BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COATS. Mr. President, I rise here today to express my deep concern with this transportation conference report; in particular, about a provision that was slipped into the transportation conference report literally in the dark of night earlier this week.
This provision, which I will describe, could have a devastating effect on my State as well as the State of Illinois. The Greater Chicago metropolitan region--whether it is northwest Indiana or northeast Illinois--is a region that works together. It is part of the expanded metropolitan area. A critical part of this is a waterway, which allows goods to be transferred up and down all the way to the delta and the Mississippi and all the way out to the St. Lawrence Seaway. It is the middle-west access to commerce that centers around the Chicago-northwest Indiana area.
This provision, which was slipped in without debate, without consideration--it did not appear in the Senate bill, the transportation bill, and it did not appear in the House transportation bill and therefore is a blatant violation of rule XXVIII, which simply states you cannot do this kind of thing--but it was done anyway. I will at the proper point here raise an objection to that in a procedural way.
Let me first talk, if I could, about the way in which we do business around here. Throughout my campaign in 2010 to return to the Senate, I continually heard from people as to how frustrated they were with the process by which laws are passed. We come home and people say why did you vote against that? You say I voted against that because it included this over here which was not relevant to it, and even though I liked the rest of the bill I did not like this part--or vice versa. I voted for this even though I did not like what it included because they packaged it all together and therefore there is nothing on record as to where I stand. They say to us where do you stand? We don't know whether your yes is a yes or your no is a no because it is so confusing the way you mix the whole thing together.
That is exactly what is happening here today. We have taken a transportation bill, which was adeptly led by the Senator from California and the Senator from Oklahoma, they did a marvelous job putting a transportation package together, and now it is merged with two other major provisions. So we get one vote on this. People say: I have a real problem with the student loan bill or I have a real problem with the flood insurance bill, but I wanted to vote for the transportation bill. Now I am stuck in the position of having to vote yes on the whole thing, except what I have a problem with, another bill over here, or no, even though I want parts of the other bills to pass.
Then we go home and explain this to the people we represent and they say: Why can't you guys and ladies take up one thing, vote yes or vote no, come home, defend your vote, but we at least know where you stand? Instead of this gobbledygook, throw everything in one big pot and vote your yes or vote your no. The way we package bills here, it is no wonder people are skeptical. It is no wonder our approval rating is where it is. This gobbledygook, so-called magic dust that we use around here to obscure what we stand for and stand against, is very frustrating for the American people. I can't tell you how much that has been expressed to me when I can go home and talk to them and try to explain certain votes and procedures. They say be straight up, be transparent. Pick out something; you are either for it or against it. We will evaluate whether we
want to support you or not support you in the next election on the basis of your voting, but when you cloud over the whole thing we do not know what is going on. That is one thing, packaging bills.
Second, we have a problem here, a major problem with our debt. We have known that. We spent the first 6 months of 2011 trying to come up with a long-term solution which would restructure some of our spending and put a lid on some of our spending. Finally, by August of 2011, Congress reached an agreement called the Budget Control Act which basically put caps on how much we would spend, trying to hold down this plunge into debt.
By the way, just before I came over here I checked the debt clock which I have on my Web site. The numbers of course turn faster than you can write them down because that is how fast we are plunging into more debt, but as of probably minutes or so ago, our national debt stood at $15 trillion, nearly $16 trillion.
None of us can comprehend what $1 trillion is. It is impossible. There have been all kinds of examples--if you stack dollars on top of each other you can go to the Moon and back and so forth--but I think it is important that we understand the gravity of our situation in terms of our plunge into debt and what impact it is going to have on the future for this country and what a debt burden it is going to be on future generations now getting ever closer to--$15,935,594,616,879 was what our debt was. That is 14 digits; 15,935,594,616,879.
We took a little bit of a step in August, a mini step in August, saying we are going to cap this spending so we do not spend more than that going forward. That will at least slow down the rate of plunging into debt. It does not begin to do what we need to do to address this, but it will slow it down.
What have we done since? What we have done is bring a number of bills to this floor, all of which continue to spend beyond our means. I did not vote for the Budget Control Act because I had a lot of skepticism about it. First of all, I felt it was woefully short of what we needed and, second, I believe that, having served here before and seen how this process works, I thought we are going to waive points of order time after time.
We congratulate each other by voting for spending controls. ``This is an important step to dealing with our budget crisis. We have committed now not to spend more than the budget we deemed allows.''
The postal reform bill violated budget rules; the student loan interest rate extension, it looks as though we have the score now, and we are going to violate agreed to levels; the Senate version that went over on the transportation bill violated budget rules; the payroll tax extension and the Violence Against Women Act--all violated what we promised we would do. And we wonder why the American people are skeptical? We wonder why our approval rating is in the low double digits? I mean really low, almost into single digits--why people are frustrated and upset with us? Because we tell them we have made this promise to be fiscally responsible and virtually every bill we bring up here is irresponsible and we waive what we had agreed to do. We can hardly blame them for their skepticism here.
Let me talk about this middle-of-the-night stuff. Another problem you have--you go home and what you simply can't explain is the fact that, no, this was not talked about in the Senate; no, this was not talked about in the House; there was no process--yet somebody, as we tried to merge the two bills, in the dark of the night, unnamed, no process, slipped in a provision and there it is. Usually we find out about this later.
In this case we had a process. Senator Coats from Indiana worked with Senator Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, and worked with another Democrat, the senior Senator from Ohio, to come to an agreement on a provision that impacted our area, the Great Lakes area, in a significant way. That was part of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations bill.
In the dark of the night, during the conference deliberations, another provision was added, not the bipartisan provision by Senators looking out for the economic interests of their State. And by the way, the economic interests of this country--because what was dropped in, in the middle of the night, is something that could potentially cost our Government and therefore cost our taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.
We were fortunate enough to have discovered that because bringing those bills to the floor was delayed and we had time to dig into it and all of a sudden find out that this was done. What is egregious here is that this is not a partisan issue. We all know the House is controlled by my party. I don't know who put this in. I don't know exactly the motives as to why they put this in. But here it is, a dark-of-the-night slip it into the bill and overturn something that was processed through the appropriations committee, deliberated, discussed, and voted on.
So what are the consequences of all that? What does this have to do with what I am talking about here? It sounds minuscule. We are talking about Asian carp. Why is the Senator from Indiana talking about Asian carp and hundreds and billions of dollars of costs? Let me tell you why. Asian carp is a generic term for four species of nonnative fish: grass, bighead, black, and silverhead carp. These fish were introduced to the United States in the 1970s to assist agricultural interests in the southern States.
At some point--probably through flooding--the carp escaped into the Mississippi River system, and they have since spread throughout the whole watershed. They are voracious eaters, which make them beneficial, and we can see why they were imported. They were beneficial for controlled agricultural settings, fish farms, and so forth, but they create serious ecological challenges when competing for food with native species.
I agree wholeheartedly that the spread of Asian carp throughout the Mississippi River and potentially into the Great Lakes is a serious and pressing problem, and I am committed to addressing this, as is Senator Durbin and Senator Brown from Ohio. We worked out a compromise agreement in terms of how we should go forward with this.
A number of steps have already been taken by the Corps of Engineers. In 2002, the Army Corps of Engineers installed the first of a series of electric barriers along the lower reach of the Chicago area waterway system. In doing so, they believe, to date, they have successfully prevented the migration of carp into the Great Lakes.
In 2009, the Corps began DNA testing to detect Asian carp in locations upstream in the barrier system. The testing showed these barriers have been very effective--to use the Corps' words--in preventing Asian carp from entering the waterway. In fact, when the Illinois Department of Natural Resources wanted to check this out, they purposefully dumped a bunch of toxins into the Chicago waterway to discover the extent of the Asian carp infestation. Those toxins killed tens of thousands of fish, but only one Asian carp was found among them. Since that time, the Army Corps has firmly held that the electric barriers are working as designated.
Furthermore, in 2010, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources constructed barriers in the watershed. No State has gone further or gone to greater lengths to address this question than my State of Indiana, as well as the State of Illinois, in terms of preventing the introduction of Asian carp in the Great Lakes system. It is economically devastating for us if this happens and it is economically devastating for us and for Illinois if what was proposed in this bill in the dark of the night by the House of Representatives goes forward.
Currently, the Army Corps of Engineers is undergoing an extensive study. Despite all the attempts to take these steps, which so far have proven to be successful, this provision that was incorporated in there could result in the closing of the locks of this waterway system, and it would endanger about $14 billion per year of economic activity and over 100,000 jobs in this area that I described that rely on the Chicago area waterway system.
Closing the locks also may cost up to an additional $100 billion because it would require completely overhauling Chicago's underground water and sewage system. Closing the locks would also render worthless the billions of dollars that have already been invested to complete the Corps of Engineers flood control projects along the entire Mississippi watershed, and they may not even solve the problem.
While the Chicago waterway system is the only direct continuous connection between the Great Lakes system, other potential pathways could allow carp immigration in times of flooding. So while it is clear that closing the Chicago locks is not an economically viable solution for stopping Asian carp--and I do understand the concerns the Great Lakes States have on this issue and I share those concerns--as a result of all that, we worked out a bipartisan compromise solution to addressing this area. We would allow a study to go forward, allow an economic assessment of the various options that had been presented, and then give Congress the information so it can make a decision as to which solution was best needed to go forward.
What this provision does in this bill is simply give the agency responsible the authority to go ahead with the project and what they think the solution is without Congress having anything to say about it whatsoever. It is a preauthorization on a new project which could include closing of the locks, and if it does, it would have hundreds of billions of dollars of financial implications for the taxpayers and for this Congress but also have enormous negative economic impact on northwest Indiana, northeast Illinois and the entire Chicago region and all that commerce that flows up and down the Mississippi and up and down the St. Lawrence Seaway. The other problem with this is the new language also expedites the study, even though the Corps says they need more time to do so.
I guess, in conclusion, there are two things: One is the egregious procedures that continue to give the public such a negative slant on how we do business--this bundling of bills, where we are forced to vote yes or no on the whole bundling, up or down, and we can't let our yes stand for one purposeful interest or another or a no stand due to bundling; second, we need to address these midnight procedures, this issue of ``slip it in there,'' without going through the regular process. This body of Congress, both the House and the Senate, need to return to regular process, where we bring an idea forward, it is worked through the committee, it is transparent to all who are looking at it, we give our yea or nay, and we move it through the system, rather than simply changing things in the dark of the night at the last minute, where we have no opportunity to amend it and no opportunity to address it.
As we go forward with this, I am going to object on the basis of rule XXVIII. I don't know how it will all turn out, but I hope my colleagues will understand this is more than something that just affects Indiana, Illinois, and the Great Lakes. This is something that affects the way we do business here. If we cannot enforce these rules, we will continue to follow these practices the American people have come to absolutely hate and think they have a dysfunctional Congress. We deserve better than this. I hope my colleagues will agree with that.
I yield the floor.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COATS. If the Senator would yield, I appreciate very much her saying that. I did commend, and I will again, the work the Senator from California and Senator Inhofe have done in bringing this bill forward in the right way. I know my friend is as sorry as I am that someone in the other body decided to violate the rule, injecting into all the hard work that has been done. I regret that. I hope in the future we can avoid this.
I thank the Senator for her good words.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COATS. Mr. President, I jumped the gun a little bit. This gives me a chance to explain it twice. Let me say there was a bipartisan agreement that was reached on this. I will not name names, but after it went over to the House, somebody dropped something in the middle of the night to change this whole process.
The issue is not just so-called Asian carp; the issue is that if this language is allowed to proceed, we will be authorizing over $100 billion of potential spending to address this without any review by the Congress. All we ask for in our agreement was a simple opportunity to review the study by the Corps of Engineers so we can make a decision based on all the facts, which included over $100 billion of authorized spending. That is why I urge my colleagues to oppose any effort to waive this rule.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT