(Senate - September 28, 2017)

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[Pages S6205-S6216]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                     EXECUTIVE CALENDAR--Continued

          Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands Recovery Effort

  Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, I am here for the third time in as 
many days to talk about this Nation's response to a humanitarian crisis 
affecting millions of Americans--the people

[[Page S6206]]

of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. It is similar to the situation 
in Florida, in the gulf coast, and, some years ago, in Connecticut and 
in other parts of this country when they faced a natural disaster that 
was almost as devastating as an attack would be by a foreign power. 
Analogous but different, this category 4 Hurricane Maria caused 
consequences as devastating and destructive as any that man could do. 
It is a natural disaster, not manmade, but it is turning into a manmade 
  So far, the response from our government has been underwhelming. In 
fact, it has been inadequate and anemic. It has been shamefully slow 
and undersized and should be vastly upgraded and increased.
  Just moments ago, I learned that Lieutenant General Buchanan has been 
appointed to head the military efforts in Puerto Rico. That appointment 
followed a call just an hour or so ago with all of the representatives, 
including FEMA, the Department of Defense, other Federal agencies, and 
the Red Cross, during which I urged our U.S. military to be mobilized, 
much as we would be in responding to a natural disaster in Connecticut 
or Texas or Florida or other places in this country on the mainland 
where we have seen the same kind of storm.
  The 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico are almost exactly the same 
number as the population of Connecticut. I hope, and I believe, the 
response would be better in Connecticut if we were to face the same 
kind of natural disaster. Yet the manmade disaster is the failure to 
move food, fuel, medicine, water, other necessities, and communications 
equipment from the ports and the airports into the interior of the 
country, even into the major cities, where currently apparently a lack 
of drivers and passable roads make it all the more difficult. Whether 
the supplies of food and fuel and medicine and water are adequate on 
the island or need to be increased on an emergency basis and whether 
there are sufficient shipments and airlifts going into the island, the 
simple fact is that Puerto Rico faces a disaster--manmade after 
  I commend the loyal and dedicated people of FEMA and all of the 
National Guard, including the National Guard of Connecticut, who have 
performed with such heroism and dedication in the face of the most 
difficult circumstances imaginable, but their efforts need to be 
matched by many others. There are 4,500 American military personnel now 
in Puerto Rico. Rather than 5,000, there should be 50,000 of our 
National Guard, not to occupy the island, not to enforce martial law 
but to make sure the logistics--the transportation, the means of 
delivery of the lifeblood of that island in food and fuel and medicine 
and water and other basic necessities--are sufficient to move those 
basic supplies to the places they are needed. The troops who are there 
now are performing heroic, Herculean work, and so are many volunteers, 
along with FEMA officials, the Coast Guard, and others, but they need 
more help.
  Nearly a week after this storm, Maria, more than 90 percent of the 
island's residents are without power, 42 percent have no water, the 
vast majority of the country's 69 hospitals cannot function, and only 
10 percent of the cell towers are working. If those conditions existed 
in Connecticut, I would be on the floor 24 hours a day. Puerto Rico and 
the Virgin Islands have no one here, and they have no elected 
Representatives in the House of Representatives. They are voiceless or 
at least voteless in this body. We need to stand for them, speak out, 
and fight for them. That is why I am here for the third day in a row.
  We need a plan and a strategy, which has been lacking from this 
administration. In that phone call earlier today with FEMA officials 
and the Department of Defense, I asked about a plan. They are working 
on it. The military, U.S. Northern Command, is working on a plan. They 
could not tell me when it will be ready or what it will say or what the 
total number of troops or other logistical supplies will be nor could 
they commit that there would be a waiver under FEMA regulations of the 
C through G conditions, which apply to permanent recovery.
  The only decision that has been made is A to B, which provides for 
debris and other emergency responses over the next 180 days, and that 
is part of what the island needs--a longer term plan as well as an 
immediate one to make sure there is a road to recovery, that there is a 
path that will provide hope. Not only is the well-being and health of 
this island threatened but so is hope, which is so important for 
progress to be made.
  The people of Puerto Rico have been met with, at best, ambivalence 
and ambiguity by the President of the United States. Earlier this week, 
he seemed more inclined to blame the island itself and the size of the 
ocean than in advocating for help. I hope we can come together on a 
bipartisan basis. With the kind of situation that is there now--the 
danger of epidemic as well as immediate health threats before disease 
takes hold--we must act before people die. We must come to the aid of 
Puerto Rico. They need medical care. They need access to food and safe 
drinking water, and, yes, they need greater security.
  The 78 mayors of Puerto Rico, along with the Governor, are doing also 
heroic and Herculean work, but a whole of government response is 
necessary from this body and from the Federal Government at a much 
higher magnitude. In the long term, we must have a martial plan--a 
strategy for rebuilding the island's roads, bridges, rail, airports, 
ports, and VA facility, much as we do in this country, except that, 
there, the need is so much more dire and immediate. Hospitals, 
transportation, electricity, power, communications, safety, housing all 
have been destroyed, and the consequences will be deadly.
  My hope is that Lieutenant General Buchanan will expedite that plan. 
So far, it has been lacking. It should be done today. It should be 
integrated with the FEMA approach, and I hope they will permit visits 
by Members of the Congress who, so far, have been prevented from going 
  The American people deserve to have elected Representatives there 
because Puerto Rico has none here. The extraordinary work done by the 
cable TV and reporters for the print media and others who are there 
have given us a picture--and often a picture is worth a thousand 
words--of the devastation that now continues from a manmade disaster 
that must be avoided before it takes lives and destroys hope.
  Thank you.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from South Dakota.
  Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to be able to 
complete my remarks.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, I rise to voice my strong support for the 
nomination of Ajit Pai to a second 5-year term as Commissioner of the 
Federal Communications Commission.
  Mr. Pai has served as a Commissioner of the FCC since 2012, when he 
was first confirmed by a voice vote in the Senate. Mr. Pai was 
designated by President Trump to be the 34th Chairman of the FCC in 
January of this year and was renominated to a second term to the FCC in 
  In July, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, 
which I am privileged to chair, held a hearing on the nomination of Mr. 
Pai, and the committee reported out his nomination favorably on August 
  Prior to becoming a Commissioner, Chairman Pai worked on 
telecommunications policy in both the public and private sectors, 
notably serving in the Senate as a staffer on the Judiciary Committee 
as well as in the general counsel's office at the FCC.
  It is my belief that Mr. Pai's stellar career and communications 
policy, his integrity, and his tireless work ethic all serve him well 
as he continues to serve the FCC and guide the agency back to being a 
more collaborative and productive institution.
  In just 9 months since becoming Chairman, Mr. Pai has made much 
needed reforms to improve transparency at the FCC and to improve the 
agency's processes. I am particularly heartened by Chairman Pai's 
efforts to treat his fellow Commissioners fairly by instituting the 
process of sharing documents with other Commissioners before discussing 
them publicly.
  Additionally, under Chairman Pai's leadership, the public is now able 
to view the text of all agenda items in advance of Commission meetings. 

[[Page S6207]]

to better reflect the realities of today's competitive landscape, 
Chairman Pai has announced the creation of an Office of Economics and 
Data to provide cost-benefit analyses to better inform the FCC's work.
  These measures are a significant step forward from the last 
Chairman's leadership style, which I frequently criticized as being 
hyperpartisan and warned would lead to counterproductive outcomes over 
the long term. That is why, a little over a year ago, I felt compelled 
to stand in this same spot and to strongly criticize the previous 
Chairman of the FCC for leading the Commission with unprecedented 
partisan zeal. At that time, I noted that the voting record for open 
meetings at the Commission showed a long history of consensus-building 
with the previous five permanent FCC Chairmen combining for only 14 
party-line votes at open meetings during their tenures. However, this 
all changed under Chairman Wheeler as he pursued a highly partisan 
agenda, driven by ideological beliefs more than by a sober reading of 
the law. Chairman Wheeler forced 3-to-2 votes on a party-line basis a 
total of 31 times. To put it another way, in 3 years under Chairman 
Wheeler, the FCC saw over twice as many partisan votes than in the 
previous 20 years combined.
  While partisan differences are sometimes inevitable, what were once 
very rare events have become standard operating procedure at the 
Commission. This extreme partisanship was used to do the following 
things: a complete upending of how the internet is regulated, creating 
years of uncertainty for everyone; stripping important consumer 
protection responsibilities from the Federal Trade Commission; a failed 
attempt to override States' rights on municipal broadband and a power 
grab that was overturned by the courts; increasing the size of the 
Universal Service Fund by billions of dollars by simultaneously 
undermining bipartisan efforts to improve the program's accountability; 
the unnecessary and possibly unlawful disclosure of trade secrets and a 
plan to have the FCC and its Media Bureau design and dictate the future 
of television ads.
  I was not alone in noticing Chairman Wheeler's overreach. On several 
occasions other Federal agencies refused to support his actions. The 
Copyright Office strongly criticized a proposal for set-top boxes. The 
staff at the Federal Trade Commission called the FCC's privacy rules 
``not optimal,'' which is bureaucrat speak for really bad. The Obama 
administration's Department of Justice refused to defend the FCC's 
unlawful action on municipal broadband.
  With respect to internet regulations, I am pleased that Chairman Pai 
has sought to hit the reset button on the 2015 title II order because, 
as I have previously said, the FCC should do what is necessary to 
rebalance the agency's regulatory posture under current law. I continue 
to believe, however, that the best way to provide long-term protections 
for the internet is for Congress to pass bipartisan legislation.
  Two and a half years ago, I put forward legislative principles and a 
draft bill to begin the conversation, and I continue to stand ready and 
willing today to work toward finding a lasting legislative solution 
that will resolve the dispute over net neutrality once and for all.
  Thankfully, the net neutrality debate has not distracted the FCC from 
important work in other areas. For instance, the FCC's proposed 
rulemaking on robocalls is a positive step in the right direction. The 
government must do everything we can to protect consumers from those 
who are truly bad actors, but we also must be sure that the 
government's rules are not unfairly punishing legitimate callers who 
are not acting maliciously. The FCC's notice of inquiry will give that 
conversation a much needed jump-start.
  Furthermore, Chairman Pai's focus on the expansion of rural broadband 
and acceleration of next-generation infrastructure deployment will help 
close the digital divide--a goal that we all share. He has also worked 
tirelessly to help ensure communications services are restored to the 
communities affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
  Given the FCC's importance to the future of our economy and our 
society, it is important for the Commission to seek opportunities for 
common ground. In the past, people used to say that communications 
policy was not particularly partisan and that both sides of the aisle 
could often find common ground to work together. Well, times have 
changed, and the debate on this nomination is another example of that.
  I know that agreement is not always possible. Nevertheless, as a 
corrective to the Commission's recent history, I urged Chairman Pai at 
his confirmation hearing to treat all Commissioners fairly, to respect 
the law, to be willing to ask Congress for guidance, and to seek 
consensus whenever and wherever possible. I believe doing so will 
improve the agency's credibility and will result in actions that are 
more likely to endure, and I believe that Chairman Pai will do these 
  As I noted at the outset, Chairman Pai has already made much needed 
reforms to improve the processes at the FCC and to empower his fellow 
Commissioners. He has already shown a commitment to ensuring 
transparency and openness at the Commission, which gives me great 
confidence in the direction that he will lead the agency. Chairman 
Pai's new approach, I believe, will lead to more long-lasting and 
positive results at the FCC. That is why I believe the elevation of 
Ajit Pai to be the Chairman of the Commission is a much needed breath 
of fresh air, and why I believe he should be confirmed promptly and 
without further delay.
  So I urge my colleagues to support this nomination.
  I yield the floor.

                             Cloture Motion

  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Pursuant to rule XXII, the Chair lays before 
the Senate the pending cloture motion, which the clerk will state.
  The legislative clerk read as follows:

                             Cloture Motion

       We, the undersigned Senators, in accordance with the 
     provisions of rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate, 
     do hereby move to bring to a close debate on the nomination 
     of Ajit Varadaraj Pai, of Kansas, to be a Member of the 
     Federal Communications Commission.
         Mitch McConnell, Joni Ernst, Thom Tillis, Ben Sasse, 
           Steve Daines, Mike Crapo, Jerry Moran, Tom Cotton, John 
           Thune, Pat Roberts, James M. Inhofe, Johnny Isakson, 
           John Cornyn, James Lankford, John Boozman, James E. 
           Risch, Roger F. Wicker.

  The PRESIDING OFFICER. By unanimous consent, the mandatory quorum 
call has been waived.
  The question is, Is it the sense of the Senate that debate on the 
nomination of Ajit Varadaraj Pai, of Kansas, to be a Member of the 
Federal Communications Commission shall be brought to a close?
  The yeas and nays are mandatory under the rule.
  The clerk will call the roll.
  The bill clerk called the roll.
  Mr. CORNYN. The following Senators are necessarily absent: the 
Senator from Mississippi (Mr. Cochran), the Senator from Alabama (Mr. 
Strange), and the Senator from North Carolina (Mr. Tillis).
  Mr. DURBIN. I announce that the Senator from New Jersey (Mr. 
Menendez) is necessarily absent.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Perdue). Are there any other Senators in 
the Chamber desiring to vote?
  The yeas and nays resulted--yeas 55, nays 41, as follows:

                      [Rollcall Vote No. 208 Ex.]




     Cortez Masto

[[Page S6208]]

     Van Hollen

                             NOT VOTING--4

  The PRESIDING OFFICER. On this vote, the yeas are 55, the nays are 
  The motion is agreed to.
  The Senator from Nebraska.
  Mr. SASSE. Mr. President, I would like to extend thanks to my 
colleagues from Ohio and Maryland for allowing me to cut in line.

          Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands Recovery Effort

  Mr. President, a few minutes ago, the Senator from Connecticut made a 
speech about the natural disaster and humanitarian disaster unfolding 
in Puerto Rico. He urged the executive branch and, in particular, FEMA, 
the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense to 
move quicker to enable the Congress to do our oversight 
  Director Long at FEMA today made clear to a number of us on a 
conference call briefing that there are constraints into and out of the 
airport at San Juan. There are all sorts of legitimate arguments he has 
made. At the same time, it is absolutely imperative for the American 
people and for the disaster unfolding in Puerto Rico that the Congress, 
in general, and the Senate, in particular, be able to do our oversight 
  I would like to associate myself with the comments of the Senator 
from Connecticut.
  Thank you.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Ohio.
  Mr. PORTMAN. Mr. President, I appreciate the comments of my colleague 
from Nebraska, and our hearts go out to those victims of the hurricane 
now in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, following the terrible 
devastation in Texas and Florida. These are American citizens who 
deserve our assistance and urgent help.
  I am glad to hear there is now more support mobilizing on the island. 
I would like to associate myself with the comments of those who talk 
about the need to move quickly to save lives.

                   Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act

  Mr. President, I rise to talk about something different today, 
something equally urgent and concerning. It has to do with legislation 
that is present here in the U.S. Senate and in the House of 
Representatives. It is about an issue called sex trafficking--human 
trafficking. It is a crime against humanity. It is a human rights issue 
that really transcends partisanship and transcends politics.
  Every day that we aren't acting here to help push back against this, 
countless vulnerable women and children are suffering. I personally 
think it is a stain on our national character that sex trafficking is 
increasing in this country, in this century, at this time. Experts tell 
us that it is increasing because of the internet. So the internet, 
which has so many positive aspects, also has a dark side. One is the 
selling of children and women online with ruthless efficiency.
  I appreciated the Senate Commerce Committee holding a hearing last 
week on bipartisan legislation called the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers 
Act. I appreciated the opportunity to testify in support of this 
legislation at that hearing. But, actually, the most powerful testimony 
by far came from a mom. Her name is Yvonne Ambrose. Yvonne received a 
call on Christmas Eve that every parent dreads. As a dad of three kids, 
I can't imagine. Her 16-year-old daughter, Desiree, was murdered while 
being exploited and sold for sex on backpage.com, the industry leader 
in the online sex trafficking of minors.
  A 16-year-old girl should never have been trafficked online, but the 
tragedy of her death is compounded by the fact that backpage.com, the 
website she was bought and sold on, has repeatedly evaded justice for 
its role in child sex trafficking.
  We know from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children 
that backpage alone is responsible for most child trafficking. In fact, 
75 percent of all child trafficking reports the organization receives 
from the public have to do with backpage.com. We know from a nearly 2-
year investigation by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on 
Investigations, which I chair, that backpage actively and knowingly 
facilitated online sex trafficking, coached its users on how to post 
so-called clean ads for illegal transactions, and knowingly edited ads 
to conceal evidence of crimes, including the concealed evidence of 
underage girls being sold online.
  Despite these facts, which are horrendous, courts have consistently 
ruled that a Federal law called the Communications Decency Act protects 
backpage from its liability for its role in sex trafficking. This law 
is 21 years old. It shields websites from liability for crimes others 
commit through their site. It was enacted when the internet was in its 
infancy. It was intended, by the way, in part to protect children from 
indecent material on the internet. Now it is protecting websites that 
sell women and children for sex.
  This was never Congress's intention when enacting the Communications 
Decency Act. In fact, last week, California's attorney general, Xavier 
Becerra, testified at the Senate hearing I talked about. He was a 
Congressman in 1996 when the law was enacted. In discussing the 
Communications Decency Act, he said: ``I don't remember in 1996 
believing my `yes' vote meant I was going to allow, 21 years later, for 
kids to be sold through the internet for sex.''
  Congress clearly did not intend for this broad immunity to occur, but 
courts have made it clear their hands are tied because of legal 
precedent and have invited the Congress to fix this injustice.
  Just last month, a Sacramento judge made the most blatant call on 
Congress yet. The court threw out pimping charges against backpage.com 
because of the liability protections provided to the website under 
Federal law. The court opinion stated: ``If and until Congress sees fit 
to amend the immunity law, the broad reach of section 230 of the 
Communications Decency Act even applies to those alleged to support the 
exploitation of others by human trafficking.''
  Because of this interpretation of the law over the last 20 years, 
only Congress can fix this injustice. Again, that is why I introduced 
the bipartisan Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act.
  Along with coauthors Senators Blumenthal, McCain, McCaskill, Cornyn, 
and Heitkamp, we are determined to get this bill passed to make a 
difference in the lives of countless women and children who have been 
exploited by online sex traffickers.
  Last week's hearing was a great positive step in that direction. We 
had bipartisan support in the hearing, and I hope that after the 
hearing, we can move quickly to a markup. I thank Senator Thune, who 
was on the floor earlier--chairman of the committee--for his leadership 
in this area.
  The bill would do two things. They are both very targeted and narrow. 
One, it would allow sex trafficking victims to get the justice they 
deserve against websites that knowingly facilitate crimes against them. 
Second, it would allow State and local law enforcement to prosecute 
websites that violate Federal sex trafficking laws, again, with the 
knowing standard.
  This standard of knowing is a high bar to meet. Websites would have 
to be proven to knowingly facilitate, support, or assist online sex 
trafficking to be liable. Because the standard is so high, our bill 
protects good technology companies--good actors--and targets rogue 
online traffickers like backpage. Our bill also preserves the Good 
Samaritan provision in the Communications Decency Act, which protects 
the actors that proactively screen their websites for offensive 
  These are commonsense updates to bring a 21-year-old statute into the 
21st century.
  This bill has received wide bipartisan support. Thirty-three Senators 
have supported it, one-third of the entire U.S. Senate as cosponsors. 
We also have the support of dozens of anti-human trafficking groups in 
all of our States, faith-based groups from around the country, law 
enforcement groups, all the national law enforcement groups, including 
the attorneys general, the groups out there that actually are involved 
in these prosecutions. They have all publicly endorsed this 
  Some significant players in the tech and business community have also 
stepped up to support it. Recently, Oracle endorsed the legislation, 
also 21st

[[Page S6209]]

Century Fox, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Walt Disney Company, and 
others have supported our narrowly crafted legislation because they 
know it is necessary, it is needed, and it doesn't affect the good 
  I would love to see others in the tech community step forward and 
help us. We want them to partner with us in this. They should be as 
concerned as anyone, if not more, because online, on the internet, this 
is taking place. They should want to support, address this injustice, 
where traffickers exploit women and children with immunity.
  Some in the tech community have argued this bill would inadvertently 
harm good-intentioned websites. I don't believe that is true, but, more 
importantly, nor do legal scholars who have looked at this.
  Attorney General Xavier Becerra explained in last week's hearing that 
``we have to prove criminal intent. We can't win a prosecution unless 
we can show that the individuals we're prosecuting, like Backpage, had 
the intent--the knowledge--to do what they are doing. The legislation 
that you have before you is very narrowly tailored. It goes only after 
sex trafficking.''
  That was our intent, to do it narrowly. The bill targets websites 
that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking and protects those that 
don't. It is as simple as that. I think those in the tech community who 
remain in opposition to this legislation have to realize that by doing 
so, they are protecting these bad actors, bringing a bad name to the 
internet. Instead, they should partner with us to protect our kids.
  I have spoken about courts and attorneys general calling on Congress 
to change the Communications Decency Act. The most powerful call on 
Congress actually came at the Senate hearing last week--not from a 
lawyer, not from a judge. It came from a mom.
  Yvonne Ambrose, whom I mentioned earlier, the mother of the late 16-
year-old, Desiree Robinson, with great courage, stated:

       Backpage.com and other companies like it must be held 
     responsible for what they have created. I'm sure when this 
     act was put in place in [19]96, the Internet was in its 
     infancy, and it was not intended to allow companies to 
     legally sell children on the internet. But somehow, a dollar 
     has become more important than a human life. If you're going 
     to fix this problem, fix it.

  Let's fix it. Last week's Senate hearing was a step in the right 
direction. Senators from both sides of the aisle understood the 
injustice that occurs and were passionate in expressing their desire to 
find a solution. I would just tell you that we have very carefully 
assessed this problem over the last couple of years, carefully and 
thoughtfully not just assessed it but looked for a legislative fix that 
would be a solution to the problems we have identified. We now need to 
act on it as soon as possible to save those women and children who are 
being trafficked online every day as we wait.
  The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act stops an injustice. I urge the 
Senate to take up this legislation, seize this opportunity, have the 
markup, get it to the floor, get it to the House where there is 
companion legislation, and fix this problem to protect our kids.
  Thank you.
  I yield back.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Maryland.
  Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, first, I want to compliment Senator 
Portman for his leadership on this issue of ending modern-day slavery 
and trafficking. The United States is taking the leadership globally in 
fighting trafficking.
  We had the Trafficking in Persons Report that is looked upon as being 
the most authoritative document on how well every country is doing in 
fighting modern-day slavery and trafficking, but we must make sure we 
take care of issues here at home.
  I applaud Senator Portman's efforts to make sure we do everything in 
this country we can to protect those victims who are being trafficked 
for sex or labor. We need to redouble our efforts. I compliment my 
colleague for his leadership in this area. I can tell him that all of 
us here want to work with him to make sure America continues to lead in 
our fight to end modern-day slavery.


  Mr. President, I would like to say one thing about the fellows who 
serve in our office. I know many of us are privileged to have fellows 
who get assigned to us. Arnold Solamillos has been assigned to my 
office and has helped us in so many different areas. His expertise from 
the Social Security Administration is a valuable service. I, 
personally, thank him for the contributions he has made not just to my 
Senate office but to the work we do in the U.S. Congress.
  Mr. President, I want to comment about the status of healthcare. We 
had expected that the majority leader might have brought up this week 
the Graham-Cassidy bill as part of budget reconciliation. I can tell 
you I am relieved he did not, but I hope this Chamber will consider 
healthcare legislation not 6 months from now, not a year from now, but 
there is important work we need to do now in regard to healthcare, and 
we need to work together, Democrats and Republicans.
  One of the urgent issues is to reauthorize the Children's Health 
Insurance Program, CHIP. That program, as I am sure the Presiding 
Officer knows, expires in the next 2 days. We need to make sure there 
is predictability for our States to continue this extremely important 
program that protects the health of our children.
  It was created as a bipartisan program, enjoyed bipartisan support. I 
certainly compliment Chairman Hatch and Ranking Member Wyden for their 
work together to reach an agreement on the reauthorization of this 
program. I hope we can consider that very shortly.
  I also would like to point out that we have very important healthcare 
policies that have time limits on it and expire, and we need to pass 
what is known as extenders in health. Some of these policies expire in 
the next 2 days.
  I am going to just mention one. There are many others I could 
mention, but I want to mention one that I have been involved with ever 
since Congress made the mistake of placing a limit known as the therapy 
cap on rehab services. This limit makes absolutely no sense. It made no 
sense 20 years ago when it was imposed. It was put in there to reach a 
budget number and reconciliation and had nothing to do with policy.
  Today, those who have the most serious needs of therapy services are 
the ones who are the most at risk. So I would urge my colleagues that 
we need to take up these medical extenders, and we need to do it now. 
We need to do it quickly. We don't want to leave the uncertainty out 
there. Every day we leave the uncertainty, there is a question in the 
minds of individuals who need these services and those who are 
providing these services whether, in fact, Congress will extend the 
  Let me talk a little bit about the broader issue of the Affordable 
Care Act. We had, I thought, a very informative hearing before the 
Senate Finance Committee on the Graham-Cassidy amendment to the 
Reconciliation Act. We had that hearing on Monday, and I thought it was 
a very informative hearing for the members of our committee and the 
American public. We had the opportunity to have one of the members of 
our committee on the panel of witnesses. Senator Cassidy was a witness 
at the witness table. During the questioning, I said to him that he had 
mentioned many examples of individuals who are facing very high premium 
increases or they don't have the ability to pay the premiums and the 
out-of-pocket costs. He was using those examples, as some of my other 
colleagues were using, as to why we have to deal with a change in the 
Affordable Care Act.
  I had the opportunity to question what individuals he was talking 
about. He identified the group. The group is those who are in the 
individual marketplace. These are not the families who have policies 
through their employers or in the group plans, these are individuals 
who have no other opportunity but to go into the individual market in 
order to buy their health insurance. Secondly, these are individuals 
who don't qualify for subsidies because their income is too high.
  So I asked Mrs. Miller, who was on the panel who is the insurance 
commissioner from Pennsylvania, whether my estimate of the number of 
people who fall into this category is correct. She confirmed it is 
somewhere between 1 to 2 percent of the population that fall in the 
individual marketplace and incomes are too high for subsidies.

[[Page S6210]]

  That is a significant number of Americans, and we need to deal with 
their concerns. Let me sort of spell out what that is all about. In my 
State of Maryland, the average cost--capital cost--of healthcare is 
somewhere around $8,600 a year. If you don't have an employer helping 
to contribute to your healthcare insurance or cost or you don't qualify 
for any subsidies and you are a husband or wife with two children, then 
your average costs are going to be in excess of $34,000. That is if you 
buy insurance so you are not exposed to the unexpected costs. A lot of 
families just can't afford that.
  The problem is, the individual marketplace is not stable. There are 
too many uncertainties, and those premium costs can become unaffordable 
for those families whose incomes are too high to receive subsidies. It 
is an important group, but let's keep in mind it is 1 to 2 percent, so 
let's not jeopardize the healthcare of 98 to 99 percent of Americans in 
an effort to say we are doing something for the 1 or 2 percent.
  Here is the rub. The Graham-Cassidy bill didn't help that 1 to 2 
percent. In fact, it made it worse. It made it less likely that they 
would be able to get affordable coverage so they didn't deal with the 
problem that was identified for the reason for the reform. Instead, 
what the Graham-Cassidy bill did was basically to block grant the 
Medicaid Program to the States. They had a complicated formula, where 
many States, like Maryland, would lose a lot of money because we used 
our State resources to expand Medicaid, and now we are being penalized 
for it. The bottom line was every State was going to have a cap as to 
how much money the Federal Government was going to make available, and 
that cap became tighter and tighter every year.

  So I asked one of the witnesses on our panel on Monday: How would you 
deal with that?
  The witness who is responsible in his State said: Well, you manage to 
the cap. Those were his exact words: ``You manage to the cap.''
  So I said to Mrs. Miller, the insurance commissioner from 
Pennsylvania: What does that mean, managing to the cap?
  She said: Well, it means that in order to make the cap, you either 
knock people off the rolls and change the eligibility so fewer people 
have coverage in our State--and let me remind my colleagues the 
Congressional Budget Office, although they didn't give us a finite 
score, did say there would be millions of people who would lose their 
coverage under the Graham-Cassidy bill--so that is one way. Also, the 
bill eliminated the expansion of Medicaid, which was part of the 
Affordable Care Act and was responsible for tens of millions getting 
healthcare coverage. So there would be millions of people who would 
lose their benefits because the States have to manage to this cap that 
was in the bill.
  The second way Mrs. Miller said you can manage to the cap is to 
reduce benefits, and many States have done that. They can impose caps. 
Caps means that if--I had so many people who wrote me letters, and I am 
sure the Presiding Officer got letters from people in his State--but 
the ones who really got to you was when you heard from a young husband 
and wife who have a child with special needs and that person indicated 
that within the first couple of months, they would have exceeded the 
cap that was in the insurance policies before the passage of the 
Affordable Care Act.
  What are we supposed to do? If the State, in order to save money to 
manage to the cap, imposes a cap on how much the coverage is and you 
have a child with special needs, what do you do about that?
  Well, the answer, quite frankly, is you either sell everything you 
have, mortgage everything you have, or go into a bankruptcy in order to 
take care of your child because you just can't do it.
  So that is what was at risk.
  There was a third way to manage to the cap, and Mrs. Miller said: We 
could cut provider fees, and States have done that. Cutting provider 
fees means that in areas where there is a large Medicaid population, 
you are going to have a hard time finding a hospital or a doctor that 
will be willing to treat the lack of access to care. We saw that over 
and over again, where people may have coverage, but they can't get a 
provider. That is not access to care.
  So, for all of these reasons, what would have been done under the 
Graham-Cassidy bill would not have dealt with the 1 to 2 percent where 
we do have an issue and we need to work on it, it would have created 
significant problems for millions of others, and I haven't even gotten 
to the fact that it eliminated the Patients' Bill of Rights and 
insurance protections that we put into law against preexisting 
conditions and things like that. So I was glad to see we are not 
considering that amendment this week. That, to me, was the right 
  I know we are now going to end this fiscal year in the next 2 days 
and that next week we are likely to see come out of the Budget 
Committee another budget document so that we are back on fiscal year 
2018 rather than fiscal year 2017. We don't know whether that will deal 
with taxes or with healthcare, but there will come a time that we may 
be getting back to this debate. I would hope we don't need a budget 
resolution to do it. I hope we can move in a bipartisan manner and get 
some things done now to improve and stabilize the Affordable Care Act.
  I have been participating, under the leadership of Senator Alexander, 
the chairman of the HELP Committee, and Senator Murray, the ranking 
Democrat on the committee--who have been conducting hearings over the 
last several weeks, and we have invited Members who are not on that 
committee to join them. We were able to ask the witnesses questions. We 
were able to find out whether there were some common areas where we 
could in fact help stabilize the market that includes the 1 to 2 
percent I have already talked about who are the ones who have issues 
  I have met with our insurance carriers in Maryland in reference to 
why we were having large increases in the individual marketplaces, and 
we went over the various reasons. The three principal reasons were all 
talked about in this bipartisan group. Quite frankly, Senator Alexander 
said: Look, we are trying to see whether we can't come together with 
some legislation, perhaps to pass as early as this month, which gave a 
lot of us confidence that at long last we are coming back to work, 
Democrats and Republicans.
  I was criticized by some of my constituents during this debate who 
asked: Where is your proposal? How are you going to fix it? So several 
months ago I filed legislation, and I was pleased to see that a couple 
of the issues I included in my legislation were consensus proposals in 
this bipartisan group that has been meeting for the last couple of 

  One of those that is in my legislation and that is in conversation is 
to have predictable funding for the cost sharing. As we know, President 
Trump has raised a question as to whether he is going to continue to 
pay the insurance companies for keeping the copays and deductibles and 
premiums low for low-income families. He is doing it on a month-to-
month basis. If we could make that a predictable payment, as was 
anticipated under the Affordable Care Act, that could affect a 
significant part of the premium increase that has been sought in the 
individual marketplace. That was what was told to me in Maryland, and 
that was confirmed by a wide network of groups from many States in the 
discussions with Senator Alexander and Senator Murray. That is 
something we could do right now. We anticipated that would be done. We 
can do that, and then we can help those people whose examples were 
given for reasons why we need to address the Affordable Care Act.
  A second issue that is included in my legislation that was very much 
included in this discussion is, let's make it easier for States to 
implement a reinsurance program. A reinsurance program takes the high 
risks and spreads them over so an insurance company doesn't have to 
impose higher premiums because they have unknown risks. It is a pretty 
simple process, to use reinsurance. The State Senate used reinsurance 
and it has worked. It was in the original Affordable Care Act.
  The problem is, the States' budgets have already been put to rest. In 
order to do a reinsurance program, you have to put some money upfront 
in order to save money. The States just don't have those funds. So 
let's look for ways we can make it easier for States to implement the 
reinsurance program, and

[[Page S6211]]

part of that is to deal with the waivers that are in the Affordable 
Care Act. We have guardrails to make sure States use waivers but do not 
compromise the protections that are in the statute. So let's make it 
easier for States to implement a reinsurance program which could also 
bring down rates. Quite frankly, I didn't see anyone object to those 
two suggestions that were made, which would certainly help.
  There are other things I hope we can do. The three main reasons given 
by the insurance carriers in Maryland for the premium increases are, 
No. 1, the uncertainty of the cost-sharing payments; No. 2, the 
reinsurance program; and, No. 3, that we are not enforcing the 
requirement that everybody be in the pool. We don't do that. You get 
those that are at the highest risk who are going to come in, but those 
who feel like they are not going to be using the policies stay out, and 
then we have adverse risk selection and therefore higher premiums than 
there should be.
  So we really need to do a better job to try to get people into the 
plans. That is why many of us have been urging our appropriators to 
provide the funds so we can inform people about the advantages of 
having healthcare coverage and we can get a broader market in there. I 
certainly hope a law is passed by Congress that requires the coverage 
would be enforced. These are things I think we all could do.
  There are other issues I hope we can deal with that I think will help 
all people, in addition to the 1 to 2 percent who need immediate help, 
as well as bring down the entirety of our healthcare costs. Part of 
that is to bring down healthcare costs generally. We all know 
prescription drugs are too expensive in this country. We pay twice what 
other countries pay. One simple way is to get the same discounts for 
Medicare as we get for Medicaid. My understanding is that saves 
billions of dollars. It was in my legislation, just one simple way. I 
think that if you can collect the bargaining power of the Medicare 
marketplace, we can certainly get better prices than we get by using a 
divided market.
  So there are things we can do. We can have a better delivery system 
for providing healthcare to people in this country. I have talked about 
this many times--collaborative and integrative care models. In 
Maryland, we have Mosaic, which is a behavioral health facility, 
working with Sheppard Pratt, a mental health hospital. They worked 
together in order to have a more efficient delivery system. We need to 
encourage those types of models that use integrative care to bring down 
healthcare costs.
  Lastly, we need more competition. Yes, I have always supported a 
public option under the exchanges. I think that makes sense.
  We have a lot of other proposals that have been given. Let's sit down 
and talk about these proposals to see if we can't find ways to make our 
system better.
  We have, once again, reached a situation where the majority has 
pulled the budget reconciliation, this time permanently, from the 
fiscal year 2017 calendar year. Let us start the new year that begins 
on October 1--the new fiscal year--with a commitment from Democrats and 
Republicans to work together, to share our best ideas, to make sure our 
children are protected by the extension of the CHIP program, to make 
sure policies that are currently in place that protect our constituents 
such as the therapy cap relief are extended.
  Let's join together so the Affordable Care Act can be made stronger, 
particularly in stabilizing the problems in the individual marketplace, 
and help bring down the growth rate of healthcare costs. That is what 
we should be working on now, and I encourage my colleagues to do just 
  With that, I yield the floor.
  I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The senior assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. MERKLEY. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Cassidy). Without objection, it is so 


  Mr. MERKLEY. Mr. President, anyone who watches the news, reads the 
newspaper, or goes on social media knows there are a lot of bad things 
happening in our world. Folks at home and across the globe are 
confronting devastations from hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, wars, 
and forest fires, as in my home State. Tensions between the United 
States and North Korea have never been higher, reaching a dangerous 
level. The world is watching all of this with bated breath.
  In the midst of this deluge of news, a human rights catastrophe is 
unfolding virtually unnoticed. I am talking about the members of the 
Burmese military engaging in horrific acts of unthinkable violence 
against the Rohingya--a Muslim minority population in a predominantly 
Buddhist nation.
  The Burmese military, along with civilian accomplices, have 
slaughtered more than 3,000 innocent civilians. They have raped 
thousands of Rohingya women. They have beheaded children as young as 6 
years old. They have burned countless villages to the ground. Through 
these brutal acts, the Burmese military has driven half a million 
Rohingya refugees to camps in nearby Bangladesh, with Burmese soldiers 
continuing to shoot at them as they try to cross the border--a border, 
by the way, along which landmines have been laid by the Burmese 
  The brutality of what is happening in that country is truly beyond 
comprehension. The Burmese Government calls it a security operation, 
but we need to call it exactly what it is--ethnic cleansing. So often I 
have heard the words ``never again,'' that the United States will stand 
up to ethnic cleansing. This is one of those moments when we must stand 
  What is happening in Burma is a crime against humanity. As a country, 
we have more responsibility to take a stand and to speak out against 
it, to make the world take notice of the atrocities, call for their 
end, and to work toward their end.
  The Rohingya are a people trapped in a cycle of violence and 
persecution by the Burmese Government and military. The Government of 
Burma has turned them into stateless people--refusing to recognize 
them, refusing to give them citizenship in spite of the fact that much 
of the Rohingya community has been there for centuries. They need our 
  The Burma Government has adopted laws that ban the Rohingyas from 
traveling without official permission, from owning land, from securing 
a public education, from obtaining employment by either a state or 
private business.
  When the Burmese Government says that it will welcome back the 
refugees who can prove their citizenship, they are being completely 
disingenuous and completely treacherous, because they know--and the 
whole world should know--that the very laws of Burma make it impossible 
for the Rohingya to prove their citizenship since they have been denied 
citizenship by the Government of Burma. We cannot sit idly by and let 
ethnic cleansing continue.
  One nation that has stepped up is Bangladesh. As the leaders of Burma 
have persecuted the Rohingya and burned the villages and shot the 
refugees as they were fleeing, the Government of Bangladesh has opened 
its door. It has proceeded to allow humanitarian groups access and the 
United Nations access. This is commendable, but more needs to be done. 
These refugee camps are overcrowded. There are not enough supplies, 
clean toilets, food, or clean water. Doctors Without Borders says that 
they are on the brink of a ``public health disaster.'' Unlike 
Bangladesh, other countries have yet to speak up.
  Indeed, I am concerned by reports that some factions within India 
have been explicitly, publicly seeking to expel India's own Rohingya 
population. It is important for the international community to weigh in 
with them and to ask them to respect international law and to protect 
the Rohingya refugees. India knows full well that there is nowhere to 
send them. If they send them back to Burma, there will just be more 
persecution of the men, the women, and the children.
  It underscores the fact that the Rohingya need help and that the 
world should answer the call. As we do, we must use what influence we 
have to put an end to the violence and the persecution of this ethnic 
minority. We need to call on Burma's leaders to protect these 
minorities, not to assist in the

[[Page S6212]]

persecution. We need to call on the Government of Burma to immediately 
give humanitarian groups access to the Rohingya who are trapped in 
Burma, in what some have described as concentration camps. We need to 
call on Burma's leaders to provide the hundreds of thousands of 
Rohingya refugees who have been forced to flee their homes and villages 
with a safe and assisted right of return.
  In addition, the Burmese Government--the Burmese nation--needs to 
figure out how to end the root causes of this conflict--an age-old 
ethnic and religious conflict--and find a way to embrace the diversity 
within their nation. Certainly, this is not the first time that the 
tensions have erupted into violence. It has happened time and time and 
time again, but this is the worst we have ever seen.
  Kofi Annan, the former U.N. Secretary General, is the current 
chairman of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. He and his team 
have called on Burma to take the appropriate actions to end this cycle 
of violence, this cycle of radicalization.
  The entire Rohingya community is counting on us--the world--to notice 
and to act. We must immediately see an end to the violence, full access 
for humanitarian organizations, cooperation with and access for the 
United Nations fact finding mission, the safe return of refugees, and 
the implementation of the full set of recommendations from Kofi Annan's 
  It is also critical that the United States and the international 
community continue to shed light on this horrific problem, provide 
sustained aid and support to the refugees in Burma and in Bangladesh, 
and take action to show other repressive governments that there will be 
consequences for pursuing this type of persecution, starting with a 
strong U.N. Security Council resolution.
  International action to end this violence, increase humanitarian 
assistance, and extend our aid to the Rohingya people is the right 
thing to do. I pray that together we will answer that call.
  I also thank my colleagues who have already been engaged in this 
issue. There are a number of them, but I am particularly aware of 
Senator Richard Durbin's, Senator John McCain's, and Senator Ben 
Cardin's involvement and leadership.
  Let's build on that foundation to have the Senate demonstrate 
attention to this issue through letters, and we should also try to 
arrange a Senate trip to visit both Burma and Bangladesh in order to 
draw additional international attention and build momentum for action.
  I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for 
the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

           Hurricane Recovery Efforts and Targeted Tax Relief

  Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, it has been quite a few weeks now since 
Harvey hit and, then, Irma. Now Maria has devastated the island of 
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Of course, my gaze has been firmly 
on the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey back in my home State of 
Texas. Yet we are joined together with those who suffered under Irma 
and Maria, and we will remain steadfastly with them as we all work to 
recover from these terrible hurricanes.
  Last week, I rode in a Black Hawk helicopter with Russ Poppe, as well 
as our Adjutant General, John Nichols. Mr. Poppe is executive director 
of the Harris County Flood Control District. We were able to survey in 
the air things I had seen up close during several trips back home, the 
wreckage of the land and livelihoods.
  It is an emotional thing for families and homeowners to basically 
take all of their worldly possessions out to the front of their house 
and put it in the front yard because it is completely ruined as a 
result of the water, along with things like the drywall, trying to 
attack the mold before it grows and makes the house uninhabitable.
  We saw from about 10,000 feet in the air what we had previously seen 
from the ground, but from the air, you definitely get a different 
perspective on the waterlogged landscape. You see so much more. You see 
the levees, the reservoirs, the areas hit. You see the damaged goods 
and drywall that people have taken out of their homes as the first step 
toward recovery. It definitely has an impression on you, particularly 
with the size and scale of the affected area. It is really hard to 
believe until you see it from that perspective.
  So when I took off my headset and sunglasses--and by the way, Speaker 
Paul Ryan joined us on that particular trip, and we all appreciate his 
being there. When we stepped off the chopper, what I thought about was 
not only what we have done so far but how much further we still had to 
go. It is not just about building materials, street and roof repairs, 
or even the temporary housing that people need, although all of those 
things are surely important. We need to remember that the remedies are 
not going to be one-size-fits-all. We need broad support, but we also 
need targeted and narrow support to help people get back on their feet. 
We need to keep each family in mind and what their own particular needs 
may be depending on their particular circumstances.
  As I started out to say, it is not just Texas we are talking about 
anymore; it is Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands too. We all 
remember that those places were hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria right 
after Texas was hit by Harvey.
  I want to make one thing clear, though: We in Texas stand together 
with our fellow Americans who suffered from Hurricanes Maria and Irma, 
as well as those who suffered from other natural disasters occurring in 
and around our country, and we will do everything we can to help the 
people who were harmed and damaged, even devastated by these terrible 
storms. We will help them fight to get back on their feet, to recover, 
and to return their lives to some form of normalcy.
  One way we can work together and deliver relief to different people 
in different geographic areas is in providing temporary tax relief. 
Now, I know this sounds kind of like a small thing to do, but if you 
think about it, this is a thousand-year storm. Hurricane Harvey dropped 
34 trillion gallons of water on the same area over a period of about 5 
or so days. Many people were not in the hundred-year floodplain, which 
is typically where you would buy flood insurance, so many people 
suffered losses that were not covered by flood insurance. What many of 
these folks will have to do is dip into their retirement savings and 
other savings in order to help to get life back to normal. This relief 
will help folks get back on their feet as they rebuild their homes and 
businesses and neighborhoods in the wake of these hurricanes.
  We recently passed--earlier this afternoon--a Federal Aviation 
Administration reauthorization, but it also included the tax package I 
am talking about now that provides this targeted relief. These 
provisions will help hurricane victims in all of the devastated areas 
keep more of their paycheck, first and foremost, but be able to deduct 
the cost of their property damage on their tax return and encourage 
even more Americans to generously donate to hurricane relief to help 
their neighbors and employees.
  I know this tax package is a small matter. It is not a panacea and 
certainly not a cure-all, and it is not supposed to fix every storm-
related problem or absolve us from honoring our ongoing 
responsibilities in the days ahead. But as John Steinbeck once said, 
``and now that you don't have to be perfect, you can just be good,'' 
and I think these are good reforms. They will complement other measures 
by the Federal Government, as well as other State and local actors.
  Similar provisions were introduced in a noncontroversial section of 
the FAA reauthorization bill that unfortunately House Democrats, led by 
Leader Pelosi, tried to block earlier this week. Despite the delays, I 
am pleased that the House acted a second time earlier today to ensure 
that this relief is delivered to those who need it most--again, not 
just in Texas but in Florida, the Virgin Islands, and in Puerto Rico, 
which reportedly has been devastated. Now we in this Chamber seem to 
have finally gotten the message, too, by passing this relief just this 
very afternoon as part of the FAA bill.
  Our colleague from Florida, Representative Carlos Curbelo, said

[[Page S6213]]

about the hurricane victims in his home State: ``They don't have time 
to wait. They certainly don't have time to play political games.'' He 
is right, and now we can say we have taken those words to heart.
  So I remember what I saw from that helicopter. Now that the time for 
surveying the scene has ended, what is no longer up in the air is this: 
For many Texans, Floridians, and Puerto Ricans, targeted tax relief 
will serve to make a difficult year just a little easier.
  So I salute the House for getting the job done, and I am glad we in 
this Chamber have quickly followed suit.
  Mr. President, I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Hawaii.
  Mr. SCHATZ. Mr. President, I want to thank the senior Senator from 
Texas for his leadership in the disaster response, and I pledge my 
commitment to whatever is needed for Houston and the areas around 
Houston, as well as Florida. I appreciate the commitment at the 
legislative level for what needs to be done in Puerto Rico.
  Mr. President, we also need to continue to apply pressure to the 
administration because it does appear as though there is an unequal 
response between what is happening in Puerto Rico and what has happened 
in Houston and in Florida. So we need to hold as a country the 
executive branch accountable for the lack of a sense of urgency for 3.5 
million Americans who are mostly going to be without power for 9 
months, who are currently without potable water, who are in a 
devastated situation. It is our obligation to do everything we can.
  Mr. President, the Senate is about to make an important decision 
about who leads the Federal agency that oversees everything from the 
internet, to the TV, to radio.
  This vote is a choice: We can either give our stamp of approval on 
the FCC's direction under the leadership of Chairman Pai, or we can 
decide that his leadership has put the FCC on the wrong track and that 
it is time for someone else to take charge.
  Generally speaking, here is how I approach a nomination. There are 
three reasons one might reject a nominee. If the person is corrupt, it 
is a nonstarter. If the person is nonqualified, it is also a 
nonstarter. And even on policy grounds, in the policy space, just 
disagreeing with someone can often boil down to the fact that there is 
a President from another party and is not sufficient to vote no.
  Chairman Pai is someone I know. He is skillful, he is a decent human 
being, he is very smart, and he is qualified. When we disagree, we can 
do it in a way that doesn't ruin our ability to work together on the 
following day on the following issue. And this is no small thing in 
today's political climate. So it is important that if we are ever going 
to get something done, we are able to disagree and find common ground 
  I do like Chairman Pai as a person. I think he is ethical and he is 
capable. But he is just so wrong on policy. For me, that means he is 
not the right leader for the FCC. I want to highlight four of the 
concerns I have.
  First, the FCC really is trying to end the internet as we know it by 
getting rid of net neutrality. If they succeed, your internet service 
provider will have the power to stop you from seeing certain kinds of 
content. They will be the ones that make decisions about what you can 
access online and how fast and how much you have to pay for it.
  Some people say that companies aren't going to change the internet 
because it is not in their interest to change the internet, even if the 
law goes away. But think about this: Most often, these ISPs are 
publicly traded companies, and they are going to make decisions based 
on their own financial interests. It is not just an objective; it is 
their obligation. If there is an opportunity to change their business 
model for internet service, they are duty bound to pursue it. They do 
not have any obligation to a free and open internet; they have an 
obligation to shareholders and to profits.
  That is why net neutrality exists in the first place--because we 
should not leave it up to any company to decide whether they are going 
to charge people more to stream video, for example, or block certain 
content altogether. If we allow the FCC to end net neutrality, 
Americans across the country are going to find that the internet no 
longer works in the way that it should. And this has happened under 
Chairman Pai's leadership.
  It is not just bad policy that he is pursuing; they have also had 
some serious process fouls. When Chairman Pai announced that the FCC 
was revisiting the rules, he made clear that the FCC was going to get 
rid of net neutrality regardless of what happened throughout the 
process. He said: ``This is a fight we intend to wage and it is a fight 
we intend to win.'' Why is that a significant thing to say? ``This is a 
fight we intend to wage and it is a fight we intend to win.'' This a 
quasi-judicial agency. They just opened up a public comment period. 
There were 22 million members of the public who submitted public 
comments after the Chairman of the Commission has already announced 
that he has decided which way they are going to go. I think that is 
antithetical to the governing statute, and it is antithetical to the 
basic premise that if you have an open comment period where an 
individual has an opportunity to express themselves, you have to listen 
to them. You don't say: I already decided, but you 22 million people--
if you have an opinion, I will be happy to receive it and file it and 
do what I planned to do all along. That is the exact opposite of how 
this is supposed to work.
  The agency proposes the rule, the public weighs in, and then the 
agency considers the comments from the public in making the decision. 
But Chairman Pai turned it upside down. The FCC has tried to diminish 
the fact that so many people tried to weigh in. About 96 percent of the 
roughly 22 million people who have weighed in have weighed in in favor 
of net neutrality. They are trying to lay the groundwork to get rid of 
net neutrality even though the vast majority of people are for it. By 
doing that, the FCC is effectively saying that lobbyists and law firms 
matter more than regular citizens.
  This is just the tip of the iceberg. The FCC has claimed that cyber 
attacks kept people from being able to comment, but they have not been 
forthcoming about what exactly happened, and we are still working in 
our oversight role to figure that all out.
  Secondly, I would like to address media ownership. Local TV 
broadcasters are an essential part of every community. People know 
their local TV station. They trust it. There is a range of perspectives 
offered. Because the broadcasters are based in the community, they have 
relationships with their viewers that make their content better and 
more relevant.
  For decades, Congress and the FCC have taken steps to keep local 
broadcasting local because it benefits the public interest. These are 
the public airways. It is like fast food options across the country. 
You may not mind McDonald's once in a while, but you don't want that to 
be the only option in your hometown. You want something that captures 
the local culture in your community. That is what local broadcasting 
does. It makes TV in Honolulu different from TV in Hartford or Houston.
  But now the American tradition of local broadcasting is in real 
danger because the FCC is going to change the rules so that these 
stations can be bought out by a single company without any limits. I 
have no doubt this would create a world of sort of nationalized content 
distributed through each of these local companies, with consumers 
having to watch whatever is distributed to them by their national 
headquarters. This is no longer local news, and this is not the 
broadcast media that Americans deserve.

  The third area I want to talk about is broadband access. Right now, 
Americans have widely different levels of internet speed basically 
based on where they live. In some places, you have great broadband 
access, no trouble streaming video, accessing government services 
online, downloading, uploading, but in rural and Tribal communities, 
they are very, very far behind. As the FCC noted, 39 percent of rural 
America and 41 percent of those on Tribal land lack access to advanced 
broadband. Even if they have cell phones with internet access, a mobile 
network will typically offer slower speed than fixed broadband, so they 
can't go online and do the things we can in Washington, DC, or in many

[[Page S6214]]

other cities across the country. So everyone, on a bipartisan basis, 
understands that this needs to change.
  High-speed broadband is the cornerstone to economic development, 
public safety, and quality of life in every community, no matter how 
many people live in your community. The FCC has historically worked so 
that every home, school, and business has had adequate access to the 
internet because that is what it will take to unlock the innovation and 
potential for all Americans.
  The FCC has worked on this issue by setting the bar for what it will 
take to connect more Americans to the internet. There is already a 
threshold in place which says that this is what high-speed internet 
access is, so we know who has it and who doesn't. But instead of 
actually working to get more people broadband, the FCC is working to 
change the definition of broadband so that it looks as if they have 
gotten people more broadband. That way they can say that more Americans 
are covered, even if they have internet service that does not meet 
their needs. In other words, they are not actually solving the problem; 
they are literally just redefining what it means to have access. Rather 
than giving people access, they are papering over the problem that they 
are not solving. This is a real issue, and it is something that the 
Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee members have worked on 
on a bipartisan basis.
  The way to get more people broadband access is to get more people 
broadband access. It is not to change the rules and to change the 
metrics so that you can come back to the Congress and say: Look, we 
just achieved more access by allowing these companies to claim that 
people are covered who are not.
  The fourth and final concern I want to raise is a little more 
sensitive because, as I said, I like Chairman Pai, and I respect 
Chairman Pai, but he made some comments during his confirmation hearing 
that worried me. I asked if he agreed with the President's comments 
calling the media the enemy of the state. He would not give a direct 
  I understand that Mr. Pai is a Republican. That is not the problem. I 
understand Republicans will be appointed in a Republican 
administration. I am the former Democratic Party chairman of the State 
of Hawaii, so I understand party loyalty. I respect party loyalty.
  We have a President and a White House that are pushing to blur the 
legal, moral, and ethical boundaries in our Nation's Capital. This is 
not the time to get cute when we ask a question about the rule of law. 
This is not the time to finesse an answer. The only acceptable answer 
is this: I will not let anyone interfere with my work, whether it is 
the President or anyone else, and the media is not the enemy of the 
state. Mr. Pai did not take that opportunity. This was one of a few 
opportunities Mr. Pai had to be unequivocal. The senior Senator from 
New Mexico, if I remember correctly, and other members of the panel, 
sort of gave him a second and third bite at the apple so that he could 
get it right. It was an easy one to get right.
  I understand it is politically complicated, but sometimes you have to 
set aside the politics and just say what is right and do what is right. 
My instinct is that he will not use the FCC to do anything that crosses 
any ethical boundaries that I am worried about, but the fact that he 
will not say so leaves an opening that should not be there.
  The President has tweeted about media companies that give him bad 
coverage. He consistently refers to the media as ``fake news'' media 
and ``garbage'' media and makes unsubstantiated claims about various 
networks and newspapers and threatens to come after them. So it is not 
out of the realm of possibility that this could go beyond some partisan 
talking point from the Democrats in the Commerce, Science, and 
Transportation Committee and into a real crisis.
  I just want to hear from Mr. Pai. He will be confirmed on Monday, but 
I want to hear from Mr. Pai that he does not believe the media is the 
enemy of the state and he will not allow any interference from the 
White House.
  I would like to end by bringing this back to the American people. 
This vote is our chance to stand up for them. There will not be a vote 
on net neutrality on the floor in the next weeks or months, but they 
deserve to keep their faith in local broadcasting, they deserve a free 
and open internet, and they deserve to have adequate access to the 
internet no matter where they live. That is why I have to vote no on 
this nominee.
  I admire Chairman Pai. I like him as a person, but he is the wrong 
leader for the FCC. I urge my colleagues to join me and vote no on his 
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from New Hampshire.
  Ms. HASSAN. Mr. President, I, too, rise today to oppose the 
renomination of Ajit Pai to serve as Chairman of the Federal 
Communications Commission. I will start my remarks by acknowledging my 
friend, the Senator from Hawaii, and echoing his sentiments about the 
respect I have for Chairman Pai's ability, his skill, his intelligence, 
his dedication, and commitment, but I, too, as a member of the Commerce 
Committee, have sat through testimony from Mr. Pai and watched a number 
of things unfold with regard to policy that is critically important to 
people of New Hampshire and our country. I find that I, too, am in a 
position of being unable to support this nomination.
  The FCC plays a critical role in overseeing our communications 
networks, protecting consumers, and ensuring that our Nation's 
businesses can compete on a level playing field. Unfortunately, 
throughout his tenure at the FCC, and particularly during his time as 
Chairman, Mr. Pai has not demonstrated a commitment to those goals. To 
start, I have real concerns with the Chairman's actions to undermine 
net neutrality and the impact that would have on people in New 
Hampshire and throughout our country.
  A free and open internet is essential to consumers, essential to 
entrepreneurs and innovative small businesses that are the foundation 
of our economic success. Net neutrality is the concept that internet 
service providers should provide equal access to applications and 
content online, and they should not be able to discriminate against 
content and content providers by making certain web pages, 
applications, or videos load faster or slower than others. Put simply, 
net neutrality ensures that even the smallest voices and businesses can 
be heard and can thrive. People and businesses in New Hampshire know 
this. Granite Staters have called and written to my office in support 
of net neutrality, and the FCC has received a recordbreaking number of 
public comments, reaching tens of millions, from people looking to make 
their voices heard on this topic.
  Chairman Pai is not addressing the concerns of Americans who are 
speaking out. Instead, he is listening to big cable companies and 
internet service providers and taking direct aim at net neutrality 
protections. That is unacceptable. Protecting net neutrality is 
essential, but with Chairman Pai at the FCC, these critical rules are 
in danger.
  I also oppose this nomination because Chairman Pai is putting rural 
broadband advancements at stake. Recently, Chairman Pai and the FCC 
released a notice of inquiry that raises questions about its goals, 
suggesting it will consider mobile broadband as an adequate replacement 
for fixed broadband, which would allow speeds that are two-thirds 
slower. For many parts of New Hampshire, mobile is not dependable 
enough or fast enough to meet our economy's needs, promote innovation, 
and connect young students with their homework. We must address the 
challenges that rural communities face in getting access to broadband. 
But by focusing instead on mobile broadband, the Chairman would have us 
leave rural America without a reliable connection.
  Finally, I have concerns about Chairman Pai's ability to adequately 
evaluate the pending Sinclair-Tribune merger that sits before the FCC. 
For decades, our Nation has maintained a policy that limits the number 
of broadcast stations that one company can own nationwide. This policy 
has protected Americans by allowing them to receive robust and fair 
news content about their communities and has provided a diversity of 
voices in the broadcast news media marketplace.

[[Page S6215]]

  This merger would result in Sinclair's ability to reach over 70 
percent of Americans across our country, far exceeding the Commission's 
ownership caps and threatening the diversity in broadcast news that 
Americans deserve and expect.
  Since Chairman Pai took the lead of the FCC, the Commission has 
worked to loosen regulations regarding media ownership, and, in turn, 
Sinclair benefited. As this proposed merger is still under 
consideration, we need someone at the helm of the FCC who will 
thoroughly vet the implications and ensure that it is in the public 
interest. There is too much at stake with this merger, and Chairman 
Pai's actions raise doubts that he can evaluate it impartially.
  We need an FCC that is focused on putting consumers first and 
ensuring that all Americans have the opportunity to thrive in the 21st 
century economy. There are simply too many concerns about Chairman 
Pai's record, his ability to express impartiality on key decisions, and 
his goals for Federal Communications Commission priorities. I will vote 
against Chairman Pai's renomination, and I urge my colleagues to do the 
  Thank you.
  I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for 
the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

                               Tax Reform

  Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, I am going to take some time this afternoon 
to respond to the remarks of the President's top economic adviser, Mr. 
Gary Cohn, with respect to this administration's approach to taxes.
  Let me be clear right at the outset. The President and his parade of 
millionaires are executing a middle-class con job. I am going to be 
very specific in saying why I reached that judgment with respect to 
what they are saying about taxes.
  The President said: ``I don't benefit. Very, very strongly I think 
there's very little benefit for people of wealth.'' Those are the 
President's exact words. ``It's not good for me, believe me,'' the 
President said in his speech unveiling the tax reform blueprint on 
  Unless the President paid zero tax, the President is going to benefit 
enormously from his tax plan. His family would save billions if the 
estate tax is eliminated, as he has proposed. His more than 500 
passthroughs will be able to take advantage of the new Grand Canyon-
sized passthrough loophole that his plan proposes. Based on his 2005 
tax return--that is the only one available--the President would save 
millions each year if the alternative minimum tax is eliminated.
  Today, the President's top adviser, Gary Cohn, said: ``We've also 
said that wealthy Americans are not getting a tax cut.'' They expect 
you to believe them and not your lying eyes.
  I want to take a few minutes and describe exactly what the well-to-do 
are getting in this bill.
  The plan outlined by the Trump administration would cost upwards of 
$5 trillion, and it is overwhelmingly skewed toward the wealthy and the 
biggest corporations. It lowers the corporate rate from 35 to 20, and 
much of that goes to wealthy shareholders.
  The new passthrough, which would give this big gift to high-flyers, 
hedge funds, basically would let them start calling ordinary income 
business income, so it could be taxed at a much lower rate, and they 
would in the process harm Social Security and Medicare because they 
aren't paying those payroll taxes.
  I mentioned the estate tax. This is for just a few thousand people. 
The exemption for a couple is already $11 million. This break would 
cost the American people between $250 to $270 billion. That is an awful 
lot of money to parcel out to a few thousand families.
  They would lower the individual top rate from 39.6 to 35 percent. 
Let's make no mistake about it--the President of the United States and 
his top economic adviser have said they are not going to give tax cuts 
to the wealthy. That is not what they said yesterday. They said that 
the top rate was going to go down from 39.6 to 35 percent. And to add 
insult to injury, for those at the bottom of the economic system who 
pay 10 percent now, theirs would go up to 12 percent. So this is just 
making a mockery out of the President's pledge that this was going to 
be about working families and not about the wealthy. The fact is, with 
respect to the middle class, the Trump team is running a sleight-of-
hand shell game. What they give with one hand, they just take away with 
the other.

  They touted yesterday that they were going to be helping middle-class 
folks by doubling the standard deduction. First of all, that is walking 
back the bipartisan proposal we had here in the Senate--written by 
myself and my colleague Dan Coats, now a member of the Trump 
administration--that would triple the standard deduction.
  What is particularly outrageous is that the Trump people aren't 
leveling with those middle-class families. Basically, they are saying: 
Oh, you are really going to do well. You are going to double the 
standard deduction. What they don't tell them is that they are going to 
eliminate the personal exemption that large middle-class families rely 
on. In effect, those large middle-class families--I think a lot of 
working-class families who may have supported the President--are going 
to see a tax increase under the President's tax outline that we heard 
about yesterday, even with this larger standard deduction.
  The President's team also took a big pass on the opportunity to 
expand the child tax credit to make sure more working families would 
benefit from it. There are no specifics about the child tax credit in 
this plan.
  The Treasury Secretary went on FOX News and said that the tax plan is 
going to cut the deficit by a trillion dollars. Mr. Mnuchin is doubling 
down on the failed experiment--the idea that the tax cuts, in effect, 
pay for themselves through economic growth. History shows that just is 
not true.
  The tax cuts don't pay for themselves. The 2001 and 2003 Bush tax 
cuts were billed as tax relief for the middle class to spark economic 
growth. Instead, the benefits skewed to those at the very top, and they 
added trillions of dollars to America's debt. Middle-class wages fell. 
Unemployment increased. This is a pattern that working families, 
middle-class families, cannot afford to have repeated.
  Now the Secretary of Treasury's claim is: Well, the Trump tax cuts 
will not just pay for themselves; they are going to bring in an 
additional $1 trillion in revenue atop their own cost. William Peter 
Wyden, age 9, my son, would say: That is just a bunch of whoppers. It 
couldn't be further from the truth.
  As even Republican-appointed Budget Office Director Keith Hall has 
said and made clear, the tax cuts do not pay for themselves: ``No, the 
evidence is that tax cuts do not pay for themselves.'' Those are the 
words of the Budget Director appointed by the Republicans.
  That Budget Director, Mr. Keith Hall, went on to say that the models 
they are doing--the macroeconomic effects, the fancy kind of economic 
lingo for the big picture in the long term--show it.
  The other comment that was noteworthy from Mr. Gary Cohn is that the 
President remains committed to ending the carried interest deduction. 
Despite his campaign promise that won him bouquets from political 
commentators and typical middle-class voters, once again, the 
President's plan doesn't close the carried interest loophole. This is 
the second big occasion on which the President has failed to follow 
through on his campaign promise.
  A few months ago, in the spring, they had a one-page outline. They 
said that was where they were going on taxes. They said that one-page 
outline was shorter than a typical Fred Meyer receipt. Fred Meyer is 
kind of an iconic store in our State. They had one page then and didn't 
do anything about following through on the President's promise to get 
rid of the carried interest loophole.
  Yesterday--again, we didn't get a bill, but at least when you kind of 
eliminate all the white space, they put out close to five pages. Once 
again, they didn't close the carried interest loophole.
  In fact, the plan gives such massive tax cuts to those at the top, 
investment managers will not be the only

[[Page S6216]]

people who can get away with paying less than their fair share. Many of 
the megawealthy are going to be able to do so. It is all going to be 
legal under the President's plan.
  What is the one question on which the Trump team doesn't bend the 
truth? Whether their plan will protect the middle class from a tax 
hike. On ABC, the Trump adviser, Mr. Cohn, said that he couldn't 
guarantee taxes will not go up for middle-class folks. On ABC, the 
Treasury Secretary said that he couldn't guarantee middle-class folks 
would not pay more under the tax plan.
  What is really striking about this, and it is quite a contrast, is 
that what people at the very top are going to get is spelled out in 
detail--in detail. They are going to see the abolition of the estate 
tax, an incredible windfall to a few thousand families.
  Middle-class folks--can't guarantee you will not pay more. Mr. Cohn 
said: We are aiming to help the middle class. But then he was asked: 
Would you commit to it? His answer: Well, I don't know. There might be 
somebody somewhere.
  Then there are State and local taxes. He just wouldn't stand behind 
the middle class the way that this administration stands foursquare 
behind those at the top. It is why I have said that the President and 
his parade of millionaires are executing a middle-class con job, and we 
sure saw it today.
  The President's ultrawealthy, out-of-touch advisers clearly fail to 
understand that the time is now to deliver tax relief to middle-class 
folks who need it most. It is time to go back to the drawing board and 
come up with a plan that doesn't threaten middle-class Americans, 
particularly those with larger families, and doesn't hit them with a 
tax increase they can't afford.
  I want to close by way of saying that on our side, we have repeatedly 
said we share the view that the tax system is a dysfunctional, broken-
down mess filled with loopholes. Then you have the inversion virus. 
Often my wife says: Why don't you stop there? Any more is going to 
frighten the children.
  We share the view that the tax system is broken. I have been very 
proud over the years to join two senior Republicans, close allies--the 
majority leader, Mitch McConnell--in a tax reform proposal that is 
bipartisan that really puts the focus on the middle class and on red, 
white, and blue jobs.
  Our proposal--the outline laid out by Democrats--was that there had 
to be fiscal responsibility, it had to focus on the middle class, and 
the tax relief couldn't go to the 1 percent. The bill I wrote that had 
Republican support, the outline led by the distinguished Democratic 
leader, Senator Schumer, doesn't even go as far as Ronald Reagan and 
the Democrats went in 1986.
  President Reagan, whom no one would call a flaming liberal, entered 
into an agreement with Democrats in 1986 that said there would be equal 
treatment of income earned by a cop or a nurse with that earned by 
someone from a hedge fund or an investment shop.
  In effect, Ronald Reagan said that a dollar is a dollar is a dollar. 
Everything ought to be treated fairly. That was important then, and it 
is even more important now because, in reality, there are two tax 
systems in America. There is one for the cop and the nurse. They have 
their taxes taken out every paycheck. That taxation is compulsory--no 
Cayman Island deal for them.
  Then there is another tax system for the kind of people who benefit 
from what the President outlined yesterday. Those are the high-fliers. 
They get to pay what they want when they want to. I think it is very 
unfortunate that what the President has described is another gift to 
that group I just described, who pay what they want when they want to. 
To quote the President, it is really sad to hear that this 
administration and the President are pretending that they are doing 
something else and putting the focus on the middle class when what they 
really are doing is advancing the cause of the parade of millionaires, 
a number of whom are part of this administration.
  I yield the floor.
  I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Blunt). Without objection, it is so