[Congressional Record Volume 163, Number 202 (Tuesday, December 12, 2017)]
From the Congressional Record Online through GPO
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Vermont.
Funding the Government and the Republican Tax Bill
Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, as everybody knows, the Republican Party
now controls the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, and the White House. We
also know that unless a budget agreement is reached by December 22, the
U.S. Government will shut down, which will cause serious harm to our
country, including the men and women in the Armed Forces and our
I do not know why the Republican Party, which controls all the
branches of government, wants to shut down our government. I think that
is wrong, and I think a shutdown will be very hurtful to people from
coast to coast.
Earlier this year, President Trump tweeted: “Our country needs a
good shutdown.” I strongly disagree. I don't think we need a good
shutdown; I think we need to reach an agreement on a budget that works
for the middle class of our country and not just the wealthiest people.
It is no great secret that we are living in a nation that has almost
unprecedented income and wealth inequality, at least since the 1920s.
We have the top one-tenth of 1 percent owning almost as much wealth as
the bottom 90 percent.
I don't believe that now is the time to give massive tax breaks to
the wealthiest people in this country in a horrific tax bill and then
at the end of 10 years raise taxes on 83 million middle-class families.
I think that makes no sense. I don't think it makes much sense to be
passing a tax bill that gives 62 percent of the benefits to the top 1
Apparently it is not good enough for my Republican colleagues that
corporate America today is enjoying recordbreaking profits and that the
CEOs of large corporations are earning more than 300 times what their
employees make. What the tax bill would do is give over $1 trillion in
tax breaks to large, profitable corporations at a time when already one
out of five of these major corporations is paying nothing in taxes.
That is apparently not good enough--we need to lower taxes for large
corporations even more.
Right now as we speak, legislation is being written behind closed
doors by the House Freedom Caucus and other Members of the extreme
rightwing to provide a massive increase in funding for the Pentagon for
the rest of the fiscal year, while only providing temporary and
inadequate funding for the needs of the working families of this
country, including education, affordable housing, nutrition,
environmental protection, and other vital programs.
What we have seen over the last year is a Republican effort to throw
30 million people off of health insurance. What we then see is a
Republican effort to give $1 trillion in tax breaks to the top 1
percent and large corporations and at the end of 10 years raise taxes
on middle-class families. Now what we are seeing on the part of the
Republican Party is an effort to increase military spending by $54
billion while ignoring the needs of a struggling middle class. We have
to get our priorities right and maybe--just maybe--we have to start
listening to what the American people want, not just what wealthy
campaign contributors want.
In terms of the Republican so-called healthcare bill, the repeal of
the Affordable Care Act, there is massive opposition from the American
people. In terms of this tax bill, in case you haven't seen the last
few polls, there is massive opposition to a tax bill that gives
incredible tax breaks to people who don't need it and raises taxes on
the middle class. Maybe--just maybe--we should start paying attention
to the needs of working families.
For a start, let us be clear that since the passage of the Budget
Control Act of 2011, Democrats and Republicans have agreed to operate
with parity, which means if you are going to increase military
spending, you increase programs that meet the needs of working
families, domestic spending. There was parity in 2011 and parity three
times after, and parity must continue. It is not acceptable to be
talking about a huge increase in military spending and not funding the
needs of a shrinking middle class, which desperately needs help in
terms of education, in terms of nutrition, and so many other areas.
Furthermore, the American people are quite clear that they want us to
move toward comprehensive immigration reform. They understand that it
would be a terrible, terrible, terrible thing to say to the 800,000
young people who have lived, in most cases, their entire lives in the
United States of America: We are ending the DACA Program. You are going
to lose your legal status. You are not going to be able to go to
school. You are not going to be able to hold a job. You are not going
to be able to be in the military. We are taking away the legal status
that you now have, and you will be subject to deportation. That is not
what the American people want. They want to continue the DACA Program,
and, in fact, they want comprehensive immigration reform--and now. Now
is the time to deal with that.
I am happy to say that on this issue, there are a growing number of
Republicans in the House and in the Senate who understand that in
America, you are not going to throw 800,000 of our brightest young
people, who are serving in the military and holding important jobs, out
of this country by withdrawing their legal status.
I have been deeply involved, as have Senator Blunt and others, in the
Community Health Center Program, which is so important for the people
of our country. Twenty-seven million Americans today receive their
healthcare through community health centers, which provide primary
care, provide mental health counseling--so important today--provide
dental care, and provide low-cost prescription drugs. While my
Republican colleagues have been busy trying to throw 30 million people
off of health insurance, while they have been busy trying to give a
trillion dollars in tax breaks for the rich and for large corporations,
somehow they have not had the time to extend the CHIP program or the
Community Health Center Program. How in God's Name can we be talking
about tax breaks for billionaires and not extending a health insurance
program for the children of our country? If the CHIP program is not
reauthorized, 9 million children and working families will lose their
Let us get our priorities right. Let us immediately pass legislation
extending and funding the CHIP program and the Community Health Center
In the Midwest, as you well know, and all over this country, we have
a major crisis in terms of pensions. So many of our older workers are
scared to death about retiring because they have very little or nothing
in the bank as they end their work careers. If Congress does not act
soon, the earned pension benefits of more than 1.5 million workers and
retirees in multiemployer pension plans could be cut by up to 60
percent. People who have worked their entire lives, people who have put
money into a pension program, people who have given up wage increases
in order to gain decent pensions now stand the possibility of seeing
their pensions cut by up to 60 percent. How can we do that? How do you
tell someone who has worked their entire life, who is looking forward
to a decent retirement, that we are going to cut their pension by up to
60 percent? We cannot do that. When a worker is promised a pension
benefit after a lifetime of hard work, that promise must be kept.
Congress needs to act before the end of the year to make sure that no
one in America in a multiemployer pension plan will see their pension
cut. Yes, I also think that is more important than tax breaks for
We need to make a downpayment on universal childcare. In my State of
Vermont and all over this country, it is increasingly difficult for
working families to find high-quality, affordable childcare. We must,
in my view, double the funding for the Childcare and Development Block
Grant to provide childcare assistance for 226,000 more children and
move toward universal childcare for every kid in America. What the
social sciences tell us is that there is no better investment than
early childhood education. Every dollar we invest there is paid back
many times over by kids doing better at school and by kids getting out,
getting jobs, and becoming taxpayers.
There is another crisis in this country that has to be dealt with.
Ten years ago, Congress passed the Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Program to support Americans who enter public service careers--
teachers, nurses, firefighters, police officers, social workers, and
military personnel. One of the absurdities that exists in America today
is that we have tens of millions of Americans who are paying outrageous
interest rates on their student debt. People who have done the right
thing by trying to get the best education they could are now being
punished because they went to college, went to graduate school, and are
having to pay a significant part of their income back to the government
in terms of their student debt. Congress must address this issue, and
there is legislation to make sure that, at the very least, if you are
prepared to go into public service work--if you want to be a teacher, a
nurse, a firefighter, a police officer, a social worker, or want to go
into the military--we will forgive your debt. That is an issue that
should be dealt with before the end of the year.
We have a crisis in terms of our rural infrastructure, and I come
from a rural State. In the year 2017, soon to be 2018, how does it
happen that in rural communities all over America there are inadequate
broadband capabilities? How do you start a small business in a small
town if you don't have good-quality broadband? How do the kids do well
in school if they can't gain access to the internet? This is the United
States of America, and we should not be trailing countries all over the
world that have better broadband access at lower costs than we do. If
we want to grow rural America, if we want our kids to stay in rural
America, we have to deal with the collapsing infrastructure in this
country, especially in rural America.
Mr. President, I don't have to tell you--because Ohio has been hit
hard, as has Vermont, New Hampshire, and all over this country--that we
have a terrible, terrible epidemic in terms of opioid addiction. I am
trying to deal with this issue in the State of Vermont, and I know it
is severe in Ohio. We have to be adequately funding programs that focus
on prevention, making sure that our young people do not get trapped
into a life of addiction. We have to provide the kinds of treatment
people need. We cannot ignore this. This is an epidemic that is
sweeping this country. More people will die this year from opioid
overdoses than died during the entire war in Vietnam. We have to
adequately fund treatment and prevention for the epidemic that we are
seeing in terms of opioids.
We ought to keep our promises to our veterans. We now have tens of
thousands of positions at the Veterans Administration that have not
been filled, and we need to make sure they are filled so that the
veterans of our country, when they go into the VA, get high-quality
care in a timely manner, which they are entitled to.
There was an article, I think it was in the Washington Post, a couple
of weeks ago that talked about the fact that 10,000 people died in the
last year, waiting for a decision on Social Security disability
benefits. In other words, you have people who desperately need these
benefits; they have applied for these benefits through the Social
Security Administration, and they wait and they wait and they wait.
Unbelievably, in the last year, 10,000 people died while they were
waiting for a decision from the Social Security Administration. This
has everything to do with the fact that there have been budget cuts in
recent years that have been significant and have resulted in the loss
of more than 10,000 employees in the Social Security Administration,
the closing of 64 field offices, and reduced hours in many others. In
Vermont, one field office has seen its staffing cut by 30 percent. We
have to adequately fund the Social Security Administration so that our
elderly and our disabled can get due process in terms of the benefits
for which they have filed.
In 2016, the National Park Service recorded over 330 million visits
to national parks and over $11 billion in deferred maintenance. In
other words, our national parks are very, very popular, but they are
not getting the maintenance work they need. Meanwhile, the President
wants to double fees for people visiting our beautiful national parks.
This is an issue we must deal with.
The bottom line is that we are coming toward the end of the year, and
we have a lot of work to do, but the work we do has to start reflecting
the needs of the working people of this country, not just the
billionaire class. We cannot give $54 billion more to the military and
ignore the needs of our children, our elderly, our sick, our poor. We
have to come up with a budget proposal that works for all of us and not
just wealthy campaign contributors. As a member of the Budget
Committee, I expect to be very active in that process.
With that, I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Minnesota.
Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Mr. President, I stand today to call for bipartisan
action on several things that are really critical. One of them has
become routine, since it started as a bill that Democrats and
Republicans did together. That was the Children's Health Insurance
Program, something that my colleague from Vermont has referenced.
In my State, we have been a good-government State. We have had a
budget surplus for years, and, believe it or not, we relied on the fact
that Congress would come through and do what they were supposed to do
and reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program, but that
didn't happen. As a result, we have a slight budget deficit--something
we haven't had for years. But it really hit home when I called our
budget director in the State and I said: How did this happen when we
have had these surpluses?
He said: Well, we actually thought that you guys would reauthorize
the Children's Health Insurance Program, but you didn't.
Instead, what we have seen is a tax bill that adds over a trillion
dollars to the debt. Even when you take into account any economic gain
from that bill, a nonpartisan group said that it would, in fact, add $1
trillion to the debt. That is what we are doing instead of
reauthorizing the Children's Health Insurance Program, which makes no
sense to me.
Funding for CHIP expired more than 2 months ago, even though, as I
said, it is one of the success stories out of this Congress. Both
parties have come together for years to support this program that
provides healthcare to millions of children across the country.
In Minnesota, these funds support coverage for more than 125,000
kids. Just last week, my State estimated that failing to reauthorize
CHIP would cost us $178 million. That is why the
deficit was at $188 million. So the CHIP funding that our State has
come to rely on through Democratic Presidents and Republican Presidents
has suddenly gone away--that is why we have a deficit--while at the
same time, a decision has been made by my colleagues on the other side
to add over $1 trillion to the debt. I don't know what to tell the
people in my State, except that tax cuts for the wealthy appear to be a
priority rather than reauthorizing this bill to help kids get their
health insurance. Guess what. They don't understand that reasoning.
States like mine are running out of ways to make Federal funding last
a little bit longer. Every single day that we don't act puts coverage
at risk for millions of kids. Some States have already been forced to
tell parents to start making other plans for their kids' healthcare. No
parent should ever have to worry about whether their child will have
healthcare. We must keep this strong program going. I have also heard
from families with kids who get treatment at the children's hospitals
and clinics of Minnesota and who count on this program for the medical
care they need. That is why we must pass the bipartisan bill Senators
Hatch and Wyden have put together to extend CHIP for 5 years--so we can
stop this nonsense and tell people back at home that actually something
is working here.
In 2015, the last time we renewed the program, it passed the Senate
with 92 votes. We should demonstrate that same bipartisan spirit again.
We should not hold these kids hostage with this bickering, and we
certainly shouldn't be holding all of the States hostage either. This
makes no sense. We must act before it is too late, or States like mine
will not just have a deficit as a result of this, they will be forced
to make difficult choices about insurance coverage for some of our most
vulnerable constituents. CHIP is one part of our healthcare system that
nearly everyone agrees works. We should be doing everything in our
power to protect it.
In addition to CHIP, the American people want us to work together to
make fixes to the Affordable Care Act. They don't want us to repeal it;
we have seen that in the numbers. They want us to make some sensible
changes. You can never pass a bill with that kind of breadth and reach
without making some changes to it. I said on the day that it passed
that it was a beginning and not an end.
I am a cosponsor of the bill Senator Alexander and Senator Murray
have put together because it is an important step forward and exactly
the type of sensible, bipartisan legislation that we should pass. The
bill has 11 Republican cosponsors and 11 Democratic cosponsors. Patient
groups, doctor groups, and consumer groups have praised it, including
the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, the
Arthritis Foundation--and those are just some of the A's. There are
hundreds of national health groups who support this bill. They have
Democratic members and they have Republican members. They just want to
get something done.
Senators Alexander and Murray held a series of hearings and
discussions on commonsense solutions to bring down insurance costs with
Senators on both sides of the aisle.
I fought for a provision in this bipartisan legislation that would
help States like mine apply for and receive waivers. This was put
together, by the way, in our State by a Republican legislature and a
Democratic Governor. It is a plan that would bring down premium costs,
a plan that made sense across the board and was broadly supported in
our State. Our Federal Government should be encouraging that kind of
flexibility. The waiver we are asking for is actually something we
would like to see other States do. The provision we included in the
Murray-Alexander bill would encourage other States to do exactly what
we did; that is, apply for waivers for flexibility to bring down rates
without getting penalized.
This bill would also expedite the review of waiver applications for
proposals that have already been approved for other States.
This legislation also shortens the overall time period that States
have to wait for the Federal Government to decide whether to approve
their waivers. The last time I checked, I thought this administration
was touting the fact that they like to get things done, that they want
to move things faster, and that they don't like the redtape of
bureaucracy. Well, here we have a bill that actually says that States
shouldn't have to wait for the Federal Government to make decisions.
Why can't we get it passed?
Not only does the bill improve the process for waivers--this is my
favorite part because when you hear me talk about it, you might think,
wow, this must be expensive. No. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget
Office says that the Alexander-Murray bill would actually cut the
deficit by $3.8 billion over the next 10 years because it simply gives
States the flexibility to cope with the issues they are having in their
own States, to adjust to their own particular circumstances, and to
make it easier for people to afford healthcare, while saving money for
the Federal Government. It makes no sense to delay by even 1 day the
passage of this legislation, nor does it make any sense to cut all
those kids off of health insurance.
Renewing the Children's Health Insurance Program and passing Murray-
Alexander would be important steps forward, but we still must do more.
I don't think we are going to get all my prescription drug bills passed
by the end of the year, but we should. We won't, but we should. That
doesn't mean I am giving up. I think the American people aren't giving
up because they have been able to see clear-eyed what is going on
because they are starting to see what is happening with the cost of
their prescription drugs. The costs are skyrocketing.
I have heard from people across Minnesota who are struggling to
afford the medicine they need. This is about the woman in Duluth who
told me that she chose not to fill her last prescription because that
one drug would cost a full 25 percent of her income. This is about the
woman in St. Paul who, even with Medicare, can't afford a $663-a-month
cost for medicine that she needs. This is about a woman from Crystal,
MN, who told me: “I am practically going without food to pay for my
prescriptions.” It is heartbreaking that this is happening in America.
Reducing the costs of prescription drugs has bipartisan support in
Congress, and the President has said that he cares about this. So why
can't we get this done?
I have one bill that has 33 cosponsors that lifts the ban that makes
it illegal for Medicare to negotiate prices for Part D prescription
drugs for 41 million American seniors. Yes, right now, it is in law
that we can't negotiate for 41 million seniors. Last time I checked, I
think they would have a lot of bargaining power, but right now, we
can't do that.
A bill Senator McCain and I have would allow Americans to bring safe,
less expensive drugs from Canada.
A third bill that Republican Senator Grassley and I have is to stop
something called pay-for-delay, where big pharmaceutical companies
actually pay off their generic competitors to keep less expensive
products off the market. How can that kind of practice be any good for
American consumers? Guess what. It is not. We need to put an end to
this outrageous practice. This bill would save taxpayers $2.9 billion.
Senator Lee and I have a bill that would allow temporary importation
of safe drugs that have been on the market in another country for at
least 10 years when there isn't healthy competition for that drug in
this country. Believe me, there are plenty of areas where we don't have
healthy competition, where Americans aren't getting the kinds of deals
they should get.
I have a bipartisan bill with Senators Grassley, Leahy, Feinstein,
Lee, and several others called the CREATES Act to put a stop to other
pharmaceutical company tactics--such as refusing to provide samples--
that delay more affordable generic drugs from getting to consumers.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, this legislation would
save approximately $3.6 billion.
People in this Chamber are talking about saving money. How are they
doing it? On the backs of kids. They are talking about saving money.
How are they doing it? On the backs of Americans who would like to
I have laid out a number of bills that actually have been scored to
save money. Passing the Alexander-Murray bipartisan bill would save us
money. We have the actual accounting to show it. Allowing for less
expensive drugs from other countries would save money for consumers. It
is pretty easy to understand. It is called capitalism. It creates
For our own American drug companies--we are proud that they have
developed lifesaving cures. They are important employers in our
country. But if they refuse to bring down those prices and if they have
a monopoly on the market, we should be bringing in competition. There
are two ways to do it. One is generic, and that is making it easier to
produce generic drugs, and also stopping big pharma companies from
paying off generic companies--their competition--to keep their
competitive products off the market. The other is simply allowing drugs
from less expensive places, but safe places, like Canada. That is a
bill I have put forward with Senator McCain, but also Senator Bernie
Sanders and I have worked on this, as well as many others. These are
commonsense ideas. Yet we cannot even move to a vote. Why? Because the
pharmaceutical companies don't want us to have that vote.
So I am asking my colleagues, No. 1, let's end the year with some
common sense and pass two commonsense bills to help the American people
with their healthcare, and those are the children's health insurance
bill and the Alexander-Murray compromise to make some fixes to the
Affordable Care Act. Then, when people are home for a week over the
holidays, maybe they should start talking to their constituents, as I
have. Maybe they should talk to their friends and their neighbors and
see what they think about what is going on with prescription drug
prices. Maybe they will come back with a New Year's resolution that
they are no longer going to be completely beholden to the
pharmaceutical companies, that they are willing to give the American
people some relief and take these companies on and create some
competition for America.
I thought this was supposed to be a capitalistic system. In a
capitalistic system, you do not have monopolies for certain drugs. You
do not have a drug like insulin, which has been around for decades,
triple, so that one elderly constituent in my State actually saves the
drops at the bottom of the injectors so they can use them the next day.
That is what is happening, while at the pharmaceutical companies, they
are taking home big bonuses at the end of the year.
I implore my colleagues, let's get these commonsense things done so
you can go home and not think, when you are sitting there at your
holiday dinner, that you have basically left millions of kids without
healthcare, and then on New Year's, the next week, make a resolution to
do what is right for your constituents, not for the pharmaceutical
Thank you, Mr. President.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Hoeven). The Senator from Rhode Island.
Mr. REED. Mr. President, I rise to discuss the Trump administration's
irresponsible plans to dismantle net neutrality.
This is a very important and timely issue for Rhode Islanders. The
Federal Communications Commission's--the FCC's--efforts to repeal net
neutrality protections could have a devastating impact on students,
small businesses, and ordinary Rhode Islanders who cannot afford to pay
higher premiums on internet traffic.
I have joined many of my Democratic colleagues in urging the FCC to
abandon its reckless plan because it would radically alter the free and
open internet as we know it and be an abdication of the FCC's
responsibility to protect consumers.
Net neutrality does something incredibly important. It requires
internet providers to treat all data equally. Net neutrality ensures a
level playing field for everyone on the internet. It means free and
open access to websites and information.
Over the past 20 years, the internet has become central to the lives
of Rhode Islanders and, indeed, millions of Americans--practically
every American. From students completing homework assignments to small
businesses conducting e-commerce, or family members communicating with
loved ones on the other side of the country or the world, the internet
is now our primary means of communication. As such, I believe this is
an issue of fundamental fairness and equality of opportunity.
This proposed repeal of net neutrality protections undermines the
principles of a free and open internet and could be an unprecedented
giveaway to big broadband providers, benefiting a few large
corporations at the expense of their customers who use and rely on
affordable access to the internet every day.
Net neutrality protections also ensure that all content is treated
equally. Without these rules, large internet service providers may
choose to block, throttle, or prioritize certain internet traffic.
Without these protections, big internet service providers will be given
the power to erect virtual toll booths for some customers and fast
lanes for others. As a result, the repeal of net neutrality rules will
likely be bad for consumers, businesses, students, and everyday
Americans who cannot afford to pay additional premiums for internet
If these rules are repealed, internet providers can essentially say,
if you want a quick download from a Web site, you have to pay more.
They can go to businesses and ask them to pay more for this fast
service. They can't do that today. Everyone is treated equally.
This is particularly important when it comes to small businesses. As
I go around Rhode Island to small businesses, as I have done these last
few weeks, one of the reasons they are growing is because they are
starting to take a presence on the internet. They have an internet
business; they are beginning to sell across the country or across the
globe. A small business in Wickford, RI, East Greenwich, RI, or
Smithfield, RI, is not going to be able to pay the same premium for
access that Amazon or a big corporation like Walmart can, and they will
be squeezed further. The reason a lot of these small businesses are
able to keep a store open in Rhode Island--or anyplace else in the
country--and employ local workers is because they are starting to see a
share of their profit come from the internet. They would like to see
that grow, but if that diminishes, then the pressure on them to stay in
business locally becomes acute.
These are real consequences, not hypothetical. If these rules are
repealed and net neutrality is done away with, the consequences for
businesses, communities, and individuals will be significant.
Let me make another example. Places of learning like our libraries,
schools, and institutions of higher education all rely on offering
internet access, which is already expensive. I did a press event at a
public library, and they pay significant amounts of money so they have
broadband access, and it is a mecca for everyone to come. The head
librarian told me that they have people sitting on their doorsteps in
the morning before they open and after they close so they can get a
broadband signal from the library. Why are they doing that? You can't
get a job today unless you can get online because that is where they
post job offerings, that is where you have to send your resume, that is
where you have to get the response back when you have a job interview.
If you can't get on the internet, the chances of getting a job today
are close to zero. It was a lot different 20, 30, or 40 years ago, when
you could go down to the factory, fill out the form, pass it over the
divider to the person in charge, and they would give you a telephone
call back or you would come back in a few days and see how you were
Local libraries are also the place where students across Rhode Island
and the Nation gain access to the internet to do their homework, apply
to college and financial aid, and explore the world around them. This
is particularly the case in poorer neighborhoods. They can't afford to
have computers or internet in their home. If you go to the public
library in South Providence, right next to St. Michael's Church, in the
afternoon, the kids are all there and are on the computers doing their
homework. They can't do
that, in many cases, at home. They simply don't have the access.
We are always sitting around here talking about how we have to
educate our young people and how we have to get them ready for a
technologically challenging world, and then we are about to pull the
rug right out from underneath them because that library will not be
able to afford access to some sites that these young people need.
It is not just the young people who are using the libraries; it is
also seniors who want to stay in touch with their families. There are
functions that are so critical--as I mentioned before, you literally
cannot apply for a job today unless you can get online. How does a
person struggling, particularly in low-income, working-class
neighborhoods, get online when they can't afford already expensive
service, which could be more expensive if these rules are withdrawn and
net neutrality is abandoned?
I heard about all of this in detail when I visited the Providence
Public Library. Providence is an urban center, so there are other ways,
perhaps, to compensate for access to libraries. But when you go to a
rural area, those libraries are especially important. More than 83
percent of libraries report that they serve as their community's only
provider of free internet and computing services in rural areas. If you
need free service, the only place you can go to is the library. This is
going to put another cost on them at a time when public-private support
is being diminished.
We have a tax bill pending before us that is going to eviscerate
charitable contributions. It is going to take away the deduction. Some
of that money goes to our public libraries. If it doesn't go there,
they will not have access.
I mentioned small businesses because, as I said, this is particularly
critical. We have seen an improving economy, and for a lot of small
businesses, that is because they are starting to have a presence on the
internet. If that presence now comes with a higher price because the
providers can say that if you want to get access and fast downloads,
you have to pay X, once again, that X to a small mom-and-pop business
could be huge. That X to an Amazon or Walmart is just a rounding error.
We know it is going to happen. It is not fair. It undercuts what we
think is the heart and soul--I know it is the heart and soul of our
economy in Rhode Island for small business, and it is another big
benefit for the well-to-do businesses that can pay more and will pay
more. This is not a direction we should be going.
Even more disturbing is that the FCC's proposed action may be based
on a skewed public record. As we all know, under the Administrative
Procedure Act, when a rule or change is proposed, they have to take
public comments. There are credible reports that bots--the electronic
networks of computers--impersonating Americans filed hundreds of
thousands of phony comments to the FCC during their net neutrality
policymaking process, thus distorting the public record. Their
supposedly fact-based and comment-based approach could be fictitious.
It could be a product of special interests who decided to link together
thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands, of computers that randomly
generated messages--or not so randomly, but deliberately generated
What we have done is join our colleagues, and we have urged that the
FCC abandon this proposal. As I said, I have joined many of my
colleagues in asking, at least, that the FCC delay the vote on net
neutrality until it can conduct a thorough investigation to ensure that
it has a clear and accurate understanding of the public's view on this
important topic. It is not based on a group of individuals and many
electronically linked computers; it is based on the true sentiment of a
broad range of the public. At least delay the proceeding until you can
assure us that.
Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. This attempt
appears to be part of a larger program the Trump administration is
using to roll back regulations that protect ordinary working men and
women throughout the country. The Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, and
the administration seem to say, very deliberately, that this is their
goal. Just roll back regulations, without analysis that is appropriate,
without a sensitivity to the benefits as well as the costs.
My view is that rather than trying to limit access to the internet,
they should be doing things to make it easier, make it cheaper for
small businesses, for libraries, for individual Americans to get on and
use the internet, not to take advantage of the rulemaking process to
fatten the bottom line of big companies that are doing quite well
It is clear that the FCC should not vote this week, or ever, to
repeal net neutrality protections that have benefited so many Rhode
Islanders and Americans. I urge my colleagues to join me in opposition
to the FCC's proposed dismantling of the net neutrality rules. It is
important. It is important for our constituents. It is important for
our small businesses. It is important for our future generations as
they prepare for a very complicated and challenging world, and, for
some of them, the only way to get access to the computer is the public
library. The only access for a small business to the new marketplace on
the net is being able to afford to be on the net. That is all in
jeopardy today. I hope we can stop these net neutrality rule appeals,
and do it immediately.
Mrs. MURRAY. Mr. President, as a U.S. Senator, one of the most
important and consequential choices I make is whether or not to support
a judicial nominee.
The men and women of the bench are often the final gatekeepers of our
Nation's justice system--and the right kind of judge shows up to work
every day to make the system work for every citizen, free from
prejudice or bias.
With that principle in mind, I strongly oppose the three nominees for
the circuit court whose nominations are before the U.S. Senate.
While President Trump has the right to make nominations, Members of
this Senate also have the right to reject those nominations.
It is clear, based on the records of the three nominees before us,
that is exactly what Members of this Senate ought to do.
Don't be a rubberstamp for this President's hateful agenda or his
obvious disdain for the rule of law.
The first nominee this Senate should reject is Leonard Grasz, whom
President Trump picked to serve on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mr. Grasz is a notable nominee but for all the wrong reasons.
He is notable because his peers at the American Bar Association
unanimously found Mr. Grasz “not qualified”--just the third nominee
in nearly 30 years to receive this distinction.
The ABA report shows his peers questioned whether Mr. Grasz could
look past his “deeply-held social agenda and political loyalty to be
able to judge objectively, with compassion and without bias.
These are serious red flags--and it is unconscionable for any of my
colleagues to turn a blind eye to relevant information regarding Mr.
Grasz's ability to do his job fairly.
I am also disturbed by the willingness of several of my colleagues on
the other side of the aisle to slander the nonpartisan ABA as some sort
of liberal front group instead of evaluating its factual assessment.
The ABA has done this body a great service of neutral and fair
evaluation over many decades, for which Members of the Senate should be
I also have grave concerns regarding Don Willett, one of two nominees
for the Fifth Circuit.
Mr. Willett has been unabashed in his criticism of equal rights for
women--expressing caustic views on pay equity, justice for sexual
assault survivors, and age discrimination.
He has resisted equality for LGBTQ Americans and defied the key same-
sex marriage ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.
No judge who thumbs their nose at the Supreme Court is fit for a
No person who compares the right of one person to marry the person
they love to a “right to marry bacon” is fit to administer justice in
President Trump's other nominee for the Fifth Circuit, James Ho, has
a similarly disturbing track record on LGBTQ rights.
He has also called for eliminating all restrictions on campaign
finance and is
an ardent defender of giving the executive branch even more power.
I can see why President Trump would want Mr. Ho on the court, but Mr.
Ho's pattern of giving more leeway to the executive branch should be
deeply concerning to everyone else.
In sum, the three nominees President Trump sent to this Senate for
review fall far short of the standards this Senate should demand or
that this country deserves.
I want to make clear that these nominees have a completely backward
and harmful record on women's constitutionally protected reproductive
rights--and would seek to undermine Roe v. Wade.
Stacking our courtrooms with judges who will bend to the will of one
President's hateful, divisive agenda is wrong--and will not be
I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to take a stand.
Reject President Trump's politically driven attacks on women's health
and rights. Reject efforts to chip away at fundamental rights and
respect for the LGBTQ community, and reject his judicial nominees who
will serve only to give him the green light to expand his own power.
Vote no on circuit court nominees Leonard Grasz, Don Willett, and
Mr. VAN HOLLEN. Mr. President, I rise to vote against Leonard Grasz's
nomination to serve as a circuit judge for the Eight Circuit. Mr. Grasz
is one of two Trump judicial nominees who has received an
“unqualified” ranking from the nonpartisan American Bar Association,
ABA. I am appalled that Republicans advanced this nominee out of the
Judiciary Committee and are bringing this vote to the floor.
Republicans have made it their mission to fill our judiciary with
radical ideologues. The Trump administration has outsourced judicial
nominations to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, and
their nominees have included a nominee who believed in corporal
punishment, one who questioned the constitutionality of the 14th
Amendment, and one equated a woman's right to an abortion to chattel
slavery. Many of these nominees are simply unfit to serve and
undeserving of the prestige of receiving a lifetime appointment.
No judge nominated by the Obama administration received an
“unqualified” ABA rating. When asked to clarify their rating for Mr.
Grasz, a spokesperson for the ABA said that “[t]he evaluators and the
Committee found that [Mr. Grasz's] temperament issues, particularly
bias and lack of open-mindedness, were problematic. The evaluators
found that the people interviewed believed that the nominee's bias and
the lens through which he viewed his role as a judge colored his
ability to judge fairly.” I am disappointed that, instead of insisting
on qualified nominees, my colleagues have decided to instead attack the
ABA's ranking system.
I sincerely hope that many of my colleague across the aisle will vote
no against this nominee and demand more from the Trump administration.
Mr. REED. I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.
Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for
the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Republican Tax Bill
Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, a number of Senators have inquired about
the status of the tax legislation and, particularly, the prospect of a
real conference committee. It is clear that Republicans are talking
among themselves, but apparently they feel, with respect to Democrats,
this is a conference in name only.
What I would like to do is spell out what we know to date and talk a
bit about what would really be in the public's interest. Specifically,
late last night, the public learned through the press that Republicans
have made no progress--their words, not mine--with respect to the tax
They said that all of the major issues were still outstanding. Then,
when all of them got up and made their way through their breakfast
cornflakes, we were told that, magically, everything had just been
worked out--that everything was worked out and that this bill would be
ready to go.
I know they have been trying to move at the speed of light. We had
yet another dose of fake math yesterday when the Treasury Department
reported its so-called analysis to project that this bill would
generate great growth, when, in fact, it comes up $1 trillion short. So
I would like to make sure the public understands what is on offer as of
My sense is, with respect to the key issue, which is the well-being
of the middle class, millions and millions of middle-class people are
going to get hurt by this legislation, millions of them very quickly--
for example, millions are going to lose their health insurance
coverage. Millions more are going to have high premiums. By 2027, half
of the middle class in America will actually be paying more in taxes.
Senate Republicans seem to be talking about a variety of issues, but
not one of the tax issues they are talking about involves bettering the
quality of life for America's middle class. We don't hear any
discussion of that. We hear plenty of discussion about multinational
corporations. We hear plenty of discussion about rates. We hear
discussions about pass-through businesses. But all of this is really
like rearranging the chairs at the country club. Maybe one day the
multinational corporations will do a little bit better; maybe the next
day well-off heirs will do a little better. What I heard at my recent
town hall meetings is that the American people want to make sure that
the middle class is not always getting the shaft. They want to make
sure, for example, that in the tax law, the breaks for the
multinational corporations aren't permanent and the breaks for the
middle class aren't temporary. They want everybody to have a chance to
get ahead. It is not too late to change course.
There are 17 moderate Democrats, led by our colleagues Senator
Manchin and Senator Kaine, who have said that they are hungry for a
bipartisan approach to bringing both sides together. I have introduced
two comprehensive, bipartisan bills with senior conservative
Republicans--close allies of Mitch McConnell's. We have made it very
clear that we want a bipartisan bill.
In that all of these changes are now being discussed and our fellow
Americans can read about them in the press, take a look and see if you
see one idea--even one--that is going to make life better for the vast
majority of working Americans, the folks who work so hard day in and
day out, who are walking on an economic tightrope, trying to save money
and trying to educate their kids. We don't hear about one single idea--
not one--that would make life better for the middle class.
We will have more to say about this tomorrow as, I gather, there may
be some kind of ceremonial conference committee that is scheduled as
they try to sort through all of these reports that they are getting
from lobbyists on K Street because, I guess, lobbyists know lots about
what the Republicans in the leadership and on the conference committee
are talking about.
I want Americans to just read through all of this and look, line by
line, to try to find anything that is going to make life better for the
middle class, because I cannot find it. That, as much as anything,
shows what is wrong with the way this legislation is being pursued.
What a difference from the way Ronald Reagan pursued tax reform.
Ronald Reagan said point blank that the working person should at least
get as good a deal as the investor. He said that we ought to have the
same rate of taxation for workers as we have for investors. In fact,
with Ronald Reagan--and I voted for his bill--the corporations, in
effect, gave up some money to help the workers. Now what we are seeing
is the workers getting the short end of the stick so that the
multinational corporations can do even better. We will have more to say
I urge people to look through all of these stories and all of these
press reports and see if they can find anything that involves a change
to make life better for the hard-working middle class of our country.
Remembering Vera Katz
Mr. President, I also come this afternoon to talk about the passing
of a vintage Oregonian and an extraordinary
woman--Vera Katz--who became Oregon's first speaker of our house of
representatives in 1985. After serving three terms as speaker, Vera
Katz won Portland's mayoral race in 1992. The Oregonian noted recently
that she moved Portland to become a “nationally recognized destination
city,” with developments ranging from the Portland Streetcar to the
I hope that all Oregonians and visitors to our city will stop by the
bronze sculpture of Mayor Katz. It captures perfectly her strength and
her warmth. She was an extraordinary person whom we think about today,
not just because of her memorable accomplishments but because of her
extraordinary spirit. It was indomitable. She could not be subdued when
she took on an important cause.
I remember in 1996, when floodwaters on the Willamette River
threatened to overwhelm downtown Portland, that, in the middle of this
chaos, this very slight but still unbelievably powerful woman, Vera
Katz, led hundreds of volunteers to mount what we came to call a
sandbags-and-plywood defense against the floodwater. That was
quintessential Vera Katz.
In my townhalls at home, we often speak of the “Oregon way”--just
finding the best ideas, looking for solutions, not standoffs. She lived
and breathed that “Oregon way” ethos every day of her life. I am
going to miss her, and I am especially going to miss some moments that
will never be forgotten.
When we were working in the early seventies and I had gotten involved
with the elderly, back then--I think the Presiding Officer, the Senator
from North Dakota, probably remembers these days--that was a time when,
if a town had a lunch program for senior citizens, that was a big deal.
Nobody was aware that we might have all of the services that we now
have--in-home services and a variety of transportation services. Back
then, if a town had a lunch program for older people, that was a big
deal. Vera Katz was then in the legislature, and I had been running the
legal aid office for the elderly and was codirector of the Gray
Panthers. All of the senior citizens wanted to really focus on holding
down the cost of medicine, and they told me one day: We are going to go
to the legislature, and we are going to take all of our pill bottles
and stack them up on the table and show those legislators what it is
like to really be an older person in having to cut pills in half in our
trying to find a way to make ends meet.
As the Presiding officer, the Senator from North Dakota, knows, I had
never been involved in politics or in public service back then. All I
really wanted to do was to play in the NBA. So I didn't know if you
could do that. I didn't know if you could take all of the pill bottles
to the legislature, so I called Vera Katz.
I said: The seniors want to come down, Representative Katz. They want
to hold up all the bottles. I really don't know what to do.
I could hear it through the phone because it just boomed out.
She said: The seniors want to bring their pill bottles to wake up the
I said: Yes, ma'am.
I could hear it through the phone when she said: Damn right. I want
them to bring their pill bottles, and they are going to get a big
welcome from me.
In all of those years in working with senior citizens, the very first
person the seniors wanted to see was Vera Katz.
I asked them: How come we are always going to see Vera Katz?
They said: Because she always inspires us, and she always makes us
laugh, and she always makes us want to get involved.
So this life force who, like my family, fled the Nazis, was an
extraordinary public figure. Yes, she represented Portland, but she
always stood up for all of Oregon.
In the days ahead, I will be back to the floor to talk some more
about Vera Katz. She had a watermelon spitting contest with folks in
rural Oregon just because she wanted to cement the bond between
Portland and the rural part of the State. She was a wonderful woman.
Our State grieves today as we think of her and her extraordinary
contributions. In my having known her for more than 40 years, she is a
role model for what public service ought to be all about.
I yield the floor.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.
Mrs. FISCHER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order
for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Strange). Without objection, it is so
Under the previous order, there will now be 30 minutes of debate
equally divided between the two leaders or their designees.
The Senator from Nebraska.
Mrs. FISCHER. Mr. President, the U.S. Senate has the opportunity
today to vote on a nominee to the Eighth Circuit Court who exemplifies
the qualities we all seek in a judge.
Steve Grasz from Nebraska is a nominee who has earned the respect of
his peers. He believes in the rule of law. He has the education and the
training. He has the experience needed to prepare him for this serious
responsibility. Steve has a keen intellect and the humility that allows
him to show respect toward all. He has an even and calm temperament--a
Steve Grasz served as the chief deputy attorney general of Nebraska
for 12 years. In that role, Mr. Grasz professionally and capably
defended the laws of the State of Nebraska, authoring nine briefs in
the U.S. Supreme Court. He has earned the respect of the Nebraska legal
community. Timothy Engler, president of the Nebraska State Bar
Association, has stated he always found Steve “to be professional,
civil, and ethical in all respects.” In short, Steve is an outstanding
Nebraskan and a talented legal mind.
The scores of recommendation letters we have received for Steve are a
testament to his temperament, his integrity, and his character. These
recommendations come from a diverse group of Nebraskans, from political
officials to church pastors, business and community leaders, and
Steve's friends and neighbors.
Steve has bipartisan support from those who know him best. Nebraskans
from across the political spectrum have pointed to Steve's
thoughtfulness, fairmindedness, high ethical standards, and brilliant
abilities as a jurist. This includes former Democratic Governor and
U.S. Senator Ben Nelson, who wrote that Steve “was an asset to our
state and Nebraskans benefited from having such a capable and
thoughtful professional in public service. Today, he is unquestionably
one of the foremost appellate lawyers in the state, making him an
obvious choice for this seat on our federal appeals court.”
Debra Gilg, the former U.S. attorney for Nebraska and a Democrat
appointed by President Obama, said:
Steve has always enjoyed a reputation for honesty,
impeccable integrity, and dedication to the rule of law. He
possesses an even temperament well-suited for the bench and
always acts with respect to all that interact with him.
This is a nominee who should receive bipartisan support in the U.S.
Senate as well.
I urge my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to put their
lockstep partisan politics aside on these nominees and join with me and
my Nebraska colleague in voting to confirm this decent man of integrity
to the Eighth Circuit. I urge a “yes” vote on Steve Grasz.
Mr. President, I yield back all time.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, all time is yielded back.
The question is, Will the Senate advise and consent to the Grasz
Mrs. FISCHER. Mr. President, I ask for the yeas and nays.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there a sufficient second?
There appears to be a sufficient second.
The clerk will call the roll.
The senior assistant legislative clerk called the roll.
Mr. CORNYN. The following Senators are necessarily absent: the
Senator from Mississippi (Mr. Cochran) and the Senator from Arizona
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Johnson). Are there any other Senators in
the Chamber desiring to vote?
The result was announced--yeas 50, nays 48, as follows:
[Rollcall Vote No. 313 Ex.]
The nomination was confirmed.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, the motion to
reconsider is considered made and laid upon the table and the President
will be immediately notified of the Senate's action.