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Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2004-Conference Report

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, there are a number of provisions in this legislation, the omnibus bill, that have been talked about. But I hope my colleagues will give consideration to the fact that the appropriators and the Republican leadership stuck into this omnibus bill a number of different provisions that never passed the Senate or the light of day or the smell test. And took out provisions to help millions of Americans. One of the provisions that they took out of the omnibus bill was a provision that was supported by the Senate and supported by the House in a bipartisan fashion. That was the amendment to tell the Bush administration that they could not deny workers overtime. His proposal would affect 8 million workers. Yes, this is an enormously important omnibus bill. Yes, it is important that we deal with the problems in education and health. I yield to no one in my concern in those areas.

All we are asking is that we take the omnibus bill and put back in the protection for workers. Or we could have the Bush administration rescind its proposal to deny workers overtime protections.

We have challenges in our economy, but one of the great challenges in our economy is not that firefighters, nurses, and police officers are being overpaid. That is not the problem we are facing in our economy. But that is going to be the effect if this particular omnibus bill goes through. The administration will implement its overtime provisions. As I mentioned yesterday, it is not just those individuals I mentioned-firefighters, nurses, and police officers-it is also the veterans.

Listen to this, America. Since the time of the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the United States has accepted the concept of a 40-hour week. Then workers who worked more than 40 hours would get time and a half. That has been an accepted part of the American workplace since the 1930s, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed. But now this administration has made a proposal to effectively eliminate the requirement to pay overtime to 8 million Americans, which includes firefighters, police officers, and nurses. But they also put into this provision those who will be excluded. Listen to this. Those who will also be excluded will be those who receive the standard requirement and equivalent training in the Armed Forces. Do you hear that? Training in the Armed Forces. Over in Iraq, American service men and women have been trained. We have the best trained military in the world. The challenge of having a good military is to have the best in training, the best technology, the best leadership, and the best support for the families at home. Those are the elements of an effective military force. Now what we are saying to those who are in the military, the service men and women who have taken that training, which makes our military so superior-and being superior results in the saving of lives of service men and women-we are saying that kind of training in the Armed Forces will mean when you get back home, you fall into that category of the 8 million who will be precluded from getting overtime.

Can you imagine that? We have 200 training programs in the military. Great numbers of them fall within this particular provision of training in the Armed Forces. For the life of me, I cannot believe why this administration would write into their proposal that the training in the Armed Forces will mean you are going to be excluded from overtime pay. I just do not understand that. I just do not understand it. I wish those on the other side of the aisle who support that particular provision would come out here and explain that.

I want to mention another important provision in this overtime pay, the effect of which hits a particular group in our society, and they are the women who are working in the American workforce. Two factors have made life for middle-income and working families at least plausible and livable. One is the fact that women have entered the workforce and, secondly, many of these families have mortgaged their homes to deal with the problems of tuition escalation and other things, such as emergency health needs. The fact is there is no what they call in economics "elasticity" left in this. They don't have other members of the families who can work once the husband and wife are working. You don't have another husband and wife to go out there and you only have one home and if you mortgage that to educate your kids you just can't do very much more. You are depending, to a significant extent, on overtime pay. I want to remind the Senate about what has been happening in the workforce. The middle-income mothers work 55 percent more hours today than 20 years ago.
Here it is: It was 895 hours in 1979, and in 2000 it was 1388 hours-almost double what they were working in 1979, over a 20-year period. Why are they working? To provide for their families. What are we saying to these mothers who are working hard and making some overtime? We are saying to the mothers and to the women in the families you are not going to be able to get that benefit either. You are not going to be able to get the benefit either. This falls particularly hard on the 8 million Americans who will be outside of the overtime definition, for the veterans who came back from Iraq in the military forces, because it will be said you are a professional now, you have had training in the Army. We have read in your record that you have had some training, so even though you are doing this job, we don't have to pay you overtime. It says that in the Armed Forces training regulation.

This provision falls unduly harsh on the women. As women have increased their time in the paid labor market, their contributions to family income have also increased. These contributions have been particularly important to lower and middle-income families. An increase in time spent at work creates childcare and other family challenges. These added hours have had a negative effect on a parent's ability to be at home after school, help with homework, or care for an ill or aging family member.

The Bush proposal would take away overtime protections for millions of American women, ensuring that they work longer hours for less pay. Women who are working today are going to work longer hours for less pay. That is the result of the overtime provision. Make no mistake about it. Our amendment protecting overtime-saying to the President that he can't take away overtime pay-was taken out of the omnibus bill after it was passed on the floor of the Senate and in the House of Representatives. But the Republican leadership knew they could not win on the Bush proposal on the floor and they took it out of this bill-challenging this body to take it or leave it.

This is one Senator who is going to leave it because of what it is going to do to working families, for the women and veterans in this country. Women tend to dominate retail services and sales promotions that would be particularly affected by the Bush proposal. The increase in overtime, often with little advance notice, would take away from the families, disrupt the schedule of working parents, as well as impose additional childcare and other expenses. Women's groups like Nine-to-Five, the American Association of University Women, National Organization for Women, National Partnership for Women and Families, and the YWCA express their strong support for the Harkin-Kennedy amendment to preserve the overtime protections. Those are the leading women's groups-National Organization for Women, National Partnership for Women and Families, YWCA. Effectively, every group that represents women in our society strongly opposes these provisions which are written in by the Republican leadership denying overtime.

These organizations representing women-Nine to Five, the American Association of University Women, the National Organization for Women, the National Partnership for Women and Families, and the YWCA-have all indicated their strong opposition to the overtime provisions. They know the adverse impact on women.

I wish to point out that of the millions of Americans who will lose their overtime, not only do we have police officers, nurses, and firefighters, but if we look at other categories, we see cooks, clerical workers, a large percent of which are women, physical therapists, dental hygienists, bookkeepers, lab technicians, graphic artists. These are major professional groups where, in a number of those areas, women are the majority of workers, so they would be adversely affected. This provision adversely affects veterans and adversely affects women.

Today's New York Times points out what my colleague, my friend, John Kerry, mentioned as a veteran himself in Exeter, NH.

This is the New York Times story:

An omnibus spending bill has been stalled in Congress in partisan dispute over provisions to which Democrats object. One would allow the Bush administration to press ahead with rules that Democrats say could strip millions of their right to overtime pay. Hitting that theme, Mr. Kerry said the president would treat those who trained for some skilled jobs in the military as professionals ineligible for overtime pay, adding this "made my blood boil."

"We need a president who understands that the first definition of patriotism is keeping faith with those who wore the uniform of the country," Mr. Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, said. . . .

It could not be said any better than that.

Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the entire New York Times article be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

[From the New York Times, Jan. 22, 2004]

(By David M. Halbfinger and Randal C. Archibold)

EXETER, NH, January 21.-Surging in the New Hampshire polls, Senator John Kerry ignored his rivals on Wednesday and blasted President Bush on health care and charged that new rules on overtime supported by the administration would bar many veterans from overtime pay.

Mr. Kerry said the president had rightly praised American troops and veterans in his State of the Union address. "But once again it's an example of a say-one-thing-and-do-another administration," he said, pointing to the overtime dispute.

An omnibus spending bill has been stalled in Congress in a partisan dispute over provisions to which Democrats object. One would allow the Bush administration to press ahead with rules that Democrats say could strip millions of their right to overtime pay. Hitting that theme, Mr. Kerry said the president would treat those who trained for some skilled jobs in the military as professionals ineligible for overtime pay, add in that this "made my blood boil."

"We need a president who understands that the first definition of patriotism is keeping faith with those who wore the uniform of the country," Mr. Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, said at Daniel Webster College in Nashua.

He spoke as two new polls showed him taking the lead in New Hampshire. The separate polls, in the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe, each put Mr. Kerry 10 points ahead of his closest rival, Howard Dean, although surveys in primaries are notoriously unreliable because of the difficulty in identifying likely voters.

Mr. Kerry also began commercials showing people praising his "leadership and experience" and emphasizing his
endorsement by the Concord and Nashua newspapers.

Wednesday night at Phillips Exeter Academy, he drew about 1,000 people, easily his largest crowd for a stump speech in New Hampshire.

In his noon speech in Nashua, he rolled out a few new phrases to depict the president as out of touch with everyday Americans and in the thrall of the "special interests."

"You can tell from his State of the Union address that the President is facing re-election," Mr. Kerry said. "I wish he'd face reality. Watching President Bush's speech last night, one thing kept coming back to me: He just doesn't get it."

He invoked "the unheard majority in the health care debate," saying, "We need a president who's going to make sure their voice is finally heard, that they have access to the White House, not just those who contribute significantly to campaigns."

Mr. Kerry said he would reverse rules barring Medicare and states from negotiating for discounts on bulk purchases of prescription drugs and repeal a ban on re-importing American-made drugs from Canada. He called on Mr. Bush to work with states like New Hampshire that have tried to start re-importation.

Deriding the Medicare bill enacted last year as a benefit only for pharmaceutical companies, Mr. Kerry said, "If I'm president, I pledge to you, we will repeal that phony bill."

As Mr. Kerry aimed his fire at the White House, the second-place finisher in the Iowa caucuses, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, briefly detoured to his native South Carolina, where the Democratic primary will be held Feb. 3.

At a packed sandwich shop in Greenville, Mr. Edwards sounded his themes of spreading optimism and hope in a country he sees dispited by job loss, financial insecurity and shrinking education opportunities. And naturally he emphasized his roots in a state whose primary he says he must win to remain in contention. "I was born here, I still have a lot of family here," Mr. Edwards said to raucous applause, adding, "This is part of who I am and I intend to compete every way I know how."

Later, back in New Hampshire, Mr. Edwards reprised a line comparing his electoral potential in the South to that of his northeastern rivals. Answering a question at Roland's diner in Nashua on how he would get his agenda through a Republican Congress, he said: "The question is, who on the top of the Democratic ticket can go everyplace in America and campaign with the candidates and strengthen their ability to get elected?"

He added, "In Georgia, do you want John Edwards campaigning with you? Do you want Howard Dean campaigning with you? Do you want John Kerry campaigning with you?"

Later Wednesday evening, Mr. Edwards drew one of his largest crowds yet in New Hampshire, some 400 people who filled a V.F.W. hall in Portsmouth to overflowing. He drew strong applause for his vow to diminish the influence of special interests in Washington who he said block legislation favorable to low-income and middle-class Americans.

"Let me tell you what we should do with these Washington lobbyists," he said. "We ought to cut them off at the knees. The truth is these people are stealing your democracy."

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, who moved to Manchester rather than compete in Iowa, called the New Hampshire primary race wide open and talked up his ability to beat Mr. Bush as he spoke to high school students and business leaders. He urged voters to weigh his experience, consistency and predictability.

Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, finally, I would have thought that since Tuesday-it is now Thursday-we would have heard someone on the other side come down and defend stripping these provisions out of the omnibus bill. The silence has been deafening. One would think if they were going to take these out, at least they would have the guts to come down here and explain to the American people why. Why did they take them out? Who took them out? Who asked that they be pulled out? What was the reason, after it had been supported by the Senate and House of Representatives? But all there is is silence-silence-from the Republican side.

That says something, does it not, when we are talking about something which has already been addressed in both Houses, passed in the Senate, passed in the House, and stripped out in the dead of night and there is silence on the other side.

American workers deserve better. We deserve to understand what the process was in taking out this provision that has been passed by the Senate, and the leadership refuses to give us an opportunity to have another vote to put it back in. Why are we not having a vote to be able to restore it? It doesn't take any time. We would agree to half an hour, with time evenly divided. Let's hear them defend the Labor Department's regulation, a regulation that will affect women, a provision that works unfairly against veterans, a regulation that is unfair to firefighters, police, and nurses. Where is the justification? There is silence on the other side.

Mr. REID. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. KENNEDY. Yes, I yield.

Mr. REID. What the Senator is saying-I say in the form of a question-there may be silence on the other side but it is a little hard, with mad cow disease floating across the world and occurring in our country, for me to comprehend how anyone could defend not having country-of-origin labeling in this bill.

The Senator from Massachusetts has been in the Senate for an extended period of time. Madam President, with all of his experience, can he think of any reasonable rationale, logical argument that can be entered to defend their having taken something that passed the House and Senate dealing with country-of-origin labeling, namely, that if you buy a hunk of meat, you should know from where it comes?

In all of the Senator's experience, his ability to articulate as well as anybody in the country today, could he in his mind figure out a way to defend that position?

Mr. KENNEDY. Well, the logic of the Senator's argument is so overwhelming and the common sense of it is so compelling.

Mr. REID. Could I ask another question?

Mr. KENNEDY. Let me complete this. As the Senator remembers, at the time we heard about the mad cow disease, there was not a family in America that was not asking what is the safety in terms of the food we are eating, the meat product our children and our families eat. All America was concerned about it. We have an opportunity to do something about it. We know what can be done about it.

As I hear the Senator from Nevada, it would not take an awful lot of time. I know the Senator's amendment. I do not think it would take more than half an hour to be able to include those provisions that would give the kind of additional health safety protections for the American people. It is not an absolute guarantee for every situation, but it would make a major difference. How long does the Senator think it would take to include those provisions that would provide the country-of-origin protection?

Mr. REID. I disagree strenuously with the Senator about needing half an hour. It could be done in 5 minutes, 2½ minutes on each side. This is so clear cut. The Republicans en masse would vote in favor of this.

This is something that has been directed from 16th and Pennsylvania Avenue. It was done in the dead of night. The Republican leaders did not follow the legislative prerogatives within the Constitution and caved to the President and corporate America.

This would take 5 minutes. We are going to have a chance to vote on this, and when we do, it will overwhelmingly pass.

Mr. KENNEDY. We could do it now, am I correct, or do it if there was agreement?

Mr. REID. We could do it now in 5 minutes. Nobody will oppose it. I dare anybody to come to this floor and oppose what is going on in this country on mad cow. My 13-year-old granddaughter at dinner Monday night asked her little 8-year-old brother, Aiden: Would you like a piece of mad cow? Even children are afraid of this.

Mr. KENNEDY. Well, there you are.

Mr. REID. Could I ask the Senator another question? I apologize. I hope I am not imposing too much.

Relying upon the experience of the Senator from Massachusetts, whom we have all heard on many occasions explain as well as anybody who could on an issue, we have a situation where the President of the United States has indicated for a while now that he wants to take away overtime for millions and millions of Americans, and we, the Congress assembled, the House and the Senate, said we do not want him to do that, and we passed provisions and laws saying he cannot do that.

Again, in the dead of night, the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate caved in to 16th and Pennsylvania Avenue. Now, I ask the Senator from Massachusetts, can he come up with any logical argument as to why the American people should be faced with police officers, firemen, nurses, cooks, paralegals, dental hygienists, social workers not being able to get overtime?

Overtime went into effect during the Depression, 70 years ago. Can the Senator come up with any way anyone could articulate a defense of having this overtime provision in this legislation?

Mr. KENNEDY. The answer is special privilege, special interest. Just to add to what my good friend from Nevada pointed out, the Department of Labor then had the gall to publish suggestions to show American business how to make sure these 8 million were not going to receive the overtime. This is just special interest politics: Mad cow, overtime, power of special interests. These are the similar kinds of interests that denied this institution the opportunity to permit negotiation of drug prices under Medicare. What is in the public interest there? America is finally going to find out the Bush administration is primarily interested in protecting the special interests, not the public interest.

That is what I heard across the various small towns, communities, and farms in Iowa. The American people are beginning to get it and nothing illustrates it more clearly than the proposed overtime change in regulations which so adversely affects not only these 8 million Americans but particularly members of the Armed Forces, returning veterans, and the women in our society.

I yield the floor.

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