured and beaten and killed. it's not -- isis is our enemy. isis is evil. but to somehow, to somehow excuse therefore the behavior of bashar assad with the russians' indiscriminate bombing is one of the most disgraceful chapters in american history, in my view. mr. graham: just to build on this, several years ago, russia takes by force crimea. this was not a fair election. it's pretty hard to have a fair election when there is a russian tank parked out in front of your yard. good luck saying you don't want to go to russia. we've done nothing other than sanction russia. russia is still engaged in provocative behavior. we told him not to go into crimea. we told him not to dismember ukraine. he did. he's stronger, not weaker. we told him not to use military force to help assad who is the butcher of damascus.
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he did. we pleaded with him not to attack non-isil targets. he did. he destroyed the opposition to assad. russia is in league with iran, so the biggest winner of russia's involvement on the ground in syria has been the iranians, which is the most destabilizing group of people in the entire middle east. the biggest loser has been the free syrian opposition to the syrian people themselves, and close behind i think is the american reputation in the region. so i want the administration to know that your handling of syria has been a disaster on multiple levels, it's emboldened iran, it's made russia stronger, you're losing credibility in the region at a time when the region needs leadership, and if you go to geneva and you close out a peace deal that's a joke that allows assad or somebody, bob assad not bashar assad to stay in power, if you allow a peace agreement where the iranians control damascus and russia has
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a naval and air force base and more influence than we do, what have you accomplished? so i just hope and pray that the administration will stop this insane desire to bring syria to a con collusion where the conclusion is going to make the whole region subject to blowing up. a successful conclusion is not having iran being the dominant force inside of syria, russia having more influence, an air base and a naval base and the syrian people losing the ability to replace their tormenter and isil having a magnet for future recruit many, which is an iranian-backed assad. that's not a successful outcome, and that's where we're headed. what do you think, senator mccain? mr. mccain: for the last five years, we have been writing a shameful chapter in american history, and to sum all this up, leading from behind doesn't work. if america leads from behind,
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somebody else is going to be in front. if the united states leaves conflicts and creates vacuums, then bad things happen. look at a map of the middle east in january of 2009 when this president came to the presidency of the united states and look at that map now, the way isis has metastasized, the way hundreds of thousands have been murdered, millions on the march as refugees. and we still have apologists for this leading from behind, this don't do policy -- policy which is described as don't do stupid stuff. this is a result of leadership that has left the scene in a way that we have not seen since the 1930's and the days of neville chamberlain and peace in our time. i yield the floor.
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the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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quorum call:
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a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the
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senator from rhode island. exphiews me, delaware -- excuse me, delaware. a senator: mr. president. the presiding officer: the senator from delaware. a senator: i ask unanimous consent the proceedings under the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection. a senator: mr. president, last week the iranian revolutionary guard or the irgc, the hardline military force that answers only to iran's supreme leader and is committed to the preservation of iran's revolutionary regime launched a number of ballistic missiles in clear violation of the united nations security council resolution 2231. these missile launches, profoundly disturbing and suggest a regime that is intent on continuing to destabilize the region and threaten our vital allies, its neighbors. but they don't technically violate the terms of last summer's nuclear agreement but they do serve as a vital reminder that iran remains a
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revolutionary regime that does not respect world opinion and does not share our values or interests. mr. coons: america and our allies must seek every opportunity to push back on iran's aggressive behavior, especially behavior like this that is outside the parameters of the nuclear deal by enforcing existing sanctions on iran's illegal ballistic missile tests, its ongoing human rights abuses and its support for terrorism across the middle east and the world. another critical way that the international community can demonstrate we are serious about holding iran accountable is by aggressively enforcing the terms of the nuclear deal. today i'd like to discuss a key element of enforcing that deal, fully funding the international atomic energy agency or the iaea, the world's nuclear watchdog which is responsible for monitoring iran's complies with the deal. the case for providing robust sustainable funding for the iaea
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is further strengthened by a second topic i'll discuss, iran's continued human rights abuses. iran's compliance with the nuclear deal so far does not mean that its government intends to embrace the international community or heed the call of the iranian people from greater democracy. in fact, i believe the actions of the irgc and iran's hardline conservative leaders indicate that the iranian regime intends to continue to repress dissent, to block democratic reforms, to incite antisemitism and to violate basic human rights. mr. president, in a speech to the united nations in december of 1953, president eisenhower proclaimed american support for a new international organization tasked with putting nuclear technology -- quote -- "into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace" -- close quote. since its founding in 1957, the iaea has undertaken a broad
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array of responsibilities, from promoting international nonproliferation efforts to supporting peaceful nuclear power but none more vital than maintaining its tafgs program which -- safeguards program which ensures that countries use their nuclear technology only for peace pl purposes. the iaea could not do its jock without the on-going support of the united states. the united states develops the inspections technologies on which the iaea vitally depends and we train and support the iaea's inspectors, scientists and staff, particularly through our staff of national laboratories. since 1980, every single iaea inspector has been trained at least once in the los los alamos national lab in new mexico and at any one given time, roughly 20% of all the inspecialghts that work for the iaea are undergoing training or real
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estate training at the vital national labs of the united states. so, mr. president, the commitment made by american scientists and taxpayers to the iaea is even more important now in light of the agreement reached by world powers last summer to prevent iran from developing a nuclear weapon. in this agreement, also known as the joint comprehensive plan of action, or the judiciary committejcpoa, the iaeais giveno monitor iran's nuclear efforts through highly monitoring technology. unlike previous nuclear agreements, the jcpoa requires iran to allow the iaea to monitor iran's entire nuclear fuel cycle, which includes all the steps required to go from mining and milling raw uranium to producing centrifuges that enrich uranium to the actual enrichment science. the iaea's regular inspections and continuous monitoring and oversight mean that the
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international community will know if iran tries to cheat on the terms of the jcpoa before it can dash to a nuclear weapon or build a bomb. but access alone is not aenough. the iaea must have the resources to actually inspect, montana terks and verify iran's compliance with the nuclear deal by confirming that iran's nuclear declarations are accurate and comprehensive, by monitoring their declared sites, to ensure iran's behavior actually complies with the terms of the jcpoa, and by tracking all nuclear-reallotted material leaving every facility to make sure iran doesn't divert and pursue illicit nuclear activities elsewhere in their country. given iran's long record of cheating and of pursuing nuclear weapons illicitly over the decades past, investing resources in ensuring the iaea can take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity is a wise investment, not just for
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the american people but for the world. so to fulfill these responsibilities, in addition to its regular and on-going mission of ensuring nonproliferation in every other country in the world, the iaea must have the resources to turn access into oversight. so back in january i traveled with seven other senators to the iaea's headquarters in vienna, austria, and there we heard directly from director general ammano about the challenges the agency faces in fulfilling its new responsibilities. at the top of that list of responsibilities is securing a reliable, long-ter long-term sof funding. a recent report by the g.a.o. echoes those very same concerns stating that the iaea faces potential budgetary and human resource management challenges stemming from the jcpoa-related workload. effectively enforcing the terms of the jcpoa will require more
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than just additional inspectors. while inspectors are vital, the iaea will also be required to train a new generation of nuclear scientists and to continue to develop more and more innovative nuclear detection and monitoring technologies as well. and you know taking is complex as it is important. so that's why, mr. president, i urge congress to increase america's voluntary contribution to the iaea to a level at least $10.6 million above the president's 2016 request and commit to a sustained and long-term investment so that we can be confident that the iaea has the resources to recruit, to train, and to place the very best inspectors the world can produce. the increase of $130eu 6 million that i'm urging will provide reliable fundin funding for the, the funding they need to monitor the iran nuclear program while
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continuing to work for a secure and peaceful use of nuclear technology throughout the rest of the world. it would not crowd out other contributions from other states. extra funding could be directed to specific projects or with withheld from others allowing us to address unanticipated need without dis-scourging other donors from fulfilling their obligations. we also need to continue to insist on full transparency so that reports received by the iaea, things they might learn are shared with the united states, with our intelligence community be, with our lawmakers, with our executive branch, and to ensure frankly that we know if there are additional classified or secret agreements -- side agreements -- between the iaea and iran. look, whether my colleagues supported the jcpoa or opposed it, surely we can agree that it's in america's interest to see the iaea succeed in monitoring iran's behavior and
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attracting the best and brightest young scientists from around the world for years too come. as brent scowcroft, who served as national security advisor to both president gerald ford and later president george h.w. bush wrote in an august 21 "washington post" op-ed, "congress should ensure that the iaea a and other relevant bodies and intelligence agencies have all the resources necessary to facilitate inspection and monitor compliance with the nuclear deal by iran." to fully and sustainably fund the iaea is to make a sound investment in a highly technical organization that directly contributes to international peace and our security. but, mr. president, why exactly is it so important that we fund the iaea and force the jcpoa and push back on iran at every opportunity? a brief review of iran's dismal human rights record might
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reinforce why it is crystal clear this is a priority for our nation and must remain so. iran's government continues to preach anti-semitism, to incite hathatred against israel and to call for the destruction of the jewish state of israel and uses state-run media to blame the jewish people for the instability and violence that currently dominates the middle east. just last week, one of the ballistic missiles iran illegally launched supposedly had a message printed on the side in hebrew saying "israel must be wiped off the earth." in january, as the international community marked holocaust remembrance day, iran's supreme leader published a video on his official web site in which the nature rarity condemns the world for supporting israel and questions the legitimacy and magnitude of the holocaust. these statements should dupely concern and outrage the world community, but they are simply
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another reflection of the iranian regime's long-standing disregard for international values and human rights. earlier this mornghts the united nations issued a report showing that the number of people executed by the iranian government skyrocketed to nearly 1,000 last year, ten times as many as in 2005. most of these executions were allegedly for drug-related offenses. according to some reports, last year one village in iran saw every single adult male -- every single one in the entire village -- executed for show of called drug crimes. these alarming statistics follow a january report from amnesty international that documented iran's execution of over 70 juveniles in the decade from 2005 to 2015 with another 160 young juvenile offenders still on death row. no country in the world uses capital punishment for minors more than iran. and despite iran's rat if i indication of an international
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treaty, banning capital punishment for minors, iranian law still allows the death penalty for girls as long as nine and boys as young as 15. in addition, iran's unelected guardian counsel suppressed democracy in its most recent elections, preventing the vast majority of either fee maul or reform-minded candidates from even appearing on ballots. and iran has illegally and inappropriately detained american citizens, including retired f.b.i. agent robert levinson and iranian-american energy executive namazi, both of whom we believe remain detained in iran. the committee to protect journalists estimates that at least 19 reporters are today still being heldunjustly by the iranian government. these just a few examples among countless many of iran's unwillingness to respect the both basic norms of international human rights and effectively pushing back on
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these egregious human right abuses demands international collaboration. but increasing our voluntary contribution to the iaea makes a direct impact. without requiring approval or action by any other country. well, mr. president, there are two other additional unilateral steps this congress can take today. first, we can increase federal investment in our national laboratories, which trained the iaea inspectors i spoke about. they developed technologies that nuclear inspectors would depend upon and undertake rex that will improve the liberias of people around the world. second and more promptly, the second could and should confirm laura who wil hole debate, nomid more than five months ago to serve as america's ambassador to the u.n. agencies in vienna which includes the iaea. after months of delays for purely political reasons, her nomineation nation was finally approved by the foreign relations committee on january
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28. the full senate should not delay any further to ensure that our government is represented at the very organization the world relies on to prevent iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. madam president, later in month, the president will confirm heads of state from around the world for a fourth nuclear security summit, a conference dedicated to preventing nuclear terrorism and securing stockpiles of nuclear material from around the world. the iaea is at the very forefront of this vital mission and we need to work together to make sure it has the tools it needs to take on these serious tasks. these goals demand involvement from every actor in the international stage, but by increasing america's voluntary contribution to the iaea, by an additional $10 million, congress can send a strong signal that we intend to hold iran to the terms of the jcpoa to support the international cause of nonproliferation, and to provide a vital incentive for our
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international partners to dedicate more of their resources to this important agency. iran remains today a revolutionary regime, fundamentally opposed to america's values and interests. and iran's ballistic missile tests just last week serve as another reminder that the iranian government is neither america's friend or ally. we must be relentless in our efforts to push back on these missile tests, on iran's support for terrorism and on its human rights abuses. we must continue to enforce the existing sanctions in american law and be willing to consider imposing new ones when iran's behavior warrants it. let me be clear about one thing in closing: the persian culture, the culture of the people of iran -- it's one of great richness and complexity -- i've had the blessing of knowing many persian americans in my life and have known them to be people of great
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intellect and inventiveness and capability and be the products of a respectable tull culture. we in the united states do not wish the people of iran ill. but the iranian regime and those who support it deserve international condemnation for a decades' long pattern of human rights abuse and other bad behavior. we can and should make make a distinction between the iranian regime and the persian people, the people of iran. those who turn out at the polls to shot even in elections that are neither free nor fair and who have repeatedly demonstrated in the streets for democracy and engagement risking life and limb to do so in the decade past must know the american people support the struggle of those who hope for real democracy someday in iran and those who hope for an iranian regime that someday respects international values and human rights. so today, just a few days before
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monday's iranian new year, we wish the people of iran a happy, healthy, and peaceful new year while continuing to stand firm against the values and actions of the iranian regime. thank you, madam president, with that. i yield the floor. a senator: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from dell ware. mr. coons: i note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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hatch mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from utah. mr. hatch: madam president, i ask unanimous consent that the quorum call be dispensed with the presiding officer: without objection. mr. hatch: i ask also unanimous consent that i be permitted to finish and complete my remarks. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. hatch: madam president, i tried to once again discuss the financial and economic challenges facing puerto rico, an issue i've been talking about since last summer. in fact, it was july of last year when i first wrote the treasury secretary lew expressing my concern about the situation in puerto rico. inquiring about the obama administration's plans to address this predicament. while i did eventually get a response from the treasury secretary, numerous questions that i asked in that initial letter to this day remain
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unanswered. over the ensuing months, i made other inquiries to the health and human services secretary burwell because for some time now, we have been told that funding ought to be -- or to be more specific a decline in funding for federal health care programs was a factor contributing to puerto rico's debt crisis. so as the chairman of the senate committee of jurisdiction over most of those programs, i wanted to know what hhs thought needed to be done. not surprisingly, i'm still waiting for a substantive response to those inquiries. instead of detailed proposals, i was initially told simply that health funding issues surrounding puerto rico are difficult and that the administration expected congress to address these issues in a fiscally responsive way and to do it quickly. eventually last month with the release of the president's budget proposal, we learned that the administration wants to provide $30 billion, that's with a "b" in additional medicaid
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funds for puerto rico. when asked how the administration thought we should pay for this, secretary burwell has subjected we simply adopt the president's budget. however, given that there are more surviving members of the beatles than there are senators willing to vote in favor of an obama bucket, i don't know -- budget, i don't know that anyone can take that suggestion very seriously. that is the sum total of the input we've gotten from the administration on dealing with puerto rico's health funding issues. a proposal for dramatically increased spending with no credible way to pay for it and a demand that we provide that funding as quickly as possible. that's all they're willing to say publicly on this matter, even though administration officials have labeled this an human tearian cry -- human taker crisis. buried in all the details is the fact that this proposal for increased medicaid funds is meant to shore up an inequity
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created by the so-called affordable care act. apparently the democrats' partisan health law provided billions in additional medicaid funding for puerto rico but also included a cliff or a point in time when that funding would drop off quickly and dramatically. and that cliff is fast approaching. let's be closer. the democrats constructed that cliff presumably knowing what they were doing at that time. the democrats in congress voted for it and the democrat in the white house signed it into law. no republican in congress supported that cliff. yet now we are told that we must act quickly to eliminate the cliff that they've created and even more funds without -- and add even more funds without a realistic way to pay for them. on top of that, democrats in congress have labeled any hesitation on the part of republicans to fix a problem they created and to fix it in
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the exact way they prescribed as callous indifference towards the plight of the american citizens living in puerto rico. madam president, i've been as clear as i can be on this issue. i've said repeatedly that i want to work with my colleagues to find a solution, but we need to do so in a manner that is fiscally responsible with an eye toward writing the irresponsible course taking by the government of puerto rico. toward that end, i along with a number of my colleagues have repeatedly requested audited financial statements from the government of puerto rico. you'd think that's a reasonable request. these requests date back to last september with the first hearing i held on these issues in the finance committee. that was six months ago, madam president. yet we still don't have that information for fiscal year 2014 let alone 2015. in addition last month i wrote a nine-page letter to the governor
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of puerto rico asking a number of questions about puerto rico's finances. and i asked that they be answered by the first of this month. i've received no answers to these questions. in the face of the humanitarian crisis, it seems to be too much to ask of the government of puerto rico that they provide some verifiable financial information so that congress can make an informed decision about how to handle this very difficult situation. and apparently some of my friends on the other side of the aisle are ready and willing to spend tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer funds without all the relevant information. and to public attack anyone who challenges that strategy. so far members on the democratic side including members of congress and the administration have been generally unwilling to provide even the most basic information about how their various proposals for puerto rico would cost the federal government or whether they intend to offset those
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undisclosed costs. and none of them have shown interest in even discussing ways to help puerto rico return to a more sustainable fiscal and economic course. yet they repeatedly have the audacity to accuse republicans of indifference to the struggles faced by the residents of puerto rico. sometimes i feel like i'm all alone trying to solve this problem without any help from the other side and even difficult times on our side. the assertiveness debate is pounded by the fact that the only practical and fiscally responsible legislation introduced to congress, these issues has come from republica republicans. introduced to address these issues has come from republicans. as most of my colleagues should know, even with the severely incomplete information we have, senators grassley and murkowski
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and i have introduced a bill that would provide some tax relief and fully offset funds to puerto rico for transition assistance as well as an oversight authority to help ensure that puerto rico establishes credible budgets and future fiscal plans. our bill provides the platform needed for sustained economic growth and a return of access to credit markets. however, neither the administration nor any of my friends on the other side of the aisle have shown much interest in discussing the substance of our bill. would you think they would want me to bring it up and if they want to amend it, they could. we've got to do this. we can't just play around with this. instead we've seen the proposals to said tens of billions of dollars in health funds to puerto rico, no questions asked, and a proposed bankruptcy scheme that my colleagues have misleadingly claimed would simply give puerto rico access to chapter 9 debt relief. the same access we give to every
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municipality in the country. of course as i've made clear on a number of occasions, the so-called chapter 9 access they're seeking for puerto rico doesn't really resemble the actual chapter 9 of the current bankruptcy code n. reality their proposal would create for lack of a better word a super chapter 9, specifically for puerto rico and grant the territory unprecedented authority to restructure its debt. but before -- that's the territory, not having a special supervisory board to make sure they do restructure its debt. before i say more about the super chapter 9 proposal, i just want to make clear that i and others have been working for quite some time now to find an agreeable solution to these problems. we've done so even while the government of puerto rico refuses to provide anything resembling a complete picture of its finances, which it seems to me ought to be the first thing
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that's done. i've been working with colleagues in both the house and the senate to explore legislative options. while i do not want to speak for anyone else at the moment, i will say that we've been willing to consider various debt restructuring mechanisms for puerto rico, balancing the need to ensure fairness and equal treatment for a similarly situated -- for a similarly situated parties. however, as we consider various aprofesses, i want to make three -- approaches, i want to make three things clear. first, the government of puerto rico must negotiate in good faith with its creditors and creditors must do the same with puerto rico. it would be a mistake for officials in puerto rico to hold out or drag their feet on good-faith bargaining efforts in an anticipation of congressional action. secondly, contrary to claims made by some of my colleagues, none of us have any interest in helping out the -- quote --
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"vultures" -- unquote -- "or -- quote -- "speculators" look fog profit out of the misery created in puerto rico. if anyone uncovers illegal actions taken by investors in puerto rico, then by all means they should be prosecuted. if anyone can identify any investors whose actions are clearly predatory and unethical, we should all rain shame upon them. federal officials who travel through the revolving door of the administration are found to be unduly enriching themselves off of puerto rico's plight, their actions should be brought to light. i have no qualms with any of that, because my goal and the goal of my republican colleagues is to provide sensible and reasonable solutions to help people living in puerto rico. however, this does not bring me to my third point -- or does bring me to my third point: innocent and ethical investors
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from utah, new york, new jersey, and every remember state in the union as well as good-faith envisitors in puerto rico should not -- investors in puerto rico should not be casually labeled as vultures or speculators and should be treated as any similarly situated investor. a retiree or near-retiree who invested part of their investment savings in puerto rico debt investments which carry federal tax preferences is no less deserving of repayment than any other similarly situated claimmanhattan. it is easy -- claimant. it is easy to make exaggerated claims that the bondholders are all rich people. they're not. thousands and thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, are average people who have trusted the bonds. julio garcia, resident of puerto rico, along with other
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middle-class puerto ricans, who hold a significant share of puerto rico's debt, are senior -- certainly not vultures. residents of puerto rico who are retired or near retirement and numbered among puerto rico's bondholders but don't happen to receive public pensions do not deserve to see their savings depleted in order to favor certain public pension benefits in puerto rico. that last example may to some seem oddly specific, however, if you look at the super chapter 9 proposals put forward by democrats, the intent to favorite public pensions over private bondholders, evening those whose retirement savings are invested in those bond is explicit. what's wrong with worrying about, you know, private bondholders who are like julio and his wife? regarding those public pensions, it is true that puerto rico tried to reform the retirement
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systems for its government employees and did end up making some lasting changes to one of its programs. nonetheless, the territory has not followed through and some aspects of the reforms it did make, an even in the face of dire fiscal conditions, some of puerto rico's major public pension systems remain unchanged. and for my friends on the other side, it appears that any effort to encourage puerto rico to substantially improve its public pension systems as the island restructures some of its debt would be out of the crow. well, that just can't be. madam president, as we see increasingly large municipal bankruptcies in states with mounting fiscal pressures, severely underfunded public pensions seem to almost always be lurking in the background. up until now, detroit was probably the biggest municipal bankruptcy in u.s. history, with
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a debt of around $18 billion. now puerto rico is coming to congress for help to deal with $73 billion of debt and $43 billion of shockingly unfunded public pension obligations. bringing the total to more than $115 billion. it would be beyond irresponsible to offer aid to puerto rico without taking at least some action to improve public pension reporting and transparency. given the growing crisis of underfunded pension -- public pensions around the country, which i have been warning my colleagues about for years now, taking no action that will ensure -- tackin tack -- takingo action will ensure that states that have been responsible will see their costs go up as a result of the bad and imprudent actors.
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on this point, officials at the securities and exchange commission and municipal market analysts overwhelmingly agree: increased transparency on public pension liabilities is clearly necessary. madam president, earlier this week while our bicameral work to produce passible legislation to address the problems of puerto rico has progressed, some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have decided to chime in once again with another round of implausible policy proposals and fresh political attacks. the latest group of bills introduced by democrats includes a number of repackaged ideas from last year, including unscored and unsound proposals to allocate funds and direct aid as well as a renewed effort to grant unprecedented debt resolution authority for puerto rico. the only real difference between the ideas we've seen already and those included in the bills this
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week is that democrats are now apparently willing to be up front about the fact that the debt resolution authority they're seeking isn't just the same chapter 9 everyone else has but an entirely new animal altogether. last year my frengds on the other side had a bill to provide puerto rico with an ability to apply chapter 9 debt resolution authority on a retroactive basis. the reasoning and rhetoric behind the bill was that municipalities in every state have access and so should puerto rico. never mind the retroactivity. now, however, the goalposts are being moved. my friends have now introduced their super chapter 9 bankruptcy scheme devised by administration officials. this is not something available to other municipalities or states. it is in fact without precedent. it includes virtualliual
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government debt in puerto rico and blows right through a payout protection afforded to general obligation debt that is in puerto rico's constitution. this not only steps directly on puerto rico's autonomy but also sends dangerous signals impi tell -- signals by telling municipal bond markets to no longer regard general obligation debt i should by states as being safe, as previously expected. that of course means higher costs to states for funding things like infrastructure projects, and it is something that many state governors have said they worry about and do not support. needless to say, this freshly constructed bankruptcy scheme is extremely risky. and though my friends are now being transparent about the relief they want, it doesn't make it more palatable.
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the bills include proposals beyond the super 9 proposal. it is worth taking just a few minutes to go through them individually. first, we have provisions as poorly constructed this year as they were last year calling for additional medicare and medicaid funds for puerto rico. second, we have proposals to extend parts of the u.s. personal income tax system that provide direct aid to u.s. taxpayers to people in puerto rico, excluding any part that requires positive tax payment. residents of puerto rico do not file personal federal income tax returns or pay any personal federal income tax. yet my colleagues want the earned-income tax credit and child tax credits to be paid out to residents of puerto rico. of course, the joint committee on taxation, the nonpartisan congressional scorekeeper and advisor when it comes to tax policy, has already indicated that such a scheme would be rife with administrative difficulties
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and fraud. it is at the very least difficult and counterintuitive to expect the i.r.s. to properly operate an income tax program for people that are not subject to the income system to start with. however, that doesn't seem to phase my friends on the other side. third, we have a control board to oversee the restructuring of puerto rico's debt that under the bill would be populated by puerto rico political appointees. that's one of the problems are the political appointees in puerto rico. when are we going to start thinking bull a the taxpayers in america? well, clearly the structure of this proposed control board would subject any financial decision making in puerto rico to the same political wrangling that got the territory into this mess in the first place. yet the obvious mess of these problems seems to have etion scaped my colleagues. we do not know the precise cost of the health funded and refundable tax credit proposals
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because my friends have not been interested in getting them scored or in disclosing how much they cost. essentially my colleagues want to have a debate about their proposals without any real discussion of what they will cost the american taxpayers. i've only been here about 39 years -- actually, 40, madam president -- but i think that's long enough to know that anyone who puts forward legislation to -- without disclosing how much they want to spend isn't all this interested in passing the legislation. instead, what people tend to want in those situations is to send a political message that they care about a problem while the other side does not. perhaps i'm wrong. perhaps my friends on the other side do want to see their proposals become law. if that's the case, they'll be glad to know that i've worked with j.c.t. and the
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congressional budget office, the joint committee on taxation and the congressional budget office, to get a ballpark figure on the cost of their proposals. all told, the provisions put forward in the bills senator menendez and some of his colleagues introduced in week would cost -- would cost federal taxpayers more than $45 billion and probably closer to $50 billion, at least from what they can we will from the legislative language, which is not the clearest i've ever seen. i can only assume that the administration does not support these bills, giver than in what little communication we've had with them on these issues, they've consistently admonished us to address the puerto rico problem in a -- quote -- "fiscally responsible way." unquote. i have a hard time imagining any argument that the approaches
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proffered by my friends would satisfy even the loosest definition of "fiscal responsibility." at least not until they come up with an at least semi-reasonable way to offset the $50 billion cost. once again, madam president, given all of these obvious realities, i have to assume that these bills are more about politics than solutions. like i said, people who are serious about solving a problem typically don't propose tensions of billions of dollars in spending without actually disclosing the costs and talking about offsets. no people who put out big diedides without a plausible path to get them enacted are usually more interested in talking about a problem than they are in solving it and more interested in political posturing than actually helping people. let me say that again. no. people who put on big ideas without a plausible path to get them enacted are usually more interested in talking about a
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problem than they are in solving it, more interested in political posturing than in actually helping people. but, madam president, i'm not interested in the 0 politics surrounding the crisis in puerto rico, nor am i interested in what the polls say on this issue. i am i've been working for sometime to craft a legislative solution that can actually pass because i am more interested in enhancing the lives and opportunities of our fellow citizens in puerto rico than i am on the political impact this debate could have between now and november. madam president, since last summer, well before almost anyone in congress started thinking about the challenges facing puerto rico, and long before we saw any outlandish legislative pproach from our friends on the other side, i have been calling on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to work with me to find serious and credible solutions to help the people, not the politicians in puerto rico. i repeat that call today.
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for as anyone who wants to put people far out in front of politics and to actually address these problems, instead of merely talking about them, my door remains open. wide open. and i hope someone will walk through this and help us go et this done. i want to get this done. i believe the people in puerto rico deserve getting this done but it has to be done and it can't be done by gouging everybody else in america for profligacy and improper conduct in puerto rico. with that, madam chairman, i suggest the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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a senator: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from michigan. mr. peters: i ask unanimous consent that the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. peters: thank you, madam president. today i want to talk about an issue that i've been working on for two months now with my colleague, senator debbie
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stabenow from michigan, an issue that is sad and has been absolutely catastrophic. people who live in our state in the city of flint. in fact, today we had hundreds of folks from flint to come to washington, washington, d.c., to attend a house hearing that was held to talk about what had happened in flint and to get answers from the e.p.a. administrator as well as the governor of michigan. and the folks came to make sure that their voice was heard in this tragedy, to make sure that people would see them as human beings who are being afflicted by this horrible tragedy in a situation in which they can't turn on their tap water and have clean water, water free from lead. i think many folks are aware of what happened. we had a situation where an unelected emergency manager was appointed by the governor to save dollars, to save money. and in the process contaminated the water system.
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the decision was made to move away from clean detroit water, from the detroit water system, water that comes from lake huron, the great lakes, and move on a temporary basis until a new system could be put up and running that drew water from the flint river. the flint river was known to be one that was, water that was very, very corrosive. in fact, general motors had an engine plant and used water in the manufacturing process but found the water was so corrosive that it was damaging engine blocks. so they stopped using this water because of the damage it was doing to the manufacturing process. but unfortunately, the unelected emergency manager and the state government decided to use that water for the people of flint as a source of drinking water, and they did not put in the proper corrosion control chemicals that may have mitigated this disaster. as a result of that, this highly
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corrosive water was going through the pipes, damaging the pipes and released very large amount of lead that has led to the contamination of an entire water system. this should have never happened. this is a disaster that was clearly man-made. it was a result of negligence on the part of those folks who were given the trust to run the system properly, and now we are left with an absolute catastrophe in this city. although every resident is hurt, it's no question that primarily the children of flint have been impacted. that is what is so insid with us by this poisoning, that even though it will be flushed out of your body if you are ingesting this while you are young while your brain is still developing, you can have permanent brain damage. that damage can be mitigated but
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it's going to require the use of wrap-around education services, make sure those children have proper nutrition and make sure they have health coverage. certainly this is every resident of flint. not just the children but also the elderly and everybody who is a resident of that city. and what has been so frustrating about this effort is that certainly we know that it is the state's responsibility. the state broke it. they need to fix it. the state needs to put substantial resources in place. the governor was here today talking about some of those efforts. he needs to do a whole lot more. everybody agrees the state has to do a whole lot more, and taking responsibility means making sure that the resources are there to provide the services that are going to be necessary not just now but for what will likely be many decades in the future. what i'm concerned about, what the residents of the city of flint are concerned about is that although right now this issue has received national
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attention and the eyes of the country are focused on flint, they know that sooner or later the tv cameras will go but the lights will not be shining on flint, and people may forget what happened in flint. however, the people of flint will be left dealing with this problem for dbdz to -- for decades to come. we can't let that happen. these people cannot be forgotten. certainly senator stabenow and i have been working aggressively to hopefully force the governor to provide a future fund that will provide resources for years to come for the people that have been impacted by this horrible crisis. but even though this is a state responsibility and the state needs to step up and do more, there's also a role for the federal government. whenever there has been a disaster, anywhere in the country, the federal government has stepped up and helped those folks who have been the victims of this disaster. some argue that this is a man-made disaster. the federal government shouldn't be involved in it. we only deal with mat -- natural
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disasters. i would say ask the people of flint does it really matter who actually caused this problem? can't we be there to help folks? they don't care. they don't really care where it came from, they just know that their children have been poisoned. they have ingested lead. they know that they can't use the water even know, although they have filters, a lot of them can't use the water. they're living on bottled water. i had a woman today, gladys, who came to me, who traveled to washington to tell her story. she brought a bag with hair in it. she's losing her hair as a result of using some of this water. she can't use her home. she was in tears as she talked about the lost value of her home. her entire life savings in this house that now she doesn't know what that house is worth because she's not sure whether or not the water is safe to drink. folks in flint don't care who causes problems. they just need help. and it is the federal government and this body of the u.s. senate, in the past we have always stepped up and helped
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those in need, and that's the right thing to do. that's what the american people expect us to do. the american people look to make sure that they are always in a position to help those in need. it's our values. it's who we are as a country. it's who we are as a people. and yet, it has been extremely difficult to get that help out of this body. now, i'm happy to say in the last two months, we have made some progress. senator murkowski from alaska and senator inhofe have been great in working with senator stabenow and i. we have been able to build a list of cosponsors who are also helping us in this effort, senator burr, senator capito, senator kirk, senator portman a number of senators have come together on both sides of the aisle to say here is a solution that we can get behind. the proposal that senator stabenow and i have worked on will provide money to the safe drinking water fund, will provide grants for any community that has an emergency, any community, not just flint, any
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community that finds itself in an emergency of this kind could reaccess these resources. although flint is the only community right now that would qualify, we believe there are other communities that will likely qualify in the future. in fact, some may be in a relatively short period of time. it also creates a loan fund, potentially up to $700 million, perhaps even more, that every single community can access. and this is an issue that every community in our country may potentially face with aging infrastructure. we know there are incredible infrastructure needs that have to be met and the legislation that we have worked on helps every community in every single state deal with this very important issue. it also addresses some of the issues that i mentioned earlier in my talk, helps the children and the residents that have been poisoned by lead, plussing up programs for lead abatement and helping the c.d.c. do its great work to help folks. it is a commonsense proposal that addresses some of the most
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pressing needs in the city of flint while also addressing some of the -- some of the pressing needs that we face as a country to make sure that we're investing in water infrastructure so that a citizen, no matter where they live, no matter who they are, can turn on their tap and have clean drinking water come out of it. we have also worked very hard to address some of the concerns that we heard from the other side of the aisle in addition to the fact that this has opened -- this is open to all communities, not just flint. we also heard that folks wanted it paid for. certainly senator stabenow and i believe that as well. our -- are fiscally responsible. we found a pay-for in a program that deals with vehicle technology but one that we thought was important to use to help the people of flint and help water infrastructure projects across the country. and the important thing about this, in addition to dealing with the problem, in adigs that it is being completely paid for, it also reduces the deficit. it will actually generate more money than is necessary to pay for this bill and will reduce
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the deficit. and even though in the past when you have had a national disaster like the one that we have seen in flint, normally we see emergency funds being used for it as we have done with bridge collapses and oil refinery fires and water main breaks. even though that's probably the best source to fund this, and if you treat the people of flint like we treat other folks all around the country, we would have used emergency funds, we went the extra distance to take a fund, to make sure that it will completely pay for this program while reducing the deficit. so while we have done back flips and have worked with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle and have built support and right now i believe that if this bill went to the floor, it would pass. i think it would pass by a good margin. we believe that we have got very strong support for it. and yet here we are today about ready to break for two weeks and we're going to break without
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addressing this issue that has such strong bipartisan support. it's been a work in progress for over two months, ready to be voted on and yet we are going to leave without that vote, and we're going to leave because there is basically one senator out there. one senator doesn't want to see it move forward. one senator doesn't really like this proposal, and i'm not going to speak for that individual but they have their issues and they continually want more and more, and folks who are suffering right now are the people of flint. i wish that one senator who has the hold would have met with the people that i met with this morning, that senator stabenow met with this morning and some of our other colleagues, to hear their stories, to hear their anguish, to see their tears in their eyes as they talked about what they are dealing with, and yet this senator continues to have a hold.
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now, i understand the senator may have a problem with a particular piece of legislation, that happens. we're not going to agree on everything. i would just ask that we allow this legislation to come to the floor, and i would ask that one senator who has a hold, and if you don't like the legislation, that's fine. you can vote no if you would like. that's certainly your prerogative as an elected member of this body to vote no, but please let the other 99 senators in this body have a say. that's all we're asking for. put it on the floor and let this body make the final decision as to whether or not this is an appropriate response to an absolutely catastrophic disaster that has hit a community in this country of ours. i don't think that's asking a lot. now, i'm a new member here, i'm new, but i cannot imagine that folks here in the united states senate will not allow
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legislation that is so important for people who have been impacted in such an extreme way not even come to the senate floor. what would our founding fathers think who look upon the u.s. senate? they were concerned about factions and political parties and a body that would be paralyzed to really work on the tough issues that our country was going to face. now, i can't imagine looking in the eyes of our founders and saying the united states senate, the deliberative body, the body that is supposed to take up the really tough issues that are facing us as a country refuses to act and refuses to even put it on the floor so it can be debated and we can vote on it. so i will just close and pass this over to my colleague from michigan, the senior senator from michigan, senator stabenow, to let her continue, but i am
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certainly -- i am certainly disappointed and would ask all of my colleagues to please join with us to work to get this to the floor so we can have a vote. the people of flint cannot wait any longer. the rest of the country is looking at the united states senate and they are shaking their heads, wondering why the united states senate is incapable of putting this issue on the floor and having a simple up-or-down vote. thank you, madam president. i yield back. ms. stabenow: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from michigan. ms. stabenow: thank you, madam president. first i want to thank my partner and colleague, senator peters, for his wonderful friendship and commitment to the people of flint. we both share this. this has really become a second full-time job for us given what has happened in flint and reaching out on behalf of the
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9,000 children who are under the age of 6 who have been exposed. some homes have exposure of lead that's higher than a toxic waste dump. as a mom and now as a grandmother, i can't imagine what that must feel like for the moms and dads and the grandpas and grandmas and the fear and the horror that they feel as well as for the adults and the seniors who are exposed. and everyone who is paying a price, certainly the business community right now who are concerned about people coming and doing business and going to restaurants in the city of flint, despite the fact that there is wonderful work downtown rebuilding a community, rebuilding the downtown, wonderful, exciting things happening that they have been really knocked over, knocked off their feet because of what has happened. you know, madam president, across the way in the other
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chamber today, there are hearings going on, there is a lot of effort back and forth talking about who's to blame for what happened, and we certainly understand what happened coming from michigan, but i have to tell you that we are laser focused on the folks who have nothing to do with what happened, nothing to do with what happened. and that is the people of flint who assume, like each one of us do, that when you get up in the morning and you turn on the faucet or you take a shower or you feed your children, that clean water is going to come out of the pipes. we all assume that. that's pretty much a basic human right. it certainly in america, may not be in other countries, but it certainly is in america where we assume that that's the case. and in america, when a community is struck by this kind of catastrophe that they did not
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cause, we come together as americans. that's what we do. we pitch in. we do what we can to help. that's what senator peters and i have been hoping to accomplish on behalf of the people of flint. and since we have started debating these issues, we have found other communities as well who have challenges. now, none to the extent that we have seen in flint where 100,000 people in the entire city have been exposed to lead poisoning and the whole water system is in shambles, but there are other communities that have challenges, and we believe it's important to help them as well so we have come up with something, as senator peters said, we have been working hard for the last eight weeks to find a bipartisan plan, a compromise that is not only fully paid for
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out of something, by the way, that i authored in the 2007 energy bill because of the importance of this to the people of flint, said okay, we'll give something that we care about here. we'll restructure it. we'll shorten the time of the program and we'll pay for it out of that. senator peters when he was in the house was the champion for this particular advanced manufacturing loan program, and we're saying okay, we're willing to have that end in order to be able to pay for what is happening in flint. and on top of that, on top of a fully paid-for program, out of a program that republican colleagues don't like so we're going to be ending something that folks would like to end, on top of that, tens of millions of dollars in deficit reduction come along with this for the
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score. so it doesn't get any better than this. we were told find something that's a pay-for that is not going to infringe with what other people care about. we did that. we were told no earmarks. we did that. we are were -- we were told no new programs built on current programs. we did that. and we added deficit reduction. and yet the children of flint are still waiting. the children of flint over the last eight weeks and their families, and as senator peters said, we met this morning and it just breaks your heart. and people are looking at us going okay, you have been working on this, you have got this bipartisan group. isn't that great. what's happening? and the children of flint are waiting. so we are at a point where this has got -- got to stop. we need a vote. we need a vote.
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we have a bipartisan bill. we need a vote. we are at a point where we need to have a vote and to stop the ability of one person to be able to just hold things up. now, first i want to thank our republican colleagues as well as democratic colleagues that have been working with us. first of all, our main republican sponsor, the chairman of the environment and public works committee. chairman inhofe has been a true champion for supporting water infrastructure investments nationally. and i'm so grateful that he came forward and offered the idea of not only being able to support flint but to be able to activate a financing program set up in
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the last water resources bill that would address communities across the country as well. that's terrific. if we can help other communities, along with what we need to do to support the families of blint, that's great. and so we thank him for his diligence. he has really stepped up and we're so grateful. i want to thank the chair of the energy committee and the ranking member, senator murkowski and senator cantwell who have been stellar. i can't count how many hours we have talked on the phone, we have had meetings, we have talked on the floor. the lengths to which both of them have been willing to go to support us in solving this problem. they have been wonderful. and even as late as a couple of hours ago talking to figure out
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how we could move forward, both to address this water infrastructure bill to help flint and other communities but also to move forward on the energy bill. so we need to have -- we need to be doing both, and we're at a point where that needs to get done. we have ten cosponsors of the bill, and i want to thank senator portman, senator brown, senator kirk, senator reed of rhode island, senator burr, senator capito, moore and senator baldwin. people from both parties who have come together to do something that will make things better for the families and the communities that we represent. and there are a number of other members and staffs who have been working behind the scenes. we are so grateful for the kind words and encouragement and people who have offered their


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