Mr. SANDERS. Madam President, all of us recognize there are very strong differences of opinion in Congress about how to resolve the major energy crisis facing working families throughout our country. I have my views on this issue, and other Members have different points of view, and that is the way it is.
I am happy to report, however, that there is an increasing unanimity of understanding around one very important fact regarding this energy crisis; that is, if we do not dramatically increase funding for the highly successful Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, usually known as LIHEAP, senior citizens on fixed incomes, the disabled, and working families with children are in serious danger of either freezing to death this coming winter or perhaps dying of heat stroke this summer because
they are unable to pay their home energy bills. We cannot allow that to happen.
I am happy to announce, in a tripartisan effort, that more and more Senators understand that reality and are prepared to work together to protect our citizens. S. 3186, the Warm in Winter and Cool in Summer Act, the LIHEAP legislation that I recently introduced, now has 53 cosponsors--53 cosponsors--38 Democrats, 13 Republicans, and 2 Independents. I thank all of those cosponsors for their support. I am absolutely confident that as soon as this bill gets on the Senate floor, not only do we have
the 50 votes, I am quite confident we are going to have 60 votes and perhaps more.
I also thank majority leader Harry Reid for filing a cloture motion last night on the motion to proceed to this very important legislation. Senator Reid understands, as I think most of us do, that it is absolutely essential for the health and well-being of millions of our citizens that this bill be passed, and passed as soon as possible. My hope is that after passage in the Senate, we can get it over to the House before the August break and see it pass in that body as well.
That may be overly optimistic, but that is what I would like to see.
Let me say a few words about why this bill needs to be passed.
At a time when home energy bills are soaring, this legislation would nearly double the funding for LIHEAP in fiscal year 2008, taking it from a little more than $2.5 billion to $5.1 billion--a total increase of $2.53 billion. This is, in fact, what Congress has authorized for LIHEAP.
Let me say a few words about why we need to significantly increase funding for LIHEAP.
In 2007, 5.8 million Americans--primarily senior citizens, working families with kids, and people with disabilities--utilized this program. These are the most vulnerable people in our country. Unfortunately, these 5.8 million Americans are only 16 percent--16 percent--of the people who are eligible for the program. The vast majority of the people who are eligible cannot get into the program because we lack the funds to help them. Madam President, 94 percent of the participants in the LIHEAP program
were elderly, disabled, or had a child in the family under 18.
From fiscal year 2003 to fiscal year 2008, the cost of the average heating oil bill has increased by over 93 percent--almost doubled. The estimated increase in an average natural gas bill during that same period has gone up by about 50 percent. Unfortunately, LIHEAP funding has lagged far behind these outrageously high increases in energy costs. In fact, we are spending 23 percent less on LIHEAP today than we did 2 years ago, and after adjusting for inflation, we spent more on LIHEAP 20 years
ago than we are spending right now.
Let's be very clear. What we are talking about now is a life-and-death situation. Many people do not understand this, but more people have died in our country from the extreme heat and extreme cold since 1998 than all natural disasters in this country combined, including floods, fires, hurricanes, and tornadoes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 1,000 Americans from across the country died from hypothermia in their own homes just between 1999 and 2002. Those are the latest figures we have available. In other words, they froze to death because they could not afford to adequately heat their homes. How many of these deaths were preventable? All of them were, according to the CDC. We will probably not know for several years how many Americans died last winter because they could not afford
to heat their homes, but clearly one death is too many.
I understand this country is struggling with an emergency situation in terms of flooding in the Midwest and wildfires in California, but there is another emergency which must be dealt with now while we also deal with those emergencies.
At a time when the costs of home heating fuels and electricity are soaring and when the economy is in decline, millions of Americans are finding it harder and harder to stay warm in the winter or stay cool in the summer.
In my State of Vermont and throughout New England and the Northeast, people are extremely worried that they will not have enough money to afford the price of heating oil next winter. A newspaper in my State, the Stowe Reporter, recently editorialized that the lack of affordable heating oil could turn into New England's version of Hurricane Katrina next winter. We cannot allow that to happen.
I want all of my colleagues to understand that the home energy crisis that is being faced throughout the northern part of our country is something that is very imminent and is something that people are very concerned about. But this program, LIHEAP, is not just a program for cold-weather States; it is also a program for hot-weather States so that the elderly, the sick, and the frail in hot-weather States can afford to pay soaring electric bills to provide the air-conditioning they need. In other
words, this program is not just a life-and-death program for the northern tier of our country; it is vitally important for the South and Southwest and for people who are struggling to pay for the skyrocketing price of electricity which has tripled in some parts of the country. What we are concerned about there is that if you are 90 years of age and you are sick and you cannot afford skyrocketing electric bills and your electricity gets turned off, you are in serious trouble.
According to the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association, a recordbreaking 15.6 million American families, or nearly 15 percent of all households, are at least 30 days overdue in paying their utility bills. This is a crisis situation and a situation in which LIHEAP can be of significant help.
To demonstrate how important LIHEAP is right now for Southern States dealing with a major heat wave, let me give you a few examples of what I am referring to. This is hard to believe, but it is true. Over the past decade, the last 10 years, more than 400 people have died of heat exposure in the State of Arizona, including 31 in July of 2005 alone. All of these deaths could have been prevented if the people affected had air-conditioning. Without increased support from the Federal Government, Arizona
will be out of LIHEAP funding before the end of this month.
Let me quote from a letter I received on July 15--last week--from Phil Gordon, the mayor of Phoenix, AZ. This is what he writes:
I am writing to express my support for the Warm in Winter and Cool in Summer Act. Currently Arizona can only provide assistance to 6 percent--
of eligible LIHEAP households. ..... To make matters worse, Phoenix continues to experience extreme heat. In the past month alone, we have had 15 days with temperatures at or [Page: S7247]
above 110 degrees. This extreme heat is especially hard on the very young, the elderly and disabled who are on fixed incomes and can no longer afford to cool their homes. ..... Arizona Public Service--
That is the electric company there--
reported that there was a 36% increase in the number of households having difficulty in paying utility bills and an increase of 11,000 families being disconnected compared to a year ago.
Imagine not having electricity, and day after day the temperature is 110 degrees. And imagine if you are 90 years of age. Imagine if you are sick.
Rising energy and housing costs are placing enormous strains on low-income households across Arizona.
So writes Mayor Phil Gordon of Phoenix, AZ.
Madam President, it is not just Arizona. Due to a lack of LIHEAP funding, the State of Texas only provides air-conditioning assistance to about 4 percent of those who qualify.
Let me quote from a letter I received on July 15 from Shawnee Bayer from the Community Action Committee in Victoria, TX. She writes:
The temperatures in our area have been 100 to 110 degrees for 16 consecutive days. I fear it is going to be very tragic at the current pace we are going with so little LIHEAP funding available. ..... There are so many who need our assistance, like the elderly lady in her 80's who recently almost died due to kidney failure; now she doesn't want to use her air conditioner because she is afraid she won't be able to pay the bill. .....
That should not be taking place here in the United States of America. This is in Victoria, TX.
I received an e-mail from DeAndra Baker from the Community Action Agency in Giddings, TX, who writes:
We have a gentleman who is 78 years old and on a fixed income of $770.00 a month. ..... Due to the extremely high temperatures he is unable to afford to keep his home cool. His doctor provided a statement that he must have his air conditioner turned on at a minimum of 80 degrees to avoid congestive heart failure and he is not even able to afford that much. Sadly, he will not continue to run his A/C or fans and will be at serious risk unless LIHEAP funding is increased soon.
That is what is going on in the State of Texas.
Without additional support from the Federal Government, the State of Georgia will not be able to offer any LIHEAP assistance whatsoever to its residents this summer. Currently, Georgia has a waiting list of 28,000 people hoping to receive some relief from the hot weather this summer.
Let me quote from a letter I received from the executive director of the Community Action Agency in Gainesville, GA, Janice Riley. She writes:
One family that came in after we ran out of LIHEAP funds was the Jones family. ..... Mr. Jones, came to our office requesting assistance with his electric bill. He has a wife and five children. ..... They got behind with all their bills when he was injured on the job six months ago. ..... Their daughter is paralyzed from the neck down from a fall she had at six months of age. I wish we could help them. Another participant that did not receive LIHEAP funds and is now facing disconnection or homelessness
is Ms. O'Brien, a 33 year old, single parent with 5 children between the ages of 7-16, and a newborn grandchild which she has taken in. ..... Her power was turned off last week because she was unable to pay it. ..... Her need for assistance is based on the high costs of living, not from her lack of work ethic and heroic efforts to maintain her household.
In addition, unless this legislation is signed into law soon, the State of Kentucky will not be able to keep any of its residents cool this summer through the LIHEAP program.
According to the executive director of the Community Action Agency in Kentucky, Kip Bowmar:
February of 2008 marked the first time in the program's history that all 120 Counties in Kentucky ran out of LIHEAP funds forcing us to close our doors as fuel prices were soaring and people needed help.
In Florida, Hilda Frazier, the State director of the LIHEAP program, has estimated they will serve 26,000 fewer households this year because of the reduction of available LIHEAP funding and the rising cost of energy.
Moving on to California, Joan Graham, the deputy director of the Community Action Agency in Sacramento, CA, recently wrote that:
Every day we are turning away at least 50 families who qualify for LIHEAP because we lack resources. Energy bills have increased 30 percent over last year, yet our funding has not increased. In 2006, there were 29 heat-related deaths in Sacramento County. One senior who passed away due to extreme heat was afraid to turn on his air-conditioner because he knew he would be unable to pay the electric bill. We know there are more like him out there at present.
Why is LIHEAP so important in the South in the summertime? From 1999 to 2003, over 3,400 deaths in this country were due to excessive heat. All of these deaths were preventable, and air-conditioning is the best way to prevent those deaths, according to CDC.
I relate the problems associated with high heat and lack of LIHEAP funding not because that is necessarily an issue in my State. In our State of Vermont, in the northern tier of this country, the fear obviously is that when winter comes and weather becomes 20 below zero, we are going to have many families who are going to go cold. Some may freeze, some may be forced to vacate their homes and move in with other relatives and friends. That is what our fear is. Again, this is not just a fear of
northern States, this is a concern that impacts every State in this country, whether you are in the North or whether you are in the South. It is imperative that we move on this issue and it is imperative that we move as quickly as possible.
So once again, I am delighted that in the midst of all of the differences of opinion we are hearing on energy policy in general, there has been a coming together around the issue of LIHEAP. We now have 52 cosponsors, including 13 Republicans. When this bill comes to the floor--and it will come to the floor soon; we are going to pass it--I am quite confident we are going to get at least 60 votes, if we need that, and maybe a lot more than that. My hope is that we move it on to the House to get
it passed there as soon as possible and we get this desperately needed funding out into the States. This is an issue we are making some progress on and I look forward to the support of all of my colleagues.
With that, I yield the floor.
Mr. GREGG. Madam President, I wish to pick up on what the Senator from Vermont is saying because I feel very strongly that we do need to move forward with additional funding for LIHEAP, the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program. In fact, I have offered an amendment to this--or I have filed it. I haven't offered it, because no amendments have been allowed by the majority party, but I have filed an amendment to the Energy bill, which is the logical place that we should put the LIHEAP language, which
would do three things. It would double the amount of funding for low-income energy assistance, increasing it by $2.5 billion, which is the essence of the bill of the Senator from Vermont, which is exactly what we need to take care of the increased prices for energy according to the Energy Office in New Hampshire.
Secondly, it would add $25 million to the weatherization program. I think weatherization makes a lot of sense because it takes homes which lose a lot of their energy through lack of adequate windows or adequate insulation and helps those homes, especially low-income individuals. Further, it does something else which is important. LIHEAP is directed to low-income people, but middle-income families today, with the cost of energy doubling and tripling, have a serious problem. Folks who are working
for a living but are still on a fairly tight budget or a fixed income are going to get hit hard this winter when their energy bills double and triple. So this bill sets up a tax credit dealing with the first $1,000 for an individual who is purchasing energy at fairly moderate income levels, so it doesn't benefit high-income individuals, and allows people, to the extent they buy oil to heat their home, to take that tax credit to assist them in the effort of reducing the cost of that oil.
All of this is paid for. My bill is entirely paid for. I think that is also a critical element because what we are talking about here is buying a consumable product for today--oil to heat your home--and then, unfortunately, if you don't pay for it, you are passing the bill for that oil on to our children and our grandchildren by adding to the debt of the United States, and that is not fair. Our children and our grandchildren are going to have their own tough time heating their homes; they don't
need to have the debt that is included in paying for that program. [Page: S7248]
So my bill is entirely paid for by eliminating a tax--what I consider to be an inappropriate tax break for basically large, integrated oil companies known as section 199. This tax break was not directed at those companies originally when it was passed--and it should be--but it is being taken advantage of, and it is certainly not needed when oil is selling at $120 or $130 a barrel, and the incentives to produce oil are significant enough by the cost of the marketplace.
I feel very strongly--and I think this is an important point to make--that we need to have a comprehensive approach relative to people who are going to be impacted this winter, and it needs to be a paid-for approach, and that is why I made this suggestion.
I also feel strongly that if the majority leader calls up the bill which he filed, which is the bill from Senator Sanders, in an attempt basically to take down the Energy bill so that we are not going to debate it any longer, that is not the right approach. Because the real way you get to the issue of energy and the cost of energy for low-income people in New Hampshire this winter--or for moderate income people in New Hampshire this winter--is to reduce the overall cost of energy, to
bring the price of energy down. How do you do that? You produce more and you consume less.
We on our side of the aisle have a series of ideas as to how you should produce more. Use the oil that is in the Outer Continental Shelf, drill in the Outer Continental Shelf. Use shale oil. We have 2 trillion barrels of shale oil sitting there--more reserves than in all of Saudi Arabia and many of the Middle Eastern countries combined. Use those resources. Bring them on the market. Take away the impediments which we as a Congress--the Democratic Congress specifically--have put in the way of
using Outer Continental Shelf oil.
There is language which has passed this Congress which was put in by the Democratic Congress that says you can't drill in the Outer Continental Shelf. There is language which says you can't use oil shale from Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah--this huge reserve of energy. That language should be removed so that those sources of oil can be used.
Once you show the world we are willing to bring on line as a nation additional production from our resources, that will reduce the price of energy, because these prices which we are seeing today are speculative prices based on what they expect to occur in the future, and they expect demand to go up, but supply to stay stable--to not go up. Well,
if we prove we are willing to bring more supply on line, and we are willing to use other sources such as nuclear power to reduce our reliance on oil, that will cause these prices to come down. That is the most significant thing we can do. If we could bring the price of a barrel of oil down to $100, even, that would dramatically take pressure off of people buying home heating oil this winter in New Hampshire.
So this bill we are debating right now, this energy bill, has to be completed before we move on to Senator Sanders' bill. In the debate of this bill, we should take up the LIHEAP amendment which will be offered, I suspect, from our side of the aisle--probably by Senator Sununu or myself. At the same time, we should take up these other ideas of expanding the use of our reserves as a nation on the Outer Continental Shelf, in the shale oil reserves, using nuclear power.
We should be expanding these reserves. Why? Because that will cause the price of oil to come down. In addition, the secondary benefit of this, of course, is that we won't be buying energy from people who don't like us. We won't be buying as much energy from Venezuela if we are producing American oil. We won't be buying energy from Iran if we are producing more American oil.
So clearly this is what we should do. We should produce more and we should consume less. At the same time, we should be promoting--and there will be an amendment from our side of the aisle on this bill--promoting the use of electric cars and development of electric batteries, promoting more conservation ideas, promoting more renewable ideas. These are initiatives which need to be pursued. More importantly, they need to be discussed and a genuine bill needs to come out of this Congress. A bill
such as the majority leader has presented--or the Democratic side has presented--which deals only with one small sliver of the problem, which is the potential for speculation, does nothing to increase supply and it does nothing to increase conservation, the two things we need to do in order to get the price of oil down.
The simple fact is this bill should be available and open to amendment. In an attempt by the majority leader to basically sidetrack this bill, to throw it in the ditch, so we can't go forward with amendments which deal with addressing drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, which deal with bringing on more shale oil, which deal with nuclear power, which deal with more conservation--I am not going to vote for something that tries to accomplish that. I am going to vote to try to make sure we come
out of this debate with a comprehensive policy, something that drives this country toward creating more supply that is American-created while at the same time using less.
Madam President, how much time do I have remaining?
Mr. GREGG. Insurance that we will incur--as a result of bank failures that we will be paying a massive price. So although I don't like the idea from a concept as a matter of practice, this is something we are simply going to have to do in order to assure the fiscal solvency and resilience of our credit markets.
Madam President, I appreciate the courtesy of the Chair and I yield the floor.
Mr. KYL. Madam President, I associate myself with the remarks of my colleague from Alabama a moment ago. I will speak to the reliance of the United States on other countries around the world for too much of our petroleum and natural gas supplies and what that does to the United States to make us dependent, to cost us more money, to reduce our flexibility and actions around the world, and also the point that every time they want to rattle their sabers to create instability in the world, what that
does to the markets is to reflect that instability in higher prices. So these very countries that we would like not to make so much money off their oil supplies, if they want to make more, all they have [Page: S7250]
to do is create a little trouble in the world, and it raises the price because the markets go higher for a while. I will talk about that in a moment.
I have reflected on a comment a friend of mine made some time ago. I don't mean disrespect to my friends on the other side. But he said: You know, Democrats have three approaches to every problem: Taxation, litigation, and regulation.
Sometimes we like to laugh about that because it is, unfortunately, too true. But I thought how does this apply to energy. Sure enough, it does. They, of course, tried taxation and failed, trying to raise taxes on oil companies, under the notion it would never be reflected in consumer prices we pay. But that is exactly what would happen. They tried litigation against OPEC. There is no way you can sue the OPEC countries. We ought to produce more of what we have, not tell them they have to produce
more. They are pretty strained, in terms of where they are in production right now, in any event, and we are not, as the King of Saudi Arabia reminded President Bush not too long ago.
Then, the third thing has to do with regulation. It is the bill that is pending before us right now. This is the Democratic approach: Let's regulate the people who buy and sell the contracts for oil and natural gas and the like. Of course, we already have regulators--it is called the CFTC--and today we have some news that demonstrates that this body is doing its job and can do its job. To the extent that there is illegal manipulation in the market, the CFTC can stop it. They announced that, after
a year of investigation, they had stopped a company that was allegedly illegally manipulating the market, and they are going to take legal action against them. The Department of Justice may be looking at it from a criminal aspect, as well.
Both Democrats and Republicans have agreed that one of the things we need to do is ensure that the CFTC has all the money it needs and the personnel it needs to continue to do the job we have given it to do, to make sure people are not abusing the process. That is the good part of regulation. The bad part would be to begin defining--as the Democratic legislation does--who good traders are and who bad traders are and not let the bad traders trade--something that was debunked yesterday in an interagency
study concluded by the CFTC, which concluded that speculation wasn't the problem; that the reason for the price increases at the pump is the law of supply and demand--not enough supply for the demand that exists out there.
Today, another diversion was created. I wish to reiterate this. It involves a friend of mine, my colleague, John McCain. He was grossly misquoted this morning by Senator Reid and others, who have tried to suggest he is not for offshore drilling. I think everybody knows John McCain supports more offshore drilling. As a matter of fact, on this chart, I will quote one of many things I could refer to from his Web site. I have a great deal of information in which he makes
it clear he is for more offshore production.
Among other things, in June, he said this:
Opponents of domestic production cling to their position, even as the price of foreign oil has doubled, and doubled again ..... every year, we are sending hundreds of billions of dollars out of the country for oil imports, much of it from OPEC, while trillions of dollars of oil reserves in America go unused.
He has also said the current Federal moratorium on drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf stands in the way of energy exploration and production. John McCain believes it is time for the Federal Government to lift these restrictions and put our own reserves to use, and on and on.
He obviously supports offshore production. So why did some of my colleagues take a quotation of his, leave part of it out, and try to create the impression that he did not support it and he did not think it would do any good? He was responding to a question earlier about whether more of this offshore production would produce immediate results. All he did was to tell the truth. Here is what he said:
I don't see an immediate relief, but I do see that exploitation of existing reserves, that may exist, and that--in view of many experts--that do exist off our coasts, is also a way that we need to provide relief, even though it may take some years. The fact that we are exploiting those reserves would have a psychological impact that I think is beneficial.
I totally agree with him. My colleagues read this to suggest that he believes offshore production would have no benefit except a psychological benefit. As we can see, that is not what he said. But his point is also valid--``is also a way we need to provide relief,'' it will provide a psychological boost to the markets just as, in fact, President Bush's lifting of the moratorium a week or so ago on some offshore drilling caused prices to drop. Many analysts believe the drop of about $25 per barrel
was much because of the President's announcement and the fact that Congress was taking up this subject with the idea that perhaps we would actually get something done.
What the speculators are doing is simply placing a bet into the future that there is either going to be enough oil to meet demand or there is not. If there is not, then they are betting the price will go up.
What Senator McCain is saying is the mere fact we would pass legislation saying we are going to produce more oil offshore would immediately have the impact on the markets to bring the prices down because they would know in the future we would have enough supply to meet our demands. John McCain was exactly correct on this, and I think it serves no purpose to misquote him and suggest otherwise.
I also note that in the House of Representatives today, legislation was defeated, as it was last week, by the Democratic majority there that is very similar to, if not identical to, legislation that was introduced by Democrats in the Senate.
For example, last week the House of Representatives defeated a provision that says where leases have been let to oil producers, if they do not drill on those leases after a period of time, then the leases come back to the Federal Government.
As you probably know, that is already the law. The bottom line is you get primarily 10-year leases. Some are shorter. You cannot obviously immediately go out and drill on every one of several hundred thousand acres, but what you do is try to figure out where it is most likely you are going to get oil and you start drilling there first and keep going until you drill in all the areas where you think there is potential. It is obviously not going to be on every acre. Whatever you haven't done in
10 years goes back to the Government. That bill failed because it is already law.
Today another bill failed that is to drain the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. This is our national security reserve of oil, in case of an emergency, for our military primarily. We need reserve so the tanks can drive, planes can fly, and the ships can sail. You don't want to reduce that to affect very briefly the price of gas in the country. They would reduce it by 10 percent. What would that do in terms of the oil supply in the country? It would reduce the oil supply by 3 1/2 days--3 1/2 days.
If it drove the prices down at all, which I doubt would happen, it would be very temporary because everybody would know it is not a permanent solution. So it is no wonder that failed in the House. Again, to the extent that is part of the Democratic bill, it is obviously not a solution to the problem.
I mentioned I would talk briefly about what Senator Sessions was talking about, and that is the unintended consequences of not producing our own energy, even though we have it in our country, and relying on other countries to do it instead.
More than 60 percent of every dollar spent at the pump--I filled up my tank last week, and it cost me over $70, and my tank wasn't even empty when I filled it. More than 60 cents out of every dollar I paid went to a foreign country. We could keep that money in the United States if we produced our own energy.
I conclude by saying we can do ourselves a whole lot of good to take advantage of the resources that exist right here in the United States of America, reduce the cost of gasoline at the pump, and ensure our future energy security.
I hope during the course of the next several days we will have an opportunity to do that as we debate this important legislation. [Page: S7251]
Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I commend Senator Grassley for focusing again on the importance of lower taxes and promoting a better economy and higher standard of living in America.
It is disturbing, as we talk about energy and high gas prices, to hear from our Democratic colleagues in the House that they are actually considering raising taxes on gasoline 10 cents or more per gallon at a time when it is already a crushing cost to Americans on energy.
The energy debate has been very helpful. I think for years Americans have known, at least many Americans, that the Democratic Party has blocked the development of energy supplies, America's own energy supplies, from the time of Jimmy Carter stopping nuclear generation to President Clinton vetoing the legislation that would have opened some oil reserves in Alaska, to constant votes by our Democratic colleagues to stop the opening of oil and natural gas which is plentiful in America.
Americans do not trust Congress to fix this because they know it is the inaction by Congress that has caused the gas prices, and we see that the Democratic leadership is going to do everything they can to keep amendments and an open and honest debate about real energy development in America from happening.
The same thing has happened on another bill that is going to be interjected into this energy debate, this massive housing bill, this massive mortgage bailout that is going to come back to the Senate floor for a vote. This is another situation where the American people know that the mortgage crisis, the foreclosure crisis, the problems with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are caused by incompetence and gross negligence by this Congress and past administrations.
We suspect, and there is every evidence, that part of that negligence has come from the ability of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to lobby Members of Congress and other watchdog groups to keep them from focusing on the reforms that were needed.
When this housing bill comes back, I have proposed one amendment. I asked for one amendment in this process, that if the American taxpayers put their money on the line to back these private companies, that these private companies should no longer be able to spend millions of dollars lobbying Members of Congress to keep them from implementing the reforms that are so important.
Last night I made an offer to the majority leader. I suggested we could have one vote under a time agreement to allow my amendment to prohibit lobbying and political donations from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We could have been done with the bill last night. If the majority leader tabled the amendment, the bill would have been passed and sent to the President last night. But I do not think he wanted his Members to have to vote on that.
If the amendment had been adopted, the bill would have been immediately sent to the House, passed and sent to the President, probably today. The only thing that prevented this from happening was the objection of the majority leader last night, because the majority leader was intent on blocking this amendment to prohibit Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from lobbying.
The bill will likely pass the Senate on Saturday and will not reach the President until next week. So the argument that my one amendment is slowing this down is not true. Let me state again one more time, to be clear. This Senator was prepared to vote on the housing bill last night. I do not support the bill. I do not think it should become law. I simply wanted one amendment.
My constituents sent me here to Washington to clean up this place. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade to block commonsense reform, which could have been prevented. We could have prevented the debacle that we are faced with now if Congress had not been blind to the problem. But because the leader was intent on filibustering my amendment, blocking me from doing what my constituents sent me here to do, the housing bill will be delayed until
next week. This is fine with me, because there is a lot wrong with the bill. But the decision to delay the bill was made by the majority leader and him alone.
I wish to offer one more opportunity here for the majority to expedite the housing bill and to give me the one vote on this amendment and then we can proceed to a final vote.
UNANIMOUS CONSENT REQUEST--H.R. 3221
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that when the
Senate resumes the consideration of the housing bill, the pending Reid amendment be withdrawn and the only amendment in order be a DeMint amendment which I will send to the desk. This is a measure to address lobbying by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, the majority clearly will not permit this or any other amendment on the bill. He says he does not want anything to delay it. As I have already pointed out, however, I think his own obstruction is delaying the bill.
I wish to make one more proposal. I will explain it, and if the majority is willing, then I will read the technical language. But I am very willing to offer a unanimous consent request to move immediately to a final vote on the housing bill, and then once the energy debate is completed, that my amendment, then in bill form, be allowed a straight-up vote in the Senate.
This may be several weeks from now. But if the concern by the majority is that my amendment would slow the bill down, they should certainly agree that if we can move to housing and pass it straight up, and finish the energy debate, whatever time that is finished, then we could have a simple vote at the scheduling of the majority leader to vote on this lobbying amendment.
I would be glad to put this in unanimous consent form if the majority is interested in entertaining this. If I could get some indication from the speaker or the leader over there. Would you be interested in that unanimous consent request?
Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, in response to my colleague, I would indicate that on behalf of the majority, if that were offered I would object.
Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, let me indicate my strong support for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the motion to proceed under which we are currently working. I hope we will have a strong vote. We know regardless of the debate we are having on solutions or causes for how we got here, seniors, families, those we represent are being affected by this every single day.
Making sure that LIHEAP is increased and that we have support for families in paying their heating bills is absolutely critical. I very much appreciate our majority leader making this a top priority and Senator Sanders for his advocacy. I look forward to what I hope will be a strong bipartisan vote in support of improving and strengthening LIHEAP.
I want to speak further today about the reality of what is happening for families, businesses all across America, certainly in my great home State of Michigan. Since President Bush and Vice President Cheney, two oilmen, two people from the oil industry, took office, gas prices have nearly tripled. Oil prices have gone up four times higher than before the current administration came into office. The average family is spending a record 6 percent of their income, and counting, paying for
gas to get to work, to get the kids to childcare, to try and maybe take a little vacation up north in beautiful northern Michigan or Rhode Island. I can't leave out beautiful Rhode Island, the State of our Presiding Officer.
But the reality is, families are making incredibly tough choices. At the same time, energy prices certainly are taking a toll on the economy. We are seeing the level of unemployment going up. People are losing their jobs or are underemployed or are working three jobs, trying to get to work, paying more for gas. It is outrageous. I go home every weekend, and it is amazing. It makes you want to scream as you stand at the pump and the price goes $50, $60, $70, $80, to fill up a gas tank. It is unbelievable.
Families are trying to figure out what to do about it.
Unemployment rises, and we have now 12 States with unemployment rates over 6 percent. My State has an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent, 45 out of 50 States have seen job loss and unemployment numbers going up.
One of the challenges, if we are going to talk about what to do about this, is we need to be talking about how we got here. How did we get here? We have had 8 years and two oilmen leading us in the White House, and it is not, unfortunately, a surprise, based on their agenda, that we have ended up with $4 and higher per gallon of gasoline. That is the shorthand way of talking about what has been happening.
For the folks they represent, for the folks who met with the Vice President to put together his energy policy, what has been happening for them, while families are seeing their wages go down, if they have a job at all, every cost they have going up--what has been happening to them? The total combined net profits of the big five oil companies since this President took office are upwards of $556 billion. That is net profits. ExxonMobil alone has had, since this President took office, $185 billion
One could say, well, businesses want to be profitable. I want them to be profitable, and I am working hard to make sure our manufacturers who, by the way, pay a lot of these costs and are impacted by gas prices when it comes to what is happening in the economy, I want them to be profitable as well. This is not about whether companies should be profitable. This is about the fact that we have had an energy policy put forward by two oilmen in the White House that has focused on supporting an industry
and their backers, their supporters, that has now created a crisis in America, a crisis in the economy.
To add insult to injury, it is one thing if there are profits and they are put back into creating more oil and gas exploration, alternative energy exploration, if this was reinvested to strengthen America, the folks who are helping to subsidize this, taxpayer money. The folks I represent who have lost their jobs, they are subsidizing this right now because of tax policy. [Page: S7257]
To add insult to injury, are they putting this back into the economy to make us energy independent? No. The oil companies have spent $188 billion in stock buybacks over the last 5 years, instead of investing in increasing supply at home or in supporting a man who has now become very well known to everyone, T. Boone Pickens, an oilman his whole life, who is now investing in alternative energy. Instead of going in that direction because they care about America, the American people, American businesses,
American economy--no, that is not what is happening. That is what adds such insult to injury about what is happening to the people of Michigan and around the country. It is the fact that people are taking this and having stock buybacks or adding another corporate jet or putting it into their pockets as
opposed to investing in America and the ability for us to have energy independence.
Then, on top of that, with what is being drilled for--and we know we are in a global market. We understand that. We are in a global economy where commodities move around the world. But it is important to know that when our colleagues put forward the oil agenda of drill, drill, drill, let's keep doing what we have always done and hope maybe something will change, maybe we will get out of the hole we are in if we just keep digging--when they talk about that, they are not acknowledging the fact
that a record 1.6 million barrels a day from U.S. refineries, 1.6 million barrels a day in refined petroleum products were exported in the first 4 months of this year, up 33 percent.
So we are paying more. We are being told the problem is we are not drilling more, and then 33 percent more of the oil drilled in America leaves America. Why? We are in a global marketplace. It goes to the highest bidder. We understand that. We understand the fact that China is using more, the fact that the weak dollar impacts that and oil speculation, the whole question of energy speculation which, again, I appreciate Senator Reid and all the leadership of my colleagues--Senator Durbin,
Senator Dorgan, so many people--who have been focused on this as a piece of the problem, but we are being told: Use the old solution over and over and over, knowing that we don't even know if that oil is going to stay here.
I have supported drilling in the gulf. I have supported efforts to add to our domestic supply. But this is not the way we are going to create energy independence by only focusing on that. According to the Department of Energy, shipments this February topped 1.8 million barrels a day, shipments outside the country, the highest for the first time in any given month.
We are being told that we should do the same old thing, add to it, but do the same old strategy, and somehow we will get a different result. I suggest that the same old strategy, first of all, has achieved great results for friends of the administration, for friends of my colleagues, the Republican leadership that has been fighting for the oil agenda of this country. It has achieved a goal but not a goal for the American people. This is a question of who you are fighting for, whose side you are
These folks are doing well. We know whose side the current administration and those who support the administration are on. Unfortunately, it is not the side of the folks in Michigan who are worrying about whether they can buy enough gas to get to work.
We have, in fact, a formula the Presiding Officer is very well aware of: 8 years divided by 2 oilmen in the White House has gotten us this result: $4 and counting.
So what has been the energy plan of the administration that has gotten us to this situation? Well, for one thing, we have seen a free ride for the oil companies. In January 2006, the New York Times reported that the Bush administration was allowing oil and gas companies to forego royalty payments--so they were not having to pay their royalty payments they should be paying--on oil and gas leases in Federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. This decision by the Department of Interior could cost American
taxpayers more than $60 billion.
So to go back again to another chart--they are not paying oil and gas leases, which costs American taxpayers up to $60 billion. I wonder how much of these profits came from that decision. I wonder how much.
We all know that the administration and, unfortunately, those who support the administration's policy, Republican colleagues, have joined in supporting an effort to block the elimination of taxpayer subsidies to the oil industry so we can take those precious dollars, hard-earned dollars of people working every single day, money that has been going to subsidize the oil companies--we wanted to move that over to real energy independence, to focus on the priorities of the American people, American
families, American businesses that are having to pay for all this. We tried to move over $12.5 billion that would be used for real energy independence, for incentives for solar and wind and, yes, our new hybrid and plug-in vehicles that are coming in the next couple years that, frankly, provide a much quicker opportunity for us to be able to get to energy independence than what we are talking about here in terms of a long-term drilling strategy.
We have an opportunity to take precious taxpayer money and move it over to invest in the future, to invest in the American people and in the future, rather than in the past and the oil companies. We lost that by one vote, not because we did not have enough to pass it, not that we did not have 51 votes, but unfortunately the Bush administration and the Senate Republican leadership blocked it, filibustered it: Let's filibuster. Let's make sure nothing happens to this. So there was a filibuster
that then we were not able to overcome because we were missing one vote.
So the solution that has come forward by this administration, the solution that has come over the last 8 years of the leadership in the White House--the two oilmen in the White House--has been simply to have one solution, which is to continue drilling even if, in fact, that oil does not stay in the United States. So between 2001 and 2007, the Bush administration issued leases on over 26 million acres of onshore public lands. There are already 44 million acres, as we know, of onshore Federal lands
under lease, but 31 million acres of those are currently not being drilled upon. There are 2,200 producing leases on the Outer Continental Shelf and 6,300 nonproducing leases at this time.
So that has been the strategy. That has been the strategy that has gotten us to this--okaying more and more land and not even using it. And in the first 4 months of this year, when we were drilling for domestic production--because we are in a global economy--33 percent more of that went out into the global marketplace.
Let me say there is a better way. In addition to supporting the energy speculation bill that is in front of us and in addition to supporting efforts, as I have done before, to have a responsible drilling policy in this country, there is a quicker way to get to where we want to go, and it is one that creates jobs, jobs right now.
I am so appreciative of the fact that, through our budget resolution in the Senate, our Democratic majority put jobs as No. 1 and green-collar jobs in support of manufacturing and retooling our auto industry at the top of the list. I am grateful for our leader's support, Senator Reid, and Senator Dorgan, who has been such a leader on these issues, chairing the Energy and Water Subcommittee in Appropriations. I am very grateful for his support. But here is what we could be doing.
Oil exploration and drilling will take 7 to 10 years to bring new supplies to market. Some people say longer. But there are technologies we can bring to market in the next 2 years--in the next 2 years--for advanced technology vehicles. The more we invest in technologies such as advanced battery technologies, the quicker we are going to find relief at the pump. That is the way we are going to do it, not by rewarding the oil companies more but by investing in our own energy independence, with innovation,
American ingenuity, hard work that allows us to not only create jobs but create a future for us here in terms of energy independence and lowering costs.
The facts are simple. Advanced vehicles that run with new batteries are much cheaper to drive than conventional automobiles, and we need to be moving to them as quickly as possible. Currently, the average cost to run a vehicle is 16 cents per mile--16 cents per [Page: S7258]
mile--on the roads. But the cost to run a plug-in hybrid car with advanced lithium-ion batteries is only 3 or 4 cents a mile--a 75-percent reduction. Not only does this save energy, but, as I
said before, it creates jobs. This technology is right around the corner.
Frankly, there is a huge competition going on in the world today to see who is going to get to that plug-in battery, that lithium-ion battery that is lightweight enough, small enough, with the technologies that will allow it to be mass-produced on the assembly lines so thousands can be produced a day. The prototypes are there. We have probably all driven them. We have prototypes for a variety of different vehicles. The question is not the prototype; the question is being able to get something
mass-produced so it is in the realm of price where consumers can afford to buy it and it can be produced in the volumes we need. We are really in a race right now to do that.
I am grateful there is support from our Senate Democratic leadership to invest in advanced battery research, R&D, the next generation, to provide low-interest credit to retool our plants, to keep the jobs here in America, and to provide consumer tax credits for plug-ins and hybrids to make sure the price is affordable. All of those things are in legislation right now. They are before us in the tax package. They are before us in Senator Bingaman's amendment, if he has the opportunity
to offer it, as it relates to the Energy bills. They are in our appropriations. They are right now in front of us, and we have the ability to act on this and quickly be able to move us to the next generation of vehicles that go from a cost of 16 cents per mile on the road down to 3 or 4 cents--much faster than what is being talked about in terms of drilling.
Germany has announced the Great Battery Alliance, which will invest over $650 million in advanced lithium-ion batteries for German vehicles. The German automobile companies are receiving the support of the German Government to be able to be the first ones that are able to get to where we need to be in terms of the new battery technology.
South Korea, by 2010, will have spent $700 million on advanced batteries and developing hybrid vehicles.
China has invested over $100 million in battery research and development.
Over the next 5 years, Japan will spend $230 million on advanced battery research. It is spending $278 million a year on hydrogen research for zero-emission fuel-cell vehicles.
We are in a race. We are in a race as it relates to technology. We have the engineers. We have the scientists. We have the skilled workforce here in America to do this. We have not had an administration or a willingness by our Republican colleagues to join with us to be able to partner in the investments that need to be made in the automotive industry of the future. That is just a reality. I believe it was last year when I looked at the President's budget and
it was something like $22 million he was suggesting for advanced battery technology research. Unfortunately, they just don't get it about what is going on around us.
If we want to see prices go down and have energy independence and be able to move to the future for our country, frankly, that is the fastest way to do it. I am very proud our Democratic majority understands that.
We know there is no silver bullet on any of this. But I can tell you what I also know: a game show approach to battery technology research is not the answer. Frankly, both the Republican alternative as well as the candidate who we understand will be the Republican nominee for President have put forward the idea of a prize at the end of the line, a prize for whoever can create the new advanced battery technology research.
Well, Mr. President, we do not need a prize. We do not need motivation. We do not need the motivation to get there. We need the capital to get there. We need the investment. We need the partnering. We need the priority of investing in this innovation to get there. The prize is going to be real easy. Whoever gets there first, they are going to get a big enough prize without us in terms of the marketplace.
The question is, How do we invest up front? What is it that Germany knows, Japan knows, South Korea knows, China knows that we do not know about this, when they are all racing to put hundreds of millions of dollars into this technology? It is very unfortunate that the approach that has been taken--primarily in the Republican alternative; not completely but primarily; and certainly by the Republican nominee--is to treat our economy and certainly the industry that I care deeply about somehow as
a game show, and I find that really appalling.
As I conclude, as indicated before, there is no silver bullet to stop the outrageous price increases at the pump. We know that. We have to pass our legislation dealing with energy speculation. I hope we will be able to proceed to do that. We all understand that a responsible drilling policy is part of this. We have, frankly, supported that and made those acres available. But we also know--we also know--if we want America to be energy independent, we have to invest in the future.
We have seen this chart before, but I am going to show it again because we have a lifelong oilman now running ads on television who is so concerned about what is happening in our country and this constant policy that has not been working that he has been presenting, through commercials, a message that we should be paying attention to:
I've been an oilman all my life, but this is one emergency we can't drill our way out of. .....
``We can't drill our way out of.''
..... But if we create a new RENEWABLE energy network, we can break our addiction to foreign oil.
There are some folks who are making a lot of money by ignoring this strategy, there is no question about it. There has been an energy strategy in place that has worked for the oil companies. I understand that when somebody comes out of a particular industry, their focus is on that industry. I understand that. But the reality is, we have gone too long--too long--with a strategy: 8 years of a Republican strategy, with two oilmen at the head of this, creating $4-per-gallon gasoline. That is the
simple explanation for how we got where we are.
We have to stop digging. We have to stop doing more and more of the same and hoping somehow we are going to get a different result. We need a new strategy: Energy independence, investing in American ingenuity, investing in a strategy for the future, and, most importantly, what we need is to put the American people first. That has not happened for the last 8 years. It is time to make it happen. That is what our energy proposals are all about. That is what we are fighting for, and we are going
to continue to fight for that until we make it happen.
The American people have had enough, and I don't blame them. I have had enough too. It is time for a change, and we are going to work very hard to get that change.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that Senator Menendez be the next speaker following the remarks of Senator Snowe.
Ms. SNOWE. Mr. President, today I rise in strong support of the Warm In Winter and Cool In Summer Act as the lead Republican cosponsor, along with 52 of my colleagues on both sides of the political aisle.
I first thank the Senator from Vermont, Senator Sanders, for his tireless leadership on this vital issue of heating and cooling assistance and for his steadfast vigilance throughout the last few months in pressing for this debate on energy assistance when there is not a moment to waste in preparing for what could be the worst winter in a generation, given the historic cost of energy today. At a time when skyrocketing energy prices are at the forefront of our national agenda--when heating
oil prices have increased from about $2.77 per gallon a year ago in my home State of Maine to a staggering $4.81 cents a gallon today, and when electricity has risen 3.6 percent in the last 12 months, and gas prices have jumped from $3.05 a gallon to $4.05 in the last year--as we know, it should come as no surprise that countless American families are faced with choices that, frankly, no family should have to make. Indeed, as a direct result [Page: S7259]
of spiraling energy costs, 70 percent of low-income Americans are buying less at the grocery store, 31 percent are purchasing less medicine, and 19 percent say they have changed plans for the education of their children.
Even now, in the midst of July, in truth, Americans--and certainly Mainers across my home State--are wondering how exactly they will pay for the fundamental necessity of heating their homes this coming winter, just as many others cannot afford the costs for critical cooling during these dangerously hot summer months in so many States. In fact, in South
Carolina, electricity services have been suspended to 39,000 homes that are falling behind on their bills, leaving these individuals with no assistance to alleviate the stifling heat. In Arizona there has been a 40-percent spike in shutoffs for residential electricity users. The bottom line is this issue knows no boundaries regionally or politically.
The reality is the stunning effects of these astronomical energy costs are not a regional problem, they are a national problem requiring national attention and a national solution. In fact, as I think about it, with the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program pending before the Senate--at least the motion to proceed; and I hope we will proceed, Mr. President and Members of this body, because I think we ought to be translating words into action--I think there is no better place to start than on
this very crucial and vital program. In fact, if I recall, it was back in 1979 and 1980 when we first had the debate on whether to create this program called the Low-Income Fuel Assistance Program, and it was my first term in the House of Representatives. I, along with
the late Speaker O'Neill, testified before the then House Appropriations Committee to create such a program. It was born out of the energy crisis that was engulfing our Nation at that time when we had gas lines here in the District of Columbia and across this country.
It was interesting to think that at that time, in the midst of an energy crisis, that previously--6 years previously or 7 years previously--we had another energy crisis and, unfortunately, didn't learn from that event. Out of that crisis in 1979 and 1980, we created the Low-Income Fuel Assistance Program in order to give low-income families the ability to heat their homes and to cool their homes in other parts of the country. That is how this program was created. So I think this program was created
as a result of a crisis--as a result of the failure of this country to create and enact a comprehensive energy plan. I think too today, 30 years later, we are in the same circumstance, regrettably and tragically, and the people who rely on this program should not be the victims of our inability, or our unwillingness, to address the energy problem. That is what we
should come to terms with here in the Senate, that we should proceed to consider this legislation and have it become law. I think absolutely it is our responsibility and obligation to give peace of mind to our constituency as they are despairing about the oncoming winter and how they are going to meet the costs of home heating oil that is now close to $5 per gallon.
I think we do have an obligation to continue to support this social safety net that is so essential. It is a matter of life and death, and I don't think they should be the victims of our political failure or our failure to address a comprehensive energy policy. That should happen. No doubt it should. Frankly, I hope we can reconcile our rhetoric here on the floor of the Senate with legislative action that becomes law that has an actual, direct impact on people's daily lives. They deserve that.
They deserve for us to take action. Irrespective of the time or place we are in, in the Senate--whether or not it is a political year--we ought to reconcile our differences to do what is right for America on this mighty challenge that is facing so many across this country, including my constituency.
Here we are in the third energy crisis of recent times, and we see that the program was at least designed to minimize the burden for the least fortunate for years and has provided a level of funding. However, as you can see, with the historically high home heating oil prices you see over time, and yet, even though we have provided funding for low-income fuel assistance basically on a consistent basis, it never addressed the gap between the level of funding and the costs for home heating oil.
So we are seeing, as you can see in the recent times, in the recent months, what has happened to the cost of home heating oil. Yet at the same time the level of funding for low-income fuel assistance has leveled off.
That is why we need the legislation that is pending before the Senate. My colleague Senator Sanders is absolutely right, we need to double this funding. I thank the chairman of the Budget Committee as well for doubling the authorization. I appreciate his leadership on this question because we are in very different times, and that is the reason why we need to increase the level of support for this valuable program.
This program is for the most vulnerable. We are talking about income limits of $17,680 for an individual, and the average individual recipient earns around $13,000 per year. Think about it. The assistance we are providing is for
those who have income eligibility of somewhere between $17,000 and $13,000 on an individual basis. That is who we are talking about when it comes to the income eligibility standards for low-income fuel assistance--$13,000 for an individual and as high as $17,000, and for a family of four the limit is $36,000. In Maine, in terms of the projected costs for paying for a household for home heating oil during the course of a winter, based on today's prices, is close to $5,000, just to keep warm this
winter--$5,000. So if the eligibility standards are $33,000--$36,000 for a family of four, and for an individual it is anywhere from $13,000 to $17,000, it costs $5,000 to heat one's home or residence for a winter. These are hard-working individuals and families who, quite frankly, were in desperate need of assistance back in 2006 when we witnessed the first major increase in home heating oil.
So we were able to provide additional funding at that time of $1 billion for a total of $3.1 billion. At that point, again, it was a crisis that, given the sharp hike, New Englanders were paying about $2.39 per gallon. Well, fast forward 2 years to today and you will see, based on our charts we have provided, that oil costs $4.81. That is a 75-percent increase in only 2 years--75 percent.
So we augmented the funding back in 2006 up to $3.1 billion when home heating oil was $2.39. Today, it is at $4.81, and of course we are in July, so we have no idea in terms of what we can anticipate or expect for home heating oil costs when it comes to winter. So a 75-percent increase as we know it today. So when winter actually arrives, New England could spend, under today's prices, more than $19 billion on home heating oil--$19 billion on home heating oil alone. That is a staggering price
increase compared to back in 2006 when it was approximately $9 billion. That gives us a dimension of the escalation of the problem as we face it today and still not knowing what we can expect when winter approaches.
As we see on this other chart I have presented, here is the cost of home heating oil, and as we have seen, it has increased 147 percent since 2004. So basically, in the last 3 1/2 years, we have seen an increase in home heating oil of 147 percent. Yet when you look at the wage increase, it has only been 17.1 percent. So you see that the cost of home heating oil in Maine has outpaced wages by 174 percent. Prices are now well ensconced in the stratosphere, with the legitimate fears that the sky
may not, in fact, be the limit. It is a huge disparity when you see how little wages have grown over the last 3 1/2 years and what has happened with a basic commodity such as home heating oil having increased 147 percent.
Yet given all of these alarming numbers, what has happened to the level of low-income fuel assistance? It has actually dropped. It has actually declined to $2.5 billion from the $3.1 billion that we provided and that I sought, very actively, back in 2006, when the prices had spiked. So we were able to augment, as I said, that funding by an additional billion dollars to reach $3.1 billion, but unfortunately, the funding for low-income fuel assistance fell back to $2.5 billion. So it obviously
doesn't make sense. We are actually regressing in terms of a level of funding at a time when home heating oil is actually skyrocketing and we don't know where the boundaries are, we don't know where [Page: S7260]
the limitations are. As I said, the sky could be the limit, given what the unknown presents for the future with respect to home heating oil.
In testimony before the Senate Committee on Small Business that Senator Kerry and I convened last month to discuss the dimensions involving small businesses and home heating oil and what the impact would be in our region, I had an individual from my State--her name is Jennifer Brooks--who is the community relations manager at Penquis Community Action Program. They are on the front lines of providing critical services to Maine in multiple counties during these difficult times.
Last year, the community action program provided fuel assistance to more than 9,000 Maine households. The average benefit received by each household was $736. In order to qualify for low-income fuel assistance this upcoming heating season, a family of four must earn less than $31,800. So under the best case scenario, if a household does qualify for LIHEAP and benefits remain constant, a household on average can expect to receive 158 gallons of oil for the season, which isn't even enough to fill
a 250-gallon tank one time.
We know it takes, on average, to get through a Maine winter, 850 gallons of heating oil--850 to 1,000 gallons--and it costs $4.81, which we know is the price today. When you look at what is available in the low-income fuel assistance program, if we fail to take action and increase funding, as this legislation would prescribe, to $5.1 billion, our lowest income families will receive a mere 19 percent of their home heating oil costs through this program--the lowest in the program's history.
Now, it is unbelievable to think people can anticipate this winter facing, at the minimum, spending close to $5,000 for home heating oil. Yet given the dimensions of this program, we will only be able to provide support for 19 percent of the entire cost for the entire winter. As you can see from the previous support of this program, the percentages have declined over the years. Over the last 25 years, the average Maine low-income fuel assistance recipient received assistance that provided 41
percent of their heating oil costs. Last year, that started eroding, and it declined from $3.1 billion to $2.5 billion. For the nearly 50,000 Maine households that received benefits, they were only provided 35 percent of the entire cost for the season.
At today's prices, if we fail to increase or double the funding of the low-income fuel assistance program to $5.1 billion, then we can only provide 19 percent of the entire cost of winter for home heating oil. Obviously, I think that speaks volumes, in terms of the dimension of the problem we are facing and what families are facing in my State, in New England, and across the country. Whether you are living in a cold- or hot-weather region, you depend on this program either for air-conditioning
or heating during the winter. It is a basic social safety net program.
I think it is absolutely incumbent upon us to do everything we can to double funding for this program and to do it now and provide the assurances, instead of the rhetoric about what we will do sometime down the road. I think we do have a responsibility, individually and collectively, to make the process work in the Senate and in the Congress, with the President, to do what is right for this country, for these families who are agonizing over the anticipation of what next winter will bring in terms
of costs. Here, with this program, we are talking about the lowest of incomes. When it comes to $13,000, $17,000 for a family of four, or even $31,000 or $33,000, we need to help these families and these individuals, without question.
As my constituent Jennifer Brooks said in her testimony before the Small Business Committee:
If the average person on fuel assistance makes about $14,000 a year and the benefit only pays for 158 gallons of oil, I don't know how they come up with any more money ..... they can't, with the cost of food and the cost of gas and everything else. There is no money left over to pay even in the summer months ..... there is talk [of having] ``warming places'' so people can shut their furnaces down real low during the day and go to libraries and stay warm during the day ..... we are in a crisis.
Last year, I heard many stories. After we were expecting $2.50 to $2.70 a gallon for home heating oil, I heard stories of desperation then. One TV station, channel 13, in Portland, ME, decided they would initiate a program where they would provide a few hundred gallons of heating oil to four families requiring assistance. They were asked to submit e-mails or letters if they believe they qualified for this assistance. They received an astounding response, with more than 2,000 requests.
Again, there is no doubt as to the magnitude of the problem. That was for last winter. One hesitates to think about what we can expect for this winter, when prices have increased by more than $2 since last winter. Here we are in July. So we must step up to our responsibilities in this crisis and fully fund the low-income fuel assistance program at the $5.1 billion. That is the least we can do. It is not that it will address all the problems or fulfill the needs for all those individuals who rely
on this program, but certainly it will be a very important step forward. We must do it now. We should be proactive and preemptive and prescriptive in our measures, not reactive, and not wait until after the August recess and continue to dither and talk but fail to take action.
We have a responsibility to provide assurances to those people we represent in this country, to take the strong measures, and to take those actions that are so vital and instrumental to providing peace of mind during these very difficult times when people are facing these mighty challenges.
There are many ways to debate this energy problem. Certainly, we should have a comprehensive energy solution, no doubt. I don't think we should place the burden on those individuals who rely on this program, who are concerned--deeply concerned--and anguishing about the future because of our failure to reconcile our differences to reach out across the political aisle. I question as to why we cannot do it. I don't think we should live in an all-or-nothing world because that is not the world our
constituents live in. These issues are not mutually exclusive. It is not that we cannot do one because we were haven't done the other. How about starting someplace? We can start with this program, which was born because of an energy crisis 30 years ago. We are in a similar circumstance today.
These people should not bear the brunt of our political failures or unwillingness or inability to resolve these differences.
I think the Senate should not be a roadblock to results but a pathway to hope. What I see here today, regrettably, is, again, my way or the highway. Here, at a time when we are dealing with monumental challenges confronting this Nation--and they are affecting our country simultaneously. Look at our economy and the job picture, the housing, energy, and we are in a war in Iraq and in Afghanistan and we continue to dither, to remain intractable, intransigent about achieving results. Truly, it is
not in keeping with the legacy of this institution, which has done so much throughout our history.
That is why Senator Nelson, from Nebraska, and I sent a letter to the President, along with 14 other colleagues, asking the President for a bipartisan summit. After all, we think these times demand it. The President should convene a national energy summit, bringing together the congressional leadership, on a bipartisan basis, and other Members of the House and Senate from the committees of jurisdiction, environmental leaders, industry leaders and scientists, to sit around a table to
see what we can do for the good of this country now.
It is immaterial that we are in an election year, that we are 7 months away from the election. The American people deserve to have us honor our obligations as elected officials. After all, there was an election in 2006, as I recall. We promised our constituents we would work on the problems facing this country. Here we are today with an abysmal 14 percent approval rating. I don't know, that may be the lowest approval rating in the history of Gallup Polls.
We all bear a responsibility, individually and collectively. We should care how Americans feel about this institution and what can we do every day to [Page: S7261]
make it better. Some days, I wonder if we wake up and say: Well, this is going to be another ``can't do'' day. We are not going to achieve anything for the people. We are going to see if we can continue to be a roadblock to results and action. We are going to do everything we can to be a barrier to solutions.
We will wait for the next election or next year or maybe some other time.
Yet people are suffering. They are losing their jobs. They are wondering how to heat their homes next winter. They are losing their homes. This is a time for us to step up to the plate and demonstrate to the American people that we can do it. Frankly, we are experiencing a crisis in confidence in America, in a variety of institutions, not the least of which is Congress. People are not only despairing about their individual situations, they are also despairing about the inability of elected officials
in our political institutions to address these problems. It is not so much that America has these problems, it is the question of our inability to address them and to reach across the political
I hope we can find a way to extricate ourselves from this confrontational morass and not constantly engage in all-or-nothing politics and scoring political points, making it all about the election, and not live up to the expectations the people rightfully have of their elected officials and political institutions to address the mighty challenges confronting this Nation.
Without question, we can and we must have answers to this national emergency. That is why I thought it would be an important step forward if the President convened an emergency energy summit. There are short-term and long-term solutions. There are many pieces to the energy pie. The low-income energy assistance program is a critical aspect of that in terms of mitigating the impact on the most vulnerable in our society. We have an obligation, at a very minimum, to address that for these individuals.
It is not their burden and it should not be; they should not have the responsibility of our failure to address the energy problem. That is why we need to double the funding for this critical program.
Yes, we should pass legislation with respect to speculation. It is something most of us agree on. Why can't we do it? There are other aspects to energy policy we have failed to address. Everybody is agreeing we should extend the tax credit for renewables. So why haven't we done that? It should have been part of the stimulus package--and it was, to a point. But, regrettably, again, there were those who opposed it. Yet it could have very well been stimulative to this economy. It would have created
up to 100,000 jobs. In Maine, we get $1.5 billion for wind projects, but we didn't extend the tax credits for renewables beyond this year. Why couldn't we do it? Everybody talks about it. Yet we failed to address that problem. We keep postponing, deferring, delaying, and denying that the problem exists. Yet this is something that could be readily accomplished.
My constituents are looking into alternatives; for example, wood pellet stoves or other energy-efficient means of heating our homes. Yet the tax credits for those have expired. They expired at the end of last year. So they cannot even resort to that as an alternative because, regrettably, we have not extended that tax credit.
The question is, Why? Why are we at an impasse on those issues upon which we agree? I think that is the most startling dimension to the problems facing this country--that in the Senate, where we should be taking and adopting the can-do approach, why can't we do the right thing and address this energy crisis? We all agree extending tax credits for renewables is something we should do. So why aren't we doing it? Because individuals or companies or entities aren't going to make investments in renewables
if they don't have the assurance of tax credits. That is abundantly clear. They have no way of knowing how long or whether they are going to be extended. They are not going to put themselves on the line financially without the certainty of knowing they will be extended.
Why are we not doing that? It will create jobs and, certainly, we need job creation in America, at a time when unemployment is rising at high levels.
We should be concerned about creating jobs, and that is one dimension. We should be concerned about creating alternatives, creating incentives, inspiring innovation, entrepreneurial spirit. We should do all of that and more, and we hesitate and fail to take action on issues on which we agree, which is truly dismaying and disconcerting, most certainly to the American people who depend on us to take those measures and those steps that can begin to resolve effectively the problems that are at hand.
We can do all of these things. We are certainly capable of doing them, unless we are stuck in the status quo and the gridlock that constantly is where we try to score the political points time and time again to no avail.
I hope we can proceed and take action on this very basic social safety net program for the most vulnerable in our society and demonstrate that we do have the opportunity, these rare moments, to reach across the political aisle and proceed to double the funding for this program at this moment in time because, certainly, it is one program that is of immense value to the people of my State and throughout this country, and it is certainly at the very least, at the minimal, what we should be able
I hope we can do more. I hope we can find the political wherewithal to search within ourselves to reach across the political aisle so the monkey wrenches don't continue to grind down the deliberative process with polarization and partisanship that yields no achievements, no accomplishments, no opportunity, and provides no hope for the people we represent.
The American people deserve more than what they are receiving today. Frankly, I cannot believe that we would adjourn for the August recess without addressing the energy crisis--this program, speculation, and much more. The American people do deserve to have a comprehensive approach. They do deserve to have their elected officials stay here as long as it takes, as much time as it requires for bold action that will be so essential and can measure it with the problems we are facing in this country
I yield the floor.
Mr. NELSON of Florida. The Senator has given an excellent exposition and debunking of a number of these myths. As to his recitation debunking the statements made by a number of Senators on this floor that there was no oilspill in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, I want to ask the Senator whether he had seen this particular report from the White House, ``The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina, Lessons Learned,'' February of 2006, after Katrina, in August of 2005.
I want to find out whether the Senator had seen this report:
In fact, Hurricane Katrina caused at least 10 oil spills releasing the same quantity of oil as some of the worst oil spills in U.S. history. Louisiana reported at least six major spills of over 100,000 gallons and four medium spills of over 10,000 gallons. All told, more than 7.4 million gallons poured into the Gulf Coast region's waterways, over two-thirds of the amount that spilled out during America's worst oil disaster, the rupturing of the Exxon Valdez tanker off the Alaskan coast in 1989.
That is the end of the quote from the very report on Katrina from the White House. Has the Senator seen that report?
Mr. MENENDEZ. I have. I appreciate the distinguished Senator from Florida pointing it out. The words are powerful because there it is not a Member of the Senate saying this, not a Democrat saying this. This is the official report. I have used the pictures because a picture speaks better than a thousand words, and you cannot deny it as you cannot deny the report. The fact is that we had massive oilspills after Katrina and Rita.
This is a Coast Guard picture. That is the reality. The fact is, we were told we have the most highly technologically advanced--it is impossible to have any spills as a result of tankers.
The Exxon Valdez.
It simply is not true to suggest that there was not. How is it that it has been quoted here--
Not even Hurricanes Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage .....
At least that says ``significant spillage.''
Not a drop of oil was spilled during Katrina .....
It is pretty tough to say that not a drop of oil was spilled during Katrina. This is why we have to be so cautious about risking the coastlines, the economy, the environment, when it will not produce a drop of oil for over a decade, it will not do anything about gas prices now or in the future, but can create an enormous consequence.
We need to be honest with the American people, and I hope this opportunity to get to the floor and talk about some of the facts and show some of the photos from the Coast Guard will make it very clear.
I yield the floor.
Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, there is one further subject I wish to discuss. This will be not relatively brief, but brief. That is a discussion which is pending between Syria and Israel with Turkey acting as an intermediary. It would be my hope and suggestion to the President that he extend the flexibility which he is now showing as to Iran and North Korea and Iraq to assist in the Israeli-Syrian negotiations. The United States was instrumental in negotiations back in 1995, when Prime Minister
Rabin almost came to terms with Syria on the Golan Heights. It is a very difficult subject that I don't believe anybody should tell Israel or suggest to Israel or in any way pressure Israel as to what to do about the Golan Heights. It is a decision Israel has to make for itself on their security. But it is a different world than it was in 1967, when Israel took the Golan Heights. Now we have a world of rockets, and security matters are entirely different.
Again, the United States participated extensively in the Syrian-Israeli talks in the year 2000. I have made many trips to Syria since 1984. I got to know President Hafez al-Asad and traveled to the Middle East extensively and recommended to a number of Israeli Prime Ministers the desirability of my view--at least in one man's opinion--to have the negotiations. Right now there is a unique opportunity which could impact on Lebanon. Syria is opening an embassy in Lebanon, treating Lebanon as a sovereign
nation which is quite a shift. Syria has enormous influence on Hezbollah. It is a very complex subject in Lebanon, with Hezbollah having significant power in the government, a veto in their Parliament. Syria has considerable influence with Hamas. If the circumstances were right, there is a great opportunity to separate Syria from Iran, a great opportunity to get some assistance with Syria on some major problems. It is unknowable whether that can happen. But I
do believe dialog is the way. It would be my hope the President would show he still has muscle. He is going to be in the White House for 6 months. What he has done with respect to North Korea and Iran and Iraq shows he is not taking his last 6 months with a view that there are things he can accomplish. I refer to an extensive article I have written on this subject which summarizes a good many of my activities and views in the Washington Quarterly for 2006-2007.
I thank my colleague from Washington for her patience, if, in fact, she has been patient. It is always difficult with Senators having the right to speak. But it took me more than an hour to get the floor after waiting most of the day. As usual, Senator Murray is gracious and nodding in the affirmative. I thank her and the Chair.
I yield the floor.
Mrs. MURRAY. I assure my colleague from Pennsylvania, I was listening carefully to his comments. He has traveled worldwide, and I am certainly interested in his viewpoints. I hope I didn't make him feel rushed at all, and I appreciate what he had to say.
Mr. President, this week, tens of thousands of homeowners traveled here to the Nation's Capital, and lined up for hours--and even days--in hopes of taking advantage of a mortgage counseling workshop through the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America.
These homeowners came from as far away as Boston or Miami--all because they are struggling to hold onto their homes, and they need help with their mortgages. Many others are now steps away from foreclosure because they have seen their mortgage rates rise out of control, or because their mortgage now exceeds the value of their home [Page: S7269]
because property values have plummeted.
Now, while many of the homeowners who came to DC this week were able to get help, there are millions more across this country in the same position who are still in need of assistance. Nearly 8,500 families file for foreclosure each day. And as many as 2 million homeowners could lose their homes this year. Fortunately, we will have a bill before us soon that will enable the Federal Government to lend a helping hand to many of those families.
The housing package that passed the House on Wednesday includes a variety of provisions that would restore stability to the housing market, provide assistance to communities hurt by this crisis, and help prevent thousands of foreclosures. We have considered much of this package before, but it has been blocked by Republicans who have preferred to drag their feet than to address this crisis. We now have another chance, and I have come to the floor today to urge my colleagues to support this legislation
and get help into the hands of the homeowners and communities that need it.
Those of us who go home each weekend to talk to their constituents know how worried our families are about the economy--and about whether something will happen to threaten their ability to keep their homes.
It is hard to overstate how serious the housing crisis has become. There are communities across this country where people are literally abandoning their homes because they can't afford their mortgages, and they can't find a willing buyer. As I said, as many as 2 million families could lose their homes to foreclosure this year. And reports estimate the number of families facing foreclosure is higher than at any time since the Great Depression.
At the beginning of this crisis, many of those people were subprime borrowers who received adjustable-rate loans or who were the victims of loan scams. But as home values have dropped across the country, the problem has spread. Families with strong credit, who received fixed-rate mortgages, have seen their homes drop in value by tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past couple of years. Their mortgages are now under water, and thousands of them are at risk for foreclosure too.
This is a problem even in regions that have been relatively healthy, like my home state of Washington--where more and more people tell me they are worried that they will be stuck with homes they can't afford.
The housing legislation that we will consider soon may be one of the most important steps we take this year to help our faltering economy because it addresses the root of the problem--the housing crisis. So I want to take the next couple of moments to talk about three of the main provisions of this bill to explain why we must act now.
First, the bill provides $180 million to give counseling agencies the resources to reach out and help struggling homeowners. Counseling is one of the most cost-effective tools we have to help families who are on the verge of foreclosure. Counselors can help families negotiate with their lenders, readjust their payments, or learn how to budget their expenses better.
And it is incredibly important that we provide the resources now so that we can help families before they reach the crisis point.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet a single mother from Ohio who had fallen on hard times, which in turn led her to fall behind on her mortgage. Luckily she was able to talk to a counselor, and she and her children were able to stay in their home. She explained that when she got behind, she was overwhelmed. She told me she didn't know what to do. She said, ``This isn't something they teach you in school.''
This bill would help more families like hers get help. Despite the numbers who traveled to Washington, DC for help this week, far too many homeowners still don't know they have options when they get behind on their mortgages.
I fought alongside Senators MIKULSKI, SCHUMER, and BROWN to include this counseling funding back when this bill was first debated in April. It comes on top of a $180 million initiative that my ranking member, Senator Bond, and I included in the 2008 Transportation-Housing Appropriations Act. And I want to thank Chairman Dodd and Ranking Member Shelby for helping to protect the funding in the most recent package.
Next, the bill makes some important changes to help modernize the Federal Housing Administration and enable it to help more homeowners refinance their mortgages. First, it raises the loan limit to take into account the increase in home prices over the last several years. This is very important because in many communities, home prices are higher than the current loan limits, meaning FHA mortgages aren't an option.
It also provides $300 billion to enable the FHA to back loans and help as many as 400,000 homeowners at risk of foreclosure get more affordable--and less risky--mortgages. These changes will help stabilize the housing market and encourage more mortgage holders to give borrowers a more affordable loan that will enable them to keep their homes.
Now, while I support these measures, I want to add--as chairman of the Transportation and Housing Appropriations Subcommittee--that this bill is also putting a lot of new responsibility into the hands of the FHA. That agency currently has close to 300 vacancies and it has the money to fill them. Unfortunately, it has been burdened by the painfully slow hiring processes at HUD.
It is my understanding that FHA Commissioner Montgomery, and our new HUD Secretary, Steve Preston, are determined to reverse this hiring record and get more people on board soon. I certainly hope they succeed. But I also recognize that as we head into the new fiscal year, we may need to take measures to boost the salary and expense funds provided to the FHA as well as get money to the agency to improve its computing capabilities. I intend to address those needs when the Appropriations Committee
marks up the next Supplemental Appropriations bill in September.
Finally, I want to caution my colleagues on the Banking Committee that we will all need to continually monitor the lending activity and the funding balance of the FHA's existing mutual mortgage insurance account as well as the new homeownership preservation entity fund established in this bill. None of us wants to saddle taxpayers with unnecessary risk as we try to help homeowners. This bill establishes a new board that will face the daunting challenge of deciding which homeowners can and can't
be helped under this new program.
But Congress will also need to do its part to monitor the fiscal health of both the new and old FHA accounts to ensure that the taxpayer isn't guaranteeing loans that have no hope of being repaid. The whole hope of this legislation is about calming the housing markets and using the FHA guarantee to entice mortgage holders to give borrowers a better break--an affordable loan that will keep them in their home. But we must ensure that taxpayers don't end up holding the bill for unsalvageable loans.
Finally, the bill would take important steps to strengthen Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by establishing a new regulator. It also provides temporary authority to allow the Treasury Department to take action when needed to keep them stable. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the foundation of our system to finance homeownership in the U.S., and it is absolutely critical that we take decisive action to help quickly restore confidence in them.
We started work on this bill in February because Democrats wanted to get help into the hands of homeowners who need it. But despite the desperation people feel in communities across this country, some Republicans have preferred up to this point to stall and block this bill. Now, I was very happy to see President Bush finally drop his opposition this week. And I hope my Republican colleagues will help us get this bill to his desk as quickly as possible.
Especially when it comes to helping people keep their homes, timing is everything. A family that gets access to housing counseling before they start missing mortgage payments can still save their home. And I hope we will finally be able to make that possible for thousands more families in need.
I hope when we finally get this bill out of here, we will be able to make it [Page: S7270]
possible for more families to feel secure in this country again.
Mr. President, I thank the Presiding Officer and look forward to the vote tomorrow morning.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.