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Paycheck Fairness Act - Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. LANDRIEU. Mr. President, I think we are prepared to have several unanimous consent requests regarding the issue of how to care for veterans in our country. I first want to begin by thanking Senator Sanders for his extraordinary leadership on the issue of caring for and supporting veterans, their families, their dependents, and the communities in which veterans live. There has been no stronger voice on the Senate floor for veterans on either side of the aisle than Senator Sanders, and I appreciate his leadership. He has been spending a great deal of time on the floor explaining the importance of his legislation. He has joined me today to talk further about it.

Inside of this very important and major piece of legislation, there is a piece of it that passed the House unanimously that would authorize the construction of 27 major medical facility leases in 18 States and in Puerto Rico, two of which would be in Louisiana--one in Lafayette and one in Lake Charles. I have been leading the effort--contrary to the testimony put on the Record by the junior Senator from Louisiana--with Congressman Boustany, whose district this is in, and he has been the leader of our delegation. There is no hesitation among our delegation about who the leader has been about getting these clinics built.

We have been working with the veterans office for years. We got them to admit that they actually made the mistake that caused our clinics to have to be delayed in their construction because of a mishap of great proportion in the way these contracts were bid. The veterans in our State--and Senator Sanders knows this--have rightly been complaining for years that they have been left out and left behind.

Our entire delegation, Democrats and Republicans, has been fighting on their behalf vigorously. We have written letters, made phone calls, and made multiple visits to the region. Contrary to the testimony by the junior Senator from Louisiana, the fact is everybody has been working well together.

Congressman Boustany got to pass this piece of legislation out of the House that basically says: Yes, let's go forward and build these clinics and not require an offset.

I ask unanimous consent right now to do just that and take the House bill that has passed with no amendments, no modifications, and pass this bill so it doesn't have to go back to the House. It can go right to the President's desk for signature. It costs $1.8 billion, and there is no offset. As I have said, in my view--and this is only my view--the veterans this is going to help have already paid the price. They have already paid the price. They should not have to pay twice.

I agree with the House of Representatives. There doesn't need to be an offset to this. I don't agree with Senator Vitter's amendment that there needs to be an offset. I think we just need to go ahead and unanimously decide to send this to the President's desk for his signature. I am confident he would sign this, and it would authorize these clinics not only in Louisiana but in the States around the country.

I understand there is some opposition from outside of our State. I don't understand any opposition from within the State.

I ask unanimous consent the Veterans' Affairs Committee be discharged from further consideration of H.R. 3521, the bill read three times and passed, and the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table, with no intervening action or debate.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?

The Senator from Utah.

Mr. LEE. Mr. President, on behalf of Senator Coburn, who is not here today, I object.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The objection is heard.

Mr. LEE. My understanding is that Senator Coburn's objection is based on the lack of a pay-for in this proposal. There is, however, an amendment that has been introduced by Senator Vitter that addresses this concern and fills this gap.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Veterans' Affairs Committee be discharged from further consideration of H.R. 3521, and that the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration. I also ask unanimous consent that the Vitter amendment, which is at the desk, be agreed to, that the bill, as amended, be read a third time and passed, and that the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table.

Ms. LANDRIEU. Would the Senator yield for a question?

Is that an order?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Does the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. LEE. Yes.

Ms. LANDRIEU. I understand that the House of Representatives passed this bill, H.R. 3521--and I will get the exact vote in a minute--with a vote of 346 to 1. They passed this bill, H.R. 3521, with a vote of 346 to 1, that has no offset.

Does the Senator from Utah have any reason to know why Senator Coburn would now require an offset since the bill and the politics is controlled by the Republican leadership in the House?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Louisiana.

Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I don't mean to cut my colleague off, but Senator Lee is here on behalf of Senator Coburn, who has been more involved, and so I will give the history of it. Some folks in the Senate had concerns about the bill and the fact that, in their view, it was not paid for. I met with them and talked through all of these concerns. I could not convince them to drop those concerns completely, so instead we found a solution, which is the Vitter amendment that is at the desk. That amendment has been cleared within its four corners. Nobody in the Senate--no Republican or Democrat--opposes the amendment. We found that solution in order to pass the bill through the Senate, and that addressed Senator Coburn's objections to the bill alone. That is the solution we worked out.

I can't fully walk through all of Senator Coburn's thoughts about the bill on its own and whether it was paid for. I can just tell the Senator that I met with him exhaustively, was not able to get him to completely drop his objection, but was able to agree on this compromise--this solution to the pay-for issue. So that is why the amendment, which is at the desk, was proposed, which removes the Coburn objection and thereby fixes the problem.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection to the request of the Senator from Utah?

Mr. SANDERS. I object.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Vermont, objection is heard.

The Senator from Louisiana has the floor.

Ms. LANDRIEU. Mr. President, that is very good to know that Senator Coburn is objecting--or not objecting--to an offset that is not a real offset.

The reason there is some objection from our side, and I think from Senator Sanders as well, is because the Vitter offset is not real. It doesn't generate $1.6 billion in savings. So I think we should go forward with no offset because the $1.6 billion is not a real offset.

The CBO analysis of this offset basically says, from our preliminary estimate of the amendment, based on information from the Department of Defense, there are no savings--there are no savings--for drug-related purchases to the current law. The preliminary estimate is zero.

With that, I wish to reiterate my unanimous consent request--please don't interrupt--I would like unanimous consent for my amendment, which has no offset--and the bill does not have to go back to the House of Representatives. The bill can go straight to the President's desk.

I yield the floor.

Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I have a parliamentary inquiry.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator will state his inquiry.

Mr. VITTER. I would like to ask through the Chair, because this is significant information, whether Senator Sanders would object to passing the bill without amendment, because in all previous discussions to date, I understood he would object to that. But that is very significant information, so I would ask that of Senator Sanders through the Chair.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. That is not a parliamentary inquiry. However, if the Senator chooses to respond, he may.

Mr. SANDERS. I will respond later.

Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, reclaiming the floor and reclaiming my time, that is very significant information that can guide us with regard to any path forward. So I would like to know from the Senator whether he would or would not object to a UC to pass the bill without this amendment.

Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, that is a fair question. Let me ask my colleague from Louisiana--as he knows, I will be speaking more to this in a moment. I wish to thank Senator Landrieu for her strong support of legislation I introduced and for her support not only for veterans in Louisiana but for every veteran in this country. This legislation is supported by virtually every veterans organization in the United States of America.

I will respond at this point to my colleague from Louisiana to say that if I were prepared to support the Landrieu amendment, which has no offsets--and she makes a good point, that veterans have paid for this legislation in their blood already--would the Senator from Louisiana object to an amendment I offered for the comprehensive bill that had no offset as well?

Mr. VITTER. If I could address the Chair, I am happy to answer the question.

As Senator Sanders knows, I have serious concerns with his much broader bill. So I am not agreeing to his far broader bill. He knows that. We have talked about that. We have talked about those concerns. I am happy to restate that.

Having answered his question, I would like to reask through the Chair if Senator Sanders is objecting or would object to a UC request to pass this veterans clinics bill without the amendment at the desk.

Mr. SANDERS. Reserving the right to object, let me again thank Senator Landrieu, who has raised this issue with me on numerous occasions. The issue we are talking about--I think Senator Vitter referred to it--is clearly not just an issue for Louisiana, it is an issue which addresses the need to see built 27 major medical facilities in 18 States and Puerto Rico. To my mind, this is a very important provision, which is in fact why I put it in a very prominent place in my legislation.

What I would say to my friend from Louisiana is that as important as that provision in the bill is, there are many other provisions of equal or greater importance. What I would say to my friend from Louisiana is that organizations--and, again, virtually every veterans organization in America, representing millions and millions of veterans, wants this body and Members of the Senate to not just give speeches on Veterans Day or Memorial Day about their concerns for veterans, they want this body to start acting on behalf of the veterans in this country.

What they want us to do, among many other things, is an advanced appropriations. I know my friend from Louisiana isn't a member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, and maybe he does not know that in the last government shutdown we were 10 days away from veterans--disabled veterans--not getting the checks they live on. This bill I have introduced addresses that.

Maybe the Senator from Louisiana does not know we have a major backlog problem; that while the VA is making good progress and significantly reducing that backlog, I as chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee want to make absolutely certain that when a veteran applies for a benefit, that benefit is adjudicated in a rapid, efficient, and accurate way, and my legislation deals with that issue.

I don't know if the junior Senator from Louisiana knows we have a real problem for veterans in Louisiana and across this country who are trying to take advantage of the post-9/11 education bill. Over 1 million veterans and their families are taking advantage of it but suddenly find themselves, if they move from Vermont to Louisiana or Louisiana to Vermont, they may not be able to take advantage of instate tuition. Our bill addresses that issue.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senators are advised that subject to a previous order, the Senate was to proceed to executive session at 2:30.

Mr. VITTER. I ask unanimous consent that the previous order be postponed for an additional 10 minutes so we can simply round out this very important discussion.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?

Mr. SANDERS. None whatsoever.

Mr. VITTER addressed the Chair.

Mr. SANDERS. I think I have the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection.

Mr. VITTER. I believe I made an inquiry through the Chair, so I believe I have the floor and I would like to reclaim it if that is appropriate.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Vermont currently has the floor.

Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, the point I am making is that furthermore, not only are we dealing with the instate tuition issue, which impacts veterans from Louisiana and Vermont and every other State, we are dealing with another issue in that we are going to extend for 5 years to 10 years unfettered access to VA health care for recently separated veterans. At a time when real unemployment in this country is close to 12 percent and many veterans are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan and they are looking for work and work is hard to find, this legislation renews our vow to hire heroes because we believe it is important that veterans get back to work and take care of their families.

Mr. VITTER addressed the Chair.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Louisiana.

Mr. VITTER. I apologize for interrupting, but I just want to ensure that of the additional 10 minutes that were granted, I would have 5 minutes.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Chair is dividing the time equally.

Mr. VITTER. I apologize for interrupting.

Mr. SANDERS. Not at all.

I wanted to mention to my colleague from Louisiana, which he may or may not know, that we have a very serious problem in the military regarding sexual assault, and it is terribly important that the men and women who were sexually assaulted get the help and the treatment they need in a VA facility and we address that issue.

The Senator from Louisiana may or may not know that 2,300 veterans--these are men and women who suffered injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan and came back home--are unable, because of their wounds, to have babies, and this legislation is going to help them start the families they want.

The Senator from Louisiana may or may not know--and I know the Senator from Illinois Mr. Durbin does know--that in this legislation we deal with the caregivers act; that right now we have 70-year-old women who have taken care of their husbands who lost their legs in Vietnam or in Korea or whatever war, and they are crying out for us to give them a modest degree of help.

What I say to my friend from Louisiana: Now is the time to stand with the veterans of this country. If he thinks it is too expensive, then don't send them off to war. Don't send them off to war. Taking care of veterans is a cost of war. They paid for it. I am very proud, again, that this legislation has the support of the American Legion, VFW, DAV, Gold Star Wives, Vietnam veterans organizations, Iraq, Afghanistan veterans organizations, and all the others--virtually all of the other ones.

I implore my friend from Louisiana to do the right thing and support this comprehensive legislation which addresses his concerns in this provision, but it does a lot more.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Louisiana.

Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I think this discussion has been very important and very instructive because it underscores that not only does the distinguished Senator from Vermont object to my efforts to pass the veterans clinics bill with the amendment at the desk by unanimous consent, but he also objects to Senator Landrieu's efforts to pass the same veterans clinics bill, in her case, without the amendment, without the offset. I asked him that direct question. He made it very clear that he continues to demand that we pass his entire much broader bill and will not let this hostage go.

I think that is very sad and very inappropriate for him to object to my effort, for him to now object to the efforts of Senator Landrieu. She made the unanimous consent request to pass the clinics bill, the focused clinics bill. He is objecting to that as well.

It is also completely contrary to what Senator Sanders has said before, working on these and related issues. In another instance in late 2013, November, Senator Sanders himself, talking about our colleagues, said:

I'm happy to tell you that I think that was a concern of his.

Another colleague--

We got that UC'ed last night. So we moved that pretty quickly, and I want to try to do those things, where we have agreements, let's move it.

Where we have agreement, let's move it. We do not have agreement about the significant details of the much broader Sanders bill. It is not 1 Senator objecting about that, it is 43, but we do have agreement about this clinics issue. No one, including Senator Sanders, objects to the substance of the clinics bill. We have worked out every issue, including through my discussions with Senator Coburn, about the pay-fors. The amendment at the desk solves that.

So when we take that bill and the amendment, no one objects to that substance. No one objects to it within the four corners of that material. The only objection constantly on the floor for the last several weeks--today again toward me, today again toward Senator Landrieu's UC--is, no, I need my whole bill.

We will continue to discuss those important issues and disagreements, but 43 Senators disagree with Senator Sanders. Sixty are needed to move forward. In the meantime, can we at least agree what we agree on and not hold veterans hostage? They have had guns pointed at them before, but they don't expect U.S. Senators to hold guns to their head and hold them hostage over veterans clinics.

So where we have agreement, let's move it. We have agreement about the veterans clinics. Let's move it. That is my effort. That is Senator Landrieu's effort, which again is being objected to, moving this focused clinics bill, by the Senator from Vermont. I find that very unfortunate, but I will certainly continue to demand that we pass this and continue to talk regarding all of the other important veterans' issues.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Vermont.

Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, reserving the right to object, we talk about holding hostage. The distinguished junior Senator from Louisiana pointed out that 43 Senators voted against comprehensive legislation that is supported by virtually every veterans organization in this country. The arithmetic is 43 voted against it, that is true. How many voted for it? Fifty-six voted for it and 1 was absent who would have voted for it. Fifty-seven voted for comprehensive legislation, 43 voted against it.

So when the Senator talks about holding veterans hostage, I would suggest to my friend from Louisiana that maybe instead of filibustering this bill and requiring an undemocratic 60 votes, let the majority rule.

The American people want us to pass this legislation. If you choose not to vote for it, that is your right. But I do urge you not to hold us hostage by demanding 60 votes when a very strong majority wants to see it passed.

With that, Mr. President, I would object.

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