DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2007 -- (Senate - August 02, 2006)
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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, what just happened is extremely unfortunate for American families, extremely important for people all across the country who want Members to do things in the Senate that affect them and their lives.
People are feeling squeezed on all sides: Jobs, health care costs are rising, they are afraid they will lose their pension, maybe have lost their pension, the costs of college, men and women serving overseas want to know when they come home their house is not gone because of foreclosure, or they worry their family has a more difficult time because they have been serving our country.
The extension bill, the amendment Senator Reid offered with Senator Durbin, and of which I am proud to be a cosponsor, speaks to those issues the American families are asking Congress to address. It speaks to the kind of tax policy that makes sure middle-class Americans are supported and that we are doing something for them, not just for those who are the most blessed, the multibillionaires of this country.
Let me give an example. Our amendment that was just objected to included a provision to extend the $4,000 deduction for higher education expenses for families to send their children to college or for people going back to school themselves to be retrained or get a new degree to better meet the demands of the new global economy. Why in the world would we not want to rush to extend that $4,000 tax deduction for individuals who are just trying to make it, trying to get the American dream for themselves or their children?
Extending the research and development tax credit, again, is absolutely critical. Our State has gone through and continues to go through major transformations in manufacturing. This is not your father's factory anymore. This is high tech. The R&D tax credit is critical to be extended.
It is about jobs. There are many provisions in this amendment just objected to that directly relate to jobs, directly relate to our way of life in this country, creating opportunity, as well as supporting our troops. One of the provisions treats combat pay as earned income under the earned income tax credit for our brave men and women in uniform. Who would not support doing that as quickly as possible? I regret this amendment was not supported.
Let me go on to say, as our leader Senator Reid indicated, there is another bill that affects middle-class Americans that is being held up, essentially is being used for political maneuvers right now, that affects upwards of 45 million people in this country. That is the pension bill. We are talking about people who have paid into a defined benefit plan all their lives. They assumed it would be there. They assume in the United States of America one shouldn't have to worry, after paying into a pension, that the funds would not be there at retirement. Yet that is happening for too many people I represent and too many people around the country.
We have a bill that has been worked on very hard. People on both sides of the aisle in the Senate have worked together in a bipartisan effort, a good-faith effort--the Committee on Finance, with Senator Grassley and Senator Baucus, and the HELP Committee, with Senator Kennedy and Senator Enzi, working very hard along with Senator Mikulski on our side playing such a critical role to make sure we get it right. Unfortunately, the process for this bill has been a disaster despite the best efforts of people on both sides of the aisle in the Senate.
Unfortunately, the price is being paid by families who find their economic interests, their future, their retirement security, put on the back burner. Three failed deadlines have occurred on this bill, 7 months of lost time in conference. Now the same families are being told they have to wait some more so we can take up a tax bill with provisions that do not even expire until 2010. People have pensions in jeopardy because of the possibility we will not act in 2 days, and we are not acting. Hopefully we will get this done. We ought to get this done now before we focus on legislation that affects only .2 percent of the wealthiest in this country, people who are not even impacted for 4 years. There is something wrong with this picture.
There is no way to justify this. In my opinion, it is immoral to watch working Americans lose pensions they have earned over the last 30 or 40 years, and not step up and do something about it as quickly as possible. People have waited too long. In Michigan alone we have over 1.5 million families counting on their pension plan. They are counting on Congress to make sure it will be there. They are counting on Congress to make sure what they have worked for all their life will be there.
There is a fundamental principle: You work all your life, you pay into a pension, you ought to get it, period. We shouldn't be spending the time to take up another bill. This should have been done months ago. I don't understand this.
The families I represent are betting on us to help them. They are counting on us to make sure they have their pensions. Unfortunately, the leadership on the other side of the aisle has decided to prioritize a bill that impacts .2 percent of the wealthiest taxpayers while a bill that affects upwards of 45 million people is waiting to come to the Senate floor. We have no guarantee it will be passed this week. We cannot count on the fact when all of this is done on Friday that they will even proceed with this critical pension bill.
On the pension bill itself, I commend, as I said before, my colleagues, our leaders, who have worked so hard. I commend the conferees for considering the unique aspects of manufacturing and the auto industry. These are tough times in Michigan. The bill as it passed the Senate did not fully represent what we need for manufacturing. In the conference committee, people of good will worked together. We fixed those things. I am very pleased about that. Our automakers are trying to do the right thing, trying to fund their pension plans. The pension bill addresses those things that will allow them to continue to do the right thing.
We also have folks in the construction industry and building trades, the multiemployer plans, who are asking for flexibility to fix their pension plans. That is in this bill. We have companies such as Northwest Airlines, which has gone into bankruptcy but has chosen up to this point not to dump their pensions in the Pension Guaranty Fund. We have to make sure we do everything possible to help. Thousands of people, their livelihoods, their future, their retirement security, are at stake.
I thank all those working on the pension bill. I thank all of my colleagues who have worked to address our manufacturing issues and the multiemployer provisions. I am proud to be one of the sponsors of the amendment to address the pension plans of about 10 million Americans in what is called multiemployer pension plans. I thank the conferees for including that, as well. I thank all of those businesses that are trying to hang in there and do the right thing.
Most importantly, people are counting on us to do the right thing. Part of the American dream has been to work hard all your life, care for your family, put money aside for retirement, be able to afford college, which this last amendment would have addressed if it had not been objected to.
Right now, too many people in America are feeling squeezed on all sides. They see decisions being made, issues being brought up, that have nothing to do with their lives. They see policies being proposed that have nothing to do with helping them do better, hoping they will able to keep the American dream, be able to protect their way of life.
It is time we had a new direction in this country. It is time we had a new direction and focus on that which will directly affect people every day so they will trust in their Government again that we will have the right values and priorities that allow every middle-class American, every working American, everyone who is working hard and playing by the rules, to have a chance to know they will not only make it but we will keep our promises, as well.
In conclusion, I urge my colleagues, urge the leadership in the Senate, to bring before the Senate a bill that can have universal support, overwhelming support in the pension bill.
As we complete this very important Defense bill, this funding bill critical to our men and women, our troops, a bill we all want to see passed, I urge we then bring up the pension bill and let us pass it so 45 million people will have the assurance by the end of this week that their pensions will remain intact, or at least we will have given it our very best effort.