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Public Statements

Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. THUNE. Madam President, I would like to speak to an amendment that has been filed by my colleague from North Dakota, Senator Hoeven. I expect he will be here momentarily to speak specifically to his amendment, but it has to do with the Keystone Pipeline. This is an appropriate opportunity to talk about the energy needs our country has and the way in which those are being addressed.

We believe there is a great opportunity for our country to benefit in so many ways from the building of the Keystone Pipeline. Obviously, Senator Hoeven's state is benefiting enormously from the oil and gas find they have in North Dakota. There are lots of abundant energy resources. As typically is the case, you have to have a way to get those to the ultimate marketplace.

The most efficient way to do that is through a pipeline. The Keystone Pipeline, which has been proposed now for several years, is a way in which we can move about 830,000 barrels of oil every single day according to the Department of Energy. Not only would this pipeline transport Canadian crude to U.S. markets, but it would also benefit oil production from the Bakken formation in the Upper Great Plains.

Just to put that figure into perspective, 830,000 barrels represent about half the amount that the United States imports from the Middle East each and every day. According to the Department of Energy, much of the needed oil of the United States shipped through this pipeline will be refined at the Gulf Coast refineries and would likely offset heavy crude imports from Venezuela.

Keystone XL Pipeline is a $5.3 billion investment. According to the Obama State Department, the pipeline would support 42,000 jobs across the country; that is, over a 1- to 2-year construction period, approximately 3,900 would be directly employed in construction activities. These jobs would translate into approximately $2 billion in wages and earnings.

Keystone XL would also generate much needed tax revenue in several States, including an estimated $5 billion in additional property taxes throughout the operational life of the pipeline. The Keystone XL Pipeline has been under review now for 1,819 days. September 19 will mark the 5-year anniversary of the initial application for the pipeline's Presidential permit. Four environmental reviews have already concluded that the pipeline would not have a significant impact on the environment.

As President Obama continues to delay, Canada's oil supply is growing by the day and is expected to double by the year 2025. Canadian oil producers are quickly building pipelines to Canada's east and west coast to ship their oil to foreign markets. Meanwhile, reports indicate we may not get a decision out of the administration until the year 2014. By delaying approval of the pipeline, President Obama is providing China and other nations with an opportunity to outcompete the United States and gain access to Canada's growing oil supply.

Senator Hoeven's resolution declares that the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline is in our national interest. That is what the State Department will have to conclude at the end of this current environmental impact statement process, which is supposed to be wrapped up in the coming weeks. At that point, Secretary Kerry, the Secretary of State, has 90 days to determine if the pipeline is in our national interest.

I would state again: this pipeline is going to create jobs, it is going to boost investment, it is going to reduce our dependence on Venezuelan oil, and it will strengthen our relationship with our largest trading partner. Keystone XL Pipeline is clearly in our national interest. I would hope the Senate would go on record to that effect. If we think about the impact it can have on our economy, on jobs, the impact it can have on reducing that dangerous dependence we have on foreign sources of energy, this makes all the sense in the world.

I would reiterate what I said earlier; that is, this has been studied, this has been scrutinized, this has been reviewed now for 5 years. 1,819 days have elapsed since this permit was first applied for; five years have lapsed and four environmental reviews have been done. There is now currently yet another environmental impact study under way, which is supposed to be concluded soon, at the conclusion of which there will be a 90-day period in which the Secretary of State has to make a determination about whether the Keystone Pipeline is in our national interest.

What this amendment, offered by my colleague from North Dakota, Senator Hoeven, would do is simply put the Senate on the record as saying the Keystone Pipeline is, in fact, in our national interest. I believe that is a statement the Senate ought to make. We ought to weigh in on this subject. It is clear from all of the economic impact, clear from the environmental impact, clear from the need that we have to get away from the dependence we have on foreign sources of energy that this is a win-win for Americans, win-win for American consumers, win-win for American workers who need those jobs, and a win-win for the American economy in not having to get so much of our oil and our energy supply from outside the United States.

I would hope my colleagues and I get the chance, as we continue the debate on this bill, to discuss this amendment but also to ultimately vote on it and to declare once and for all, through the Senate, that this is, in fact, in the national interest. I see my colleague from North Dakota who is the author of this amendment is here. I credit him for bringing this amendment to the floor and giving us an opportunity to discuss what I think is a very important issue, not only to his State and my State and to many others that would be impacted directly by this, but to the entire economy and our country.

I would yield to the Senator from North Dakota who is the author of the amendment.

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Mr. THUNE. I would ask the Senator from North Dakota, who has been a great leader on all of these energy issues as we debate energy policy in the Senate, to confirm this but my understanding is that, according to President Obama's State Department, the pipeline will support 42,000 jobs across the country.

There have been some discussions and debate but the President, not too long ago, made a comment in front of an editorial board in one of the country's major newspapers that this is only going to create a couple of thousand jobs and that this was a very minimalist thing.

We have an unemployment rate that continues to hover in the 7.5-percent range and we have the lowest labor participation rate in our country today that we have had literally in 35 years, going back to the Carter administration. The real unemployment rate in other words those who are not only unemployed but those who would like to be working full time or those being forced to work part time or those who have quit looking, is actually much higher. About 14 percent--22 million Americans--fall into that category. We should be interested in anything that would create shovel-ready jobs.

We have heard from this administration, particularly when we were debating the stimulus, that we need shovel-ready jobs. We need jobs that can get people back to work immediately. This perfectly fits that description.

I would ask the Senator from North Dakota if it is his understanding, as well, that it is actually thousands of jobs that would be created as a result of building a pipeline. Wouldn't that be something we would add to the argument? There are many arguments, but this certainly is one, when we are talking about a sluggish economy where growth continues to hover in that 1- to 2-percent range, to get the economy growing and expanding again.

This is not only to get the immediate construction jobs but, when we are producing energy in this country and lowering the cost of energy because we are actually having more of it produced here as opposed to importing it from somewhere else around the world, it gives us a competitive advantage. It is good for economic growth and good for job creation.

Would the Senator from North Dakota speak to the issue of jobs and what his understanding is in terms of jobs that would be created if, in fact, we did move forward with the pipeline?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from North Dakota.

Mr. HOEVEN. Absolutely. This is a project, a $7.9 billion construction project. The administration's State Department has been working with a variety of agencies and has developed a number of environmental impact statements. In their own analysis, they indicate more than 40,000 jobs. We are talking of a project that costs billions to build and will create more than 40,000 jobs by their own admission. In the construction process alone, it will generate hundreds of millions in tax revenue at the local, State, and Federal level. It has a huge economic impact at a time when we need to get people working and when we need to get our economy growing.

At this time, I wish to acknowledge this is very much a bipartisan approach. Look, to get anything done, we have to be bipartisan. When we show a concurrent resolution from the Senate and the House, both Houses of Congress together, with Republicans and Democrats coming together and saying this is in the national interest, that is a powerful statement. It is one I certainly hope the President will acknowledge and make the same decision that this project truly is in the national interest.

On that note, I see Senator Mary Landrieu, my esteemed colleague from Louisiana, who is also a prime sponsor of this resolution. Also, I see Senator Begich from the great State of Alaska and Senator Heitkamp from my State of North Dakota. They are here as well. I wish to acknowledge them and acknowledge their cosponsorship of this legislation.

I will read the sponsors we have onboard already. There will be more. Then I will turn to the esteemed Senator from Louisiana, who was so instrumental in crafting this resolution.

I wish to mention all of our sponsors in addition to the Senator from Louisiana, Ms. Landrieu, Senator Thune of South Dakota, Senator McConnell of Kentucky, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, Senator Begich of Alaska, Senator Cornyn of Texas, Senator Blunt of Missouri, Senator Risch of Idaho, Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and there will be others.

I mention these Senators both to thank them and to make the point this is very much a bipartisan effort because we are serious about getting something done. This is not about making a statement. This is about getting something done in a bipartisan way from the people's representatives across this great Nation.

I yield to Senator Landrieu, the coauthor of this resolution, and thank her for all of her great work on this project.

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Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, I would like to speak to a couple amendments I have filed to the bill that is under consideration by the Senate today. I wish to talk about amendment No. 1876. Just to kind of give you the background context, most of us know that when we were debating the health care bill a few years ago, the labor unions were enthusiastic supporters of ObamaCare. It perhaps should come as no surprise that they are having some buyer's remorse. I think they are realizing they were sold a bill of goods, and similar to a lot of people around this country whom I talk to, they would like to have a do-over.

In fact, if we look at what has happened since the legislation has become law and what has happened to premiums--they continue going up. In fact, there was a Kaiser study just this last month that had family premiums going up $3,000, on average, since President Obama took office. Of course, that was after the promise that health care premiums were going to go down by $2,500.

We have seen employers either cut jobs or slash hours. In fact, 250 employers have cut jobs, and there is hardly a day that goes by where there is not a headline in a major newspaper about some employer who is having to reduce their workforce or not hire people they otherwise would hire simply because of the additional cost, the requirements, the mandates, all the uncertainty created by ObamaCare.

Of course, what that means is the people who are getting hired are getting hired for part-time jobs. If we look at the number of jobs created this year, about 77 percent of those are part-time jobs. What is happening? A lot of employers--those that are under 50 employees--if they go over 50, obviously, they are covered by the mandate that says they have to provide government-approved health care. So they are keeping the number under 50 employees. Then the other requirement is to qualify as a full-time employee, you have to work 30 hours a week. So employers are also reducing the hours of their employees. So we have, I think, more now 29-hour-a-week jobs in this country than we have ever had before. The numbers since the beginning of the year with regard to jobs created--part-time time jobs--do bear that out. More and more employers are finding their way to reduce the hours of employees and hire people for jobs that are part-time jobs as opposed to full-time jobs.

What does that mean? That means the take-home pay of middle-class Americans is going down, and in order to make ends meet, they are now having to get that second job. It is creating all kinds of distortions in the labor force. So it is no surprise, I would think, that the labor unions would like to have this issue revisited.

I wish to share with you a couple statements that have been made. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the UFCW, and UNITE-HERE sent a letter to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid in July stating:

On behalf of the millions of working men and women we represent and the families they support, we can no longer stand silent in the face of elements of the [health care law] that will destroy the very health and wellbeing of our members along with millions of other hardworking Americans.

The United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers, and Allied Workers--this from a letter several months ago in April--

I am therefore calling for repeal or complete reform of the Affordable Care Act to protect our employers, our industry, and our most important asset: our members and their families.

If we look at the letter that was sent on July 11 by the three unions I mentioned earlier, it goes on to say it will create nightmare scenarios, it will shatter benefits, and, actually, that it will destroy the backbone of the middle class, which is the 40-hour workweek--so very strong language by some of those who were the most enthusiastic and strongest advocates and supporters of ObamaCare when it was being discussed and debated in the Senate.

Last night, at their annual convention, the AFL-CIO passed a resolution calling for major changes to ObamaCare.

The unions are trying to get a special deal, and they want to work with the administration in a way that completely ignores the text of ObamaCare.

The law says anyone who has an offer from their employer of government-approved health care coverage is not eligible--not eligible--to go into the exchanges and receive refundable health care premium tax credits.

The law also states that union-provided insurance, known as Taft-Hartley multiemployer health plans, is--is--government-approved health care coverage.

Consequently, union employees enrolled in these Taft-Hartley plans are not eligible for the exchanges and the refundable premium tax credits that are available in the exchange.

Obviously, the unions are not happy about that. In fact, on August 27, 2013, the trade publication Inside Health Policy reported:

The Office of Management and Budget previously showed on its regulatory review website that on Aug. 24 it received a Department of Labor Proposed rule on ``Health Insurance Premium Assistance Trust Supporting the Purchase of Certain Individual Health Insurance Policies.'' The rule, which OMB said is Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act-related (PPACA), also appears to deal with the exclusion from a definition of an employee welfare benefit plan, but this week the description disappeared.

The unions are clearly seeking a way around the law and want a special fix that would apply to them and to them only.

If they have their way, what essentially happens is that union members will receive government subsidies for their insurance plans from three different sources, in three different ways--a benefit position that no other organization or individual is in.

First, they get the tax deduction that an employer receives for contributing to a union health plan.

Second, they will get the nontaxable income that the employee receives when his or her employer purchases a union health plan. Third, finally, a new premium assistance tax credit for union members who purchase the union health plan.

A recent analysis from the American Action Forum shows that if the administration gives labor unions what they want, it would cost taxpayers $187 billion over the next 10 years. The new health care law is clear that taxpayer-funded premium assistance credits are intended for low- to middle-income Americans without access to affordable insurance through an employer or who purchase health insurance on the exchanges.

The fact is that Taft-Hartley union health plans are not exchange-based plans, they are employer-sponsored health plans. Providing union members with a premium assistance tax credit on top of the favorable tax treatment already afforded to them for their employer-sponsored coverage amounts to double-dipping for union workers and is grossly unfair for every nonunion worker in America who would receive no such special benefit.

The law states that union employees should not receive both Taft-Hartley coverage and premium tax credits, but the administration has made it abundantly clear that they are willing to ignore this law in other areas. That is why I have introduced as a bill and an amendment to the pending legislation the Union Bailout Prevention Act that would seek to close off any possible loophole the administration might create or could use to give unions a special fix.

I do not blame at all the unions or other Americans around this country for not liking what they got. I think a lot of people had higher hopes, and those, obviously, who supported this and enthusiastically supported the health care law are now realizing this is not what they were promised. As a consequence, a lot of them would like to see a do-over. They want to see changes. They want to see reforms. Some want to see repeal. That obviously would be my preference in all of this. But it is not fair to carve out groups of people at the exclusion or detriment of other Americans who would be unfairly impacted by that carve-out.

That is essentially what they are requesting here. They are trying to get special treatment that would allow them to claim not one, not two, but three special tax provisions or tax treatments as a result of the new Affordable Care Act when, in fact, under Taft-Hartley plans they already receive favorable tax treatment and they are in government-approved plans. That is a government-approved plan and therefore not eligible for the exchanges, as are many other Americans who do not have access to some sort of employer-provided health care plan.

So if this carve-out were something the administration would approve, it would create a special treatment, a special provision that would cost taxpayers billions of dollars and be completely unfair to countless Americans who would love to see the provisions of this law either repealed or delayed for them as well.

The better solution, I would argue, is let's delay this for everybody. I would like to see it repealed. I think we could have done a much better job. We did not need a 2,700-page bill and 20,000 pages of regulations to deal with some of the challenges and problems we have in our health care system today, but that is what we have. We have a government takeover of our health care system. We have 20,000 pages of regulations--which, by the way, is significantly taller than I am. It is about 7 feet tall when you stack those regulations. Somebody has to interpret all of that. Somebody has to make sense out of it. Obviously, as people start to interpret and make sense out of it, they are not liking what they are finding. That should not come as any surprise because when you get a massive expansion of the government, which is essentially what this was, a takeover of literally one-sixth of the American economy, you are going to have a lot of associated unintended consequences.

I think it would make a lot of sense--there are so many better ways of going about this--if we were to repeal this and start over, but at a minimum, if one group is going to get special treatment, then all Americans ought to get that same treatment. I would argue that the best way to do that is to delay this for everybody across this country, not to create special carve-outs, special treatment that would apply to just a small number of Americans when there are literally millions of Americans who are impacted by this new law.

I would also like to address briefly, if I might--this is another amendment I filed to this bill. It is amendment No. 1887. It has to do with the Department of Energy loan program that has already cost taxpayers millions in bad investments. It is the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program. It was intended to provide loans for manufacturing facilities that produce fuel-efficient vehicles. However, after making only five loans over the past several years, this program was mothballed in 2011.

Remarkably, Secretary Moniz is considering reviving this program and is reportedly seeking new applications for the ATVM Program. I have introduced this amendment because the Obama administration has not proven itself to be a very good venture capitalist. If you look at the record of the five recipients of ATVM loans, one is bankrupt and another has suspended their payments on a $192 million loan. The Government Accountability Office has also questioned whether the Department of Energy has the expertise to properly assess loan applications. The GAO has also concluded that the Department of Energy lacks the engineering expertise needed for effective technical oversight.

Not only is this program poorly managed, it is no longer needed. Credit markets in the auto industry have largely recovered from the recession, and industry participants have shown little interest in the ATVM Program in recent years. Additionally, stricter fuel economy standards, which automakers supported, promote vehicle technologies that are subsidized by the loan program.

The ATVM Program has $16.6 billion in outstanding lending authority. According to GAO, that is a credit subsidy risk of over $4 billion. I have offered this amendment to prohibit any new loans from being made under the ATVM Program and to protect taxpayers from this outstanding exposure. Given the Energy Department's poor track record and the fact that these subsidies are no longer necessary, I would urge my colleagues to support my amendment to stop the administration from making additional risky loans and losing even more taxpayer dollars.

I hope we will get a chance to vote on these amendments. I know the manager of the bill, the Senator from Oregon, is working with others to try to come up with a path forward in terms of processing amendments. But this is certainly one that would save the government and the taxpayers some money. If you look at the record, I think most Americans would agree this is not the way they want to see their money used.

I yield the floor.

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