NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009--MOTION TO PROCEED--Continued -- (Senate - August 01, 2008)
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MIDWESTERN DISASTER RELIEF
Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, for the benefit of leaders' offices, after I am done speaking about the flood situation in Iowa, I have been asked by the leader to make a unanimous consent request in regard to E-Verify. So I want to notice the offices about what I am going to do. It will be down the road, in half an hour or so.
Mr. President, last night I came to the floor to ask for unanimous consent on the tax bill we referred to as the Midwest flood disaster tax relief package. I was denied unanimous consent to bring that up. I did not make a long justification for the necessity of doing that, but I wish to speak to that point now. I am not going to further ask unanimous consent the same as I did last night; I am just going to speak about why I did it last night and why it was essential.
There is one thing I want to put in the Record at this point, and it is in regard to one of the points that was made by the Senator from Illinois last night, Mr. Durbin, the Democratic whip. He said one of the reasons for denying my request for the tax relief package I am talking about for flood victims in the Midwest is because similar provisions were contained in S. 3335, the Jobs, Energy, Families, and Disaster Relief Act of 2008, and that bill did not get 60 votes. Obviously, it didn't get 60 votes for the reason a lot of other bills have not gotten 60 votes on the floor of the Senate: We in the minority want to stay on the No. 1 problem affecting this country; that is, the high cost of gasoline and the energy crisis that is facing the Nation. We want the majority party to give us opportunities to offer amendments to increase the supply of energy in this country as opposed to paying $140 a barrel to buy oil and import it from overseas, giving money to nations that want to train terrorists to kill Americans. That is the reason S. 3335 did not get 60 votes. So we are technically on the Energy bill.
But one of the things he said about that bill was to leave the impression that S. 3335 did everything that needs to be done for the disaster relief in the Midwest, and it doesn't, and I made that point last night, so I am not going to repeat that.
But even if S. 3335 had passed, we had previously had a Statement of Administration Policy, and I am only going to quote one sentence from a longer Statement of Administration Policy that I am going to put in the Record, and that sentence is this: ``However, due to other objections to the bill, should it be presented to the President in its current form, his senior advisers would recommend a veto.'' So I think that when we are under a situation where we have the trauma of floods and people being homeless because of the flooding situation in the Midwest, it doesn't do much good to pass a piece of legislation that is going to be vetoed by the White House anyway.
The point I was trying to make last night is that we shouldn't be adjourning for our summer August break and not taking care of things in the Midwest the very same way we took care of the situation for New Orleans caused by Katrina. Of course, the point is that the legislation we seek for the Midwest is the same as the legislation we sought and we actually accomplished for New Orleans.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the full Statement of Administration Policy from which I quoted.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget,
Washington, DC, July 30, 2008.
Statement of Administration Policy
S. 3335--JOBS, ENERGY, FAMILIES, AND DISASTER RELIEF ACT OF 2008
The Administration supports responsible and timely alternative minimum tax (AMT) relief as proposed in the President's Budget. Congress should act quickly to protect 26 million American taxpayers from an unwelcome tax increase and to avoid repeating the unnecessary administrative complexity caused by congressional delay in 2007. In addition, the Administration supports the extension of the tax credit for research and experimentation (R&E) expenses, incentives for charitable giving, subpart F active financing and look-through exceptions, and the new markets tax credit. In its FY 2009 Budget, the Administration proposed that several of these provisions be made permanent, including the R&E tax credit. However, due to other objections to the bill, should it be presented to the President in its current form, his senior advisors would recommend a veto.
The Administration strongly supports continuation of tax incentives for renewable energy, and in fact the President recently proposed a more effective approach that would reform today's complicated mix of incentives to make the commercialization and use of new, lower emission technologies more competitive. The President's proposal would consolidate this mix into a single expanded program that would be carbon-weighted, technology-neutral, and long-lasting. This policy would make lower emission power sources less expensive relative to higher emission sources while taking into account our Nation's energy security needs. It would take the government out of picking technology winners and losers in this emerging market. And it would provide a positive and reliable market signal for technology investment and investment in domestic manufacturing capacity and infrastructure.
Overall, the Administration does not believe that efforts to avoid tax increases on Americans need to be coupled with provisions to increase revenue. Although the Senate has avoided pairing AMT relief with tax increases, the bill contains a host of objectionable provisions. The Administration strongly opposes the provision in the bill that would subject U.S. companies to continued double taxation by further delaying the effect of new rules for allocating worldwide interest for foreign tax credit purposes. The Administration also strongly opposes the provision in the bill that would treat U.S. citizens with deferred compensation from certain employers--in all industries--more unfavorably than other U.S. citizens. Together, these provisions would increase tax burdens, undermine the competitiveness of U.S. workers and businesses, and could have adverse effects on the U.S. economy. The Administration also opposes the continued expansion of tax-credit bonds and the reinstatement of the exclusion from tax of amounts received under qualified group legal services plans. The Administration urges Congress to eliminate all such provisions from the final bill.
The Administration also strongly opposes the provision in the bill to increase cash balances in the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund by transferring $8 billion from the General Fund. It is a longstanding principle that highway construction and maintenance should be funded by those who use the highway system. Instead, this provision is both a gimmick and a dangerous precedent that shifts costs from users to taxpayers at large. Moreover, the provision would unnecessarily increase the deficit and would place any hope of future, responsible constraints on highway spending in jeopardy. This provision is unnecessary, because the Administration has proposed a responsible alternative that protects taxpayers.
Finally, the Administration objects to a budget gimmick in the bill that would raise revenues by modifying the tax treatment of deferred compensation over the current budget window, but allow this provision to expire so that it, like the new rules for allocating worldwide interest for foreign tax credit purposes, will return to be available as a ``revenue-raiser'' in next year's ten-year budget window. These types of gimmicks, done for so-called ``pay as you go'' reasons, harm the integrity of the tax code and increase uncertainty for taxpayers.
Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, before I speak to the point, just so you know, in Iowa the flood situation is very much in the headlines. I think one of the problems we are having in the Midwest, in getting Congress to pay attention to the problems that remain from the flooding of June, is that it is not constantly on television. It is not on television all the time. Of course, for 2 months, 3 months, the situation in New Orleans was constantly on television, and Congress responded.
Mr. President, I see the whip here, and maybe I said something to which he wants to react. If he does, I would be happy to yield for that purpose.
Mr. DURBIN. I will wait until the Senator has completed. I would like to make a statement.
Mr. GRASSLEY. Anyway, we have here in the Des Moines Register a headline that says, ``Storm Hit One in Five School Districts,'' and then it has reports on how much it is going to cost to fix the schools. We have another headline here that says, ``At Least $30 Million Needed to Repair Roads,'' as an example.
Then we have a statement that was printed in the Davenport newspaper that was written by Charlotte Eby. I am not going to quote the whole thing. I just want to speak to parts of it.
While Congress puts off consideration of the flood relief bill, it looks like the Iowa legislature will be rolling up its sleeves to help out Iowa flood victims.
It speaks about a growing sense that the Iowa legislature has to step in.
The delay of a Federal response by Congress could also push back the State response, a development that left Iowans angry.
It quotes the minority leader of the Iowa senate. Ron Wieck, Republican of Sioux City, said action cannot wait, and if that means a special session, he is for it. It doesn't quote him, but it says he is appalled that Congress will go home for the summer recess without passing a Federal flood relief package when floods left people in the Midwest homeless.
Then the last paragraph is not anybody's quote except the author's, Charlotte Eby:
Maybe the U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid and House speaker Nancy Pelosi ought to walk the streets of Cedar Rapids. They would think twice about heading home for their August recess without lending a helping hand.
Then I have a quote from Congressman King, who went to Cedar Rapids, I think, as recently as Monday of this week. He says:
This is Katrina. I have walked into and out of those buildings (in New Orleans) and I tell you, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
He means telling the difference between the destruction that went on in New Orleans in the 2005 hurricane and what happened in Cedar Rapids in June when it was hit by a 500-year flood.
I do applaud Senator Obama because he was in Cedar Rapids yesterday campaigning, and he was also very attentive to the problems of Cedar Rapids in his town meeting. He said he came there and wanted to listen. I have not heard reports on what questions he received, what complaints he received. He may have been talking just to a friendly audience--I don't know. But he did say that he was there to listen, and I hope after he has listened to the situation in Cedar Rapids that he will tell friends in the Congress of the United States that we need to act quickly. I hope he would say we should have acted this week--which action now, of course, is impossible because we are breaking for our summer break.
I am here once again to discuss the plight of my fellow Iowans and many others throughout the Midwest following a series of deadly tornadoes, storms, and floods. It is a multiple disaster, tornadoes and floods, and not just floods. Iowa has 99 counties. Of those, 80 counties have been designated as a disaster area by FEMA.
When looking at a map of Iowa, it is much easier to count the few counties that are not disaster areas than the vast majority that are disaster areas. Every weekend except for this past weekend since we were in session, I have been back in Iowa to meet with people affected by the storm and to see the devastation for myself. As I noted last week, estimates of damage are in the billions of dollars and are climbing every day.
I thought nothing could match my frustration at seeing so many Iowans in such great need, but the fact that we have not been able to act upon both the appropriations bill, as well as this tax bill, has frustrated me. It seems because we do not see the storm on television all the time that there is an apparent lack of desire to help the Midwest recover from these deadly tornadoes, storms, and floods, quite contrary to the quick action that Congress took after Katrina.
Before I go further, I want to display a few pictures of the flooding. The first will show one of many railroad bridges that was severely damaged. Businesses such as the one in this picture rely on this railroad track, this bridge, to receive their inputs and move their goods. Throughout Iowa there are similar bridges that are damaged. Iowa railroads play a vital part in moving our agricultural products and goods, to do it efficiently, and obviously in a more energy-efficient way. This infrastructure is important for Iowa's interstate commerce and international trade.
I have another picture that shows the museum of art at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. This is the museum of art. I believe I have heard from the university officials that this building is going to have to be torn down.
The next picture shows flooding along the Iowa River. You can see the tops of buildings. These are homes and businesses of people who just want their lives back. They are not asking for anything extraordinary or excessive, but they are in need of help to recover and rebuild. They are, in a sense, asking for the same help that New Orleans got after Katrina.
I would like to use the phrase ``so that they can get things back to normal.'' However, it is very difficult to use that phrase. It will take years before Iowa recovers, and it will not be the same, although we will still be a very strong State.
I can share, for example, the story of my hometown of New Hartford, a community of 670 just west of Waterloo, IA. An F5 tornado ripped through this area, destroying a whole section of town. The floods then came and inundated the town. Out of 270 homes in New Hartford, IA, 240 had damage or were destroyed. Businesses were also harshly affected. Many of them are trying to decide if they want to stay in business or if they can afford to stay in business. Several have already decided not to reopen.
The town I lived around all my life as a farm boy--and still as a farmer--will never be back to normal. It won't ever be the same. I think we will have a thriving community but, quite frankly, it won't be the same.
The next chart shows you a picture of downtown Cedar Rapids. I am talking about a 500-year flood. The previous flood record was about 19 feet. Levees could take up to 22 feet. But I think this flood got as high as 31 feet and has been referred to as a 500-year flood.
As you look at this picture, think of all the homes and businesses that are severely damaged and destroyed. Downtown Cedar Rapids is not going to be the same. Since Cedar Rapids and other places in Iowa are not popular as vacation spots as are other cities, you probably haven't seen or heard much of the devastation except for the week of television when it was actually underwater. I can assure everyone that the people of Iowa and the Midwest deserve the same consideration that was given to the people of New York after 9/11 and the people of the gulf coast after the hurricanes of 2005.
Last week I touched on how the response to the Midwest disasters has been different from the response to other disasters. I would like to elaborate on that point. These are some of the same points I made last night, but I only took about 2 minutes to make these points.
On August 29, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the gulf coast, causing widespread devastation. The Congress was in recess at the time; however, the Republican Congress and the Senate Finance Committee sprang into action immediately at the staff level, even before we got back the day after Labor Day. We immediately started working with the Governors of the affected States and set out goals that we hoped to accomplish when we finally came back into session.
On September 28, 2005, less than a month----
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator is speaking under a 10-minute limit.
Mr. GRASSLEY. I ask unanimous consent to continue my speech for as much time as I might consume.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Is there objection?
Mr. DURBIN. I would like to respond when the Senator is finished. Can he give some indication when he might finish?
Mr. GRASSLEY. Yes. About 7 or 8 minutes, I think.
Mr. DURBIN. I have no objection.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered. The Senator from Iowa is recognized.
Mr. GRASSLEY. On September 28, less than a month after Hurricane Katrina, I chaired a hearing entitled, ``Hurricane Katrina: Community Rebuilding Needs and Effectiveness of
Past Proposals.'' Governor Blanco of Louisiana, Governor Barbour of Mississippi, and Governor Riley of Alabama all participated.
On October 6, 2005, I chaired another hearing titled ``The Future of the Gulf Coast Using Tax Policy to Help Rebuild Businesses and Communities and Support Families.'' Treasury Secretary Snow testified at that hearing.
Congress also passed tax legislation very quickly. The Katrina Emergency Relief Act of 2005 was signed by the President on September 23, 2005. This unoffset package cost more than $6 billion. That package was followed up by the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005, which was signed by President Bush in December of 2005. This unoffset package was scored to cost around $8.6 billion. Neither of these packages were subject to a rollcall vote in the Senate, but both were passed by unanimous consent.
I want to make it clear that we did the right thing by setting aside our planned agenda to help the people affected by hurricanes as quickly as we could. Some of the people still living on the gulf coast still need our help, and we should be helping them, and some of these tax provisions in what we call the extenders package continue some of that help. Passing these bills without offsets was also the right thing to do. As any of my staffers can tell you, I am very careful with the money. However, when people are suffering from a massive natural disaster, it is no time to be a cheapskate.
I am also very frustrated by the desire of some House Democrats to offset this tax relief package for Iowans and other Midwesterners because that is a double standard. We did not demand offsets when we were trying to help New Orleans. I am not asking for anything more than the same consideration that was given to the victims of other major disasters.
I have learned lessons from previous tax disaster packages. We learned we need to tailor the relief so more is targeted specifically for those who suffered damages and really need the assistance. Therefore, the package I introduced, that I tried to get unanimous consent on last night, called the Midwestern Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2008, provides targeted assistance to families and businesses in 10 States throughout the central United States to help those who suffered damage from these deadly storms and floods, to help them rebuild their lives.
The estimated cost of the bill is less than $4 billion. We need to be prudent with our Federal money, and as I stated, my tax package is targeted to those who suffered loss and is a reasonable cost to help these victims of the storms and floods in the 10 States that were affected. From that standpoint, that is something we have learned in the last 3 years from the package that was passed after Katrina.
There were people who took advantage of some provisions who were not harmed by the natural disaster, so we have tailored this bill so that only people who were harmed by the flood situation are the ones we will help. We had Senators Harkin, Bond, McCaskill, Coleman, Klobuchar, Durbin, Obama, Roberts, Brownback, Lugar, and Bayh all as original cosponsors of this bill. In the House, the Iowa Congressional Delegation introduced a companion bill, and the list of the original cosponsors to this bill shows this is a very bipartisan package. We all recognize the need for targeted relief for the Midwest. The problem seems to be the ability to get the bill up in a timely fashion like we did in the case of New Orleans. I have been hearing that the Democratic leadership in the House is insisting that the package be offset, which is completely different than how we responded to disasters in the past when we didn't worry about offsets. Normally when we have emergencies, they are emergencies; you get the bill passed to help the people who need it.
Just yesterday the Senate voted against cloture on an extenders package put forward by Senate Democrats. It purported to include disaster relief. I am taken aback that the Senate Democrats would politicize the suffering of so many people just to try to get an extenders bill passed. The disaster relief in that bill was watered down. It provided substantially less assistance for Iowa and the other States in the central portion of the United States.
The Senator from Illinois is here, and I hope he hears that because I want to emphasize that that bill is quite a bit different and doesn't do as much good. It is not targeted. It is not helping people who need to be helped right now.
Its authors were apparently motivated by the twin misconceptions that the Midwestern disasters are not as severe as they really are and that we should undertake generic tax relief at the expense of the Midwest.
When I say the proponents of the Democratic extender package think the disaster is not as severe as they are, I say that noting that their package provided less assistance to the Midwest than my bipartisan tax-targeted disaster tax bill did provide.
The Democratic disaster package also had a higher revenue score than my package. I told you we tried to scale this back so we did not make the same mistakes we did in the case of Katrina, where a lot of people who did not get hurt by the disaster were able to take advantage of it--not our intention. But because we probably hastened it through to get help to Katrina victims, some people took advantage of it.
We tailored this so only people who have a disaster can benefit from it. It had a higher revenue score, as I said, than the Democratic alternative. They included the whole country instead of disasters that have not occurred. I am not arguing that we should look at putting generic assistance into the Tax Code to assist States when Federal disasters are declared the future. It seems to me that is a worthy thing for us to be discussing.
However, I do not think it is right to slow down the help for the Midwest because you want a broader national policy. People in the Midwest and Iowa are suffering now and have been for almost 2 months. They have experienced a severe event that was well above the 500-year flood level. This is an extraordinary disaster. We need the help right now.
The proper time to make a thorough a review of how we generally respond to disasters should not come at the expense of a specific massive natural disaster that has occurred and the people need immediate assistance. The author of the disaster package put forward in the Democrat's extender bill may have meant well, but I cannot help but feel that Iowa and the Midwest would be getting the short end of the stick.
Their disaster package also included a provision that only benefitted New York, at a cost of more than $1 billion. This is the second-largest provision in that disaster relief package, when people are literally trying to rebuild their homes, their businesses, and lives in the Midwest. It is simply insulting and disgraceful to use the misery of others to play politics and gamesmanship at a time when we should be able to put politics aside, as we did in September 2005, to help people going through extraordinarily difficult times.
However, there are apparently some who, because we do not see this on television or because they have other agendas, want to take advantage to get more. At the same time, I am trying to get help for my constituents.
The correct question to put is simply: How can I help?
The best course of action would be for the House and Senate to pass the Midwestern Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2008 and do it as we did in September 2005; do it by unanimous consent.
We can discuss general disaster response as well, but right now the people of Iowa are suffering and the Midwest is suffering as well. We have a moral obligation to help them as we helped the people and citizens of New York after 9/11 and the gulf coast when they needed help.
If anyone honestly believes Iowans do not deserve our help, then please come down to the floor, state your views, talk about it. I will encourage anyone who has doubts about the severity of this disaster to do like Senator Obama did yesterday, come to Iowa and I will be glad to take you around when you can come.
I am ready to yield the floor, but I had previously made a statement that I was going to make a unanimous consent request on the immigration bill. I am not going to do that.
I yield the floor.
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Mr. GRASSLEY. I object.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Objection is heard.
The Senator from Illinois has the floor.
Mr. DURBIN. I yield to Senator Grassley for the purpose of his explaining his objection so the Senator's objection is in the Record. But do I not want to surrender the floor. Is that possible?
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, yes, I will take that opportunity. I hope I get to have an opportunity to offer a unanimous consent request as well for our side of the aisle, if you want to be completely fair. In the last few weeks in this body, we have not necessarily been fair.
So let me take advantage of the majority whip's invitation to respond. First of all, he knows, because he is in the leadership, that I gave the majority party information, at least 48 hours ago, and maybe 72 hours ago, that this week I was going to seek a unanimous consent request, and all day yesterday we were denied that opportunity, even at the point before adjournment and my speaking to Leader Reid about when can I do my unanimous consent request.
You know what I was told? After the adjournment resolution. So do not say I did not make an attempt to do it and do not say you did not know about it. If you wanted to cooperate with us, we could have had that cooperation. But there does not seem to be that sort of comity in the Senate anymore.
Another point you made was that I had a chance to work for a tax relief package for flood victims. The bill you voted for and you asked unanimous consent on did less for your constituents than the legislation we had been working on for 2 weeks.
Then, he brings up the point about not working through committee. Well, most of the work on this bill has been so we can get a consensus package, working with even Chairman Rangel's staff, so it is not only bipartisan but bicameral, so we can put together something and get it done very quickly in the same consensus manner that we were able to help the victims of New Orleans.
Then, the other reason: Why would the Senator from Illinois cosponsor our bill if it was not the right bill for his State and for the Midwest and for this disaster?
We have always tried to do things as quickly as can be done when people hurt. That is why when we got back after Katrina--on Tuesday or Wednesday--we had $10 billion that we were going to give to New Orleans. Before the end of the week was up, it was $60 billion, in 2005.
Now, do you think the committee had an opportunity to work its will on that? No. They were responding to need. Don't you think your constituents hurt across from Burlington? They may be still underwater. I do not know. A couple weeks ago, they were when I was talking on the radio station. In Burlington you had constituents who still had just the roofs of houses showing. Don't you think they need help right now?
So I think, first of all, procedural-wise, either the majority whip does not know what is going on when I notify his cloakroom that I am going to offer it or else he does not care or he wants to mislead.
The second thing is, he is not voting for the bills and pushing the bills that will help his constituents the most, and we still do not have the relief.
So that is my response to the Senator from Illinois.
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Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, on behalf of Senator Bennett, I object.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Objection is heard.
The senior Senator from Iowa is recognized.
UNANIMOUS CONSENT REQUEST--S. 3322
Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, before the Senator from Illinois leaves the floor, I want to ask unanimous consent to bring up a bill to which he is probably going to object. But I want him to know that people on this side of the aisle want to move things along.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Committee on Finance be discharged from further consideration of S. 3322, and the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration. I ask unanimous consent that the Grassley amendment at the desk be agreed to, the bill, as amended, be read a third time and passed, the motions to reconsider be laid upon the table, and the bill be held at the desk pending further House action.
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