BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. DURBIN. Let me follow up on what the majority leader spoke to on the issue of immigration because this is the right time to bring it up.
I had several meetings yesterday that were as touching emotionally as anything I have witnessed as a Senator. They were students who came from all over the United States of America to walk peacefully in front of the Supreme Court. They were DREAMers, undocumented students who have attended schools or are attending colleges and schools in America. They are not asking for special treatment, they are asking for a chance--a chance to earn their way into the only country they have ever called home.
These poor kids out there literally have no country. They were brought here to the United States as babies and infants. They did not have a choice in the matter. They were packed into a car or onto a bus. They grew up in America. As Senator Menendez from New Jersey often says--he comes to the floor and reminds us that these kids put their hands on their hearts and they pledge allegiance to flags every day. They only know one national anthem:
America's. They are just asking for a chance to be part of this country.
Eleven years ago, I introduced a bill called the DREAM Act. It was a bipartisan bill, as Senator Reid said. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah was my cosponsor. In fact, we had words over who would be the lead sponsor. I bowed in his direction because he was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. I felt, well, that will help us pass the bill. Sadly, today there are only a handful of Republican Senators who will even vote for it and virtually none who openly sponsor it at this moment. What has happened in 11 years? These kids have not changed. Their problems are the same. The country has not changed; it is still a nation of immigrants. Yet the Republican Party has decided it has no use for this approach. There are exceptions. I thank those exceptions.
Senator DICK LUGAR of Indiana, a courageous man, 2 years ago wrote a letter with me to President Obama asking him to give temporary protected status to the DREAM Act students. I called Senator Lugar the morning of that announcement, on June 15, to thank him for his courage. It is rare, and it should be recognized. In his case, I believe it will be recognized by many.
Senator LISA MURKOWSKI of Alaska voted with me on the DREAM Act. That was a courageous move on her part. I thanked her for it. She is a very independent person. She said that there are Hispanics in Alaska--though you may not think it--and they are watching this carefully and closely.
Let me also salute Senator Marco Rubio. Some of my colleagues have criticized him for what he said about the DREAM Act. I have not. I am glad he is trying. I need Republican votes to break the Republican filibuster on the DREAM Act. Marco Rubio came to my office and offered a good-faith effort to do it. I told him: I will stand by you. I think what you are trying to achieve is not what I want completely, but it is on the path to that goal. Let's work on it together.
He tried. I salute him for trying. I hope he will try again.
I look at the situation in this country today on immigration and wonder, can this Congress come together on a bipartisan basis and even honestly debate the issue? That is a challenge we should face because the problem is out there.
The other day my friend--and he is my friend--Senator McCain of Arizona came to the floor and talked about border problems in Arizona. It is a legitimate concern in his State and the border States. But I also would call to his attention an article I read this morning in the National Journal Daily that was written by Major Garrett. It talks about what we have done on the borders of America. Now, I was one of those who thought we were going overboard--too many agents, too much money, too many different ideas.
But I bought into it and said if we have to do this first, let's do it. Even if it is more than I think is necessary, let's do it to prove our bona fides in terms of wanting to stop illegal immigration. Here is what Major Garrett wrote in the National Journal Daily:
After President George W. Bush's attempt at comprehensive immigration reform failed, Congress adopted a default presumption in favor of spending more every year on border control. From 2008 to 2012, Congress devoted $17.8 billion for U.S. Border Patrol agents and equipment. From 2006 to 2012, the number of Border Patrol agents has increased 73 percent (from 12,350 agents to 21,370). The number of agents assigned to the nation's Southwest border increased 67 percent (from 11,032 to 18,415).
The House Homeland Security spending bill for fiscal 2013 devotes $11.7 billion to Customs and Border Patrol, $77 million more than President Obama requested. It also pegs spending for ICE (Immigration Control Agency) at $5.8 billion, a $142 million increase over Obama's budget request.
The nation now has more Border Patrol agents and ICE detention beds (34,000) than at any time in history. For context, Border Patrol apprehensions totaled 340,252 in fiscal 2011. That's down 53 percent from 2008 (due in part to the recession and lack of available work). But that number of apprehensions was one-fifth the 2000 total.
Criminal and noncriminal deportations are also up. Way up. This, too, is a bipartisan achievement.
He goes on to cite numbers showing that the Obama administration has deported more in the name of prioritizing deportations than even the Bush administration.
So to those who say we need to get tough at the border and tough in terms of deportation, I say the evidence is there. In fact, it is overwhelming that we have done that. My challenge back to them is: Now can we talk about what to do about the 10 million or 11 million Americans living here who are in questionable status or undocumented? Can we come up with a reasonable approach that is fair to them, to their families, to the Nation, and to the workers of this country? I think we can and we should. Why else are we elected if we don't face an issue like that?
The State of Arizona basically lost in the U.S. Supreme Court this week. Out of four major provisions in the law, three were stricken, and one was put on probation. The Supreme Court said we are going to watch you, Arizona, and if you do this wrong, we will be back. In fairness to Arizona, their argument is that until there is a national immigration law, we are going to take matters in our own hands. The Supreme Court said: Not so fast. And that doesn't absolve us from our responsibility to Arizona and other States.
We have to move together to get this done. I have been listening carefully, and I know where President Obama is on this issue. I sat a few feet away from him in this Chamber working on comprehensive immigration reform with Senators Obama, MCCAIN, and Specter, trying to get this done. I know it was a genuine effort. I don't know where Governor Romney stands. He said he would veto the DREAM Act. Is that the starting point of his immigration policy? I hope not. I hope he will reconsider that. I hope he will say--as I hope others will say--what the President did in granting temporary renewable protected status to these DREAM students is going to be the standard until we pass a permanent law. That is only fair. Looking in the eyes of those students yesterday, I have to tell you that is our responsibility--to do the humane, just thing.
I will close because I see my colleague from Rhode Island on the floor, and he wants to speak in morning business. I got started in this journey because of a young lady named Theresa Lee. She was a Korean living in Chicago, who was from a very poor family and decided that her only ticket to a future was the piano. She became an accomplished pianist, to the point where she was seeking admission to Juilliard in the State of New York, and the Manhattan Conservatory, and only when it called for a Social Security number did she realize she had a problem.
She had been brought here at the age of 2 from Brazil, where she was born, by her Korean parents, and they never filed a paper. She called our office and we found out there was no recourse for her, no place to turn. The law said leave the country for 10 years and apply to come back in. That isn't fair. So she went on to school at Manhattan Conservatory of Music to study piano. Two families--the Foreman family and the Harris family--in Chicago paid for her education because they believed in this young girl.
There is a happy ending to her story. She not only graduated from the Manhattan Conservatory of Music, she played in Carnegie Hall. She had her debut concert there and is now studying for a PhD in music at the Manhattan Conservatory. She married a young man, and she is now a citizen. She could have been lost. Her talents could have been lost to this country if the law had been followed 11 years ago as it was written. She was given a chance and proved she was a person of quality who had something to give back to this great Nation with her musical skills and, ultimately, her talents in writing and teaching music.
It is a great story and a lesson for all of us about the DREAM Act and what it needs to be. I urge my colleagues, many of whom have turned a blind eye to this, to meet these young people, look them in the eye, and they will come to know this isn't just a legal issue, this is a human issue that will define us not only as a Congress but as a Nation.
I yield the floor.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, the bill to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program may be included in a package we will consider tomorrow--the package of bills that might include the Transportation bill and the student loan bill as well.
The National Flood Insurance Program needs to be addressed, and part of the new reauthorization makes significant changes and necessary improvements in the program.
I do want to join my colleague Senator Pryor from Arkansas in raising concerns about one particular section in the bill. It creates a burden for many people across the United States--in Illinois, in Arkansas, in Pennsylvania, in California, and other places. It is called section 107. It deals with mandatory insurance coverage areas. It redefines special flood hazard areas.
Under section 107(B), everyone in the United States living behind a levee, near a dam or near any other flood control structure--a so-called residual risk area--will be required to purchase flood insurance--everyone. FEMA estimates that well over 50 percent of America's population lives near a levee. Senator Pryor has a very revealing map of the United States. We have a lot of waterways and a lot of levees. There are levees in 881 counties throughout the United States. As many as 800,000 people in my State of about 12.5 million live in these areas.
Many people living near a levee do not even realize it because the levees work. They have never had a flood. But under this provision, they are still required to buy insurance.
The same holds true for people living near dams. There are nearly 1,400 dams in Illinois alone. Think of how many people live near those dams nationwide. Those people would also be required to purchase flood insurance under this provision.
Under this section of the bill, the mandatory purchase requirement would apply to people living in residual risk areas regardless of the status of the flood control structure. That is where I take exception to this approach. So even in communities where levees and dams have been certified safe--in many cases by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers--the people living behind those levees would have to purchase flood insurance.
Let me give one specific example that I think is illustrative of the unfairness. The people in these so-called residual risk areas already pay for their flood control structures in one way or another.
Take the Metro East area, where I grew up, across the river from St. Louis on the Mississippi River--St. Claire, Monroe, and Madison Counties. The community agreed in that area to raise taxes on themselves to pay for improvements to the levees. In other words, they were not pointing to Washington, saying: Come in and fix our levees. They said: We will take on the responsibility, and we will pay for it.
Thanks to the leadership of the Metro East levee district and people such as Les Sterman, with the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council; Alan Dunstan, board chairman of Madison County; Mark Kern, board chairman of St. Claire County; and, of course, my friend, Congressman Jerry Costello in the House of Representatives, Metro East raised the money to improve its levees to ensure they would be recertified as safe by FEMA.
They are doing the right thing. They are accepting responsibility, and they are paying for it. People in communities across the country are paying to make sure their levees are sound and they will not have to worry about a flood.
Yet under this bill's mandatory purchase requirement, as it is written and as I understand it, they also will be forced to pay for flood insurance. If they had done nothing, they would face the flood insurance premium. They did the responsible thing, and they are still being charged.
Not only are they paying higher taxes to strengthen their levees, they will pay for flood insurance for floods that are not likely to ever happen--precisely because of the improvements they are making to those levees which protect them.
To add insult to injury, if these areas are mapped into a special flood hazard area, the communities will have to pass an ordinance that FEMA requires for participation in the flood insurance program. This ordinance will restrict land use. In many cases, these ordinances diminish property values and reduce the number of jobs in the area.
My colleague Senator Cochran of Mississippi worked with Senator Shelby of Alabama in the Banking Committee to develop a compromise to this section. The compromise is a move in the right direction, I will concede, but it does not go far enough to help the people living near flood control structures.
The new section 107 strikes the language restricting land use in residual risk areas, but it does not remove the mandatory flood insurance purchase requirement. The new language only delays that requirement until FEMA can develop a new way to measure each levee's and dam's strength and efficiency--but then the people who live in these areas will be forced to buy insurance.
Adding up to 50 percent of the U.S. population into the National Flood Insurance Program, simply because they live near a flood control structure, I think does not take into account the actual reality on the ground
what is being done, what has been done to keep the area safe. I support my colleague, Senator Pryor of Arkansas. He wanted to strike section 107 to this bill. It is unreasonable to expand flood hazard areas to include communities in which people are already paying to prevent flooding.
Chairman Tim Johnson of the Senate Banking Committee and ranking Republican Senator Dick Shelby put together a strong bill with many important reforms. But the residual risk title is bad for communities such as Metro East in Illinois, and I hope the committee will either modify or drop this provision.
Let me close my remarks by saying that Senator Pryor has been an extraordinary leader on this issue. We have talked about it. I have been happy to join him. I don't know if, when the final bill package comes before us, we will have our chance to vote up or down or offer the Pryor amendment, which I support. But at the end of day, this is fundamentally unfair, although it will not take place, if it goes unchanged, for several years. In the meantime, if the bill passes with this provision, I can assure my colleagues--and I think Senator Pryor would agree with me--we are not going to quit on this issue. We are going to demand basic fairness for those people across America who are struggling in this economy and now face the prospect of dramatically increasing flood insurance premiums.
I think there is a way to do this that is responsible, that recognizes when people do what is right and families and communities step up to their responsibility, and I do not believe the Shelby-Cochran amendment does that. I hope we will have a chance to revisit this soon.
I thank Senator Pryor for his leadership.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, politicians are used to waiting in nervous anticipation for certain events; specifically, their own elections and the elections of their friends. But it is an interesting feeling in this town today--in Washington, DC--awaiting the nervous anticipation of the Supreme Court decision tomorrow. It is a decision which will address the affordable care act. And this affordable health care act may be one of the most significant measures I have ever been asked to vote on as a Member of Congress.
Tomorrow the U.S. Supreme Court will hand down its decision on the affordable care act. It could be one of the most consequential decisions handed down by the Court in my tenure in Congress, and maybe even longer. It is consequential not just because of the politics of Washington. No, the decision will have consequences which will affect the lives of millions of Americans across the country.
First, some basic facts. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the affordable care act will reduce the deficit over the next 10 years by over $200 billion; then, another $1 trillion in the second decade. This is an important measure to reduce health care costs, reduce government outlays, and reduce the deficit. So the decision of the Court will have an impact on that particular element.
The law does a number of specific things to reduce health care costs while saving lives. Because of the affordable care act, preventive services for many Americans are now free. In my home State of Illinois, last year 1.3 million people on Medicare--that is about 10 percent of our population--and 2.4 million people with private health insurance received preventive care at no cost. This is important, because preventive services such as mammograms and cholesterol screenings can help lower costs, prevent illness, and save lives. On the subject of prevention, the law provides help for States with their prevention programs--programs, for example, that try to discourage kids from smoking; programs that detect and treat diabetes at an early stage; heart disease, arthritis, and so many other areas that can be treated successfully if there are preventive efforts.
Another reason this law is important is because of lifetime limits. Before this law was enacted, insurance companies routinely told families: Sorry, you hit your limit. We are not going to pay for any more of your chemotherapy or your premature baby's illness.
People did not know there was a limit until it was too late. The law changed that.
Because of this law, 4.6 million people in my State, Illinois--4.6 million--got the care they needed last year without having to worry about the insurance companies cutting them off, saying they reached their limit.
In these tough economic times many young adults are having trouble finding work. Another thing this bill did was to extend the coverage of family health insurance to cover those through the age of 25. Because of the affordable care act, parents can keep their kids under their policy until the young people reach the age of 26. Across the country 2.5 million young adults, including 102,000 in my State of Illinois, have been able to stay on their parents' insurance plan.
The law also requires companies to spend more of their money on actual health care. One might think that is obvious, but it turns out it is not. The law says insurance companies have to spend at least 85 percent of their premiums on health care rather than spend it on advertising, overhead, or executive compensation.
Mr. President, $61 million has been returned in my State to over 300,000 people in the form of rebates because of this ``medical loss ratio''--85 percent to be spent on health care. That is money that flows back to families and individuals and businesses.
The affordable care act has had a profound impact on seniors and those living with disabilities. Because of this law, seniors and those living with disabilities on the Medicare Program in Illinois have saved more than $155 million on prescription drugs. Seniors taking their medicine as they are supposed to are likely to stay healthy longer and be less of a cost to the system and lead more independent and stronger lives.
We have talked and talked in this Senate about how we need to help seniors afford to buy prescription drugs. We know this bill that will be decided by the Supreme Court tomorrow has been closing the doughnut hole that was created by Medicare Part D. When we passed the affordable care act, we did something about it.
Illinois seniors saved $155 million because the affordable care act was signed into law. By 2020--if the Supreme Court does not strike this law or this provision--the doughnut hole will be fully closed and seniors will not have to worry anymore about that gap in coverage that eats into their savings.
I have been working for years to help small businesses find ways to afford health care for their employees. I introduced a bill in 2009 with the help of the small business community and the insurance industry that would allow small businesses to work together in a health care exchange. The affordable care act built on that principle and improved it dramatically.
The new health care law provides a tax break for small businesses that are doing the right thing and buying health insurance for their employees. So far, across the country, more than 228,000 businesses have taken advantage of this new tax credit and saved $278 million.
For those who say the affordable care act really has not helped small business, here is proof otherwise.
Another 30 million people who have no health care coverage today will be covered when the affordable care act is implemented. By 2019, 15 million of those will be able to participate in Medicaid, and the States will not be left on the hook. The affordable care act provides help to the States for the first several years.
The affordable care act provides much needed assistance to community health centers--centers such as the Erie Family Health Center in Chicago. In fact, because of a $650,000 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, Erie is going to open a new health center in Evanston--one that is desperately needed.
So these are but a few of the reasons the Supreme Court, I hope, will uphold this law to continue to help move us toward a day when the rate of growth in the cost of health care is brought under control. We have a long way to go, but this bill is a step forward. For those who have campaigned from one side of America to the other, saying they would eliminate the affordable care act, which they derisively call ObamaCare, let me tell them: There are real people in Illinois and across the Nation who have benefited from this act and will in the future.
Now is the time for us to work together to improve the act where it needs improvement but to use it as the basis for building a future of security and quality health care for all Americans.