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Apr 03 2014

Heller, Reed Hold Press Conference as Unemployment Insurance Set for Final Passage on Monday

Bill to renew unemployment benefits passed procedural hurdles today

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) joined Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) at a press conference following the Senate’s vote to set up final passage Monday of their bipartisan legislation to reauthorize emergency unemployment insurance benefits for five months.

Background:

The Reed-Heller bill was cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Dick Durbin (D-IL), and is expected to provide assistance for more than two million eligible Americans, including 12,000 Rhode Islanders and over 34,000 Nevadans who lost benefits on December 28, 2014. 

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance, issued this opening statement at a hearing titled “Examining the GM Recall and NTHSA’s Defect Investigation Process:”  

Remarks as prepared:

Thank you Chairman McCaskill. 

I want to begin by offering my deepest sympathies to the families and friends who were affected by these tragedies.   I want you all to know that we will get to the bottom of why it took so long to get these vehicles off the road.

As many of you know, General Motors has issued a recall of over 2.2 million vehicles due to problems with the ignition switch that GM has admitted to knowing about in some form as early as 2001. These faulty ignition switches have been linked to 13 deaths

GM has now recalled certain years of the Chevy Cobalt, the Pontiac G5, the Saturn Ion, the Chevrolet HHR, the Pontiac Solstice and the Saturn Sky.

Last Friday, it was reported that, sometime in 2006 or late 2007, General Motors, changed the ignition switch part.  A whole new part was manufactured and sold.  But GM kept the same model number for the new part.

In Carson City, we have an engineering company that builds pistons and rods for NASCAR.  I have talked cars with the owner and many others in Nevada.  I can tell you, if this company sold a part that was changed in any way and did not change the model number, it would cause significant problems for these racing teams.

I can also tell you based on my experience that it is incredibly unusual for a car company to change a car part and not change the model number.

Government investigators have now requested that GM provide any documents chronicling the switch change and who within the company provided it.

I also am requesting today, that GM provide this committee with that information.

But that is only part of this issue. We also need to recognize that when GM emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, the federal government owned 60 percent of the company because taxpayers bailed the company out.

So GM knew of this issue in some capacity over 10 years ago.  They changed a part and didn’t tell anyone. They asked for a taxpayer bailout and the current administration had to step in and restructure the company.  Through all of this, GM was unable to determine that they should pull 2.2 million vehicles off the road?

This is why, from where I am sitting, GM has a lot of explaining to do both to this committee and the taxpayer.

Here is the issue for GM. It looks like there were multiple moments when the company faced conflicts of interest, you said it yourself yesterday.  GM was a culture based on cost not safety. 

So, many people are wondering if GM did not initiate a recall because GM could not survive one in 2006 or they did not initiate a recall because the government owned 60 percent of the company.

It is possible that GM has an explanation for why it took so long to pull these cars off the road. 

However, after yesterday’s hearing, I am afraid we are not going to get many answers today.

I hope GM is in a position to speak to what happened more specifically.  That is why we called you here and I think GM should take the opportunity today to explain their actions and help this Committee get to the bottom of what happened.

There is also another side to this story, and that is whether the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration received all the information from Early Warning Report that it needed, to determine if further investigation was warranted.

NHTSA received 260 complaints over 11 years that these vehicles were turning off while being driven, yet NHTSA did not move forward with a recall investigation in 2007 or 2010.

I wrote to NHTSA asking very simple questions regarding their process in recalling vehicles and what they saw in 2007 or 2010 that compelled them to pass on an investigation. 

I am very disappointed in NHTSA’s inability to respond to my letter in time for this hearing.  When we are looking at incidents in which individuals died, I expect more from NHTSA than what they showed today and I think NHTSA knows they can do better. 

That being said, it is my understanding that the Secretary of Transportation has requested that the DOT IG conduct an audit of NHTSA’s handling of the GM recall.

Secretary Foxx also states that he has directed NHTSA and the DOT IG to jointly conduct a “due diligence review.”  I am pleased by both of these developments and look forward to the reports.

We need to ensure that consumers are safe on the road.  We need to understand the facts of this recall.  There are many questions that need answering and I hope the hearing today begins to provide some answers that the US taxpayers deserve.

Thank you Chairman McCaskill.

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(Washington, D.C.) Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) spoke on the Senate floor, urging Congress to support restoring emergency unemployment insurance benefits. Senators Heller and Jack Reed (D-RI) have been working to provide relief for more than 1.3 million job-seeking Americans since these benefits expired on December 28, 2013.

Heller and Reed’s bill is cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Dick Durbin (D-IL). 

Excerpts from remarks as prepared:

“Mr./Madam President, last December, federal unemployment insurance benefits were allowed to expire, leaving millions of job-seeking Americans wondering how they would cover their mortgage, pay their utilities, fill up their car with gas, and put food on the table for their families.

“I have stacks of letters from Nevadans sharing their individual experiences with me. These stories are why I’m here today, and why I’ve fought so hard to find a way to temporarily extend these benefits in a responsible way.

“Last week, I spoke briefly on the need to extend these benefits, and I want to reiterate an important point that I think is often misunderstood – unemployment insurance benefits go to unemployed individuals who are actively seeking employment. I share the desire of many of my colleagues and constituents to rein in out-of-control federal spending and reduce dependence on federal aid, but I believe that unemployment insurance is a critical safety net for American families, especially during periods of high unemployment like we are currently experiencing.

“Nowhere is this more apparent than in my home state of Nevada, which had the unfortunate distinction of carrying the nation’s highest unemployment rate for five years – nearly 14% unemployment at its highest. Nevada’s current unemployment rate of 8.5% remains one of the highest in the country, high above the national average, and far from where we need to be as a state.

“This brings me to another important point to highlight about this bill – this is a temporary extension of unemployment insurance benefits – five months, to be exact. Temporary extensions of these programs during high periods of unemployment have found bipartisan support in the past, and I think they merit bipartisan support today.

“Mr./Madam President, I am proud to have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on this legislation. It hasn’t always been easy, but I thank my colleagues for their patience and their continued hard work to help the American people find some stability as they look to get back to work.  I look forward to moving to this bill, passing it and working with the House to restore unemployment insurance benefits as we continue working to improve the health of the American economy.”

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(Washington, D.C.) Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) joined Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) on the Senate floor to speak about their bipartisan agreement to restore emergency unemployment insurance benefits. Both senators urged Congress to pass their legislation quickly.

Last week, Heller joined Reed on a bill to boost the economy and provide relief for the more than 1.3 million job-seeking Americans who have lost emergency unemployment insurance coverage since December 28, 2013.

The bill is cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Dick Durbin (D-IL). 

Excerpts from remarks as prepared:

“I thank my friend from Rhode Island for his continued work to help the American people by temporarily extending unemployment insurance benefits. This is something we’ve been working on together since this past December and I’m pleased that we have finally reached a bipartisan agreement that can pass this chamber.

“Fortunately, I believe we have reached a compromise that will garner enough support in the Senate to help 1.3 million unemployed Americans get back on their feet as they look for work in the toughest job market in decades. The bill before us this week is a responsible, fully paid-for, temporary extension of unemployment insurance benefits that expired in December. It addresses concerns that any further extensions ought to be paid for.

“Madam President, as our economy recovers and people find new jobs, the demand for these social safety net programs should naturally diminish, but states like Nevada, Rhode Island, and many others still have a long economic recovery ahead of them.

“I look forward to moving to this bill very soon and am hopeful that Congress can finally resolve this matter as soon as possible to help restore some stability for the millions of unemployed Americans looking to get back to work.”

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(Washington, D.C.) – On March 21, 1864, President Lincoln signed legislation which allowed Nevada to eventually become a state. Last week, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) spoke on the Senate floor to recognize this milestone and Nevada’s subsequent 150 years of statehood.

Remarks as prepared:

Mr./Madam President, I rise today to recognize the great state of Nevada as we celebrate 150 years of statehood.

It is a remarkable opportunity to speak on the floor of this Chamber about this milestone, given the role that Congress played in the formation of the Silver State. The movement to make the Nevada Territory a state began within the territory, but the first attempt to formulate a Constitution failed.

Shortly after, the 38th Congress passed an “enabling act” for Nevada statehood.  Signed by President Abraham Lincoln on March 21, 1864, this bill made it possible for Nevada to eventually adopt a state Constitution. Lincoln proclaimed Nevada a state on October 31, 1864.

The guarantee of statehood was given to us by President Lincoln who, with our assistance, would go on to pass the 13th amendment, win the civil war, and heal our broken nation.

Marking the 150th year of Nevada’s statehood takes me back to Carson City when I was four years old. It was Nevada’s centennial celebration. The date was October 31st, 1964. I remember being with my family, listening to the Carson City Municipal Band lead the festivities.

During that same year - in 1964 - President Lyndon B. Johnson was re-elected over Barry Goldwater, and would go on to declare a "war on poverty.”

Race riots broke out in Harlem and across the nation, and President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.  The 24th amendment to abolish the use of poll taxes was ratified.

In 1964, the Summer Olympics were held in Tokyo.

Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which ultimately allowed for increased military action in Vietnam.

The James Bond film Goldfinger began its run in the United States.  Bewitched premiered on television.

Much has changed in these past 50 years, but the character of Nevada has not. From its first birthday, to its 100th to its 150th, Nevada continues to be shaped by its people - people who are entrepreneurial, fiercely independent, and as diverse as our terrain. We are molded by the grit, hard work and pioneering spirit of individuals determined to succeed.

The list of the men and women who have molded our state is long.

Where some saw impossibility, a Nevada Senator by the name of Newlands saw opportunity. To this day his legacy lives on in the hay, the cattle, and the very fields that were made possible by water he brought to the desert.

Standing among our nation’s great, frozen in bronze, greeting visitors to the nation’s Capital is another Nevadan, Sarah Winnemucca. She, like many Nevadans, challenged the status quo. She refused to accept the injustices brought on her Native American brothers and sisters. So, instead of fighting with a weapon, she fought with her pen. Through her words the plight of our fellow Americans living on reservations were heard.

And of course, in Nevada, Mark Twain was born.  Samuel Clemens adopted the famous pen name while covering the news for the Enterprise in Virginia City.  Twain wrote eloquently about Nevada, from the rough-and-tumble attitude of the Wild West to the beauty of Lake Tahoe, dubbing it “surely the fairest picture that the whole earth affords.” Any visitor to this pristine landscape would agree.

More recently, I think of Paul Laxalt, the former Lieutenant Governor, Governor and U.S. Senator for Nevada, who, among other things, was instrumental in preserving Lake Tahoe and establishing our state’s first community colleges and medical school.

Or former Representative Barbara Vucanovich, who will be recorded in the history books as the first woman to represent Nevada in the United States House of Representatives. This alone is a remarkable achievement, but the integrity and determination with which she fulfilled her duties makes her achievement even grander.

Former state Senator Bill Raggio also comes to mind. He was a true statesman and the longest-serving member in the history of the State Senate.

These individuals have left their mark, but it’s the people of Nevada who have forged the Silver State.

During the formation of our State’s Constitution, Nevadans demanded that our state’s mothers and sisters be heard. The women of Nevada were granted the voice of a vote before the 19th Amendment was ratified by our nation. We helped pioneer the vote for all.

During World War II, when our brave soldiers fought for peace and prosperity, Nevadans who were not able to fight abroad brought forth minerals like Magnesium from the ground. Magnesium, harvested near the township of Henderson, was considered a miracle metal for the munitions and airplane parts which would help lead us to victory.

The residents of Boulder City built the Hoover Dam, a government infrastructure project which holds back 26 million acre feet of water, and was delivered early and under budget. With an expected 2,000 year lifespan, the Hoover Dam supplies clean energy to the grid, water to thirsty cities across the southwest, and protection to downstream communities.

Ever since we were born into the battle to mend our broken nation, Nevadans have been willing and able. Though our population is small, our caliber is high. From all walks of life, brave Nevadans have heard and responded to the call to arms. At Naval Air Station Fallon, we host the Navy’s Top Gun School.  The elite men and women of our armed forces who train here push the limit, compete, and set the tone for global air superiority.

Welcoming tourists from across the globe, farming mining, engineering, ranching, serving in the Armed Forces.  These are just a few of the things we Nevadans do.  And as our state motto goes, we do all of these things “all for our country.”

Recent times have been tough in Nevada, but our pioneer spirit lives on. We continue to move forward. We have seen the booms and now, more than most, we continue to feel this most recent bust. Like many in our great nation, Nevadans have lost homes, livelihoods, and the promise of a steady paycheck, but this will not deter us. Our state is battle born. We will continue to fill our 150 year old promise of being willing and able to give all for our country. I am a proud Nevadan, and as the son of an auto-mechanic from Carson City, it is a privilege to stand on this Senate floor today to recognize our state’s 150 years of statehood.

Mr./Madam President, before I close, I would like to thank Lieutenant Governor Brian Krolicki, Chair of the Nevada Sesquicentennial Commission, for the hard work he has put into recognizing this important milestone. Over the course of this year, the Commission has planned and overseen many events and activities, providing Nevadans an opportunity to reflect on where we have been and where we are going.

Thank you, Mr./Madam President, I yield the floor.

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) spoke at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in support of Richard Boulware’s nomination as District Judge for the District of Nevada.

Remarks as prepared:

Thank you Senator Leahy, Ranking Member Grassley, members of the Committee.  I am honored to have the opportunity to address the Committee, once again, to express my support for my fellow Nevadan Richard Boulware to you this morning.

Judicial nominations and subsequent confirmations for qualified individuals are one of the most important and unique responsibilities we hold as members of the United States Senate.

Through the role of advice and consent, I believe each nominee must be carefully considered.  I am pleased to say that I believe we are continuing to accomplish this goal this Congress through bipartisan support. 

In Nevada, where our delegation is certainly not one sided, it is critical for us to work together to find qualified candidates who will uphold America’s principles of impartiality under law. 

I believe Mr. Boulware embodies these characteristics and serves as an example that with a bilateral effort, we can find middle ground in instances where it is necessary.               

That being said, I believe Richard Boulware will make an excellent District Court judge for the State of Nevada.  After sitting down with him and discussing his nomination at length, I found him to be an extremely impressive nominee.

A graduate of Harvard University, Mr. Boulware went on to earn his law degree from Columbia University in 2003.  He currently serves as Assistant Federal Public Defender for the District of Nevada in Las Vegas. 

He also has extensive experience arguing before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  This trial experience, coupled with his impressive academic accomplishments while clerking for the U.S. District Courts, I believe will serve him well on the bench.  

Outside of his professional duties, he currently serves his local school system as a member of the Superintendent’s Educational Opportunities Advisory Committee.            

Again, thank you for the opportunity to introduce this outstanding Nevadan to the Committee.  I look forward to his testimony as well as the Committee’s consideration of Mr. Boulware’s nomination.                

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(Washington, D.C.) Yesterday on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) spoke in support of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) bipartisan Military Justice Improvement Act (S. 1752).

Remarks as prepared:

Mr./ Madam President, I would first like to thank Senators Gillibrand, McCaskill, Ayotte and Fisher for all of their hard work on this issue. 

As someone who strongly believes in bipartisanship, I am glad to see the Senate moving forward today on debating and voting on this issue.

While we all may not agree on how to best solve this issue, we can all agree that it is too important not to debate and ultimately vote on ways to address it.  

Mr./Madam President, our military is the greatest fighting force the world has ever known.  The freedoms we enjoy as Americans are because men and women continue to volunteer to serve and protect our nation.

The vast majority of these men and women serve with honor and integrity.  However, there are a few bad actors in our military who commit crimes against their fellow service members. 

The question the Senate faces is whether or not the military’s justice system is equipped to properly handle sexual assault within the ranks.

After careful consideration and weighing all the facts, I feel the military today is not equipped, and that is why I support Senator Gillibrand’s approach.

Like everyone in this chamber, I am disappointed we ever got to this point.  No soldier should have their service degraded due to dishonorable conduct in the ranks.

But there has been ample opportunity for the military to address this issue within its ranks, and too much time has passed without this problem being resolved.

It is Congress’s responsibility now to step in to protect the best America has to offer.

Congress needs to address what is currently lacking for victims. 

Victims need to feel confident in reporting crimes of sexual assault, must be protected from retaliation, and must be confident that justice will be served. 

Senator Gillibrand’s legislation will accomplish these goals.

If the Senate passes this bill today, loopholes in the military structure will no longer be an option to protect sexual assailants.  These changes are long overdue and will hold the military to the highest standards they strive toward.

I encourage the rest of my colleagues to join me in supporting her efforts and keeping our commitment to protect the men and women who are honorably serving our nation.

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(Washington, D.C.) Today, Chairs of the VA Backlog Working Group, U.S. Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Bob Casey (D-PA), along with Senators David Vitter (R-LA), and Jon Tester (D-MT), held a press conference to release the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act, comprehensive legislation designed to reduce the backlog of veterans’ disability claims. The Senators also released the VA Backlog Working Group March 2014 Report in which the VA Backlog Working Group analyzes the many factors that contribute to the claims backlog. 

Background:

In July, Senators Heller and Casey announced the formation of the VA Backlog Working Group. The Working Group provides a forum for lawmakers, veterans, and Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) to tackle the disability claim backlog. The March 2014 Report is a product of input from these groups, and provides a broad guideline for areas of improvement that can help shape a more efficient system. Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) are also cosponsors of the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act.

Details of the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act:

Whereas the VA Backlog Working Group March 2014 Report identifies problems in current processes, the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act aims to provide a comprehensive solution. The bill is divided into three sections:

Title I – Benefits Claims Submission. This section is designed to encourage, assist, and educate veterans on the benefits of submitting a completed claim, when possible, as well as reinforce the services available to help a veteran complete a claim.

  • Includes proposals to improve veterans’ access to information about the claims process;
  • Provides Veterans Service Organizations and veterans’ preferred secondary contact with better access to information;
  • Authorizes monetary benefits to incentivize developed claims submission.

Title II - Reforming Practices of Regional Offices.  Personnel and management must be given tools to perform efficiently. This section requires the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) to make structural changes that increase accuracy and efficiency at the regional office level in the following ways:

  • Calls for audit of regional offices of the Veterans Benefits Administration;
  • Ensures improved accountability and oversight of VARO management;
  • Provides resources to VBA employees and implements changes in process that allows VBA employees to move claims through the electronic benefits awards structure more efficiently;
  • Improves transparency to the public on the size and scope of the current backlog.

Title III - Government Response. This section holds the government accountable and helps to ensure the claims process is a priority.

  • Demands greater cooperation from federal agencies to transfer requested information;
  • Presses VBA employees to process information it receives from these agencies in a timely fashion.

Feb 27 2014

Yellen to Heller: Nevada Faces “Long Slog” Towards Recovery

Heller Asks Federal Reserve Chair about Economic Recovery in Nevada, Minimum Wage, Actual Unemployment

(Washington, D.C.) At a hearing today of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) questioned Janet Yellen, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, about the debate on minimum wage, actual unemployment figures, and economic recovery in Nevada.

When responding to questions about Nevada’s economy, Yellen stated, “It is still going to be a long slog before things are back to normal in the housing market in Nevada and some of those hard-hit areas.”

Regarding minimum wage, Chair Yellen stated, “Almost all economists think that the minimum wage has two main effects. One is to give higher wages to those who continue to have jobs and were earning the minimum wage, and then second there would be some amount of negative impact on unemployment as a consequence. And there is a considerable debate about just what the employment impact of it would be. CBO is as qualified as anyone to evaluate that literature…”

She also indicated that the figure for individuals who are not fully employed or are working part-time seeking additional work is around 13 percent.

(Washington, D.C.) At today’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on pending Department of Interior nominations, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) discussed Nevada’s Sage Grouse recovery efforts with Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks nominee Ms. Rhea S. Suh.  In that exchange, Suh committed to working closely with Heller on a discussion draft that will support the State of Nevada’s efforts to address threats to Sage Grouse and its habitat.

Summary

“To-date, BLM and Fish & Wildlife have played a major role in Nevada’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Council. If you are confirmed as Assistant Secretary, you will play an integral role in any potential action the Department of Interior takes regarding the sage-grouse.  Can you assure me the agencies under your purview will devote the time and resources necessary to work collaboratively with me and my State to avoid an ESA listing?” asked Heller.

To which Ms. Suh responded, “I absolutely will commit, if confirmed, to making this a top priority to working across our jurisdictional lines, both with the Fish and Wildlife Services and with the Bureau of Land Management…to approach this enormous problem and to make sure that we have the resources to address it appropriately.”