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tv   US Senate  CSPAN  May 25, 2016 4:00pm-6:01pm EDT

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broken. it's dramatically underresourced. people have to wait for months to get an outpatient appointment. we've closed down 4,000 mental health inpatient beds in this country just in the last five years alone. it's ridiculously uncoordinated. we built up this system in which your body from the neck down is treated in one system and then you have to drive two towns over if you want to get treatment for your body from the neck up. people with mental illness die 20 years earlier than people without mental illness because the two systems aren't coordinated. the stigma is still crippling around mental illness. though we passed a law that requires insurance companies to say on your statement of benefits that you have coverage for mental illness, everybody knows that when you actually try to access those benefits, the insurance companies put up bureaucratic hurdles in front of you actually getting reimbursed for mental health care that they never would if you were trying to get reimbursed for a broken
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leg. or for heart surgery. now, fortunately, the mental health reform act, about which this summit will cover tomorrow, it really does start to unlock many of these most difficult problems. the mental health reform act will properly capitalize our mental health system by putting back into it funding for inpatient beds and starting to marry together the physical health system with mental health system. it attacks the sigma by requiring insurance companies to administer benefits in the spirit of parity, not just say that you have a mental health benefit. it invests in prevention and early intervention and treatment so that we're not just hitting the problem at the back end. it gets at some tough issues, like how our hipaa laws,
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unfortunately, stand in the way of caregivers actually being part of the treatment plan for their seriously mentally ill young adults. and so the mental health reform act is a path forward to fixing our broken mental health system, but pretending that mental health reform is a sufficient response to gun violence, it's both wrong-headed but it's also danger arks because the facts are incontrovertible. individuals coping with serious mental illness commit less than 5% of all violent acts in this country. people are mental ilt illness commit less than 5% of all violent acts in this country and they are frankly far more likely to be the victims of gun violence than they are to be the prp traitors of it -- perpetrators of it. people like adam lanza and james hale ms, they had d. holmes, they had complicated and
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devastating behavioral health disorders. but there are adam lanzas and jerry lee loughners and james holmes in every other country in the world. but in these other societies, mental illness doesn't lead to matter murder. -- to mass murder. something is different in america, through which people that are coping with mental illness turn to a weapon. this celebratory culture of firearms and violence, this easy ssess to weapons offer -- access to weapons of war that enable men and women with severe men tale ill no, sir instantly transform themselves into mass murderers is unique in this country. and even if congress passed a bill today to magically eliminate all mental illness in the united states, our country would still have more gun violence and shooting deaths than any other country in the developed world, give than only 5% of these crimes are
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perpetrated by people with severe mental illness. curing mental illness would be a remarkable achievement, but it wouldn't solve this problem. but it's even worse than that, mr. president. because by draping the scourge of gun deaths around the necks of everyday americans that are struggling with mental illness, it just increases that stigma that i was talking about that surrounds disorders of the mind. scapegoating the 44 million americans with mental illness, it just reinforces the idea that they should be feared rather than treated. we have a mental health crisis in this nation, and we have a gun violence crisis as well. of these two -- if these two epidemics overlap, there's no doubt about that. but solving one -- the mental health epidemic -- doesn't solve
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the other, and conflating mental illness and gun violence, it may serve the political ends of those that don't want to have a conversation on this floor about background checks or assault weapons or more resources for the a.t.f., but it's not going to make america any democrat trablly safer -- demonstrably safer. i think this is a really important conversation to have. and i don't want to shy away from these intersections that exist, but i want to get it right. and in the end i want this body to commit itself to solving our mental health crisis and then doing what is additionally necessary to do something about the 31,000-a-year, the 2,600 a month and the 86 a day that are killed by guns in this country. thank you, mr. president. i yield the floor. mr. alexander: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator ten tfnlt. mr. alexander: while the senator from connecticut is still here, i want to say to him
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through the chair that i'm glad aid chance to hear his -- that i'm glad i had a chance to here his remarks. i agree with him that there is a mental health crisis. and i congratulate him for his leadership, especially with the senator from louisiana, senator cassidy, in focusing the senate's attention on dealing with it this year. i think he has, in a very passionate but practical way, made the argument that while there may not be a consensus on what we do about guns, there is a consensus, i believe, in this body, on what we do about mental health, or at least an important step on what we're do in dealing with the crisis. senator cassidy and senator
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murray will deserve great credit for that happening. i plan to attend for a while the summit tomorrow that senator murphy and cassidy are hosting. it will help to draw attention to the efforts that the senate has made. last year the full senate passed the senate mental health improvement act. this year, working with the senator from connecticut and louisiana, the senator from washington, senator murray, we've incorporated that into the mental health reform act. we're very hopeful that we can pass that legislation on the senate floor in june -- in june -- and work with the house to turn it into a law this year. now, no doubt we'll have more to do on the mental health crisis after that. and we'll have more debates to have on this floor about what the senator from connecticut called the gun crisis. but there's no reason we cannot move ahead what we already have
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a consensus on in mental health, and i'm committed, understan asw senator murray is, is doing that. so are other senators on this side as well as that wufnlt i know that senator blunt from missouri feels passionately about the mental health needs. senator cornyn is working on helping us resolve this legislation, and senator mcconnell has said that if we can resolve -- if we can find a consensus among ourselves and reduce the amount of time it takes to phut on the floor, that he will -- to put it on the floor, that he will interrupt the aappropriations process, put it on the floor, try to get a result this year. so i'm glad i had a chance to hear the senator, and i pledge to continue to work with him to get a result on the mental health reform act that he's played such a key role in fashioning. now, mr. president, i'd like to speak of another issue that the senator from connecticut has
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also played a role on because he is an important member of our committee, the health care committee in the senate. that is what we call the 21st century cure legislation, legislation that's already passed the house in which president obama is interested and which we have mostly finished in terms of our committee work in the senate. a little over a week ago "the new york times" magazine public lushed a special health issue on the new frontier in cancer treatment, how doctors and researchers are trying new tests, new drurk drugs, even nes of thinking on cancer. and the photographer brandon stanton in his popular photography backlog "hiewks of new york," he turned his lens on the pediatric department of the memorial sloan-kettering in new york city to help raise money
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there. also this month, two former united states senators, both of them physicians, and one a cancer survivor, dr. bill frist, dr. tom coburn, wrote an op-ed in "the wall street journal" about what the senate is doing to help bring safe treatments and cures to doctors' offices and patient medicine cabinets more quickly. i ask consent to include in the record following my remarks the op-ed by dr. frist and dr. coburn. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. alexander: mr. president, in the ne "the new york times" e issue, one oncologist writes, "for patients for whom the usual treatments fail to work, oncologists must use their knowledge, wit, and imagination to devise individualized therapies. increasingly, we are approaching each patient as a unique problem to solve. toxic, indiscriminate cell-killing drugs have given
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way to nimbler, finer-fingered molecules that can activate or deactivate complex pathways in cells, cut off growth factors, accelerate or decelerate the immune response, or choke the supply of nutrients and oxygen. more and moshings we must come up with ways to use drugs as precision tools to jam cogs and turn off selective switches in particular cancer cells, trained to follow rules, oncologists are now being asked to reinvent them." the article continues, "cancer and its treatment, once seemed simpler a breakthrough came in the 2000's, soon after the human genome project when scientists learned to sequence the genomes of cancer cells. gene sequencing allows us to identify the genetic changes that are to a particular cancer. we can use that information to guide cancer treatment in fact matching the treatment too an
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individual patient's cancer." yet another "times" story, "a better understanding of cancer's workings is transforming treatment as oncologists throarn attack tumors not according to their place of origin but by the mutations that drive them. the dream is to go much deeper, give an oncologist a listing of all the tumor's key mutations and their biological significance, making it ible to put aside the rough typology that currently rains to understand each patient's personal cancer. every patient in this future situation could then be matched to the ideal treatment and with luck all responses would be exceptional. the idea more broadly has been called 'precision medicine,' the hope that doctors will be able to come to a far more exact understanding of each patient's disease informed by general nettics and treat it accordingly." mr. president, i am here today to ink vert these important stories from "the new york
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times" magstein and the humans of new york backlog and dr. frist's and dr. coburn's op-ed into the record and to remind rchg that the united states health committee has passed 19 bipartisan bills that year that will help drive medical innovation. and i'm work being today with senator patty murray of washington, the senior democrat on the committee, on an agreement that will give the national institutes of health a surge of funding for the president's precision medicine initiative, which will map 1 million genomes and give researchers a giant boost in their efforts to tailor treatments to a patient's individual genome. and it will also provide support for the cancer moonshot, funding for the cancer moonshot, which the vice president is heading to try to set us on faster course to a cure or to cures. to raise money for cancer researchers at sloan-kettering,
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brandon stanton used photos on his backlog, facebook, and instagram accounts. he writes "the study of rare cancers involves simultaneously understand and relentless teams of researchers. lifesaving breakthroughs are made on very tight budgets, so your donations will make a difference. they may save a life. the fund-raiser -- wrapped up this past weekend more than 100,000 people donated more understand that $3.8 million to help fight pediatric cancer. more than $1 million of these dollars were donated in last day of the campaign in honor of a young man named max cure the brain tumor that ended his short life. beaver all difficult to read, as stanton put it, these are war stories. in one post, a researcher at the pediatric center says "in the
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movies, scientists are portrayed as having a eureka moment, that singular moment in time when their faces change and that he find the answer. it's hard to say what a eureka moment would look like in my research. maybe it is when i'm final label to look patients and parents in the eye and say with confidence that we have what's needed to cure them." another doctor says, request, it's been 12 hours are a day, six days a week for the last 30 years. my goal during these years was to help all i could. given 200%, transplants to over 1,200 kids, published as many papers as i could. i'm almost finished. it's time for young people to be out there and finish the job. they're going to be smarter than us, he said. they'll know more. they'll unzip the d.n.a. and find the typeo. they'll invent therapies so we don't have to use all this radiation. unquote. how do we make good on these
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dollars? how do we make sure these remarkable new discoveries of targeted therapies are able to reach the patients that need to be reached? we must give the food and drug administration tools and the authority it needs to review these innovations and ensure that they're safe and effective, that they get to the patients who need them in a timely way. and that is exactly the goal of our senate cures initiative that i'm committed to seeing through to a result. dr. francis collins, director of the national institutes of health, he calls it the national institutes of hope, a federal agency that this year funds $32 billion in biomedical research offered what he called bold predictions in a senate hearing last month about major advances to expect if there is a sustained commitment to such research. listen to what he said. one prediction is that science will find ways to identify alzheimer's before symptoms
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appear as well as how to slow or even to prevent the disease. today alzheimer's causes untold family grief. it costs $236 billion a year. and left unchecked the cost in 2016 would be more than our nation spends on national defense. dr. collins other predictions are breath taking. using pluriopponent -- pluripotent stem cells could help the heart. i had a call from a medical technician last august at vanderbilt eye institute pronounced him legally blind. they said no treatment, no cure but check the internet. he went to florida, found a clinical trial.
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the doctors in an f.d.a.-approved procedure took cells from his hipbone, put them through a centrifuge, injected them into his retinas in both eyes, within three days he was beginning to see. he now has his driver's license back. he is ready to go back to work, and he's sending us e-mails about our legislation urging us to pass taxpayer -- pass it and give more americans a chance to have the kind of treatments he had that have restored his sight. continuing with dr. collins' predictions for the next ten years, he expects development of an artificial pancreas to help diabetes patients by tracking blood glucose levels and creating precise doses of insulin. he says a zika vaccine should be widely available by 2018 with a universal flu vaccine -- flu killed 30,000 people last
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year -- and an hiv-aids vaccine available within a decade. dr. collins says that to relieve suffering and deal with epidemic of opioid addiction that led to 28,000 overdose deaths in america in 2014, there will be new non-addictive medicines to manage pain. our senate health committee approved 50 bipartisan strategies designed to make predictions like those of dr. collins come true. these include faster approval of breakthrough medical devices like the highly successful break through paths of medicine in 2012 and make making the electronic health care system interoperable and less burdensome for doctors and more available to patients. we would make it easier for the national institutes of health and the food and drug administration to hire experts needed to supervise research and evaluate safety and effectiveness. we approve measures to target
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diseases. as dr. frist and coburn wrote in the "wall street journal" op-ed, this legislation, this 21st century cues legislation -- quote -- -- quote -- quo touches every american and millions of patients in the medical community are counting on congress." the house passed by a vote of 344-77 companion legislation called 21st century cures, including a surge of funding for the national institutes of health. the president has his precision medicine initiative. the vice president started his moon shot to cure cancer. the senate health committee passed 19 bipartisan bills, as i said, either unanimously or by a wide margin. mr. president, there is no excuse whatever for us not to get a result this year. and it would be extraordinarily disappointing to millions of
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americans if we did not. if the senate finishes its work and passes these bipartisan biomedical innovation bills as well as a surge of funding for the national institutes of health and takes advantage of these advancements in science, we can help more patients live longer and healthier lives and help more researchers who want to look the parent of a child in the eye and say we found a cure. mr. president, i notice that the senator from pennsylvania has come to the floor, and i'm ready to yield my time. but before i do -- and i see the senator from missouri as well. before i do, i want to say of both of them, the senator from pennsylvania is, has been a critical component of the 21st century cures committee work in the senate. several of the 19 bills that our committee approved were sponsored by him, and i thank
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him for his work. and the senator from missouri, i spoke a little earlier about the mental health focus and consensus that we're developing and how we hope to get a result this year on mental health in the senate as well as 21st century cures, the senator from missouri has been key in both of them. last year working with senator murray, he was the principal architect of a boost of $2 billion in funding to the national institutes of health. and this year he's pushing hard for advances in mental health. with this kind of bipartisan cooperation, we ought to be able to get a result in june or early july. and i'm pledged to try to do that. i thank the president. i yield the floor. a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from missouri. mr. blunt: mr. president, i want to mention what incredible leadership senator alexander, the senator from tennessee, provides on these issues. i was pleased as he was pleased,
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and i know you were also as we were able to last year for the first time in 12 years to have an increase in n.i.h. research. the future statistics that the senator from tennessee talked about on alzheimer's and other things can be disrupted. in fact, that number that twice the defense budget spent on twice the alzheimer's, you could reduce that number by 42%. those research dollars not only have the impact we want to have on families and the individuals involved in that and other diseases that we're dealing with now, but also have an incredible impact on taxpayers, have an incredible impact on what we can do with the rest of the health care revolution that's occurring and the mental health effort that the senator from michigan,
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senator stabenow and i were able to work on together a few years ago, about to produce at least eight states and hopefully more where at the right kind of facilities mental health will be treated like all other health. this congress is talking about doing the right things. we're making important steps in that direction. i want to talk today about another thing that really impacts families, in this case military families. i have this bill on my desk, the national defense authorization act. i notice it's only on the desk of half of the members of the senate. members on this side of the floor are ready to get to this bill and get this work done. maybe there's a message on the other side of the floor that this bill is not there because we had hoped to get to it this week. we haven't yet. but certainly we should get to it as soon as we return to our work after the end of this week. and in the national defense
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authorization act, i'm really glad that that bill includes the military family stability act, a measure that i introduced with senator gillibrand to provide more flexibility for military families. today, mr. president, we have the most powerful military in the world, but we also recognize that our military men and women do not serve alone. the former chief of staff of the army, general ray owed tpher -- odenerio said the strength of our nation is in the military but the strength of the military is in its families. our military families need to be understood, recognized, appreciated, helped. those families have changed a lot over the years. they've sacrificed much in the last 15 years those families have dealt with persistent conflict somewhere in the world, the likelihood of deployment to that conflict.
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but more importantly, the stress that that puts on those families generally is what mattered to them. maybe not more importantly in the greater context of what's going on but really important to them. and more military spouses are working today than ever before. this is in the world we live in today good news. but all too often military spouses sacrifice their own careers to meet the needs of the spouse that is in the service. frequent redeployments, frequent deployments, frequent relocations really have an impact on those careers. according to a study done by the military officers association of america, 90% of spouses, of military spouses -- that's more than 600,000 men and women, are either unemployed or underemployed. more than half cite concerns about their spouse's service and
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the deterrent of moving from job to job, a deterrent not only for employers but a deterrent in that they sometimes have a hard time having the kind of recognition for the skills they bring to a new state or a new location that they need. it's unfair to our military families for the spouse to needlessly have problems that could be avoided. clearly, if you decided to pursue a military career and that by necessity means relocation from time to time, this is not going to be the same career as if you went to work and you had every likelihood that you'd work there for the next several years. but these frequent and sometimes abrupt relocations take a heavy toll on students as well. research shows that at least, that students who move at least six times between the 1st and
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12th grades are 35% more likely to fail a grade. i'm not sure that exact research applies to military families. that's an overall number of what happens when you move. but the average military family will move six to nine times during a child's time in school, three times more often than the nonmilitary family. changing times and changing families needs to mean that we can find a better way to deal with these challenges for worker family and the military family stability act does that. the cost of needlessly maintaining two residences so that someone can finish school or someone can complete a job are the kinds of things that this act and this inclusion in the national defense authorization act gives us a chance to deal with in a different way. it would allow families to either stay at the current duty
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station for up to six months longer than they otherwise would be able to stay or families to leave and go to a new location sooner. this probably most easily understood in the context of school. if you only have a month left in school and your family could stay there while the person serving in the military goes ahead to the next post and is responsible for their own housing during the time that they're there as a single-serving individual, often they're going to find space available on the post itself for one person. while the family stays until that school year works out better. or a job could be the same. one person we had that came and testified, mia, who now leaves in ralla, missouri, married to a soldier being reassigned from
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hawaii to fort leonard wood, missouri. that reassignment was supposed to occur in june. so she applied for a ph.d. program at st. louis university that would begin in august. she applied for a teaching position at missouri science and technology at ralla that would begin in august. then her husband's transfer didn't happen in june and it didn't happen in july, but she needed to be there in august. under this change, moving the family household could easily occur in august and her husband could follow in october, as he did, but all of the expense of her going early was on her. she really had two options. one was not to pursue her graduate school class when it started and the other was not to have a teaching job. neither of those were very good options. she went ahead and moved.
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her husband essentially couch-surfed. but they had to pay for the move, other than the way that normally would happen. this would not have to happen otherwise. we introduced -- when we introduced this bill last year, when senator gillibrand and i introduced this bill, we were also joined by elizabeth owe brian, who couched basketball for 11 years with stints at west point and who have extra university and the university of hawaii. but she married into the army. the lack of flexibility meant she gave up her kowchg career but the story she wanted to tell that day was when she and her family were in germany, where her husband was serving, her two children were in a german public school. they needed two more months to finish that year's german public school. there really wasn't a very good transition when he was sent back to the pentagon.
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and there were no german public schools that would have finished up the classes they had in the washington area. basically, they wound up having to finish that year as home schoolers and then start another year the next year. would have been very easy for him to move on ahead, if that's what the family wanted to do, for the family to stay in germany for two months, to finish that school year in a way that it couldn't possibly be finished anywhere else, and then the family would move. that's the kind of thing that would happen under this legislation. mr. speaker -- mr. president, rather, the day after i -- the day after we introduced this legislation, i happened to be hosting a breakfast for people who are supportive of fort leonardwood, and people sat down at the table with two officers, one of their wives, a real estate tired master
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sergeant, mentioned that we had proposed this legislation the day before and all three of them immediately had a story about how this would have benefited their family if sometime in a specific moment in their career, if they could have just stayed another 30 days or if the family could have gone forward 30 days hearlier. i'm proud that this bill has widespread support. the national military families association, the military officers association of america, the military child education coalition, veterans of foreign washings the american legion, iraq and afghanistan veterans of america, blue star families, the national guard association, and the veterans support foundation --. after more than a decade of active engagement around the world, at a time when military families are just frankly have a lot more challenges than military families may have had at an earlier time, this is
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exactly what we ought to do, as we have had hearings on other issueissues over the last year. i've asked people testifying over and over again, what do you think about this they are reaping the military. in -- when they're representing the military. in all indications, you know, when i was -- usually these are admirals and general officers, but in all cases, you can tell a story in their career immediately comes to mind. and universally they say, we've got to treat families different than we us ad to treat families because too often the failure to do that means that we're losing some of our most highly skilled people still willing to serve but no longer willing to put an unnecessary burden on their spouse or their children. the military family stability act goes a long way toward removing one of those unnecessary burdens, and i'm certainly glad to see it
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included in the national defense authorization act and look forward to us dealing with this important bill at the earliest possible date. and i believe there's still -- there's an absence of a quorum, but senator isakson is here, and i turn to him. dakota zach mr. president, i want to -- mr. isakson: mr. president, i want to thank senator casey from pennsylvania for giving knee a couple minutes. he is the chairman of the veterans' affairs committee to come to the floor and pay tribute pro-seeding memorial day to those men and women that have sacrificed, fought, and died on behalf of the people of united states of america. we would not be where we are today, madam speaker, had it not been for veterans who died on the battlefield to see to it that we could have free speech, democracy in government and our people could peacefully decide who their leaders were and leave it up to us to lead the kufnlt i want to put a personal face on memorial day, if i can.
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first by talking about a guy named tommy newan, my military staffer who volunteered for the united states army guard, went to fort benning, georgia, graduated number wurntion and you no he what that means at fort benning. and right now is deployed in afghanistan and has been deployed for the last five months. while we sit here in peace and relative security in ow country, people like tommy are protecting us all over. i am grateful for tommy. he is exemplary of all the other people who have gone before us and sacrificed. i want to mention three people who aren't here anymore, they're gone. but they are the facings of memorial day as far as i am concerned. i want to honor them at this time. jack song elliott conform iii, from waynes bore row, georgia, bird dog capital of. he came in one night into the fraternity house, sat down bibeside myself and the other
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guys and said, i just did something this afternoon. i volunteered to the united states marine corps and fight in vietnam the. we all said, jack cheerks have you thought this flew? is this really what you think you ought to do? i have had everything. it is time i fought and helped defend the united states of america. ism going to become a marine officer, go to vietnam, help the united states win. jack did become an sphemplet he did go to vietnam. in the 12th month of his 13-month tour he was killed by a sniper. alex crumley appeared later as the lieutenant governor of georgia, spent a week with his family as we waited for his body to come become. the most meaningful afternoon was the night we sat up recommend nizing about jack. he had sacrificed the ultimate sacrifice for me and for you and for all america. i want to talk about joe with a harris, the beanie baby soldier in iraq.
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a cheerleader his junior yearality the university of georgia, he cheered the saturday before 9/11. he watched the horror of that day. he went down to the rotc building at university of georgia and said i want to go after all those people who attacked america in new york city. the head officer said, well, it is are at least a two-year commitment. you have only got a year and a half to go. we can't take. he said, i'll make up the difference if you let me volunteer. i want to go after them. i want to find them where everier. the army rewill noted. noah harris volunteered. he went to o.c.s. and went to iraq in the surge on behalf of the united states of america. he became known as the beanie baby because he took beanie babies in his pockets. went over to the children of iraq by handing out the beanie babies. about six months into his tour, in a hum veerks he is hit by arch improvised explosive device. killed that day in iraq and we've missed him every since.
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his mother and father, god bless them. noah was an only child and his memory is burned deep in their heart and mine. they are so proud of what he did for you had and me. what he did for all of america. last i want to talk about roy c. irwritten. these people are people that are the face of why we have memorial day. i get emotional in this because i went to the cemetery in the netherlands a few years ago as a member of the veterans' affairs committee to pay tribute to these soldiers who died in the battle of the bulge. that's where most of the soldiers who died in the battle of the bulge were buried. my wife and i walked between the graves stopping at each one looking at a name and saying a breeive prayer for the soldier. then all of a sudden on row 17 in number 61, i stopped dead in my tracks. it said on the white cross "ray c. irwin, new jersey, private united states army, 12/28/44."
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roy c. irwin in the battle of the bulge died on the day i was born. there i was a united states senator looking at the grave of someone who had died hon a day when i was born so i could be a united states senator 64 years later. that's what the ultimate sacrifice is all about, selfishly these people went into harm's way, fought for america, fought for liberty, peace, prosperity. all of this we do today, everything we do we owe in large measure to them. a small percentage of our population but a population that loves america and america's people. this monday when you are at the lake, beach, with the grandchildren, stop a minute, grab the hand of one of your grandchildren and bow and say a brief prayer. because going before all of us are men and women who lost their lives so we can do what we are doing today. we live in the greatest country the face of this edge. you don't find anybody trying to break out of the united states of america. they are all trying to break in. if there is a single reason that different nates us from
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everybody else, because when the duty calls, we go. as colin powell said in the u.n. before the request for the surge to be approved, america has gone to every continent on earth, sent her sons and daughters to fight for democracy and liberty and peace. when we have left, all we have asked for is a couple acres to bury our dead. i had a chance to walk a couple of those acres and stand at the grave of roy c. irwin, died the same day i was born. that memory is burned into my heart and my mind and i will always remember roy irwin. i think never knew him, never met him, never saw him. but i know his spirit. his spirit is the spirit of the united states of america. this monday i hope god will bless each of you and have a wonderful vacation and holiday. i hope you will pause and say things to the men and women who made it possible to do what you do today. i yield the floor. mr. casey: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from pennsylvania. mr. casey: i would ask unanimous consent to speak in morning business. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. casey: let me say first
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how much we appreciate the message of senator isakson. i think by extension to the country. we're grateful for those remarks in the lead-up to memorial day. i rise to talk about coal miners and the promise, the obligation that the united states government has to coal miners on a range of issues but especially when it comes to their pensions and their health care. many americans remember steven crane as the author of the novel "the red badge of courage," but he also wrote something that not many americans have read probably but i did because it was about a coal mine near my hometown of scran tfnlt he wrote it just before the turn of the last century. the pertinent parts for me in terms of his description of what a coal mine looks like and all the dangers that are in that kind of work, his words were as
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follows. "in describing the mine, he described it as a place of inscrutable darkness, a soundless place of tangible loneliness, and then he went ton to cat a log in horrific detail all the ways a minor could be killed or could be adversely impacted by his work. so i am a he thinking about those -- so i'm thinking about those dangers today when i speak about what coal miners have been through over many generations and what they confront today because of the pension issue we're going to discuss today. i'm grateful to be joined by senator manchin of west virginia, senator brown of ohio, senator warner of virginia and senator wyden of oregon. senator wyden, as the leader of the democrats on the finance committee, worked to have a
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hearing on this issue, and it was back in march -- and i had the pleasure at the time to meet two pennsylvania coal miners, tony bernzak of mason town, pennsylvania, and dave vansickle of smithfield, pennsylvania, also fayette county. they came to washington to attend the finance committee hearing on pensions. so i want to commend senator wyden for helping us have that hearing and also for his work in negotiating with chairman hatch to hold that hearing and his continued efforts to get a markup in committee. those of us who attended the hearing heard united mine workers president cecil roberts testify about that promise that i referred to before, the promise that this nation made to our coal miners and how the
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miners' protection act carries out -- or carries through on that promise. it is one of the ways to fulfill that promise. -- that we made to coal miners. at the time of that hearing, they were joined by mine workers from ohio, virginia, and west virginia and alabama on that particular day. tony burnsack, as i mentioned from fayette county, had a 40-year work life in the mines starting in the mid-1970's at j & l in bob town, pennsylvania. he's a member of the aoup knighted mine -- united mine workers local 2300 and still active. he works at the harbor as a dock man now and he's also a veteran. dave van sickle, dave ban working in the coal mines about the same time, maybe a few months before tony, so they're both 40 year miners. dave worked at the cumberland as
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a member of the local 2300 as is tony. over his 40 years in the mine, dave van sickles had numerous jobs ranging from 20 years working on the long wall. miners know what that is. the long wall to working to the -- working at the prep plant and also doing all kinds of other, a range of other work in the mine. dave van sickle lost a finger doing that work and he lost partial use of his right hand as well as several other fingers. so there's a price that has been paid by him and so many others. these are very difficult jobs, and we know that the men and women -- women, i should add -- who descend in the depths and the darkness of these mines assume a substantial personal risk and they work long hours. they stay in these jobs as long as they do in part because they
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have been given a promise, a promise by our government that when they retire they will have a pension, and most importantly, they will also have good health insurance. so they're covered for the ailments they've sustained over the years of service. the miners protection act, which senator manchin and i have introduced along with a bipartisan coalition of senators, allows excess amounts from the abandoned mine lands fund to be used to preserve both coal miner pensions and retiree health care as needed. in pennsylvania, we have more than 12,000 mine workers that are impacted by this. to be exact, 12,951 mine workers in pennsylvania who are counting on us to pass this legislation. here's the breakdown in some of our counties. just about 2,500 in cambria
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county in pennsylvania. about 2,100 in fayette county where tony and dave have lived and worked. 1,900 in indiana county, 1,500 in washington county and 1,000 in westmoreland county. without passage of this legislation something in the order of 20,000 retirees and 5,000 pennsylvanians, their dependents or widows could lose their promised lifetime retiree health care within a matter of months. without the legislation, the u.m.w., united mine workers act 1974 pension plan, which is the largest of the plans in the country providing pensions to nearly 90,000 pensioners across the country, and of course their surviving spouses, that could be on an irreversible, could be on an irreversible path to unsolvency by next year.
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our coal miner men and women live on small pensions averaging $530 per month plus social security. they rely greatly on the health care benefit they have negotiated and earned through their years of hard work in the coal mines. so these aren't just numbers. these are people. these are families who worked develop hard for pennsylvania and worked very hard for our country. they have children and they have grandchildren. the federal government made them a promise, and we must not rest until we fulfill that promise. in 1990, a federal blue ribbon commission, so-called coal commission, established by then-secretary of labor elizabeth dole found -- and i quote -- "retired miners have legitimate expectations of health care benefits for life. that was the promise they received during their working lives, and that is how they plan
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their retirement years. that commitment should be honored." unquote, so said secretary dole's commission in 1990. it's important to note that the 1974 plan that i mentioned has been well managed with investment returns over the last ten years averaging 8.2% per year. so despite being about 93% funded just before the financial crisis in 2008, losses sustained during the financial crisis placed the 1974 pension plan on the path to insolvency. that is because the financial crisis hit at a time when this plan had its highest payment obligations. this coupled with the fact that 60% of the beneficiaries are orphan retirees, meaning these are -- whose employers, i should say, are no longer in the coal business. and the fact that there are only
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10,000 active workers for 120,000 retirees, that has helped to place the plan on the road to insolvency. the 74 plans actuary projects the plan will become insolvent in the years 2526, absent passage of the miners protection act. so we need to pass this legislation, and we've made it very clear to senators in both parties and more recently to the majority leader that we need tpo get this done. by making small adjustments to existing law, this will allow the -- the bill will allow us to fulfill that obligation, that promise that i spoke of earlier. at the same time even as we're working to pass the miners pension legislation, we also have to be mindful of -- and i won't spend time today talking about this in detail, but also be mindful of and keep working
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on miner safety and of course those affected adversely by black lung. so whether it's safety in health, whether it's health care itself, or whether it's retiree benefits of any kind, but especially the promise that we made to miners with regard to their pensions, we have an obligation, this body needs to get on a track to pass this legislation before we leave here in july. so i'm honored to be part of this coalition and i certainly want to thank and commend and salute the work done by senator manchin. i yield the floor. mr. manchin: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from west virginia. mr. manchin: madam president, let me first of all say thank you to my dear friend, senator casey from pennsylvania. if you don't come from a coal mining region or coal mining state, you don't understand the culture of coal mining. the people that do this work, the families that support them, then it would be hard for us to
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explain it to you but we're going to try to give you a picture of the most patriotic people in america. they've done the heavy lifting. they have done everything asked of them by this country to basically make us the greatest country on earth. the super power of the world, if you will, has been done because of the energy we've had domestically in our backyard and the people willing to harvest that for us. so when you look at this country and then you look at how we're treating the people who have done the job and heavy lifting for over 100 years, the coal miners in west virginia feel this way. they feel like the returning veterans from vietnam, the returning servicemen that came from vietnam, a war that was not appreciated, soldiers that were treated less than honorable for doing the job that they did and serving their country. and now they want to be cast aside. and it's just unfair, totally unfair. this industry was so dependent upon that in 1947, which will be 70 years -- 70 years tomorrow.
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70 years ago president harry s. truman and john l. lewis, head of united mine workers -- and back then in the 1940's about anybody who mined coal was a member of the united mine workers of american. it was all unionized. they made a commitment and a promise that they would get their benefits, it would be their health care, and they would get their pensions which were so meager, so meager, just to keep working to keep the country energized after world war ii. if they were to shut down and gone on strike, then the country would have fallen on extremely hard times coming off of world war ii. so that's how important it is. it's the only agreement where you have an executive order by the president committing the united states of america to keep its promise to our coal miners who did the job and made our country who we are today. and now here we are about ready to default on that. and we can't get people to move on it for whatever reason.
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the miners are facing multiple pressures, madam president, on their health care pension and benefits as a result of the financial crisis and corporate bankruptcies. not of something they mismanaged themselves. if you heard senator casey talking about, in the 1974 pension plan, was 94% funded, which is extremely healthy and solvent, up through 2008 when the financial collapse. it was not their fault but now they're thrown in disarray. most of the people still collecting these pensions are widows. all the husbands have died from black lung. and these people are depending on a very meager amount to support any type of a quality of life. and all we're asking for -- we had to pay for also, we've had to pay for. we're talking about the excess
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money. there is another pay-for. there is a $5 billion fine that goldman sachs paid for their financial shenanigans during this financial collapse that they paid to d.o.j. that could go to pay for this. and they are the ones -- its wall street that caused the problem. it wasn't the miners, basically the miners pension fund or the plan being managed at all. when you couple this with the fact that 60% of the beneficiaries are orphan retirees -- i think that's been explained to you -- we have 10 thousand active workers for 120,000 retirees, which has placed the plan on the road to insolvency. i think everyone understands that. the miners protection act is not only important to all miners in all states -- and my good friend here, senator warner from virginia, he has a tremendous amount of a mining community in southwest virginia, along with ours, our entire state. pennsylvania, the home of the an anthracite coal and the coal
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industry got started there. we have senator brown and southeast ohio which butts up to west virginia, is a major mining area. it's important to my state and all the other states that have retired union miners, and people are saying what about the non-union. i'm as concerned about the non-union miners and i will do everything and commit myself to helping them also. but if we can't even keep our commitment to the united mine workers of america that was basically signed by president harry s. truman in 1947, we're not sincere or intent on helping anybody. this is something that must be done and must be done immediately. and i've said that and i've been preaching this. and i hope that we all come to our senses and do something as quickly as possible about this. their retirees, as far as basically their medical, runs out the end of this year. the following year they lose their pensions too. that's how desperate this is, what we're dealing with.
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to address the issues, the miners protection act would simply do this. it amends the surface mining control reclamation act to transfer excess funds of the amounts needed to meet existing obligation under the abandoned mine land fund to the u.m.w.a. 1974 pension plan. second, makes certain retirees who lose health care benefits fall into bankruptcy or insolvency of his or her employer eligible for the 1993 benefit plan. these assets of voluntary employed benefits association created following the protocol bankruptcy is. if you don't know about the protocol bankruptcy, i will give you a minute or two on this one. the protocol bankruptcy, patriot comb came out -- coal came out f peabody. they put all of their liabilities, all of their liabilities basically doomed to
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fail in patriot and they threw all the union workers into this liability. and bess guess what? -- and guess what? it went bankrupt. it was designed to go bankrupt so they could shed all their liabilities. it's our responsibility to keep the promise to our miners who have answered the call whenever their country needed them. they have never failed. never failed us. when our country went to war, these miners powered us to prosperity. a lot of the young people that we have here today don't understand that basically coal mining was so important to this country that when we declared war in world war ii, if you were a coal miner, it was more important for you to stay to mine the coal to power the country, the coal that made the steel, the guns and ships than it was to go on the front lines and fight. they were on the front lines every day. they've never left the front lines. when our economy was stagnant, the miners fueled its growth and expansion. after the war things started -- there was so much build-up, that
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the economy started dipping. you had to continue to work and produce in order to make that happen, you needed energy to do that. the coal miners did that. they kept their promise to us, madam president, and now it is time for us to keep our promise to them. we need to honor the commitment. we need to honor the executive order signed by the united states of america to make sure they get their pension and make sure they get their health care. senator casey and i introduced the robert c. byrd mine safety protection act to, among other things, make it a felony for mine operators to knowingly violate safety standards. six years and one day after 29 brave miners were tragically killed at the upper big branch mine in west virginia, former senator c.e.o. don blanken ship went to jail for one year in prison, the maximum that was allowed by the sentencing, for willfully conspiring to violate mine safety standards.
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put simply, madam president, the penalty does not fit the crime that was committed there. we aim to change that. i stood with the families of the beloved minors in the days -- miners in the days following the devastating tragedy up at big branch. through moments of hope and despair, i witnessed again and again the unbreakable bonds of family that are as strong or stronger than anything i've ever seen. while no sentence or amount of jail time will ever heal the hearts of the families who have been forever devastated, i believe that we have a responsibility to do everything that we can in congress to ensure that a tragedy like this never, ever happens again. i want to thank senator casey. i want to thank senator brown. i want to thank senator warner. i want to thank senator wyden and all of my colleagues for putting these miners first, keeping the promise that we made to them. it's vitally important that we hold the executives who are willing to put the health and lives of our workers at risk and accountable for their actions.
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we must hold everybody responsible. we must hold ourselves responsible first to do the right thing. that's what we're standing here talking p today. if we don't stand up for the people that basically have stood up and defended us, stood up and powered the nation, did the heavy lifting and we can't keep the promise that was made 70 years ago, then god help us in the united states senate and the united states congress. so with that, madam president, i hope that we do step in and do the right thing. i would ask all of my colleagues this is not a partisan issue. this is truly bipartisan. this is truly bipartisan that these people work for all of us, not just for part of us. so with that, i would yield the floor, madam president. mr. brown: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from ohio. mr. brown: thank you, madam president. i'm pleased to join my friend, senator casey, who led this debate, senator manchin who has worked on this legislation and really devoted much of his career to people that go down to the end -- into the mines and provide the coal and electricity
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for much of the eastern half of the united states. senator warner for his work with senator casey and senator wyden and the other finance committee, thanks to all of you. i want to talk about two pension issues, starting with what happened two weeks ago when hundreds of thousands of teamsters and their families received exciting news that the u.s. treasury was rejecting the central states teamsters pension funds plan to cut the pensions and benefits they had earned through a lifetime of hard work. this is a win for all of us who urge treasury to reject these cuts. more importantly, it was a win for the thousands of union members, their families, their supporters, their friends who worked so hard to protect what their union had spent decades fighting for. that rejection, to be sure, is not the end of the fight for the benefits that workers have earned. it was just the latest battle in the fight to protect workers' pensions. while central states, the 47,000 teamsters in my state, the tens
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of thousands in other states may have gotten a reprieve, we have more work to do. our nation's retired coal miners, as senator manchin just spoke about, are on the brink of losing health care and retirement savings. it's within the power of congress to pull them back. the united mine workers of america's health care and pension plans cover some 100,000 mine workers, about 7,000 of them living in my state, mostly in southeast ohio. the plans were almost completely funded before the financial collapse in 2008, but the industry and its pension funds were devastated by the recession. the plan has too few assets, too few employers and too few union workers now paying in. if congress fails to act, thousands of retired miners would lose their health care this year, and the entire plan could fail as early as next year. this would be devastating for retired mine workers like my constituent norm skinner. i met norm in march before a finance committee hearing on
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pension plans that are under threat. norm is a veteran. he started working as a miner for what became peabody coal in 1973. he worked for 22 years and retired in 1994. for every one of those years, he earned and he contributed to his retiree health care plan and his pension plan. since he retired, norm has had nearly constant health challenges, not that unusual for people who work in some of the most dangerous conditions in american business. he had triple bypass surgery in 2010. three years later, they inserted stents. he had angioplasty. norm told me that 60% of his colleagues at the mine had died of cancer because of the chemicals. when they closed the mine, teams of people wearing hazmat suits came in to clean it. his entire shovel crew has died of cancer. some were in their 50's when they passed away. but now after putting in decades in this dangerous mine, norm is in danger of losing the health care that has kept him alive.
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i also met with david dilly who worked in the same simco mine. dave is also a veteran, worked for 14 years at the mine before it closed down in 1989. he was a umwa member, even serving as president of local 1118. for a couple of years, he serves as recording secretary still. mining is hard, back-breaking work. it's dangerous. it's dangerous every day in the mine. it's dangerous for the air and the chemicals that mine workers ingest. they knew that when they signed up for the job, but that work has dignity, it's crucial to us and our national interests as a country. it's a dignity rooting in providing security and opportunity for your family. we used to have a covenant in this country that said if you work hard, if you put in the hours, if you contribute to retirement in your health care, you will be able to support yourself and your family. what you're doing is you're giving up in union negotiations, you're always giving up wages today to take care of yourself and your family in later years so the government or friends or
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other family members don't have to. what's more honorable than that? it's what made this country great. it's what built the middle class. so in earned benefits like collectively bargained pensions and health care can be cut, we go back on the fundamental promise our countries made to tens -- country has made to tens of millions of american workers. there is a bipartisan solution proposed by the two senators from west virginia and supported by leaders in both parties. the bill uses the interest and the surplus from an existing source of money, the abandoned mines reclamation fund, and funnels that money into the health care and pension plan. this is a fund for reclaiming the land of retired coal mines, so it makes sense to use the surplus to support retired coal mine workers and their families. this bipartisan legislation was brought to the floor today. it would pass with an overwhelming majority. it's time for the senate to act. this legislation has been blocked by one republican leader in this body.
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the support on senator wyden and senator warner and senator casey's and my committee seems to be unanimous from the chairman on down. we're just looking to the republican leader to give us a vote on this because we are absolutely certain it would pass. miners worked in dangerous conditions their entire lives to put food on the table, to send their kids to college, to help power this country. mr. president, i have worn on my lapel a pin given to me at a workers memorial day in april -- in the late 1990's on an april day when we were memorializing those workers who had been killed on the job in the steel industry or those workers who were injured on the job. this is a depiction of a canary in a bird cage where the mine worker in the early 1900's, the mine workers take a canary down in the mines. if the canary died because of lack of oxygen or toxic gas, the mine worker knew he had to get out of the mines. he had in those days no union strong enough to protect him, he had no government that cared enough to protect him.
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we're in that situation today, mr. president, where it's up to us to be that canary. it's up to us to provide to make sure those workers who have earned these pensions, who have earned this health care for themselves and in far too many cases for their widows to step up and do the right thing. thank you, mr. president. mr. warner: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from virginia. mr. warner: mr. president, i stand here with my colleague and friends, senator manchin from west virginia, senator casey from pennsylvania, senator brown from ohio and shortly after me senator wyden from oregon and kind of echo what has already been said. senator brown said it probably best when he wears that canary. this is a -- if we don't act now, if we don't hear that call and respond to it, then the basic promise and premise that so much of what our country is founded on, we're really -- would really be questioned.
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i join these colleagues in standing up and urging the u.n.c. to -- the united states senate to pass the miners' protection act. we have mines just as in west virginia and ohio and pennsylvania, in southwestern virginia. quite honestly, i think as my colleagues, no one fully understands what it's like to mine coal until you have been underground, until you see the enormously challenging conditions that men and women -- mostly men -- worked under for decades to power our nation. senator manchin who often recites the history of this proud industry. but that industry has gone through dramatic changes. some of those changes due to activities and certain companies that may or may not have been responsible. some of those -- some of the changes in this agency because of a desire of many of us, frankly on this side of the aisle, to make sure that we can find cleaner ways to use energy. in a way, that's good, but
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that's meant that many of these coal companies and many of these operators who continue to mine what powered america are under enormous fiscal stress. and the result being not enough miners, coal companies that went bankrupt, and unfortunately the pension funds that would protect these miners now in jeopardy. so now through no fault of their own, these workers who have sacrificed their bodies, their health, their livelihood now when it comes to the united states government basically upholding our end of the deal to make sure that these workers and more specifically as my colleagues have pointed out more often their wide owes, because so many of these miners have passed on due to things like black lung disease, their widows, whether they are going to get the health care and the pensions that were promised, we're going to be able to honor that commitment.
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well, umwa 1974 pension fund that affects -- that we're talking about here affects about 100,000 miners, close to 10,000 in the commonwealth of virginia, they are looking to us on whether we're going to honor our commitment. as senator brown mentioned, i met a number of these miners who came up who were direct beneficiaries when we had our most recent hearing. many of these miners i had worked with and supported when i was governor of virginia and saw the challenges that their communities have gone through. if we don't do our job, these communities that have been hard hit all throughout appalachia, if these widows don't get the health care and their pensions, the communities that have already been devastated will be further devastated. if we allow this pension fund to go bankrupt and go insolvent, it will put additional strains on the ppgc, which is already under
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enormous strain. the truth is as senator manchin has pointed out, there is a solution and there is funding available for this miner pension act. it is critically important that we act. it is critically important morally, economically, and quite honestly, i would ask any of my colleagues to go and speak to any of these widows and explain why we wouldn't keep our end of the bargain come the end of this year, when if we don't act, if we don't act, these health care benefits will disappear. so, mr. president, i hope that we will act on this bipartisan legislation. the senator from ohio has indicated, i think it would pass this body overwhelmingly, and i appreciate all of my colleagues' work. i want to particularly cite, as i cede the floor and turn the floor over to the ranking member of the senate finance committee, he doesn't have a lot of coal in oregon, but he understands that when a commitment is made,
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particularly a commitment that was initially made by the president of the united states, president truman back in 1947, that those commitments need to be honored and look forward to continuing work with his leadership that we get this legislation out of the finance committee, get it to the floor of the senate, get it passed and make sure that these miners and their widows' health care and pensions are on. with that, mr. president, i yield the floor. mr. wyden: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from oregon. mr. wyden: i want to thank my colleague from virginia, senator casey, senator brown, senator manchin. they have been relentless in putting this issue of justice for the miners in front of the finance committee. week after week, month after month, they have been saying when is this going to get done? when is the congress and particularly the senate going to step up and meet the needs that these workers richly deserve to
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have addressed? i mean, we have had documented again and again -- i heard senator casey talk about how difficult this work is. we have had that put in front of the senate finance committee, and yet there has been no action. now, senator warner is right. my home state of oregon does not mine coal. we do have a lot of communities with economies that over the years have been driven by natural resources. they've been up and down the boom and bust roller coaster. a lot of those communities are experiencing the very same kind of economic pain that you see in the mining towns that senator casey and our colleagues represent. and to me you just don't turn your backs on workers and retirees in these struggling
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communities, these struggling mining towns this afternoon just because the times are tough. these workers have earned their pensions. they have earned their health care benefits. but the fact is if the congress does not act soon, all of this could be taken away. now, there is a broader crisis in multiemployer pensions that i've talked about on this floor and in the finance committee. part of this crisis goes back to a bad law, a bad law that passed over my opposition in 2014. it gave a green light to slashing benefits for retirees and multiemployer pension plans. it said it was okay to go back on the deal companies made with their workers to take away benefits, benefits people had earned through years of hard work. so there are a lot of seniors out there now walking an economic tightrope every day,
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and this law threatens to make their lives even harder. now you've got the mine workers' pensions, the peptions that senator casey -- pensions that senator casey and colleagues have been talking about in such immediate danger, there is enormous financial pressure being put on the pension benefit guarantee corporation. that's because the pension benefit guarantee corps is an economic -- corporation is an economic backstop for millions of retirees. it ensures the pensions belonging to mine workers and more than 40 million americans. but the pension darn tee corporation is in danger of insolvency if congress doesn't step up and find a solution for the troubles facing multiemployer pension plans. and fixing the mine workers pension plan is a critical component of any solution for the pension benefit guarantee corporation insurance program. you don't come up with a
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solution there and you're going to in effect put in place a prescription for trouble for generations of retired workers across the country. now, senator manchin has worked strenuously for this cause reaching across the aisle to senator capito. i mentioned my colleagues on the finance committee. there's now a bipartisan proposal ready to go to protect retired mine workers' health benefits and bolster their pension plan. it would stave off the threat of financial ruin for more than a hundred thousand workers and their families and would help safeguard the pension guarantee corporation and the millions of americans who count on it to ensure their livelihoods. we have reached out, as my colleagues have said, on the finance committee. we understand if you want to do something important in the senate, it's got to be bipartisan. so we've reached out to the
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majority to find a way to advance this proposal. the mine workers are not facing some imaginary policy deadline. their livelihoods are on the line. their health care is on the line. the economic security of whole communities is on the line. so it's time for the congress to step up. i want to thank my colleagues again. mr. president, i'd like to note that i have some additional remarks to make, and i am going to wait to give those remarks because i understand senator heitkamp and senator donnelly and senator coats are going to go beforehand. i see our friend from north dakota on her feet. i yield the floor. a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from north dakota. ms. heitkamp: first off, let me add my voice to my colleagues who have come here to plead the case for mine workers and for equity for widows, equity for
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people that have worked their entire life with their hands and now have their future jeopardized by the lack of attention to this critical issue of their pensions. i rise today to talk about another very important middle class economic issue, and one that we've been talking about ever since i got here, and that is the overwhelming burden of student debt. earlier this week i spoke at something called envision 2030. in bismarck. it was a convening of academic and political leaders in my state to discuss the needs of students who are embarking on and graduating from college in the next 15 years. incredible amounts of time were spent on college affordability. and i challenged many of the education leaders to take a look at what it's going to take to reduce costs. so that students do not have to borrow so much money as they're
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pursuing their higher education opportunities. like the rest of the country, north dakota students are getting bogged down in debt before they even graduate from college. this debt impacts their futures, their families, and quite honestly their communities, and i would argue this debt is in fact endangering the economic viability of our country. according to the institute for college access and success, the average amount of student debt a person owes in north dakota has now risen above $27,000. and north dakota students have some of the highest rates of indebtedness in the country as 83% of the class of 2011 graduated with some form of debt. more than, honestly, any other state in the country for that year. and so across the country i think these statistics paint really a bleak picture. and i just want to point out as
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we are looking at debt and what debt can do to an economy, certainly we talk a lot about the debt that we have in this country. if you take a look at this chart and you understand this peak in debt here is really right after the debt crisis. it was a rising consumer debt and credit cards. here's student loans. this is mortgage debt. obviously at a peak. auto loan debt. notice this, that everything went down and has come down in terms of debt, percentage of balance that is 90 days or more delinquent except one category, and that's student loan debt. so we like to i think tell the story honestly. these same people who have credit card debt and mortgage debt, they're not deadbeats. they want to pay their obligations. so do these students want to pay but they're finding it virtually
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impossible to pay this amount of student debt with lack of economic opportunity and with the rising amount of challenge that they have in meeting these obligations. if you want to take a look at it, because a lot of people think, well, this is just a problem for kids in their 20's. that's not going to be a problem. they'll work their way through it. they'll become -- that opportunity will be available to them. i want you to take a look at this. the group most impacted. if you go back to 2004 and you take 42% of everybody impacted was in their 20's, now it is 32%. and that growing impact that goes not only into your -- into your 30's but also into your 40's and also we have the highest percentage increase probably as the number of people 60 and over who are burdened by student debt. this chart tells an incredible story which tells you the burden that all of this debt, student
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debt, is having on the economy. what do we do about it? i've signed on many pieces of legislation here that would do once simple thing. it would help refinance this student debt. we have record low amounts of interest rates in this country. never before seen the continuity and the consistency of low interest rates. amazing. if you have that interest rate and you have a car loan, you go refinance. if you have that interest rate, high interest rate and you have a home, you go refinance your mortgage. but can you refinance your student debt? you'll never take advantage of these. well, in north dakota we have an institution called the bank of north dakota. it might shock people here given the kind of attitude i see towards the export-import bank. but the bank of north dakota is a barpg that's owned by -- bank that's owned by the people of the state of north dakota. about a third of their capital
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is invested in students. it's an opportunity to develop our state. we make home mortgage loans. we have farmer loans. we participate with local banks on economic development loans. we've got some great economic development programs at the bank in north dakota. i'm still in the we mode because i used to serve when i was attorney general on their board of directors. honestly, senator hoeven ran the bank of north dakota. it's an amazing institution. but when we find our citizens crippled with debt, what do we do? we try and figure out how we help them. we don't say simply we're going to make more money on you by keeping our interest rates at 6.8 and not letting you refinance. we say, you know what? that's not helpful to our economy. so let me tell you about the results of the consolidation program that the bank of north dakota runs. first off, there's qualifiers. the first qualifiers you have to be a u.s. citizen.
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you can't be -- for consolidation. you can't any longer be attending school. you must have been a north dakota resident for six months. if this gets out, we may see a flood of young people coming to our state. and you must be -- meet credit card criteria or have a cosigner. your loan options is any student loan. any student loan that you have or your parents have or your grandparents have can be consolidated into this program. we'll take stafford, parent loans, students which is called plus in north dakota, grad plus in north dakota, deal which is another student loan program they run at the bank of north dakota and any private lending from any other institution. and so what do we do? we consolidate all of that debt and refinance it into lower interest rates and offer people a number of different packages. let me tell you what the consequences of that is.
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so let's take a look at someone right now who is in a student loan program that charges 6.8% per annum for that student debt. if you are -- if you have a loan amount of $35,000 at 6.8% and your repayment term is 300 months, now think about that, 300 months. what is that in terms of a lifetime? that's a lot of months for a lifetime. your monthly payment is $242 or almost $243. the total interest that you will pay traditionally without consolidation and without refinancing is about $38,000. well, under this refinancing program, you can do one -- you can do it one of to ways. you can refinance on a fixed rate or you can refinance on a variable rate. and you may say oh, variable rates, isn't that what has gotten so many consumers in trouble? what the bank did r does is they
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say you can only raise the rate 1% a year under the variable rate and you're capped at 10% so you'll never pay more than 10% or you can opt to just lock in at our fixed rate which at the time that this chart was done was 4.71%. if you use the variable rate, you could lock in at just slightly above 2%. so let's take those same payment terms, 300 months. your monthly payments for the deal one fixed rate would be less than $200 compared to almost $250. and your total interest paid would be $13,000 less over the lifetime of that loan. if you go with the variable right assuming that we don't see a dramatic increase in interest rates, you will pay $150 a month, literally almost $100 less. your total interest that you'll pay at these low rates is $10,000.
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and compared to $37,000. think about that. think about what that means to a family. and if we even take this further and we say let's speed up payments under the deal program, let's try and do this in fewer months because no one wants to be locked in for 300 months of their life. if you look at going to a fixed rate for 157 months, you can in fact greatly reduce your overall interest paid to about $12,000. your monthly payment being $300. and the total amount you will pay. now let's compare that to the fixed rate going to 300 months. you pay almost $60,000. your total payment if you go to a shorter period of time, almost cut that time in half, in be your payments to $300 a month, you will in fact only pay $47,000. on a $35,000 loan going with a fixed rate that we currently have. if you go to variable, a $35,000
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rate, assuming the interest rates stay low, $35,000 loan amount gets down to just under $40,000. why can't we do this for every student in america? when i hear that the solution to the student debt problem is that we ought to, you know, limit the amount of repayment to 15% or that we ought to forgive it after so many years, you know what? i think that that's not a solution for a lot of good north dakotans who want to repay their debt. but to simply say we will not consolidate, we will not give an opportunity for students to take advantage of low interest rates, it is incredibly irresponsible. and it is tone-deaf to the impact that this has on whether we can start new businesses, whether we can get a mortgage for a home, whether we can buy a car, whether we can save for our retirement so we don't have pension problems in the future,
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and whether we can save for our kids' college education. why aren't we doing this? someone answer that question for me. if we can do it in the state of north dakota, if we can make this happen for students in the state of north dakota, why can't we make this happen for students all across this country? that is really the question that i've come to ask, because i think a lot of people talk about the ideas of restrumpg student -- restructuring student debt, talk about the ideas of what we can do to help students and lot of it is about debt forgiveness. you know what? i think people want to repay their debt in america. if they signed saying they'd repay it they want to repay it. let's give them a chance to do that. without mortgaging -- continuing to mortgage their fe -- their future and make them slaves to debt. i have a niece and her husband who were able to use this program, and they continued to pay the same amount of payment that they were paying under the
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old, you know -- paying off four or five different loans, they consolidated. they're still spending the same amount repaying their student debt, and guess what? they have cut the time for payment of their student debt in half. and they're able now to save for their children's future and for their children's college education. and so people say it can't be done. you bet it can be done. we're doing it in north dakota, and if we can do it in north dakota, we can do it in this country. let's step up, let's recognize this for the economic problem that it is -- not just for families but for this country -- and let's do something. let's quit talking about student debt and actuallloy do something about that. and with that, mr. president, i yield the floor. mr. coats: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from indiana. mr. coats: mr. president, i am here on the floor with my colleague from indiana, senator
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donnelly, and we're both going to be talking about something that's very special to the state of indiana coming up this weekend. on sunday, may 29, the 100th running of the indianapolis 500, the greatest spectacle in racing, will take place in the town of speedway, indiana, the small town within the coin fines of the borders of indianapolis. the indianapolis 500 mile race is the largest single-day sporting event in the world. it's almost staggering, mr. president, to think about this small town of peedway, indiana -- speed way, indiana, hosting 350,000 fans expected to be at the race this year. it's a logistics challenge that the city and the security people have met year after year after year. it's something to really see. since the first race in -- in
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1911, race fans from around the world have packed the grandstands and the speedway's expansive infield to enjoy the race and take into the experience of being at one of the world's most famous motorsports events. mr. president, i can't begin to describe the dimension of a two and a half mile track on the infield. there is a golf course, a significant part of which is in the infield, and it only takes up part of that infield. the two and a half mile track with 3 50,000 people is a spectacle you won't see anywhere else. for those of us who are from indiana, the indianapolis 500 is part of what if means to be a hoosier. timeless traditions are embedded into the fabric of hoosier culture. the phrase "gentleman" as was
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said for many, many years -- "gentleman, start your engines" and 33 cars' engines roar to the roar of the crowd. today, that same phrase is now "gentleman and ladies, start your engine" because the race has brought women to the track to race also. 33 cars start the pace laps and off the third or fourth pace lap as the pacecar races down the raceway and pulls aside, 33 cars come around the turn and turtling down the -- hurtling down the home stretch. the plunge into the first turn while 350,000 people stand there holding their breath saying maybe a prayer, how in the world can those 33 cars at 200 miles an hour pile into that very small banked first turn without
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cacataclysmic consequences. it is a testament to the drivers, to the technology that has been incorporated into the cars. it's something to see. now, the roots of all this date back to 1909 when a group of businessmen led by hoosier entrepreneur carl fisher purchased the $320-acre press farm -- not elvis presley -- just outside indianapolis and began construction of the racetrack. at that time, indianapolis and detroit were competing to be america's automotive capital, and fisher believed that a large speedway where reliability and speed could be tested would give indianapolis an upper hand. fisher and other speedway founders hired a new york engineer and asked him to design a two and a half mile track with banked corps of engineers and unique design that still endures today.
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the first track surface proved to be somewhat problematic so fisher and his partners needed a way to pave it. they settled on bricks and covering the two and a half mile oval required an astonishinishi2 million bricks at a cost of $400,000, no small change back then. that's why it is called the brickyard. as time wore on, bricks didn't become the ideal surface. when the current surface was put in place, we retained one yard of bricks at the finish line. so if you're watching the indianapolis 500 on sunday -- as i know all of these pages will be tuning in to that spectacle, after senator donnelly and i are through convincing you that this is something that you really want to see -- that yard is there, and it symbolizes what
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that track has been. about 08,000 spectators gathered around the track in 1911 for the inaugural indianapolis 500 raissments they witnessed race haroon wing the race in his yellow number 32marmon wasp at the speed of about what senator donnelly and i tried to drive on the interstates in indiana to avoid going into faster than that-to-a void a speeding ticket, which wouldn't help our careers if we violated that. initially, the cars had two people. one was the drieferred and one was the mechanic. this is early on. this is 1911, and so we were still developing cars and of course the impacts that the car had to absorb going around on a tar-and-gravel track caused many
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stops, but the mechanic would jump out, make the fix, put on a new tire, whatever, help with the fueling. but roy haroon surprised everybody by showing up without a mechanic, just he was the only person in the car. the first such instance that that had happened. what they did see on the car was something that they hadn't seen on any of the other cars, a rearview mirror being used in an automobile, the first instance that we can find that automobiles used a rearview mirror. since that first race, the indianapolis 500 has occurred on every memorial day since 1911, with the exception of 1917 and 1918 when the united states was involved in world war i and an exception from 1942 to 1945 when the united states was involved in world war ii. when the soldiers came home, when the war was over, they looked at the track and it was in a state of disrepair.
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it simply was not ready to be used. it had been neglected down through -- understandably, through those war years, broken down, and that was at the time when talk was, let's close it down. but terre haute native purchased the speedway and under his leadership the facility was restored and rebuilt and beginning in 1946 until today, the indiana 500 restarted with massive crowds and the event has only grown in time. the speedway has been owned by the family. as the years have passed by, the technology used at the indianapolis motor speedway has progressed and so has the speed. in 2013, cony canan set the
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record for the fastest indianapolis 500 winning the race in two hours and 40 minutes at an average speed of 187 .4 miles per hour. think of this. think of driving at an average speed over a two hour and 40 minute time of 1 -- excuse me, at 187 miles per hour including yellow lights when everybody has to slow down significantly because there's an accident on the track for a loose tire or something that causes the race to be slowed down, not counting the pit stops where they have to change the tires and fuel the cars. 2030 miles per hour is an -- 230 miles per hour is an extraordinary speed at which -- the top speeds that are running. you have to run at that top
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speed continuously when you are on the track in order to achieve that 187 miles per hour record. there's nothing like being there and seeing cars that the speed so deftly handled by drivers in very difficult situations. the indianapolis 500 is a showcase of ingenuity, human achievement and the continuous pursuit of racing immortality. racing legends like aj. foyt, mario andretti, rick mears, bobby rahall have all become synonymous with the indianapolis 500. the race is a source of great pride for all citizens of our state. we are all very excited about the 100th running on sunday. i am pleased to join with my indiana colleague, senator donnelly, in recognizing through the senate resolution which we will be offering after senator donnelly speaks, the tremendous occasion of the 100th running of the indianapolis 500.
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i'd be more than happy to yield to my colleague, senator donely. -- senator donnelly. the presiding officer: the senator indiana. mr. donnelly: thank you. thank you to my good friend and colleague, senator coats, and it truly is an institution in our state. i rise with senator coats to commemorate the 100th running -- think of that, what a long and storied history. the indiana 500 is more than a weekend tradition, more than just a sporting event. it has a storied history and the list of winners include some of the most legendary drivers in motor racing history. names like foyt, mears, unser, andretti. the legendary family that has been good friends to our state and such good stewards of the track, the homeangeorge family. the indy 500 is a sight to see. the iconic two and a half mile
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oval, the buzzing atmosphere created by hundreds of thousands of cheering fans, the singing, as my colleague, senator coats, said -- my deer friend talked about back home again in indiana. the winner drinking milk in victory lane and raising the trophy. this race is defined by career-making victories as well as heartbreaking crashes and down to the wire finishes. but the indy 500 is more than just being the greatest spectacle in racing. it is about a whole lot more than just that. it's about bringing people together and families together. more than 300,000 people will come to watch the race in the city of speedway this weekend. it boosts local businesses and gives central indiana an opportunity to showcase ourselves to the rest of the world.
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over its history, the indy 500 is part of the fabric of our hootier state. -- hoosier state. it has endured through depressions, through times of turmoil at home hand abroad. through it all, the indy 500 has become one of the biggest sporting events in the world. it brings together people of all different backgrounds. as the race has grown, it has drawn spectators from across the united states and from around the world. die-hard racing fanatics and casual fans alike. as donald davidson, the track historian, told "the indianapolis star" earlier this week, there is nothing else like it. it just took off. there is christmas, there is easter and there is the indy 500. it's a special event unlike any other. i have had the privilege of attending the 500 many times, and i'm looking forward to attending sunday's 100th
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running of the race. you can't help but be struck by the talent of the drivers and the teams. earlier this month, i visited andretti auto sport where i saw firsthand the craftsmanship and preparation that go into building just one indy car for the indy 500, and they were building a number of them. the dedication and teamwork is remarkable. each piece is an intricate creation, and the driver of each car has to have the complete trust in the team, the team that designed and built this car before it even rolls off the track, and the team has to have that same confidence in the driver that he or she can bring that car into victory lane. for thousands of hoosier families and racing fans, the 500 is a time for creating lifelong memories, joining together with friends and neighbors, the race is a chance to showcase the best in hoosier
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hospitality and the best our state has to offer. to win the indy 500, one needs all of the things that we hoosiers hold dear -- determination, hard work, ingenuity and unwillingness to give up in the face of adversity, and sometimes a little bit of luck. to win, you have to be able to overcome setbacks, get back up, dust yourself off, put your nose back to the grindstone. that's the hoosier way. i wish the best to our drivers, to the crews, to the teams, to the owners competing in sunday's 100th running of the indy 500. may it be a safe and competitive race. god bless all those involved. god bless indiana. and god bless america. thank you, mr. president. mr. coats: mr. president, together with my colleague and
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friend, senator doonl, we would ask -- senator donnelly, we would ask unanimous consent that the senate proceed to the consideration of s. res. 475 submitted earlier today. the presiding officer: the clerk will report. the clerk: senate resolution 475, recognizing the 100th running of the indianapolis 500-mile race. mr. coats: mr. president, i ask ask -- the presiding officer: is there objection to proceeding to the measure? without objection. mr. coats: mr. president, i ask unanimous consent the resolution be agreed to, the preamble be agreed to and that the motions to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. coats: mr. president, i yield the floor. mr. wyden: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from oregon. mr. wyden: i ask unanimous consent that lucy olson, a legislative fellow in my office, be given floor privileges for the remainder of this time. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. wyden: mr. president, i ask to speak as if in morning business.
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the presiding officer: without objection. mr. wyden: mr. president, i have waited to give this speech. waited for weeks. waited for the rhetoric to die down after the untimely and unexpected passing of justice scalia. waited to speak about this sad state of affairs out of a hope that no more words would be necessary before this senate acted. mr. president, it was my fervent hope that the initial reaction to justice scalia's death was due to the shock, the grief at the loss of a conservative icon.
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i, like many of my colleagues, were publicly mourning the loss, and i assumed that my colleagues were simultaneously realizing that after decades of trending to the right, it was now more than likely the supreme court was going to shift back to a more centrist, progressive point of view. but now it appears that the senate has descended into an alice in wonderland world where the senate cannot even agree how many supreme court justices make the court functional. now, throughout our history in the senate, there have been previous attempts to attack the court by on the one hand denying its members or on the other hand packing the court. in those instances, this
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once-august body has stood together and always protected the sanctity of the court, but not today. the senate is not only displaying contempt of the court, it is demonstrating contempt of its constitutional responsibility. it's hard for the people we're honored to represent to make sense out of much of what goes on here, who serves on the subcommittee that always sounds like the subcommittee on acoustics and ventilation, what a motion to table the amendment to the amendment to the amendment actually means. but this is an issue the american people get. we know there are supposed to be nine supreme court justices and the senate ought to do its job
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and ensure that the court can function without wasting years of people's lives and dollars by allowing cases to be undecided through deadlock. i can tell you, mr. president, -- and i'm going to be home this weekend for town hall meetings -- at these town hall meetings, i hear from citizens who are exasperated, and they tell me this in the grocery store, in the gym and other places where oregonians gather, and they cannot understand how a united states senator can ignore the responsibility to advise on a supreme court nominee and remain true to his or her oath. here's what oregonians know for sure. they understand that the president of the united states is elected to a four-year term, not a three-year term and some number of days.
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four years. you learn it in the first quarter of high school civics class. and oregonians and americans understand it's the president's job during that four-year term to fill vacancies on the court. and oregonians understand that it's the senate's job to advise and consent on the nomination by holding hearings and then having an up-or-down vote. the president has fulfilled his duty. the senate is utterly failing its responsibility. we have a nominee, an eminently well qualified nominee. our president pro tempore here in the senate, widely respected, called him highly qualified and described him this way, and i quote -- "his intelligence and his scholarship cannot be questioned. his legal experience is equally impressive. accordingly, i believe mr. garland is a fine nominee. i know him personally. i know of his integrity.
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i know of his legal ability. i know of his honesty. i know of his acumen, and he belongs on the court. i believe he's not only a fine nominee, but as good as republicans can expect from this administration, in fact i would place him at the top of the list." those are the exact words, mr. president, of our president pro tempore with respect to this nominee. the then-chairman of the judiciary committee called him well qualified, even though he objected to bringing -- to the court he was being appointed, the court being appointed up to its full complement of judges. but despite having a fully qualified judge vetted and praised by many of their colleagues, this intemperate rhetoric about blocking the court has now solidified into an indefensible position, and that,
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mr. president, is why after waiting for weeks i am on the floor this evening. the first blow is now well known and often quoted. the majority leader said, and i quote -- "the american people should have a voice in the selection of their next supreme court justice. therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president." this was said at a time when other officials were releaseing statements offering condolences to the justice's family, which includes 26 grandchildren. in some respects, this reaction should have been expected. when president obama took office, it seemed that the goal of some was to oppose anything he did, anything he did however
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reasonable. now, senators such as myself who have been here long enough to see the ebbs and flows of the senate figured that the stance was probably just a temporary slump. senators put in long hours, travel endlessly and make a difference on issues that are important to them and important to their states. even if the solemn responsibility and constitutional duty with which they are entrusted wasn't enough to encourage action in this series situation, it would seem for the sake of our country and our people we many here hope that this body would find its way back again. unfortunately, that's not been the case. so the leader's response to the death of justice scalia becomes yet another example of the scorched earth approach to
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politics that the far right has taken since the very beginning of the obama presidency. it is a sad and unworthy response to americans who express their will at the ballot box. many americans list choosing a supreme court justice as one of their leading reasons for choosing a presidential candidate. sometimes, many times, this is given as the most significant reason for voting for a president. in the last presidential election, the american people chose barack obama as the duly elected president of the united states. i state this because for many of my colleagues, that fact somehow seems to have just vanished from their minds, or perhaps there is just a refusal to recognize the
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results of the 2012 election. americans chose president obama to be the commander in chief, to administer the laws, and, yes, to appoint a new supreme court justice for any vacancies that occur between january 20, 2013, and january 20, 2017. the unanimous position or near-unanimous position of the majority is that elections don't really seem to matter, that the rule of force trumps the rule of law in saying no, we will not is an acceptable response to being asked to fulfill constitutional responsibilities. and basically, this position disenfranchises the constitutionally ratified choice of more than 65 million americans because the majority
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in the senate simply doesn't agree with them. this is not a response worthy of united states senators. it is choosing party and ideology over the needs of our country, and it is a political choice that many of my colleagues are beginning to understand they cannot afford. my colleagues have said it's not the position, it's the principle , but this is a position without principle. it's really pure politics, pure politics of the worst kind, and it calls into question whether its perpetrators can effectively do their jobs, do their jobs as senators going forward. today the senate, this venerable
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institution, continues to find itself in the hands of the most insidious form of politics. it's the kind of politics that seems just devoid of reason, revolving around what seems to most americans to be a truly straightforward portion of the constitution. article 2, section 2, paragraph 2, of the constitution states the president shall have power by and with the advice and consent of the senate to nominate and bind with the advice and consent of the senate shall appoint judges of the supreme court. now i am a lawyer in name only, mr. president. i don't profess to be a constitutional scholar, but at this point i'm one of theon


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