Section 101. Express Loans -- (Senate - November 20, 2004)
203. SURETY BOND AMENDMENTS
Section 203(a) clarifies that the current $2 million limit on surety bonds applies to the bond guarantee and not the contract size. Congress adopted this clarification to prohibit contracting officers from determining that small businesses would not qualify for an Administration-backed surety bond for a contract worth less than $2 million even though it was part of a bundle of contracts that exceeded $2 million. For example, a small business might be denied a surety bond if the small business had a contract for $1.5 million, but that contract was part of a $12 million bundle of contracts that had been awarded simultaneously.
Section 203(b) requires that an audit of each participating surety shall occur every three years instead of annually. This reduction in the frequency of audits will save participating sureties time and money and allow them to allocate these resources to more productive uses. In addition, this will enable the Administrator to focus on more critical elements since the sureties already provide reports on a periodic basis that would identify problems during the interregnum between audits.
Currently certain sureties designated by the Administrator may issue, monitor, and service surety bonds issued pursuant to Title IV of the Small Business Investment Act. This authority ceased to be operative on September 30, 2003 (but has been extended for short periods of time on a temporary basis). Congress determined that the authority for this program should be made permanent. Section 203(b) makes that change by repealing §207 of the Small Business Reauthorization and Amendment Act of 1988.
SECTION 204. EFFECTIVE DATE OF CERTAIN FEES
Loans made pursuant to Title V of the Small Business Investment Act do not require any appropriation. Fees charged to borrowers and CDCs absorb the costs associated with the issuance of such loans. When the zero-subsidy for the program was instituted, Congress made the fee authority temporary to see whether the program could survive without an appropriation. The program has succeeded admirably and Congress does not expect that an appropriation to fund loans made by CDCs will be made for the foreseeable future. As a result, Congress determined it was pointless to continue, as temporary, the Administrator's authority to charge fees for loans made pursuant to Title V of the Small Business Investment Act. Section 204 grants the Administrator permanent authority to charge fees.
Mr. President, I oppose language that has been included in the fiscal year 2005 Omnibus Appropriations that was authored by U.S. Representative DAVE WELDON the so-called Abortion Non-Discrimination Act amendment. This language will have a chilling effect on women's access to legal reproductive health services.
The Weldon language would allow a broad range of health-care entities to refuse to comply with existing Federal, State, and local laws and regulations pertaining to abortion services. This harmful language will severely limit patients' rights and access to services and information, thereby impeding their ability to make informed decisions about their health care options.
I join my colleagues in supporting a conscience clause that would allow doctors to opt-out from providing abortion services due to their moral or religious beliefs. That's why I worked with former Senator Dan Coats in 1996 to construct a conscience clause that is in law today that ensures medical students and medical teaching institutions have the ability to refuse to participate in abortion training if it is against their personal beliefs, while ensuring that women would have access to the highest quality medical care.
But this is not what the language in the Weldon amendment does. The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act is instead a sweeping new exemption from current laws and regulations pertaining to abortion services. Far from constituting a ``conscience clause,'' as the sponsors claim, the language that is included in the Omnibus is an overly broad opt-out from compliance of state or local laws ensuring access to abortion services which could have the consequence of limiting the availability of safe and legal health care.
This language would change existing law to say that Federal, State, or local governments may not require a health-care entity--broadly defined to include insurance companies, hospitals, and HMOs, among others--to perform, provide coverage of, pay, or even, most shockingly, refer for abortion services. Any law or regulation that did so would be considered ``discrimination'' against the health-care entity, in the words of the bill, and the requirement could not be enforced. What's more, the State or local entity that tried to enforce that law, would lose all funding under this bill.
Further, this language ignores the fact that more than 40 states already have conscience clauses that are in law today that allow individuals--and in many states larger health entities--to opt out of providing abortion services. In doing so, the authors of this provision undermine what in many cases were hard fought and carefully crafted conscience clauses instituted by our State and local governments.
Instead of accepting the language included in the bill before us, the Senate must have the opportunity to work, as Senator Coats and I did in 1996, to devise a compromise that would result in a conscience clause that allows for conscientious objection without impairing the provision of health care in America.
I am opposed to the inclusion of this language in the omnibus. This language will have a detrimental effect on women's health, it will override a state's or a locality's ability to require access to these services, and it will prevent women from exercising their right to decide what health care services they want to seek and limit their ability to access information about such services.
Senator BOXER has received a commitment to revisit this issue with consideration of legislation that would repeal this language before March 1, 2005. I join my colleagues in supporting a conscience clause but I object to the language included in this bill and the process that has brought us to this point today.
Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I oppose the passage of the Omnibus appropriations conference report.
The bill before us was written in a process that is the legislative equivalent of painting a room in the dark. You don't know exactly how the room will look until you turn on the lights, but you can be sure that it will be a mess. And, of course, that is what has happened. This bill is a mess.
The Republican leadership has taken nine spending bills, funding 13 Government agencies with more than $388 billion, and combined them into a single bill that is more than 3,000 pages long. On top of all that spending, they have included several riders that make unrelated changes in Federal law. Most of these bills were never debated or amended by the full Senate. Many of the provisions haven't even had a committee hearing. The only people who have had a chance to review and amend the bill are the Republican leadership and the White House, and all of that went on behind closed doors. And the public, the press and almost every Member of Congress has had no real opportunity to review them before we vote and send them to the President to become law.
So it comes as no surprise that this massive spending bill, created by a terribly flawed process, is itself terribly flawed.
The Republican majority and the Bush administration have provided inadequate investments in education, housing, small business and a number of other important domestic priorities.
The Community Oriented Policing Systems program, called the COPS program, has been eviscerated, and funding for the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant program has been cut. Both of these programs help our cities and towns fight crime and protect our citizens but putting well-trained and well-equipped cops on the street. And both programs had played an increasingly important role in homeland security.
The bill does not keep our promise to care for our veterans. The funding level included in the conference report for veteran's healthcare, while above last year's level, is insufficient to meet the needs of our veterans. Today, 500,000 veterans are prevented from receiving health care through the Veterans Administration. New veterans are fighting to obtain the services they have earned. Thousands more are waiting for disability ratings. The Congress had an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of those who have given so much for this country, and the Congress failed.
The bill harms small businesses by failing to provide access to the capital they need for investment and growth. As the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I know how critical small business loans are to expanding economic opportunity, especially in low-income neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the bill eliminates all funding and increases fees for the program at the Small Business Administration that is the largest source of small business loans in the Nation.
I will not try to list all the worthwhile programs that have been cut or eliminated, because the list is just too long. The point is simple: dozens of Federal investments that help our cities and towns, our schools, our small businesses, our police, our environment and much more have been needlessly cut. And those cuts will do needless harm to communities and families all across the country.
And along with the spending provisions of the bill, the White House and the Republican leadership have attached riders that make changes in Federal law. These are provisions that have not been considered by the House or Senate, and in many cases have not received a committee hearing or markup.
The bill includes a provision that will prevent Federal, State and local governments from requiring any institutional or individual health care provider to provide, pay for, or refer for abortion services. Ten of my female colleagues, including two Republicans, have expressed their strong opposition to that provision and affect it may have on reproductive health services. In a letter to the Appropriations Committee, they point out that the provision has never been considered and never had a hearing in the Senate. It comes down to this: whether you support or oppose this provision, and I oppose it, this is no way to do the people's work. Whatever you think of this provision, it does not belong in a 3,000 page spending bill. It deserves a hearing, a debate and vote.
Another provision that was included with no vote, hearing or discussion by the Senate would allow congressional staff access to the tax returns of individuals and businesses. There is absolutely no justification for such a provision in this bill or anywhere else. It is a shocking abuse of power by the Republicans. This provision, which would allow congressional staff to review any private citizen's tax return, is unacceptable. It tramples the rights of our citizens and grossly violates the public trust. I am pleased to hear the assurances of the majority leader that this provision will be removed from the bill. However, we need to understand how it came to be included in the conference report. Who in the Congress sponsored this provision? Who in the White House approved it, since we know the White House has blessed this bill?
Is there any good in this bill? Of course there are many worthwhile Federal programs that are funded. Like a broken clock is right twice a day, a bill spending $388 billion will get a few things right.
I am pleased that the conference report includes $62 million for the YouthBuild program, which is a highly effective comprehensive program that helps at-risk youth obtain an education and take responsibility for their lives and their communities. YouthBuild is the only national program that provides young adults an immediately productive role in the community while also providing equal measures of basic education toward a diploma, skills training toward a decent paying job, leadership development toward civic engagement, adult mentorship toward overcoming personal problems, and participation in a supportive mini-community with a positive set of values.
And there are other good programs this bill has funded adequately. I am grateful for the good that will come from this legislation, including funding for Federal projects and programs in Massachusetts.
On a whole, the bad outweighs the good in this bill, and I will vote against it.