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Mrs. BOXER. Before the Senator from Indiana leaves the floor, I wish for him to know I listened very carefully and I know his concern. I have spoken with Senator Durbin about it, and I hope we can work together. I do want to say this process where sometimes bills are put together is frustrating to everybody, and we do need to take a look at the way we do things. However, I do have some measure of sympathy for the leadership around here because it takes so long to get any one piece done.
So I do agree. I don't like the fact that we cast one vote and there are three subjects. It is very difficult for the people at home to understand it. I also want to say to my friend--before I yield 3 minutes of my time to Senator Sanders--to feel proud of the way we put together the Transportation bill. I think in that case, which is a huge policy bill, it was transparent and that what my friend complained about was something that was put in by the other body and said it is a must have.
The truth is, up to that point, everything we have done was very much in the open, and I am very sorry my friend feels so negatively toward what we are about to do because in his State it is tens of thousands of jobs and in my State it is hundreds of thousands of jobs. It is thousands of businesses. It is going to mean a boost to this economy and a boost to the private sector. I wish to say to my friend, I understand his frustration, and I will do everything I can to help him on this issue.
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Mrs. BOXER. Mr. President, I wish to thank my friend, Senator Sanders. He is a very active member of the Environmental and Public Works Committee. He is focused on jobs, jobs, jobs. He has looked at the green job sector. He has looked at the effect of what we do on the construction industry. I am ever so grateful to him. He also has been a very clear voice for the way to move this country forward by having a clean energy policy, which we are definitely going to be looking at in the days and weeks ahead.
We are now at the moment where we are waiting to see whether our friends on the other side of the aisle will allow us to proceed to finish our work on three issues: One is flood control, one is helping to make sure student loan interest rates do not double, and the third and biggest one involves the transportation sector.
We all know, whether we are Republicans or Democrats, our focus is on boosting this economy. This bill will do that like no other. In this Transportation bill we are talking about protecting 2 million jobs that are currently in place in this country in the construction sector and the transit sector. So these are the jobs that construction workers do on the highways, the freeways, the bridges, making sure our roads are in good shape and our bridges are not going to collapse because we have 70,000 bridges that are deficient, and we know what happens when there is a horrible failure of a bridge.
I know my ranking Member, Senator Inhofe, feels very strongly about this because he had an incident in his State where one of his constituents was actually killed by a bridge failing. We cannot sit by and allow the highway program and the transit program in this country to disappear. We have taken it up to the line.
I am very grateful to Ranking Member Inhofe. I am very grateful to Chairman Mica and to Ranking Member Rahall for the work we have done in this conference. This is a bill that everyone can be proud of, whether they are Republican or Democrat.
CBO has scored this, and it actually returns money to the Treasury. We have support from people who don't agree on most matters. I am not only talking about Senator Inhofe and myself, who do not see eye to eye on many issues; we have come together on this. Besides that, we see the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce walking hand in hand asking us to please pass this bill. So we have a few little holdups now, but I am very hopeful we can work through them.
The highlights of this bill: Overall, jobs, jobs, jobs. Jobs in the private sector, businesses in the private sector. We are talking about leveraging a Federal program called TIFIA, which is going to mean, frankly, hundreds of millions of dollars that will go out the door to leverage funds at the local level as well as the private sector.
As we look at our bill, we see a reform bill. We see project deliveries speeded up from 15 years to 8 years without giving up the health and safety laws people deserve. We have not done away with any environmental law; we have just put deadlines in the law. We have put milestones in the law, and we have stated if people have a problem, let us know the problem and get on with it. If there is anything new--a new factor--we will look at that, but we cannot sit around and wait an average of 13, 12, 14, 15 years to get a project done.
There are no riders in this bill. There are no environmental riders in this bill. I think that sends a good message to the public that we are focused on transportation. These other issues are going to be addressed, but they don't have to be addressed on this bill and become a target of a veto or a standoff between the parties.
What did we do on bike paths? We have had a lot of controversy. People are saying we did away with the money for alternative transportation routes, or bike paths, called safe routes to school, called pedestrian walkways. No, we saved the same level of funding, the same percentage of funding, but we gave more flexibility to the States with their 50-percent share so if they have another pressing need they can use it for something else. Frankly, if the grassroots people at home are not happy with the State, they can let the State know that. For the first time, the other 50 percent goes to the local people. This is very important.
We also have the RESTORE Act. This means those Gulf States that got hit so hard from the BP spill will be able to restore their areas. If they had economic damage, environmental damage, this will help. The money will come from the court settlement, and BP will then make those funds available. So it does not add a dime to the deficit.
So we have a bill that doesn't add to the deficit. We have a bill that will boost this economy. We have a bill that is supported by conservatives and liberals, progressives and moderates. I think it is a great day. I am sorry there are a few issues that got added on that are disappointing to certain colleagues. Believe me, I want to work with them to help resolve those problems. But I have to tell my colleagues, when we write a bill of this scope, of this nature, we are going to have some of these issues. We will work on them.
For my remaining time--how much time do I have remaining?
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Mrs. BOXER. I wish to discuss the Supreme Court ruling. In a very fascinating ruling, the Chief Justice decided that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. I am not going to spend a lot of time discussing why he said it and why they decided it. What I am going to talk about is what will happen if the Republicans have their way and this law is repealed.
I want the American people to know--and I say this with no animosity at all--I am going to do everything I can to stop them from repealing it for a reason: The reason is the families in my State and all over the country who are getting the benefits of this law.
Governor Romney says it is going to be something he is going to do on the first day--he is going to repeal the health care law, if he gets elected, day one. Let me tell my colleagues very clearly what will happen.
There are 54 million Americans who are now getting access to free preventive services such as mammograms and immunizations, if they have private insurance. That is most of our people. They would no longer get free mammograms, free checkups--over and out. Fifty-four million Americans lose if Governor Romney and the Republicans repeal this bill--6 million of my people in California.
My seniors, over 300,000, would no longer get help with their prescription drug benefits. Now they are getting help. They will then go back to choosing between taking their prescription drugs or eating dinner. I am sorry, I am going to stand in the way, if I can.
Under Medicare, millions of seniors would lose access to free preventive services. Thirty-two million Medicare patients get these services for free, including cancer screenings and flu shots. Why on Earth would somebody or some party want to get up and say: I am repealing that?
There are 105 million Americans who will once again face lifetime limits on their health insurance plans. If someone is diagnosed with cancer and they look at their plan, it says they are covered up to $250,000. That sounds like a lot of money. I can tell my colleagues now, that is not a lot of money for someone who is battling cancer. Now, suddenly, in a person's worst moments, when they are facing radiation and chemo, they have hit up against their lifetime limit. That will be gone.
More than 6 million young adults, including 300,000 in my State, would lose their health insurance because now they have a guarantee. Because of the health care bill, they can stay on their parents' coverage until they are 26. Why would anyone want to repeal that? Ask them. They do.
Insurance companies would no longer owe rebates to customers if those insurance companies spent too much on premiums and paid the CEOs exorbitant bonuses and paid hardly anything to help people with their health care. We are going to see 12 million Americans get back $1 billion in rebate checks in August. They will stop that. They want to stop that.
How about millions of children who are now getting coverage because they have a preexisting condition. Before this law, they couldn't. So if a child was born with a heart defect, even if it was something that could be controlled, they couldn't get insurance. We pity those families. I have had reports of people in my State crying tears of joy when the Supreme Court acted because they could not get insurance because the woman--this particular one--had a preexisting condition, and now she can get insurance.
Because of the work of Senator Sanders--and I helped him with it--we have community health care centers across the country getting funding. So if a person has no insurance--or even if they have insurance--they can go to a community health center and, based on their ability to pay, get health care. That would be repealed.
School-based health centers would be repealed. Training of our health care workers would be repealed.
I will tell my colleagues, that is just what the benefits are today. In 2014, there will be a slew of new benefits. This bill, while not perfect--and we can fix the problems--is a good bill.
Just remember that everyone in our country gets health care, but the difference is some of them walk into an emergency room having paid nothing for a premium, even if they are wealthy, and they expect us to pay the bill in the emergency room. With the approach that Massachusetts Governor Romney took, he said if a person is responsible and can afford it, that person has to buy a minimal health insurance plan. President Obama got the idea from Governor Romney. I call it a personal responsibility premium. Some people call it a tax. Some people call it a fee. I call it a personal responsibility premium because most of the people I represent buy health care coverage, and a few just say: You know what. I feel terrific. I will wait until something bad happens to me and then I will go to the emergency room. And they can all pay.
That is what we have. We have the people who are responsible paying for the free riders. The idea that President Obama got was from then-Governor Romney.
So this is going to be a long election season, and there are going to be a lot of battles over health care.
I hope we will pass the bill that is in front of us and take care of the construction sector and transportation. I hope we will take care of flood insurance and student loan interest rates. We can do that with one vote on a bill shortly, if we get permission to move forward. If we don't, we will be here all weekend or whatever it takes to get it done. I am not going to go home until this is done.
I will also tell my colleagues--as we look at this health care battle, the lines are pretty clear. There are millions and millions of Americans who are getting benefits today. Why would anyone want to take away those benefits? Yet that is where we are in the debate. So I hope cooler heads will prevail.
Let's get on with bringing this economy back. Let's allow this bill--with a few corrections because we can always fix things that don't work--go forward. Let's stop the heated name calling. Let's make sure we work together, just as we did on the Transportation bill. I believe this is a good moment for this Senate today. I hope we can get our work done, and then we can actually celebrate something before we start battling over health care.
Let's celebrate and say to the construction sector: We need you to rebuild those broken roads, those broken bridges. We need you to make sure we get those transit systems up and running. Then, I honestly believe, the rest of these problems we will take up one at a time.
Thank you very much, Mr. President. I yield the floor.
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Mrs. BOXER. Mr. President, would my friend yield for 1 minute? I want to correct the Record.
There are a few changes, there is no question. We have speeded up project delivery, as my friend knows. We gave a little more flexibility to the States in terms of the TE program. So a few things were changed. But my friends are right, primarily, this is a similar bill. It takes the
money and we say we are going to spend the same thing, plus inflation. And it is true these bills have been out here for a long time. Actually, they passed our committee, I say to Senator Inhofe, in November of last year.
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Mrs. BOXER. Mr. President, I understand the problems that my colleagues from Wyoming have with section 100125 of the conference report. I recognize that this provision was included in the conference report without their consultation. We will be working on a corrections bill in the coming weeks, and I intend to work with them to address this issue in that bill.
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Mrs. BOXER. Mr. President, it has been a very long and winding road to get to this place. I am overwhelmed with the amazing vote we just had--the margin of success, the fact that this is the product that is not only bipartisan but bicameral. I understand that the House vote was equally lopsided in favor of passage. I think this sends a tremendous signal to the people of America, and that is that we can work together. Do not give up hope. When it comes to the well-being of our people, we must get together.
I know the President must be smiling broadly because he has stated over and over how important it has been for us to pass a highway bill and to pass a reduction in student loan interest rate bill in order to help our people.
I have said many times that what kept me going and so many others--and I am going to name the various chairmen whom I worked with here and over on the House side and staff--what really kept us all going is the fact that we know how hard the construction sector has been hit in this recession. The housing crisis started this recession. It has not gotten better. It is slowly coming around, but new construction is going to take a while before all of the inventories are back in their appropriate place. What is going to help us? We could fill 10 Super Bowl stadiums with unemployed construction workers. We are looking at well over 1 million construction workers who are unemployed. Well, this was the answer.
The transportation sector is hurting. The construction sector is hurting. And today we have sent a message, a powerful message that for 2 years and 3 months, we have funded a good bill that is going to employ up to 3 million workers and help thousands of businesses, and it is all in the private sector, the things that need to be done.
We know we have 70,000 bridges that are deficient. We know we have 50 percent of our roads that are deficient. We know we have transit systems that need capital improvements. We know we have bike paths that need fixing and pedestrian walkways that need fixing. All of that has been resolved.
Are there things in this package that I do not like? Absolutely. Are there things in this package my Republican counterparts do not like? Absolutely. We had to give. We had to take. We struggled.
I am going to read into the Record the names of these staffers. This is an unbelievable list. I am going to do it quickly. I am going to say to these staffers from the various committees that they knew how important their work was.
If we didn't succeed, there would be no more money in the highway trust fund, and all of the repairs on our roads would stop and the repairs on our bridges because everybody out there, since President Dwight Eisenhower was President, depends on the Federal share.
We cannot have a strong economy without a strong infrastructure. Here are the names. I am not reading Democrats and then Republicans; I am reading the bipartisan list of staffers: Bettina Poirier, Ruth VanMark, David Napoliello, James O'Keeffe, Andrew Dohrmann, Murphie Barrett, Tyler Rushforth, Kyle Miller, Jason Albritton, Grant Cope, Mike Burke, Tom Lynch, Mark Hybner, Charles Brittingham, Alex Renjel, and Dimitri Karakitsos.
I also thank the leadership staff. When things were looking glum, there they were. They are David Krone, Bill Dauster, and Bob Herbert.
Here are the staff directors of the key committees who worked on this--remember, this was a four-committee process, including EPW, Banking, Commerce, and Finance. I thank Russ Sullivan, Dwight Fettig, Ellen Doneski and their extraordinary staff. They include Ryan Abrahams with the Finance Committee; Ian Jefferies, David Bonelli, Anna Laitin, and James Reid with the Commerce Committee; and Homer Carlisle with the Banking Committee.
I also want to thank the Senate legislative counsel, Rachelle Celebreeze and Gary Endicott, whom I drove crazy yesterday by telling them to please produce the paper.
This staff loved their work so much that I thought they would never end it. I had to beg them: Please finish because there will always be something more you can do. You can always find something better or put a comma in a different place. They wanted to make it as perfect as they could. There was a time when we just had to say, OK, we are done. They got it done. I am very moved of their dedication.
I know my staff at EPW--for 3 days, the staff members, whose names I read--if they got 4 or 5 hours of sleep, they got a lot. They are running on empty right now. I tell them that their names will forever be in this record, and people they don't know will flourish because of their work when we start hiring people to do this infrastructure work.
I thank my dear colleagues, Jay Rockefeller, Max Baucus, and Tim Johnson. No way could I have done it without them. I also pay tribute to Mary Landrieu, who is on the Senate floor today. Senator Landrieu and her State have gone through so many traumas--so many--with hurricanes and all of the attendant problems, and the BP oilspill, which did so much terrible damage to her State and the other Gulf States--environmental damage, commercial damage, broken hearts, broken spirits.
Let me tell you, you never break Mary Landrieu's spirit. She teamed up with Senator Vitter, and they wrote the RESTORE Act. Then she went to all of the other colleagues of the gulf cost and said: You have to help me. They put together a great package. What it means--without going into detail; she will do that--is that when the court decision comes down and the funds come to the Federal Government for all the violations of law that took place with the BP spill, 80 percent of the funds will be directed to the very people who got hurt.
Senator Landrieu, it is an honor and a privilege to work with you. You have been a model of a Senator who never, ever stops fighting. I am so grateful I was able to step to the plate and help you.
I will add more names of colleagues, but I don't have time at this point. Others want to speak. This is a great moment. The bill we passed is a good bill. It is going to speed up project delivery without waiving any environmental laws that we keep the protections in and give a little more flexibility to the States on the alternative transportation routes. But, believe me, we also add a new piece that gives more power to the local people to decide on these projects. I am so pleased.
I will add more statements to the Record later today. We have done this, and we are going to mark this moment.
After we get our breath back and get our energy back, we are going to look at a long-term solution to the problem of the highway trust fund. We know the gas tax receipts are going down, and we have to solve the problem. If it wasn't for Senator Baucus and his staff, we never would be at this point because we didn't have the funding. They have to come up with it. I thank them and the Republicans on the committee.
With that, I yield the floor, thanking one and all for this tremendous vote today.
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