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(Washington, DC) – Today, United States Senator Dean Heller spoke at the Senate Commerce Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance Subcommittee hearing, “Oversight of and Policy Considerations for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,” about the importance of states individually deciding what legislation is necessary to improve safety on the roads. Specifically in Nevada, Heller cited growth within the state on I-11 is a priority in keeping the roads safe with the opening of the Tesla Gigafactory.

REMARKS AS PREPARED:

Good afternoon, thank you Chairman McCaskill for calling this hearing today.  I appreciate our witnesses being here and I look forward to this important discussion on NHTSA and its progress in implementing various requirements under MAP-21.

NHTSA plays a vital role in ensuring the highest standards in motor vehicles and highway safety so that we are continually working toward preventing crashes and keeping motorists safe.

I think it goes without saying both the Chairman and I have been very interested in the process at NHTSA, especially in light of the General Motors recall.  As it relates to NHTSA, we have paid close attention to what information NHTSA was able to obtain from the car company, what it did with it, and what its role was in the delay to get these cars recalled.

After multiple hearings, I have come to the conclusion that General Motors bears the majority of the blame. NHTSA cannot be effective when auto manufacturers withhold information.  

General Motors has admitted that they did not fully understand how their vehicles were built which led to a decade long delay to understand the root cause of the air bag non-deployment was an ignition switch that slipped from run to accessory too easily. 

However, NHTSA could have performed better.  Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans released a staff report this morning that finds among other things, that NHTSA is struggling to keep pace with the industry it oversees. 

This is not a new problem.  As some of you may know, in 2009, NHTSA was forced to enlist the help of NASA to supplement its understanding of computer-controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference, and software integrity as they relate to unintended acceleration. 

I hope we can use today’s hearing to identify areas for improvement at NHTSA, including its internal process for identifying issues and connecting the dots. 

I am also concerned the President has not filled the vacancy for the position of Administrator at NHTSA.  The task of addressing any shortcomings at the agency and implementing any necessary improvements may be challenging for a deputy Administrator without the endorsement of the President’s nomination and the Senate’s confirmation.    

This is all very important for highway safety across America, but NHTSA  is also becoming more important for the for the state of Nevada.

Madame Chairman, you may have heard TESLA has selected Nevada for its Gigafactory.

I was proud to help bring TESLA to Nevada. The jobs it will create coupled with the economic boom it will cause in the state are both welcomed benefits of this massive investment.

This factory will bring over 6500 direct, high-paying jobs and billions of dollars in economic impact. This project will increase the employment in the region by more than 20%.

The facility will be one of the largest in the world with five million square feet of the factory devoted to battery manufacturing. This makes Nevada the epicenter of clean vehicle technology.

All of this means Nevada is growing.  With that growth, we will need the necessary infrastructure to move people around safely and efficiently.

That is why I am also working on extending Interstate 11 beyond Las Vegas to the northwest part of the state. 

And, it is also why I have such an interest in the programs NHTSA administers.

Nevada is going to need flexibility to address the specific state needs and challenges, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses – in particular, from the Governors State Highway Safety Association – on how best to allocate federal funds to maximize state flexibility without compromising national safety priorities.

Nevada was one of the leading states to develop a Strategic Highway Safety Plan even before it was required by law because Nevada’s highway safety goal is simple: zero fatalities.

Nevada has emphasized five critical areas for reduction of fatal and serious injury crashes that center on:

1)      Lane departures – the majority of rural roadway fatalities in Nevada are from lane departures.

2)      Pedestrians

3)      Impaired Drivers

4)      Occupant Protection

5)      Intersections

My point in explaining this is that other states may have critical areas and that states may want to allocate funding differently than Nevada.

As we work toward a reauthorization of NHTSA, I want the record to note how different each state is. Therefore, we need a plan flexible enough so each state can come up with a strategy best suited for each individual state to achieve its goal of zero fatalities on the road.

Thank you Chairman McCaskill.

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, United States Senator Dean Heller reaffirmed his commitment to address the VA’s disability claims backlog at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing held to assess the state of VA Health Care.

Remarks as prepared:

Thank you Chairman Sanders and Ranking Member Burr for holding this hearing.  Oversight by this Committee is critical at a time when the VA is in transition, and Nevada’s Veterans expect accountability.

I know I, along with many Veterans in Nevada, have been pleased so far with Secretary McDonald. 

In the many times we have met in my office, in this Committee, and in Reno just a few weeks ago, Secretary McDonald has shown he is committed to bringing new vision and reforms to the VA to better serve Nevada and our nation’s Veterans.

But the task ahead will be VA’s most difficult challenge after having failed our veterans in delivering quality health care and timely benefits.  The gross mismanagement, poor treatment of veterans, and long delays revealed in Phoenix and elsewhere has shocked Congress and our nation, and is a significant crisis to overcome.  

My hope is that the Secretary’s goals will not get lost in bureaucracy, and I expect consistent communication and honesty about what the VA needs from Congress to restore faith in the VA and achieve the best care possible for veterans.

Just last week, I had the privilege to meet with Veterans from Pahrump, Nevada. 

In the past 15 years, Pahrump has grown from a small town outside Las Vegas to a community of 36,000.  In Pahrump and all of Nye County, there are about 9,000 Veterans, which is why the community has fought for a larger VA clinic as more veterans flock to Pahrump.

When visiting, I told them about the promise I made to you, Secretary, when we first met.  

Every time I see you, I will always bring up several key issues to Nevada Veterans: building the VA clinic in Pahrump, improving the Las Vegas VA hospital, and eliminating the disability claims backlog at the Reno VARO.

Bob deserves credit here for quickly approving the Pahrump clinic as soon as he was confirmed, and I also appreciate that Director Duff and Associate Director Caron worked closely with my office to keep me informed.

But there is still a lot of work to be done on this clinic--a contract must be awarded, the clinic must be constructed, and then it must be fully staffed.  

I'll be looking closely at each of these steps to determine if there are unnecessary bureaucratic barriers that delay projects like this and will hold the VA accountable.

I also hope to see improvements at the Las Vegas VA hospital.

There has been discussion about how to do this and I’d like to share a few key improvements that need to be made.

First, members of the Disabled American Veterans in Nevada want to improve transportation of rural veterans to the hospital. 

Right now, DAV has a volunteer transportation program, but they are not allowed to take veterans confined to a wheelchair or utilizing an oxygen tank.

There needs to be a greater partnership and coordination with the VA to expand the VA’s own transportation service for these disabled veterans in rural areas.

Secondly, appointment wait times at the Vegas hospital must be improved.  New patients in Vegas waited 25 days on average for specialty care appointments, and 16 days on average for mental health appointments. 

Director Duff has assured me her team is working to improve these wait times, and part of this improvement will be an enhanced scheduling system the VA is currently seeking. 

Every VA hospital needs modern processes and technology that will give directors the information they need to determine where resources are missing.

Lastly, a point that the Secretary has brought up to me is the differences in regions and management structure among the three VA administrations: health care, benefits, and cemeteries.  

I look forward to working with him to improve the current structure and believe that reorganizing these administrations could be a positive step forward to enhance coordination and improve care at the VA.

Finally, I remain committed to addressing the VA’s disability claims backlog.  For over a year now, Nevada is still the worst in the nation with claims being completed in 334 days on average.

As Co-Chair of the VA Backlog Working Group, I will be hosting a Roundtable later today along with Senator Casey to discuss the need to overhaul the outdated claims processing system.

I believe there is no better time to reform the claims process as the VA transforms under Secretary McDonald’s leadership, and the Working Group’s legislation is a strong platform for some of the changes that need to be made.

I look forward to hearing more about the changes and progress with improving care and benefits at the VA, and thank the Secretary and Inspector General Griffin for being here.

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, United States Senator Dean Heller spoke on the Senate floor about a very critical provision in the Conference Committee’s legislation that he, along with Senator Cory Booker, took a lead on addressing: extension of the Assisted Living Program for Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury. This program operates in two locations in Nevada and serves wounded warriors who are trying to restore their quality of life.

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) spoke at the Senate Public Lands, Forests, and Mining Subcommittee hearing in favor of two pieces of legislation seeking to address two difficult public lands issues arising in Nevada: the Good Samaritan Search and Recovery Act (S. 1049) and the Pinyon-Juniper Related Projects Implementation Act (S. 1640).

Remarks as prepared:

 Thank you Chairman Manchin and Ranking Member Barrasso for holding this important hearing today, and for including two of my bills that seek to address two difficult public lands issues that have come up in Nevada. 

The first of the two bills, the Good Samaritan Search and Recovery Act would solve a long-standing public safety issue in our National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.  My friend and colleague in the House, Congressman Joe Heck, and I introduced this legislation in response to the tragic stories of Mr. Keith Goldberg and Air Force Staff Sargent Antonio Tucker. 

Both of these individuals were missing for over a year before volunteer, Good Samaritan rescue teams received government authorization to begin searching.  This bipartisan common-sense legislation would allow for expedited access to public lands for Good Samaritan search and recovery organizations so that they may conduct searches for missing persons.

I would personally like to thank Keith Goldberg’s Sister Jodi and her husband Paul Thompson and Keith’s brother Jeff Goldberg who have joined us here today and support for their tireless work and advocacy on behalf of this legislation. This family’s courage and resilience is truly inspiring, I am grateful for the sacrifices they have made to advance our bill.

Their brother Keith disappeared on January 31, 2012. He was believed to be the victim of murder, but the police, operating on thin resources, were unable to continue the search for his body in the Las Vegas desert. His family went without closure for far too long.

When new evidence pointed towards the Lake Mead recreational area, Mr. Goldberg’s sister, Jodi, reached out to a private search and rescue team to look for her brother. All that prevented the rescue team from discovering Mr. Goldberg’s body was the bureaucratic red tape of the National Park Service, which refused to allow them to search the area without a permit and a $1 million insurance policy.

After the family spent six months finding an insurer and raising the money to buy the policy, the search team found Keith Goldberg in two hours.

Staff Sergeant Antonio Tucker’s family suffered a similarly frustrating ordeal. Staff Sergeant Tucker was stationed at Creech Air Force Base, when he went missing on June 23, 2012. He was believed drowned. A Good Samaritan search team offered to look for Staff Sergeant Tucker but was blocked by the Park Service, which required insurance and a special search permit. These hurdles were finally overcome about a year later. The team, possessing superior equipment to government divers, found the body within two days.

No family should have to go through what the Goldberg and Tucker families have had to endure by waiting a year to recover a loved one. Our legislation will prevent such needless red tape from interfering in the search and recovery of lost persons. It will provide qualified and trained search and rescue groups with expedited access to park service land if they sign a liability waiver. It requires the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to implement a process to expedite access to Federal lands for Good Samaritan search-and-recovery operations. And it will give the Secretary the authority to develop long-term partnerships with search and recovery organizations to help facilitate and expedite such Good Samaritan missions for missing persons.

The Good Samaritan Search and Recovery Act has the ability to conserve government resources, to provide families closure, and even to save lives. The House version of this bill passed the House of Representatives unanimously last year.  I would also like to thank Senators Warner, Tester, Hatch, and Chambliss for cosponsoring my bill.  I am confident it can garner similar overwhelming support in the Senate if given the opportunity.

My second bill before this committee, the Pinyon-Juniper Related Projects Implementation Act is a bipartisan bill, requested by local government officials from Lincoln County, Nevada. 

The bill will amend existing law to provide local officials more flexibility to carry out conservation and land-use goals, such as infrastructure development, wildlife conservation, and wildfire prevention. 

Because nearly 85 percent of the land in Nevada is administered by the federal government, it presents our local and state governments with many unique challenges.  In order to accommodate the needs to of Lincoln County, Congress passed the Lincoln County Land Act in 2000 and the Lincoln County Conservation, Recreation and Development Act in 2004.  

It has become apparent that the current authorities of those existing laws do not serve to effectively facilitate the successful implementation of these important environmental protections and land use initiatives. To address these limitations, I introduced this bill to makes minor improvements to those laws, by improving the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) administration of watersheds and wildlife habitat, and to enhance economic development in Lincoln County.   Nevada Congressmen Mark Amodei and Steve Horsford introduced nearly identical bipartisan legislation in the House as well. 

Given that this bill will spur economic growth and create much needed jobs, in a county faced with an unemployment rate of 10 percent, I look forward to working with the members of this committee to move this important legislation forward.

Once again, I would like to express my appreciation to the Committee of holding this important hearing today.  I encourage our full Committee Chair to move both of these important bills forward in our next business meeting.

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(Washington, D.C.) – Recently, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) spoke on the Senate floor in support of legislation amending the USA Freedom Act. Reflecting bipartisan and bicameral changes, the legislation ends bulk data collection practices currently used by the government. The legislation goes one step further by clearly outlining to America’s intelligence officials specific rules to follow so that they can keep the operational capabilities necessary to protect the United States from a terror attack without infringing upon the Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens.

Remarks as prepared: 

Mr. President,

Today, my colleague, Senator Leahy, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation that would amend the USA FREEDOM ACT.  This new legislation reflects a bicameral and bipartisan compromise that ends the bulk data collection practices currently used. It also gives our intelligence officials specific rules to follow so that they can keep the operational capabilities necessary to protect the United States from a terror attack without compromising the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

I would like to thank Senator Leahy for his work, and am grateful for his partnership. This important step is necessary for restoring Americans’ privacy rights, which were taken by a well-intended, but overreaching federal government, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

Mr. President, the expanded authority given to the National Security Agency through executive action and the PATRIOT ACT was intended to prevent another attack on America. While I was not a member of Congress on 9/11, I shared the horror all Nevadans felt watching the murder of thousands of innocent Americans, and the profound sadness as buildings in New York City and Washington D.C. sat smoldering.

understand as well as anyone here the reasoning behind the actions our nation’s leaders took to ensure that another attack on America never materialized, and why our leaders felt that no limits should be imposed, no matter what the cost. Americans had to be protected against another attack.  

Viewing the situation from that lens, it is easy to understand how the Fourth Amendment was brushed aside as the United States Senate expanded law enforcement surveillance capabilities with just one dissenting vote.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation then used Section 215 of the PATRIOT ACT to expand the scope of surveillance far beyond even what some of the authors believed they were authorizing.

The FBI argued that Section 215 provided authority to collect phone data of law-abiding citizens without their knowledge.  Specifically, they could use the “business records” provision to force phone companies to turn over millions of telephone calls when there is reasonable ground or relevance to believe that the information sought is relevant to an authorized investigation of international terrorism.

As a result we now have a bulk collection program in existence where telephone companies hand over millions of records to the NSA as part of a massive pre-collection database.

As someone who voted against the PATRIOT Act multiple times, I believe such data collection practices are a massive intrusion of privacy, which is why I partnered with the senior Senator from Vermont to end these programs.  Our legislation tightens the definition of “specific selection term” for Section 215 of the PATRIOT ACT and FISA pen register trap and trace devices so that the information requested is limited to specifically identifying a person, account, address, or personal device. 

With this legislation, bulk collection will be eliminated and the records will stay with the telephone companies.  The massive information grabs from the federal government based on geography or email service will no longer be permissible. And of the information that is collected, the legislation imposes new restrictions on the use and retention of it. 

These reforms will help shift the balance of privacy away from the federal government and back to American citizens.

I am proud that this bill also includes the Franken Heller Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013.  I was pleased to join Senator Franken on this legislation because, at the very least, Americans deserve to know the number of people whose information is housed by the NSA. For the first time in American history, the government is forced to disclose to the American people roughly how many of them have had their communications collected.

Our provisions call for reports by the Director of National Intelligence detailing the requests for information authorized under the PATRIOT ACT and the FISA Amendments Act.

The reports would specify the total number of people whose information has been collected under these programs and how many people living in the United States (or “likely Americans”) have had their information collected. They also would permit the Intelligence Community to report on how many Americans actually had their information looked at by the NSA or any other intelligence agencies.

Furthermore, these provisions would allow telephone and Internet companies to tell consumers basic information regarding the FISA Court orders they receive and the number of users whose information is turned over.

The principles outlined in this bill to increase transparency for Americans and private companies would clear up a tremendous amount of confusion that exists with these programs.

And our private companies need the added disclosure. The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation estimates that American cloud computing companies could lose 22 to 35 billion dollars in the next three years because of concerns about their involvement with surveillance programs. The analytics firm Forrester puts potential losses much higher, at $180 billion.

I want to be clear; I share the concerns of all Americans that we must protect ourselves against threats to the homeland.  I believe that terrorism is very real and the United States is the target of those looking to undermine the freedoms we hold as the core of our national identity.

And if the bulk collection programs in existence were bearing so much information to protect the Homeland, it would change my opinion on the need for the USA FREEDOM ACT.

However, the bulk collection program has simply not provided the tangible results that justify a privacy intrusion of this level. We know this because on October 2, 2013, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Leahy, asked NSA Director Keith Alexander the following question, and I quote:

At our last hearing, the deputy director, Mr. Ingliss stated that there’s only really one example of a case where, but for the use of Section 215, both phone records collection, terrorist activity was stopped. Was Mr. Ingliss’ right?

To which Director Alexander responded:

He’s right. I believe he said two, Chairman.

Mr. President, Congress has authorized the collection of millions of law abiding citizens’ telephone metadata for years and it has only solved two ongoing FBI investigations.

Of those two investigations, the NSA has publicly identified one. And in fact, that case could have easily been handled by obtaining a warrant and going to the telephone company.

It is the case of an individual in San Diego who was convicted of sending $8,500 to Somalia in support of Al Shabab, the terror organization claiming responsibility for the Kenyan mall attack.  The American phone records allowed the NSA to determine that a U.S. phone was used to contact an individual associated with this terror organization.

I am appreciative that the NSA was able to apprehend this individual, but it does not provide overwhelming evidence that this program is necessary. Mr. President, the Obama Administration has come to the same conclusion. So has the Intelligence community.

The operational capabilities the Intelligence community relies on to conduct their mission to keep us safe will not be impacted by the USA FREEDOM Act.  If it were, the Intelligence Community and the Administration would not have brokered this compromise legislation. Ending the bulk collection programs and giving Americans more transparency so they can determine for themselves whether they believe these programs should exists is obligation we have to our constituents.

We have a bill introduced today that would give our law enforcement authorities the tools they need to keep us safe while also staying true to the Fourth Amendment. I encourage my colleagues to support these important reforms and hope that it can quickly be considered by this Chamber.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) spoke on the Senate floor in support of the five amendments he filed to S. 2569, the Bring Home Jobs Act. These amendments are designed to help facilitate job-growth in Nevada while cutting bureaucratic red-tape and improving processes on federal lands across the nation. The amendments can be found here.

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Jul 24 2014

Heller: Israel Must Defend Itself

Heller stands strong with Israel in latest provocation from Hamas

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) spoke on the Senate floor in steadfast support of Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism caused by Hamas, including the eradication of underground tunnels used by the terrorist organization to kidnap Israeli citizens: 

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) offered the following remarks at the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing on the pending nomination of Robert A. McDonald to be Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Senator Heller has been critical of the current state of affairs at the VA and wants new leadership to correct and address the rampant problems facing the VA’s healthcare system. 

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Jul 17 2014

Heller: This Is One of the Darkest Chapters in The History of General Motors

Offers Remarks on GM Recalls at Senate Hearing

(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 Accountability and Corporate Culture in Wake of the GM Recalls.”  

Remarks as prepared:

Good Morning,

Thank you Chairman McCaskill, and I would like to thank our witnesses for being here today for this sub-committee’s second hearing on General Motors.

Today, based on the findings of the Valukas Report, we can confirm that this is in fact one of the darkest chapters in the history of General Motors.

An ignition switch, supplied by Delphi was approved by GM even though it failed to meet GM’s own standard specifications for torque resistance.

Due to these failures the ignition switch could slip from “Run” to “Accessory” with little more than a knee hitting the key or the car driving over a bump.

The car’s power shut off while they were being driven.

I have raced cars my entire life, and I will tell you, even for the most experienced drivers, there is nothing more terrifying than a loss of power while moving at high speeds.

I can only imagine the sheer terror of the individual who was driving these vehicles the moment the ignition slipped out of “Run.”

What those drivers didn’t know as their cars swerved across lanes and hit walls, inclines, ravines and trees was that the one thing that could save their life, the airbag, was not going to deploy because the power to the airbag shut off. 

If, after the first few crashes, General Motors was able to understand the ignition switch problem, many more lives could have been saved.

But as the Valukas report points out, group after group and committee after committee within GM failed to take action or acted too slowly for over a decade.

Two critical factors have been identified as reasons for this.

One, GM failed to understand how its cars were built.  Let me repeat that: GM failed to understand how its cars were built. Incredibly, the official findings pin the blame for the delay to recall this car on the fact that GM didn’t understand how its own car was built.

Two, the same engineer who approved the original ignition switch changed the part in 2006 and did not inform any person at GM nor did he change the part number.

People died and millions more were put at risk because GM didn’t understand its own car and one engineer cut corners and then changed the torque on the part without telling anybody or changing the model number.

54 frontal-impact crashes and more than a dozen fatalities later, we find ourselves here this morning for our second hearing on this issue.

It is truly a dark chapter in the history of General Motors.

What we need to do today is make sure what the Valukas report is the full story.

Is the Valukas report accurate?

Is it the definitive account of this matter or are there missing pieces? 

The CEO of Delphi is with us today and it is my hope he will help this sub-committee understand if there is additional information that provides us with a more complete picture.

I hope his testimony today will be forthcoming and not circle the wagons.  We need to know what happened here and Delphi has a responsibility to the families and survivors to provide a complete picture. 

If Delphi knows more than the Valukis report identified or believes there are inaccuracies, now is the time to make those known.

The Valukas report offers a strong timeline of the issues but I have concerns that it may not paint the entire picture.  I would like to explore whether Delphi was fully cooperative.

In the Valukas report, it states that Delphi had numerous documents and other relevant material that they did not supply.

Chairman, I am appreciative that we are holding this hearing.  Nevadans and all Americans deserve to know that for over a decade, General Motors and Delphi failed to demonstrate a basic level of corporate competence.

There will be a discussion regarding whether changes to laws are necessary.  However, if GM understood how their own cars worked and followed current legal obligations to report the defects to NHTSA in a timely manner, lives would have been saved and we would not be here today.

Thank you Chairman McCaskill.

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) questioned Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen at the “The Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress” hearing.  Heller asked the Chair for her views about the end of quantitative easing, as well as whether the markets are an accurate view of the state of the economy.

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