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Public Statements

Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments of 2007

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


INDIAN HEALTH CARE IMPROVEMENT ACT AMENDMENTS OF 2007 -- (Senate - February 14, 2008)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, we have a serious crisis confronting our country as a result of the House of Representatives' refusal to take up the Senate-passed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. We know for a fact the following: We know that the Senate approved yesterday, with 69 votes, a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act crafted by Senator Rockefeller and Senator Bond that came out of the Intelligence Committee 13 to 2. This is about as bipartisan as it ever gets around here. We know in addition this bill is the only bill that can pass the House of Representatives. They took up yesterday a 21-day extension of existing law, and it was defeated. It was defeated because there were 20 to 25 House Democrats who didn't want the bill at all, want it to die, want to walk away from it and leave the American people unprotected.

In fact, there is a bipartisan majority for the Senate-passed bill in the House, and that is the only bill for which there is a bipartisan majority in the House. Now we have all learned that the House of Representatives is going to close up shop and simply leave town, arguing that somehow allowing this law to expire will not harm America.

We know that at the heart of this struggle is retroactive liability for communications companies that stepped up, in the wake of the 9/11 disaster, at the request of the Government, to help protect us from terrorism. As a result, there are numerous lawsuits pending against these companies, I assume largely by the American Civil Liberties Union. The CEOs and the boards of directors of these companies have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders. These lawsuits have the potential to put them out of business. As a result of doing their duty and responding to the request of the President of the United States to help protect America, they run the risk of being put out of business. That is what is before us. This retroactive liability problem continues. It is not solved by continuation of existing law.

In addition, with the law expiring, it hampers opportunities prospectively in the future to surveil new terrorist targets overseas. So the notion that somehow no harm is done by allowing the law to expire is simply incorrect. In fact, it borders on outrageous.

This was going to be another example of bipartisan cooperation on behalf of the American people. We saw it at the end of the year last year when we passed a bipartisan AMT fix without raising taxes on anybody else. We passed an energy bill without a tax increase and without a rate increase. We met the President's top line on the appropriations bills. And, yes, we appropriated $70 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan without any kind of micromanagement. At the beginning of this year, we came together. It was a bit challenging in the Senate, but we came together and passed a bipartisan stimulus bill to try to deal with our slowing economy. We did it in record time. In fact, the President had a signing ceremony 2 days ago.

I am wondering why this new bipartisan spirit we experienced in December and again in January is breaking down on a matter that is extraordinarily important to protecting the American people. It is absolutely irresponsible for the House of Representatives to simply throw up its hands and leave, particularly when the only measure that enjoys a bipartisan majority in the House is exactly what enjoyed a bipartisan majority in the Senate. It is the only measure that can pass the House. So the refusal of the House leadership to take up and pass the only bill that could possibly pass is an act of extraordinary irresponsibility. Nothing else would pass over there.

I don't know why the House is even thinking about leaving town. They have an important responsibility to help protect the American people. The opportunity is right before them, and they will not take it.

Mr. CORNYN. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. McCONNELL. I am happy to yield the Senator from Texas for a question.

Mr. CORNYN. I ask the distinguished Republican leader whether the voluntary cooperation of the telecommunications companies that have cooperated at the request of the Government and upon certification by the chief law enforcement agent of the country, the Attorney General, is in jeopardy, if we merely continue the current law as opposed to passing the bipartisan Senate bill? And if that is the case, doesn't that just as effectively deny us access to terrorist communications as if we did not pass the law itself?

Mr. McCONNELL. My understanding is the question suggests the answer. The leadership of these companies has indeed a Hobson's choice, two bad alternatives. They either continue to respond to the request of the American Government to protect the homeland and then run the risk of squandering all the assets of their companies and, thereby, generating a lot of shareholder lawsuits against the directors for violating their fiduciary responsibility. It is a terrible position to be put in. They are entitled to be able to cooperate with the request of our Government and not squander all the assets of their companies.

Mr. LEAHY. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. CORNYN. Will the Senator yield for another question?

Mr. McCONNELL. I yield to my friend from Texas.

Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, I would like to ask the distinguished Republican leader if, in fact, because of the burden of these lawsuits, some 40 different lawsuits against any telecommunications companies that may have participated, if, in fact, they chose not to participate in this program, is there any other option available to the intelligence authorities to listen in on communications between terrorists who are bent on wreaking havoc, death, and destruction on the American people? Is there anywhere else to go?

Mr. McCONNELL. I don't think so, Mr. President. This is the only solution to the problem. What is tragic, we know as a result of a letter from the so-called blue dog Democrats, the more conservative Democrats in the House, to Speaker Pelosi for sure that there is a bipartisan majority in the House for passing the bill the Senate passed. This is what the blue dog Democrats had to say to the Speaker.

Following the Senate's passage of a FISA bill, it will be necessary for the House to quickly consider FISA legislation to get a bill to the President before the Protect America Act expires.

That, of course, will be Saturday.

We--

Referring to the blue dog Democrats----

fully support the Rockefeller-Bond FISA legislation, should it reach the House floor without substantial change. We believe these components will ensure a strong national security apparatus that can thwart terrorism across the globe and save American lives in our country.

The blue dog Democrats, coupled with House Republicans, make it absolutely certain there is a bipartisan majority for our bill in the House.

Further, the consequences of not passing such a measure could place our national security at undue risk.

This is 21 blue dog Democrats in the House requesting the Speaker to take up the bill that passed the Senate with 69 votes, obviously an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, pass it and send it to the President for signature. This refusal to act is stunning, almost incomprehensible.

Mr. CORNYN. Will the Senator yield for one final question?

Mr. McCONNELL. I will.

Mr. CORNYN. The Republican leader is aware that the House of Representatives only recently had widely publicized hearings into the use of steroids and human growth hormone by baseball players. There has also been an action taken recently to hold a former White House counsel and the Chief of Staff of the President in contempt. Yet there appears to be no time available on the House calendar to do things that actually would protect the lives of the American people. Perhaps it is an obvious answer, but it would seem to me to be clear that this ought to be a high priority. Before we get to these kinds of political machinations or perhaps publicity stunts, we ought to first protect the security of the American people by passing this bipartisan legislation.

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, it is my understanding that the House was dealing with steroid use in baseball and trying to punish some White House official over some internal dispute. It does strike me that is a strange use of time, when we are 2 days from the expiration of arguably the most important piece of legislation we have passed since 9/11 to protect us here at home. It is no accident that we haven't been attacked again since 9/11. There are two reasons for it. One is, we went on the offense and have had great success in Afghanistan and Iraq, killing a lot of terrorists, many of them at Guantanamo, which I happen to think is a good place for them. A lot of the rest of them are on the run. I am often asked: We don't have Osama bin Laden. I say: Well, we wish we did. But I can assure you, he is not staying at the Four Seasons in Islamabad. He is in some cold cave somewhere looking over his shoulder, wondering when the final shoe is going to drop. So going on offense was an important part of protecting America and also this extraordinarily significant legislation about which we have had testimony from the highest officials that it has actually helped us thwart attacks against our homeland. There isn't anything we are doing that is more important than this, certainly not looking at steroid use in baseball. As important as that may be, it certainly does not rise to this level, or censoring White House officials.

Mr. LEAHY. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. McCONNELL. I yield to my friend from Arizona for a question.

Mr. KYL. Mr. President, the first question I have is: Could the intelligence community acquire new targets, if the Protect America Act expires, without going to the FISA Court for some kind of an additional warrant?

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, it is my understanding they will not be able to do that. So in addition to the retroactive liability issue, which clearly is not solved by failing to act, we have this problem that the Senator from Arizona has raised with regard to new targets. We are clearly more vulnerable as a result of allowing this legislation to expire, which will happen Saturday if the House of Representatives does not act.

Mr. KYL. If the Senator will continue to yield, my recollection of the words of Admiral McConnell, Director of National Intelligence, is that--and I ask the leader to verify if I recall this correctly; I think I am recalling it correctly--it doesn't matter whether the Protect America Act expires or does not expire or is simply reauthorized in its exiting form; the reality is, unless a new law is passed that contains the retroactive liability protection feature, it will become or is becoming increasingly difficult for the telecommunications companies to provide the service the U.S. Government needs them to provide to acquire this intelligence.

I wish to make sure I am not misstating this, that it is increasingly difficult for these telecommunications companies to provide the service our Government needs to collect this intelligence.

Mr. McCONNELL. My understanding is, the Senator from Arizona is correct. It is not exactly that these public, spirited corporate leaders do not want to help prevent terrorist attacks. It is that the exposure to their companies as a result of these lawsuits runs the risk of destroying the company and then opening them up to shareholders' suits for irresponsible actions or violations of their fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders.

They are in an impossible position. We have, in effect, put them in an impossible position by failing to provide for them the retroactive immunity from liability they clearly deserve. These were public, spirited Americans responding to a request from the Government to help protect us at home. What they got for it was a couple of scores of lawsuits.

Mr. KYL. I thank the leader.

Mr. REID addressed the Chair.

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I still have the floor.

Mr. REID. I am sorry about that.

Mr. McCONNELL. But I will be happy to yield.

Mr. REID. I did not want to interrupt the distinguished Republican leader. Have you finished?

Mr. McCONNELL. I will be happy to yield the floor.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, reserving the right to object.

Mr. REID. This is a 15-day extension.

Mr. McCONNELL. Yes. Reserving the right to object, there is no need for an extension. This current law expires Saturday. We know 68 Members of the Senate have already voted for a Protect America Act that would extend the law for 6 years. We know a majority of the House of Representatives, on a bipartisan basis, thinks that law ought to be taken up and passed. That is what we ought to be doing.

I am sure the Democrats in the House are grateful to their good friend, the majority leader, for trying to protect them from their actions. But the fact is, there is only one reason we have a crisis. It is because the House Democratic leadership refuses to act on a bill that enjoys bipartisan majority support in the House of Representatives that we have already passed overwhelmingly. Therefore, I object.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard.

UNANIMOUS CONSENT REQUEST--H.R. 3773

Mr. REID. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate request the House to return the papers of H.R. 3773, FISA legislation; and that if the House agrees to the request, the Senate insist on its amendment, request a conference with the House on the disagreeing votes of the two Houses, and the Chair be authorized to appoint conferees on the part of the Senate, with no intervening action or debate.

Is it my understanding the first request was objected to. Is that right?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. There was objection. Objection was heard.

Is there objection?

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, reserving the right to object, there is no need for a conference when you have an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the Senate in favor of the bill and a bipartisan majority of the House in favor of the same bill that the Senate has already passed. There is no need to go to conference because we know where the majority of the Senate is and we know where the majority of the House is. Why would we want to have a conference when the work the Senate has done, the Rockefeller-Bond bill, is supported by a bipartisan majority in the House? Therefore, I object.

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Mr. McCONNELL. Now, Mr. President, facts are a stubborn thing--a very stubborn thing--and I am sure the Democrat leadership over in the House appreciates the efforts being made by the majority leader and the majority whip to protect them from the obvious.

The obvious is--and they know this even at the University of Illinois--that the majority of the Senate has spoken, an overwhelming majority of the Senate, not just on final passage which was 68 to 29, and cloture, which was 69 to 29, but also the Feingold amendment was defeated 63 to 35, the Dodd amendment 67 to 31, the Feingold amendment 60 to 37, the Specter-Whitehouse amendment 68 to 30. This is not close. This bill went out of the Senate with a riproaring, bipartisan majority. And we know for a fact--and facts are a stubborn thing, I say to my good friend from Illinois--we know for a fact that the Rockefeller-Bond bill is supported by a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives. We know that. It is a matter of simple addition. So why would we want to have a short-term extension to provide an opportunity to resolve a dispute that doesn't exist?

The majority has spoken in the Senate. The majority will speak in the House if given the opportunity to speak. They are being denied the opportunity to speak because the House runs in a different way from the Senate, and the House leadership can simply refuse to take up a matter that is supported by a bipartisan majority in the House. In this particular instance--talk about a publicity stunt or creating a crisis--what created the crisis was the refusal of the House of Representatives to act. Now, the notion that somehow they didn't have time--we have been dealing with this issue since last August--since last August. The House had previously sent a bill over here that was unacceptable. We are all familiar with the subject matter.

It is time to let a majority of the House of Representatives speak--legislate. They are waiting there to be given permission to ratify the fine work led by Senator Rockefeller and Senator Bond here in the Senate and ratified by a total of 68 out of 100.

So we have a crisis, but the crisis is created by the majority in the House and its refusal to accept the obvious, which is that a majority of the Congress wishes to pass the legislation in the form that will achieve a Presidential signature.

Mr. President, I yield to the Senator from Texas for a question.

Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, I ask the distinguished Republican leader--the majority whip has said there is some sort of crisis in logic, but I ask the minority leader to respond. Isn't the crisis in logic that the telecommunications carriers, whose cooperation is absolutely essential to the continuation of our ability to listen in on communications between terrorists, isn't that what is at risk here, by merely extending the current law and finally to come to grips with the bipartisan legislation that passed the Senate and is supported by a bipartisan majority in the House?

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I say to my friend from Texas, he is entirely correct. There are multiple lawsuits pending against the companies. They are surely being pressured by their shareholders and their boards of directors on the issue of whether continued cooperation means the demise of the companies. The status quo, as the Senator from Texas indicates, is not acceptable. Not only that, but we know for a fact that the continuation of the status quo hampers the ability to go up on new targets prospectively, so we not only have a deteriorating situation in terms of continued cooperation from the communications companies--not because they are not public-spirited citizens, not because they don't want to help America, but because they run the risk of squandering all the assets of their companies and enhanced exposure to new actions that might occur by terrorists.

So the status quo is clearly not acceptable, I say to my friend from Texas. I think his question suggests the answer.

This is a very serious matter and I regret that we are where we are. We had gotten off, I thought, to a pretty good bipartisan start this year. I had hoped--and frankly expected--that we would be having another signing ceremony down at the White House on the Rockefeller-Bond bill in the next few days and we could breathe easy that we had done our job and had protected the American people to the maximum extent possible for the foreseeable future.

I yield the floor.

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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I rise to speak on behalf of a fallen soldier. On October 23, 2007, SGT Edward O. Philpot of Manchester, KY, was on patrol with U.S. soldiers and members of the Afghan National Army in Kandahar, Afghanistan, conducting tactical convoy operations in hostile territory. Sergeant Philpot was killed in a tragic humvee rollover accident. He was 38 years old.

Sergeant Philpot handled a number of jobs in his unit, from gunner to driver to humvee commander. He was proud to wear the uniform and proud to serve his country.

``Ed had found his calling with the military,'' says Renee Crockett, his sister. ``He loved being a soldier and felt he was finally doing exactly what he was supposed to do.''

For his bravery in uniform, Sergeant Philpot received numerous medals and awards, including the Bronze Star Medal.

Military service ran in Ed's family, as his Uncle Willard Philpot of Manchester served in Vietnam and, sadly, perished in Thailand. Family members saw a lot of similarities between Ed and his uncle, who died before Ed was born. ``Both were quiet, warm, and caring individuals, and both gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country,'' says Renee.

Raised by his parents, Ottas and Willa Philpot, Ed grew up a student of history. He soon amassed a personal library of books on many historical figures. He was also a fan of mystery books, and enjoyed a sharp political debate.

Ed was born in Farmington, MI, and grew up in that State. As a child, he spent all his holidays and most of his summers in Kentucky, in Manchester, with his paternal grandparents Walter and Lillie Philpot, and would travel back and forth often between Kentucky and Michigan.

When Ed was only 8 or 9 years old, he began to learn how to play the saxophone. One day he took out his horn to practice and found a perfect audience in Sandy, the family dog, sitting on the patio. Young Ed began playing with all the charisma and passion he could muster, but it wasn't good enough for Sandy, who ran all the way to the backyard and buried her head beneath her paws. Thus ended Ed's musical career.

Ed graduated from Garden City High School in Garden City, MI, in 1987 and Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC, in 1992. After college, Ed returned to Manchester, where he spent some of the happiest times of his youth.

Ed went into law enforcement, becoming the director of a home incarceration program. In 1995, he married Stephanie, and they raised three beautiful daughters, Hollen, Lily, and Ella Grace. Eventually, Ed and his family settled in South Carolina.

Ed's family was the most important thing to him. ``He would take his daughters out to the coffee shop for cookies on Saturday mornings,'' his sister Renee said. Ed loved to take walks with them and ride them on his shoulders. He would also take them for daddy-daughter dates to celebrate their accomplishments.

Sergeant Philpot's family ``was clearly his life and his motivation,'' says MAJ Bill Connor, who served with him in Afghanistan. ``He spent his little bit of off-duty time going to the nearest bazaar to buy trinkets for his daughters and his family.''

Ed enlisted in 2001 and served with the South Carolina Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 263rd Armor Regiment in Afghanistan, where he was promoted to sergeant. He enjoyed the simple pleasure of giving candy to Afghan children.

``He was one of the most dedicated men you would ever see,'' said SGT Kenneth Page, who served alongside Sergeant Philpot. ``He always liked to hang around at the armory, even when it wasn't drill weekend. He just liked to be there.''

The Philpot family is in my prayers today as I recount Ed's story. We are thinking of his wife Stephanie; his daughters Hollen, Lily, and Ella Grace; his father Ottas; his mother Willa; his sister Renee Crockett; his nephew Trevor Crockett; his niece Taylor Crockett; and many other beloved family members and friends.

Ed was predeceased by his grandparents Walter and Lillie Philpot and Tom and Viola Hollen, all of Manchester.

His funeral service was held October 30 last year in Manchester at the Horse Creek Baptist Church. After the service, the funeral procession stopped for a moment of silence in front of Hacker Elementary School, where the entire student body and staff assembled outside. Ed's parents had both attended Hacker Elementary as children.

Thirty-eight young students each held a red, white, or blue balloon, one for each year of Ed's life. At the same moment, they released the balloons up into the air. The rest of the students held up American flags, in honor of the soldier who had given his life for that same flag.

``Ed was always quick with a smile and a positive attitude that was remembered by all,'' says his sister Renee. ``He is definitely a hero.''

I want the Philpot family to know that this Senate agrees, and today we honor SGT Edward O. Philpot's life of honor and of service. His immense sacrifice made on behalf of his Nation, State, and family allows us all to live in freedom.

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