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Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act--Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BENNET. Mr. President, first, I wish to thank the Senator from Alabama for calling this body's attention once again to the debt crisis we face as a country. I was with some people just a little while ago, and I was telling them a story about a conversation I had in Colorado about our debt and our deficit and the moral obligation we have to our kids to actually deal with this problem and face up to the fact. My then-10-year-old daughter was with me, Caroline.

We walked out on the front stoop of this place, and she said to me: Daddy.

I said: What.

She said: Just to be clear--she was making fun of me because I say that sometimes--she said: Just to be clear, I am not paying that back.

That is the right attitude she ought to have and the right attitude children all across the country ought to have and the right attitude we ought to have. I look forward, when we get into this discussion this summer, to finding out how to find a bipartisan path through this morass so that Caroline Bennet doesn't have to pay back a debt she didn't accrue.

I wanted to come to the floor today to talk about the economy because I think one thing we can agree on in this body for sure is that the best deficit reduction program we can find would be to get this economy moving again. I wanted to talk about one sector in particular that has created tremendous economic growth in Colorado; that is, the wind energy sector. I know my colleague from Colorado, Mark Udall, came down earlier today to discuss the same issue, and I so much appreciate his continued efforts in fighting for these jobs.

Just a piece of context here. We face very significant structural issues in this economy today. I have brought this chart down here before, but what it shows is that our gross domestic product--our economic output--is actually higher today than it was when we went into the worst recession since the Great Depression. Our productivity is off the charts. That is the blue line, the second line. It has been going that way since the early 1990s because of our response to competition from China and India and other places, because of our use of technology, and because of the recession itself, which drove productivity straight up as firms all across the United States tried to figure out how to get through this tough time with fewer people. But median household income continues to fall in this country, and we have 23 or 24 million people who are unemployed or underemployed, even though we are generating this economic output.

I think there are two fundamental answers to this. One is education. The worst the unemployment rate ever got for people with a college degree in the worst recession since the Great Depression was 4.5 percent. But the other is innovation. Jobs are going to be created tomorrow and next week and the week after that that have rising wages, not lowering ones, not falling ones. And this economic recovery, like the last economic recovery--those two together are the first recoveries we have had as a nation in our history where economic growth decoupled from job growth and wage growth. I don't know about the Presiding Officer, but that is what I hear about most in my townhall meetings at home.

The wind production tax credit, it seems to me, cuts right to the core of whether and how we want to compete in this global and changing economy.

Let me show another picture here. This is it. This is a factory in Brighton, CO--bricks and mortar, made in America. It is a wind production facility. We are not talking about some fly-by-night experimental industry here.

This credit has triggered tremendous economic growth in Colorado and all across the country--good-paying jobs, manufacturing jobs here in the United States. As Representative Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, said recently in an op-ed he published, the production tax credit has driven as much as $20 billion in private investment. This is not some Bolshevik scheme. That is $20 billion in private investment supporting jobs here in the United States, manufacturing jobs here in the United States.

Wind power accounts for more than one-third of all new U.S. electric generation in recent years. In Colorado alone, it has created 6,000 jobs. It has moved our State toward a more diversified and cleaner energy portfolio. But because they can't get any certainty out of Washington, like everybody else, developers and manufacturers are already starting layoffs. They are laying off employees today in anticipation of the credit expiring at the end of the year.

Vestas, which has a huge manufacturing footprint in Colorado, from Windsor all the way south to Pueblo, is poised to lay off 1,600 workers if we fail to act. It is hard for me to understand, when our concerns about the deficit and our concerns about economic growth are ones that we hear about every day on the floor, why laying off 1,600 workers in Colorado is a good idea. Iberdrola Renewables, also doing business in Colorado, has already laid off 50 employees. Nationally, 37,000 jobs are at risk, not to mention the ones we could have created after 2012 but won't if we let this credit expire.

I know sometimes I sound like a broken record, but the world is not going to wait for us. Our largest single export today is energy, actually--interestingly enough.

That is a very recent occurrence that we became a net exporter of energy. Before that, our single largest export was aircraft. We build the best aircraft in the world. Mr. President, $30 billion a year is what that export is to the United States.

China's export of solar panels last year was $15 billion--half our largest single export. They did not export 1 solar panel 10 years ago, and we invented the technology in the United States. In fact, some of us claim we invented it right at home in Colorado.

I am sure China would love to have this business as well or we can get out of our own way and extend the PTC, extend the tax credit, save those jobs, and grow our own clean energy economy.

This is not a partisan issue. I led a letter several months ago, where Republicans and Democrats from the Colorado delegation came together to urge a quick extension as part of the payroll deal. That effort, unfortunately, was not successful, nor were the others we have tried to take in the interim.

Shortly after our letter I filed an amendment--a bipartisan amendment--with the Senator from Kansas, a fully paid-for 1-year extension of the credit. This place has become the land of flickering lights. We extend one thing for a month, we extend another thing for 2 months.

I am very proud of the work we are doing on FDA right now, which is a 5-year reauthorization. But, my goodness, couldn't we extend this for a year to give people some degree of certainty, particularly when it is paid for?

I thank Senator Moran, Republican from Kansas, for joining me--or for letting me join him--to lead that amendment.

Following that, several colleagues and I have partnered with Senator Grassley and others to write a bill that would extend the credit for 2 years. There is clearly plenty of bipartisan support out there, and I know the people in my State--whether Republicans or Democrats or Independents or not even thinking about that--I know they want us to get this done.

Nearly 7,500 Coloradans have already signed a petition on my Web site supporting the wind production tax credit. I urge others today who are watching this to visit my Web site and please add their name.

I conclude by asking why, when the economic stakes are as high as they are, the Congress cannot get its act together. We need to extend the wind production tax credit, and we need to do it now.


Mr. President, I rise to speak on Coburn amendment No. 2353, and I want to be the first to say how much I appreciate the efforts of my colleague from Oklahoma at deficit reduction. In fact, we are currently working together to promote a comprehensive approach to deficit reduction, and I deeply appreciate his leadership, which in many ways has been unparalleled on this issue. However, I have to oppose this particular amendment. I understand we are likely to consider the amendment this afternoon. I urge my colleagues to oppose the amendment by supporting the motion to table.

This amendment will repeal the popular Environmental Quality Incentives Program, EQIP, and the Conservation Stewardship Program, CSP. Both are critical programs authorized under the conservation title of the farm bill.

In Colorado, I have heard time and time again from our farmers and our ranchers how critical these programs are to holding on to their family farm.

EQIP, for example, is on the front lines of agricultural production. It helps farmers ensure that their operations contribute to clean water and clean air in our rural communities. It proactively and successfully addresses new and emerging resource issues to avert the need for regulation--to put our farmers and ranchers in a place where they have less regulation, not more, because of the work they are doing on the ground to conserve their lands.

Let me give you one example from Colorado. EQIP resources have been used to ensure that the sage grouse stays off the endangered species list--a listing that would threaten ranchers all across the West. That is the result of the great work that has been done by farmers and ranchers in Colorado with EQIP.

By providing resources to mark barbed wired fences--making them more visible to the threatened bird--EQIP is working for farmers and ranchers, and it is working well. It is the flagship of voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs, which is a direction I think we should be heading, and a direction we head in this farm bill.

Both EQIP and CSP provide quantifiable benefits that are reflective of the varied conservation challenges all across our country. So I strongly support this new conservation title as we reported it out of the committee in a bipartisan vote.

As I have mentioned, and has been discussed on this bill, this bill is also remarkable for the cuts it makes: $23.6 billion. To my knowledge, there is not any other committee in the Senate or any committee in the House of Representatives that has actually reached bipartisan agreement and, in this case, bipartisan consensus on budget cuts, which is the way we should be doing business around here because it is what the American people and the people in Colorado expect from us, particularly on these difficult questions around our deficit and our debt. And $6.4 billion of those cuts--$6.4 billion of that $23 billion--came from the conservation title, not all of which I liked, but we made difficult compromises at the committee level, and we ought not make further cuts on the floor, especially to programs that make smart and effective investments in our rural communities.

So I will oppose, for those reasons, amendment No. 2353 and support the motion to table, and I urge my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to do the same.

Finally, I wish to say thank you to the chairwoman of this committee and the ranking member, Debbie Stabenow and Pat Roberts, for their extraordinary bipartisan work in getting the bill this far. It is my fervent hope that leadership on both sides reaches an agreement on these amendments so we can move forward and do the right thing for our farmers and ranchers back home in Colorado.

With that, I see my colleague from Connecticut, Senator Lieberman, on the floor. I thank the Presiding Officer for his patience and yield the floor.


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