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Providing for Consideration of H.R. 2609, Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2014

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. POLIS. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I thank the gentleman for yielding me the customary 30 minutes.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to the underlying bill, H.R. 2609, the fiscal year 2014 Energy and Water Appropriations Act.

Having this bill on the floor this week is another example of how we, as a body, our Congress, has its priorities wrong. It's why Congress has an approval rating of 12 percent.

Rather than fixing our broken immigration system and replacing it with one that works for our country, rather than doing something about the fact that student loan rates just doubled for students that are incurring new loans, here we are sacrificing our renewable energy future while simultaneously increasing spending for new and unneeded nuclear weapons far above even the sequestration level of funding.

It's no wonder this institution has the disapproval rating that it does.

This legislation is fundamentally flawed. It underfunds programs that not only grow our Nation's clean energy sources but also create jobs, promote emerging technologies, and maintain critical infrastructure. Yet, while making these cuts, it increases weapons activities by $97.7 million above the 2013 enacted levels. Here we have a bill that prioritizes unnecessary weapons and defense programs at the expense of our Nation's innovation and international competitiveness.

The underlying bill slashes program funding for a valuable program called the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E. Yesterday, in our Rules Committee, both the ranking member and the subcommittee chair agreed that they were fans of this critical program; yet it cuts funding by $215 million below last year's funding level. ARPA-E was modeled after DARPA, the Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has led to so many great, innovative technologies that improve our security as a country. In its few short years of existence, ARPA-E has funded 285 projects in 33 States that promise to transform the energy future for our country.

ARPA-E's rigorous program design and competitive project selection process show that our taxpayer dollars are being used wisely, and the program has paid off. Since 2009, at least 17 ARPA-E programs have leveraged the government's small initial investment of approximately $70 million into what is typically $500,000, $1 million, or up to $2 million in private sector capital.

I was a founder of several startup companies before I came to Congress, and I understand the value of risk-taking and the role the government has in promoting innovation in basic technology. I represent a district with two major research universities that receive a combined Federal research investment of about $700 million. Many of these basic technologies which we as a country invest in lead to the jobs and the companies and the consumer technologies of the future. And what could be more critical than putting our Nation on a path to sustainable energy development?

Just this last February, I met with an ARPA-E project team from my district. Within the first year of receiving ARPA-E funding, this University of Colorado project team has demonstrated important energy yield improvements and cost-reducing potential in solar photovoltaic power systems. That's an example of an ARPA-E project that will help boost our economic well-being as a country and lead to our energy independence and national security far more than a few more unneeded nuclear missiles.

My colleagues on both sides of the aisle know that this program is essential to protecting our energy future; and that's why this program, ARPA-E, has been lauded by Democrats and Republicans alike, as it was in our Rules Committee yesterday evening.

Mr. Speaker, this bill also disproportionately cuts from science and clean energy programs while bolstering wasteful spending for fossil fuel subsidies, continuing to have our country subsidize oil and gas, to subsidizing nuclear weapons, while making cuts in our energy future. By maintaining these fossil fuel subsidies while cutting clean energy research, we're prioritizing fossil fuels over innovative technologies that actually hold the key to our clean, sustainable energy independence.

While I appreciate that this bill has some decreases to the amount of Federal subsidies going to the fossil fuel accounts compared to last year--and I think it's high time that we end these subsidies to one of America's most profitable industries--the report language from the committee seems to be searching for a reason to spend our precious taxpayer dollars at a time of sequestration and at a time of deficits. How can we spend more on fossil fuels when we should be spending less?

In addition, this bill needlessly increases the funding for weapons activities and defense programs at a time when we're winding down our involvement in two wars that have been very costly in lives and dollars in this last decade. That's why I'm offering an amendment with Representative Quigley that would reduce the B61 Life Extension Program back to the agency's request level, which would save $23.7 million in taxpayer dollars and reduce the deficit. This bill actually increases funding by over $20 million for these ongoing missile programs in an era where Americans should expect our government to be more transparent about how this money is invested.

While some of these missiles represent a strategic commitment we have to our NATO allies, there have been growing concerns raised by the Air Force's own Blue Ribbon Review Panel about the effectiveness and security vulnerabilities of the B61. That's why the price for this program has continued to rise dramatically and confidence in the missile program has dropped. In fact, some of our NATO allies, like Germany, have actually called for the B61s to be removed from their borders.

Again, given our fiscal constraints, it's a time of choices. It's not to have it all, but I think we need to ensure that taxpayer money is not wasted on programs that fail to sufficiently protect our national security and that in fact some of our allies don't even support.

Another unneeded increase in this funding bill, throwing more government money after more government money, is for the W76 Life Extension Program. The current bill requests $248 million--$13 million more than the administration requested--because of a fear of a lack of nuclear deterrence capability if we reduce our stockpile below the levels required in the New START Treaty. To put that in perspective, the START Treaty requires us to have no more than 1,550 nuclear weapons. Isn't that enough, Mr. Speaker? How many times can we completely obliterate not only our enemies but the entire world with 1,500 weapons?

Even this lower stockpile of nuclear weapons is, frankly, a relic of our foreign policy during the Cold War and can be drastically reduced. Unfortunately, this bill increased it. In fact, the Arms Control Association identified over $39 billion in savings to the taxpayer if it reduced our nuclear weapons stockpile to 1,000 nuclear weapons--more than enough to deter any threat to the United States, more than enough to obliterate humanity from the planet. We can save $39 billion by going down to 1,000 nuclear weapons.

These are some of the many reasons why I oppose the underlying bill. I'm very supportive of this rule coming forward from our committee that will allow for a full and open debate. I hope that many of these ideas that I have presented, as well as other ideas from Members on both sides of the aisle, will prevail so the end work product of this House is something that Democrats and Republicans can join together in supporting--something that no longer sacrifices our renewable energy future for yet more and more nuclear weapons today.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. POLIS. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

To further address the student loan issue, this body did pass a bill to prevent the increase in the student loan rates that just occurred. However, that bill--a very similar bill--failed in the Senate. So the Kline bill failed in the Senate. So, too, a Democratic bill to provide a 2-year extension of the student loan rates also failed in the Senate.

So at this point, the victims of all this are students in our country who are going back to school and will be forced to borrow at twice the rate--6.8 percent--if Congress can't get its act together. And that's why if we defeat the previous question, I'll offer an amendment to the rule to bring up H.R. 2574, the Keeping Student Loans Affordable Act, sponsored by Representative George Miller, Representative Rubén Hinojosa, myself, and several others, which would undue the recent doubling of student loan interest rates.

It's that simple. While we work towards a market-oriented solution along the parameters President Obama has spelled out, making sure we have the protections in place like caps for students everywhere, we need to at least make sure that students returning to school this fall are not borrowing at a rate twice the rate of last year.

To discuss this bill, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Hinojosa), my colleague on the Education and Workforce Committee.


Mr. POLIS. Again, to respond to that, the bill that the House passed failed in the United States Senate. So, too, did a 2-year delay in keeping the student loan rates low; that has failed in the Senate. So we can simply say, oh, we're just not going to do anything and let student loan rates double, or we can take it upon ourselves in this body to try to find a new way. That's what the Democrats and Ranking Member Miller have put forward, a way to say, look, we couldn't agree on 2 years, we couldn't agree on a long-term solution. Let's give us a 1-year window where the kids coming back to school in a month aren't going to be borrowing at twice the rate that they were last year.

We have the chief sponsor of the bill here to speak about it. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from California (Mr. George Miller), the ranking member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce.


Mr. POLIS. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I might consume.

I thank the gentleman. I just know that there have been less speakers on the other side, and I was hoping that we might be able to use some of the ``all kinds of time'' in a bipartisan way.

The gentleman from Texas was not accurate in saying that the House bill awaits action in the Senate. It had a vote in the Senate; it did not pass. So, too, a 2-year extension did not reach the cloture vote.

So, again, here we are. We can either start blaming each other--the folks on the other side of the building--or we can actually do something and get to work to keep student loan rates low for America's college students.

And of course Democrats are open to tying something into market-based rates; President Obama even proposed such. So, if that's what the gentleman wants to do, let's engage in a discussion about that. In the meantime, let's pass a 1-year extension so the rates don't double--which they already did 2 weeks ago--when the kids come back to school in the fall.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Andrews), a leader on this issue and a colleague of mine on the Education and the Workforce Committee.


Mr. POLIS. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Again, we wonder why this body has an approval rating of 12 percent. Instead of tackling issues that Americans want us to tackle--like finally fixing our broken immigration system, which, by the way, a bill received more than two-thirds support in the Senate, Democrats and Republicans. It's hard to get two-thirds of anybody to agree on anything, and yet 70 percent of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform, two-thirds of the United States Senate. Let's bring that bill up and pass it.

Student loans? Sure, we can cast blame on the Senate. We can cast blame on whomever we feel like. But the fact is American families are borrowing at 6.8 percent instead of 3.4 percent--now, this fall, student loans. So we can either just say, okay, it's not our fault, we passed something, let's go home, or we can actually try to reach a solution.

If we can defeat the previous question today, we can bring Representative MILLER's bill right to the floor to allow a 1-year window for Congress to work this out and keep the student loan rate at 3.4 percent and prevent our next generation of college kids from having their backs broken under the weight of high-interest student loans.

Mr. Speaker, with regard to this bill--again, not the bill that America wants us to be discussing; instead, a bill that cuts our renewable energy future, puts even more money into nuclear weapons--I can't support this committee report on the energy and water spending bill. I hope that through this process the will of the House changes this bill dramatically. If not, then we're simply making the wrong decisions for our energy future.

The bill slashes critical funding that would create jobs, grow our economy, lead to energy security, and increase our competitiveness. At the same time, the bill adds spending to increase our nuclear weapons stockpiles.

How can we expect to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists if we cut the nuclear nonproliferation activities by $600 million under this bill?

While the bill increases funding for our weapons programs and continues funding for fossil fuel subsidies, it guts many of our renewable energy programs, like ARPA-E, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and investing in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

This bill threatens to increase our reliance on foreign oil, reduce job growth, increase pollution, and damage the health of American families. If we don't act to reverse this legislation's deep cuts to science programs and energy research, the United States will have many, many missiles armed with nuclear warheads, but we will fall behind our global competitors who are investing heavily in renewable and next-generation energy technologies.

I strongly urge that we defeat the previous question. I urge a ``no'' vote on the underlying bill, and I yield back the balance of my time.


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