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tv   US Senate  CSPAN  December 1, 2016 4:00pm-6:01pm EST

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quorum call:
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mr. franken: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator minnesota. frank are we in a quorum call. the presiding officer: we are. mr. franken: i ask that the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection, so ordered. mr. franken: thank you, mr. president. as we enter the holiday season, today should be a special day for.2 million work -- for 4.2 million working americans, including 45e7,000 minnesotans -- 75,000 minnesotans. that's because today was supposed to be the day that the overtime rule would go into effect to ensure that workers are paid overtime wages when they work more than 40 hours in
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a week, but instead the rule has been blocked, meaning that many of these working people will not be able to benefit from this rule, which is especially unfortunate given that the holidays are coming upon us. right now these 4.2 million employees don't have to be paid at all for overtime work that they perform. that's what we're trying to change. as you know, we had a big election in which working people sent the clear message that they are hurting. yet less than a month later, republicans have decided to attack a rule that would ensure that american workers are paid for every hour that they work. this is exactly the type of policy we should all be able to agree on to help working people across the country.
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during the campaign, president-elect trump repeatedly said he was for working people. one important action he could take immediately would be to go on his twitter account and express support for the overtime rule. now, here's why this rule matters so much. as our economy has changed in the past couple of decades, the rule on overtime has not kept pace. -- at all. the last meaningful improvement for workers covered by this rule came in 1975 when the rule made 62% of so-called administrative and professional employees eligible for overtime pay. but, as a result of failing to keep up, the rule -- keep it up to date and current with the
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rate of inflation, right now only 7% of employees in that category must be paid overtime. the obama administration's updates to the overtime rule was intended to change the fact that under the standard right now employers aren't required to pay overtime to these employees unless the employees earn less than $23,000 a year. so if you're paid on a salary basis and earn more than $23,000 a year, your employer can make you work more than 40 hours a week and not pay you anything at all for your extra hours. $23,000 ais simply too low -- $23,000 is simply too loaf a threshold. the salary of $23,000 a year is below the poverty line for a family of four. i believe that workers and their familieseserve better. that's why the obama administration instituted an
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update to the overtime rule to lift the salary threshold to $47,000 a year, bringing it closer to the original standard in place in 1975. it still wouldn't be as high as a comparable level in 19 5er7bgs but it would be a -- in 1975, you go it would be a vast improvement, a it would mean that 4.2 million workers across the united states would qualify for overtime pay. now, consider a retail manager making a salary of $40,000 a year at a big box store or fast-food chain. right now many employers are legally allowed to require such an employee to work 50, 60, or more hours in a week without paying him or her anything extra. this new rule would mean that the employee would be paid extra when they work more than 40
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hours a week. similarly, this rule would make sure that, say, a trucking dispatcher earning $45,000 a year won't be forced to work late at night without compensation. the rule encourages his or her employer to send her home to his or her family on time or else the employer will pay him or her for the overtime that he or she works. this is really important for working men and women in america, mr. president. and that's why many of my colleagues and i have been strong supporters of this rule, and that's why it's been really disappointing to see so many of my republican colleagues attack and ultimately try to dismantle this rule. they've been attacking the rule ever since it was proposed.
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they set out on a campaign to delay, to water down, or to block the rule entirely. in the senate, 45 republicans have signed on to a bill to block it. in the house, 202 members have signed on to a companion measure to that bill. house speaker paul ryan claims the rule is -- quote -- "an absolute disaster" -- unquote -- and senator vitter claims that the rule will reduce workers' opportunity for long-term advancement and increased pay. despite their attacks on this updated rule in the house and in the senate, republicans weren't able to block it through the legislative process, so they took their fight to courts, where they used their old tactic "forum shopping" where they file a suit in the court they think is most likely to be favorable
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for their arguments. as a result, just nine days ago they convinced a texas judge to put the updated overtime rule on hold. now the 4.2 million workers who today are scheduled to start being paid for every hour they work above the 40 could continue to be forced to work overtime without the additional compensation that they deserve. as our economy has continued to recover from the great recession, too much of the wealth in the last few years has accrued to the top 1% in this country and often the top .1% of 1%. while new data suggests that the economy has improved a bit, for middle-class workers since last
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year, the median household income in the united states remains lower than it was in the year 2000 in real dollars. updating our overtime pay rule is one of the most effective steps we can take to put working people back on a more level economic playing field. so i hope my colleagues will join me today in pledging to fight in congress, in the executive branch and in the courts for a fairer system for all workers and for updating this incredibly outdated ertime rule. let's hope that the postponement of the new rule today will be temporary, and let's join forces on behalf of american workers to stand strong in support of a fair, fair -- a fair overtime rule and that we
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work together to build a stronger american middle class. i thank you, mr. president. a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from oregon. mr. merkley: thank you, mr. president, mr. president. i appreciate very much the comments of my colleague from minnesota who's been a strong champion for america's workers, who believes that we should make this nation and our economy work for working americans. and certainly his leadership on this overtime rule is much appreciated. today should be a day of celebration, a day in which four million american workers who work overtime without getting paid but who earn very modest salaries were going to get rewarded for their overtime work, get paid for their
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overtime work. but instead those four million americans are getti scrooged. you all remember the story of ebenezer scrooge. he made a lot of money, very successful businessman, enjoyed counting his coins while treating his workers in a terrible fashion, paying them as little as he could get away with. well, that's exactly what's at stake with this overtime rule. the vision of the overtime rule was that when you had a very well-paid manager who clearly was earning far more than they would if they were earning a more modest amount plus overtime, that it was just simply possible to reduce the complexity of tracking their hours and tracking overtime, and instead they could simply be paid a salary without compensation for overtime. but the key to that was it was a very well-paid worker. very well-paid manager.
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not someone earning just near the bottom of the scale, barely more than minimum wage. so today should be a day of celebration with the overtime rule being modified to fit inflation for the many, many decades that have passed since it was put forward and to be adjusted for inflation from here forward. but it's not a day of celebration. it's a day in which approximately four million americans are getting scrooged, and that means also 40,000 oregonians who were looking forward to finally getting compensated for the overtime they were working during this coming holiday season were also being told no go, no paycheck, no compensation for your overtime. these are folks earning as little as $23,000 a year. a lot of retail workers going into the holidays, being asked to work far more than 40 hours a week -- 50, 60, 70, 80 hours
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a week and not a dime of overtime. and that's wrong. now, a whole lot of these workers are parents raising children. it's pretty hard to raise a child on $23,000 a year. i don't think anyone in this chamber, any one of the senators here in this chamber has raised a child on $23,000 a year. if they had attempted to do so, they have an understanding of why they should be up here right now joining this fight for the overtime rule hopefullessly outdated, hopefullessly unfair to american workerses to be implemented in a timely fashion, to be implemented by legislation that we could pass today. but instead of senators with their far larger salaries are very happy going about preparations for their holiday
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without considering that today is a day in which four million american workers are getting treated unfairly. since 1975 the share of full time workers who qualified for overtime has plummeted from 62% to 7%. well, that's pretty dramatic reduction. so over a year now, millions of american workers have been looking forward to today when finally their long hours of overtime were going to be compensated which is only fair mpensation. but just like ebenezer scrooge, the republican party in coordination with 21 states have said to those four million american workers, bah humbug. you don't get compensated for your overtime. we're pouting a lump of coal in
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your stocking. and too bad that you're trying to raise kids. this happened because states filed a lawsuit and got a preliminary injunction granted by a judge to take away the power of today's overtime rule, the modified overtime rule to assist american workers. now i grew up in a blue-collar family. my dad was a mechanic. my mother was a stay-at-home mom. and my father on a basic blue-collar salary or wage was able to put food on the table and buy a three-bedroom ranch house with a garage, acquire a car, have modest family camping trip vacations. pretty square deal to provide a foundation for his children though -- to thrive, to have opportunity working with his hands.
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in our whole community, our blue-collar community was in muh the same case. but when he worked overtime, when he was asked to stay on the job because a machine needed to be repaired and finished to get done in time for a client of the company, to be able to put that machine to work, this heavy equipment to work building highways or working in the forests or working building dams, when he worked that overtime, he got paid for that overtime. and that was right and fair that he did. it's not right and fair that america's workers today are not getting paid for their overtime. working longer, working harder to see that extra wealth go to the c.e.o. of the company. american workers are working longer hours, but their wages and their paychecks are getting spread thinner and thinner. and the overtime rule is a long overdue adjustment for those hard work working those long
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hours. you don't get any help in this rule if you're not working more than 40 hours a week. it is president franklin roosevelt who said, when he was talking about the importance of living wages to support families, he said -- quote -- "by living wages, i mean more than fair subsistence level. i mean the wages of decent living." isn't that what we're talking about, the wages of decent living? is there anyone here who would contend that a parent raising a child at $23,000 a year has wages of decent living? i don't think so, not at the cost it is to exist in today's session. is not when the rent on a two bedroom apartment is $800 to $900 in portland. not when the cost of groceries is where it's at. not when the cost of health care
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is where it's at. franklin roosevelt meant the wages and decent living that no individual who works full time should live in poverty. he meant that working americans should be able to earn enough to raise and support a family and provide a foundation for their children to thrive. he meant that you should be able to earn enough to save up over time and retire with dignity. he meant that a working american should be able to earn enough to cover the basic necessities of life. food and clothes and shelter. but for many americans, those goals are out of reach even though they're working a lot of overtime, overtime in which they are not getting paid. we just haven't keptace with the vision of families being able to earn as roosevelt put it, the wages of decent living, the wages that enabled you to live decently.
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this rule is critical to changing that. this rule is critical to fixing that. so while the courts tie up the process at the request of my republican colleagues and state governments, we should instead have a bill here on the floor and simply pass this adjustment ourselves. did anyone notice we just had a presidential campaign in which both candidates talk about making america work for working americans. so the candidate who came ahead in the electoral college, lost the popular vote, by the way -- came ahead in the electoral college, has claimed that he's going to watch out for working americans. where, where is he today on the day four million americans are
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getting scrooged? where is donald trump today? on the day that those who work overtime are now told they will not get paid for that overtime. how about a tweet in the middle of the night saying "i get it"? if we return to the story of ebenezer scrooge, we remember the fact that he was resisting any effort to enable his employee bob cratchett to be able to have christmas day off with his family or to have a decent amount of food on the table on that day. his heart was a few sizes too small. and the night before christmas, he had a dream. and in that dream, ghosts of the christmas past and christmas
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present and christmas future came to him and showed the poverty, the spiritual poverty of his life, showed him the emptiness of his life, that life is not about building up treasures, you can count it coin by coin but to enable other families to drive, help them receive, to share in their joy, build joy in the world. and he woke up, and he was a changed man. he woke up and said, yes, my team, my workers shouldn't be working on christmas day. yes, i should pay them more. yes, i should make sure that they have bountiful food to be able to care for their family. yes, their son, tiny tim, should have the health care he needs so that he can live a full and productive life. and he took care of these things
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and personally went out and acquired the largest turkey he could for the cratchit family. wasn't today the day that my colleagues who have been playing the role of ebenezer scrooge and fighting fair compensation for overtime, isn't today the day that they should take a nap, that they should go to sleep tonight and have a little bit of a dream about the circumstances of working americans? here we are just coming off a campaign where everyone talked about the plight of working americans. maybe a little of that should reverberate in your dreams tonight, that you might think about how families are struggling across america, how hard it is to put food on the table not just in the holiday season, but throughout the year. about how unfair it is for someone to be working 80 hours a week and not getting paid overtime because they're only being paid $23,000 a year.
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do i hear a single colleague volunteer to work at 80 hours a week for a year and get paid $23,000? i would love to hear that speech on this floor, when someone said i get it, i'm all for this overtime rule of the past because i'm willing to live on $23,000. well, i don't think i've heard that from a single colleague. colleagues here are paid many, many times that increment. maybe it's a little hard when you're living in a bubble to understand the plight of american workers. how hard it is to raise a family on $23,000 a year given the expenses that you experience in today's society. so, tonight let's have a few of our colleagues who have been such advocates of ebenezer scrooge strategy of denying overtime to workers who are paid very little, go to sleep and maybe get visited by the ghost
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of the past and the present and the future. maybe be able to put themselves in the same pair of shoes that working americans work in. imagine themselves in the same set of circumstances and financial challenges that american workers have and wake up tomorrow with a dferent vision, a vision of being a partner with workerring americans, make this nation work for working americans, make our economy work for working america and come to this floor and insist that we immediately pass a bill to take care of these workers so they're compensated for their overtime. that would be a christmas story to celebrate. and maybe while we're at it, our president-elect can tweet tonight in the middle of the night that he had a dream, and he was visited by the ghost of the past and the present and the future and he saw a vision of
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treating workers fairly and he wants the senate to act tomorrow morning. wouldn't that be a fabulous christmas story? one that is completely consistent with the rhetoric we heard in this campaign about an economy that works for working americans. i hope tomorrow morning that's exactly what we hear. thank you, mr. president. a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from alas came. mr. sullivan: mr. president, one of the things i've been focused on and i know many of my colleagues have been as well like the presiding officer, in the last couple of years in the
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senate is coming down on the senate floor and talking about this issue. really probably -- certainly one of the most important issues we can be focused on in the congress and that's the issue of economic growth for the united states. and what we have here, mr. president, shown by this chart, is really a lost decade of economic growth that we've had in america over the last ten years, a lost decade. this chart reflects the gross domestic product g.d.p. growth of the united states over the last several decades. and g.d.p. is essentially really a measure of the health of the economy, the health of the opportunity that we have in this country. and by my measure, mr. president, over the last ten years we've had a sick, a sick economy. so if you look here at the 3%
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g.d.p. growth, this is an okay growth. it's not considered that great. the average rate of growth for the united states for the last 200 years, what really has made our country great, has been about 3.9%, 4%. 3% is not great. it's certainly below average, but we have a president in president obama and the obama administration, he's going to be the first president ever to never in one year, even once hit 3% g.d.p. growth ever. let me give you a couple of the recent numbers. last quarter, the fourth quarter of 2015, we grew at .9% g.d.p. growth, .9%. didn't even hit 1%. 2016 first quarter .8% g.d.p. growth. 2016 second quarter, 1.1% g.d.p.
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growth. now, yes, it's true the third quarter numbers came out estimated just a little above 3% for the quarter, but the year will be way off even 3%. again, traditional levels of american growth are close to 4%. so each quarter when these numbers have come out, these dismal, anemic economic growth numbers, one thing i try to do is come down to the senate floor, talk about the issue and then ask the question. where is the secretary of the treasury? where's the president of the united states? what's the plan? is this really what we expect for americans? we can't even hit 3% g.d.p. growth? look at every other administration. kennedy, johnson, eisenhower, nixon, ford, carter, reagan, holy cow, 6%, 5.5%. bill clinton, 4.5%.
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even george bush well abo 3%. not once, eight years, lost decade of economic growth under president obama. and that's with low energy prices. that's with super low interest rates. so when we ask what the plan is, what the administration is doing to grow the economy, they come back and say, well listen, the new normal, the new normal is about 2%, 1.5% g.d.p. growth. so they don't say hey, we're going to grow the economy. they just dumb down american expectations. go google the term "new normal." everybody uses is now in washington. everybody uses it. essentially they're saying that 1.5%, 2% g.d.p. growth is the best we can do. and i have a lot of respect for my colleague from oregon. if you want to talk about an
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ebenezer scrooge strategy, growing the u.s. economy at 1.5% and not even trying to grow at traditional levels of american growth, as' the ultimate eastbound -- that's the ultimate ebenezer scrooge strategy because the entire country, especially middle-class families are hurt by that. so this answer that no, we can't even hit 3%, that the new normal is 1.5%, 2%, that's an answer that we get from the obama administration. the secretary of the treasury never comes out and tells you how we're going to get back to traditional levels of growth. that's an answer that concerns americans, where they no longer believe in economic opportunity, no longer believe in strong wages in terms of growth for our wages, and no longer believe in a future in which their kids are going to do better than they did. so let me give you -- we talk a lot about stats which are important to understand, but let
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me give you some of the numbers behind that. in the last eight years, we've now had in terms of people working in the work force the lowest labor force participation rate since 1978. what does that mean? again, that's a health issue of our economy. it means that millions of americans, millions of americans have just quit looking for work. could you imagine being that discouraged because the economy is not growing so you just quit looking? the person of americans below the poverty line has grown by almost 4% over this period when you see no growth. real median household income during this period sank by almost $2,000. food stamp participation in this period again eight years has soared by almost 40%. the person of americans who own
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homes which is one of the ultimate markers of the american dream is the lowest it's been since 1965. so, mr. president, we're talking about ebenezer scrooge, my colleague was just talking about, those are ebenezer scrooge numbers and those are americans who are hurting because we can't grow the economy. well, we need to change that. while the obama administration has not been focused on this issue, you never hear the secretary of the treasury come out or even the president and talk about how we get back to traditional levels of american growth like every republican and democratic president have done for decades. they don't talk about it. so they haven't been focused on it but i think on november 8, we saw that the american people are very focused on this issue. millions and millions of americans rejected the idea that because of these growth rates,
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they had to give up on the american dream and a strong u.s. economy, and good jobs. they did not want to give up on that. we do not want to give up on that. in essence americans saw that the idea of the new normal, this peddled by the obama administration is a surrender and they didn't want to surrender. and we shouldn't surrender. we need to grow this economy. so what now? well, i find it very encouraging that the president-elect and his team, including his nominee for the secretary of the treasury had been talking very regularly about this issue. we need to grow the economy, not at new normal rates of 1.5% but 3%, 3.5% g.d.p. growth.
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that's what we need to do and we in this body need to help them do that because that's what the american people want. and in fact, mr. president, with the exception of having a strong military keeping this country safe in terms of national defense, growing our economy, creating economic opportunity for all americans is certainly one of the most important things we can do here. but we need a partner in the executive branch. we need a partner in the executive branch that's actually focused on the issue, that actually cares about these numbers. and we haven't had -- that we haven't had in eight years. so where do we start? i think we need to start on this issue of the regulation -- overregulation of our economy. again, the incoming administration has talked a lot about this issue. because when you ask people outside of washington what's keeping our economy down, they refer to this. so this chart is a chart of the
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cumulative number of federal rules that have come out of this town on to american businesses, small businesses, working class families, and this is what you see, pure growth, pure growth. under president obama he has enacted more than 600 new major regulations totaling close to $800 billion or $2,300 per american. and what's really interesting, mr. president, despite the fact that the american people on november 8 said they want to grow the economy and they don't want to see this continue, this administration is putting his pedal to the metal on trying to see how many more regulations they can issue and promulgate to crush our economy and
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opportunity. so in my state alone which has been ground zero for a lot of these regulations, we're a resource development state in alaska. the president just last week came out with a new reg and said, you know what? i know that the vast majority of alaskans want to responsibly develop their resources but i'm going to take the entire outer continental shelf off the table for alaska. sorry, alaska. sorry, workers. sorry, american energy independence. i'm taking it all off the table. that was a reg the president put on the table, issued last week. that's going to hurt our economy. that's going to hurt american energy independence. that's going to hurt jobs. that's going to hurt our national security, and he did it anyways. no leases in my state because the president in an executive order issued that. that is not what the american people voted on on november 8.
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so several senators led by senator gardner are going to be sending the president a letter very soon saying, mr. president, the american people have spoken. the american people are tired of this. you are on your way out. please respect the results of the election and quit issuing these regulations that are stifling economic growrt and -- economic growth and crushing middle-class families. i hope he abides by that. i hope he listens to us. i hope he listens to the american people, but somehow i think we're going to see even more of these in the next month or so. so, mr. president, i just want to conclude by noting something that i think most americans understand intuitively. when it comes to our nation and
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the comparative advantages that we have over other countries, and i'm talking the major countries in the world, whether it's china or russia or the e.u. or brazil or japan, we have so many incredible comparative advantages relative to anyone. we have energy. we have great entrepreneurs. we have world class universities. we have agriculture and fisheries that literally feed the world. we have some of the brightest young people, like our pages here. we have a military that's the most professional and lethal in the world by far. we have alliances all over the world where countries want to be close to the united states and our adversaries and potential adversaries like china, russia or north korea or iran, they don't have any, very few allies.
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we have so many advantages and yet the majority of americans think we're heading in the wrong direction. and i believe they think that because of this. because we can't grow the economy. so what we need to do, working closely with the new administration, all of us -- and i would encourage all of my colleagues here in the u.s. senate, is to focus back on this issue. we need to return to traditional levels of american economic growth, and we can do it with the right policies. i yield the floor.
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mr. sullivan: mr. president, i would note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk shall call the roll. quorum call:
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quorum call:
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mr. grassley: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from iowa. mr. grassley: i ask that the calling of the quorum be suspended. the presiding officer: without objection, so ordered. mr. grassley: mr. president, members of the senate, i come to the senate to speak about and to propound a question, unanimous consent issue in regard to the inspector general's empowerment act. i would like to defer, if it's
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-- ask unanimous consent to not lose the floor but to defer to senator johnson. the presiding officer: without objection. a senator: mr. president, i want to thank the senator from iowa for letting me speak to a really important issue. i want to thank him for his leadership. long before i came to the senate, i know the senator from iowa was working tirelessly to make sure that government was more efficient, more effective and more accountable. mr. johnson: he's done an awful lot of work to ensure that and certainly relied on inspectors general to bolster his efforts. so i'm completely in support of the -- senate bills 579, the inspector general empowerment act of 2015. when i took over chairmanship of the senate committee homeland security government affairs, the senator from iowa had been working long and hard on this act, and i was happy and i was pleased to utilize our committee to move this bill through our
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committee unanimously. the bill has 18 bipartisan cosponsors. and it's just incredibly important. the senator from iowa will certainly fill you in on the details of what has happened and what has made this bill so important. i just want to spend a little bit of time on how important inspector generals are. we working together with the senator from iowa asked the inspector generals, for example, to report back to us how many of their recommendations off their tireless work have gone unimplemented and we just received that report. over 15,000 recommendations from inspector generals have not been implemented. the total ag savings could be as high as $87 billion. even in this, you know, massive federal government, $87 billion is real money and of course inspector generals need access
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to the records from their agencies, from their departments so they can determine what is happening so they can make these kind of recommendations. we also have had and witnessed a real tragedy, for example, at the tolma v.a. center. we had the inspector general who had inspected and investigated over 140 different incidents. then issued reports on those inspections, investigations, and then buried those reports, did not make those reports public. one had to do with the v.a. in terms of over prescription opioids. because that report was not made public, we were unaware of the problems there and the problems persisted. for over a decade opioids were being overprescribed and the result was the veterans, the finest among us, some of them died because of overprescription. it's not an overstatement to say
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the work of the inspector yen is crucial and that work, those reports, those inspections, those investigations literally are the difference between life and death. so again i'm here supporting the center from iowa in his tireless efforts to get this bill passed, the inspector general empowerment act of 2015. and i urge all of my colleagues to allow this to pass by unanimous consent so we can put it on the president's desk and it can be signed into law as quickly as possible. with that i yield the floor or back to the senator from iowa. mr. grassley: mr. president, while i'm waiting for senator mccain to come to the floor, before i speak about the specific unanimous consen unanim going to make, i will point out in a very general way the pursuit of what we're doing and in so many other ways is part of congress' constitutional
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responsibility and constitutional authority under the checks and balances of government to make sure that the laws are faithfully executed. there are several different tools that are used in that direction. they can be individual senators. any time an individual senator wants to ask questions of whether or not the laws are being faithfully executed, that senator can do it. that member of the house of representatives can do it. through the particular committees of the united states senate and house of representatives, through both a letter as well as open hearings about certain subjects of whether or not money being spent by the executive branch is according to congressional intent or whether laws are being carried out the way congress
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intended. that's all part of congressional oversight. but there's also been seen a need over a course of many, many years for other ways to make sure that it's done. and one of those was setting up of the government accountability office that has authority at the request of committees and request of individual members of congress to investigate and do research on certain problems that we have in the executive branch of government. and that's -- that predates by a long time the passage of the inspector general's law that we're dealing with with this subject that i have before the senate now. the inspector general was set up for the purpose of being within
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the executive branch to see that the laws are faithfully executed and the money spent according to congress. i see that senator mccain has come to the floor, and i'd like to make my opening statement on the legislation, and i thank senator mccain for the courtesy that he gives me to come and listen to my request, whatever he decides to do with it will be his choice, but i want to tell him i appreciate the cooperation that he has given me on so many different things. to justify my unanimous request, i start out with some of the issues that are involved with the legislation, the inspector general empowerment act. in 1978 congress created inspectors general or i.g.'s as
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they're often known, to be the eyes and ears within the executive branch. these independent watchdogs are designed to keep congress and the public informed about waste, fraud and abuse in government. they also help agency leaders identify problems and inefficiencies that they may not be aware of. so i.g.'s are a very critical part to good governments and to the rule of law, but in order for i.g.'s to do their job, they need independent access to information. that's why when congress passed the inspector general act of 1978, we explicitly said that i.g.'s should have access to all records of the agency that they're charged with overseeing. however, since 2010, more and
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more agencies have refused to comply with this legal obligation. this obstruction has slowed down far too many important investigations ranging from sexual assault in the peace peae corps to the f.b.i.'s exercise of antiterrorism authority under the patriot act. and those are just two of the things that i've been involved in. every one of the other 99 senators would probably have to say that in their oversight work, somehow the executive branch agencies have not carried out the spirit of the 1978 legislation. but it got worse in july of 20 2016. the justice department's office of legal counsel released a memo supporting this obstruction of
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congressional intent. now, let me put this in a common sense form that surely everybody ought to understand. in 1978 congress passes the inspector general's law. it's voted on by a majority of the congress. it's sent to the president. the president signs this. it's been law since that period of time. but we have a situation where one bureaucrat out of two million federal employees sits and reads something into a piece of legislation that was never intended because the legislation says that the inspector general should be entitled to all records, but the office of legal counsel opinion says, well, maybe not all. it kind of depends on the head
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of the department. now, there are some exceptions in the inspector general law that ought to be there. those are spelled out. some of them dealing with national security. some of them dealing with the department of defense. its' just one example. so -- it's just one example. so we have this opinion in july 2016. the memo argued that congress did not really mean what it very clearly says that the i.g. gets access to all records. this is unacceptable. it undermines congress' intent. it undermines the rule of law. it makes a mockery of government transparency. the public deceives a robust scrutiny of the federal government, and every eighth grade civic student understands what checks and balanc balance l
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about. and congressional oversight is one of those checks. so since september 2015, a bipartisan group of senators, and i have been working to overturn the justice department's opinion through s. 579, the inspector general empowerment act. among other things, this bill further clarifies that congress intended i.g.'s to access all agency records notwithstanding any other provision of law unless -- and this is a big unless -- other laws specifically state that the i.g.'s are not entitled to receive such access. and a lot of those fall into the area of national security and defense. the bill has a total of 20 cosponsor, including seven of my democratic colleagues
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mccaskill, carper, mikulski, wyden, baldwin, manchin, and peters. and at the judiciary committee hearing in august of last year, senator leahy also agreed that this access problem needs to be fixed by legislation because it is -- quote -- blocking what was once a free flow of information. end of quote. even the justice department witnessed at that hearing disagreed with the results of the office of legal counsel opinion and supported legislative action to solve the problem. as of today a large majority of senators, the las vegas review journal, and i say that for the benefit of senator reid who one time objected, "the new york times," "the washington post," the good governments group like the project on government oversight and citizens against government waste, all supporting
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the restoring of the intent of that act through 579. the intent of the act, i want to emphasize, was destroyed by one bureaucrat writing a legal opinion that's been a crunch for a lot of people that don't want to cooperate with the inspector general. but despite strong bipartisan and public support for the bill, we have not been able to pass the bill by unanimous consent. we attempted to pass the bill by unanimous consent september, 2015, and again december, 2015. in december, the armed services committee and the intelligence committee raised concerns about the bill. perfectly legitimate for them to do that. my cosponsors and i worked with our colleagues on these committees to address and resolve their concerns. ultimately, chairman mccain and chairman burr lifted their
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holds, and in december, 2015, the bill cleared the republican side with no objections, but when we tried to pass the bill on the floor by unanimous consent, senator reid, as i previously side, objected on the democratic side. in the meantime, the house passed its own version of the bill. since then, we have worked closely with the house to resolve minor differences between the house and senate bill. now it's time to press forward, and so now is that time. and finally pass this critical bill to ensure the effective oversight of waste, fraud and abuse in government. in other words, to make very clear that when the act says they are entitled to all records, all means all. there's one provision of the bill that we have had to remove from this version at the insistence of senator leahy. it relates to testimonial subpoena authority for inspector
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generals. first, let me be clear about why the testimonial subpoena authority is important to the ability of i.g.'s to conduct effective investigations. when employees of the u.s. government are accused of wrongdoing or misconduct, i.g.'s should be able to conduct a full and thorough investigation. unfortunately, employees who may have violated that trust are often able to evade the i.g.'s inquiry simply by retiring from the government. so testimonial subpoena authority empowers i.g.'s to obtain testimony about waste, fraud and abuse from employees after they leave the agency. similarly, the subpoena authority helps i.g.'s investigate endities that receive federal funds. in other words, if you wonder what's wrong, follow the money.
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the subpoena authority enables i.g.'s to require testimony from government contractors and subcontractors and grantees and sub grantees. currently, most i.g.'s can subpoena documents from entities outside of their agency, but most cannot subpoena testimony. the ability to require witnesses outside the agency to talk to the i.g. can be critical in carrying out an inspector general's statutory duties or recovering wasted federal funds. let me also be clear that when we learned of senator leahy's concerns with this provision in november, 2015, my bipartisan cosponsors and i worked in good faith for 12 months to address them. we offered at least a half a dozen accommodations that would provide meaningful and appropriate limitations on the subpoena authority in question, but senator leahy continued to demand the removal of that from the bill.
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despite a year of negotiation, we were unable to reach a resolution, so i proposed bringing the provision to the floor for debate. i offered senator leahy the option of debating on the floor the merits of the testimonial subpoena authority so that the senate could vote on whether to keep or remove the provision from the bill, but my colleague declined to agree to floor time so that we could have an open debate on the issue. his continued refusal to debate and vote on a much-needed testimonial subpoena authority threatens to derail the entire bill which has such substantial bipartisan public support. so despite my strong belief that i.g.'s need that subpoena authority, i also recognize that the i.g. bill contains many other critical provisions that the i.g. needs to -- needs to
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move forward with it, and now's the time to do that. we cannot afford to wait any longer for those provisions that empower the i.g.'s. this bill is still necessary to help i.g.'s and to ensure to the american people that there is transparency and accountability within the government. the president at this time before -- before i ask unanimous consent, though, i'd like to say for the benefit of what i think a position that senator mccain's going to take, that the secretary under existing law may block an i.g. investigation if it is necessary to preserve the national security and interest of the united states, and if the information the i.g. has requested concerns any one of five categories. sensitive operation plans, intelligence matters, counterintelligence matters,
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ongoing criminal investigations or other matters that would constitute a serious threat to national security if that were to be disclosed. now i would ask unanimous consent that the senate proceed to the immediate consideration of calendar number 68, s. 579. i ask further that the johnson substitute amendment be agreed to, the bill as amended be read a third time and passed, and that the motion to reconsider be made and laid upon the table. the presiding officer: is there objection? mr. mccain: reserving the right to object. the presiding officer: the senator from arizona. mr. mccain: mr. president, i appreciate the hard work that the senator from iowa and his staff have done. the senator and i are old friends, and i know that he is one of the most zealous advocates for government oversight and reform of the
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united states senate, and i am aware of the many years of hard work that he has put into this legislation. i believe we share the same goal of ensuring the i.g.'s across the federal government have the authorities and support they need to do their vital work on behalf of the american people. at the same time i have serious concerns about a few aspects of this regulation as written. i have been working with the senator from iowa. i want to continue working with them. and to tell you the truth, i say to my friend from iowa, i don't know why we can't reach agreement. and i'm willing to -- we're talking a few words here is what we're really talking about. but anyway, for example, this legislation would substitute the words under the nominal supervision of the head of the establishment involved. that takes the place of the wording under the general
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supervision of the establishment involved. so i say to my friend from iowa, that springs to mind, why would we want to change that wording, unless there was some intent to do so? isn't the general supervision the establishment involved? we have to have under the normal supervision? what is this wordsmithing stuff, frankly, that i can only assume has some underlying purpose? why would you want a substitute under the nominal supervision for under the general supervision without some reason? and i don't get it. there's no explanation for why this change is necessary. it's unclear what nominal supervision means. if nominal means literally in name only, that's what nominal means, then it would remove the i.g. from the supervisory authority of the agency or department head. the legislation would impose
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further restrictions on the ability of the secretary of defense, which is the area of my responsibility to supervise and support the inspector general of the department of defense. so it's a reach too far. it also would restrict the president from placing an inspector general in an unvoltairey -- not unvoluntary nonduty status, either paid or not paid, except as narrowly defined for cause. this is likely an unconstitutional restriction on the authority of the president who has the authority to appoint and to remove his own appointees, or her own appointees. constitutionally appointed officers serve at the pleasure of the president. constitutionally appointed officers serve at the pleasure of the president, some subject to advice and consent of the senate, some not. in other words, us saying what s
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can do to put someone on nonduty status is not the responsibility or the authority of the congress of the united states. it would limit the president's authority to place an inspector general in an unvoluntary paid or unpaid nonduty status for more than 14 days unless the integrity committee of the council of the inspector general's on integrity and efficiency submits -- a well-known organization -- submits to the president a written recommendation for additional time which is acted upon by the president, the decision is communicated immediately to both houses of congress. that's a further restriction on presidential power by a committee of the council of the inspector generals on integrity and efficiency. by the way, an organization that i was unaware of its existence. the people expect the president to have both control and responsibility over employees and officers in the executive
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branch, subject to advice and consent on the constitutional authorities of the senate of the united states. it's clearly outlined in the constitution. the people expect the president to have both control and responsibility over employees and officers in the executive branch. the founders believe that this design ensured effective government, but most importantly protected our liberty from rogue government agents who might accrue cast power but be responsive and responsible to know elected accountable authority. we just saw a dramatic example of that, as i know my colleague from iowa, understands in the dodd-frank legislation which created agencies of government that have no accountability whatsoever, even to the appropriations process. the legislation would also undermine congressional oversight of the i.g.'s. for example, with this language,
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a congressional investigation conducted by committees into complaints that the i.g. has violated whistle-blower protections could be labeled as -- quote -- interfering with the independence of the i.g., unquote. if the committee is communicating with an agency or department as part of that investigation. i appreciate the efforts to provide exemptions to the department of defense from this legislation. that exemption only relates to the certain subsections and sentences the overall inspector general has. thus, many of these new rules and requirements would apply to the department of defense. for example, the new -- quote -- timely access to information requirement that is included in the legislation, but there's no exemption from d.o.d. from that requirement and it's unclear the exemptions would apply. the senate armed services committee conducts a regular stringent oversight of the department of defense, including its i.g. the committee and the congress passed defense legislation on an
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annual basis, and this will be the 55th year we will do so. i do not believe there is any problem at present in the d.o.d. i.g. that requires this legislation to require in the event that the senate armed services committee uncovers problems in the course of our oversight work. we will address those issues in our annual authorization legislation. look, i have great affection for my friend from iowa. it's obvious that he is -- that this issue is important to him. it's obvious that he has been working on it for years. so my suggestion, if i could make to my friend from iowa, let's set a time tomorrow, sit down with our staffs, find out what the problem is, see if we can get them resolved, and then that will give us 24 hours to try to resolve these issues. i understand what the senator from iowa is seeking and trying to do, and i support the intent
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of that legislation. my responsibilities are oversight of the department of defense, the largest part of our government, and i have these concerns about it. i believe that we can resolve these problems, maybe with a face-to-face with our staffs' engagement. for all those reasons, i regret to tell my friend from iowa that i object. the presiding officer: objection is heard. mr. grassley: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from iowa. mr. grassley: i knew ahead of time that we would have this objection. the only difference between this objection this time and a year ago is the fact that a year ago we worked out differences with other committees of the congress
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and had evidently 99 senators ready to pass this bill, except for senator reid, and so it's disappointing that when we work out one problem that we had a year ago, that now we have serious objections, very numerous as worked out, considering the fact that the committee of jurisdiction, senator johnson's chair of the governmental affairs committee, passing this bill out unanimously, getting it cleared on both sides a year ago except for senator reid, and now all these other problems come up. it's impossible for me to respond to all the problems that's been presented by the senator from -- from arizona, but i do obviously -- the
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legislative process does emphasize cooperation between members when there are differences. but i believe that i.t. probably going to be -- but i believe that it's probably going to be impossible for thus year to work those differences out. so i will be prepared to work comcome back next year and purse this legislation again and see what we can do. mr. mccain: mr. president, could i just say to my friend from iowa, i'm willing to maybe have a sitdown sometime in the next 24 hours to see if we can get this done. mr. grassley: i'll take that under advisement. i would simply close with further evidence of the importance of this legislation and try to respond to what the senator from arizona said about it's impact on the defense department. section 8 of the i.g. act already contains an exception
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that allows the secretary of defense to prohibit the inspector general from conducting an investigation and gathering documents to protect national security. the exception is broad. the secretary may block an i.g. investigation if it's necessary to preserve the national security interests of the united states and if the information the i.g. has requested concerns sensitive operation plans, intelligence matters, counterintelligence matters, on-going criminal investigations, and other matters that would constitute a serious threat to national security if disclosed. in addition, cosponsors and i worked with the armed services committee last year to ensure that the bill makes the secretary of defense authority to restrict certain kinds of sensitive information even more
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clear than it was in the 1978 legislation. after we made those changes, senator mccain, as i've already said, cleared this version of the access language last year. i respectfully -- i guess at this point i'm going to yield the floor. the presiding officer: and the clerk should call the roll. quorum call:
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mr. corker: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from tennessee. mr. corker: excuse me for a moment, but i notice the absence of a -- actually i'd like to ask unanimous consent that the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. corker: mr. president, i rise today to express my deepest sympathies and offer support to the countless tennesseans who experienced tragedy in the recent days. it's been a rough few weeks in
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our great state. last week my hometown of chattanooga lost six young children in a tragic school bus trash and today countless east tennesseans face a long road ahead after severe storms and tornadoes ripped through southeast tennessee leaving tremendous damage and taking the lives of two individuals in polk county. tomorrow morning i'll be in another area of our state that is dealing with unimaginable tragedy. as you have likely seen by now, the damage caused by wildfires in the county where my wife was raised is heart breaking. while officials continue to assess the full extent of the damage, we know that many have suffered tremendous loss. as of this morning, officials are concerned that they are still addressing the remnants of smoldering wildfires. more than 400 firefighters are
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supporting the effort. the exact number of structures affected remain unknown but local officials say more than 17,000 acres burned. more than 200 individuals remain in shelters and just moments ago we learned that ten fatalities have been confirmed. savir county is a special place surrounded by some of the country's most beautiful god-given amenities. millions of people from around the world visit each year and have built memories in this treasured community. but as the mayor of gatlinburg noted earlier today, it's not the attractions or the restaurants that make this special. it's the -- that make this place special. it's the people who live there. so many wonderful families call savir county home. tough, proud people whose roots in the area span generations.
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those who know the area, these people are not at all surprised by the community response. the nation has watched and read countless stories of selfless individuals, many who lost everything themselves are helping others. you have watched the mayor, the city manager of gatlinburg who both lost their own homes, provide steadfast strength and grace. and you have watched the savir county mayor close each press conference with the simplest request: pray for us. the coming days and weeks and months will not be easy. recovery will take time. we are committed to doing everything that we all can do to help you rebuild. the support does not end when the cameras leave. governor haslam, senator alexander, congressman roh and i are ready to support request for assistance for the recovery
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efforts. people throughout tennessee and across the nation will be back to visit very soon. and of course as has been requested, we will continue to pray. mr. president, i yield the floor. mr. president, i notice the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: and the clerk shall call the roll. quorum call:
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quorum call: mr. sullivan: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from alaska. mr. sullivan: i ask that the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. sullivan: i ask unanimous consent that the senate be in a period of morning business with senators permitted to speak therein for up to ten minutes each. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. sullivan: i ask that the chair lay before the sene


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