tv Key Capitol Hill Hearings CSPAN January 28, 2014 2:00pm-4:01pm EST
and we were going from classroom to classroom, and along the wall in all the classrooms was about a 4-inch conduit that had plugs, electric plugs and ether net ports in it about every 4 or 5 feet. and i looked at that, and i said that's the old internet in the classroom. that's when the computer was over there, and you went to it. because in this classroom there was also a wi-fi router on the wall, and kids were sitting at their desks with their, in this case, chromebooks, and they were accessing all kinds of content. and so the internet has moved, and the use of technology in schools has moved to the computer over there to the computer on the desk.
with that has come incredible demands on bandwidth. the kids were telling us stories about how they would hit enter, and if it was simultaneously, everything would choke. okay? they were telling us about taking their computers and walking around the room until they could get, you know, a good signal. ask, you know, the president -- and, you know, the president has said, he said back in june that we need to connect 99% of the schools within five years to at least 100 meg per thousand students going to a gig, okay? and the only thing that i would add to that is five years or less. we have responsibility through the e-rate program to fund schools. here's the interesting thing
that i've learned. our great team that we've got at the commission, john wilkens is our new managing director. and he came from that ken si and working with julie veep who's the head of our wire line bureau, they have applied business-like cash flow management concepts to the e-rate fund. that is going to enable us to double amount of money that's going for broadband installation this year and be able to address this challenge immediately by saying we're going to take the steps to make sure that 31st century -- 21st century students
get 21st century education. and that is high on the list of priorities that we have at the commission. and probably, you know, i agree totally with you in everything that you said about the importance of the evolving internet and what's our role and this sort of stuff. but if you really stop and think about it, the great challenge that we have is how do you use the internet to make sure that our most important assets, our kids, get the best with possible education. and the great thing about being at the fcc is that we sit in the middle of it, and we think we've got an an approach. >> i can't wait to see it. i've got a 7-year-old daughter, and she has a tablet, to it'll be great. well, thank you so much. >> stacey thank you. enjoyed it. [applause] >> well, the u.s. senate is in recess for their weekly party lunches. a live picture from the capitol where we expect reheart attacks from senators as they -- remarks from senators as they earn to the chamber this afternoon. they're expected to gavel back
in in just under 15 minutes at 2:15 eastern, live coverage here on c-span2 when the senate returns. while we wait for that, with president obama set to deliver his state of the union address to congress this evening, the republican leader in the senate, mitch mcconnell of kentucky, spoke on the senate floor today about what we'd like to hear tonight from the president. we will show you as much of this as we can until the senatere returns. >> tonight memberssi of both parties will m welcome the president to the capitol as he lays out his plans for the coming year.rd we look forward to t hearing wht he has to say.ay. we also look forward to hearing what congresswoman mcmorris rogers has so say too. someone who's dedicated to helping every single american realize her or greatest potential. the people of washington's fifth
district are lucky to have her, and so are we. as for the president's speech, this is a pivotal moment in the obama presidency. we're now entering our sixth year with president obama at the helm of our economy. the sixth year of his economic policies. and at this point we've seen just about everything in the president's tool box. we've had a year's long clinic on the failures of liberalism. the government stimulus, the taxes, the regulations, the centralization, the government control. it just hasn't worked. 74% of the american people say it still feels like the country is in a recession, because to them it still feels like it.
as the majority leader likes to say, the rich have gotten richer, and the poor have gotten poorer. and ladders into the middle class have been kicked away, sawed off and literally regulated into oblivion. this is the legacy of the obama economy as we stand here at the start of 2014. but it doesn't have to be the legacy president obama leaves behind in january of 2017. and that's why tonight's address so important. because it will give us the clearest indication yet of whether the president is ready to embrace the future or whether he'll once again take the easy route, the sort of reflexive, liberal route and just pivot back to the failed policies of the past. the choice the president now confronts is a pretty basic one; does he want to be a hero to the left or a champion for the
middle class? can't be both. he's got to choose. he could double down on the failed policies that brought us to this point. it would make his base pretty happy, i'm sure. but we certainly know where that path leads for the middle class. folks can try to package it any way they like. say it's a new focus on income stagnation that's gotten so much worse under this president's watch. but it's essentially the same path we've billion on since he took -- we've been on since he took office. the point is this: americans to not need a new message, they need a new direction. they don't need a new message, they need a new direction. the problem isn't the packaging. it never has been. it's the policies themselves. and president obama's the only person who can force that turn in direction. he's the only one who can lead it.
he could reach to the center tonight and embrace change over the broken status quo, embrace hope over stale ideology, ideology that's led not just to stagnant incomes, but to lower median incomes, to dramatic increases in the number of folks forced to take part-time work when they want, really want full-time work. the greater long-term unemployment to more poverty. he could ask members of both parties to help him make 2014 a year of real action rather than just a talking point. if he does, he's going to find he has a lot of support from republicans, because we want to work with him to get things done, and we always have. we'll be listening closely to see if he's finally prepared to meet us in the political middle. so we can finally get some important things done for the middle class. and let's be honest, there's a
lot that can be tone. done. for instance, he could call on senate democrats to stop blocking all the job creation bills the house of representatives has already passed. he could call for revenue-neutral tax reform that would abolish loopholes, lower tax rates for everyone and jump-start job creation if where it counts, in the private sector. he could push his party to join republicans supporting bipartisan trade promotion legislation, something the president has said the -- is a priority, and work aggressively to clinch the kind of job-creating trade agreements our allies in places like canada and europe and australia have already been seeking. he could work with us to reduce the debt and deficit to insure that programs americans count on will be there when they retire. to make government smarter and leaner, to unshackle the growth,
the growthenti pot of small business and entrepreneurs, to address the massive dissatisfaction out there with the size and the scope of government. and if president obama wants to score an easy win for the middle class, he could simply put politics aside and approve the keystone pipeline. the keystone pipeline is thousands of american jobs very soon. with regard to the keystone pipeline, he won't even need to use the phone, just the pen. one stroke, and the keystone pipeline is approved. i know the keystone issue is difficult for him because it involves a choice between
pleasing the left and helping the middle class. but that's exactly the type of decision he needs to make. he needs to make now. it's emblematic of the larger choices he'll need to make about the direction of our country too. because for all of this talk going around congress, he wouldn't have to if he'd actually try to work with the people's elected representatives every now and then. i'm saying don't talk about using the phone, just use the phone. and please be serious when you call. take the income inequality issue we hear he'll address tonight. is this going to be all rhetoric, or is he actually serious? because he's correct to point out that the past few years have been very, very tough on the middle class. as i indicated, median household income has dropped by thousands since he took office.
republicans want to work with him on this issue, but only if he's serious about it. he could show us he is by calling for more choices for underprivileged children trapped in failing schools. or he could agree to work with senator rand paul and me to implement economic freedom zones in our poorest communities. and here's something else, he could work with us to relieve the pain obamacare is causing for so many americans across the country, across all income bracket withs. i asked him last year to prepare americans for the consequences of this law. he didn't do it. >> we'll leave these remarks by mitch mcconnell to go live now to the capitol hill and hear from majority leader harry reid. >> i was informed today that during the last seven years republicans have waged 474 filibusters. they've made, they've filibustered major legislation,
minor legislation, nominations, everything. as we speak, they're still filibustering unemployment compensation extension which affects 1.6 million americans who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. the new york times reports today that one of my republican colleagues has made a decision to actively work to sabotage any progress on immigration reform. this is not the way it should be. we should be working together trying to come up with ideas to move forward if legislative form -- in legislative form. but what, what are we to do? i think we'll find at the state of the union tonight the president's decided that when republicans are obstructing everything and they'll continue to do so, so he's going to have
to do some things on his own, and i agree with him. he needs to use his administrative authority, his executive authority to start doing some things for this country. that should be done the easy way, and that is working together with legislation. but 474 filibusters, that's what they've done. americans are tired of us squabbling here in washington congressionally. they want us to get things done. so i hope that they will suddenly after their house retreat they'll finish week, maybe they'll come back and work together as congressional republicans who identify with the republicans around the country, not this stop everything. i'm thinking maybe -- excuse me -- senator mcconnell, whose number one goal was to defeat obama's re-election, maybe he
doesn't realize he was reelected. he can't move out of that gear he's been locked into. >> [inaudible] speaker boehner suggested this morning that you might be looking for some concessions related to health care bill -- [inaudible] provision or repealing the medical device -- >> remarks from senate majority leader harry reid. we will leave this here and now go back to the senate floor live. together represent the most ambitious proposal ever to use federal dollars to enable states to allow parents to use those federal dollars to find a better school for their child. i'd like to talk for a few minutes about my proposal, which is called scholarships for kids, the context in which we find ourselves today as we look forward to the president's state of the union address, and i'd like to mention briefly the
proposal of senator scott from south carolina. he's already introduced his bill, he'll be on the floor at another time to talk about it but they're big ideas. together they represent redirecting about $35 billion to $36 billion of federal money that are now being spent through a series of programs and instead spending them in a way that better fits the age in which we find ourselves. an age in which the best federal investments can be made in things that enable americans to do things for ourselves, to make our lives better and happier and safer and longer. let me talk first about scholarship for kids. i ask unanimous consent that this description of the scholarship kids -- for kids act of 2014 be included following my remarks. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. alexander: thank you,
madam president. the legislation that i've introducing today would allow allow -- would -- up to 11 million new federal scholarships to follow low-income children to any school their parents choose as long as it's accredited. it's not a federal mandate, it would enable states to create those choice options. but it would mean about a $2,100 scholarship. of federal dollars on top of the money that states already spend on elementary and secondary education for each child. the state ofton, for example, that spends nearly $9,000 per child this would be taking $2,100 for the one fifth of the students who are low-income, and allow that money to follow them to the school they attend. our country is united not by
race but by a set of principles upon which we agree and one of the most important of these is the principle of equal opportunity. for me, equal opportunity means creating an environment where the largest number of people can begin at the same starting line and i believe this is a real answer to the inequality in america that we hear so much about, giving children more opportunity to attend a better school. the scholarships for kids act will cost $24 billion a year, it will be paid for by redirecting about 41% of all the dollars we now spend on federal elementary and secondary education programs. about 90% of all the spending on our elementary and secondary schools is state and local spending. 9% or 10% is federal spending. this is 41% of that 9% or 10%.
it includes all of the money the federal government spends on elementary and secondary except money for children with disabilities and senator scott's legislation addresses that, it does not touch the student loan -- schunch program --, school lunch program, it doesn't affect federal research in education and it doesn't affect impact aid. the whole purpose of federal aid to elementary and secondary education is to help low-income students, but, unfortunately, often the federal dollars are diverted to schools with wealthier students. the left and the right both have noticed this and would like to change it. scholarships for kids, our proposal, would benefit only children that fit the federal definition of poverty, which is about one fifth of all schoolchildren. that's because it would pin the
$2,100 scholarship to the blouse or the shirt of the child and it would follow that child to the school that the state and the local school district say that child should attend. allowing federal dollars to follow students to a school has been a successful strategy in american education for more than 70 years. last year, $33 billion in federal grants to colleges -- we call them pell grants -- and $106 billion in loans for students followed those students to public and private colleges. since the g.i. bill began in 1944, these vouchers -- and that's what they are -- have helped create a marketplace of about 6,000 autonomous higher education uninstitutions, a higher education system that is regarded by almost everyone as the best in the world. our elementary and secondary education system is not the best
in the world. the united states 15-year-olds rank 15th in science and 36th in math. i believe one reason for this is while more than 93% of federal dollars are spent for higher education, 93% of the dollars that we spend through the federal government for higher education follow students to the colleges of their choice, but federal dollars do not automatically follow students to the elementary or secondary school of their choice. instead, with our elementary schools and our middle schools and our high schools, money is sent directly to the schools. local government monopolies run most of those schools. and they tell most students exactly which school to attend. there's little choice and no k-12 marketplace as there is in higher education. again, in higher education, you have the 6,000 institutions, you have generous amounts of federal dollars,
they can follow you to the college or university of your choice, whether it's public or private or nonprofit or profit, as long as it's accredited. and so students may go to harvard or yeshiva or notre dame or the university of tennessee or the community college nearby. the former librarian of congress often wrote that american creativity flourishes during fertile verges. that was his description. he called those times when americans become more self-aware and more creative. in his book "breakout" newt gingrich argues society is on the edge of such a new era, the internet age, an age when everything will change. like everything changed at the time of the new internal combustion engine many years ago. newt gingrich in his book cites
computer handbook wrish tim o'reilly for his suggestion about how the internet could transform government. here's how tim o'reilly says that we ought to do our job as we try to help use the government to help americans during this period of time. the best way for government to operate, o'reilly says, is to figure out what kind of things are enablers of society and make investments in those things. the same way that apple figured out if we turn the iphone into a platform outside developers will bring hundreds of thousands of applications to the table. already 16 states have begun a variety of innovative programs supporting private school choice. private organizations in many parts of our country supplement these efforts. scholarships for kids allowing $2,100 federal scholarships to follow 11 million children would
enable other school choice noaftionz in the same way -- innovations in the same way developers rushed to provide applications for the yoir phone platform. senator tim scott, the senator from south carolina, has proposed what he calls the choice act. it would allow $11 billion of federal money that the federal government now spends through programs for children with disabilities to follow these six million children to the schools their parents believe provides the best services. so there might be a child in tennessee or wisconsin or south carolina who is eligible both for the scholarship for kids because he or she comes from a family that fits the federal poverty definition, so there's $2,100. then if that child is also disabled, the child might be eligible for a scholarship under the choice act of several thousand dollars. that would then be in digs to
the amount -- in addition to the money south carolina spends on education per child probably in the neighborhood of $8,000 or $9,000 or $10,000. to take the case of tennessee again, $9,000 or so for the state, $2,100 of federal money for scholarship for kids, a few more thousand dollars spending upon circumstances for the scholarship under senator scott's act, and you have a significant amount of money that parent could use to follow a child to a school that helps that child succeed, helps that child succeed. especially in the case of children with disabilities, that would seem to me to make so much good sense. senator scott tells a poignant story of a young girl in south carolina who was in a guarantee, she has downs syndrome, she's in a kindergarten that helped her succeed but then her parents moved. and they had to fight for a year to get her in another school
that would treat her in a mainstream way and then they realized that the school they'd been fighting for a year was the one they were counting on. why not let that family take the $13,000, $14,000, $15,000, $16,000 with that child with down syndrome, pick a school that treasures that child and let the money follow the child to the school the child attends. so a student with both low income and a disability would benefit under both programs. as i said, when i began my remarks, taken together with senator scott's proposal, scholarships for kids constitutes the most ambitious proposal ever to use existing federal dollars to enable states to expand school choice. now, importantly, madam president, this is not a federal mandate. washington is full of politicians who fly an hour, an
hour and a half from their hometown and get here and think they've suddenly gotten smarter. they have a good idea and say let's apply that in wisconsin and in tennessee and in south carolina. i try not to do that. i'm a very strong believer, for example, in teacher evaluation. i led the fight for that as governor of tennessee 30 years ago. we were the first state to do it. and when i come to washington people say you'll want to make everybody do that. my answer is no, i won't. states have the opportunity to be right and they have the opportunity to be wrong, and the last thing tennessee needs is the federal government peering over the shoulders of communities and school districts and legislators and governors and school boards who are trying to work out a very different -- very difficult problem of teacher evaluation. it's the holy grail of education as far as i'm concerned but not mandated from washington. i very much believe in school choice but not mandated from washington. so under scholarships for kids,
states still would govern pupil assignment, deciding whether parents could chews private schools. when i was education secretary years ago milwaukee was in the midst of a major program to try to give low-income parents more choice of schools, including private schools. so along with president bush, what president bush proposed, president h.w. bush, to allow milwaukee and wisconsin to do that if it wished to do it but it didn't impose what we thought was a good idea from washington. under scharns for kids, schools that are chose -- scholarships for kids, schools chosen by parents for the $2,100 scholarship would have to be accredited, federal civil rights rules would apply, the proposal does not affect school lunches so congress can assess the effectiveness of the tool for innovation there is an
independent evaluation after five years. it remarks -- in remarks that senator scott and i made this morning, the issue came up about private schools, which always does when we talk about expanding school choice. but in this case we're not necessarily talk about -- talking about private schools. most schools are public schools. and i would assume most of these $2,100 scholarships would follow students to the school they attend which would be a public school. but in a state -- if a state chose to create a program whereby its citizens, low-income citizens could choose a private school as long as it was accredited, that would be -- that would be appropriate under the law. and why shouldn't a low-income family have more of the same opportunities for a better school for its child than a wealthier family does who may move to a different part of town or may be able to afford a private school. the idea of allowing dollars to
follow students to the school of their choice has not been an idea exclusively an idea of the left or of the right in our country. in the late 1960's, the most con sicconspicuous proposal for schl church was from ted sizer, then the harvard university education dean. he suggested a $5,000 dollarship in the 1960's which he called "a poor children's bill of rights." that $5,000 scholarship today would be worth two or three times as much. in 1992, as i mentioned earlier, when he was education secretary, president george h.w. bush proposed a g.i. bill for kids, a half billion-dollar federal pilot program for states creating school choice opportunities. yet despite its success in higher education and despite the fact it's had powerful advocates on both the left and the right,
the word "voucher" remains a bad word among most of the kindergarten through the 12th great education establishment and the idea has not spread widely. madam president, equal opportunity in america should mean that everyone as much as possible has the same starting line. during this week, celebrating school choice, there would be no better way to help children move up from the back of the line than by allowing states to use federal dollars to create 11 million new opportunities to choose a better school. now, madam president, if i may conclude with a word about the context that we -- in which we find ourselves today. senator scott and i made our remarks today at american enterprise institute and i'm speaking today on the floor of the senate on a very important day in our country's history. it's not only school choice week but it is the day that the president of the united states makes his annual state of the
state -- state of the nation address. every president has done that except two, the senate historian told us at lunch today, and those two died before it was time to make the address. so it's a tradition that goes back to the beginning of our country. and we'll all go over to the house of representatives and we'll listen carefully and the country will watch to listen to what the president has to say. the issue we're told that the president will address is the one of income inequality. and if that's what he does, that's certainly an appropriate issue for any american preside president. because if equal opportunity is central to the american character, so is the idea tha that -- of the american dream, the idea that anything is possible, that anyone can goc frocan gofrom the back to the ff the line with hard works and, therefore, anything creates a
starting line from which we move. if the president makes that proposal, i think we know the kind of agenda we're likely to hear. it will have to do with more minimum wages that actually cost jobs. it will have to do with more compensation for perpetual unemployment. it will have to do with canceling more health insurance policies, which is what obamacare will be doing in 2014 much more so than it did in 20 2013. there is another agenda, another picture, another vision of how we can help the largest number of americans realize the american dream and that is more jobs, more job training, and more choices for low-income parents of better schools for their children so they can get a better job. so instead of more minimum wag wages, which actually reduce the number of jobs, we would liberate the free enterprise system of the wet blanket of
obamacare and other obama rules and regulations and create lots more jobs with good wages. instead of more compensation for long-term unemployment, we would say, let's have more job training so you can take one of these good, new jobs that we propose to create. and then instead of directing the money to a model that hasn't worked as well over the last 70 years, let's take the federal dollars we're now spending, $36 billion of them, and let them follow low-income children and disabled children to the schools of their parents' choice so they, like children who aren't disabled and like patients who have more money, have the opportunity to go to a better school. we will be arguing that a better agenda for income equality, to realize the american dream, to help americans move from the back to front of the line is more jobs, more job opportunities and more choices
of better schools for low-income children. that agenda is especially -- is especially right for the age we're in. i mentioned the discussion that daniel borsten said about america's fertile bridges and about newt gingrich'sber's bookd the suggestion from the computer programmer, that the best way for washington to operate is not with washington mandates or for washington programs, but to spend money on things that enable each of us as americans to do things for ourselves. to live a happier life, to live a better life, to live a wealthier life, to live a safer life. and i hope that in the remarks i've made today, i've done that, because we have seven years of experience with just such programs in education. i would argue there may be no more successful social program in american history than the g.i. bill for veterans. it began 70 years ago in 1944
and it did not send money to the university of chicago and tennessee and michigan and harvard. it followed the money -- it followed the soldier and the airman and the navy veteran to the college of his or her choice. we began that practice in 1944. we followed it with the pell grants today. we followed it with the student loans today. why should we not follow it with the federal dollars we spend for elementary and secondary education? if federal dollars following students to the colleges of their choice help to produce the finest higher education system in the world, why should we not allow states to try it to try to create the best schools in the world for our children, especially our low-income children? so, madam president, i hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will recognize that this isn't the proposal of left or the right. i don't know many democrats who want to get rid of pell grants
or student loans. they're vouchers, pure and simple. they're vouchers that have lasted for 70 years and may be the most successful social program we have. so why not allow states in this internet age to take the federal dollars we're already spending for low-income children and make sure the money gets directly to them? and for disabled children, make sure it goes directly to them? and give their parents an opportunity to exercise the same kind of decisions that wealthier mairnts dwealthier -- parents dy what is the best school that's best for my child? would that not be the best way to help a young american get a leg up on moving to the same starting line that children from wealthier families have and maybe a chance to move even to the heftd line? head of the line? i hope my colleagues and the american people will look at scholarships for kids and senator scott's choice act.
mr. murphy: madam president, i'd ask that we dispense with the quorum call. the presiding officer: the senate is not in a quorum call. mr. murphy: thank you. madam president, it's been 1,406 days since the president signed in to law the affordable care act. since that time, about 10 million americans who have not had access to affordable insurance have gotten it, and patients have been reempowered along with their doctors to take control their own health care, taking power backway from the insurance company who had run our -- back away from the insurance company, who had run our medical lives for too long. the presiding officer and i lived through dozens of votes in the house of representatives to repeal the bill, as the senate saw as well, but absolutely no genuine effort to replace the health care bill. i was sitting in the chair
yesterday when one of our colleagues, senator hatch, came down to the floor to talk about a new proposal. i would probably argue the first proposal from republicans in 1,406 days to actually talk about what their vision, what republicans' vision for health care reform would be. this is a framework, not a bill, just a framework that has been suggested by our colleagues, senator hatch and senator coburn and senator burr. i wanted to come down to the floor today to talk about the implications of this framework for affordability and patient protections all across this country. i give some credit to our colleagues because it has been 1,406 days of complaints, of politics, of obfuscation, of obstruction, and at least for the first time we are beginning to see what the republican vision for the future of health care in this country is.
and though we don't have a bill -- all we have at this point is a framework -- it is a pretty scary future. the proposal from our republican colleagues would dramatically increase the cost of health care for millions of americans and would put back in charge the insurance companies of of our health care -- of our health care. so i wanted to come down for a few minutes today and try to talk in real terms about what this proposal will actually do for health care in this country. and i only have a few minutes, so it's hard to really go through the litany of backward steps that we would take, were we to adopt the proposal that's been laid out here by a couple of our very brave republican colleagues. the first thing it would do is it would reinstate the fact that
being a woman for decades in this country was considered to be a preexisting condition. the health care reform bill says very snrai simply that there cao difference in the amount you pay for health care based on your gender. women ar have paid 50% more than men have for their health care. $1 billion is the total amount of money that women have paid more than men simply because insurance companies believe being a woman is a preefnlt that is no longer d. is a preexisting condition. that is no longer the law of the land. there is no ditches base differn your gender anymore. second, annual limits on the ability of you to recoup the cost of your health care from your insurance company would be reimposed. the health care bill says, it
isn't fair that you buy an insurance policy. you get really, really sick and then you get told at some point midway through the year that your inurns is up. -- that your insurance is up. the idea of inurns is that we all pool our risk together and then if one of us gets sick, we actually get those insurance bills paid. the affordable care act says that there can't be anymore annual limits, but the proposal from our republican friends would say that annual limits could come back from insurance companies. to somebody like deborah from connecticut who had a $20,000 limit, was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, hit her limit about halfway through the year, incurred $18,000 of additional cost, causing her to basically forego treatment -- once again be, that painful reality of an insurance plan not delivering on insurance simply because you got so sick that you had big costs
would once again be the reality. the republican plan would allow for annual limits again. our friends talk about the fact that they address the issue of preexisting conditions. the but they really don't. they really don't. all their plan says is that if you switch plans and you have no gap, that the new plan has to cover whatever illness you may have. but that's not how life works. 89 million americans on the average a year have at least a one-month gap in coverage, and that one-month gap in coverage under the republican plan that's been shown to us in a basic frameworframeworkframework woule preexisting condition to once again be the law. betty, one of my constituents, had insurance her entire life except for one time.
dhiewrg time, her son was diagnosed with cancer. the new insurance company at her h.u.s. new employer wouldn't cover the preaver preefnl preex, and the burgers were ruined. ththe affordability ends that nightmare. the republican plan does not fix the preexisting condition discrimination. all it says is that if you don't have any change, any gap in your coverage, then the new insurance company has to cover your preexisting condition. but for millions of families, that's not how life works. then lastly, although the republican plan does acknowledge that the basic underlying wisdom of the affordable care act is right in that the best way to get compleg to people is to give them a tax credit with which to go buy private insurance -- that
is the foundation of the affordable care act and the republican alternative that our colleagues introduced basically adopts that as their framework for expanding coverage as well -- it is at a much lesser subsidy rate, with much greater tax consequences to americans than the affordable care act has in it. for instance, the republican alternative says that if you hit 300% of the poverty level, that's it, no more subsidy. well, 300% sounds like a lot. 300 is a big number. but the poverty level is pretty measly in this country, and if you're making 300% of the poverty level, you're making $34,000 a year. i don't know about the presiding officer's state, but in connecticut it's really hard to put food on the table on a consistent basis at $34,000 a year and then to have no help from the government to buy insurance essentially means that you will have a huge class of people making $30,000 to $40,000
a year who under the affordable care act are getting helped by insurance who under this alternative plan will get no help. but here's how it's even worse: the republican alternative that we've seen this framework on says that one of the ways that we're going to pay for this is by taxing people for the health care that they're getting. right now if you get health care through your employer, by 150 million americans do, you get to essentially exclude that money from your -- from taxation. you get those benefits in pretax dollars. the republicans have said, well, we're no going to athrough to happen -- allow that to happen, but only for 65% of your benefit. that is a massive tax increase on the people of this country. we can debate whether there's policy wisdom in limiting the tax exclusion of health care, but let's just admit that if you
are going to fund your proposal based on eliminating the tax exclusion of employer-sponsored benefits to employees, then you are dramatically raising taxes on middle-class americans all across this country. so i give a lot of credit to the senators who have put this framework out there, because it's the first time that we've seen any alternative. but it is a pretty miserable alternative for consumers all across this country who have finally for the first time, because of the affordable care act, gotten access to affordable insurance. and for countless more americans who have been insured who finally feel like all of the tricks and the gimmicks that we've seen from insurance companies, like excluding people from coverage because of a preexisting condition or putting an annual limit on their coveragees, those days are over.
so as we go into the debate about the the effective implementation of the affordable care act and as we talk about these alternatives that are now being proposed, it's important that we to that with eyes wide open. nobody on our side of the aisle who supported the health care reform bill is going to tell you that it is perfect. no one on our side of the aisle is going to defend every step of implementation, but it is changing the lives of millions of americans. it is reducing the overall health care expenditure of this government, and it is putting americans back in charge of their health care. now is not the time to be discussing going back to the good ol' days when millions of americans were left out of the rolls and the ranks of those that were insured and insurance companies dictated the day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month health care that is so critical to the lives of
middle-class families. i yield the floor. mr. barrasso: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from wyoming. mr. barrasso: thank you, madam president. madam president, today president obama is going to deliver his state of the union address. he will be in front of congress and the tv cameras and he'll be talking to the american people as well. he and his advisors are probablier without objectioningy working right now on some last-minute sound bites. they should be working on an agenda that actually helps unemployed americans, an agenda that will get our economy back on track. the president doesn't have very many big opportunities left to do this. he is quickly become being a lame-duck president. the president is going to become a lame duck even faster if he comes to the capitol tonight and delivers a lengthy speech that just attacks republicans.
the economic recession ended four and a half years ago. many americans have still not seen their careers or their finances or their quality of of life improve. that's what americans are looking for. unfortunately, they haven't found it because of the obama economy. that's what the obama economy has done to americans. millions of americans have actually regrettably given up looking for work. they're falling further and further behind, further and further away from achieving the dreams that they have had. is the president going to tell those people that he has no new ideas about how to actually help them? well, president obama is failing. he is failing to make it easier for the american economy to recover. and he's failing to help americans who desperately want to work. he's failing because he is focused on things like extending emergency unemployment benefits, things like raising the minimum
wage. well, an unemployment check can be a vital safety net for families, but it is not a long-term solution for what is becoming a parttime economy under -- a part-time economy under president obama. tonight the president can deliver yet another partisan political speech. he may get a standing ovation here and there from the most liberal side of the aisle. or he can do what he should do as a president: focus on solutions with prove bipartisan support. the president has made a point of saying lately that 2014 will be, as he calls it, a year of action. he said he intends to act on his own without waiting for congress. i believe that would be the wrong course. president obama has had trouble getting some of his policies through congress. and the main reason is, the american people do not support his policies. he should use this speech tonight to move to the center to
show that he is willing to work with others. he shouldn't give a speech that shows he's moving further to the left. we've had too much of the president's politics of division. the politics of division is hurting the economy and hurting the country. democrats and republicans on capitol hill already agree on ideas on getting america and americans back to work. there are many policies that president obama can talk about in his speech tonight that won't require him to go around congress, but rather to come to congress. so i'd like to suggest three of them that he should announce tonight. first, the keystone x.l. pipeline. the president should say that he will stop blocking construction of the keystone x.l. pipeline. his own state department says the pipeline construction could support over 42,000 jobs across the country. and a bipartisan group of 62 senators -- 62 members of this body -- back the project.
early in 2013, president obama met with senate republicans. he told us that we'd have an answer about the pipeline by the end of the year. that was 2013. the year's come, gone, the keystone pipeline approval is still sitting on the president's desk. the american people deserve an answer and the answer should be yes. second, the president really should address his reckless environmental protection agency, the e.p.a., and how its regulations are putting americans out of work. recently the e.p.a. released new requirements for power plants. the requirements are unachievable and they're unnecessary. now ironically, the e.p.a. did this on the exact same day as the 50th anniversary of the start of the war on poverty declared by l.b.j.. these harsh new regulations are going to cost energy costs to go up, going to cause people to lose their jobs as coal plants
are forced to close. the job losses and higher prices are going to fall most heavily on people struggling in appalachia and across coal country. higher energy costs clearly hurt our economy. the president must sensibly rein in his e.p.a. before it does even more economic damage. third, the president should support bipartisan efforts to repeal his medical device tags. this is a destructive tax and it was part of the health care law. it's been estimated by some that the tax puts thousands and thousands of american jobs at risk because it helps to push manufacturing overseas. now an amendment to repeal that medical device tax passed right here in the senate last year with a bipartisan vote of 79-20. with all the changes president obama has made to his health care law, it's barely recognizable. repealing this tax would be a change that actually helps
americans and not just the president's poll numbers. so there are many things that the president can talk about tonight that have this sort of bipartisan support. these are just three, but they'd be a good place to start. it's interesting, madam president, that when the president leaves here after the state of the union he's going to go visit four states: maryland, pennsylvania, madam president, wisconsin, and then as well, tennessee. four states, eight u.s. senators. when you take a look at who they are, four are republicans, four or democrats. all eight of them, the four republicans and four democrats, all were part of the 79 members of this body that voted to repeal the medical device tax. when the president, his spokesman the other day on sunday tv show said the president is going to use his phone and his pen, i would say he ought to use the phone to call those eight senators and say i'm going to use my pen
after you vote to repeal the medical device tax to sign that into law. that is something that would show bipartisanship on the part of the president as well as really help with our economy. madam president, nearly 21 million americans are out of work or they're in part-time jobs. it's time for president obama to talk less about divisive ways to redistribute americans' prosperity and more about helping all americans increase their own prosperity. america is a strong and resilient nation. we can overcome the obama economy, and we will. we can overcome and will the bad policies of this administration. the president should come here tonight, to the capitol, and say that he is willing to help americans return to prosperity. the president announces these three policies tonight. the country and the economy will benefit, and a bipartisan group of republicans and democrats
will all be able then, madam president, to stand up and applaud. thank you, madam president. i yield the floor. mr. cornyn: madam president? the presiding officer: the republican whip. mr. cornyn: madam president, i would also like to address the matter of the president's state of the union speech tonight. i'm sure that as has been the rule, president obama will make an eloquent speech. he's really good at that. there's just one problem. the president's credibility has been shattered. indeed, on issue after issue we see a massive gap between his rhetoric and the reality. you might say that the two biggest challenges the president faces tonight are those two challenges. one, to his credibility. and the other is to his competence and the competence of
the federal government to actually be able to deliver on the promises that it makes. the most obvious example is the health care law which we've heard a lot about and will continue to hear a lot about in this ensuing year. i was just visiting with one health insurance company executive who told me that basically the bad news is going to continue to unroll and unravel over the coming months, and there will be nowhere to hide. well, perhaps what people want most from washington, d.c. is accountability. i hear it all the time. people say what will it take -- what does it take to get fired? do people promise the sun and the moon and deliver nothing and without consequence? how about people charged with
implementing the policies of the administration whether it is the web site contractor or whomever? the web site contractor did get fired and a new one fired so i assume sooner or later the web site will work as advertised. that still leaves us with the flaws in the underlying policy which will not work. the american people understand that, and they're looking for help to washington and saying please deliver us from this epic failure which is not what we were promised. and in the event that there isn't a response to that that they deem credible, then i promise you there will be an accounting come november 2014. the president said repeatedly under his signature health law that if you like the coverage you have, you can keep it. public opinion polls then showed that roughly 90% of the american people liked their health coverage. why in the world did we undermine, or did obamacare
undermine the existing coverage that people liked just in order to try to cover more people, which in fact it did not do? but we know obamacare has forced millions of americans to lose their preferred coverage, the coverage they said they liked back in 2009. and the president has repeatly said that obamacare will reduce your premiums, make them lower. for a family of four about $2,500. well, the stories we've seen day after day after day of american citizens signing up on the health care exchanges is just the opposite. they're experiencing premium shock. and the fact of the matter is it's going to continue to get nothing but worse as people realize that the ones who are signing up for obamacare are older, sicker americans and that young, healthy americans are simply taking a pass, saying i can't afford it. and if i have a problem, i'll
take care of it later. well, premiums are going to continue to skyrocket, and americans who are looking for more affordable health coverage will find out that indeed it's been priced beyond their ability to pay. well, here's the rub really. the president said -- and i think this was the implicit underlying promise of obamacare -- if you pass obamacare, congress, everybody will have coverage. we'll have universal coverage. well, the congressional budget office has projected that obamacare, even if it were implemented to perfection, exactly as the proponents and the president had expected, it would still leave 30 million people uninsured. 30 million people uninsured. the president said that this new law would bring a greater sense of certainty to the u.s. health care system. instead we've seen one of the
credit rating agencies actually slash the credit rating of america's health insurers citing the uncertainty generated by the implementation of obamacare. the opposite, again, of what was promised. well, the president also said that the web site, when you plug in your personal information, your social security number, your health information that is protected already by federal law, if you plug it in to the obamacare web site, it is going to be safe and secure. well, cyber experts have testified, particularly in the house of representatives, that security of the web site is worse today than it was several months ago. no guarantee that if you put your personal, personal information, your private information, your confidential information into the web site it's going to be protected. and here's the real surprise. i remember when secretary
sebelius appeared before the senate finance committee just a couple of months ago, and i asked her about the navigator program. you remember the navigator program was supposed to get people to help you sign up for obamacare. and i said there's no background check, is there, to be a navigator? she said no. i said is it possible that a convicted felon could be a navigator, somebody you're giving your personal information to though help you sign up for obamacare? she said, to her credit, she said in all candor, yeah, that's possible. i nearly fell out of my chair. well, the obamacare's broken promises have caused enormous pain and anxiety in millions of americans in texas and all around the country. you see, the "wall street journal" poll that came out this morning which had to be a wakeup call to the administration and its allies, the american people
are anxious. they're dissatisfied and they're really wondering what has gone so terribly wrong here in washington, d.c., and obamacare is skpeubt -- is exhibit one. that is why we're committed on this side of the aisle to working with our colleagues when they're ready to talk to us and replacing obamacare with patient center care which will bring down the cost and make it more affordable and what better way to get people covered than to make it more affordable and to make sure that government doesn't make these private decisions for us and our family when it comes to health care, but that we -- families -- get to make that decision in consultation with their family doctor. well, when you begin to sort of scrape the surface at the president's problem of credibility and competence, those are the two crises that he confronts tonight as he
addresses the nation, all we have to do beyond obamacare is to look at what's happening in the economy. well, after raising taxes $1.7 trillion -- that was about a year ago -- during the time president obama has been president of the united states, the national debt has gone up $6.6 trillion. but my friends across the aisle, many of them -- i would exclude the present occupant of the chair who i know is concerned about this. my friends across the aisle think nothing of bringing legislation to the floor that is unpaid for, that would add to the deficit, that would add to the national debt. and that's the reason why we now have a national debt of in excess of $17 trillion. well, that's more than any of us can possibly conceive of. but when president obama became president, the national debt was about $10 trillion. that's bad enough. but in the last five years it's gone up $6.6 trillion, or more
than $6.6 trillion. and it's no coincidence that he's presided over the weakest economic recovery since -- and the highest unemployment since the great depression back in the 1930's. president obama has this very strange idea that the best way to get the economy going is to raise taxes and spend more money. well, it's just not working. as a matter of fact, we have great debates about the role and the size of the federal government here in congress, but perhaps the best example of why big government does not work has been the lousy economy, the slow economic growth, the high unemployment and the number of people who have actually dropped out of the workforce. you know, the bureau of labor statistics has this figure that it calculates. it's called the labor participation rate. you can google bureau of labor statistics or labor
participation rate. what you'll find there is the percentage of people between the age of 25 and 54 who are actually actively engaged in looking for work is lower today than it was at the height of the recession in 2008. and another 347,000 people dropped out of the workforce in december alone. i know when we look at the unemployment rates that are released from time to time, we see the rate coming down a little bit, and we say well, oh, that's great. the unemployment rate's coming down. but the problem is in december alone, almost 350,000 people quit looking for work. they gave up. and we know that nearly four million people who are still looking for work have been out of a job for more than six months. well, that's not an economy to
be proud of. let me just contrast that with what happened in the 1980's during the reagan recovery. you know, typically what economists will tell you is that when you have a recession, it's sort of a v shape so when it hits bottom, it actually bounces up pretty quickly because it's pretty much -- there is nothing but upside left to go. but yet this recession has been more of a u shape. in other words, we hit bottom but we're still bouncing along the bottom and we haven't seen the kind of economic growth that we need to get people back to work to grow our economy and to get our budget balanced. and i think the reason why is some of the very policies that i talked about here a moment ago. the same misguided policies that the president has advocated and that he will no doubt talk about again tonight in the state of the union. i heard my colleague, senator
barrasso, from wyoming talk about the keystone x.l. pipeline. you know, the president liked to say i have got a pen and i have got a phone and i'm going to go it alone. well, of course he can't do that under our constitution. we all learn in high school about the checks and balances, the three co-equal branches of government. the president can't spend a penny without congress appropriating the money. but i guess, you know what, taking him at his word, if he really wants to do something for the economy, to reduce our dependence upon imported energy from dangerous sources abroad, he could use that pen he talked about to authorize the canadian-american connection between the keystone x.l. pipeline, and you would then see a lot of the oil and energy produced in canada, which is combined with the energy added to that pipeline that would make its way down to southeast texas where the refineries will turn
it into gasoline and jet fuel and in the process create thousands of new jobs. but rather than using that pen to put people back to work and to make sure that we have safe sources of energy, his administration is working behind the scenes to kill the keystone x.l. pipeline. politics is the only explanation. well, the president should not be surprised at what this "wall street journal" poll showed this morning, that most of the voters disapprove of how he has handled the economy. likewise, you shouldn't be surprised if trust in the federal government has also fallen to historic lows. that's the credibility problem. you can't promise the sun and the moon and deliver squat and spent people to trust you next time when you make another promise. and then there is this.
the obama administration has repeatedly ignored or waived laws that prove inconvenient, from obamacare to immigration to welfare reform to education, energy and drug policy. this is one of the most frequent questions my constituents ask me back home in texas. they say how can the president do that? i thought we were a nation that believed in the rule of law, that the law applied to everybody in america, no matter how humble your station in life or how exalted, whether you're the commander in chief. well, i guess we have to revisit that where the president picks and chooses which laws he wants to enforce. of course, congress can pass laws, that's what congress does, but the executive branch is the one that's supposed to enforce the law, and so unless someone files a lawsuit, not eric holder, the department of justice, one of the most politicized departments of justice that i can even remember
, when it's some private organization or individual like as recently challenged the contraception mandate in obamacare that was recently stayed by the supreme court of the united states or some association or business that files a lawsuit that culminates in a judgment of a court years later, but for that, there really isn't much of a check on president obama. but that -- that can change and the voters know how to do it by changing who is in charge here in the united states senate in november. well, here's another place where the president overreached where recently he had his hands slapped by the courts. this had to do with his claimed authority to do another end run around congress to make recess appointments. now, we all know that under the constitution, the advise and consent function of the senate is to act on the president's
nominees and to vote to confirm them or not, but again in a case of the president trying to go it alone, the court of appeals slapped down his attempt to do this end run around the constitution, and the advice and consent rule of the united states senate. but that didn't stop him. now he's threatening to take even more unilateral action. i got my phone, i got a pen. he is ready to do it again. this is not how the federal government is supposed to operate. for example, the president made these unconstitutional recess appointments and the d.c. circuit court of appeals that ruled on them said that if the president, his claim to make that appointment would be upheld, it would -- quote -- eviscerate the constitution's separation of powers.
the three co-equal branches of government, checks and balances. what could be more fundamental to our form of government? and the court of appeals said that the president, if they upheld his claimed power to make those appointments would eviscerate the constitution's separation of powers. we know how important the role of checks and balances is in our form of government, in our democracy, and indeed our democracy would not be able to survive without them. you know, the people who founded this great country knew that the greatest threat to this freedom and their individual liberties and their most basic rights was a concentration of power, and so that's why they have separated power at the federal and state level in the tenth amendment, but they also separated the power here at the federal level from the judicial, executive and the legislative, that this
president and his administration have shown repeated contempt for the checks and balances that are so essential to our form of government. i have said many times no president has the authority to disregard or selectively enforce the law based on political expediency. if he or she can, then we are nothing better than a banana republic. we are no longer a nation that believes in the rule of law, which has really been the competitive edge that this country has had over other countries because people know if you come and do business in the united states, you're going to have access to the courts and that your contracts are going to be enforced and the laws that are written will actually be enforced by an impartial judiciary. that gives us a competitive advantage economically, morally and otherwise. but it's being undermined. but republicans aren't the only ones that are worried about the
president's willingness to bypass the normal legislative process. yesterday, my colleague from maine, a democratic caucus member, urged the white house not to treat congress as, what he called, an afterthought. in that spirit, i'd like to remind the president of something he said just a few months ago. he said -- quote -- "we've got this constitution. we've got this whole thing about separation of powers, so there's no shortcut to politics and no short cut to democracy." period, close quote. that's the president of the united states just a few months ago. yet now he is claiming i got a phone, i got a pen, i'm going to go it alone. i'd like to remind him of something he also said back in 2006, which is very similar. he said, and i quote -- "the
founders designed the system, as frustrating as it is, to make sure that there is a broad consensus before the country moves forward." period, close quote. i couldn't agree more with the barack obama of 2006 or the barack obama of a few months ago, but i couldn't disagree more with the president obama of today who somehow has this fantasy -- it's nothing better than a fantasy -- that somehow he could rise above congress and the constitution and the separation of powers and he can don the robe of a virtual dictator and he can force new laws down our throat or force the country the direction that it doesn't want to go. it's a fantasy. ain't going to happen. yet on issue after issue, the president still likes to tell the american people that he can
move forward without any regard to consensus or constitutional checks and balances. it's a terrible mistake, and i wish he would reconsider. well, in addition to its assault on the separation of powers, this administration has targeted other enemies like its intrusive monitoring of journalists' phone records. it's attempted to shake down private companies to get them to fund obamacare. it's fostered a culture of intimidation and punished whistle-blowers in scandals from benghazi to fast and furious and now those responsible for the attempt to intimidate the american people or some parts of the american people from participating in the political process through the i.r.s. scandal. we know this administration has
repeatedly obstructed the investigations and refused to cooperate in the inquiries that would bring the facts out into the light of day so we all can know what happened, make sure those responsible are held accountable and then more importantly make sure it will never happen again. but i'm confident, mr. president, this is not the record that president obama will talk about tonight, but this is his record but it's not too late to change, but his record, his own record has been what is destroyed. his credibility as well as caused people to question his competence in the federal government's ability to actually deliver on the extravagant promises he's made time and time again. mr. president, i yield the floor. and i would suggest the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll.
illinois, on the banks of the mississippi river. and as a child, it was a dominant feature in my life, crossing that river, watching that river. and it didn't take long as i grew up to realize that that river has a mind of its own. last year, because of drought conditions in the midwest, the mississippi river was so low in january or february of 2013 that the army corps of engineers had to come out on an emergency basis and scour literally the bottom of the river of rock formations so navigation could continue. we were worried that we would have to shut down this major economic artery in the midwest because the river was so low. the army did a great job. navigation continued with only flight sleight delays and no major interruptions. within 60 or 90 days that same river was at flood stage. that is the kind of thing that those of us who grew up in the midwest come to expect and understand.
the unpredictability of that river. and as you grew up and started to look around you, you realize that there were bluffs behind you that at one point were the banks of this great river and that we were living in the floodplain, if you will, that area close to the river that once was totally under water. way back when. so there were flooding episodes as most communities went through, and efforts made to deal with that flooding. including the building of lefees. and those levees have been reliable. some questioned whether they can meet 500-year standards and april okayal floods and that question is well worth asking but the -- the efforts made on the illinois side, i can't speak for others, at least in that region have been up to the task and we've not had serious, serious flooding floog in a long, long time -- flooding in a long, along time in that part of the world. because of questions raised by
the army corps of engineers that protect the towns and businesses and families were up to the job something remarkable occurred. we had people who live in the counties and i'll be more specific in just a moment, in the counties closest to that area, the leaders got together and said we're not going to wait on the federal government. we are going to impose a tax on ourselves and raise tends of millions of dollars to start fortifying these levees to protect our towns answers businesses. i don't know if that's ever happened anywhere else. but you really have to salute them. they weren't waiting for uncle sam to ride to the rescue. they took it in their own hands. i salute them because they did raise the money and they're prepared and they are fortifying those levees. i love the army corps of engineers, they came to our rescue last year, but the locals have said army corps, could you certify these levees that they're stronger than they
ever were they've been slow to do it. it's frustrating. the locals are doing everything you can ask of them and they aren't getting at least a timely response from the army corps of engineers. so as a consequence we're living in this uncertain world, all of these businesses, all of these towns, all of these families in this so-called floodplain believe they're protected by the levees, levees have not been certified by the corps and now comes the new national flood insurance program and says to the people living there you're going to have to pay higher premiums for flood protection in the future. and they rightly say wait a minute, we are paying higher sales taxes, we voted to pay higher sales taxes to protect ourselves and now you're saying we still have to pay higher premiums. well, that really gets to the heart of why we're on the floor discussing the national flood insurance program and i'd like to say a few words about my position on it because it's one that i've struggled with to try to find the right answer in
light of what i think is an extraordinary if not heroic effort by local people to address their problem, not to wait for the federal government, their frustration not having at least a timely cooperation by the army corps of engineers, and now the prospect that the premiums for their flood insurance are going to go up despite their best efforts to protect themselves. if they were doing nothing, mr. president, standing back and saying this isn't our worry if something bad happens washington will ride to the rescue that's one thing but they are doing something specific that costs them money that they're trying to protect themselves. rampant increases in flood insurance premiums which are on the horizon are hard for many people in my state. for the people in metro east, the area i just described which is on the eastern side of the mississippi river across from st. louis, southwestern part of illinois, for many of them this increase in these premiums would be impossible for them to pay.
40% of the metro east that i've just described is mapped as floodplain, and most of the national flood insurance program policyholders there have their premiums subsidized. this meant instead of paying $500 a year, they were paying about $150,000, made -- $150. however, the new increases anticipated could be as much as 400%. granite city, illinois, policyholders paid $585 last year for flood insurance but with the new increases the premiums are expected to rise to $1,500 or even $2,000 a year. now for some people $2,000 a year may not sound like a sacrifice but, you know, hardworking families in small homes that they've worked hard to buy and build, another $2,000 a year can make some real impact on their life. additionally, $30,000
structures in metro east could be newly mapped into a floodplain when fema finalizes its flood maps. these home own i.r.s. could pay $500 to $2,000 a year for flood insurance allowing premiums to rise so high so quickly is unacceptable. especially given how the people in metro east have worked together over the last seven years at significant expense to themselves to improve the 74-mile levee system. in 2007 the army corps notified metro east locals their levees needed improvement. the next year fema notified much would be mapped into a floodplain triggering mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements unless the levee was improved. in response the three counties i mentioned earlier, madison, monroe, st. claire where i grew up, taxed themselves to pay for the improvements to their levees. they've raised $150 million, mr. president. and i believe that this type of local commitment is unprecedented. i don't know that anyone else is doing this.
they did it. there have been a number of setbacks but when they occur i've tried to work with the army corps with my colleagues in congress to get these projects back on track. i commend the people in metro east for working together to honestly address the threat of flooding. no community wants to go through the pain and loss of damaging flooding. you've been through it, west virginia, mr. president. i've been through it 20 years ago, 199 there was a -- 1993 there was horrific flooding and several instances since. i was up there piling up the sandbags with a lot of folks trying to protect homes and businesses. if you but these communities are actively doing something to prevent the recurrence of that kind of a disaster. while the locals continue to work with the army corps to achieve the highest level of levee protection as quickly as possible i want to continue to make their work a priority in my efforts. because the residents of metro east have taken on a significant financial commitment to protect
homes and businesses, i'll work to ensure their flood insurance premiums are affordable. i want to draw attention to the way the residents of metro east have taken the initiative to help protect themselves from the risk of flooding because not every community as engaged as directly as they have. my constituents in this part of the country for the most part cannot afford to buy flood insurance at the new levels and the new rates. i agree with the effort underway by senators menendez, isakson, landrieu, and others to slowdown these increases, that's why i'm supporting their effort but we need to do in with our eyes wide open. the national flood insurance program is not going to keep up with the cost of recovery from severe weather events that we see on the horizon. the national flood insurance program provides nearly six million business owners, homeowners and renters $1.2 trillion in coverage. the problem is the program
simply doesn't collect enough money to cover the costs of rebuilding communities from floods, hurricanes, and other cafers disasters. the flood insurance program will be more than $20 billion in debt after making payments for superstorm sandy. if we in congress continue to ignore the structural weakness in the flood insurance program, that deficit, that debt, that shortfall is just going to grow in the future. we can and should sadly expect more intense, extreme weather events. aciewrl computer models, the changing climate means the storms we're seeing will become stronger and more extreme in the future causing even greater amounts of damage. nationwide, the financial consequences of weather-related disasters and climate change hit an historic high in 2012 causing over $55 billion in damages. now, i had a hearing on this, mr. president, and i thought, you know, if i bring in
environmentalists, a lot of folks will discount it completely. when they start talking about climate change. they may not attend. they may walk out of the room. instead, i brought in people from the property and casualty industry, the insurance industry. what do they do for a living? they watch the weather. watch it more closely than any politician ever did. and they decide adequate recognizes to cover the -- reserves to cover the premiums, adequate premiums to cover the reserves needed to protect from these weather disasters. the story they told us was get ready. the weather is going to get more extreme and the cost and damages are going to grow dramatically. some insurance companies, major scoas have walked away from states saying there's too much exposure there. we cannot charge premiums and collect enough to create a reserve in the instance of a natural disaster. that's the reality of the private-sector analysis of this. this isn't some -- pejorative
term -- pretrie hugging environmentalist musing about possible bills possibilities. these are accountants looking at what the future holds. the private insurance company have made changes in the way they do business. they're adjusting their operations to prepare for worst weather and bigger losses. they've begun raising people are yumsz for wind, earth -- premiums for wind, earthquake and flood insurance ensuring the risk accurately reflects the damage. they're also beginning to refuse insuring properties in states where there is just too much risk. the federal government is not prepared to handle the growing number of severe weather events. senator durbin, you don't think the reserves set aside for the flood insurance program are not adequate?
yesterday the vote on the floor was an overwhelming bipartisan vote to go forward on this measure. so we know the flood insurance program won't be able to keep up with the damage inflicted on our communities. the cost, asking homeowners and businesses to pay dramatically more in flood insurance premiums is too high to make the national flood insurance program viable in the near future. we need to recognize that losses from future floods will likely cost more than the national flood insurance program can cover and then -- and that's where i think we need a dose of reality in this chamber, and on capitol hill -- congress has to step up. that is a reality. we know these disasters are likely to occur and we cannot, will not collect the premiums necessary to create the reserves to cover them. it will be our responsibility to ensure that she there, whether -- ensure that help is there, whether that disaster is in kansas, illinois, west virginia or anywhere across the united states. congress can't deny that help.
it's time that we seriously address the effects of climate change and we think how we protect and provide disaster assistance to communities on a regular basis. those who chose -- those who choose to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change cannot ignore the overwhelming accounting evidence that the national flood insurance program will not be able to meet the increasing expense of natural flooding disasters. our votes, if we pass this measure before us, may spare families from an unacceptable financial burden if flood premiums skyrocket but they do not spare us from the reality that the damages from future flooding disasters will be nationalized as the damages of katrina and sandy were. those who vote for this menendez-isakson -- landrieu measure, as i -- menendez-isakson-landrieu measure, as i will, are voting to say the cost of future
disasters, we will respond to them as needed. i've done that throughout my congressional career in the house and senate, stood up to helps those regions of the country in trouble california all wait to the east coast and i'll do again. because i think it is an american family responsibility. so there's a limitation to what this national flood insurance program can achieve. there is certainly a limit to how much working families can pay for these premiums. and we have to accept the reality when these flooding events occur, when these disasters occur, we have to accept that responsibility. mr. president, i yield the floor. a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senior senator from kansas. mr. roberts: mr. president, i rise today to discuss the agriculture act of 2014. that's the new name of the farm bill. after over three years of hard work by the house and senate agriculture committees and other interested members, we are finally nearing the finish line for this version of the nation's farm and food policy.
as all kansans and all farmers and ranchers from every state know, the farm bill impacts not only our farmers and ranchers but also businesses up and down main street as well as families in our rural towns and urban cities. everyone in kansas, people that work in agriculture or are impacted by its success, which, by the way, is every single american, and my colleagues in the congress, deserve to know why i was the only senator on the conference committee not to sign the conference report as of last night. so i'm here today to fully explain my reasoning and why i cannot and will not vote for this legislation. it all comes down to this simple question -- does the new farm bill improve agriculture in america? i believe the answer is, unfortunately, no. while we all want to provide long overdue certainty to producers -- something lacking
for over 400 days, over two years, a record -- the conference missed an opportunity for greater and necessary reforms to our nation's farm programs, federal nutrition programs, and burdensome regulations. we should not march backwards and pass a farm bill with more government subsidies, more regulations, and more waste. how on earth did we get to this point today? back in 2011, chairman -- chairperson stabenow and i started the process of writing a new farm bill with a field hearing in her home state of michigan. later that year we held another successful hearing in wichita, kansas. after more formal hearings in the senate and conversations with kansas producers, michigan producers, producers all over this country, it was clear to me that this farm bill would have to be reform oriented. reducreduce the deficit and be
responses i believe. responsible. not only to farmers and ranchers, but consumers and taxpayers. unfortunately, as i stand here today this farm bill does not meet those standards, and taken as a whole, the conference report fails to move both federal farm and food programs forward. now, i previously voted against the senate bill which looked too much in the rear-view mirror for outdated programs but this report is even worse. just listen to this. last year's house bill was officially called "the federal agriculture reform and risk management act." reform-risk management. and here in the senate, we passed the agriculture reform, food and jobs act. the final report now is just reduced to "the agriculture act," the farm bill. so today i'll focus my comments to three biggest concerns: the moderatity subsidy programs,
nutrition program spending and the lack of regulatory reform, so sorely needed. considering we all commonly refer to the legislation as "the farm bill," my first concern and criticism is the new price loss coverage, acronym for that, p.l.c. and it's a subsidy program. back in 2012, two years ago, i was pleased that the senate agriculture committee and the full senate passed a bipartisan commodity total that contained real reform. we ended the current countercyclical commodity subsidy program, got the government out of the business of sending signals to producers essentially telling them which crops to plant by setting target price guarantees for producers. farming for the government -- not farming for the market. unfortunately, that reform was replaced in the latest senate bill with a new target price subsidy program and doubled down in the house version with even higher target prices, and
manipulated even more in the conference report to suit the desire of specific crops over the objections of others in different regions. the new price loss coverage program repeats a classic government subsidy mistake -- setting high fixed target prices or subsidies which only guarantees overproduction with long periods of low crop prices leading to more expensive farm programs funded directly by taxpayers. why do we have to go down that road again? mr. roberts: i have yet to hear one legitimate explanation for why congress is about to tell all producers across this country that the federal government will guarantee the price of your wheat at $5.50 -- by the way, it's a little over 6 bucks right now at the country elevator in damage city -- $5,50 per bushel and rice at $14 per hundred weight for the next five years, regardless of what
happens in the market? we have con this befor done thie know it this creates planting and marketing distortions instead of letting our producers respond to market conditions. after the world trade organization, the w.t.o., ruled against the united states for our cotton programs, i thought we had learned a lesson. i've said it before and will say it again -- the w.t.o. stove is hot; don't touch it. why would we reach out and touch it again? remember that we're still required to pay brazil millions of dollars a year under that decision. the amber bo bach subsidy progrs in this bill will open agriculture to global trade disputes, which we have already lost and will likely lose again if challenged, and to date objections, solutions from me, my colleagues ranging from south dakota, center shiewn, nebraska, senator johanns, iowa, senator grassley, and even ohio representative bob gibbs have
all fallen on deaf and stubborn, stubborn ears. our efforts to add market orientation to the price loss coverage subsidy program as well as attempts to end it outright have all been blocked and are certainly not reflected in the final report. i am equally unhappy with the final outcome of the nutrition title of this farm bill. partisan politics has unnecessarily infiltrated this debate with many members on the other side of the aisle drawing a line in the sand at zero savings or real reform to the expensive and unrestricted supplemental nutrition assistance program -- that's called stamps -- it's really the food stamp program. now, facts are subborn things -- now, facts are stubborn things. despite good intentions, snap, food stamps, now? maybe up mornow make up more than 80% of the department of agriculture's budget and was previously exempted from
across-the-board sequestration cuts. what we have here today is a ballooning and expensive set of federal nutrition programs with a patchwork of eligibility standards, loopholes and, frankly, unneeded bonus to state governments for simply administering the program. you administer the program right, you get a bonus. i understand and sympathize with the need for nutrition assistance for hardworking families. i've been there. i have championed their efforts. however, we cannot and simply should not box off snap from necessary and timely reforms. while the senate version of the bill in 2012 and 2013 did tighten the low-income heating and assistance program, lihea liheap -- the liheap loophole -- to save roughly $4 billion over 10 years, there have always been additional needed reforms to the program. at the end of the 2012 senate bill, i included my personal views in the report.
i identified eight additional ways to rein in the out-of-control spending and reinstitute the program integrity for the snap program. last year in 2013, i introduced a stand-alone piece of legislation that would have saved a total of $36 billion in snap, a modest sum, without ever touching individual monthly benefits. and it failed on a party-line vote. now, eventually the house of representatives passed nearly $40 billion in savings after intense debate over there within the snap program. that's a 5% reduction over a 10-year period. now, i don't see how the final legislation amounting to a 1% reduction in snap spending is a fair compromise between both versions of the legislation.
this just does not add up. now, in every single one of my town hall meetings in kansas -- and i know the acting presiding officer from west virginia finds the same thing true in his home state -- first question, the fed-up producers and business owners ask, is how can we stop or even slow down the onslaught, the onslaught of regulations? this farm bill had great potential to help producers and ranchers and all of agriculture with reducing the crushing regulatory burden from the government's rules and requirements. they just want relief. despite years of work in both committees and strong provisions in the house-passed farm bill, the final legislation lacks key commonsense and sound science and regulatory reforms. i am more than disappointed that a w.t.o. compliant resolution to something called the mandatory
country-of-oof-origin labeling - it's called cool -- was not reached. as a result, our livestock produce, who are already facing drought and high feed prices but now we're going to have to worry about retaliatory actions by the governments of canada and mexico. our ranchers are equally troubled at provisions in the house bill directing the usda to refocus their efforts on the grain inspection, packers and stockyards act -- the acronym for that is gipsa -- they were excluded. another regulatory relief provision was already cleared by the full house and the senate ag committee. it would have ended the duplicative national pollutant discharge elimination system. i won't try the acronym for that. these are pesticide permits required by the environmental protection agency. we had an opportunity to protect human health and eliminate duplicative, unnecessary regulatory actions and instead,