[Congressional Record Volume 158, Number 75 (Wednesday, May 23, 2012)]
[Senate]
[Pages S3517-S3519]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




          STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS

      By Mr. WYDEN:
  S. 3225. A bill to require the United States Trade Representative to 
provide documents relating to trade negotiations to Members of Congress 
and their staff upon request, and for other purposes; to the Committee 
on Finance.
  Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, right now, the Obama Administration is in 
the process of negotiating what might prove to be the most far-reaching 
economic agreement since the World Trade Organization was established 
nearly twenty years ago.
  The goal of this agreement--known as the Trans Pacific Partnership, 
TPP--is to economically bind together the economies of the Asia 
Pacific. It involves countries ranging from Australia, Singapore, 
Vietnam, Peru, Chile and the United States and holds the potential to 
include many more countries, like Japan, Korea, Canada, and Mexico. If 
successful, the agreement will set norms for the trade of goods and 
services and includes disciplines related to intellectual property, 
access to medicines, Internet governance, investment, government 
procurement, worker rights and environmental standards.
  If agreed to, TPP will set the tone for our nation's economic future 
for years to come, impacting the way Congress intervenes and acts on 
behalf of the American people it represents.
  It may be the U.S. Trade Representative's, USTR, current job to 
negotiate trade agreements on behalf of the United States, but Article 
1 Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress--not the USTR or 
any other member of the Executive Branch--the responsibility of 
regulating foreign commerce. It was our Founding Fathers' intention to 
ensure that the laws and policies that govern the American people take 
into account the interests of all the American people, not just a 
privileged few.
  Yet, the majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the 
substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. 
corporations--like Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast, and the Motion 
Picture Association of America--are being consulted and made privy to 
details of the agreement. As the Office of the USTR will tell you, the 
President gives it broad power to keep information about the trade 
policies it advances and negotiates, secret. Let me tell you, the USTR 
is making full use of this authority.
  As the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee's Subcommittee on 
International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness, my office is 
responsible for conducting oversight over the USTR and trade 
negotiations. To do that, I asked that my staff obtain the proper 
security credentials to view the information that USTR keeps 
confidential and secret. This is material that fully describes what the

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USTR is seeking in the TPP talks on behalf of the American people and 
on behalf of Congress. More than two months after receiving the proper 
security credentials, my staff is still barred from viewing the details 
of the proposals that USTR is advancing.
  We hear that the process by which TPP is being negotiated has been a 
model of transparency. I disagree with that statement. And not just 
because the Staff Director of the Senate subcommittee responsible for 
oversight of international trade continues to be denied access to 
substantive and detailed information that pertains to the TPP talks.
  Congress passed legislation in 2002 to form the Congressional 
Oversight Group, or COG, to foster more USTR consultation with 
Congress. I was a senator in 2002. I voted for that law and I can tell 
you the intention of that law was to ensure that USTR consulted with 
more Members of Congress not less.
  In trying to get to the bottom of why my staff is being denied 
information, it seems that some in the Executive Branch may be 
interpreting the law that established the COG to mean that only the few 
Members of Congress who belong to the COG can be given access to trade 
negotiation information, while every other Member of Congress, and 
their staff, must be denied such access. So, this is not just a 
question of whether or not cleared staff should have access to 
information about the TPP talks, this is a question of whether or not 
the administration believes that most Members of Congress can or should 
have a say in trade negotiations.
  Again, having voted for that law, I strongly disagree with such an 
interpretation and find it offensive that some would suggest that a law 
meant to foster more consultation with Congress is intended to limit 
it. But given that the TPP negotiations are currently underway and I--
and the vast majority of my colleagues and their staff--continue to be 
denied a full understanding of what the USTR is seeking in the 
agreement, we do not have time to waste on a protracted legal battle 
over this issue. Therefore, I am introducing legislation to clarify the 
intent of the COG statute.
  The legislation, I propose, is straightforward. It gives all Members 
of Congress and staff with appropriate clearance access to the 
substance of trade negotiations. Finally, Members of Congress who are 
responsible for conducting oversight over the enforcement of trade 
agreements will be provided information by the Executive Branch 
indicating whether our trading partners are living up to their trade 
obligations. Put simply, this legislation would ensure that the 
representatives elected by the American people are afforded the same 
level of influence over our nation's policies as the paid 
representatives of PHRMA, Halliburton and the Motion Picture 
Association.
  My intent is to do everything I can to see that this legislation is 
advanced quickly and becomes law, so that elected Members of Congress 
can do what the Constitution requires and what their constituents 
expect.
                                 ______
                                 
      By Mr. KERRY (for himself, Mr. Grassley, Ms. Landrieu, Mr. 
        Cardin, Mr. Wyden, and Mr. Cochran):
  S. 3231. A bill to provide for the issuance and sale of a semipostal 
by the United States Postal Service to support effective programs 
targeted at improving permanency outcomes for youth in foster care; to 
the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
  Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, as we recognize May as National Foster Care 
Month, we should take a minute to think about what foster care means 
for children in America. We currently have over 408,000 children in our 
foster care system due to abuse or neglect by their biological 
families, with 107,000 as eligible for adoption. Every year nearly 
28,000 of these children age out of our foster care system with no 
place to call home. On average, foster children spend over 3 years in 
the system and around 16 percent languish in the foster care system for 
over 5 years. These numbers are a stark reminder that we must do more 
to connect children in our foster care system with a safe, loving, and 
permanent home.
  I have worked with my colleague Senator Grassley on a bipartisan bill 
that will provide supplemental funds to programs that directly impact 
children in our foster care system. The Families for Foster Youth Stamp 
Act will provide additional funding for the Court Improvement Program 
and the Adoption Opportunities Program by giving an easy option for 
individuals to pay a few cents more for their postage stamps if they 
choose to.
  By providing a boost in resources to the Court Improvement Program, 
states can enhance their capacity to serve children in the system, 
build upon best practices, and improve the quality of representation 
our children receive. Funds going to the Adoption Opportunities Program 
will support programs that target improvement in permanency outcomes 
for youth in foster care through adoption, guardianship, or kinship 
care. We know that youth who are served by effective programs targeting 
permanent placement options have shown to be more likely to find a 
forever family than the national average. No teenager should exit our 
foster care system alone, facing possible homelessness and without the 
type of support system that only a family can provide. The Families for 
Foster Youth Stamp Act provides a unique funding option to supplement 
programs that make a real and tangible difference in the lives of our 
most at-risk children.
  A number of organizations are supportive of this bill, including the 
American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, Children's 
Action Network, Children's Advocacy Institute, Child Welfare League of 
America, First Focus Campaign for Children, Foster Club, National 
Association of Council for Children, National Children's Alliance, 
National Council for Adoption, Northwest Adoption Exchange, The 
Adoption Exchange, and Voice for Adoption.
  I would like to recognize Senators Grassley, Landrieu, Cardin, Wyden, 
and Cochran as original cosponsors of this bill. I look forward to 
continued progress in developing a more effective child welfare system 
and ask all of my colleagues to support this important legislation.
                                 ______
                                 
      By Mr. CASEY (for himself and Mr. Wyden):
  S. 3233. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the 
enforcement of employment and reemployment rights of members of the 
uniformed services, and for other purposes; to the Committee on 
Veterans' Affairs.


              Servicemembers Access to Justice Act of 2012

  Mr. CASEY. Mr. President, the brave men and women serving our country 
in the military, the National Guard and the Reserves have sacrificed 
time away from their families, jobs and lives throughout Operation 
Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Even upon their safe 
return, many of these men and women suffer physical, personal, and 
financial effects from their deployment and time in combat. This is 
compounded when our servicemembers return home from their deployment or 
service to find that their employers will not promptly reinstate them 
in their civilian jobs, as required by the Uniformed Services 
Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, USERRA. Although USERRA 
should protect servicemembers against this type of discrimination, the 
process for filing a complaint can be unwieldy and expensive. No single 
Federal agency has oversight over this process, and investigations can 
drag on for months, including while servicemembers are deployed 
overseas. Our military personnel and their families should not be 
burdened by this additional stress and financial strain.
  Pennsylvania has the nation's largest Army National Guard and fourth-
largest Air National Guard. We owe it to these brave men and women to 
renew America's social commitment to the National Guard and Reserve, 
and to update National Guard and Reserve programs and benefits to 
reflect the operation tempo of their service. This is why I am today 
reintroducing the Servicemembers Access to Justice Act, which would 
eliminate loopholes and strengthen protections in the current law. 
Furthermore, this bill would bring a newfound clarity and understanding 
of the law for courts and employers.

[[Page S3519]]

  The Servicemembers Access to Justice Act makes it easier for our 
servicemembers to fight for their USERRA rights in court if their 
employer requires them to relinquish them in order to be hired for or 
keep their job. This legislation would mandate studies of current 
employer education programs and solicit recommendations for ways in 
which government agencies could cooperate to enhance employer 
education. Additionally, the Servicemembers Access to Justice Act would 
enhance the remedies available to servicemembers who prove their rights 
under USERRA were violated, by adding increased penalties for willful 
violations.
  We owe it to our servicemembers to ensure the fair enforcement of 
their employment rights. These men and women deserve our gratitude, and 
I am committed to supporting them during and after their service. 
Please join me in supporting this legislation.

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