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Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act of 2014

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


I rise to discuss and present amendment No. 2931 to the bill before us. This is a germane amendment. It is all about the substance of the bill before us and it is a fully bipartisan proposal, since all of the substance of this amendment was actually contained in the President's most recent budget submission.

The amendment idea is very simple: It would prohibit unemployment insurance and disability double-dipping. Those are two different things. One is about somebody who is temporarily unable to find work, still looking for work, clearly able to work. That is unemployment insurance. Disability is fundamentally different, somebody who is disabled and because of that disability cannot work on a long-term basis.

So, as President Obama has proposed, as many Republicans have proposed, this would simply prohibit an individual from receiving both of those benefits at the same time, and would save about $1 billion over 10 years. That is President Obama's own estimation.

To fully present and consider this, I would ask unanimous consent that it be in order for me to offer my amendment No. 2931.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Is there objection?

The majority leader.

Mr. REID. Reserving the right to object, Mr. President, we have had millions of people over the last many months who have lost their unemployment benefits. In most instances it is real tragic. Many of the people who lost these benefits are past middle age. Because of the recession they lost their jobs they had for a long time and they cannot find work.

We have read into the Record the tragic stories about people using their Social Security to try to save their son's home. We have the woman who is couch surfing. She said, "I didn't know what the term meant. Now I know.'' They have had to struggle without extended unemployment benefits.

The senior Senator from Rhode Island has negotiated a bipartisan fix to this. It has basically given the Republicans everything they asked for. Everything is paid for. There is no disagreement as to the pay-fors. It hasn't increased the deficit at all. In fact, it would stimulate the economy significantly.

We have been told by economist Mark Zandi, John McCain's chief economic advisor when he ran for President, we have been told by him and others that unemployment benefits stimulate the economy quicker and faster and more efficiently than any other thing we do, because they are desperate for money and they spend it.

But in spite of the bipartisan agreement negotiated with Senator Jack Reed, Senator Heller from Nevada and other Republicans, we have the vast majority of Republican Senators doing the same thing they have done for a long time. They respond in their usual way. When they face a bill they are trying to kill, they try to change the subject--diversion.

Now already on this piece of legislation before the Senate today we have more than 24 amendments that have been filed by Republicans dealing with ObamaCare alone, in spite of the fact--in spite of the fact--that yesterday it was announced that there are 7.1 million people who have already signed up. That doesn't count the 14 State exchanges that will get another 900,000, it is estimated, plus the 2-week extension in which hundreds of thousands more will sign up.

They are tone deaf. They have got to go to some other issue. But they cannot. There are more than two dozen amendments on this bill alone dealing with ObamaCare, repealing it in different ways.

Several other amendments have been singled out that we have before the body to attack the administration's efforts to protect the environment. The protests of Republican Senators to the contrary notwithstanding, these amendments show that the other side of the aisle is not serious about unemployment insurance benefits. They are more concerned about protecting the Koch brothers. This is the behavior of Senators who want to kill something, who want to kick up enough dust so they don't get blamed for what they are trying to do. What are they trying to do? Kill extended unemployment benefits.

So I object.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The objection is heard.

The Senator from Louisiana.

Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I am going to repeat my request, because apparently the majority leader, based on his comments, didn't understand it.

I have an amendment that is about unemployment insurance. I have an amendment that is germane to the bill. It is not about ObamaCare, not about EPA, not about the Koch brothers. I have an amendment that is a proposal contained in President Obama's last two budgets. My amendment has nothing to do with any of the comments and objections he makes. For that reason I am trying to clarify that, and I would again ask unanimous consent that my germane amendment proposed by President Obama in his last two budgets be in order, and it be in order for me to offer my amendment No. 2931.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Is there objection?

Mr. REID. Reserving the right to object, I clearly understood the diversion-and-delay tactics of my friend from Louisiana, and I object.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The objection is heard.

Mr. VITTER. Well, Mr. President, reclaiming the floor, I think it is very unfortunate. I don't know why it is diversionary to talk about the substance that is before us in this bill. That is not changing the subject, I would say through the Chair to the majority leader; that is talking about the subject. I don't know why it is delaying anything to consider an amendment during the time set aside for this bill. That is not delaying anything. That is doing the business of the Senate by bringing valid ideas to the floor and offering them as an amendment, and I don't know why it is Republican obstructionism to have an amendment that is a proposal contained in President Obama's last two budgets.

So again, I would make the point that everything the majority leader said in objecting to my being even able to present my amendment for a vote doesn't apply to my amendment. It is complete nonsense. It is just talking past the substance of this amendment which is about unemployment insurance reform and which is a bipartisan proposal and which is included in the President's last two budgets.

This is an important and commonsense reform. It is common sense because eligibility for the two programs we are talking about is mutually exclusive. It is apples and oranges. Disability is designed to assist folks who are physically or mentally unable to work for a significant period of time, sometimes permanently. Unemployment insurance, in contrast, is intended to replace some of the earnings for those individuals who become unemployed and are unable to find work temporarily.

It is an oversight, a technical imperfection in the law, the fact that some limited number of folks can double-dip and get both at the same time. This is widely recognized on a bipartisan basis.

On the Republican side, of course, I have this amendment. Senator Coburn, my colleague from Oklahoma, has had similar proposals. Senator Portman, my colleague from Ohio, has had similar proposals.

On the Democratic side, there is no higher ranking Democrat I can possibly cite than President Obama. The President has included this reform--exactly this reform--in his last two budget proposals. I have never heard any articulation from any Democrat or any Member of the Senate why this reform doesn't make sense.

The majority leader, while objecting to my even being able to present this amendment for a vote, offered no such rationale. He talked past it. He talked about the Koch brothers and he talked about EPA and he talked about ObamaCare, instead of talking about my germane, commonsense bipartisan reform amendment to this bill, which has been included--this proposal--in President Obama's last two budgets.

So I find this very unfortunate, but I am going to continue to fight for a vote on this amendment. It will improve the bill, whatever you think about the bill. This will improve it.

This will save $1 billion over 10 years. This will clear up the double dipping which was never intended and contrary to the fundamental different purposes of the last of the two programs, and this will advance a proposal that has been included in President Obama's last two budgets.


Madam President, I rise to try to advance important legislation to fully authorize 27 Veterans Affairs clinics around the country in 18 different States, in communities that desperately need these facilities for our veterans, including two in Louisiana, Lafayette and Lake Charles.

These clinics have been on the books, planned for, approved for quite a while. Unfortunately, they ran into several bureaucratic glitches and hurdles. In the case of our two clinics in Louisiana, the first thing was a flatout mistake, a screwup at the VA, which they fully admit to. They made some errors in the contract letting process. Because of that, they had to stop that entire bidding process and back up and start all over.

That basically cost us 1 year in terms of those vital community-based clinics in Lafayette and Lake Charles. Then, as they were into that year of delay, out of the blue the Congressional Budget Office decided to score these sorts of clinics in a different way than they ever did before. That created a scoring issue with regard to all 27 of these clinics in 18 States.

On a bipartisan basis, a number of us went to work on that issue to clear that up. We have solved that issue, and the House has put a bill together with strong bipartisan support--virtually unanimous support--and has passed the bill that resolved that issue.

It came to the Senate. I reached out to all of my colleagues. There were a few concerns, and I addressed those concerns proactively by finding savings in other parts of the budget to off-balance, counteract any possible costs of this bill, and so we added that amendment to that proposal. Through all of that hard work, we have addressed all of the substantive concerns with moving forward on these 27 clinics.

I have been trying to pass this bill with an amendment at the desk so that these 27 clinics can move forward as expeditiously as possible. As I said, every substantive concern about this bill, as it would be amended, has been met--everybody's concerns, conservatives, moderates, liberals.

The only objection to the bill now is from the distinguished Senator from Vermont, who, quite frankly, wants to hold it hostage, wants to object to it, simply to try to advance his much broader veterans bill which he brought to the floor and was unsuccessful in passing several weeks ago. While I appreciate the Senator's passion on this issue--I appreciate his legislation and his focus on it--the problem is that legislation does have many Senators with concerns about it, including me. Forty-three Senators, forty-three percent of the overall Senate, 43 out of 100, have serious, substantive concerns with that much broader bill.

In contrast to that, no one in the Senate has substantive concerns with my narrower bill with regard to 27 VA clinics around the country.

I simply suggest that we agree on important matters we can agree on; we use that to begin to build consensus to move forward constructively, do what we can agree on, and continue to work on that on which there is some disagreement.

In that spirit, I come to the floor again to ask unanimous consent that the Veterans' Affairs Committee be discharged from further consideration of the narrow veterans clinics bill I was referring to, H.R. 3521, and the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration; that my amendment, which is at the desk, which I also referred to, be agreed to; that the bill, as amended, be read a third time and passed, and the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?

The Senator from Vermont.

Mr. SANDERS. Reserving the right to object, I thank my colleague from Louisiana for coming to the floor today to talk about, in fact, an important issue.

Before I respond to him directly, I did want to comment he is right, there were 43 Members of the Senate who voted against what is regarded as the most comprehensive veterans legislation to have been introduced in several decades, legislation that was supported by virtually every veterans organization in the country, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Gold Star Wives, and dozens and dozens of other veterans organizations.

If I might point out that while my colleague from Louisiana is, of course, right that there were 43 Senators who voted no, he neglected to mention that there were 56 Senators who voted yes. There was one Senator who was absent on that day who would have voted yes.

We are now at the stage where we have 57 Senators, which I would suggest to my colleague from Louisiana is significantly more than 43 percent, it is 57 percent.

If we could have the cooperation--and I hope we can maybe make some progress right here, now, from my colleague from Louisiana who has shown interest in veterans issues--do you know what, we can do something that millions and millions of veterans and their families want us to do.

If my colleague from Louisiana would allow me, I would like to quote from what the Disabled American Veterans, the DAV, has to say about this legislation--which, unfortunately my colleague from Louisiana voted against. He was one of the 43 who voted against it.

DAV says:

This massive omnibus bill, unprecedented in our modern experience, would create, expand, advance, and extend a number of VA benefits, services and programs that are important to the DAV and to our members. For example, responding to a call from DAV as a leading veterans organization, it would create a comprehensive family caregiver support program for all generations of severely wounded, injured and ill veterans. Also, the bill would authorize advance appropriations for VA's mandatory funding accounts to ensure that in any government shutdown environment in the future, veterans benefits payments would not be delayed or put in jeopardy. This measure would also provide additional financial support to survivors of servicemembers who die in the line of duty, as well as expanded access for them to GI Bill educational benefits. A two-plus year stalemate in VA's authority to lease facilities for health care treatment and other purposes would be solved by this bill .....

--which, of course, is what the Senator from Louisiana is referring to. Then they continue:

..... These are but a few of the myriad provisions of this bill that would improve the lives, health, and prospects of veterans--especially the wounded, injured and ill--and their loved ones.

That is the DAV. I ask my colleague from Louisiana--you are raising an important issue, and I agree with you. But what I cannot do is take this issue over here, separate it, and that issue over here, because tomorrow there will be somebody else coming and saying: You know, Senator Sanders, I want you to move forward on this. Then the next day somebody else comes forward and says: I want to move forward on that.

We have a comprehensive piece of legislation, supported by millions of veterans, and supported by 57 Members of the Senate. I ask my colleague from Louisiana--who is concerned about veterans' issues--work with us, support us, give us the three Republican votes we need. We had 55, 54 Members of the Democratic Caucus. We only had two Republican votes. Help me get three more votes. You will get these facilities in Louisiana, we will get these facilities all over the country, but we will also address many of the major crises facing the veterans community.

With that, Madam President, I would object to my colleague's proposal.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard.

The Senator from Louisiana.

Mr. VITTER. Reclaiming the floor and reclaiming the time, I find this approach very unfortunate. To follow through on the scenario the Senator from Vermont himself laid out, yes, we can find agreement here on the floor, but then, "Katy, bar the door.'' That might lead to our finding agreement on other important matters that can help veterans, and we might be moving forward in this area and that area and the other one. God forbid that we make progress to help veterans and actually get something done versus having a hostage standoff. God forbid. I think the more productive way of working together is to agree on what we can agree on and keep talking about those areas where we have disagreement.

In fact, in the past Senator Sanders has endorsed that approach in the area of veterans affairs. He has said, in the past, working on another issue in November of 2013:

I'm happy to tell you that I think that was a concern of his .....

This was referring to another Senator. He continues:

..... we got that UC'd last night. So we moved that pretty quickly, and I want to try to do those things, where we have agreement, let's move it.

He agreed on a small focus bill where we did have agreement. He said, let's do that by unanimous consent, let's agree where we can agree and be constructive and move on. He said, "I want to try to do those things where we have agreement, let's move it.''

Well, I would say to Senator Sanders, through the Chair, we have agreement. This is an important matter. Twenty-seven clinics isn't the world, but it is an important matter that affects hundreds of thousands of veterans in 18 States, including in my Louisiana communities of Lafayette and Lake Charles. We have agreement, so let's move it. I agree with that approach. I think that is a constructive approach versus saying: I have majority support, but not the 60 required, so I am holding everything else veterans-related hostage, I am not agreeing to anything else.

I don't think that is a constructive approach. I don't think that reflects the spirit of the American people who want us to try to reach agreement where we can reach agreement. I don't think that is a constructive way to build goodwill and to build consensus.

I would urge my colleague, with all due respect, to reconsider. Let's agree where we can agree, where we have agreement. Let's move forward where we have agreement. Let's move it.

This isn't the world, but it is meaningful, it is significant, and it does not relieve any pressure in terms of the broader veterans discussion regarding the Sanders bill or the Burr alternative or anything else. Those bills are so much massively larger that these 27 clinics, being done separately, do not change the discussion or the dynamics of this in any way, shape, or form.

I would urge my colleague to reconsider. I would urge my colleague from Louisiana, Senator Landrieu, to urge Senator Sanders to reconsider, something she has not done to date. A lot of us are waiting for her support of these important community-based clinics in Lafayette and Lake Charles. She hasn't been on the floor. I urge her to join me on the floor to get this done.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Vermont.

Mr. SANDERS. First, I would tell you that--two things in terms of Senator Landrieu. She has, in fact, spoken to me on numerous occasions about her concerns about this issue but, more importantly, she has shown a willingness to stand for all veterans in this country, and she voted for the legislation supported by the American Legion, the DAV, and the Vietnam Veterans of America and virtually every veterans organization. So I thank Senator Landrieu very much for her support for comprehensive legislation that would benefit millions and millions of Americans.

Essentially, what the Senator from Louisiana is saying is let's work together. I agree with him, let us work together. I have 57 votes for this piece of legislation. Right now, I ask my friend from Louisiana, work with us. What are your objections at a time when we have given huge tax breaks to billionaires and millionaires, and when one out of four corporations in this country doesn't pay a nickel in Federal income taxes. Does my colleague from Louisiana think that in this country we should not take care of the men and women who have put their lives on the line to defend this country?

I am prepared, my staff is prepared, to sit down and hear the Senator's objections. I am not sure what his objections are. He hasn't told me. Is the Senator opposed to an expansion of the caregivers program? Is he? So that 70-year-old women who have been taking care of their husbands who lost their legs in Vietnam get a modest bit of help? Is that an objection the Senator has? Is the Senator objecting to the fact that maybe we provide dental care to some veterans whose teeth are rotting in their mouths? Is the Senator objecting to advance appropriations so we are not in a situation where if we have another government shutdown, disabled vets will not get the checks they need? Is the Senator objecting to the fact that right now we have young veterans who are trying to go to college through the GI bill but can't get in-State tuition? Is the Senator objecting to that? Is the Senator objecting to helping veterans find jobs in an economy where it is very hard to do so?

I am not quite sure what the Senator's objection is. Tell me. Tell me now or sit down with my staff and me, and maybe we can work it out and do something of real significance for the veterans of this country.

Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the consideration of Calendar No. 297, S. 1950; that a Sanders substitute amendment, the text of S. 1982, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Pay Restoration Act, be agreed to; the bill, as amended, be read a third time and passed; and the motions to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table, with no intervening action or debate.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?

The Senator from Louisiana.

Mr. VITTER. Reserving the right to object, I would again point out that I am not only going to object to this, there are 43 Senators who have serious substantive concerns with this very broad and expansive bill, and those concerns and objections have been laid out. They have been laid out by my staff, in meetings with the staff of the Senator from Vermont, and they have been laid out by the Republican ranking member on the committee, Senator Burr. I share the general concerns of Senator Burr about the bill. So if the distinguished Senator from Vermont doesn't understand those concerns, quite frankly he hasn't been listening very hard. We have laid them out, and they are shared by 43 Senators, versus a bill, as amended at the desk, with no objections to its substance--none, 100 to 0. Big difference. Big difference.

So on behalf of the total of 43 Senators, I do object.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard.

Mr. VITTER. Madam President, retaining the floor, I would also ask the distinguished Senator from Vermont through the Chair--because he mentioned Senator Landrieu--has Senator Landrieu asked him to remove his objection to this bill so we can get a clinic in Lafayette and Lake Charles, No. 1; and No. 2, all those veterans groups he mentioned, do they oppose moving forward with this bill as it would be amended at the desk? Do they publicly oppose moving forward with those 27 veterans clinics?

I would ask those two very important, pertinent questions of the Senator from Vermont through the Chair.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Vermont.

Mr. SANDERS. Madam President, I believe at this point--please correct me if I am wrong--that I control the floor; is that correct?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator is correct.

Mr. SANDERS. While my friend from Louisiana is still here, let me answer yes in response to his question. Senator Landrieu has asked me, very forcefully, to move forward on this provision on more than one occasion, and my response to Senator Landrieu, who voted for the comprehensive legislation, unlike Senator Vitter, is the same.

Secondly, what the veterans organizations of this country want is for the Congress to recognize the very serious problems facing the veterans community. What I can tell my colleague from Louisiana is that to the best of my knowledge the veterans organizations have been to my colleague's office, and we are trying to get some specific objections as to why he is not supporting this legislation and we have not gotten that.

So I would ask my colleague from Louisiana to come forward and tell me what he disagrees with, which he has not done yet, and I look forward to working with him. I agree we have to work together. I am offering him that opportunity to tell me what he doesn't like. Let's get a piece of legislation the veterans of this country need and want and that we will be proud of.

With that, I believe I have the floor; is that correct?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Vermont is correct.

Mr. SANDERS. Madam President, how much time remains?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Vermont has 53 minutes remaining in his postcloture time.

Mr. SANDERS. I will tell my colleague from Louisiana that I don't intend to be addressing this issue.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Louisiana.

Mr. VITTER. Madam President, in that case, I ask unanimous consent to wrap up this discussion in about 45 seconds.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?

Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. VITTER. I thank my colleague.

Again, Madam President, I think this is very important. I agree with what Senator Sanders said last November--where we have agreement, let's move it. We have agreement about these 27 clinics, 18 States, including Lafayette and Lake Charles. Let's move it.

I didn't hear him say that any of those veterans organizations he continually cites oppose this because they do not. They take the commonsense approach the huge majority of Americans take: Where there is agreement and we can constructively move forward for veterans, let's do it and let's build on that.

Finally, if Senator Landrieu has forcefully asked the Senator to remove his objection to this, apparently she has not been very effective. I think that is very unfortunate because veterans in Louisiana are suffering today. They have been waiting for this. They have been waiting for years for this, and they still wait, even though there is no substantive disagreement with this bill.

I thank the Chair, and I yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Vermont.

Mr. SANDERS. Madam President, it is not my intention to get involved in Louisiana politics, but just let me say that Senator Landrieu has voted for this legislation, she has been a champion of veterans rights, and I look forward to continuing to work with her on comprehensive legislation that will benefit all of the veterans of Louisiana and those in the other 49 States.

Madam President, I wish to change subjects, if I might, and I wish to touch upon an issue which I believe is far and away the most significant issue facing the American people; that is, a struggle not just to make sure we can preserve and expand the vitally important programs that are life or death to tens of millions of working-class and middle-class families--programs such as Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. The issue we are discussing now is not just whether we must create the millions and millions of jobs that we need. Real unemployment is not 6.8 percent. It is close to 12 percent and youth unemployment is close to 20 percent. We have to create millions of jobs for our young people and for working families around this country.

We have made some progress with the Affordable Care Act, announced just yesterday. About 10 million more Americans will have access to health care who formerly did not, but we have to go further. We have to join the rest of the industrialized world, all of which have stated--every country has stated--that health care must be a right and not a privilege. When we do that through a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program, we can do it much more cost-effectively and end the absurdity of the United States spending almost twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other nation.

All of those issues, and education and climate change, are all enormously important for the future of this Nation. But the issue that is even more important than all of those is whether we can prevent this country from moving to an oligarchic form of society in which virtually all economic and political power rests with a handful of billionaire families.

I know we don't talk about it too much. Most people don't raise that issue. Certainly we don't see it in the corporate media. That is the reality. Right now in America we have, by far, the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on Earth.

What we are looking at is the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the financial wealth of America. I have very little doubt the overwhelming majority of Americans have no idea what the bottom 60 percent looks like. The top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the wealth of America, and the bottom 60 percent owns all of 2.3 percent. That gap between the very rich and everybody else is growing wider and wider. We have one family--one family--the Walton family, who owns Walmart, that owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the American people.

In terms of income, the situation is equally bad. In the last number of years since the Wall Street collapse, 95 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.

So we have an economic situation where the middle class is disappearing, and more people are living in poverty than at any time in the history of the United States. We have 22 percent of our kids living in poverty, the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on Earth. All the while the middle class disappears, more and more people are living in poverty, people on top are doing phenomenally well. Almost all new income goes to the top 1 percent.

It is not just a growing disparity in terms of income and wealth--that is enormously important--but it is what is happening to the political foundations of America. What we are now seeing as a result of Citizens United--and we are going to see it more as a result of the disastrous Supreme Court decision of today in McCutcheon--will enable the billionaire class to play an even more prominent role in terms of our political process.

The Koch brothers are worth about $80 billion--$80 billion. They are the second wealthiest family in America. Working with other billionaires, such as Sheldon Adelson, the Kochs are prepared to spend an unlimited sum of money to create an America shaped by their rightwing extremist views--and I mean unlimited.

If your income went up, Madam President--and I know our Presiding Officer is not quite there in this status--from $68 billion to $80 billion in 1 year--a $12 billion increase in your wealth--and you believed passionately, as the Koch brothers do, in this rightwing agenda, why would you hesitate in spending $1 billion, $2 billion on the political process? Last year, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spent a little more than $1 billion for their entire campaigns. These guys can take out their checkbook tomorrow and write that check and it will be one-twelfth of what their increased wealth was in 1 year. It doesn't mean anything to them. It is 50 bucks to you; it is $1 billion to them.

So we have to be very careful that we do not allow this great country, where people fought and died to protect American democracy, become a plutocracy or an oligarchy, and that, frankly, is the direction in which we are moving.

I suspect that many of our fellow Americans saw a spectacle in Las Vegas--and this was not the usual Las Vegas spectacle, with the great shows they have there--this was the Sheldon Adelson spectacle. This is what the spectacle was just last weekend. Sheldon Adelson said to prospective Republican candidates for President: Why don't you come on down to Las Vegas and tell me what you could do for me because I am only worth $20 billion. I am only the largest gambling mogul in the entire world. But $20 billion isn't enough, so I want you to come to Las Vegas and tell me what favors you can give me if you happen to be elected President and, by the way, if you sound the right note--if you kind of do what I like--I may put a few hundred million into your campaign. Maybe if I am feeling good, I will throw $1 billion into your campaign.

The media has dubbed this the Adelson primary. What primaries generally are about are hundreds of thousands of Republicans getting together and they vote on whom they want their candidate to be in a State--Democrats do the same--and candidates make an appeal to ordinary people to get votes. Some of us are old-fashioned and we kind of see that as democracy.

I come from a State which proudly has town meetings. I have held hundreds of town meetings in my State. I know it is old-fashioned. I know it is getting out of step, but I actually listen to what people have to say. They walk in the door free, occasionally we actually even serve some lunch, and they don't have to be a billionaire to ask me a question. I answer questions and I talk to people. I understand that is old-fashioned, not the way we do it anymore.

The way we do it now is the Adelson way: walk in the door and I will give you hundreds of millions of dollars or come to a campaign fundraiser, and if you make the largest contributions--tens of thousands of dollars--I will listen to you.

We have to turn this thing around, because if we don't, we are going to end up in a situation where not only the economy of this country is going to be controlled by a handful of billionaires and large multinational corporations, but we are going to be living in a country where the political process is controlled.

Somebody mentioned to me--and I don't know, maybe I will introduce this legislation. We all know what NASCAR is. These guys who drive the racing cars have on their coats they are being sponsored by this or that oil company or this or that tire company. Maybe we should introduce that concept in the Senate. You could have a patch on your jacket that says: I am sponsored by the Koch brothers. Eighty-seven percent of my funding comes from the Koch brothers.

Maybe we will give you a special jacket, and then you have the Adelson guy or this person or that person. But it might tell the American people why we continue as a body to give more tax breaks to billionaires and yet we are having a heck of a tough time raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. It might tell the American people why we do nothing to close corporate loopholes, but we are having a hard time addressing pay equity in America so women get the same wages that men do.

I think when we talk about issues such as campaign finance, a lot of Americans say: Well, yes, it is a problem, but it doesn't really relate to me.

Let me suggest that it absolutely does relate to every man, woman, and child. It is imperative people understand what the agenda is--the Koch brothers, for example. These are people who have been very clear that they want massive cuts in Social Security or the privatization of Social Security. They want massive cuts in Medicare or the voucherization of Medicare, and massive cuts in Medicaid. As some of the largest polluters in America in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the Koch brothers want to crack down on the ability of the EPA to regulate pollution. These guys want to cut back on funds for education so our kids can afford to go to college.

So if we think the issue of campaign finance does not relate to our lives, we are very mistaken. We are moving toward a situation where people with huge sums of money are going to spend unlimited amounts to elect candidates who reflect an extreme rightwing agenda which will make the wealthiest people in this country even richer while continuing the attacks against the middle class and working families in this country.

I will conclude by saying this--and I mean this quite honestly. As somebody who grew up in a family that didn't have a lot of money and as somebody who represents the great State of Vermont, where people constantly tell me they ask for so little, I have heard veterans say: I don't want to use the VA because another veteran really may need it more. I don't need this program and somebody else may need it more.

I don't understand how people worth $80 billion are spending huge sums of money to become even richer. They are doing it by trying to attack life-and-death programs for the elderly. Why would somebody want to cut Social Security when they are worth $80 billion and have more money than they can dream of for retirement? Why would somebody want to do that when they are worth billions and have the best health care in the world? Why do they want to make massive cuts in Medicare or Medicaid? What motivates somebody with so much money to go to war against working families and the middle class?

I frankly don't understand it. I can only think that this has to do with power--the drive for more and more power, the thrill it must be to tell candidates: Do you want my support? This is what you have to do.

But I think this is just a huge issue that we as a nation have got to address. Too many people have given up their lives fighting for American democracy to see this great Nation be converted into a plutocracy or an oligarchy. We must not allow that to happen.

I didn't hear him say that any of those veterans organizations he continually cites oppose this because they do not. They take the commonsense approach the huge majority of Americans take: Where there is agreement and we can constructively move forward for veterans, let's do it and let's build on that.

Finally, if Senator Landrieu has forcefully asked the Senator to remove his objection to this, apparently she has not been very effective. I think that is very unfortunate because veterans in Louisiana are suffering today. They have been waiting for this. They have been waiting for years for this, and they still wait, even though there is no substantive disagreement with this bill.


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