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Congressional Record2017/12/12Senate | House | Extensions

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[Congressional Record Volume 163, Number 202 (Tuesday, December 12, 2017)]
[Pages S7958-S7965]
From the Congressional Record Online through GPO




                     EXECUTIVE CALENDAR--Continued

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 veterans.

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 percent.

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 health insurance.

Let us get our priorities right. Let us immediately pass legislation extending and funding the CHIP program and the Community Health Center Program. [[Page S7959]]

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 billionaires.

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. Healthcare

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 [[Page S7960]] 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 afford premiums. [[Page S7961]]

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 competition.

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 companies.

Thank you, Mr. President.

I yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Hoeven). The Senator from Rhode Island. Net Neutrality

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 access.

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 doing.

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 [[Page S7962]] 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 messages.

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 already.

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.

Vote no.

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 grateful.

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 lifetime appointment.

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 this country.

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 [[Page S7963]] 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 forgotten.

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 James Ho.

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 bill.

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 right now.

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 tomorrow.

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 [[Page S7964]] 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 East Bank.

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 legislature?

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 ordered.

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 judicial temperament.

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 nomination?

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 (Mr. McCain).

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: [[Page S7965]] [Rollcall Vote No. 313 Ex.] YEAS--50 Alexander Barrasso Blunt Boozman Burr Capito Cassidy Collins Corker Cornyn Cotton Crapo Cruz Daines Enzi Ernst Fischer Flake Gardner Graham Grassley Hatch Heller Hoeven Inhofe Isakson Johnson Kennedy Lankford Lee McConnell Moran Murkowski Paul Perdue Portman Risch Roberts Rounds Rubio Sasse Scott Shelby Strange Sullivan Thune Tillis Toomey Wicker Young NAYS--48 Baldwin Bennet Blumenthal Booker Brown Cantwell Cardin Carper Casey Coons Cortez Masto Donnelly Duckworth Durbin Feinstein Franken Gillibrand Harris Hassan Heinrich Heitkamp Hirono Kaine King Klobuchar Leahy Manchin Markey McCaskill Menendez Merkley Murphy Murray Nelson Peters Reed Sanders Schatz Schumer Shaheen Stabenow Tester Udall Van Hollen Warner Warren Whitehouse Wyden NOT VOTING--2 Cochran McCain

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. ____________________



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