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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COONS. Mr. President, I rise to share a feeling that many in my home State have expressed to me. I rise to share my frustration.
It is not just the frustration you may feel, as I have felt presiding over this body, when for hours at a time it is empty, when there is such precious and important work that we can and should be doing to get the people of this great country back to work, to strengthen our national security, to lay the groundwork for a strong recovery, to deal with the hundreds of issues this body should be dealing with. I am expressing my frustration at our inability to work together and to make real progress.

Today, I have had the blessing of being visited by a number of Delawareans for lunch, for business visits, for just some constituent catchup. As I do almost every day, I commuted down from Delaware this morning. As I have heard from folks on the train, as I have heard from folks in my office, as I have heard from folks who have written and called my offices in Delaware and in Washington, they are puzzled and they are frustrated. They don't understand why we can't move forward.

To paraphrase the good Senator from Missouri who just spoke, there is a no-brainer right in front of us, and it is the extension of the payroll tax cut. It is something that at least apparently has the support of both parties in both Houses. It is something a number of economists have said is an important contributor to the modest but steady economic growth that is helping pull America out of this terrible great recession.

So I ask: Why is it we sit here stalled, unclear on when we can proceed to a vote, to a consideration of a clean payroll tax cut? There have been a whole series of efforts to get us to the floor for a vote to an extension of the payroll tax cut. This is a simple enough matter.

Working Americans all over this country--I believe 160 million of them--will be hit with an increase in their payroll tax rate at the end of this month, just a few days now away, unless we act. My good friend Senator Casey of Pennsylvania has suggested several versions of a payroll tax cut that would build upon and strengthen the payroll tax cut that the President proposed and this body passed last year. The Casey compromise that has most recently been considered and debated in this body would put up to $1,500 in the pockets of hard-working Americans all over this country and would contribute as much as 1.5 percent to GDP growth in the coming year. But in the last 2 weeks, we have seen our colleagues on the other side of the aisle four times block our efforts through filibusters and dilatory tactics to attempt to get to a payroll tax cut extension. The first Republican version was opposed by 26 Senate Republicans; the second version opposed by 25.

So on some level I have to ask, what are we doing? Since when do Republicans openly oppose tax cuts? I have been in this Senate just over 1 year. As you know, I was sworn in last November. In my freshman year, I have seen many moments when we have been unable to reach reasonable compromise, when we have been unable to move forward, and when we have flirted with having to shut down the whole Federal Government because we couldn't reach an appropriate compromise with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle. Now we, once again, stand here this Wednesday, knowing that unless we can act in partnership, we will shut down this government on Friday without a continuing resolution.

Last night, the House acted. They passed this payroll tax cut extension and sent it over to us, and I am puzzled as to why we are not moving to it on the floor today. I will tell you that when we get to move to it, I will vote against it, and I know many others here will as well. Why? Because H.R. 3630, which passed the House last night, is not just a clean extension of the payroll tax cut bill--in fact, far from it. It is loaded with a whole series of other policy riders, things that have nothing to do with the payroll tax cut extension which House leadership had to do in order to garner enough votes to move it.

Today we should be considering this bill sent to us last night, the Speaker asking us to take it up, and it has a whole series of provisions which I suspect many here and at home don't know about. I will briefly consider a few of them.

It undermines health care reform by punishing low- and middle-income families whose economic circumstances changed during the year. It cuts 40 weeks of unemployment benefits from the 99 weeks we would like to extend to 54 weeks.

It overrides the President's decisionmaking process on the Keystone XL Pipeline--in my view, simply to embarrass the President--and it amends the Clean Air Act to block EPA's proposed rules on toxic air pollution from industrial boilers.

It would also freeze Federal pay through 2013 and impose a triple contribution, mandatory contribution to Federal retirement programs, effectively cutting Federal employee pay and taking more than $53 billion out of the pockets of Federal workers.

To me, in some ways most alarmingly, it allows States to impose drug-testing requirements on employees who have lost their jobs and are seeking unemployment.

In short, what came over to us from the House last night is the furthest thing possible from a clean extension of the payroll tax cut. It is a payroll tax cut with rider after rider sitting on the back of this horse that has weighed it down so greatly, it can clearly hardly move. It is a terrible bill, and in my view we should move to it, dispose of it, and get back to the business of the country.

Last, I am puzzled as to why we are not proceeding to it. My recollection--and I don't have the joy of sitting here on the floor all the time, but my recollection from what I read and heard is that the Republican leader has twice called on us to move to this bill. I believe he did so twice earlier this week, saying we should put partisanship aside and promptly take up whatever is sent over to us from the House by way of a payroll tax cut extension. I think I quote when I say his comment was:

I think the first thing we need to find out is whether there are the votes in the Senate to pass what the House has passed. And so I'd rather not speculate about what happens later. I'm hoping we are spending our time and energy trying to get this bill passed in the Senate, as well as in the House.

That is a perfectly reasonable attitude. We should proceed to this bill. We are here. We have the bill. We have been waiting almost literally the entire day without making any progress. We need to extend tax cuts for payrolls. We need to extend tax cuts that incentivize clean energy investments. We need to extend tax cuts that can help inspire innovation, research, and development.

There is a whole list of tax cuts that will expire at the end of this year without action. We need to pass the National Defense Authorization Act. We need to pass a continuing resolution to fund this government and the rest of this year's appropriations bills. There are so many important bills to which we must turn.

My sole question is, why, when we tried to proceed to this bill this morning, did the Republican leader object?

I am just a freshman, but I represent a State that is deeply frustrated and puzzled. Since when do Republicans load up a tax cut extension with so many riders that they are afraid to even bring it to a vote on the floor of this Chamber? I am puzzled. I am frustrated.

With that, I yield the floor.


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