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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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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) urged the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to act on legislation aimed at spurring active management of public lands and forests across the West at a hearing titled “Wildfire Preparedness & Forest Service 2015 Fiscal Year Budget.” Heller discussed challenges posed by both the severity and length of the wildfire season in Nevada and the devastation resulting from wildfire damage. When questioning U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, Heller underscored the significance in pro-actively treating federal lands before danger arises by reducing fire risks instead of containing large and unmanageable wildland fire. 

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) appeared on Fox Business Network’s Varney & Company to discuss the cover-up with the Internal Revenue Service as well as the border crisis. A clip of the interview is below.

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) submitted the following statement for the record at a U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation hearing titled "Promoting the Well-Being of Academic Success of College Athletes."

Remarks as prepared:

Thank you Chairman Rockefeller.

I appreciate the hearing today on the welfare of student athletes. It is important to have a better understanding of the academic and athletic benefits that are acceptable and unacceptable for schools to offer to student athletes and whether the NCAA can handle the responsibility entrusted to it by the Presidents of the participating Universities to fairly enforce that standard. 

I am a sports fan.  Have been my whole life.  I have always enjoyed college sports because it was about the school on the front of the jersey and not the name on the back.

I strongly believe that for many student athletes, the accessibility and affordability of a world class education at a 4 year University that a scholarship offers is life changing.

In fact, on the whole, I believe many student athletes would say they have had a good experience.  

Most people see their sports careers end at high school; these talented students get to continue to compete on next level in many sports that actually cost the University to compete.

So there is no doubt that the opportunity to gain access to a World Class University because of your athletic talent is a ticket to a better future and as we discuss this issue today, I want the Committee to remember that.

Now, with that being said;

Billions of dollars are coming in from television contracts for college football and basketball. College sports fans are more invested than ever in the outcome of their alma mater or adopted team.  Millions of dollars from merchandise, tickets, and even video games have turned an amateur sports performance into a lucrative money making machine for some Universities.

 

These developments have ignited a debate amongst many sports fans watching in their homes, at a friend’s house, or in person.   With so much money coming in to the Universities’ coffers, should more be allowable for the student-athletes, some of whom are the reason money is flooding in, in the first place? 

Can this be done while still ensuring amateur competition is a fair playing field?  If one school was allowed to offer lucrative packages for student athletes or their parents such as, money or a trip, I think it would be unfair to the schools that could not or would not offer that. 

Schools offering more incentives would attract more talent and would theoretically, win more often.  Those wins would translate into more money for that University.  Either from a larger fan following, larger payouts from big games or higher numbers of applicants who want to study at a school with a winning sports program and larger exposure. 

Given that logic the University Presidents (who run the NCAA) should espouse a belief that there must be some level of fairness, that college athletics is not professional sports and there must be restrictions on what every student athlete can receive from the school they attend and from the community they live in. 

But that is not to say there are not additional benefits both in academic and athletic support.  For example, athletes at many Universities have access to tutors who will provide individual time with an athlete that many in the general student body do not have access to.  Athletes also have access to weight rooms, world-class athletic facilities that can be incredibly state of the art, and outfitted with training staff. 

These benefits help the student athlete in the classroom. 

But, many of these benefits also enhance a student athlete’s performance so they can be best prepared to represent their school on the playing field, so that they can better perform for the University to generate additional revenue. 

So we aren’t debating whether student athletes get additional benefits.  They do.

We are debating whether the current set of rules that govern the NCAA are outdated for the college sports world that exists.

 

I understand we must keep the rules fair for competition but more can be done for these student athletes to help them with their education and with their sports and still keep the integrity of the game. 

Let’s face it, some Universities, either through their conference or by themselves are bringing in millions of dollars from television contracts and licensing rights. 

With so much money coming in, and the NCAA’s failure to reform their rigid rules, the NCAA has now been accused of making money off these players and exploiting them. 

Those accusations are probably why we are having this hearing today and why Mr. Branch is here. 

And the NCAA has done themselves no favors.  There have been recent decisions that just do not make any sense.

For example, Colgate freshman Nathan Harries was denied a year of eligibility for playing three games in an unsanctioned church league.  Harries spent two years on a Mormon mission in Raleigh, N.C. Upon his return home, he played three games in a league at Dunwoody Baptist Church. Apparently, that violated an NCAA rule that stipulates that athletes who do not enroll immediately after graduating from high school will be penalized one year of eligibility for every academic year they participate in organized competition (which includes an official score and referees). Colgate asked for a waiver, which was denied, and appealed the decision. 

Steven Rhodes served his country for 5 years as a United States Marine. Post-service, the 24-year-old enrolled at Middle Tennessee University and joined the football team as a walk-on.  The NCAA decided that Steven wasn’t eligible to play the 2013 season because he participated in a military-only recreational league in 2012. Even though it was a loosely-run league that sometimes went six weeks between games, the NCAA said that because the teams kept score and there were uniforms and referees, the league counts as “organized competition.”

These situations were later revisited and fixed in one way or another.

In November 2013, a subcommittee was scheduled to hear the appeal from Colgate, but an NCAA official contacted the school Thursday after various media reports detailing Harries' case.  The NCAA conducted a brief interview with Harries and immediately called back with news it had reversed its decision.

In August 2013, the NCAA reversed its decision on Steven Rhodes, immediately granting permission to Rhodes to play and maintaining his eligibility for 5 years.

I was pleased, the NCAA eventually overturned these decisions but the damage from the negative press the NCAA received was already done.

It shined a light on what many college sports fans already believed, that the NCAA rules are outdated for the college sports world that exists today.

The rules do not bend to circumstances. 

Mr. Emmert, I think you know this.

In speaking to UNLV and UNR and USC, they all have argued that sports is a wonderful part of their college campus and it is a way to provide a world class education to a student that otherwise may not have that opportunity. 

I agree with them that a college athletic scholarship is a wonderful opportunity.  But I also know that the NCAA needs to do more for the student athlete.

This leads me to my point, the University Presidents run the NCAA.  The NCAA cannot do much without their approval.

Why can’t they ensure that a student athlete is getting the education they were promised and the integrity of the game they are playing is be preserved so that all schools have a fair shot at competing. 

Mr. Emmert, go to your board and demand change.  

Tell them that the inability to adapt to the challenges of billion dollar TV contracts, academic fraud charges and additional publicity on every sanction decision the NCAA makes is why you find yourself before us today asking you whether the NCAA can do its job of protecting the welfare of the student-athlete. Thank you Mr. Chairman.

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Jun 25 2014

Heller Seeks Answers Regarding Lois Lerner’s Missing Emails

Questions Treasury Secretary Lew during Hearing on Capitol Hill Today

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) questioned the Department of the Treasury Secretary, Jacob Lew, at a Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, & Urban Affairs hearing titled, “The Financial Stability Oversight Council Annual Report to Congress.” During the hearing, Senator Heller questioned the Treasury Secretary’s apparent “hands off” approach on addressing the missing emails of IRS former Exempt Organizations division director Lois Lerner. 

As Secretary of the Treasury, Lew oversees the activities of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Recently, the IRS has come under fire for having lost a number of emails pertaining to the activities of Ms. Lerner.

Jun 25 2014

Heller on WIOA: Essential to Getting Americans Back to Work

Senate Passes Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Today

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) today spoke on the Senate floor about the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The bill, which takes long-overdue steps to modernize our workforce investment system, provides job training and workforce investment programs that are essential for getting Americans back to work.

Below are his remarks, as prepared: 

“Mr. President, I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress for their efforts on the important legislation before us, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. I would especially like to thank Senators Isakson, Murray, Alexander, and Harkin for their leadership on this issue, and for working with our colleagues in the House of Representatives to craft this compromise. I am pleased that Congress has come together in a bipartisan manner to address the most pressing issue we face as a country, which is the need to restore our country’s economic health.

“We have a responsibility here in Washington to ensure that the needs of American workers, businesses, and jobseekers alike are being met. I believe we need a two-pronged approach to this problem: One, full-fledged efforts to grow the economy and create new jobs; two, a temporary safety net that helps people unable to secure a job in this current economic environment.

“The bill now in front of us is a much-needed effort to reauthorize and streamline the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, which is the primary federal law concerning job training and workforce development programs. The services offered through the WIA system – job search assistance, career counseling, skills training, and on-the-job training – are a critical part of the effort to grow our economy and ensure that workers are prepared for the job market. Importantly, these programs are coordinated at the state and local levels to ensure that the unique needs of our communities are appropriately addressed.

“The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act takes some long-overdue steps to modernize our workforce investment system. It eliminates fifteen programs that have been identified as duplicative or ineffective. It removes twenty-one burdensome federal mandates on state and local workforce boards. It promotes state and local control and improves flexibility so that we can better respond to changes in our workforce or economy. It also improves accountability and transparency measures to guarantee that these programs are operating effectively.

“Given that this law has been due for reauthorization for more than ten years, providing states and local communities with the flexibility they need is vital to ensuring economic stability. We clearly can’t depend on the federal government to provide workers and businesses with timely solutions to help our workforce, so I am pleased that this legislation puts much of that control back where it belongs.

“The need to reauthorize these important programs is perhaps no more apparent than in my home state of Nevada. Our state was one of the states hit hardest by the economic downturn, and though we’re slowly recovering, we still have a long way to go. Industries that thrived for many years suddenly stalled, leaving thousands of workers out of jobs. Nevada had a double-digit unemployment rate for four and a half years, unfortunately topping the charts at nearly 14% for several months.

“Over the past few years, I’ve spoken with employers and jobseekers back in Nevada to look for ways to restore the health of our economy and get Nevadans back to work. Surprisingly, I heard from many employers that they have job opportunities available – they want to hire more employees and grow their businesses, but they are having difficulty finding workers with the necessary skill sets. This “skills gap” problem isn’t unique to Nevada; in fact, there are millions of unfilled jobs throughout the country.

“With nearly ten million Americans still unemployed and looking for work, we must take steps to connect jobseekers with employment opportunities in in-demand sectors. I was proud to join Senator Joe Donnelly from Indiana in introducing the Skills Gap Strategy Act last year to develop a solution to this particular issue, and I am glad that the managers’ amendment before us today also reinforces some of these principles.

“The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act is a bipartisan, bicameral piece of legislation that represents real efforts to get our economy back on track. Though no bill is perfect, and the nature of compromise means that not everyone gets everything they want, I am grateful for the work my colleagues have done in writing this bill. While I would have preferred to include efforts to provide stability for unemployed jobseekers by temporarily extending unemployment insurance benefits, I also recognize that these job training and workforce investment programs are essential in getting Americans back to work. I still firmly believe that our economic recovery needs a two-pronged approach that grows the economy and provides stability for jobseekers, and this bill is an important part of that equation.

“When the Senate is in session, I call constituents back in the state and ask them to join me for a telephone townhall.  During one of these calls just last night, I asked Nevadans if they felt like the economy is improving. Of those who participated, 26 percent said yes, they do think the economy is improving, 13 percent said they were unsure and 60 percent said no, they do not think the economy is getting any better. On a ratio of 2 to 1, Nevadans feel that economic growth is lagging.  We need to fix this and pass policies that will help turn this economy around. In the meantime, we cannot forget about the important social safety net.  

“Make no mistake Mr. President, I have every intention of continuing to work with my colleague from Rhode Island to temporarily extend unemployment benefits for those seeking to work.  I was proud to once again team up with him yesterday to introduce a new unemployment extension bill that would provide five months of benefits with retroactive eligibility.  We will continue to work with our colleagues, here in the Senate and in the House as well as this Administration to pass this legislation and ensure that we continue to provide this temporary safety net while creating jobs.

“Again, I thank my friends in both the Senate and the House for their work on this much-needed legislation. This compromise effort proves that Congress is capable of working together on legislation to help our economy, and I am hopeful that this experience will encourage all of us to continue working together to pass more bills to grow our economy and create new jobs for the people of Nevada, and for all of the United States.”

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(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), Co-Chairman of the VA Backlog Working Group, today spoke on the Senate floor calling on Congress to take immediate action to help veterans access the benefits they earned while serving our nation. Yesterday, the Senate passed a bill addressing problems within the Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) healthcare system. Today, Heller argued that problems with delivery of VA benefits should not be ignored.  

Below are excerpts, as prepared, from Senator Heller’s speech:

“Addressing the serious concerns with healthcare at the VA is an urgent issue, and one that needed quick action from Congress.

“But there is another side of the coin separate from the Veterans Health Administration, and that is the Veterans Benefits Administration. It is the responsibility of the VBA to administer benefits to our veterans.  The VHA has undergone intense scrutiny in recent weeks, but the veterans disability claims backlog is another urgent issue that needs action from Congress.

“Just as it is unacceptable for veterans to wait months for appointments, it is unacceptable for them to wait months for their benefits they have earned.

“To address this issue, Senator Casey and I introduced the VA Backlog Working Group Report along with a bipartisan group of our colleagues, Senators Moran, Heinrich, Vitter, and Tester.

“This report outlines the claims process, explains the history of VA's claims backlog, and offers targeted solutions to help the VA develop an efficient benefits delivery system.

“To put this report's targeted solutions into action, our Working Group introduced the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act.  This comprehensive, bipartisan piece of legislation addresses three areas of the claims process: claims submission, VA Regional Office practices, and federal agency responses to VA requests.

“I am pleased that 18 of our Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle have cosponsored this legislation, and that it has gained the support of Veterans Service Organizations, including the VFW, DAV, The American Legion, Military Officers Association of America, and AUSN.

“Senator Casey and I recognize that the claims process is complex and there is no silver bullet that is going to solve this problem, but the VA’s current efforts will not eliminate this backlog.

“So, just as we worked to address issues at the VHA, I encourage my colleagues to work to address some of these same issues at the VBA. 

“Our proposal can no longer afford to wait in the backlog of bills to be considered by this Chamber.”   

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, the U.S. Senate confirmed Richard F. Boulware II as the U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Nevada. During remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday evening, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) spoke in support of Mr. Boulware’s confirmation.

Below are the remarks, as prepared, from Senator Heller’s speech:

Thank you, Mister/Madam President,

Before I begin, I’d like to take a moment to address the unsettling events that occurred yesterday when two members of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and an innocent civilian were victims of a terrible act of violence. While words offer little comfort at this difficult time, I would like to express my condolences to the victims’ families. The Las Vegas community is grateful to these police officers for their service, and joins their families in mourning their loss.  I would also like to thank the men and women of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department who sprung to action following the tragic events, even after losing members of the law enforcement community.

I rise today to speak in favor of a fellow Nevadan’s nomination that is currently pending before this body today, and that is Richard Boulware, nominee for U.S. District Judge for the District of Nevada. 

One of the most important and unique responsibilities we hold as members of the United States Senate is to provide for the advice and consent of the President’s judicial nominations and subsequent confirmations. 

I believe each judicial nominee which comes before this body must not only be qualified, but also must demonstrate fairness and commitment to upholding the Constitution and the laws of the United States. 

In Nevada, it is critical for us to work together to find qualified candidates who will uphold America’s principles of impartiality under law. 

Richard Boulware is an excellent example of an accomplished nominee who should be confirmed on a bipartisan basis. I believe Mr. Boulware embodies the characteristics of a nominee who is prepared to serve, and that he 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.  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, 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.    

I am glad to see the Senate moving forward with this nomination and look forward to voting tomorrow to confirm Mr. Boulware’s nomination to the federal bench in Nevada.       

With that Mister/Madam President, I yield the floor. 

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