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District Of Columbia House Voting Rights Act Of 2009 - Motion To Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I have participated this afternoon in the summit held by President Obama to examine the financial status of the Nation. When the President spoke, as did the Vice President and other economists, the emphasis was on the large deficit which our Nation faces. The President spoke about his plans to cut the deficit in half by the year he finishes his first term. There were then breakout sessions. I participated in a session which dealt with the subject of health care.

There was a consensus among those present at the session that the cost of health care imposed the greatest problem for the deficit as we look to the future years. My suggestions related to savings which I think are possible on our health care system beginning with the cost of Medicare.

A study shows that some 27 percent of health care costs are incurred in the last few hours, few days, few weeks of a person's life. No one should tell anyone else what to do with respect to terminal health care costs, but I do believe it is fair to ask people to think about that and to make a decision in a living will.

Another suggestion on health care costs would involve prosecutions on white-collar crimes which involve health care, where there is a real opportunity for deterrence. My experience as a district attorney showed me that you cannot deal with deterrence when you are talking about domestic violence, but if you are talking about white-collar crime, you can.

While on the Judiciary Committee, I have raised the issue on a number of occasions about the need to carry forward white-collar prosecutions looking toward jail sentences instead of fines. There was recently a case involving Siemens which was not a medical issue but a case involving a $1.7 billion fine which seems large, except when measured against an $87 billion income stream.

The point is that fines are a license to do business and to violate the public trust, but jail sentences could serve as a deterrent.

Beyond those suggestions on savings, the increase in the National Institutes of Health, which has been raised from about $12 billion to almost $30 billion in the decade between the mid-1990s and the first half of the decade of this century, showed tremendous savings which have been registered on stroke, on cancer, from the reduction in the death rate. The additional $10 billion added recently is a further effort along the promotion of those savings.

Beyond the issue of research and savings through the National Institutes of Health, there is the benefit of savings from lifestyle. Recently with a bout of Hodgkin's, I have even modified further the exercise pattern I have had for decades as a squash player, eliminated sugar from the diet, looking for antioxidants. This is an issue where there could be a modest investment by the Federal Government which could pay great dividends.

The final suggestion I had was on trying to use the Wyden-Bennett plan which has 14 cosponsors, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, to utilize Wyden-Bennett as a starting point for a serious discussion in the Senate to cover the 47 million-plus Americans who are now not covered, modeled after the Massachusetts plan put in by former Governor Romney, with the Federal assistance for those at the lower end of the economic brackets.


Mr. President, Senator Biden was one of the participants at the economic summit. Seeing and talking to him brought to mind recollections of his outstanding career in public life.

When there were comments on the Senate floor last month about Senator Biden in recognition of his 36 years in the Senate, I was engaged in the proceedings on the confirmation of Attorney General Holder and did not have an opportunity to participate. I thought it appropriate, having just come from conversations with Senator Biden, to comment on his extraordinary career. I first knew of Senator Biden when he ran for the Senate back in 1972. I was very much impressed with many facets of Senator Biden's resume, but one caught my attention; that is, that he was 29 years old in 1972 when he ran for the Senate, and I knew that the Constitution placed the minimum age at 30.

Senator Biden was elected, but he turned 30 between election day and inauguration day. That started a phenomenal Senate career. My first direct contact with Senator Biden came in a curious way. Shortly after coming to the Senate on a Friday, I had made plans to catch the 6 o'clock train, thinking that the Senate would be adjourned by that time. But the final vote did not begin until 8 minutes to 6. I called up my executive secretary Sylvia Nolde and said: Will you change my ticket to the 7 o'clock train. She responded, having been secretary to Senator Javits for many years, that she could hold the train for 5 minutes. I did not know that was a possible problem under Federal law, but the statute has run so I can speak freely about it at this point.

I went to the train station, got on the 6 o'clock train a little late, and a few minutes later, a huffing and puffing Senator Joe Biden walked into the car and approached me and said: I ran the three blocks from the Senate to Union Station. Running through the lobby, I hurdled a few baby carriages.

I do not think he knocked down anybody, but they were at risk. He jumped over the barrier and was running down the track to the train when a conductor stopped him, threw up his hand and said: Slow down, bud, there is a Senator coming.

Senator Biden then said to me: You have been in the Senate about 8 days, I have been here 8 years. How did you figure out how to catch the train in this manner?

Senator Biden and I, on the Judiciary Committee, have worked on a great many sensitive issues together. I cosponsored his landmark legislation protecting women against violence. We worked together on the Second Chance Act, which was signed into law last year, which provides for realistic rehabilitation for first offenders, juveniles, and second offenders, to try to stop the revolving door of recidivism. We have worked together on supporting special funding for the so-called COPS Program for putting more police on the street; have worked together on many civil rights issues, and many of the programs to support Amtrak.

When I was elected in 1980 and we faced our first budget resolution, there was an effort made to zero out Amtrak. Senator Howard Baker, who was then the majority leader, scheduled a meeting with David Stockman, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. A fair number of Senators from the Northeast Corridor met him at that time, Senator D'Amato and Senator Heinz and quite a few of us who were regulars on the Amtrak line, and knew of its importance. When David Stockman advanced the argument that we could deal without the Amtrak subsidy, I pointed out that we would not be able to get through the Baltimore tunnels without Amtrak, you would not be able to land at National Airport. We kept the funding going. Largely over the years we were in a collaboration, and Senator Biden was a key participant.

During his work on the Judiciary Committees as chairman, he presided at landmark hearings in a very dignified and professional way. During the hearings on Judge Robert Bork for the Supreme Court back in 1987, Senator Biden was the chairman. One Friday afternoon we were not quite finished with the hearing. That was on September 18. I remember the day, because the day before I traveled with President Reagan to Philadelphia for the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. The Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787. The 200th anniversary had occurred the day before.

I had not had a chance to question Judge Bork on that day. Senator Biden approached me late in the afternoon and asked me how much more time I needed. He was not going to be there the next day and had delegated the chairmanship, or asked Senator Kennedy to take over the chairmanship responsibilities--I should not say delegated; Senator Kennedy himself had been chairman. When he asked me how much time I needed, I paused for a minute, and he said: Well, how about a half hour? I continued to pause, thinking about it. Taking time to think about it sometimes is viewed as a violation of Senate ethics. He said: OK, how about an hour? I still paused. He said: How about an hour and a half?

I said: OK, that should do it. Then Senator Thurmond, who was the ranking Republican, came over to me, and in Strom Thurmond's inimitable Southern accent--while it is inimitable, I will try to imitate it--he said: You want an hour and a half on Bork.

Translated, means: Do you want an hour and a half on Bork?

And I said: No, sir, I do not want an hour and a half on Bork, I want to question him until I finish.

OK, you can have your hour and a half on Bork.

Translated: OK, you can have your hour and a half on Bork. The next day, I took the hour and a half.

Senator Biden did another professional job in many of the hearings, but again I particularize the one on Justice Clarence Thomas. There was a question as to whether the Judiciary Committee ought to have access to the Thomas rentals from the video store, and Senator Biden took the position that that was not an appropriate matter for inquiry.

Then we had a second witness who came up at the very last minute, and Senator Biden presided over the very delicate matter of making a determination as to whether that witness ought to be called at the last minute.

I notice my distinguished colleague, Senator Casey, has arrived for a little proceeding as to William T. Coleman, Jr. Since it is now 4 o'clock, when he was scheduled to arrive, I will terminate within the next few minutes.

Senator Biden had a very serious health problem with an aneurysm, very serious operations in the early 1990s. When I had a serious operation on a mengionoma, a brain tumor, I returned to the Senate with a big bandage on my head for the confirmation hearing of Justice Ginsburg. Senator Biden was chairman and greeted me with a welcome to the entry of the cracked head club, rather a unique distinction to be called out on the so-called cracked head club.

Senator Biden was elected to a sixth term last November. It is quite a record to be a six-term Senator, 36 years in the Senate, at the age of 66. His tenure on that term was very short. He was sworn in on January 4 and left 16 days later to become Vice President, where he now serves with distinction. I believe his years in the Senate will add greatly to the stature and competency of the Office of Vice President. His work as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee will stand the country in very good stead as he travels around the world, supplementing the work of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, another former colleague, and the work of the special envoys, as well as his detailed knowledge of the inner workings of Government from his very distinguished service.

I am glad to have a few minutes on the Senate floor to extoll the virtues of a very good friend, an outstanding colleague, and a great Senator. He will be a great Vice President.

I yield the floor.


Mr. SPECTER. Madam President, on an unrelated item, I note there is on the desk S. 160, ``a bill to provide the District of Columbia a voting seat and the State of Utah an additional seat in the House of Representatives.'' I would like to be added as an additional cosponsor, with a very brief statement that I think it is long past due to have a voting seat for the District of Columbia with its 700,000 population. As a matter of basic democratic fairness, they ought to be represented in the U.S. House. So I ask unanimous consent that I be added as an original cosponsor.


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