JOBS, ENERGY, FAMILIES AND DISASTER RELIEF ACT -- (Senate - July 31, 2008)
Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I have sought recognition to discuss my vote on July 28 against cloture--to end debate--on the motion to proceed to S. 3297, the so-called Reid omnibus bill or ``Coburn package.'' As I stated on the Senate floor Monday, July 28, it is my inclination that the majority leader called for a vote on cloture on proceeding to this bill in order to dislodge the pending legislation on oil speculation. By using his position of power, he seeks to force the Senate to prematurely move away from the No. 1 issue facing the people from my State and the Nation namely energy legislation.
I did not support cloture to move to the Reid omnibus bill not because I do not support many of its provisions, rather because I believe we should complete work on energy legislation before moving on to other matters. Further, I am seeking my right as a U.S. Senator to offer amendments to a bill in a fair and balanced legislative process.
For instance, Senator Kohl and I had a bipartisan amendment prepared to offer to the speculation bill that would have brought OPEC nations under U.S. antitrust laws to prohibit them from meeting in a room, lowering production and supply, and thus raising prices. Unfortunately, this effort was denied by the majority leader's blocking of amendments by filling the so-called amendment tree, disallowing mine and a number of other amendments that ought to be considered.
This procedure is nothing new for this majority leader who has filled the amendment tree on 15 occasions in the current 110th Congress, surpassing all other majority leaders in modern history. As a result of the majority leader's curtailing Senate procedure and amendments, I have been faced with voting against cloture on measures I would have ordinarily supported including this past Saturday's vote on LIHEAP. I have also opposed cloture in instances such as the Lieberman-Warner global warming bill which was considered the first week of June--2 to 6. In that case, the majority leader filled the amendment tree at the first opportunity and filed cloture on the bill without ever allowing consideration of amendments. The 5-day debate culminated in a fait accompli cloture vote that failed on June 6.
Most recently, I voted against cloture to move to the Reid omnibus bill that was a conglomeration of legislation that has been described as non-controversial and may benefit a wide variety of interests. As I stated on the Senate floor on Monday, July 28, I am supportive of most, if not all of the substance in this bill. In fact, I am a cosponsor of six of the items.
I support and have worked to pass a number of the Judiciary Committee-related bills in the proposed omnibus. For example, I am an original cosponsor of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Protection Act, S. 2982, which makes changes in the grant program for centers for runaway youths. I am also a cosponsor of the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Reauthorization and Improvement Act of 2008, S. 2304, which would provide grants for the improved mental health treatment and services provided to offenders with mental illness. In addition, I am a cosponsor of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, S. 535, which authorizes funding to solve pre-1970 civil rights crimes. Moreover, in committee, I supported a Federal commission to commemorate the bicentennial of the writing of the Star-Spangled Banner and the War of 1812, S. 1079.
Additionally, I voted in favor of the following child protection bills which were passed by the Judiciary Committee: The Combating Child Exploitation Act of 2008, S. 1738, which authorizes grants to combat child exploitation; and the Drug Endangered Children Act of 2007, S. 1210, which extends a grant program directed at drug-endangered children.
I directed my staff to work to clear the child exploitation bills from the omnibus package in the same manner I worked to pass the Adam Walsh Act without extraneous add-ons during the 109th Congress. To that end, my staff worked with Senator Coburn's staff to draft a proposed compromise child exploitation bill that includes the key provisions of the child pornography and exploitation legislation in the proposed omnibus, as well as important legislation to strengthen the powers of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the SAFE Act, which was omitted from the omnibus bill.
My support is also invested in efforts to maintain the natural beauty of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed while simultaneously preserving its resources for the communities it serves. S. 2707, The Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Water Trails Network Continuing Authorization Act, will permanently authorize appropriations for these vital programs. I cosponsored this legislation because I believe it is a critical organization whose mission to protect the bay is vital for the communities affected by this watershed.
Another environmental act I have fervently supported and of which I am an original cosponsor, is S. 496, the Appalachian Regional Development Act Amendments of 2008. The bill renews the Appalachian Regional Commission for 5 years--2007-2011--and authorizes $510 million to be appropriated over that timeframe for the Commission's economic development activities in distressed rural counties.
Numerous health care provisions I have worked hard for can also be found in this package, including S. 1382, which establishes a registry of those suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The registry will gather data about those who are diagnosed with the disease to better understand and research the illness. As Ranking Member of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education--LHHS--Appropriations Subcommittee, I support research and an ALS registry. I worked to provide $39 million for NIH research of ALS in 2008 and $2.8 million to plan the ALS registry.
I am also a cosponsor of S. 1183, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, to expand paralysis research at the National Institutes of Health, NIH, and set up a network to allow patients and their families to quickly learn the result of clinical trials on paralysis rehabilitation drugs. The LHHS fiscal year 2008 appropriations bill provided $64 million for NIH spinal cord research.
The package also included bills, H.R. 3112, S. 1810 intended to create a new Federal grant program to pay for information and support services regarding Down syndrome and other prenatally or postnatally diagnosed conditions. While awaiting these authorization bills, I have worked with Senator Harkin to get a jump start on these much-needed activities by including $1 million to establish the congenital disabilities program in the fiscal year 2009 Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations bill. In addition, the Labor-HHS Subcommittee provided almost $1 million to the CDC in fiscal year 2009 for awareness activities related to Down syndrome.
One of the bills, H.R. 477, would permit the issuing of grants to states for stroke care systems. As ranking member of the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee, I have worked to increase CDC funding for heart disease and stroke activities in the States to over $50 million and NIH funding for stroke research to over $340 million in fiscal year 2008.
Another bill, S 1375, would establish a grant program for services to mothers suffering from postpartum depression. As ranking member of the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee, I have worked with Chairman Harkin to include $4.9 million for a first-time motherhood initiative within the maternal and child health block grant.
I also support S. 675, the Training for Realtime Writers Act of 2007. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires 100 percent closed captioning for all new English broadcast programming by January 1, 2006. That deadline has come and gone. There are not enough real time writers and captioners to meet this unfunded mandate out in the workforce. Furthermore, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires 100 percent closed captioning for all new Spanish broadcast programming by January 1, 2010. America is very far from achieving this goal. S. 675 will assist with training the workforce to provide closed captioning for the 30 million Americans who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
I support H.R. 3320, the Support for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews Act of 2007, which requires assistance from the Department of State to support the development of a permanent collection at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland. It is in the national interest of the United States to encourage the preservation and protection of artifacts associated with the heritage of U.S. citizens who trace their forbearers to other countries and to encourage the collection and dissemination of knowledge about that heritage. Most recently, I traveled to Poland on August 27, 2007, and observed fist hand the importance of museums that examine Poland in WW II, specifically the Polish uprising and the Home Army. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews will complement the current museum facilities in Warsaw by preserving and presenting the history of the Jewish people in Poland, which had the largest Jewish population in Europe at the beginning of World War II.
Having outlined a number of priorities and areas of support I have with this omnibus bill, let the record show that I support the package as a whole. However, as evidenced by my vote against cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill, I believe the energy situation is too important to set aside until we have completed or frankly even started our work on it by allowing amendments to be considered. It has been said on this floor that explaining opposition to this omnibus bill to our constituents will be difficult. While this premonition may have some merit, I trust that the people of Pennsylvania and the Nation will support efforts to deal with high energy prices and encouraging the kind of open and fair debate that leads to better policies across the board.
I reinitiate my suggestion that the Senate stay in session during the month of August, if the majority leader would hold a legitimate session that provides the kind of deliberation that has led many to call the U.S. Senate ``the greatest deliberative body in the world.'' Members of this body should be prepared to work as long and hard as necessary in order to reach a solution to the energy crisis not based upon political appeasement, but results. It is time we allow debate and compromise to reverberate through this chamber as we find areas of agreement in the best tradition of the Senate.