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Public Statements

Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BENNET. Mr. President, I was here to talk about immigration, and that is what I will talk about. But I have been caught in a crossfire on this subject, and I want to say my view is this is exactly what people hate about Washington, DC. It is exactly why we have a 10-percent approval rating.

For 4 years I went to townhall meetings and was asked over and over and over: Why don't the Democrats in the Senate pass a budget? Which I think is a very legitimate question. We got a new Chair of the Budget Committee and we passed a budget after 4 years, and now we are told we can't go to conference to have a discussion with House Republicans about what our budget ought to look like.

I actually disagree with the Senator from Texas, I have to say respectfully, on the merits of this issue; that is to say, on the debt ceiling itself. This is the reason I think folks in Colorado can't stand this place. There is not a mayor in my State, whether they are a Republican or a Democrat or a tea party mayor, not one--not one who would threaten the credit rating of their community for politics. Not one. We would run them out on a rail, because that is not the way you do business. The credit rating of a community is the most important thing it has. The full faith and credit of the United States of America--which until the last debt ceiling discussion had never been questioned--was questioned for the first time in our history; not because of the size of our debt--which, by the way, I have spent 4 years trying to work on because I believe it is a very severe problem we face, and I look forward to working with the Senator from Texas on this issue--but because of the political dysfunction in DC. That is why we got this downgrade.

The Senator from Alabama, who has left the floor, was talking about the restatement of our GDP numbers in the first quarter. I worry a lot about that. The people I represent are not concerned with the procedural stuff that goes on here. What they are worried about is an economy they are living in day after day after day where, even in periods of economic growth, median family income is falling, middle-class families are falling behind. They are worried about an economy where they are earning less at the end of the decade than they were at the beginning, but their cost of higher education continues to escalate, their cost of health care continues to escalate. As individuals, as families, and as members of a generation, they are worried we are going to be the first generation of Coloradans and Americans to leave less opportunity and not more to the people who are coming after us.

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Mr. BENNET. I wish to finish my statement, and then I will gladly yield for a question.

I was glad to hear the Senator from Alabama. He and I disagree on the immigration bill, but we certainly agree on the issue of the concern all of us have about this economy--or most of us have about this economy. It is one of the reasons we should pass this immigration bill. The Congressional Budget Office tells us we would see 3 additional points of GDP increase in the first 10 years, 5 over the two 10-year windows, if we pass the bill.

To the point about American jobs, I was very glad to hear him say he was not talking about the 11 million people who are here because most of the 11 million people who are here are working. But they are working in a shadow economy, a cash economy, under circumstances where they can be exploited. We have allowed that to happen because of the broken immigration system we have. If all you cared about--and I deeply care about it--was raising wages for the American worker, you would want to bring those 11 million people out of that shadow economy. You would want them paid in something other than cash, and you would want them, for heaven's sake, paying taxes at a time when we have the kinds of deficit problems the Senator from Texas is describing.

The Senator also talked about the future flow of immigrants. I should say I was part of the bipartisan group. This is not a partisan bill, this immigration bill. There were eight of us. Four Republicans and four Democrats worked together on this bill, and one of the things we thought hard about was the future flow of immigrants to this country because generation after generation of Americans, since the founding of our country, has relied on new immigrants to bring their ideas, to bring their talents, to bring their energies to our shores to build their businesses here.

Today what we are saying to people--even people who get college degrees in the United States, degrees that we subsidize, that we pay for--even to those people, we are saying: Don't stay here. Even if you want to stay here, please go home to China and start your business there. Go home to India and compete with us there. Hire people there instead of creating jobs here in the United States.

We are a nation of immigrants. We subscribe to the rule of law. This bill is a ratification of those two American ideals--ideals that you can almost not find in any other country in the world.

That is why I am so glad that for once this body is actually acting in a bipartisan way to deal with not an easy problem but a tough problem. I will tell you the kids who are visiting today from 4-H all across the country and from my State of Colorado actually are expecting us to do these hard things, as our parents and grandparents did before them, so we don't leave them in the lurch.

That is what is at stake. That is why I wish we could find a way past this budget impasse as well so we actually could start to have a responsible conversation about what we are going to do on the entitlement side and on the revenue side, so we do not continue to hack away at domestic discretionary spending in ways that could lead us, with some of the House proposals, to invest only 4 percent of the revenue we collect in the future--4 percent in transportation and agriculture and education. There is not a business in this country that would last a year if it invested 4 percent of its cash flow in the future of that business.

At some point we have to move beyond where we have been here and actually get into a serious discussion about how we are going to manage this debt down over the next decade or two in ways that do not prevent us from growing our economy and in ways that do not subject our children to unpaid bills. It would be as if I went to the mortgage lender on my house and I said: I would like to buy a house, and I am going to take out a mortgage, and then I am going to give it to my kids to carry for me instead of paying for it myself. That is the position we are in today. The only way we are going to solve that is if Democrats and Republicans can sit down together and actually move past the talking points.

With that, I will yield for a question.

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Mr. BENNET. Here is how I answer that. I appreciate the question. Through the Chair to the Senator from Texas, it is clear that this is not going to get us anywhere, this procedural fight the two of you are having every couple of weeks. I think that is clear. I think it is clear that the debt ceiling is something that has been raised time and time again by Republicans and by Democratic Presidents over the years. I think it is also clear that we have to deal with our debt and our deficit. I believe that. But for myself, I don't feel like I would come to the floor and say that I am only going to allow this bill to go to conference with the Republicans in the House if all the money comes to Colorado--or some other stipulation I would want that 99 other Senators would not agree with.

The second thing is that I think it is important for people to understand that this issue--again, I am not in any way trivializing the issues around our deficit and our debt. I want the Senator from Texas--I hope he understands that. I hope he knows that about me. But I worry about the debt ceiling as a tool for accomplishing this, first for the reasons that have to do with our credit rating but also because there is a view among some that the debt ceiling is about bills we are going to incur as opposed to the ones we already have incurred.

In other words, it would be one thing if somebody said: I am spending too much money and I am going to cut up my credit card, and that is what they would do, but that is not what the debt ceiling is about. What the debt ceiling is about is somebody saying: You know what, I want the best cable package I can find, I want the best satellite package I can find, and when the bill comes to pay for it, I am just going to chop it up into little pieces and not pay it. That is what I don't like about this approach.

But everybody is entitled to their own approach on this question. I just wish we could move forward here instead of continuing to earn the 10-percent approval rating Congress has. That is all I am asking for.

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Mr. BENNET. Sure.

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Mr. BENNET. May I.

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Mr. BENNET. I say through the Chair to my friend from Texas, I have not read the bill, but I will read the bill. I commit to him that I will do that.

I appreciate the implication of this, which is that the Senator is not objecting to my metaphor about the cable bill being cut up, because I do think that is a real problem.

We are not saying to people--we should not be saying to people that we are going to behave in an irresponsible way. As somebody who used to spend his time restructuring companies that were really well run, really well operated but had horrible balance sheets, I would have to think hard about the treatment that creditors would provide to, in this case, the U.S. Government when I look at that. I will look at that.

I say to the Senator from Texas that there are other things we might even be able to agree on too around here. For a long time I have thought it would be important for us to put health care on a budget in this country. We are not on a budget. During the health care debate I had an amendment called the fail-safe amendment that would say to the American people and to the Congress: This is what we have to spend on health care. That is all there is. There is not any more. We have to manage toward that. If we failed, if we tripped over it, we would actually have to make cuts, make changes to our system of health care.

We spend twice as much as any other industrialized country in the world, and it is crowding out a lot of other things that the 4-H kids and others whom I worry about care about.

So I think there is much we can work on, but I just don't think we are going to get to it through this kind of discussion. We might get to it through this kind of discussion.

In any event, I will commit to the Senator from Texas that I am going to sit down and stop talking about what he said.

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Mr. BENNET. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

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Mr. BENNET. Mr. President, there is no one else on the floor. I thought I would take the opportunity to talk again a little bit about our immigration bill. This has been such a gratifying process to me because it has been bipartisan from the start. In fact, I have been telling people that it is not even that it has been bipartisan, it has been nonpartisan. The work on the Gang of 8, which led to work in the Judiciary Committee, which led to work on the floor is the way this place ought to operate on a whole host of issues, from energy--the Presiding Officer cares a lot about that--to infrastructure, to the budget issues I was just talking about with the Senator from Texas.

It is important for people to know that this is a bipartisan bill because I think people are fed up with the partisanship in this town, and they do not believe it reflects the way they live their lives. There is a reason for that. It does not. This place is decoupled from the lives of ordinary American people, and this is an effort--among others, hopefully--to recouple those priorities.

I have been interested in the objections to the immigration bill since the beginning. First there was the objection that it was actually going to drive up our deficit. Not surprisingly, we learned from the Congressional Budget Office that this bill actually would create the most significant deficit reduction of any piece of legislation we considered here, certainly that we passed here--$197 billion in the first 10 years, $700 billion in the second 10 years. Even in Washington, $1 trillion is still a lot of money. That is what we heard, both because people now not paying taxes would be paying taxes and also because of the economic growth that would be generated if we could restore the rule of law to our immigration system and to this economy. That was an objection. That objection was answered--not by me but by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The second objection was that the legislation was not going to get a fair airing, that it was going to be rushed through in the dead of night. I don't like doing work that way.

There were eight ``no'' votes on the fiscal cliff deal at the end of the year, and I was one of those ``no'' votes, one of three Democrats who voted no not largely but partly because it had not had any process and it was in the middle of the night. This bill, by contrast, had 7 months of negotiations among four Democrats and four Republicans. It had 3 weeks to go through the Judiciary Committee, a markup that had 160-some amendments, many of which were accepted. Forty-one Republican amendments were accepted to this bill. It came to the floor for the debate we have had over the last few weeks.

I realize the amendment process is jammed up, and I am sorry about that because I think people ought to be able--including the Presiding Officer--to offer the wise amendments they have and the not-so-wise amendments they have, at least in my opinion. But there certainly has been an open process for this bill.

Sometimes I have heard people say, well, it is just like health care all over again. I was here during the health care bill, and I can say this process looks nothing like that process.

There is a third objection from some who say there is no border security in this bill. First of all, that wasn't even true of the Gang of 8 bill. We had substantial border security, and as my lead, I was taking what John McCain and Jeff Flake--both Senators from Arizona--said was important. They are two Senators who have a border State, and they have been working hard to resolve these issues in our group. We made a substantial investment in that bill for border security and technology. Even fencing was included in that bill.

I think it is a reasonable expectation--not of Republicans but of the American people--that our border should be secure. Certainly the people in Colorado believe our border should be secure. So when Senators came and said: We would like to vote for this bill, but we would like to do more on border security, not only was I open to that, I supported that. The bill before us has incredibly substantial border security. There are 700 more miles of fencing. We doubled the number of Border Patrol agents on the border.

One of the Senators said to me that we are at a point now where there is a Border Patrol agent every 1,000 feet on the southern border. One might ask whether that is a wise use of resources, but it was important for some people to have that before they would sign on to this bill. So I don't think any reasonable person looking at this could say border security has not been addressed.

So what are the objections to moving forward? We have heard people say: Well, it is the path to citizenship or we don't like that part of the bill. That was a core principle for the four Democrats and four Republicans who started this negotiation, and it has been a core principle for a lot of people who voted for this bill. A very important reason to pass this legislation is to resolve the situation for the 11 million people who are here illegally. The pathway to citizenship is the right way to do it.

This is not amnesty. This has to be earned. People have to pay a fine. People have to learn English for the first time in our history. People have to pay their taxes. It takes 10 years to get a green card, then 3 years after that. They have to pass background checks all along the way so we know who the people are we want to stay in this country and who the people are we want to leave this country.

I see the Senator from Louisiana is here, so I will wrap up. To my friends
who think some lawful status that doesn't include a pathway to citizenship is useful to this country, I ask them to look at countries all around the world that have created a subclass of people--not even citizens, just a subclass of people--who have no attachment to their culture, no feeling they are ever going to participate in their civic or political institutions or meaningfully in their economy, no chance to believe their children or the children after them are actually going to make those contributions as well, and ask: Does that look like the United States of America to you?

That is not what the Founders had in mind. We hear a lot of cheap talk about the Founders around here these days. That is not what the Founders had in mind when they wrote into the Constitution that it was our responsibility as a body to deal with immigration.

So I hope people will consider that objection, take a look at the Senate bill, and will, hopefully, support it.

With that, I know the Senator from Louisiana was scheduled to speak, so I will yield the floor.

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Mr. BENNET. I object.

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Mr. BENNET. Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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