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Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2014

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, I want to speak to amendment No. 202 by Senator Cruz, which we will be voting on shortly.

The Senator from Texas informed us that the amendment would repeal the Affordable Care Act. Well, that approach has already been rejected by the electorate, I would just reference, in the last election. Also, we have had more than 35 separate votes in the Congress about that and we have always upheld the Affordable Care Act. But I want to focus Senators' attention on something that is in the Cruz amendment that they may not know.

When we passed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, not only did it contain the health care portion of it, but it also had a portion in there on education. What we did was to stop that old system of subsidizing banks for student loans and changed it into a direct loan program.

That was about a $61 billion transfer from the banks getting these risk-free government subsidies to basically putting it in so that students could get more of the money. So under that provision, for example, $36 billion of those savings went to increasing the Pell grants. So now we have a higher Pell grant award and it is indexed to the rising cost of living.

The Cruz amendment--maybe the Senator didn't understand it when he drafted it--in the drafting of it, does away with that. So if my colleagues vote for the Cruz amendment, they are, in fact, voting to cut Pell grants. Go back and tell your colleges and universities that. You may not know that, but that is what is in that Cruz amendment.

Also, $2.55 billion went to investments in historically Black colleges and universities serving minority students. That would be cut out with the Cruz amendment. Another $2 billion went to community colleges, and that would be cut out by the Cruz amendment.

So it is not just the Affordable Care Act, folks, that is being cut or done away with by the Cruz amendment but all of the things we did to bolster education for minority students and for disadvantaged students, and in raising the Pell grants. I would ask my colleagues to talk to their private colleges, talk to their universities in their States and see what they think about this. See what they think about cutting down on the Pell grants. That would be the exact result of passing the Cruz amendment.

There is one other thing we did in that portion of the reconciliation bill. We also put in place a more generous income-based repayment system so that students who graduate from college can base their repayment on a smaller portion of their discretionary income. We capped it. We capped the student loan repayment to 10 percent of discretionary income so that when students get out and get a job, they only have to pay a maximum of 10 percent of their discretionary income to repay their student loans. That would be done away with in the Cruz amendment. I wanted to point that out. Maybe the Senator didn't realize it when he drafted the amendment, but that is the way it is drafted and that is the way the vote will occur. So if my colleagues think they are just voting to do away with the Affordable Care Act, look again at the amendment. It is not just that, it is education funding also. So I wanted to point that out.

We are going to hear a lot about a lot of bad amendments coming up today, but this is truly a very bad amendment. Maybe it should have been drafted differently to accomplish what the Senator from Texas wanted. If that was a clean vote on doing away with the Affordable Care Act, fine, if he wants to do that, but the way it is drafted it cuts Pell grants, assistance for community colleges, and all the things we did to help students get a higher education in this country. I wanted to let Senators know that.

If I have at least 30 seconds or 60 seconds left, Mr. President.

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Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, I invite all Senators, before we start voting today, to read the Washington Post this morning, the front-page story: ``On Montana Reservation, Cuts Hit Hard.'' It talks about the Fort Peck reservation and what is going to happen there to these students and these families on this reservation. Please read it. Please.

How can we be so cruel? How can we be so heartless? How can we be so immune from understanding the impact of the sequester and what is happening to poor kids? This is one classic example.

As one teacher there said: You know, if you have a lot and you cut 5 percent, that is not much. But when you don't have anything, cutting 5 percent really hurts.

The article talks about how much they are going to lose in their Head Start Program, how many students are going to lose because they do not have support systems on the reservation. It tears your heart out to read this.

I think about the kind of votes we are going to be having today and the impact of those votes on these kids and these families on this reservation. They have no place else to turn. They have no place else to turn. It is not as though they have property taxes on the reservation. They do not have that. They do not have businesses there. They do not have anything. But you know what I would like most of all for colleagues to know? One person was quoted as saying: This is not something we are giving our Native Americans, this is something we owe them. This is something we owe them. Read your history--all the land we took from them. Helping them on reservations is not a gift. We owe them this. And now we are pulling the rug out from underneath them.

Read about this young girl whose mother committed suicide and her father is in a drug treatment program in Minnesota. She is 15 years old and she is trying to make it, yet we are telling her--basically, with our votes here and with this sequester--we don't care. I ask people to read that before we start voting today and let your conscience be your guide.

With that, I yield the floor.

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Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, this will be the 36th time we have voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. I know the Senators on the other side want to revote to repeal it. That is fine. I wish to warn you, due to the way this amendment is drafted, it also repeals what we put in that bill on education; to wit, we put in money to increase Pell grants. We put in money to increase funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. We put in money also to help the community colleges, $2 billion. We also included the more generous income-based repayment system to ensure people don't need to pay more than 10 percent of their discretionary income to pay back their student loans. All of that is wiped out in the Senator's amendment.

Again, maybe it is just a drafting error. But I think Senators should know you are not just voting to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. That is fine if you want to do that. I don't think Senators on the other side of the aisle who are here wish to vote to decrease Pell grants and to decrease funding for universities.

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Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, the way this amendment is drafted means the money that goes to title I could then be taken and go to private schools. That is the first thing.

Secondly, we have tried this before. The District of Columbia has a voucher program that we passed in Congress in 2003. And guess what they have found since 2003? It made no impact whatsoever on student achievement, and now the program is to the point it is being phased out.

Again, at this point in time when we are worried about uncertainty in our schools, teacher salaries, and we have the sequester taking money from schools, this isn't the time to take even more money out of our public school system.

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Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, this ought to be known as the Harry Potter invisibility cloak amendment.

Anyone who has read ``Harry Potter'' knows he had this invisibility cloak he put over himself and people couldn't see him. They have tried 36 separate times to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. They can't do that, so now they want to put an invisibility cloak over it.

The Roberts amendment says we can't tell people, for example, that their kids can stay on their policy until they are 26; we can't tell people that now they can get coverage even though they have a preexisting condition; we can't tell people they can go on the exchange starting this October, where they can get good health care.

Let's vote down the Harry Potter invisibility cloak amendment.

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