Skip to main content

tv   Key Capitol Hill Hearings  CSPAN  May 22, 2014 12:00pm-2:01pm EDT

12:00 pm
disparity and ensures that funds are addressed to the needs of shippers and that the great lakes system does not fall into further disrepair. when ships on the great lakes have to light load, which means they are about 10% less cargo than they should have, they have to reduce their cargo because channels are not deep enough. our whole economy suffers. not just the shippers, not the people producing the goods. we have to ship 10% less than we should on these ships and instead bringing them in from other parts of the world which doesn't make sense at all. that is why i cosponsored an amendment with senator levin that establishes the great lakes port as a single navigation system and sets aside funding for the ports. this makes sure dredging is done throughout the great lakes system. we are so excited about this. it is finally warming up in duluth and in northern minnesota. it is no longer colder than mars and our ships are ready to go and transport goods and we want
12:01 pm
them to be at their full capacity, and the only way we achieve this is by dredging some of these areas where we've seen some major problems. the bill also makes critical reforms to our nation's rivers and waterways. the inland waterway system in this country spans 38 states and handles approximately one half of all inland waterway freight. with many maintenance and construction projects years overdue, the inland waterways are in dire need of major rehabilitation. the inland waterways trust fund which funds these projects is in steady decline and if we don't strengthen it, the industries that so heavily depend on the inland water system and the people that work for these industries critical jobs will suffer. that is why i cosponsored the river act with senators casey and landrieu to help move forward major instruction -- construction projects on the inland waterway system including locks and dams on the
12:02 pm
mississippi river. other provisions of the river act are included in the final wrda bill including reforms to the project management process that will help ensure waterways projects are completed on time and cost overruns are minimized. i also supported senator casey's amendment to increase the inland waterways user fee. and let me emphasize that the user who pays this fee asks for it. they agreed to pay this fee. we have a case of a win-win situation where the businesses that use these locks and dams want to actually pay more money to upgrade them because they need to carry their goods for market. i think you know that the only way, madam president, that we are going to advance here in this economy on an international basis, if we're making stuff, inventing things and sending them overseas instead of everyone sending their goods to america. we're not going to do that without a modern transportation system. here you have businesses who are employing tens of thousands of
12:03 pm
people, hundreds of thousands of people, who are willing to pay extra money to upgrade our locks and dams. that's all this is about. industry partners from farmers to shippers to companies like fargo in my state strongly support this user fee increase. the increase was their idea. they know that this modest change would go a long way to ensuring that our nation's rivers are viable for years to come. the fee increase, madam president, did not make it into the wrda bill because it's a tax provision. there are some good things in this bill for locks and dams, and i do appreciate how the industry worked so well with me in allowing this provision of the closure of the one lock in minnesota to stop the invasive species going into our northern lakes. i also are continuing to work with them throughout the country. one thing that would truly help is this fee that the businesses are willing to pay. it's exactly what we want. private money going to upgrade
12:04 pm
our infrastructure. so, we need to get this done, and i will work with them in the future to get it on any bill we can so we can upgrade this country's locks and dams. madam president, again, i'd like to commend chairman boxer and ranking member vitter and all of the wrda conference for putting together this bipartisan legislation. from keeping invasive carp out of waters from fighting to protect -- to making sure harbors are at 100%. this legislation is vital to the economy, our environment, our cities and towns and i will be proud to vote for it today. thank you, madam president. i yield the floor. the presiding officer: the senator from arizona. mr. mccain: i ask unanimous consent to address the senate as if in morning business.
12:05 pm
the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mccain: i ask unanimous consent to address the senate as if in morning business for such time as i may consume. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mccain: i also understand that the chairman of the foreign relations committee may be on the floor shortly, and i would ask unanimous consent to pause while he delivers his speech. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mccain: madam president, the middle east today is engulfed in a middle east project. space for these projects is collapsing and radicalization is increasingly destabilizing the entire region. at the center of this growing conflict stands syria where for
12:06 pm
over three years now the syrian people have faced an unshraut of unspeakable -- onslaught of unspeakable violence from president bashar and his forces. as of today more than 160,000 syrians have been killed, over half the population is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and 9.3 million people have been driven from their homes in what the united nations has described, -- quote -- "as the greatest humanitarian tragedy of our times." to give you some sense of the scale of the growing refugee crisis, there are now one million registered syrian refugees in lebanon. that makes up one-fourth of the total population of the country. and this does not include the thousands who are living there unofficially and unregistered. this is if the entire population of canada was uprooted and became refugees in the united states of america twice over. without understanding the scale,
12:07 pm
it is hard to comprehend the stress on resources and the escalating tensions that these refugees have caused the neighboring countries. can you imagine what we would do as americans if we were dealing with the entire population of canada living as refugees in our country. inside syria, we are confronted with the inhumane cruelty of mr. assad and his forces every day. we've seen evidence of the systematic abuse, torture, starvation, and killing of approximately 100,000 detainees in what clearly amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity. the united nations has detailed the further arrests, detention, torture, and sexual abuse of thousands of children by government forces. human rights watch has documented how syrian authorities have deliberately used explosives and bulldozers
12:08 pm
to demolish entire neighborhoods for no military reason whatsoever, just as a form of collective punishment of syrian civilians. the united nations has also documented the toll of the syrian government's airstrike campaign, and in particular the regimes use of crude cluster munitions that have become known as barrel bombs. their sole purpose is to maim, kill, and terrorize as many civilians as possible when indiscriminately dropped on schools, bakeries and mosques. worse yet, evidence is piling up that assad's forces have been equipping these barrel bombs with chlorine gas. just last week french foreign minister lauren fabias said france has evidence of at least 14 chemical attacks carried out by syrian forces since 2013.
12:09 pm
adding -- and i quote -- "the regime is still capable of producing chemical weapons and is determined to use them. around the same time a senior israeli defense minister stated that -- quote -- "from the day that he signed the deal, assad has sued chemical weapons over 30 times, and in every case citizens were killed." the state department has further verified these reports, stating they were indications of the use of chlorine. though it was quick to point out that this is not one of the chemicals syria was obliged to surrender. i note the presence of the chairman of the foreign relations committee, and i yield to him at this time. mr. menendez: i thank -- madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from new jersey. mr. menendez: i thank the distinguished senator from arizona and a distinguished member of the senate foreign relations committee, for his courtesy. i know he's in the midst of
12:10 pm
comments in which i share his concerns and for which he has been very outspoken, so i'll try to condense our effort here. madam president, i have three unanimous consent requests for committees to meet during today's session of the senate. they have the approval of the majority and minority leaders. i ask unanimous consent these requests be agreed to and be printed in the record. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. menendez: madam president, on monday the department of justice announced that swiss bank credit suisse pled guilty to the criminal charge of helping american citizens cheat on their taxes and agreed to pay a $2.6 billion fine. the bank admitted to using bogus entities to disguise undeclared u.s. accounts from american tax authorities. and it admitted to helping its clients arrange large cash transactions to skirt u.s. reporting requirements. the guilty plea means that the bank will be punished for its transgressions and it serves as a warning to others who would
12:11 pm
engage in or enable tax evasion. but astoundingly credit suisse will not be required to disclose additional names of u.s. citizens who hired the bank to help them cheat on their taxes and evade prosecution by u.s. authorities. as the permanent subcommittee on investigations reported earlier this year, the justice department has only been able to obtain the names of 238 credit suisse customers out of 22,000 u.s.-owned accounts at the bank. madam president, the reason for this is simple. swiss bank secrecy laws forbid credit suisse and other swiss banks from sharing information about their clients to u.s. tax authorities, even if those clients are actively violating u.s. tax laws. luckily we have a simple solution, one which we could enact right now with agreement from this body. on april 1, the foreign relations committee, with strong bipartisan support, reported favorably out a new protocol
12:12 pm
amending our tax treaty with switzerland. for decades tax treaties have played a key role in facilitating greater and more transparent trade and development. they have helped protect american companies from double taxation and made it easier for them to explore new markets and business opportunities. they do this all while simultaneously protecting u.s. taxpayer privacy and information confidentiality and they enhance our efforts to prevent tax avoidance or evasion. the new protocol with switzerland with no longer permit swiss banks like credit suisse to withhold information on u.s. individuals who have for years hidden behind swiss bank's secrecy laws to avoid paying u.s. taxes. the protocol brings our tax treaty with switzerland into conforming with both internationally accepted standards on the information exchange as well as the most recent u.s. model tax treaty.
12:13 pm
it includes an arbitration provision to ensure that when disputes arise between u.s. and swiss tax authorities over issues like the exchange of information, these disputes will be resolved expeditiously rather than dragging on and frustrating cross-border tax enforcement. the swiss government has already ratified the protocol. we should do the same. credit suisse pled guilty to evading tax -- to abetting tax evasion but were not forced to disclose names of the tax evaders because it would violate swiss bank secrecy laws. ratifying the treaty with switzerland is necessary. it will enable u.s. authorities to obtain names of these and other tax evaders who are still taking advantage of bank secrecy laws to avoid paying their fair share. so, madam president, i ask unanimous consent that at a time to be determined by the majority leader in consultation with the republican leader, the senate proceed to executive session to
12:14 pm
consider calendar 9, treaty document 112-1, that the treaty be considered as having advanced through the various parliamentary stages up to and including the presentation of the resolutions for ratifications, any decorations be agreed to and any statements be printed in the record as if read and the resolution for ratification if agreed to, the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid on the table, and that the president be immediately notified of the senate's action and then the senate then resume legislative session. the presiding officer: is there objection? mr. paul: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from kentucky. mr. paul: reserving the right to object. as you know this discussion has gone on for quite awhile. i disagree with many of the implications of where these treaties will take us but i realize there are beneficial aspects of the treaties. because of the critical invasion
12:15 pm
of privacy these treaties would allow, i can't support them. these treaties are an encroachment on our privacy and our constitutional right to privacy. many of the previous treaties we've had in the past focused on information specific to tax fraud. i'm not opposed to getting the information of those who have committed fraud or broken the law, but you must have an accusation and must submit some proof. i can't see saying we're just going to look at everybody's records. we're going to have bulk collection of record without suspicion. as previously stated the information to be exchanged in the past had to show that they were for preventing tax fraud. the new treaties, though, is going to change the standard from looking for tax fraud which seems to be what everybody is talking about here, to saying that we will look for financial information that may be relevant. what we're doing is we're taking the standard down to something "may be relevant" which could be
12:16 pm
a dragnet for getting everyone's information, it will be a deterrent to foreign investors both in our country as well as other countries. i think at the very least every american whether at home or abroad deserves the right to the fourth amendment protections guaranteed by the constitution. i want the record to be clear. i do not condone americans who do notle to follow the letter of the law but can't support a law that punishes every american regardless of whether there is suspicion they have committed a crime. while i want the important benefits included in the tax treaties to be ratified, i cannot support a treaty that would pave the way for a law that will permit the i.r.s. to share information of customers at u.s. banks with foreign governments. imagine we will be conceivably sharing information about customers here with governments that may well not even be our friends. nor can i support a treaty that may facilitate the bulk collection of private financial
12:17 pm
data for all u.s. citizens living abroad. for those reasons, madam president, i object. the presiding officer: objection is heard. mr. menendez: madam president, very briefly. the presiding officer: the senator from new jersey. mr. menendez: i -- i am disappointed because basically what we're going to do is those of us who are law-abiding and pay our taxes have to suffer the consequences of those who cheat and go abroad to do so. and when they do that, they undermine the ability of this government to have the resources, to arm the men and women who serve us abroad and protect them, to take care of their health care, to deal with the challenges of educating the next generation of americans. let me just say, you know, this question that the treaty somehow -- first of all if the swiss are not a friendly country, i don't know i don't know who is.
12:18 pm
it isn't a question of a country that isn't friendly. let's remove that objection. the treaty supposedly infringes on the rights of -- fourth amendment rights of american citizens. these only allow the collection of information that is foreseably bli relevant to the collection of taxes and provides protections against fishing expeditions, the requesting country must demonstrate that the individuals targeted have engaged in activities that suggest they are engaging in fraud. the existing free treaty with swiltsland requires the requesting country to establish tax fraud or fraudulent conduct as a basis for exchange. that standard has clearly proven to be too narrow for the purposes of prosecuting tax evasion as demonstrated by this recent credit suisse settlement where the bank does not hand
12:19 pm
over the names of individuals who used credit suisse to hide their income. the wages are both reported to the i.r.s., there's no reason with people with foreign bank accounts should be able to hide their money away from the i.r.s. in a way that average hardworking americans cannot. it boggles my mind that we're going to treat average hardworking americans in a different way than those who have the money to go ahead and cheat and ultimately avoid their responsibility to our collective society. so we will continue to raise this issue. i won't expound upon it any more, i have plenty to say, in deference to the senator from arizona who was gracious enough to yield the floor, i will yield the floor at this time. the presiding officer: the senator from arizona. mr. comainl: i ask unanimous consent my complete remarks, mr. mccain: i ask unanimous consent my complete remarks not show interrupted by the colloquy that just took lace -- took
12:20 pm
place. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mccain: so it appears that we are faced with a situation in which the assad regime has agreed to give up chemical weapons after using them to murder nearly 1,400 civilians last year but it's using other chemicals, less lethal but nonetheless effective to continue gassing civilians to death and the world does nothing about it. why? because technically this is permitted under the chemical weapons agreement, that a shameful and is outrageous. what's more, months after the deadline for removing all of its chemical weapon stockpiles, the stearn government has yet to fulfill its obligations under the treaty and using remaining stockpiles to bargain over the terms of the original agreement in hopes of retaining its storage and production facilities. as we were once again faced with images of men, women, and
12:21 pm
children writhing on the ground gasping for brelt, assad continues to commit mass atrocities. again, red lines are tested and crossed and the united states of america and the world do nothing. these are just some of the many reasons why our director of national intelligence referred to the syria crisis it's as an apocalyptic disaster. but this apocalyptic disaster in syria is no longer just a humanitarian tragedy for one country. it is a regional conflict of interest and an -- conflict and emerging threat to us all. no one should believe we're immune to what's happening in syria. none of us are. for those of you who look at these events and say what neville chamberlain said about a different problem in an earlier time, this? this is -- and i quote -- "a
12:22 pm
quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing" don't think that events in syria won't have repercussions much closer to home. the terrorist sanctuary that al qaeda and its associated forces now enjoy in syria and iraq increasingly poses a direct threat to united states national security. and that of our closest allies and partners. indeed, the secretary of homeland security, mr. jeh johnson has said syria is now a matter of homeland security. the director of national intelligence, james clapper has repeatedly warned that al qaeda-affiliated terrorists in syria now aspire to attack the homeland. if the september 11 attacks should have taught us anything it is that global terrorists who occupy ungoverned spaces and seek to plot and plan attacks against us can pose a direct threat to our national security. that was afghanistan on
12:23 pm
september 10, 2007 -- 2001 and what top ofertions in this administration are now warning us that syria is becoming today. the latest u.s. intelligence estimates say that more than 100 americans have traveled to fight in syria alongside extremists, joining some of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world today. earlier this month, f.b.i. director james comey stated all of us with a memory of the 1980's and 1990's saw the line drawn from afghanistan to september 11. we see syria as that. but in order of magnitude worse in a couple of respects. far more people are going there and far easier to travel to and back from. already senior intelligence officers -- officials believe that between 6 and 12 americans who have gone to syria to fight have now returned to america.
12:24 pm
possibly with the intention to carry out attacks here. we know where some are, stated one senior u.s. intelligence official. some? what about the others? does that reassure you? the sheer scale of foreign fighters with western passports traveling to fight in syria has our senior most intelligence officers worried about how easy it would be for these people to slip through the cracks. in march, director of the national counterterrorism center, matthew olson testified that the n.s.a. does not the ability to track the thousands of jihadists flocking to area. he testified this raises our concern that radicalized individuals with extremist contacts could return to their home countries to commit violence on their own initiative or partnership in al qaeda-directed plots aimed at western targets outside of syria.
12:25 pm
first indoctrinated and then trained and equipped, the foreign fighters joining groups like the islamic state of iraq in syria known as i.s.i.s., the group that froofd profd too radical even for al qaeda's senior leadership, presents a challenge that rises above a mere counterterrorism problem. isis no longer exists in small, concentrated cells conducting operations limited in nature and scope. it is become real, nascent state actor, similar in organization and power to the taliban of the late 1990's and possessing a real army of foreign recruits capable of carrying out attacks across the world. the territory it possesses is no longer a safe haven within a state. it has become a de facto state that serves as a safe haven and an inwithout ciewt bator for terrorism than did pre9/11
12:26 pm
afghanistan. it is an irony that our efforts to eradicate the al qaeda safe haven in afghanistan are proving successful, we see an even more dangerous terrorist sanctuary emerging on the border of europe between damascus and baghdad. my friends, here is the tragic reality of the war in syria. after more than three years of horror and suffering and devastation, and growing threats to international security, the conflict in syria continues to get worse and worse, both for syria and for the world. but the united states and the international community have no effective policy to help bring this conflict to a responsible end. the geneva peace talks have failed entirely as predicted, ambassador brahimi, the u.s. special ript has given up on the process and resigned last week. this should surprise no one.
12:27 pm
the united states and the international community have been reluctant to provide the opposition with much-needed material support. meanwhile, assad has the active support of hezbollah, iran, and russia, and is using nearly every weapon in his arsenal to kill his way to victory. and he is winning. so why would he want to negotiate himself out of power now? can we finally stop hiding behind the fantasy of geneva and admit what has been painfully obvious from the start, that there is no hope for a negotiated solution until the momentum on the battlefield changes against the assad regime and that will only happen through greater international intervention of some sort. after painful and costly experiences in iraq and afghanistan, a war-weary american public does not appear eager for an activist
12:28 pm
international policy and while it is understandable and unsurprising that the american public has been reluctant to get engaged with events in the wider middle east, the tide of war does not recede simply because we wish it so. the outcome of the the administration's disnaingment has been -- disengagement has been a consistent failure to support more responsible forces in syria when that support would have mattered. the decent of syria into growing instability, the use of syria as a training ground for al qaeda affiliates and other terrorist organizations is, the ceding of regional leadership to our adversaries and thele tolerance for crimes against humanity, in short all of the awful things that crings said would happen if we got more involved in syria have happened because we have not gotten more involved. we continue to hear from the administration that there are no good options in syria, as if
12:29 pm
there ever were good options in the real world and the only alternative to our current disengagement is a full-scale ground invasion and war without end. the president has frequently said as much recently stating it is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in syria would have led to a better outcome short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in iraq. but this claim has been directly contradicted by other administration officials who recognize that our inaction in syria is not because we lack options or capability but, rather, the will. in an april 30 speech at the holocaust museum in washington our ambassador to the united nations, samantha powers said -- quote -- "to those who would argue that a head of state or government has to choose only between doing nothing and sending in the military, i maintain that is a constructed and false choice, an
12:30 pm
accompaniment only to disengagement and passivity." the french foreign minister has expressed his regrets that western nations did not carry out threatened airstrikes against the regime following the august, 2013 chemical attack and that more had not been done to stob stop the abominable behavior of the assad regime. he stated, we regretted not carrying out threatened air strikes because we think it would have changed everything. that's the french foreign minister who regrets that we didn't carry out the air strikes because we think it would have changed everything. in his comments, he made it clear that a limited surgical strike would have made all the difference in syria, it would have stopped the chemical attacks that continue today, save the lives of thousands of people and prevented the devastating consequences that
12:31 pm
have reverberated across the world since that red line was crossed. it is true that our options to help end the conflict in syria were never good, and they are much worse and fewer now, but as mr. fabius pointed out, as bad as our options in syria may be, we still have options, and no one should believe that doing something meaningful to help in syria requires total war or invasion. literally no one is calling for that, and it is intellectually dishonest to suggest so. this is not a question of options or costs or capabilities, but a question of will. the continued violence in syria is expected to kill tens of thousands more and produce millions of refugees by the year's end. this is a humanitarian tragedy, to be sure, but one with immediate strategic consequences. the longer the devastation goes on, the more difficult it will be to put syria back together
12:32 pm
again, and failing to do so will leave a dangerous conflagration in the heart of the middle east. a failed state at war with itself where extremism and instability will fester and terrorists of all brands will find ample space, resources and recruits to menace the region and eventually attack the united states. if ever there was a case that should remind us that our interests are individual from our values, it is syria. we cannot afford to go numb to this human tragedy. i have seen my fair share of suffering and death in the world, but the images and stories coming out of syria haunt me most. in the time that i have been speaking, at least two syrians have been killed, 45 syrians have become refugees and 15 syrian families have been forced from their homes. and in another 15 minutes from now, two more will be killed, 45
12:33 pm
more will almost refugees and 15 more families will be forced from their homes. is that acceptable to us? neither the united states, europe or the syrian people can afford the cost of defeatism. the price of abandonment includes not only a failed state in syria but an entire region teetering on the brink of disaster, and it means emboldening our adversaries and conceding a safe haven and a state to the world's most dangerous terrorist groups. while these are the real tangible consequences we face, it also means conceding the moral sources of our great power and giving up on every principle our nation was built on. all of us, americans and europeans, must recognize that our power confers a responsibility on us. if the most powerful nations in the world have the capabilities and the options to help bring to an end one of the most horrific
12:34 pm
mass atrocities in modern times, what does it say about us that we have not done so? history will render a bitter and scathing judgment on america and the world for our failure in syria, and i pray that we will finally recognize that and take the necessary actions to help the syrian people write a better ending to this sad chapter of world affairs. madam president, i ask unanimous consent that an article from the "washington post" entitled "f.b.i. director, number of americans traveling to fight in syria is increasing" be included as part of the record. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mccain: and the following article -- "exclusive al qaeda's american fighters are coming home and u.s. intelligence can't find them" also be included in the record. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mccain: madam president, i yield the floor.
12:35 pm
mr. mcconnell: madam president? the presiding officer: the republican leader. mr. mcconnell: this weekend, americans will gather to remember all who have fought and perished so that we might live in freedom. memorial day is our chance to honor their extraordinary sacrifices. of course, kentucky has long played a proud and vital role in the defense of our nation. i'm honored to represent so many kentuckians in the armed forces, including those stationed at fort knox, fort campbell, the bluegrass army depot and members of the reserves and kentucky national guard. one of the reasons memorial day is so important to me is because
12:36 pm
it allows americans to reflect and give thanks for all that we have, to recognize that none of it would have been possible without so many americans we have never met putting everything on the line for us. that's why the men and women who protect us deserve our full support when they are deployed, when they are training and when they return home. most americans certainly agree with that statement. and yet, as we have recently learned, that's not what's happening. so many americans now turn on the evening news just to be sickened by the steady drip, drip from the obama administration's growing veterans scandal. the denial of care to our veterans is a national disgrace, and the scandal only seems to increase in scope by the day. we first heard about one hospital in phoenix.
12:37 pm
then we heard about ten medical centers across the nation. now there are at least two dozen v.a. facilities under investigation. it all leads to an obvious question -- just how widespread is this failure to treat our veterans? we need answers from the president and his administration, but the white house claims the president didn't really even know about the latest scandal until hearing about it on the news. even though a top official testified he knew of inappropriate scheduling practices at v.a. health care clinics as far back as 2010. it sure raises a lot of questions. but you know, it's a curious thing. president obama, the most powerful man in the free world, always seems to be the last to know about what's going on in his own administration. from the obama administration's i.r.s. scandal to its obamacare web site fiasco, just about
12:38 pm
every time the president claims to be in the dark until the wrongdoing surfaces on its own, usually in the press. the pattern, madam president, is incredibly worrying, and if it is really true that he learns so much through the press, if he really knows that little about what's going on in his own administration, then i recommend he get reengaged right now, right now. because american presidential leadership is needed today. this scandal appears to be a failure of huge magnitude, and the people we represent are demanding that he rise to the challenge. our veterans are counting on him to work with both parties to get to the truth and to pursue solutions that can make things better. solutions like the v.a. reform bill that passed the house just
12:39 pm
yesterday with strong bipartisan support. that legislation which i have cosponsored and which senator rubio has been the leader on would make it easier to remove high-level v.a. employees for performance failures. it's a smart idea. there is no reason for us not to pass it quickly right here in the senate, and the president should call for its passage right away, too. that would be one positive step forward for him, a small one but a positive one. even though for some reason, the white house has been ambivalent about the bill. but look, we all remember how engaged the president was when blocked. he was very engaged. he didn't just send a staffer out to phoenix. he didn't just give a secretary a stern talking to. he didn't say he wouldn't stand for it. he pulled out all the stops. he made it his number-one
12:40 pm
priority to get that web site running even if that's still not done. and what i'm saying is the president should put more effort into helping our veterans than his attempt to fix a web site. only he can work with us to get to the truth. our veterans deserve it. they deserve answers. they deserve accountability. and they deserve solutions. and as we look ahead to memorial day, i hope the president will work constructively with us to give them just that. to prove just how grateful we are to the brave men and women who protect us every single day. madam president, i suggest the -- i'm sorry. i yield the floor. a senator: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from massachusetts. mr. markey: i ask unanimous consent to speak for up to ten minutes. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. markey: i thank you,
12:41 pm
madam president. i rise today to speak in favor of the confirmation of david barron to the first circuit court of appeals. as a harvard law professor, he has broad bipartisan support from those who know him best, his colleagues. larry tride, charles freed, two professors at harvard who could not be further apart politically but both agree that -- and this is a joint quote -- "barron is a brilliant lawyer who will make an excellent judge. what is clear to us is that barron would decide cases based solely on the relevant sources of legal authority, including binding precedent, and that his political views would in no way distort his legal judgment." this is the kind of unequivocal support we want for a judicial nominee, and david barron is just the kind of judge we should confirm. i stand alongside those of my colleagues who believe transparency is paramount and that we need a public debate on
12:42 pm
drone policy. indeed, i support a robust debate on our entire drone policy. not simply the use of a drone to kill an american citizen who is plotting the annihilation of his fellow americans. importantly, the white house just announced that it will release to the general public the key memo that professor barron wrote so all americans will be able to take part in this debate. but let's be clear. david barron is not responsible for the administration's delay in releasing the memos he and others in the office of legal counsel were directed to produce. and mr. barron is certainly not responsible for the administration's drone policy of the decision to authorize an attack. he is a lawyer who was asked to do legal analysis for his client, the president of the united states. entangling david barron's nomination with the policy of drone deployment is unfair to him, unfair to the people of massachusetts, maine, new hampshire, rhode island and puerto rico who need the vacancy
12:43 pm
on the first circuit filled by someone as qualified as david barron. i believe that david barron will be an excellent judge, and that is why he has my support. i also rise today to commend the senate on taking final action on the water resources reform and development act known as wrrda. today's bill includes the $310 million boston harbor dredging project which will deepen boston harbor's main navigation channels. boston harbor is an economic anchor for the entire new england region and this investment will help ensure its future as a port of world-class distinction. improving the harbor to accommodate more and larger ships will bring more jobs, more investments, more economic activity to the harbor, extending boston's position as a shining city on a hill as well as on the shore. dredging the harbor will double the number of containers on ships coming into boston. the project will also allow the
12:44 pm
port to accommodate ships being built to serve the expanded panama canal which is planned to open next year. the army corps projects that for every dollar spent on construction, there will be $9 returned in increased economic activity, resulting in a $2.7 billion economic benefit for the entire new england region. so i thank chairman boxer, ranking member vitter for their hard work getting this bill over the finishing line. i also want to thank senator warren and congressman capuano, congressman lynch and the entire massachusetts congressional delegation for their leadership and commitment in securing this vital funding. i yield back, madam president, the balance of my time. a senator: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from nevada. mr. heller: thank you, madam president. on monday, may 26, our nation will pause and remember all
12:45 pm
those who paid the ultimate price while serving in the united states armed forces. memorial day is a solemn day on which we recognize these brave heroes for their valor, their courage and their commitment to our country. as we honor and remember those who died fighting for our freedom, congress must also remember that we still have a promise to fulfill to the veterans who thankfully returned home, many with visible and invisible wounds of war. our nation has a proud history of caring for its wounded and disabled service members and their families. when these men and women volunteered their services, the united states guaranteed that they'd be cared for. as a member of the senate veterans' affairs committee, i believe that that promise has not been kept. it's no secret that the department of veterans affairs is facing a significant challenge with accountability and all agents at all levels in their agency. this failure of responsibility has an impact on hundreds of thousands of veterans in my home state of nevada. last month i was honored to have
12:46 pm
a number of veterans join me for a round table in las vegas. this was an opportunity for me to just listen and to hear their concerns. by far, nearly every veteran in attendance expressed frustrations with the v.a. claims backlog and the health care that they're receiving. these veterans told me that they feel discouraged and hopeless that the v.a. does not and will not keep its promise. they told me about the negative impact, the delays in benefits and care has on veterans and their families. such comments should come as no surprise given the difficulties nevada veterans are facing. look no further than the problem with the claims backlog here in nevada. although the secretary of the v.a. promised there would be changes to address this problem, nevada veterans are still waiting the longest in the nation, up to 352 days on average, for their disability benefit claims to be processed. this is nearly three times the v.a. deadline of 125 days to
12:47 pm
complete a claim. these issues in nevada and the allegations raised across the country are causing veterans to lose faith in the v.a. and i've raised all these concerns with the secretary in a letter i sent two weeks ago. i asked for immediate answers about the lack of accountability on the local level and whether the v.a. leadership finally plans to do something about it. although i requested a response by wednesday, may 21, the v.a. still has not responded. while this promise ultimately amounts to a lack of accountability in the v.a. leadership, when i questioned the secretary at the senate veterans' affairs committee hearing last week, he agreed that he was ultimately responsible for the problems with the v.a. care and health benefits. despite this, despite this admissions, and the admitting that veterans are not receiving the care that they were promised, he said that he does not plan to resign. so my question is: if the
12:48 pm
secretary does not plan to resign, who is held accountable in the v.a.? the v.a. has been given enough chances to change and do better, but these were empty promises that have not produced any results. it is now up to members of congress to take action. that is why i have already taken a number of steps to exert oversight, demand transparency, develop solutions to problems that are facing the v.a. during last week's hearing, i asked the secretary for assurance that the audits being conducted by the v.a. at the medical facilities would include awful nevada's -- all of nevada's hospitals and clinics and that the results would be shared with me and the rest of our delegation. as promised by the secretary, i look forward to receiving these results as soon as possible. i expect substantive immediate action should nevada have any reports of mistreatments or delayed care of veterans. i also visited again with the las vegas hospital officials last friday to ensure veterans at this facility are receiving
12:49 pm
the care they have earned and that the facility -- and whether or not the facility is properly handling its appointments and the waiting time. it's critical that the las vegas v.a. hospital constantly work to improve its services and follows recommendations from the v.a. inspector general so that patients do not endure long waits like the blind female veteran who waited five hours before being seen in the emergency room. i believe the senate veterans' affairs committee should continue to exert oversight and hold hearings to keep v.a. officials accountable and transparent to congress, to veterans and to the american public. furthermore, i believe now more than ever that it's time for congress to take hrefbgt action to fix one of the -- besting action to fix one of the biggest problems at the v.a., the disability backlog. despite opportunities for improvement, 293,000 veterans
12:50 pm
nationwide and 3,700 veterans in nevada have waited over 125 days for their claims to be processed so that they can get the compensation they have earned and the v.a. medical care that they desperately need. to address this issue, i introduced the v.a. backlog working group march 2014 report along with a bipartisan group of senators, including senators casey, moran, heinrich, vitter and tester. this report outlines the claims process, explains the history of the v.a.'s claim backlog, offers targeted solutions to help the v.a. develop an efficient and accurate benefits delivery system that will ensure our veterans will never again have to wait more than 125 days to receive a decision on their claim. what our working group found was that the process is not only complex but the backlog has been a consistent problem for more
12:51 pm
than two decades largely because the v.a. is using a 1945 process in the 21st century. i sent every member of this chamber a copy of this report and encourage my colleagues to take a look at it to understand how we got to where we are today and what it will take to fix the claims process permanently. to this report, to put this report's targeted solution into action, our working group introduced this 21st century veterans benefit delivery act. this comprehensive bipartisan piece of legislation addresses three areas of the claims process. claims submission, v.a. regional office practices and federal agencies responses to v.a. request. the presiding officer: the majority leader. mr. reid: could i ask courtesy of my colleague from nevada to do a brief unanimous consent request so we know what is going on this afternoon? mr. heller: that is fine. mr. reid: i would?
12:52 pm
consent his -- i ask unanimous consent his statement not appear interrupted. following the vote on the wrda legislation the senate proceed to consideration of executive calendar 638, frank, a nomination, and vote on confirmation thereof. further, there be two minutes of debate prior to the vote equally divided in the usual form. further, that if confirmed, the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid on the table and no intervening action or debate be in order to the nomination, any statements related to the nomination be printed in the record and that president obama be immediately notified of the senate's action and the senate resume legislative session. the presiding officer: is there objection? without objection. mr. reid: with this agreement, madam president, there will be as many as three roll call votes starting at 1:45. however, we expect only two roll call votes. i appreciate again the courtesy of my friend from nevada. mr. heller: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from nevada. mr. heller: thank you. thank you, madam president. i want to go back to the v.a. claims backlog working group
12:53 pm
that was introduced several months ago. it's a comprehensive bipartisan piece of legislation that addresses three areas. first, claims submission. two, v.a. regional office practices. and, three, the federal agency's responses to v.a. requests. i'd like to thank my colleagues, senators casey, moran, heinrich, vitter, murkowski, warren, klobuchar, warner, toomey, thune and pryor for joining me to address this very, very critical issue. i recognize that the claims process is complex. there is no silver bullet that's going to solve this problem overnight. but the v.a.'s current efforts will not eliminate the backlog. and it's common sense. targeted solutions from congress that will address some of the inefficiencies that are keeping veterans from receiving a timely decision. that is why this bill has been endorsed by a number of veterans service organizations, including the american legion, veterans of
12:54 pm
foreign war, the disabled american veterans, the iraq and afghanistan veterans of america, the military officers association of america, and the association of the united states navy. i'd like to thank these v.s.o.'s for their support and for collaborating with the working group to develop solutions that will fix this problem. time and again we've asked our men and women in uniform to answer the call of duty, and they do so without hesitation. ensuring veterans receive disability benefits, quality v.a. medical care in a timely manner is the least we can do to thank them for their service. as a member of the senate veterans' affairs committee, it is my role and responsibility to get answers for nevada's veterans, and i will uphold the commitment to oversight. in the coming weeks i will be watching the v.a. closely for changes and improvement to mitigate the very serious lapse in care and services that have occurred. if the v.a. continues on the course it is currently on, then i think it's time to look for changes at the highest level.
12:55 pm
again, madam chair, thank you. thank you for the time. i want to thank all of our veterans, including nearly 300,000 that call nevada home, for defending this country, for preserving americans' liberties and for their commitment and sacrifice. it will not be forgotten nor taken for granted. madam president, thank you very much. i yield back. a senator: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from washington. ms. cantwell: madam president, i come to the floor this afternoon to thank my colleagues who have signed on to a letter to the nfl asking that they change the name of the washington football team. i'd also like to thank leader reid for his leadership on this issue and trying to accentuate the care and concern that he has for 22 tribes in the state of nevada and the fact that their interest in seeing the dignity and respect of those tribes with the name change as well. i also come to the floor and ask
12:56 pm
my colleagues who have not signed on to that letter to sign on to a letter asking the nfl to take action as aggressively as the n.b.a. took action and to move on this issue. i'll be sending a letter to each of my colleagues asking them to either sign on to this letter or to write their own letter, as one of our colleagues did. because i'm convinced that if each member of this body speaks on this issue and is forceful in their resolve, that we can help initiate change. madam president, i know that not everybody in america may understand why this is so important, and having personally worked with 29 traoeups in the state of -- 29 tribes in the state of washington and for a short period of time served as the chair of the senate indian affairs committee but having been a member of that my entire time in the united states senate, i can tell that you this may not even be the top issue in
12:57 pm
indian country. we certainly have understaffed hospitals, challenging school situations, decaying infrastructure, challenges and concerns about fishing rights, whether they are the challenges that ocean acidification thaos thaos -- has to our fishing ability in the northwest or whether it is alaska making sure that alaska natives who are on subsistence fishing be able to continue to do what they do. there are many, many issues in what we refer to as indian country that i would say are about the health and safety and welfare of those individuals. yet, this issue is a reminder to all of us that intolerance in our communities is a problem. we're here to say that we respect these tribal entities
12:58 pm
that have requested this name change. we are saying that we have a trust responsibility with these organizations and these individual tribes, so when the national congress of american indians, an organization that represents millions of americans with native american background, and when they call for a change, the fact that we ignore that is a disrespect to those tribal entities. so there are many organizations across the united states of america who have joined this battle as well. the naacp, the anti-defamation league, the united latin american citizens, the new york state assembly, the national congress of american indians, the d.c. city council, the prince george's county council i believe that is, even the president of the united states has spoken out on this issue. so what is it going to take to get the name of this team
12:59 pm
changed? i say to my colleagues that even the patent office, a federal agency with determining whether a word can be protected in commerce says this term is a derogatory slang and is disparaging to native americans. we believe commissioner g.e.d. dell needs to do -- commissioner good dell makes sure one of their owners puts the end to the raopbg use -- wrong use of a football term. we're not going to give up on this battle. similarly like organization on the web site which is a great video about why native americans care so much about this issue, it is time to update the relationship. when i look at yesterday at the white house w-rbgs an
1:00 pm
unbelievable ceremony i'm very proud of, the welcoming of the champion world sea hawk football team, and there walking into the white house were many americans from the state of washington all decked out in sea hawk gear. i don't know if that that was te protocol for the white house. and i'm sure the crowd was overcome -- the white house was overcome, even though they said nobody take pictures, but it was pretty hard to accomplish. but there they were native americans from our state who are partners with the seattle seahawks. they are advertising partners. they are suite owners. they advertise and participate together. the logo of the seahawks was designed by a native american. that is the relationship of the nfl and native americans today in the pacific northwest. so juxtapoze that here to
1:01 pm
washington, the owner in opposition to changing the name that's been clear to him to be racially feighansive to native americans -- racially offensive to native americans. so we're here today to ask our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to join us, to join us because it was hard to unite our side but i know with a few of their voices, we can move this issue further. and why is tolerance so important? well, one individual said -- quote -- "tolerance, intercultural dialogue, and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where people are becoming more and more closely interconnecte interconnected." that happened to be kofi annan, the secretary-general of the united nations. and while that is a global view of what the challenge is we face, we need to practice that in reality here. that's why i was so happy that we passed the violence against women act with the provision in it making sure that women in
1:02 pm
indian country would also be protected. and we have to ask ourselves, why did it take us so long to get that provision? well, even the u.n. special envoy on indigenous rights of people around the world, james anaya, also that said the nfl should change -- basically, basically that it's a hurtful reminder and represents a long history of mistreatment in the united states of america. he cited the u.n. declaration on the rights of indigenous peopl people -- quote -- "they use stereotypes to obscure the understanding and reality of native americans today and instead hope keep alive a racially discriminatory attitude." so, madam president, even the u.n., even the world community is calling on this community here to deal with this issue and we should act. so i hope my colleagues will
1:03 pm
help us in this effort to get the nfl to do the right thing. i thank the president. i yield the floor. a senator: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from rhode island. mr. whitehouse: there has been considerable discussion on the floor about the nominee to the first circuit, david barron, that has hinged around his tenure at the office of legal counsel and an opinion that he wrote specifying the outer bounds of presidential authority in the area of defending our national security against americans who have signed up with organizations that do us harm. i just wish briefly to bring to the attention of this chamber that that is not the only issue with respect to david barron and the office of legal counsel. the office of legal counsel has, indeed, had a scandal at it and
1:04 pm
it is, indeed, related to david barron but it's related to david barron in the best possible way in that he's the one who cleaned up the scandal. the scandal in question, as the presiding officer as a former attorney general of her state -- and she will understand this very clearly -- the scandal in question related to the shabby opinions that were written by the office of legal counsel to justify the torture program that was run by the bush administration. and when i say "shabby," these were awful opinions. they were hidden from most peer scrutiny because they would not have stood up to peer scrutiny, and they made errors as basic as failing to cite fifth circuit court of appeals decisions right on point. there actually had been an incident in which the department
1:05 pm
of justice, where the office of legal counsel is located, prosecuted a texas sheriff for waterboarding victims in order to get confessions out of them. he was prosecuted as a criminal. he was convicted. the case went to the fifth circuit on appeal. and in the course of their written decision on the appeal, the fifth circuit court of appeals of the united states -- one row below the united states supreme court -- described the techniques water torture that was used of waterboarding, and on i think a dozen separate occasions used the word "torture" to describe what was being done. look for that case in the office of legal counsel, look for that case in the opinion of the office of legal counsel, about whether or not torture is accomplished by waterboarding, whether waterboarding is torture. it's not there. they didn't even cite the case.
1:06 pm
it was a case they could have found in their own files because the department of justice was the organization that had prosecuted this sheriff as a criminal for that act. if you wanted to bring it up as a case and try to find a way to distinguish it, i could accept that. i would probably disagree with that analysis but the failure to even cite the case, knowing how difficult it would be for the torture program to go forward, i think is a sign of either the worst kind of incompetence or a deliberate fix being put into an opinion of the office of legal counsel. having served as a u.s. attorney as well, i think the department of justice should have the best lawyers in the country, and within the department of justice, the o.l.c. prides itself on being the best of the best. so it was a disgraceful departure from that standard when these torture opinions were allowed to pass. they simply don't meet any reasonable test of adequacy. and so on april 15, 2009, the
1:07 pm
department of justice withdrew the office of legal counsel's c.i.a. interrogation opinions and the memorandum for the attorney general affecting that withdrawal was signed by none other than david barron. this was an instance of a man who absolutely did the right thing and he helped clean up a terrible mess that had been left at the department of justice. we should be proud of the conduct of david barron at the office of legal counsel. i ask unanimous consent that the one-page memorandum for the attorney general, signed by david barron, be entered into the record as an exhibit to my remarks. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. whitehouse: and i yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
1:08 pm
1:09 pm
1:10 pm
1:11 pm
a senator: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from florida. mr. rubio: i ask unanimous consent the quorum call be suspended. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. rubio: thank you, madam president. i'm here on the floor today to talk about an issue that has received a tremendous amount of attention, and rightfully so, over the last few weeks and it's the outrage of what's happening at the veterans administration. let me start at the outset by saying that while certainly people need to be held accountable to this, this should not be and really is not a partisan issue. i think we all have a deep commitment to service -- helping our veterans, the men and women who spend time away from their families and put their lives on the line to defend this country, to whom we make some fundamental
1:12 pm
promises. that when they come home, they will be taken care of, especially those who have been harmed while in the service of our country. and so i think we are all both heartbroken and outraged that news that in fact the agency that is supposed to take care of them is not doing so. and i think what's even more troubling is that this appears to be a systemic problem. this is not simply an isolated instance in phoenix or in some other institution somewhere in the country. this is now rearing its ugly head every part of this country that we look into it. you can imagine not just as an american am i deeply concerned about this but as a floridian. mflorida as a state has a great number of veterans, including my brother. people who conserved their country with dignity now have health care needs that require urgent medical attention. the story of a young man, a gulf war veteran who has a brain cyst, who has been waiting for weeks to even be able to see anyone. in fact, been waiting for mont
1:13 pm
months, with no end in sight as to when that's going to end. this needs to be addressed. so yesterday we all watched with great attention as the president addressed this issue and expressed outrage, rightfully so, at what's occurring. and what the president said is that over the next week there's going to be an initial report and then ultimately a report at the end of the month about what needs to be done to improve the system and, more importantly, who needs to be held accountable. and i think that's critical he here, because one of the things that we're learning is not simply that there's a systemic problem in the veterans administration, but that there's been a deliberate effort by some within the administration, some within the veterans administration to cover it up or to make things look better than they actually are. and that should trouble us even more, because the immediate reaction when an agency is confronted with a problem should be, we need to fix this. and instead the reaction by some seems to be, we need to cover this. we need to make this look better than it really is. we need to diminish this. that is completely unacceptable
1:14 pm
and people need to be held accountable to this. if in the united states senate, among the men and women that serve and work here for, someone was dereliction in their duty, they would lose their jobs. if in the private sector someone did not do their job, they would lose that job. in the military chain of comma command, if a commanding officer of a unit did not do his or her job, they would lose their job. and their superiors would have the able to immediately discipline them. and so i think many americans would be shocked to learn that even if the secretary wanted today to fire executive managers within the agency, he cannot. instead, he has to institute a long and drawn-out process leading to this absurd conclusion that you are likier to receive a bonus or a promotion than you are to have been fired because of mismanagement. and dereliction of duty. and that is completely unacceptable. and i think one thing we have to remember here is that the
1:15 pm
enormous and vast majority of the v.a.'s more than 300,000 employees and executives are dedicated and hardworking people. but they're -- and their departments' well-documented reluctance to make sure leaders are held accountable for mistakes is not only tarnishing its reputation, it unfortunately is impacting many of these hardworking men and women who are doing their jobs within the agency. and so what i did a few weeks ago, in conjunction with may colleague from florida, jeff miller, is file a bill, a very simple and straightforward bill. the bill -- the v.a.ate accountability mapght act of 2014 would give the v.a. secretary the power to fire or demote senior executive service employees based on their performance. it is a power similar to the power the secretary of defense already has to remove military general officers from command. and of course the power that any one of our 100 senators has to
1:16 pm
remove a member of their staff. this bill passed yesterday in the house of representatives, and it is sitting here on the desk in the senate. it passed yesterday with an overwhelming bipartisan majority of members of both parties who are outraged by what is occurring and want to bring accountability. in a press conference yesterday, the white house indicated that they are very open to this concept and that in fact they were interacting with leaders on it. we called the white house and asked them about it. they also indicated an openness to it, though they did share they have some keynes. they didn't make -- they did have some concerns. they didn't make any edits to the bill but said they were supportive of this concept. earlier today in an appropriations committee, senator moran offered this very bill as an amendment, and it was adopted by voice vote without a single objection. and so here's where we stand: i've come to this floor today to give p my colleagues the opportunity to send this to the president before we leave for the memorial day recess.
1:17 pm
we have an opportunity right mao to tank the bill that the house -- to take up the bill that the house just passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, enacted into la enacty unanimous consent and send it to the president so he can sign it so what when the results of this investigation come to him, they can discipline or fire the people who have not done their jobs and have put our veterans in harm's way with regard to the services the v.a. is supposed to be offering. that is all this bill does. nothing more and nothing less. we are giving a secretary appointed by this president, confirmed by this senate, the opportunity to be the able to fire employees of his agency that are not doing their jobs. that is all we're asking here. i.t. not more complicated than -- it's not more complicated than that. it is right here for us. for anyone who is saying that we
1:18 pm
need to quick act on this, here is our chafnlts my hope is that it will pass unanimously. we are not telling them who they need to fire. we are simply giving the secretary the power to hold accountable people who work underneath them and future secretaries as well. i hope that we'll be able to do that here today. i think that if it were put to a roll call vote on the floor, it would pass by an overwhelming majority as well. and so there' that's why, madam president, i ask unanimous consent toker the senate proceed to the immediate consideration of house resolution 4031, which was received by the house -- which was received from the house, and i further ask consent that the bill be read a third time and passed, the motion to reconsider be laid on the table, with no intervening action or debate. the presiding officer: is there objection? sand sand reservinmr. sanders: e
1:19 pm
right to object, i thank senator rubio for his remarks. i think many of us share the exact same concerns that he has raised. when men and women put their lives on the line to defend our country, they are entitled to the best quality health care that we can provide to them. in my view -- and i think in the view of virtually every veterans organization -- the v.a. does provide good-quality health care to those people who access the v.a. system. but there are very serious problems in terms of access. there are serious problems with regard waiting lists. there are serious problems regarding the possibility of hospitals keeping two sets of books. and we're going to get to the root of those issues. but one thing that we do not want to do, madam president, is
1:20 pm
politicize the well-being of america's heroes. let knee quote to yo me quote tn editorial in "the washington post" today. "the men and women who have served their country in uniform deserve better than delay or denial of the medical care they need and have earned. so it is crucial to get to the bottom of allegations of misconduct at the nation's veterans hospitals. america's veterans also deserve not to be treated as so many pawns in election-year gamesmanship. but that sadly is approving to b--but that sadly is proving toe the case in congress's hyperbolic response. that the extent of wrongdoing is unclear doesn't seem to matter much to those more interested in scoring political points. how else to explain the knee-jerk calls, mainly by republicans in the house and senate, for the ouster of
1:21 pm
veterans affairs secretary eric k. shinseki or the ill-advised legislation aimed at v.a. workers." let me make this point. i happen to think that the bill that was passed in the house yesterday has many american provisions, which i happen to agree with. but as the senator from florida knows, we have not held a hearing on this legislation. and some of us are old-fashioned enough to know that maybe folks in the senate might want to know what is in the bill before we voted on it. the senator from florida is right. it passed with very strong support in the house, and in my view, a similar bill containing some of the salient provisions in the house will pass the senate. but it is important that that bill be discussed. and i will tell you, madam
1:22 pm
president, that one of the concerns that i have is i do not want to see the v.a. politicized. it is one thing to say -- which i agree with -- that if a hospital administrator is incompetent, the secretary should be able to get rid of that administrator without a whole lot of paperwork. i agree with that. it is another thing to say that if a new administration comes in, whether it is a democratic or republican, that somebody sitting in the secretary's office can say, i want to get rid of 20 or 30 or 50 hospital administrators because we have other people that we have in there, and we can just get rid of them, and they don't have a rate to defending themselves. i -- and they don't have a right to defend themselves. i worry about that. so clearly we have to discuss the issue. i would suggest that the senator from florida understands that i.tit's probable probably a good idea to discuss an issue before we vote on it. so bottom line for me on this,
1:23 pm
yes, every top administrator at the v.a. has got to be held accountable. i do not want to see an enormous amount of paperwork and obstruction go forward before we can get rid of incompetent people. but before we vote on legislation, it might be a good idea to understand the full implications of that legislation, and there are some aspects of it that i think some of us have concerns with. and let me just make a few morninmorepoints on that issue. i would hope that the senator from florida would agree with me that we want to make sure that v.a. is able to recruit and retain high-quality leaders and managers, especially when the v.a. is in competition with other federal agencies for those leaders. to that end, it is vital to ensure that we are fostering an environment at v.a. where individuals feel as if they are protected from the political
1:24 pm
whims of their leaders. that's the point i made earlier. there are other areas that concern me in terms of setting precedents that may not be a good idea. but bottom line, i think there are important provisions in the bill that passed the house and, senator rubio, i want to work with you. i think the administration wants to work with you. but let me just make another point, if i might, and that is i am really very happy to see as much concern being paid to veterans' needs in the last few weeks -- i'm very happy to see that as chairman of the committee. and i would say to senator rubio and others that he is well-aware that the veterans community faces many, many serious problems, above and beyond what we are hearing in the last few weeks with regard to the v.a. we have 200,000 men and women
1:25 pm
who have come back from iraq and afghanistan, either with ptsd or t.b.i.u i would assume that my friend from florida assumes with me that they need to get the quality care that they deserve. i was just -- i just had the privilege, senator rubio, of being honored an hour or so ago by the gold-star wive. you know those are the widows of those who died in afntle we have the legislation which i brought to the the floor which received 56 votes and one senator was absent, which would have given us 57 votes. but only two republicans supported that bill. that bill would make it possible for gold-star wives, wives who have lost their husbands, to be able to get a college education under the post-9/11 g.i. bill. i suspect that senator rubio and many others support that. that's in the bill that i brought to the floor. we have right now, as i'm sure senator rubio knows, because the
1:26 pm
senator exists in new york and florida, we have 70-year-old women, in most cases, who are taking care of disabled vets. they don't get the support that they need. they're on duty 24/7. they save the government money because those wounded veterans are staying at home. they need some help, and i want to see them get help. and i would hope that senator rubio would work with me to make sure they get that help. senator rubio is aware, as you are, madam president, that there's great quern not only in the -- great concern not only in the military medicine but in the civilian sector about too much use of opiates to treat problems. we have a real serious problem with that. we have language in our overall provision that stengds help to the d. that stengds help to the v.a. to move forward to give our veterans alternative treatments other than openialities. -- other than opiates. we think that's a very important piece of lels. we have legislation that has
1:27 pm
passed which provides five years of free health care in the v.a. for those who served in iraq and afghanistan. we think it's important to extend that to ten years. many veterans out there do not have access to decent-quality dental care. it is a problem in vermont. i suspect it is a problem in florida. we want those veterans to get at that care as well. there's bipartisan support, madam president, for advanced appropriations for v.a. we have that in our legislation. while the v.a. is making good progress in cutting back the backlog and moving from paper to a digital system, i want to see them do better. we have language in there that would push them to do better. just this morning, senator rubio, senator burr and i were at a hearing which dealt with the educational problems facing veterans who come back from the battlefield and they go to college, and there are problems there. and what most of us think is
1:28 pm
that we should -- veterans should be able to take advantage of in-state tuition in the state in which they are living. sexual assault has been a very serious problem in the military. we want the v.a. to do better than that. et cetera, et cetera. so, madam president, i am very glad that my republican friends, virtually all of them -- and i want to thank senator heller and senator moran for voting for this bill, along with every democrat. but i'm verie very glad that my republican colleagues are now beginning to focus on veterans' issues, and we need to step up to the plate to help not only our veterans but their families, and that's the legislation that i have offered. so what i say to senator rubio, your legislation has many important provisions which i happen to agree with. there are some that i think need work on, and we are going to
1:29 pm
hold a hearing on that legislation and other legislation in early june. so i respectfully object to that legislation right now, but i would ask unanimous consent that the senate proceed to calendar number 297, s. 1950, with the sanders amendment, which is at the desk and is the text of s. 1982, the comprehensive veterans health and benefits and military retirement pay restoration act. that is the comprehensive legislation supported by virtually every veterans organizations in the country, millions of vent veterans and te american people sainsdz thank you to the millions of merntses who put their lives on the line. we are going to be there for you. so i would ask that this legislation be passed. i would ask unanimous consent that that happen. the presiding officer:
1:30 pm
objection is heard to the request from the senator from florida s there objection? mr. rubio: madam president, reserving the right to object, i wanted to address a couple points. first son the issue of politicizing, as i agree. that's why i haven't come forward and said, let the secretary resiefnlt i think sometimes in this process there are times when that's important. there are people that are clearly not doing their job appointed by the president and it is our job as overseers of the executive branch and government to step fiewshed ford say that. i've said, let's give the secretary a chance to step forward. i may ask for further information. i think i deserves the opportunity and his successors whoever that may be, deserve the opportunity to hold the people you understandder neath them accountable. dhee have the power to do that now. i also notice how i came here to the floor today, i said nothing of a partisan nature. i'm not claiming this was created by the democrats or other party. i said this is an issue that had strong bipartisan support in the house, the solution, and strong
1:31 pm
bipartisan support in the committee today. this issue may become politicized in the sense that it seems that all of the reluctance to move forward on it is coming from one side of the equation but that does not necessarily have to be. in fact, i will tell you right now that i believe if this came to a vote the overwhelming majority of the members of the majority would support this legislation that i put forward today. two other points that were raised, that there's been no hearings on this. i would respectfully disagree. there was a hearing on it today. this was offered. this specific language was offered in a committee and with little debate and no dissent, it passed by voice vote. for those watching at home here's what voice vote means. they don't even call a roll. they tell members is anyone against us? no one said they were. this language was adopted today in a committee. here's my second problem. i am glad to hear there are going to be hearings wr-rdz to this issue -- with regard to this issue and i think that's important. i'm not claiming the bill i've
1:32 pm
asked for us to take up today and pass would solve all the problems. there are still serious systemic problems within that agency and a hearing needs to address that and find a responsible solution to those problems. so a hearing is called for. what i'm asking for is a very simple thing. give the secretary appointed by a president of a party different than my own, the power to fire those underneath him that are not doing their jobs so they know they're not being held accountable. that's all i'm asking here. that's all this bill does. it's that straightforward. and i don't think that any of us want to go home for the memorial day recess, and when we're asked what are you doing on this issue, our answer is in about 15 days we're going to have a hearing on this crisis. meanwhile -- meanwhile -- the list goes on and on at the out rages that are coming out of this agency. every single day more cases are coming out of veterans that are not being treated fairly, appropriately, and in some
1:33 pm
cases, in my opinion, criminally by this incompetence we see out of some in the veterans administration. this is a matter of urgency because while we are gun on our recess the -- gone on our recess the president next week is going to get a preliminary report on what is going on and it may well be that he wants to see some people fired and it may well be that the secretary may want to fire some people in senior executive positions, and he will not be able to do that. all i'm asking is not to give us the power to fire them but give the administration the power to fire them and hold them accountable. as far as the bill that the chairman has offered here, this bill has already been debated and there are problems with this bill as an extensive piece of legislation. it has many good elements in it. it also has a cost issue. at a time when our nation owes close to $18 trillion. that was the reason why so many on my side of the aisle objected to it. and that's why i would object to the motion made here today by the senator from vermont.
1:34 pm
the presiding officer: objection is heard. mr. sanders: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from vermont. mr. sanders: let me reiterate, when i quoted "the washington post" and when i talked about politicalization, i wasn't suggesting that the senator from florida was being political on the floor today. what i was suggesting about politicizing the v.a. is if you have a situation, for example, where a new secretary comes in or new administration comes in and can fire wholesale hospital administrators that i think without their ability to defend themselves, i think that is not the kind of system that the senator from florida would want or certainly i would want. so how we address this issue is important. and i would suspect that while this issue may have been taken up in committee today, i doubt very much that there were any witnesses who testified about
1:35 pm
this bill. second of all, i found it interesting. the senator from florida said -- and he's right. other republicans have raised this point. the legislation that i introduced, which again, has the support of the american legion, d.a.v., vietnam vets, veterans of foreign war, iraq-afghanistan, veterans of america, paralyzed veterans of america, he's right. it costs money. he is right; this country has a deficit. he would be right if he said that going to war in iraq and afghanistan has cost us trillions of dollars, which is one of the reasons we have the deficit we have today. but i believe from the bottom of my heart, madam president, that if we go to war, if we spend trillions of dollars on that
1:36 pm
war, that when our men and women come home from war, some wounded in body, some wounded in spirit, i don't want to hear people telling me it's too expensive to take care of those wounded veterans. i don't accept that. if you think it's too expensive to take care of veterans, don't send them to war. so, madam president, let me reiterate my view, is the senator from florida has raised an important issue. we are going to address it as quickly as we can. and we are going to address other issues facing our veterans who on this memorial day need to know that we are there for them and their families. mr. rubio: madam president, how much time remains in the debate? the presiding officer: under the previous order, the time from 1:40 -- until 1:40 is
1:37 pm
reserved for the senator from kentucky. mr. rubio: not seeing the senator from kentucky here, i would ask for a minute of that time to make the following point. mr. sanders: who has the time right now? do i have the time? the presiding officer: the time is under the control of the senator from kentucky or his designee. mr. sanders: let me suggest to the senator from florida -- mr. rubio: we'll burn up the time arguing over who has the time. mr. sanders: you want to take a minute or two and i take a minute or two? is that all right? mr. rubio: that is fine. the presiding officer: the senator from florida. mr. rubio: a bunch of other issues were raised about the cost of war in iraq, how much money we spend, how good we are at spending money for veterans.
1:38 pm
i think that is a valid debate and should have in this country. if we need to spend this money for agencies, we should use that money to make sure cost is not an issue. right now the central debate here on the issue of what's happening at the v.a. has not centered around the fact that it is cost getting in the way. the central debate -- if you noticed the president yesterday in his press conference that he held, the central focus is on the management, the operations of this agency. and critical to the effect iveness of any agency is accountability, the ability to hold people accountable including by taking way their jobs. think about this, the argument made here about a new director could come in and fire the people that works underneath them, that could be made at virtually any organization on the planet. you could make that argument for staffers on the senate that we want to protect them so that if a new senator is elected from a state they can't hire their own staff. there is one issue i want us to focus on today and that is this.
1:39 pm
we have a clans today before we leave for the motion to proceed proceed -- a chance today before we leave for the memorial day recess that gives the president to fire executives underneath them if they have not done their job. we have a chance to pass it. it is a house bill. all we have to do is agree to it and it goes to the president to sign and we can go home and say we have taken an important step in instituting accountability on this whole issue. the whole country is talking about it, and we are walking away from that opportunity. mr. sanders: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from vermont. mr. sanders: we're not going to walk away from anything, but we're going to do it right. and again, the argument that a, when you run a health care system which has 151 medical centers, has some 900 community-based outreach clinics, has 300,000 employees that a new president could start, wipe out without necessarily giving people the
1:40 pm
right tpo -- to defend themselves does not make any sense to me. we are going to look at the positive provisions in senator rubio's bill, and i think there are. senator rubio, you know what? i think we're going to reach an agreement. i think you're going to be happy with that. i think it is going to be a good bill. i think everyone will reach consensus around that. i want to reiterate the point i made about money that senator rubio is right, one of the reasons we only had two republican votes for a comprehensive piece of legislation that addresses the issues that the veterans community brought to us. it is not a bernie sanders bill. it is a bill that listened to the need of veterans and said we hear you. once again, i would just say to the senator from florida, i was literally an hour ago at a function of the gold wives
1:41 pm
organization. these are women who lost their husbands in battle. i think under the post-9/11 g. bill, a very good and important piece of legislation, why should have the right to use that legislation to go to college, get an education and get better jobs. senator rubio, i think if i brought that bill to the floor today i would suspect i'd have unanimous support for that. and i think the bill that i voted on before many provisions had unanimous support. good provisions, bipartisan provisions. what i say to my friend from florida, thank you. your bill is an important bill, and it is going to be dealt with, and it will be dealt with in the very, very near future. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
1:42 pm
1:43 pm
1:44 pm
1:45 pm
quorum call:
1:46 pm
1:47 pm
1:48 pm
stack zach madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from oklahoma -- georgia. i would ask that the quorum call be dispensed with and ask that all time be yield back and scw for the yeas and nays. the presiding officer: under the previous order, the senate will proceed to executive session to consider the following nominee initial, which the clerk will report. the clerk: nomination, the judiciary, david jeremiah barron of mass to be united states circuit judge for the first circuit. the presiding officer: is there a sufficient second? there appears to be.
1:49 pm
there is. the yeas and nays are ordered. the clerk will call the roll. vote:
1:50 pm
1:51 pm
1:52 pm
1:53 pm
1:54 pm
1:55 pm
1:56 pm
1:57 pm
1:58 pm
1:59 pm
2:00 pm


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on