[Congressional Record Volume 165, Number 176 (Tuesday, November 5, 2019)]
[Senate]
[Pages S6374-S6384]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                      EXECUTIVE SESSION--Continued


                             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 senior assistant 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 David Austin Tapp, of Kentucky, to be a Judge of the 
     United States Court of Federal Claims for a term of fifteen 
     years.
         Tim Scott, Roger F. Wicker, John Thune, Mike Rounds, John 
           Cornyn, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mike Braun, Richard Burr, 
           Thom Tillis, John Boozman, John Hoeven, David Perdue, 
           Kevin Cramer, John Barrasso, Michael B. Enzi, Chuck 
           Grassley, Mitch McConnell.

  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 David Austin Tapp, of Kentucky, to be a Judge of the 
United States Court of Federal Claims for a term of fifteen years, 
shall be brought to a close?
  The yeas and nays are mandatory under the rule.
  The clerk will call the roll.
  The senior assistant legislative clerk called the roll.
   Mr. THUNE. The following Senators are necessarily absent: the 
Senator from North Carolina (Mr. Burr), the Senator from Georgia (Mr. 
Isakson), the Senator from Idaho (Mr. Risch), and the Senator from 
Nebraska (Mr. Sasse).
   Mr. DURBIN. I announce that the Senator from New Jersey (Mr. 
Booker), the Senator from Minnesota (Ms. Klobuchar), the Senator from 
Vermont (Mr. Sanders), and the Senator from Massachusetts (Ms. Warren) 
are necessarily absent.
   The PRESIDING OFFICER. Are there any other Senators in the Chamber 
desiring to vote?
  The yeas and nays resulted--yeas 83, nays 9, as follows:

                      [Rollcall Vote No. 343 Ex.]

                                YEAS--83

     Alexander
     Baldwin
     Barrasso
     Bennet
     Blackburn
     Blumenthal
     Blunt
     Boozman
     Braun
     Brown
     Cantwell
     Capito
     Cardin
     Carper
     Casey
     Cassidy
     Collins
     Coons
     Cornyn
     Cortez Masto
     Cotton
     Cramer
     Crapo
     Cruz
     Daines
     Duckworth
     Durbin
     Enzi
     Ernst
     Feinstein
     Fischer
     Gardner
     Graham
     Grassley
     Hassan
     Hawley
     Heinrich
     Hoeven
     Hyde-Smith
     Inhofe
     Johnson
     Jones
     Kaine
     Kennedy
     King
     Lankford
     Leahy
     Lee
     Manchin
     McConnell
     McSally
     Moran
     Murkowski
     Murphy
     Murray
     Paul
     Perdue
     Peters
     Portman
     Reed
     Roberts
     Romney
     Rosen
     Rounds
     Rubio
     Scott (FL)
     Scott (SC)
     Shaheen
     Shelby
     Sinema
     Smith
     Sullivan
     Tester
     Thune
     Tillis
     Toomey
     Udall
     Van Hollen
     Warner
     Whitehouse
     Wicker
     Wyden
     Young

[[Page S6375]]


  


                                NAYS--9

     Gillibrand
     Harris
     Hirono
     Markey
     Menendez
     Merkley
     Schatz
     Schumer
     Stabenow

                             NOT VOTING--8

     Booker
     Burr
     Isakson
     Klobuchar
     Risch
     Sanders
     Sasse
     Warren
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. On this vote, the yeas are 83, the nays are 9.
  The motion is agreed to.
  The Senator from Iowa.


                        Prescription Drug Costs

  Mr. GRASSLEY. Madam President, I have a couple of issues on which I 
want to speak. Trade and section No. 232 would be my second issue. The 
first one about which I want to speak is commonsense entitlement 
reform.
  In the past year, we have seen a flurry of drug-pricing proposals. I 
am encouraged by the efforts of my colleagues here in the Senate, 
especially by Ranking Member Wyden, by my colleagues in the House of 
Representatives who agree with this effort to reduce drug prices, and 
by the President of the United States, who has already been involved 
for a year and a half in lowering drug prices. All have made lowering 
prescription drug costs one of the core principles of our efforts and 
particularly a core principle for this administration.
  I have paid attention to each of the pieces of legislation that have 
been proposed and have looked at their pros and cons closely. However, 
so far, there is only one bipartisan proposal that cuts prescription 
drug prices, that protects innovation, that lowers what senior citizens 
will pay at the pharmacy counter, and that brings along with it 
entitlement reform. The Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 
is the bill I am talking about. It responsibly reduces Medicare Part D 
costs.
  As with any widely encompassing piece of legislation, there has been 
some spirited debate surrounding the different provisions of our bill. 
So I am here today, hoping to clear up some of the confusion 
surrounding a phrase that I have heard thrown around in this debate--
``price setting.'' Opponents of the legislation criticize the bill for 
price setting. The scare tactic associated with this claim is centered 
on one particular policy in our bill--that of matching the growth of 
government subsidies that drug manufacturers receive to the rate of 
consumer inflation.
  When I set out at the beginning of this year to create a piece of 
bipartisan legislation that had real and meaningful change, I knew the 
focus had to be on individual Americans. That is why we kept out-of-
pocket costs at a level at which seniors could see relief. That is why 
we banned spread pricing, which games the healthcare system to the 
detriment of the beneficiaries and the taxpayers. That is why we 
created a new way of paying for lifesaving but very costly Medicare 
drugs. That is why we kept the growth of government subsidies in 
Medicare Part D to the rate of inflation.
  Unlike other proposals, the Senate Committee on Finance's policy does 
not tie the launch price to an artificially low price. The bill doesn't 
stop a drug company from recouping its research and development costs, 
which will lead to more innovation.
  What the Part D inflationary rebate does is really quite simple. 
After launching, if a drug manufacturer chooses to raise the price 
above the rate of inflation, it has to return the difference for the 
drugs paid by Medicare. This policy limits government subsidies in 
order to provide predictability for the Medicare Program. At the same 
time, it provides protection for the American taxpayer. That is simply 
all it does. Any subsidies that the pharmaceutical companies would have 
received from an exorbitant raise in price is then returned to 
Americans rather than to line pharma's pockets. The inflation rebate 
incentivizes companies to stabilize their pricing, and the taxpayers' 
money is used more prudently and more efficiently.
  You have all heard of CATO, the research organization and policy 
organization. CATO is one of the Nation's leading libertarian and free 
market organizations. It has praised the bill for its significant cost 
savings for the taxpayers. Does anyone really think a libertarian 
organization would endorse price controls? In its analysis of the bill, 
CATO wrote that this bill ``would not impose price controls'' and 
``would reduce wasteful Medicare spending.'' CATO also acknowledged 
that these ``commonsense tweaks to a bloated entitlement program are 
encountering strong opposition . . . mostly from those who would not 
make quite as much money off the taxpayers.''
  We all know that Medicare's finances are worsening. The program is 
projected to become insolvent within the next 6 years if we continue 
down this very same path. In getting back to my bipartisan bill, the 
Grassley-Wyden bill will ensure that the Federal Government uses 
Medicare's budget to pay for lifesaving treatments in a fiscally 
responsible manner.
  This goal is not without precedent. For those who say we are acting 
in an unprecedented way and are setting prices, I say it isn't setting 
prices. They forget that throughout the American healthcare system, the 
government has, at one time or another, set up different ways to 
constrain high and rising costs.
  For example, States have not been allowed to pay Medicaid providers 
at a rate that has been higher than Medicare's. Another example is in 
the Medicare Program. Medicare Part A has paid for the operating costs 
associated with acute inpatient care and has used the inpatient 
prospective payment system, or what is referred to as IPPS. Congress 
enacted the inpatient prospective payment system to constrain the 
growth of Medicare's inpatient hospital payments by providing 
incentives for those facilities to provide care more efficiently.
  Congress also requires that the concept of budget neutrality be 
applied to a number of Medicare payment systems, including to provider 
payments. This is simple. In other words, the government says that if 
one provider gets an increase, another provider is reduced.
  Finally, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation, within the 
CMS, is required by statute to enforce financial controls on total 
Medicare spending. The Center can only test different ways to pay for 
services in Medicare and Medicaid if they are expected to lower costs 
while they maintain quality. So this idea of using taxpayer dollars 
responsibly and in a targeted manner exists in many facets of the 
American healthcare system.
  My point is, while some call the inflationary rebate in Part D a 
price control, I urge all of the Members to consider how Congress is 
using measures to contain costs currently. Isn't it the fiscally 
responsible thing to do when Federal taxpayer dollars are being spent 
by those of us in Congress? Shouldn't we do what we can to contain 
costs? After all, it is not what hospitals, doctors, and pharmaceutical 
companies may charge; it is about what the American taxpayer will pay 
for services. That doesn't fall into the category of price controls. At 
the markup for my prescription drug bill, even the Director of the 
independent Congressional Budget Office agreed with me.
  I could continue to give examples of budgetary tools in the toolbox 
that Congress uses in an attempt to be fiscally responsible with regard 
to Medicare and Medicaid. I could also continue to provide examples of 
outrageous drug costs. Yet the bottom line is that the Prescription 
Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 is a win for Americans across the 
board.
  Seniors will pay less out of pocket; taxpayers will know their money 
is being used appropriately; and drug manufacturers will continue to be 
able to innovate.
  That is why Ranking Member Wyden and I strove to achieve these things 
in the very beginning. I urge my colleagues to keep these 
considerations in mind, and hopefully my colleagues will support this 
legislation as a way of answering the concerns that constituents 
express in almost every State. At least in the 99 county meetings that 
I hold in Iowa every year, doing something about the pricing of 
prescription drugs comes up. It has to be that way all over the 
country.


                                 Trade

  Now I want to turn to trade legislation, and I will not be as long on 
this point as I was on prescription drugs.
  When I resumed chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee in 
January, I laid out my top priorities for the committee's work.
  For international trade, my agenda included reviewing section 232 of 
the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which allows the President, without 
any input

[[Page S6376]]

from Congress, to impose tariffs in the name of national security.
  For 11 months now, I have been working with other Finance Committee 
members on both sides of the aisle to establish a separation of powers 
and checks and balances in the section 232 process. These two basic 
principles of our system of government are sorely lacking in section 
232 as it stands today.
  Two of my colleagues on the Finance Committee, Senators Toomey and 
Portman, each filed reform bills that are well thought out, and both 
happen to be bipartisan. A full quarter of the Senate has cosponsored 
one or more of their bills, including 10 Democrats, 14 Republicans, and 
1 Independent.
  Many other Senators have told me that they, too, want to see section 
232 reforms reported out of the Finance Committee.
  With a strong bipartisan mandate like that, I have been optimistic 
that Ranking Member Wyden and I can reconcile the Toomey and Portman 
bills and hold a markup. More than once I have spoken publicly about my 
intentions to do just that.
  However, every time we get close to marking up a section 232 bill, 
Senator Wyden hears from stakeholders who are profiting from tariff 
production. Meanwhile, I get calls from colleagues who say something 
like this, and I am paraphrasing: Mr. Chairman, the President won't 
like us taking away his tariff law, and we don't want to make the 
President upset.
  Well, we hear that a lot, whether we have a Republican or Democratic 
President, on a whole lot of other issues. But we don't have to listen 
to the President of the United States. We are Members of an independent 
branch of government, able to do our own thing--work with the President 
when we can and not worry about the President when we can't.
  Well, allow me to set the record straight on a few things that I have 
just set before you so far.
  First, as I have said before, reforming section 232 is not about 
President Trump. Reforming section 232 means acknowledging that the 
87th Congress handed President Jack Kennedy enormous authority over 
trade in 1962 at the height of the Cold War. President Trump was merely 
following that 1962 law.
  In the process, he alerted us to the fact that Congress has been too 
negligent in the past in protecting our constitutional responsibility 
of lawmaking. Our Founding Fathers were explicit in tasking Congress 
with responsibility over international trade, and it is time now to 
rebalance section 232 in line with the Founding Fathers' clear 
intentions.
  Secondly, I have been clear that I am generally not a fan of tariffs, 
but I also want to make clear that I have agreed to Senator Wyden's 
request to introduce a chairman and ranking member's mark that does not 
unwind section 232 measures on steel and aluminum. Many problems with 
those tariffs and quotas have been well documented, but I have been in 
the Senate long enough to know that getting things done requires 
compromise.
  Third, and to all of my colleagues and everyone listening, I don't 
view 232 reforms as weakening the power of the Chief Executive. I view 
them as enhancing the effectiveness of the Chief Executive in our 
country. As the Supreme Court told President Truman, the Office of 
President and the President himself are strongest when Congress is 
behind him.
  We need reforms to section 232 that will make clearer where Congress 
stands on national security and trade. Such reforms would also make 
clearer to our trading partners that when section 232 is used, Congress 
stands with the President.
  Now, with these points cleared up, I hope that Ranking Member Wyden, 
members of the Finance Committee, and our House colleagues will be 
ready to reform section 232.
  We have a strong, bipartisan mandate to get to work, and this is 
likely just the beginning of a great deal of work that needs to be done 
to review our trade laws.
  Senator Wyden and I have reported bipartisan bills out of the 
committee successfully in the past, and hopefully we can do it again 
for section 232.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mrs. Blackburn). The Senator from Illinois.
  Mr. DURBIN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to speak as in 
morning business.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.


                               Healthcare

  Mr. DURBIN. Madam President, I come to the floor today to discuss an 
issue that is important in my State and I think in every State.
  Illinois, which I represent and am proud to represent, is a State 
with the great American city of Chicago but with many other towns and 
cities of a variety of different sizes.
  I actually was born in downstate Illinois, 300 miles away from 
Chicago. Between the great city of Chicago and the rest of our State, 
there are many small towns and rural areas. When you go into these 
areas and talk about the quality of life and living in a small town or 
rural America, there are a lot of challenges.
  Just a few weeks ago I was in Calhoun County, one of the smallest in 
our State. We had an assembly of kids in middle school and grade 
school, and we announced that the local electric cooperative, the 
Illinois Electric Cooperative, was finally going to bring that level of 
access to the internet for which Calhoun County--the people who live 
there and those students--have been waiting for a decade or longer. It 
took longer for it to reach there.
  I am glad the electric cooperative led the fight. Historically, the 
electric cooperatives literally brought electricity to rural America. 
Now they are bringing high-speed internet to rural America, and it is 
critically important for students to learn, along with all of the other 
services that many people living in big cities take for granted come 
with the internet.
  That is one example, but another one you run into all the time is the 
comments of people in smalltown America about access to healthcare. You 
see, across our State we have millions of people who live in smaller 
towns, rural towns, who don't have the same quality healthcare nearby, 
whether it is a hospital or a doctor or even a dentist. Across 
Illinois, 5 million people live in areas with shortages, and 2 million 
live in areas without a dentist. Almost all of them live in an area 
without access to mental health providers--counselors, psychologists.
  The consequences speak for themselves. Only 1 in 10 people with 
substance abuse disorders get the care that they need in these areas, 
and 43 percent of rural Americans do not have access to dentists--43 
percent.
  Well, there is a Federal program that has been addressing it for a 
long time, and, coincidentally, the Presiding Officer from Tennessee is 
the cosponsor of legislation I am going to address at this moment.
  Today there is a Federal program in place called National Health 
Service Corps. It provides loan forgiveness to entice doctors and other 
healthcare professionals to serve in places with healthcare needs. In 
total, 10,000 doctors, dentists, behavioral health specialists, and 
nurses use the National Health Service Corps and treat 11 million 
Americans each year in hospitals and community clinics.
  We entice them to come to these underserved areas by paying off their 
loans. As you probably know, doctors and dentists and nurses and others 
end up graduating with a lot of student loans.
  Illinois has more than 550 of these National Health Service Corps 
clinicians, but fewer than 75 of them serve in rural areas. As we face 
an opioid epidemic that touches every corner of America--no city too 
large, no town too small, no suburb too wealthy to have escaped it--we 
need that kind of professional healthcare across the board in urban 
areas as well as rural areas. That is why I have teamed up with the 
Presiding Officer, Senator Blackburn of Tennessee, on a bipartisan 
piece of legislation that we call the Rural America Health Corps Act.
  Our bill will expand the current Corps program to provide new loan 
forgiveness funding for providers who will serve in rural areas in 
Tennessee, in Illinois, and across the Nation. It provides funding for 
5 years rather than the usual 2 to ensure that doctors, dentists, and 
nurses plant their roots in rural America.
  With the National Health Corps up for reauthorization this year, 
Senator

[[Page S6377]]

Blackburn and I are pleading with our friends, Chairman Lamar Alexander 
of Tennessee and Ranking Member Patty Murray of Washington, to promote 
this rural focus.
  It isn't the only thing I have looked at when it comes to rural 
America. I recently introduced a bill with Senator Roberts of Kansas. 
Senator Roberts is chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and 
Forestry Committee, and he agreed to include in the farm bill something 
called the SIREN Act.
  The SIREN Act provides funding to support rural fire and EMS agencies 
with training and recruiting staff and purchasing equipment--everything 
from naloxone to power stretchers.
  I recently visited Nauvoo, IL. Students of history may recognize the 
name of this town, but Nauvoo, IL, is where a man by the name of Mr. 
Kennedy came forward and told me about the need for new, modern 
equipment on their ambulances in this rural Hancock County area.
  Because of what he told me, I introduced the bill. It passed as part 
of the farm bill, and we are going to start making money available in 
rural parts of America for these emergency management specialists to 
have the right training and the right equipment to respond when needed.
  These bipartisan bills are important for rural healthcare, but we 
also have to maintain the structure of our key health programs.
  Thankfully, Illinois has expanded the Medicaid Program through the 
Affordable Care Act, which has provided a funding lifeline to keep many 
of our rural hospitals from the brink of closure. It also expanded 
health insurance to 1 million people in Illinois.
  Ten years ago, when we passed ObamaCare, the Affordable Care Act, too 
many Americans did not have health insurance.
  If you have ever been in a moment in your life when you were the 
father of a sick child who desperately needed medical care and you had 
no health insurance, you will never forget it as long as you live. I 
know. I have been there. It made an impression on me as a young father 
that I have never forgotten.
  So when this bill, the Affordable Care Act, passed and I saw so many 
Americans finally getting health insurance, I knew it was giving them 
peace of mind and access to affordable, quality, accessible healthcare.
  This week marks the beginning of the open enrollment period to sign 
up for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act, which ends on December 
15. It is vital to make sure that everyone signs up at 
``healthcare.gov'' if you are not currently covered and you want to 
know what is available to you. Most patients will find the premiums are 
less than $100 a month, and if you are in certain income categories you 
will get a lot of help in making the premium payment.
  But the No. 1 thing that I hear from constituents--and it has nothing 
to do with what I just mentioned. I listened to my friend from Iowa, 
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, on the floor a few minutes ago 
talking about an issue that each of us runs into in every State in the 
Union. Here is the question: If you ask the American people what is the 
issue that you are concerned about from an economic viewpoint that you 
think the Congress can do something about, 90 percent of Democrats, 90 
percent of Republicans, 90 percent of Independents all come back with 
the same answer. Do you know what it is? The cost of prescription 
drugs. People understand that these prescription drugs are so 
expensive, they are beyond the reach of many people who desperately 
need them.
  Now, there was a Senator from Wisconsin years back named William 
Proxmire. He used to issue monthly recognitions of the most flagrant, 
excessive examples of waste in the Federal Government. He called it the 
``Golden Fleece.'' Earlier this year, I launched a series of awards to 
carry on Senator Proxmire's work, with the focus on the pharmaceutical 
industry, the people who make the drugs.
  This month, I had this sign produced. This month, the Pharma Fleece 
award is going to the drug industry's trade group, PhRMA, and the Trump 
administration, I am afraid, for a giveaway in the new NAFTA trade 
bill. What does a trade bill have to do with PhRMA or the price of 
prescription drugs? It turns out that PhRMA--boy, they are good--
managed to slip in a provision in this trade bill that most Members of 
Congress are not even aware of.
  This new trade agreement, as you might expect, involving Canada, 
Mexico, and the United States, covers a wide range of issues. My 
farmers are very excited about it. The men and women in labor unions 
are concerned about it. But it falls far short when it comes to labor 
and environmental protections. There is a lot of work that needs to be 
done.
  But the one provision that I want to highlight today is tucked inside 
this sprawling document. It is a provision that guarantees monopoly 
protection for pharmaceutical companies by blocking competition, 
generic drug competition. It means that these companies can continue to 
call for sky-high prescription drug costs.
  This is just another example of an issue that the President said 
during his campaign was a high priority and we all talk about on the 
floor of the Senate that is being sneaked into this new NAFTA trade 
bill. Let's remember, the top four drug companies avoided paying $7 
billion in taxes last year--$7 billion--and were able to buy back 
another $30 billion in stock thanks to President Trump's tax reform 
package. It was very kind to PhRMA, not that they needed it.
  Americans already pay, incidentally, the highest prices in the world 
for prescription drugs, four times what is paid in Canada or Europe. So 
why would the administration agree to put a provision for PhRMA to 
guarantee high prices into the new NAFTA trade bill?
  Listen to the story. In 2017, for example, Canadians can purchase a 
year's supply of Humira--recognize the name? You should. It is the most 
heavily advertised prescription drug on television, Humira, made by 
AbbVie, a company in Illinois--it is used for a disease called 
psoriatic arthritis. Canadians can buy a year's supply for $20,000--not 
cheap. You know what Americans pay for exactly the same drug they buy 
from exactly the same company? Over $40,000, more than twice as much as 
the Canadians.
  Why? The Canadian Government cares. They said to AbbVie and to 
Pharma: We are not going to let you overcharge Canadians. We are going 
to protect our Canadian families and our Canadian healthcare system. 
The United States doesn't. Often, Big Pharma charges as much as it can 
get away with by manipulating our patent and exclusivity rules to avoid 
competition.
  Drugs known as biologics, like Humira, Rituxan, and Remicade, are 
medicines made from living organisms. They are known as biologics. They 
make up 2 percent of all the prescriptions sold, but they count for 37 
percent of the cost of prescription drugs--very expensive drugs.
  Those three biologics have all been on the market for more than 17 
years, and yet they are still the top seven highest grossing drugs in 
America due to the fortress of monopoly protections that Pharma has 
created.
  Now, listen closely. Under U.S. law, biologics like the ones I 
mentioned--Humira is one of them--are given a 12-year exclusivity 
period once the FDA approves their application. What does that mean? No 
one can compete with them. They own the market. They set the price.
  That means that a cheaper generic competitor cannot be approved by 
the Food and Drug Administration in the United States for more than 10 
years, while the brand-name company is free to charge whatever it 
wants. Wonder why prices are high? There is no competition.
  I believe the standard is too high and have cosponsored legislation 
to reduce this period to no more than 7 years. Canada's exclusivity 
period is 8 years. Mexico does not have one.
  But now let's go to the new NAFTA trade agreement and look closely at 
the fine print that PhRMA included in that. The administration wants to 
enshrine our Pharma-friendly laws by setting a 10-year exclusivity 
floor for all three countries. It is a virtual guarantee that PhRMA, 
when it comes to biologics, will be able to charge whatever they wish 
for 10 years or more in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

  Why is that in the trade agreement? If all of us agree that 
prescription drug prices are too high, why are we putting

[[Page S6378]]

in the NAFTA trade agreement a sweetheart deal for PhRMA so that they 
can charge higher prices, not just in the United States, but in Canada 
and Mexico?
  This new NAFTA has provisions that will encourage drug companies to 
obtain excessive numbers of secondary patents that delay generic 
competition and keep prices high.
  So when my farmers come to me and say: Why are you not for NAFTA? And 
I say to them, if it was just about farmers, it would be one thing. But 
it is about American families, Canadian families, families even in 
Mexico paying higher prices for prescription drugs because of the trade 
agreement that the President wants us to approve. We should be working 
to bring lower-cost products to market sooner, not allowing Pharma to 
sneak in a payday into a trade package at the expense of American 
families.
  It should come as no surprise that the main coalition running ads 
supporting the approval of NAFTA is the pharmaceutical industry of the 
United States. In fact, PhRMA and BIO, the two largest pharmaceutical 
associations, have already spent $30 million lobbying Congress to pass 
this new NAFTA. Now, we know why.
  For all the President's talk, this provision in this trade agreement 
is a Trojan horse giveaway for Big Pharma at the expense of American 
patients. I guess we should not being surprised, but I will say this: 
If Members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, 
are listening to the people they represent back home about the cost of 
prescription drugs, they will not fall for this new Pharma fleece.
  Madam President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Clerk will call the roll.
  Mr. JONES. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.


                        National Peanut Festival

  Mr. JONES. Madam President, it is not often in floor remarks we can 
often hit a trifecta on topics that are uniquely connected, but I am 
fortunate enough to have that privilege today. They all center around 
the glorious peanut. I want to honor the National Peanut Festival 
currently being held in Dothan, AL, which recognizes the importance of 
the peanut industry to the State of Alabama and to the United States.
  Every year, Dothan hosts the Nation's largest peanut festival to 
honor local peanut farmers and to celebrate harvest season. The 
festival began in 1938 and has been held annually each year, except for 
the years during the hiatus during World War II. This year's festival 
is a 10-day-long extravaganza with food, fun, and entertainment. You 
name it, you can find it in Dothan during the peanut festival. It is 
one of the most popular events in Alabama each year. In 2017, the 
festival broke attendance records with over 200,000 people joining the 
fun.
  Unfortunately, my schedule has prevented me from being down there 
this week, but I wish I had been there. I wish I could go for the end 
of this because it is a glorious time.
  Last week, I introduced a resolution here in the Senate to pay 
tribute to the National Peanut Festival and the importance of peanuts 
in our State and the entire country. Over 400 million pounds of peanuts 
are produced every year in Alabama alone, and nearly half of all the 
peanuts in America are grown within a 100-mile radius of Dothan, AL, 
where most of those peanuts are processed. It is no wonder that the 
city of Dothan--down in southeast Alabama, right in the corner, just 
right on the border of Georgia and Florida--is known as the Peanut 
Capital of the World.
  The peanut industry is a critical part of Alabama's economy. In 2018 
alone, the 400 million pounds of peanuts produced by Alabama farmers 
was valued at $118 million. The farm value of the Nation's peanut crop 
is over a billion dollars. And like all farmers, peanut farmers have 
their share of challenges. But year after year, the peanut farmers in 
Alabama and across the country persevere, providing a crop whose 
importance is often simply taken for granted--well, as peanuts, as it 
pertains to our overall economy.
  But the peanut is an important staple to the agriculture and food 
industry, thanks in large part to the amazing and extraordinary work of 
a scientist, an African-American scientist and adopted son of Alabama, 
Dr. George Washington Carver, who did his work at one of Alabama's 
great HBCUs, Tuskegee University.
  Dr. Carver was born into slavery, but raised by his former master 
once slavery was abolished. He was forced to attend segregated schools 
until 1891, when he was accepted as the first Black student at Iowa 
State University. Only 5 years later, in 1896, Dr. Carver was hired by 
the great Booker T. Washington to head the Agriculture Department at 
Tuskegee Institute, now known as Tuskegee University, in Tuskegee, AL.
  At that point, peanuts were not even recognized as a crop in the 
United States, but because of a serious threat to the South's cotton 
crop from boll weevil infestations, Dr. Carver suggested that Alabama 
farmers start growing peanuts in the alternate years, which he believed 
would restore and add nutrients to the barren soil so that cotton could 
grow the next year.
  It worked. He not only was a leading voice for crop rotation but 
ended up inventing over 300 products made out of peanuts, including 
peanut milk, peanut paper, and peanut soap--although, surprisingly, he 
did not invent my favorite, peanut butter, but 300 different types of 
products made from peanuts.
  In 1921, in a highly unusual circumstance in the era of Jim Crow, Dr. 
Carver testified regarding the value of peanuts before the Ways and 
Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives--an African-
American scientist in front of the U.S. House in 1921. In 1938, again 
during the Jim Crow era in Alabama, Dr. Carver was the featured speaker 
at the first peanut festival in Dothan, AL.
  Peanuts became more and more popular, and by 1940, they had become 
one of the top six crops in the United States--all in large part due to 
the work of Dr. Carver at Tuskegee University. It is not an 
overstatement to say that Dr. Carver, Tuskegee University, and the 
peanut helped save the economy of the South.
  This is just one example of the extraordinary contributions that 
HBCUs have made to our country over the years and continue to make 
today. But, as we have talked about for some time, including with my 
friend Senator Cardin earlier today, those contributions are threatened 
because of the expiration of Federal funding that occurred at the end 
of September.
  I have been pushing for the passage of my bill, the FUTURE Act, which 
would renew funding for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions 
that expired at the end of September. We need to continue to invest in 
these institutions and ensure they have consistent funding.
  We have worked with this bill, the FUTURE Act, to make sure the 
concerns of others--particularly those who might object to the UC we 
have asked for on the FUTURE Act--to make sure that this is not some 
Federal budget gimmick. We have answered those concerns. We have 
answered all the pay-for concerns. All we are asking for is consistent 
funding because now planning is as important as the money. Yes, the 
Department of Education has told HBCUs that the funding would be there 
through September, but by this spring, those institutions have to plan. 
They have to start making sure they have the necessary resources for 
the fall and beyond. If their funding is set to expire at the end of 
next year, they cannot make those plans, both with teachers and their 
infrastructure.
  We need to continue to make sure those HBCUs are funded consistently 
and appropriately. Let's make sure we put aside any differences and 
make sure those funds are available so that our great HBCUs and 
minority-serving institutions across the country can continue to 
operate and plan.
  We need to honor the legacy of Dr. Carver, which is one of the 
reasons I was so proud to introduce a resolution honoring the National 
Peanut Festival and the peanut industry in the State of Alabama. It is 
a testament to the importance of the peanut and a time to celebrate its 
history, our State, and the peanut farming way of life.
  I am hopeful that with the advancements of peanut allergy research, 
we can make sure more people have the ability to enjoy what so many of 
us

[[Page S6379]]

can. I understand that peanut allergies are a real problem around the 
country and around the world for a lot of people. But advances in 
research that is going on right now--right now--can make sure we break 
through and that all who want to can enjoy the value and the taste of 
those wonderful peanuts. I am not going to go through specifics. I 
could name all manner of products. I won't do that here today, but I 
thank you for this opportunity.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Wyoming.


                             Energy Poverty

  Mr. BARRASSO. Madam President, I come to the floor today to discuss 
the global fight to end poverty and specifically the problem of energy 
poverty.
  The numbers paint a very grim picture. Worldwide, 840 million people 
are living without electricity. They can't cook or heat their homes 
safely or reliably. In fact, nearly 3 billion people--3 billion people 
worldwide--still rely on wood and waste for household energy.
  What should the United States do to help? First and foremost, I 
believe we should push multilateral development banks, like the World 
Bank, to invest in affordable energy projects, which will help these 
people. The World Bank's mission is to lift people out of poverty--to 
help lift people out of poverty. That is their mission. Specifically, 
it seeks to end extreme poverty while promoting shared prosperity.
  For 75 years, the United States has been working with the World Bank 
to help developing countries grow. The United States remains the World 
Bank's largest contributor. Every U.S. dollar at the World Bank should 
make a difference for people in the developing world.
  The World Bank's new policies, however, lead me to call for a review 
by the United States of how U.S. dollars are being used. Several years 
ago, the World Bank decided to stop financing certain projects--
specifically, oil, gas, and coal projects. I am concerned the World 
Bank is now blocking affordable energy development--energy that is 
needed to make a positive difference for so many people in the 
developing world. Traditional fuels are a vital tool for escaping 
energy poverty. Yet, with the policy change in the World Bank, only 
renewable energy projects qualify for funding. It seems that the World 
Bank is putting its liberal political agenda ahead of our anti-poverty 
mission.
  The question is, Does the World Bank still want to help the people 
living in poor nations today? That is the question. If so, they should 
be helping with the use of abundant and affordable energy resources. If 
not, then I think the United States must reevaluate our support for the 
World Bank.
  Here is a case in point: The Bank restricts the financing of high-
efficiency power stations fueled by coal. Last fall, for example, the 
World Bank failed to honor its commitment to the country of Kosovo. The 
Bank pulled its funding from Kosovo's state-of-the-art, coal-fired 
powerplant--state of the art--needed in Kosovo. Kosovo faces an energy 
security barrier to grow. They don't have enough energy to grow the way 
they are prepared to. Kosovo has the fifth largest coal reserves in the 
world. Kosovo desperately needs to retire its older facility.
  I saw this firsthand last month when I was visiting members of the 
Wyoming National Guard stationed in northern Kosovo. This decision by 
the World Bank is simply unacceptable.
  What are other countries doing? China and Russia, meanwhile, are 
dramatically increasing their global investment in identical carbon-
based energy projects. The World Bank is saying: Go ask China. Go ask 
Russia. South Africa, for example, is now working with China's 
development bank on its coal-fired powerplant. There are serious 
concerns when our allies work with China and Russia. These include 
lower standards, dependence on these countries, and undue political 
influence.
  A number of Members in the Senate share my concern. On Thursday, I 
led a group of a dozen Senators in urging the World Bank to immediately 
lift these harmful restrictions. My letter to the President of the 
World Bank, President David Malpass, was cosigned by Senators Boozman, 
Capito, Cotton, Cramer, Cruz, Enzi, Hoeven, Johnson, Kennedy, 
Murkowski, and Thune. Together, we are pressing the World Bank to 
recommit to an ``all of the above'' energy strategy. Developing 
countries desperately need affordable, reliable energy.
  We say in our letter:

       People living in poor and developing nations want and need 
     a stable energy supply. They are looking for power generation 
     that provides energy security, helps create jobs, and 
     improves their lives.

  People back home in Wyoming know firsthand the benefits of developing 
abundant energy resources. The United States is a top global energy 
producer. Wyoming has played a key role in this success. We have 
produced our way to a booming U.S. economy, and we have created 
millions of new jobs along the way. People who are struggling worldwide 
to survive and thrive in developing countries deserve that same 
opportunity. As an energy powerhouse, America can help empower our 
allies and our energy exports.
  Global philanthropist Bill Gates said: ``Increasing access to 
electricity is critical to lifting the world's poor out of poverty. Let 
me repeat. ``Increasing access to electricity is critical to lifting 
the world's poor out of poverty.''
  Ultimately, the solution to energy poverty doesn't lie in limiting 
options but in using all available options. In pursuit of its mission, 
the World Bank must embrace, not exclude, abundant, affordable energy 
resources.
  Let's work together to end energy poverty now for the 840 million 
people on the planet living without electricity.
  I yield the floor.
  I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The senior assistant bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. ROBERTS. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.


              United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement

  Mr. ROBERTS. Madam President, about a month ago there was a headline 
in one of the publications that people pay attention to that read: 
``Senate Republicans Amp Up Pressure for an USMCA Vote.'' USMCA, by the 
way, is an acronym for the new trade agreement between Mexico, Canada, 
and the United States. I initially thought it was ``United States 
Marine Corps Always,'' but that is not the case. About nine of us came 
to the floor and pointed out this was imperative, and if we were going 
to have a new trade agreement to replace NAFTA, if we could at least 
get some price recovery and also make some progress with regard to 
Canada and Mexico--historically great trading partners--it might be a 
good thing to get the USMCA passed. That was a month ago.
  We were assured, at that particular time, by folks over in the House 
of Representatives--our colleagues over there--that they would do 
everything in their power to see if we could get it done. It is not 
done. Still, it is not done. Still, farmers, ranchers, growers, and 
everybody connected with agriculture, and, for that matter, trade, 
certainly have been waiting and waiting. Times in farm country, as I 
think most people know, are pretty rough these days. So at least 
passing USMCA would be something everybody could agree to.
  I rise in support of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement 
again--1 month later. It is time to move forward and pass this 
important legislation now. ``Now,'' that is my acronym for ``right 
away,'' ``yesterday.''
  As chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I want to talk about 
not only my producers in Kansas but all producers throughout these 
United States and across the country. Time and again, we have asked why 
there is a delay. Farmers tell me, time and again, they wonder what on 
Earth is going on back there. Well, that is obvious to everybody, with 
the ``i'' word being considered over in the House, but even with that, 
this is a situation where, if that were brought up to a vote, both the 
administration and House Members--both sides of the aisle--it would 
pass, more so especially since our Trade Ambassador, Robert Lighthizer, 
has been working with my colleagues across the aisle over there in an 
effort to settle labor issues and also environmental concerns.

[[Page S6380]]

  I have been down that road before with the Honorable Kika de la 
Garza, the late Kika de la Garza, but a wonderful man who was chairman 
of the House Agriculture Committee. I was the ranking member and then 
became the chairman. We worked on NAFTA, writing that bill. We would 
revert to that bill, but after months and months, there was finally an 
agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the United States. We were ready 
to do this, and it had to go to the House of Representatives. 
Ambassador Lighthizer and Bob--he used to work for Bob Dole, a good 
friend of mine--had been working with Democrats over time on these two 
issues. He tells me he is pretty close to a deal--except we are not. 
Now, Ambassador Lighthizer, on behalf of the administration, is not 
going to send this deal, if you will, this trade agreement, to the 
House unless there is a clear intention that it will be brought up. He 
doesn't want to be held hostage. So the House has to move.
  I want to continue to point out that USMCA, this new trade agreement, 
will not only increase market access for farmers and provide new 
opportunities for dairy, poultry, for egg producers, for all the 
commodities we talk about--wheat, corn, et cetera--but it will also 
address longstanding nontariff barriers that will help our Kansas 
farmers export wheat to Canada.
  That used to be the case with Mexico. The Kansas winter wheat, once 
harvested, would get on the Kansas City railroad, down to Mexico. They 
would sell the wheat to Mexico, where they sorely needed it. It was a 
very good business trade agreement. That has pretty much dried up.
  Let me go back to 2017. At that particular time, 110,000 Kansas jobs 
were supported by trade with Canada and Mexico, and, I am sure, the 
neighboring States are even equal to that or much more than that.
  While many of those jobs are spread across all sectors of the 
economy, many are tied to the agriculture value chain; that is, 
farmers, ranchers, and growers, to the consumer.
  In total, Kansas exports $4 billion of products to Canada and Mexico 
each year--$800 million from agriculture alone. It is nearly impossible 
for me to overstate the importance of this trade deal to my home State 
of Kansas. We are not going to experience price recovery in farm 
country because of the supply-demand situation worldwide, and we are in 
a lot of trouble in farm country. The least we could do is consider 
USMCA, where we know we have the votes to pass it in both Chambers, 
both in the House and the Senate.
  In fact, the call for Congress to get moving on this trade deal has 
united more people from different political and professional 
backgrounds than almost any other issue in recent memory, including 
organized labor. I recently started a web series, if you will, ``Trade 
Tuesday,'' to give a platform to the many constituents who have voiced 
their support to me by saying: ``Pat, where on Earth is the UMSCA 
bill?'' We have featured farmers and manufacturers from around Kansas, 
including Rich Felts. Rich Felts is a great friend of mine, a farmer 
from Southeast Kansas, and the president of the Kansas Farm Bureau. 
Rich hit the nail right on the head. He said:

       We are an exporting State. We produce much more than we are 
     ever going to consume [in Kansas], and if we want to grow our 
     economy, specifically our economy in the State, we have to 
     export the excess commodity. I think it is easy to say we 
     want trade, we don't want aide, and this is going to be a 
     step in that direction if we can get this passed by Congress.

  I could not agree more with Rich on the importance of this trade deal 
to farmers and producers in Kansas, but it is not only the agriculture 
industry that is interested in getting USMCA across the finish line. We 
have also featured Jason Cox, the president of Cox Machine, Inc., a 
small aerospace company based in Wichita, KS--typical of the small 
business community of my State. He recently said:

       Trade is very important to our business, both on the raw 
     material supply side as well as the selling side. This USMCA 
     is important for us to help lower the cost of raw material 
     that we buy and pass that savings along to our customers so 
     we can get more work and produce more goods [and also jobs].

  Look, my colleagues, it has been nearly a year since President Trump 
and the leaders of Mexico and Canada signed this new trade agreement. 
It was November 30, 2018. We are running out of time to get this deal 
done for folks like Rich and Jason and the many other workers whose 
livelihoods depend upon trade.
  There are deadlines. If we get past the deadline, we will go back to 
the original NAFTA bill, which--as I look back in my public career, I 
was happy to work with Kika de la Garza, as I said--the former chairman 
of the House Ag Committee, and he helped me to write NAFTA at that 
particular time. As a result, the ag sector has grown by leaps and 
bounds in not only producing enough food and fiber and other products 
for our consumers but also for a troubled and hungry world.
  We need this trade agreement. I sincerely hope my friends in the 
House can quickly come to an agreement with the administration so that 
we can all do what is right by our constituents and get this bill 
passed this year.
  I would point out that the ag chairman today in the House is Collin 
Peterson. He is a veteran. He is a friend of mine. Mike Conaway is the 
ranking member--same thing. They are for USMCA. It is bipartisan in the 
Ag Committee over there.
  I would also give a shout-out to Robert Lighthizer, who is our 
Ambassador, who has been meeting constantly day in and day out--trying 
to iron out any labor or environment portions of this trade agreement 
where we have some holdup.
  We are not going to go anywhere if we continue to insist on these 
kinds of requirements. You know, these are sovereign countries. These 
are our neighbors. For us to try to dictate labor standards and 
environmental standards for them is a little much, but I understand 
that is what we have to do.
  I don't know, here, what more we can do. I can come to the floor 
every day. I can just say that we had 9 Senators here before. I think 
we could get a mutual agreement to say: Hey, let's get this done. Let's 
separate it from all of the goings-on that are happening in the House 
of Representatives today.
  I hope Speaker Pelosi--she knows about this. California depends on 
this big time, and, as Speaker of the entire United States--I am not 
trying to lecture her or point fingers at her, but she knows exactly 
what the situation is. If she would just send a signal to Ambassador 
Lighthizer and we would send that trade pack up and we could get a 
vote, I think it would pass overwhelmingly, and at least we would have 
something we could claim we are doing in behalf of our farmers, our 
ranchers, our growers, and everybody who is supported by the 
agriculture industry.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from West Virginia.


                                Pensions

  Mr. MANCHIN. Madam President, I come again to speak about what I 
think of the inequities and unfairness in the system that we have to 
American workers.
  American workers, businesses, and the economy here in the United 
States are the envy of the world and have been for quite some time. 
Throughout the history of our country, our citizens have believed that 
through hard work and dedication, they could achieve the American 
dream. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, as we know.
  Millions of Americans worked hard, played by the rules, and trusted 
the companies they worked for to keep their end of the bargain. That 
bargain is their pension. These pensions are modest and what millions 
of Americans plan to use when they retire in the twilight of their 
lives.
  But for 1.5 million Americans, that security has been pulled out from 
under them. Why, after working hard for years and forgoing a portion of 
their paychecks, which they have invested--this is their money matching 
their employers' for their pension--have they either lost or gotten 
their pensions cut in half? The answer is the current state of 
bankruptcy laws.
  How does this happen? Every payday, 10.6 million Americans put a 
portion of their paycheck into a pension account with a promise and 
trust that it will be there when they retire. These same people forgo 
pay raises, bonuses, and personal retirement accounts because they 
believe their pensions will be there until needed.
  Unfortunately, that trust is often broken when investment firms swoop 
in during the bankruptcy process. They cherry-pick at the remains of a 
company, cannibalizing its most lucrative

[[Page S6381]]

assets, therefore putting profits before the people.
  Through no fault of the workers in America, companies are able to use 
their pension money for whatever they want when they declare 
bankruptcy. Just think about that. All your life, you have been 
working--20, 30 years or more--and you thought it was always secure. 
All of a sudden, through the bankruptcy laws, they are able to take 
your money and use it for whatever they want to now because they 
declared bankruptcy and went through a procedure.
  Under current law, when companies declare bankruptcy, they have the 
ability to use their workers' pension fund to give their executives 
bonuses and pay legal costs and debt. I am going to repeat that one. 
They have the ability to use the workers' pension--your money, workers' 
money--to give bonuses to the executives, who should be held 
responsible for the company doing as poorly as it has done to go into 
bankruptcy, and pay legal costs and debt out of money you put in there 
for 20 years or more.
  For the last few decades, investment firms have manipulated chapter 
11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code to destroy union contracts, reduce 
health benefits, and skirt pension obligations to maximize profits. 
Under current law, investment firms can target companies through 
chapter 11 bankruptcy, sell off all the company's valuable assets, and 
leave the pension plan in a worthless corporate shell, while paying 
handsome bonuses to their executives.
  While Congress has sat back and allowed the exploitation that occurs 
through bankruptcy, millions of workers and retirees have lost their 
retirement security. Workers and retirees did not set the amount each 
company contributes to their pension plans, the terms of the plans, or 
the loopholes in the bankruptcy laws. Those actions were all done right 
here in the Halls of Congress. As such, it is now the responsibility 
and duty of Congress to stop the financial engineering and close the 
loopholes of our Bankruptcy Code.
  Let me just talk about one company that affects my State vastly. Last 
week, the largest private coal company in the United States, Murray 
Energy, filed for bankruptcy, making it the eighth coal company in the 
past 12 months to do so. Like so many coal companies before them, they 
plan to skirt their pension obligations and use coal miners' money to 
pay off their debts, give their executives bonuses, and pay off legal 
fees. In the bankruptcy filing, they even labeled coal miners as 
liabilities.
  I don't know about you, but I don't know how any company in good 
conscience could ever label their employees as liabilities. They are 
the ones who make the company, but now they are liabilities. That is 
why they had to go into bankruptcy.
  Murray Energy has contributed 97 percent of the money going into the 
UMWA pension fund annually. With Murray's bankruptcy filing, the UMWA 
pension fund will become insolvent even faster. Once the UMWA pension 
fund becomes insolvent, this crisis will snowball and impact every 
other multiemployer pension fund in America.
  I am going to talk about a couple of cases here to put it in 
perspective. I think everybody will be able to follow this much easier. 
I am going to talk about Sears and Roebuck, which we all knew growing 
up. My mother used to get the catalog way back when, and we used to do 
most of our shopping there.
  This information that I am giving you and I am going to explain comes 
from a complaint filed by Sears itself in the Southern District of New 
York in January 2019. This is the old Sears filing against the new 
Sears--the takeover Sears. This type of financial engineering and 
exploitation occurred at Sears over the past several years.
  After merging with Kmart and being taken over by Eddie Lampert and 
his hedge fund, ESL Investments, Sears started to buy back its own 
shares instead of investing in its already rundown stores. Lampert also 
transferred 235 parcels of Sears' most valuable real estate to an 
investment trust led by Lampert himself and then leased the properties 
back to Sears.
  In 2017, Sears paid the investment trust owned by Mr. Lampert $117 
million in rent for the use of its former property. Under Lampert and 
ESL, Sears closed over 3,500 stores, slashed roughly 250,000 jobs, and 
saw its share price fall from $193 a share in 2007 to less than $1. I 
repeat--$193 a share in 2007 to less than $1 a share.
  After filing bankruptcy in 2018, Sears no longer possessed enough 
assets to pay off its creditors--especially its pension obligation. Now 
those pensions are in the hands of the Pension Benefit Guaranty 
Corporation, which is Sears' largest unsecured creditor, and it owes 
the PBGC more than $1.5 billion.
  Recently, Sears Holdings Corporation filed a lawsuit against former 
CEO Lampert, alleging that he transferred more than $2 billion of cash 
and real estate to himself and other shareholders in the years leading 
up to the retailer's bankruptcy. That has all been done under what they 
consider legal.
  I am going to tell you about one more. This is Friendly's. Friendly's 
is an ice cream corporation, and this information comes from the PBGC's 
complaint opposing Friendly's plan for restructuring. I am telling you, 
this comes from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which we run 
in this country--the Federal Government--and they put this complaint 
against their restructuring.
  The same scheme played out with them in early 2000. In 2007, Sun 
Capital Partners, Inc., a private equity fund, purchased Friendly's for 
$337 million. Trying to weather the great recession, Sun forced 
Friendly's to close 63 stores and take a loan from one of the firm's 
affiliate entities. At that point, Sun Capital was both the owner and 
major creditor of Friendly's. That relationship gave the firm leverage 
in its bankruptcy to quickly sell much of Friendly's assets free and 
clear of any pension obligations to one Sun Capital's affiliate. At the 
end of the bankruptcy, most of Friendly's assets were owned by Sun 
Capital affiliate free and clear of any pension plans. Those unfunded 
pension obligations totaled $115 million and are being assumed by you 
and I, the taxpayers, through the PBGC. There is nothing fair about any 
of this that I just explained, no matter how large or how small.

  We are talking about righting a wrong that we have allowed to happen. 
Back in the 1980s, when the bankruptcy laws were changed, I don't think 
there was a Member here who intended for these type of shenanigans--
this type of robbery and thievery to go on in America. It has happened 
for far too long, and we have a chance to change it.
  As the bankruptcy laws continue to allow this type of exploitation to 
remain, there is a low-profile government agency that is pivotal to the 
Federal Government's efforts to protect the pension benefits for 
thousands of American workers and retirees. The Pension Benefit 
Guaranty Corporation collects insurance premiums from companies that 
offer pensions and provides a portion of the lost benefit to protect 
retirees when a pension fund runs out of money. That is an insurance 
program that the Federal Government has backed up, and the companies 
have paid into that thinking they are going to be in good standing.
  Overall, the PBGC covers benefits for about 44 million people--44 
million workers. However, the PBGC has come under tremendous financial 
pressure as more and more companies have shed their pension debts 
through the Bankruptcy Code. According to PBGC, there is a 90-percent 
chance that the union insurance program will run out of money by 2025, 
leaving it unable to protect pensioners in need. If the exploitation 
continues and the PBGC is left holding the check for bankrupt 
companies, taxpayers will, for the first time in history--we taxpayers 
will, for the first time in history--be on the hook for pensions that 
were evasively disregarded in exchange for investment company profit--
or robbery, actually.
  If the PBGC becomes insolvent, taxpayers will be on the hook--listen 
to this figure. We, as taxpayers, will be on the hook for $479 billion 
over the next 30 years, if we allow this to continue.
  That is why I have introduced legislation that will reform our 
bankruptcy laws. It is called the SLAP Act--Stop Looting American 
Pensions Act. That is exactly what we have allowed to happen for so 
long. It would ensure companies can no longer exploit loopholes in the 
Bankruptcy Code to skirt their pension obligations to workers and 
retirees. My bill would change bankruptcy laws to increase the priority 
of workers going into bankruptcy

[[Page S6382]]

proceedings so the workers are the first priority, not the executive 
bonuses and legal fees.
  What we are doing for the first time is making sure the wage earner, 
the worker, is in the front of the line, not the back of the line. 
Right now if a bankruptcy occurs, I guarantee, all of the different 
reorganization groups that come in, all the different financial groups 
will be in the front of the line, and the workers are left with 
nothing. This reverses that procedure.
  It is a sad day when American workers across the country pour decades 
of their life into a company and are denied their pensions due to 
corporate greed.
  I keep hearing CEOs talk about corporate responsibility. Well, I am 
so thankful to hear those words, ``corporate responsibility.'' This is 
a step toward putting those words into action. I would like to see the 
responsible corporate heads of American industry step forward and help 
us with this needed change. We have to put our workers at the front of 
the line, and I would like to see that done sooner than later.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Utah.


              Tribute to Major General Jefferson S. Burton

  Mr. LEE. Madam President, I rise to honor Utah's valiant citizen, MG 
Jeff Burton, adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, and to pay 
tribute to him for his many years of devoted service to our Nation and 
to the great State of Utah.
  As General Burton closes a long chapter of 37 years of military 
service, he leaves behind a tremendous legacy as an American patriot 
and as a true servant-leader. So I would like to take a moment to talk 
about General Burton today.
  From a young age, General Burton knew that he wanted to follow in the 
footsteps of a number of his family members by serving both his faith 
and his country. He served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of 
Latter-day Saints on a Canadian Indian reservation, braving harsh 
conditions that would well prepare him for his future of military 
service.
  As soon as he returned home, he enrolled at Brigham Young University, 
where he enlisted in the National Guard as an artillery field soldier. 
He joined BYU's ROTC Program, receiving a commission as second 
lieutenant in 1984.
  He completed tours with the U.S. Army Military Police Corps in 
Alabama; with the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, CO; and with 
the 7th U.S. Corps in Germany, where he witnessed the fall of the 
Berlin Wall.
  In 1991, General Burton left the Army and returned home to join the 
Utah National Guard, where he served in a variety of distinguished 
leadership positions over the next decade. Chief among them was a 
position that involved commanding the 1457th Engineer Combat Battalion 
during Operation Iraqi Freedom as part of the initial ground war in 
that conflict.
  He and his troops were tasked with searching for and eliminating 
explosive devices, improving Embassy security, and improvising whenever 
necessary to strengthen security in and around the U.S. Embassy, and of 
course responding to bombings and other acts of terror. They were often 
the first ones on the scene of an explosion. In honor of his heroic 
service there, he was awarded the Bronze Star.
  General Burton was appointed assistant adjutant general of the Utah 
National Guard in 2008, promoted to brigadier general just a few months 
later, and then made major general and adjutant general in 2012. In 
this role, General Burton has trained and equipped over 7,000 soldiers 
under his command and helped them to prepare to respond to challenges 
in both military life and in their personal lives.
  He has prepared them not only to fight our Nation's wars and provide 
military support to our troops throughout the world but to combat 
wildfires, respond to natural disasters, and ensure law and order in 
our communities. Under his leadership, they have performed at an 
absolutely remarkable and, indeed, exceptional caliber.
  When the 100,000-soldier surge in Afghanistan ended in 2012, General 
Burton was also responsible for overseeing the needs of the soldiers 
returning home from war. He rose to the challenge, tending to both the 
physical and emotional needs of those warriors and their families with 
the utmost care. As he himself has once said, ``May we make a silent 
promise to keep the faith with our battle buddies and wingmen. . . . 
May we be strong for one another, and unashamedly rush to the aid of 
those in need. May we remember those who have suffered grievous 
physical wounds in the defense of liberty, and may we never forget 
those who have given the ultimate sacrifice within our formations so 
that we might live in freedom.''
  General Burton has lived by these words over his long and dedicated 
career. Every day he keeps a note tucked in the band of his hat. That 
note contains the list of the soldiers who were killed in combat or 
during 9/11 under his command. He has led by example, never asking of 
his soldiers something that he himself has not done. He has led in 
order to serve, striving always to protect the welfare of his command, 
of our country, of the U.S. Constitution, and of the freedoms it 
protects.
  So it is only fitting that we honor him today. On behalf of our 
Nation and all Utahns, I thank MG Jeff Burton for the sacrifices he and 
his family have made to secure the freedoms we hold dear. I 
congratulate him on this occasion and wish him many happy years ahead 
with his wife, Charn, and their children.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Utah.


                        Attack in Sonora, Mexico

  Mr. LEE. Madam President, I now wish to speak briefly regarding a 
tragedy that occurred just in the last 48 hours--a tragedy that 
occurred in the northern Mexican state of Sonora, a tragedy in which a 
handful of U.S. citizens--the precise number of victims still not 
known--but a number of U.S. citizens were murdered in cold blood. This 
attack was inflicted in a most gruesome manner and was carried out 
against a group which included men, women, and children.
  My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the 
victims. My thoughts and prayers are also extended to the 
administration of President Lopez Obrador in Mexico, whose inauguration 
I attended just a few months ago.
  This is a sobering task to have to identify the source of such a 
heinous and barbaric crime. I have every expectation, every hope, and 
every confidence in those who are assigned on both sides of the border 
to investigate this crime, figure out who did it, and to bring those 
responsible to justice.
  Mexico is a good neighbor to us. We have about $1.6 billion or $1.7 
billion every single day that crosses over our shared southern border. 
Mexico has been a good neighbor, a solid trade partner, and a country 
with which we share many interests. It is a country that desperately 
needs our prayers right now and our help and assistance.
  It has been publicly reported that President Trump and his 
administration are eager to help President Lopez Obrador in combating 
and detecting whoever was responsible for this heinous crime and 
bringing them to justice. I hope and implore the Lopez Obrador 
administration to accept President Trump's generous offer to help.
  This is not an easy task. If, in fact, this was an act, as it appears 
quite possible to have been, of a Mexican-based drug cartel, this is a 
big problem. It is a big problem either way. These drug cartels are no 
small threat to the safety and security of not only the people of 
Mexico but also the people of the United States.
  Think about it. Imagine someone sees in their next-door neighbor's 
backyard a poisonous snake--a poisonous snake that is big and that is 
headed toward his property. Is that neighbor going to stop and ignore 
that snake? In many circumstances, that neighbor is going to take 
action. He might not wait until his neighbor comes home to give the go-
ahead to take care of that snake. Why? Because that snake is headed 
toward his own backyard where his own children are playing.
  This is not something we can trifle with. This is a matter of utmost 
seriousness for the safety and security of the Mexican people and also 
the people of the United States.

[[Page S6383]]

  I applaud the Lopez Obrador administration for its efforts to root 
out corruption and to bring justice to the drug cartels. This brazen 
attack within the last 48 hours signals a need to do more. This is why 
I am so grateful to President Trump that he was willing to reach out 
and offer the assistance that can be provided by the United States. I 
urge President Lopez Obrador to accept it and to do so very soon.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from North Dakota.
  Mr. CRAMER. Madam President. First of all, I have never come to the 
floor of the Senate--and previously of the House--as ill-prepared as 
today, but I want to follow up on something my friend from Utah just 
spoke about, and that is the attack on the innocent people in the last 
48 hours. When I learned of it last night, I was stunned.
  I just got off the phone a few minutes ago with the brother and 
sister of one of the victims. A young mother, Anita Miller, was killed 
along with her four children. They were in the first SUV that was shot 
up and burnt. They were on their way to Phoenix to pick up their dad 
from North Dakota--Howard--who was working on an oil rig as this 
occurred. I just talked to Howard's brother Kenny and his sister 
Heather.
  All of the Millers and the LeBarons who are victims of this have 
many, many family members in North Dakota. They have lots of businesses 
in the State of North Dakota. They are hard-working, faithful people.

  It was a hard phone call to make. This was a hard message to deliver. 
And I didn't really know what to deliver except that I wanted them to 
know that the people of their country and the United States are hugging 
the people of their country, Mexico, and that what they have 
experienced is certainly the personification of evil in the form of 
these thugs from this cartel, for sure. They are people who kill with 
reckless abandon. They have no regard for life, even the life of 
innocent children. But we serve a God who personifies pure good, and 
the greatest response to pure evil is pure good.
  Kenny and I had a particularly long talk regarding his family--what 
they are experiencing and what is going on. They wanted me to know that 
they support the United States as well as their country. They wanted me 
to tell the President that they support what he is doing and appreciate 
his offer of help to the Mexican Government.
  I told them that there is lots of time for talking about the response 
of one government working with another but that, right now, grief is 
sort of the emotion of the moment, and remembering their loved ones is 
important, and we would be doing it as a Congress, as an 
administration, as a country, and as the State of North Dakota, which 
embraces these people we know and love so much. We will do what needs 
to be done, and we stand ready, first of all, to hold them up in prayer 
and to share their burden with them.
  I wanted to express as much as anything that their burden is ours 
today and that, to the degree we can share a burden like this, we are 
sharing it. We will react. We will respond in whatever way is 
appropriate and whatever way we can.
  I join Senator Lee in gratitude to President Trump for his reaching 
out and his offer of assistance. It can't be easy to live in a country 
or even to rule a country where the cartels are so powerful, where 
their weapons are as good as, if not better than, the weapons of the 
police and maybe even the military. It can't be easy to stand up to 
that, but with good friends and allies and neighbors, perhaps now, 
perhaps this event and perhaps the grief of these families will be the 
things that bring two countries together to fight this evil.
  I will end as I began and look forward to future days when we speak 
more thoroughly about it and there is more information on it, but to 
remind perhaps ourselves as much as anything, the only effective 
response to pure evil is pure love. As people of faith, we know pure 
love is personified in our Lord. So tonight, my message to the families 
in Mexico, North Dakota, and Utah is that we love them. We love them.
  I yield the floor.
  I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Cassidy). The clerk will call the roll.
  The senior assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.


                               Healthcare

  Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. President, I wanted to speak for a few minutes 
today to talk a little bit about rural healthcare and to ask my 
colleagues for help in protecting the 20 percent of Americans who live 
in rural areas who are in danger of losing--or may have lost entirely--
access to healthcare in their communities.
  Since 2010, 118 rural hospitals have shut their doors. Fourteen of 
those facilities are in my State of Tennessee. Medical practitioners 
are paying attention to this trend and, more often than not, choose 
stability in the cities and suburbs over the uphill battle that comes 
with practicing medicine without access to the funding and modern 
resources many clinics now take for granted. As a result, rural 
patients are left to suffer through illnesses or emergencies or 
sacrifice time, money, and mileage for even the chance of a diagnosis. 
This system is broken, but this year, I have been able, by working with 
my colleagues on each side of the aisle, to kind of pick up the pieces 
around this.
  I have a three-bill rural health agenda, which comes at the direct 
request of smalltown mayors and local leaders who are struggling in my 
State to keep these communities afloat. Last week, my fellow 
Tennesseans, Congressmen Kustoff and Roe, introduced House companions 
to all three pieces of legislation.
  I will tell you, I have been talking to Tennesseans, and they want my 
colleagues in the Senate to know what we should do about this issue. If 
you have never lived in a rural area, hearing someone talk about 
driving 20 or 30 minutes to the nearest doctor probably really doesn't 
seem like a problem to you. But in the country, 30 minutes away 
translates into miles of driving through isolated areas. Chances are 
good that you will not even have cell service for part of that drive. 
There are no EMTs or rapid response teams. And if there is a local 
doctor, he or she may not have any specialized expertise, which could 
spell disaster for patients dealing with a complicated diagnosis.
  The first component of the agenda is the Telehealth Across State 
Lines Act, which would lead to the creation of uniform, national best 
practices for the provision of telemedicine across State lines and set 
up a grant program to expand existing telehealth programs and 
incentivize the adoption of telehealth by Medicare and Medicaid 
Programs. But implementation of telehealth will not eliminate the need 
for face-to-face interactions between patients and doctors.
  This leads us to another problem. Rural communities keep themselves 
afloat on strapped budgets, which means that plans to open as much as a 
bare-bones urgent care facility can be derailed by all the startup 
costs. The Rural Health Innovation Act--the second part of the agenda--
features two grant programs. The first one will fund the expansion of 
existing healthcare centers--such as local nursing homes--into urgent 
care walk-in clinics. Facilities will be able to use grant money to 
purchase equipment, hire physicians, physician assistants, nurse 
practitioners, and other essential staff.
  A second grant program will expand rural health departments to meet 
urgent care and triage needs. This is using programs that already 
exist, tailoring them to the needs of rural America.
  Of course, this points out the third issue: Expanded facilities are 
useless if there are no medical personnel. I have been working on this 
problem with my friend from Illinois, Senator Durbin, and he spoke 
about this on the floor a few minutes ago. We recognized from the 
beginning that throwing money and equipment at an updated facility will 
not convince medical professionals to establish a rural practice, so we 
wrote the Rural America Health Corps Act to encourage practitioners to 
set up shop in rural areas. The bill creates a new student loan 
repayment program that doctors and other medical professionals can take 
advantage of. In exchange for those loan payments, they will have to 
agree to serve for at least 5 years in a rural area with a health

[[Page S6384]]

professional shortage, but the benefit comes tax-free.
  I have spoken to rural communities all across my State. I know 
Senator Durbin has talked across the State of Illinois. I will tell you 
that these bills don't simply address a matter of convenience. My 
fellow Tennesseans want my colleagues to know they aren't just 
frustrated with the long drives and unanswered questions. They are 
worried that their child's cough will turn into pneumonia before they 
are allowed a full day off from work to drive to a pediatrician. They 
have no idea what they would do if they were diagnosed with an illness 
that requires continuous care.
  They do, however, know what would probably happen if someone they 
love suffered a heart attack or had another major emergency. They are 
very fearful.
  If these bills pass, they will no longer have to live with the 
knowledge that they have been abandoned by our healthcare system. They 
will have access to healthcare in their communities.
  I ask my colleagues to let these people know that yes, indeed, 
somebody is listening, and I ask them to do so by cosponsoring Senate 
bills 2406, 2408, and 2411.
  I yield the floor.


                           Order of Business

  Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that if the 
Tapp nomination is confirmed, the motion to reconsider be considered 
made and laid upon the table and the President be immediately notified 
of the Senate's action.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Missouri.
  Mr. BLUNT. Mr. President, I ask for the yeas and nays.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there a sufficient second?
  There appears to be a sufficient second.
  The yeas and nays are ordered.
  All time has expired.
  The question is, Will the Senate advise and consent to the Tapp 
nomination?
  The yeas and nays were previously ordered.
  The clerk will call the roll.
  The senior assistant legislative clerk called the roll.
  Mr. THUNE. The following Senators are necessarily absent: the Senator 
from North Carolina (Mr. Burr) and the Senator from Georgia (Mr. 
Isakson).
  Mr. DURBIN. I announce that the Senator from New Jersey (Mr. Booker), 
the Senator from California (Ms. Harris), the Senator from Minnesota 
(Ms. Klobuchar), the Senator from Vermont (Mr. Sanders), and the 
Senator from Massachusetts (Ms. Warren) are necessarily absent.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Are there any other Senators in the Chamber 
desiring to vote?
  The result was announced--yeas 85, nays 8, as follows:

                      [Rollcall Vote No. 344 Ex.]

                                YEAS--85

     Alexander
     Baldwin
     Barrasso
     Bennet
     Blackburn
     Blumenthal
     Blunt
     Boozman
     Braun
     Brown
     Cantwell
     Capito
     Cardin
     Carper
     Casey
     Cassidy
     Collins
     Coons
     Cornyn
     Cortez Masto
     Cotton
     Cramer
     Crapo
     Cruz
     Daines
     Duckworth
     Durbin
     Enzi
     Ernst
     Feinstein
     Fischer
     Gardner
     Graham
     Grassley
     Hassan
     Hawley
     Heinrich
     Hoeven
     Hyde-Smith
     Inhofe
     Johnson
     Jones
     Kaine
     Kennedy
     King
     Lankford
     Leahy
     Lee
     Manchin
     McConnell
     McSally
     Moran
     Murkowski
     Murphy
     Murray
     Paul
     Perdue
     Peters
     Portman
     Reed
     Risch
     Roberts
     Romney
     Rosen
     Rounds
     Rubio
     Sasse
     Scott (FL)
     Scott (SC)
     Shaheen
     Shelby
     Sinema
     Smith
     Sullivan
     Tester
     Thune
     Tillis
     Toomey
     Udall
     Van Hollen
     Warner
     Whitehouse
     Wicker
     Wyden
     Young

                                NAYS--8

     Gillibrand
     Hirono
     Markey
     Menendez
     Merkley
     Schatz
     Schumer
     Stabenow

                             NOT VOTING--7

     Booker
     Burr
     Harris
     Isakson
     Klobuchar
     Sanders
     Warren
  The nomination was confirmed.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, the motion to 
reconsider is considered made and laid upon the table and the President 
will be notified of the Senate's action.

                          ____________________