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Transportation, Housing And Urban Development, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010--Conference Report--Resumed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

TRANSPORTATION, HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2010--CONFERENCE REPORT--Resumed -- (Senate - December 11, 2009)

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Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I wish to thank Senator Enzi for not just what he said today but for what he has been doing throughout this whole debate to make very complex issues much simpler so that people can listen in to what is being said here and understand what we are doing. It has been a frustrating process here dealing with this attempted government takeover of health care. While the majority has us here on the floor debating one bill, they are behind a closed door over here creating a whole new bill and making periodic announcements about what might be in it. It is kind of like a magician who gets you looking at one hand while the sleight of hand is actually doing the magic with the other hand, and that is what we see happening here today. The majority wants to force this major piece of legislation through before Christmas while people aren't paying attention.

In the middle of this, they have decided to take a break to expand spending at unprecedented levels. I am here right now to support Senator McCain's rule XXVIII point of order that points out that the majority, the Democratic majority, has violated all of these so-called ethics and transparency improvements that they were bragging about only a year ago. We are not supposed to take bills and in the secret of conferences add things that weren't in the House or the Senate version. That violates a specific rule, an ethics rule that the majority trumpeted not too long ago. This bill contains out-of-control spending. It completely reverses Congress's traditional position on many values issues such as taxpayer-funded abortions and needle exchanges in the District of Columbia. It ends the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program that has done so much to help a small number of disadvantaged minority students. It increases funding for Planned Parenthood, the Nation's leading provider of abortions, and it legalizes medical marijuana. Yet the overall funding levels of this bill are unconscionable at a time when we are in recession and so many people are out of work. We have massive debt that threatens our Nation's economic future and our very currency itself.

The bill represents a $50 billion increase or 12.5 percent over last year's funding level. This is not mandated spending; this is discretionary spending. This is a time the President is saying we have to get a handle on our debt. Yet every bill the Democratic majority has pushed across this floor has major increases in spending. It is actually nearly a $90 billion increase over the year before.

Mr. President, what the President said he was against, which was earmarks, this bill has 5,224 earmarks, costing nearly $4 billion, in addition to the other spending. I cannot read all of those, but I think people across the country have learned what earmarks mean. Here are a few examples:

$500,000 for construction of a beach park promenade; six different bike paths totaling $2.11 million; $250,000 for a trail at Wolftrap Center for the Performing Arts; and $250,000 for the Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture.

I could go on and on. It makes no sense to be doing this. I think maybe one of the most egregious parts of the bill, which I want to focus on for a few minutes, goes back to those values issues. It is one thing to make abortion legal; it is quite another thing to force Americans who consider abortion immoral, based on their beliefs, or religious beliefs--it is immoral to make them pay for it, to actually promote abortion.

That is what this bill does. Everywhere you turn, this administration is promoting anti-life initiatives and advancing policies that most Americans find morally objectionable--namely, taxpayer-funded abortions. We have seen that throughout this health care debate, and now in the very set of bills that funds our government, it is promoting and funding abortion.

This Nation has had a debate about whether we should even allow abortions to be legal. But we have been in general agreement as a nation, and even here in the Congress, for years that we should not force taxpayers to pay for abortions. That is a terrible use of the power of government.

The omnibus bill reported by the House-Senate conference allows taxpayer funds to be used to pay for elective abortion in the District of Columbia, because Congress controls DC's entire budget, including appropriating the city's local revenues. If this omnibus bill passes, Congress will be allowing U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund abortion on demand, when it was previously prohibited.

This is a major shift in policy. We must step back and see where our priorities are as a nation. The values of our country are at stake in this legislation. As we look at this, I hope no American is so naive as to think that if they pass this government takeover of health care, no matter what we put in the legislation, they will eventually fund elective abortions in this country. It shows everywhere they pass a piece of legislation that they are trying to promote abortion in this country.

A vote for the omnibus is a vote for taxpayer-funded abortion. A vote against Senator McCain's point of order is a vote for taxpayer-funded abortion. It is simple and it is clear. Congress is responsible for the budget and the way the funds are spent. If we don't think the government should create an incentive for taking unborn lives, we should not allow it in the legislation before us today.

In addition to this troubling revelation, the bill contains many other egregious reversals of longstanding policy contradicting traditional American values. The underlying bill legalizes medical marijuana and uses Federal funds to establish a needle exchange program in Washington, DC. Both encourage the use of drugs.

This is another glimpse of what is going to happen with government-run health care. If this Congress is promoting the use of medical marijuana, needle exchange programs, abortion, in this funding bill, does anyone believe that that won't be a part of a government-run health care system? Of course not.

Additionally, this bill eliminates the successful DC Scholarship Opportunity Program, which aids low-income children by giving them scholarships to attend private schools in Washington, DC. This affects only about 1,500 children. I have had a chance to meet with some of them who were in schools that were not working. This small scholarship program allows disadvantaged, primarily minority, students in Washington, DC, to go to a private school of their choice. Remarkably, in just a few years, the students who moved from the government schools to the private schools were 2 years ahead of their peers. It is an example of something that is working, helping disadvantaged students, and it is a good example of an administration that is more interested in paying off union interests--in this case the teachers union--than doing what is good for the children in our country. To eliminate this small, inexpensive program is absurd. But it reveals to you----

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

Mr. DeMINT. No, I won't. It reveals to you the true motives of the majority. If we look at this bill and this eventual health care bill--if we ever have time to see it before they try to pass it--we are beginning to see a real glimpse, a true picture of where this Democratic majority is going.

Finally, this bill increases funding for title X family planning services, of which Planned Parenthood is the largest recipient. Planned Parenthood is the Nation's largest provider of abortions. Increasingly, they are what we call directed abortions. When people come to Planned Parenthood and look for advice on family planning, they are more often than not encouraged and pushed toward abortion.

All around this bill, you see what is going on. It is a major change in policy--not to make abortion available but to make Americans pay for it and to promote it.

I, along with 34 of my colleagues in the Senate, signed and sent a letter to the majority leader regarding the troubling anti-life policies in this omnibus bill. Collectively, we vowed to speak out to protect the longstanding Federal funding limitations on abortion--a belief that has enjoyed broad bipartisan support for many years.

For this reason, as well as a number of other values issues that are irresponsibly addressed in this legislation, I support Senator McCain to raise a point of order against the omnibus under rule XXVIII of the Standing Rules of the Senate. I urge my colleagues to do the same.

I remind my colleagues that a vote against the McCain point of order is a vote to force American taxpayers to promote and pay for abortions. It is plain and simple. I am sure there will be a lot of smoke and mirrors after my talk that will try to convince you that is not true. But it is in the legislation and it will happen. We need to stop it.

I thank the Chair and yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Illinois is recognized.

Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I hope the Senator from South Carolina won't leave. He would not yield for a question. I want to address his remarks, and some of them are not accurate. I don't want him to feel that I am saying this outside of his presence.

I ask the Senator from South Carolina, while he has a few minutes, if he could look in the bill and find the provision in the bill that kills the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. Please present it to me now, because it is not there. It is not there.

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program is a voucher program, created more than 5 years ago. It was authorized through the Appropriations Committee, not through formal authorization. As many as 1,700 students in DC ended up going to school and getting about $7,500 a year to help pay the tuition for their schools. The program has diminished in size--I will concede that--even though I tried in a debate and negotiations to change that. It is down to about 1,300 students. It is funded in this bill to the tune of $13.2 million.

So for the Senator from South Carolina to stand up and say, as he did, that this program is killed, how does he explain the $13.2 million in the bill?

Mr. DeMINT. If the Senator will yield, the President has said he is going to end this program.

Mr. DURBIN. Does this bill end it?

Mr. DeMINT. I will come to the floor to explain the technical aspects of why it is not.

Mr. DURBIN. I am anxious to hear it. Explain all the technical aspects you would like, but the fact is that $13.2 million goes to the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. And the 1,300 students currently in the program will be protected and will receive the tuition--a grant of $7,500 per student--in the coming year. That is a fact. To stand there and say otherwise is wrong.

Mr. DeMINT. You grandfather it in--if the Senator will yield for a question, does this bill fund the continuation of the program beyond the 1,300 who are already in it?

Mr. DURBIN. No. It limits the program to 1,300.

Mr. DeMINT. It kills the program then.

Mr. DURBIN. No. If they are why----

Mr. DeMINT. But the program will not continue.

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Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I rise today to address a question submitted to me from the good Senator from Illinois as to whether the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program will in fact end after this year. In order to respond to my colleague, I would like to highlight a particular section of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2010 that funds the District of Columbia's budget.

In title IV, which explains how the District of Columbia is funded, it states that $13.2 million will indeed be provided for opportunity scholarships for existing students in the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. However, the very next line clearly states that the funds are to ``remain available until expended,'' which means that the program will eventually be phased out and terminated once the funding for current students is exhausted. Students in the program will slowly be phased out over time, unable to avail themselves of future educational opportunities currently given to them through this program.

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, which has the overwhelming support of DC residents, parents, Mayor Adrian Fenty, Chancellor Michelle Rhee, former Mayor Anthony Williams, and a majority of the DC City Council, has now been mandated a slow death by House and Senate appropriators. This scholarship program, which gives students of Washington, DC's poorest families a chance at a quality education, has now effectively been terminated since there is only funding available for existing scholarships and existing students, and not for future scholarships and future students.

By funding this program in such a manner in the omnibus, Congress is ultimately signaling the beginning of the end for this scholarship program. By disallowing future students to take part, the size of the program will shrink year after year, and will deny entry to siblings of existing participants--punishing many who have been waiting in line for this tremendous opportunity. Additionally, the federal evaluation of this program will be compromised as the numbers of participants diminishes, making it difficult for administrators to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

The fact that this administration continues to claim that the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program is not being terminated is yet another act of deception on their part to the American people. The President, who himself is a recipient of a K-12 educational scholarship, has refused to stand up for children in our Nation's Capital and fight for the same educational opportunities afforded to him and his family--a right he exercises now as he practices school choice with his own children.

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