Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, as I said before on the floor, all the statements that are being made, and all the time we spend in relation to our values and our priorities, I also believe we get things done when we work together, when we work in a bipartisan way. That is what our constituents expect us to do.
I see the esteemed chairman of the Judiciary Committee on the floor. I thank him publicly for working with the senior Senator from Michigan as we work through difficult issues that relate to Michigan. I appreciate his willingness to do that. That is how we get things done-when we work together.
When we look first at the record of legislation taken up on this floor, I think it shows we work together. I think when we have worked together to confirm 168 judges, most of those I have voted for overwhelmingly, and when we see that we have only had a disagreement on 4, I think that shows bipartisan cooperation. I think that shows what the people of this country, and certainly the people of Michigan, want to see done. There is no question in my mind that this demonstrates our willingness to roll up our sleeves, to be fairminded, to look at the facts, to look at the nominees, and to work together.
It also shows, though, that we are willing to make a critique, that we are not a rubberstamp for this administration, nor should we be for any administration of either party. It shows we are willing to make a judgment. When the nominees go too far, we say no. That is what happened four times.
What I am most concerned about now, though, in this 30 hours-which now, instead of ending at midnight, is going to go until 9 in the morning-is that we are saying our values and priorities are spending time talking about four people who already have jobs and want to get a promotion that will last a lifetime. These are lifetime appointments.
My concern is that we need to be spending time on this floor not only talking but doing something about the 3 million people who have lost their jobs in the last 2½ years-3 million people. They do not have a lifetime job. They would just like to know they have a job tomorrow for their families. They would like to know that the job probably carries health care with it and will be there so they can put food on the table and they can pay the mortgage, the car payment, send their kids to college, and know they can have a good life in America that they assume if they work hard they will be able to achieve.
That is the debate I have said a number of times that we need to be having. One-hundred and sixty-thousand-plus of these 3 million are people who have lost their jobs in Michigan; people who have lost good-paying jobs, good-paying jobs with health care and pensions. They find themselves in very difficult circumstances and they are asking us to help them.
I am very proud of the fact that Michigan is the first in the production of automobiles. Thirty-one percent of all the automobiles in this country are produced in the State of Michigan.
My dad and my grandfather owned a Cadillac dealership in Claire, MI. We have been proud to be a part of supporting the Michigan automakers.
We also are first in the production of trucks, producing l7 percent of trucks. We have the three leading office furniture manufacturers in Michigan and produce nearly half of the office furniture.
Why do I say this? Because we have a crisis in manufacturing in this country that we need to be addressing in this Senate. Jobs can't all be in the service industry. We need to make things and we need to grow things. That is what we do in Michigan. We make things and we do it well. We will compete with anybody any time. Just give us a level playing field. We also grow things. We are willing to compete with anybody any time. Just give us a level playing field. We don't have that right now. We don't have that level playing field. We are not addressing that.
We are not addressing what is happening with the fact that China is violating the WTO or that China and Japan basically have put a tax on American goods and services sold in this country by manipulating their currency. We are not doing anything about that.
As a member of the Banking Committee, I sit and listen to the Treasury Secretary basically acknowledging that something is not right but not wanting to step up and take the tough action on behalf of American manufacturers and American workers.
We need to be talking on this floor and taking action on behalf of the men and women who have been the backbone of this country in manufacturing and have created the middle class that separates us from other countries around the world.
Why aren't we having that debate? Not a debate about 4 people who already have jobs, who want to get promoted. Three million people do not have a job and are now struggling with their families.
I want to share a few comments that I have heard. Earlier today I shared some headlines from newspapers in Michigan about what is going on. I want to share one of those this evening with my colleagues. It is from the Ludington Daily News, in northwest Michigan. It says: "Tough Loss, Straits Steel closing sad news for plant's 180 employees." Then it starts out by saying:
Despite the looming possibility over the past few months that their plant might close, workers at Straits Steel & Wire Co. kept their production quality high and their attitudes positive, said General Manager Tyndall.
But on Friday, Tyndall was forced to tell his co-workers and friends that corporate officials decided to close the Ludington plant, 56 years after it began operations in 1947.
Making the announcement twice-to the first shift in the morning, then the second shift in the afternoon-was not easy for Tyndall, who joined workers on the floor of the production plant as he shared the bad news with the group.
"People are down," he said Friday afternoon. But he stressed the plant's closing is not related to performance. "When we walk out, we can hold our heads high and go chest to chest with anyone on the street and say we did our jobs well."
They did their jobs well. But because of what is happening and the unfair competition around the world and the stress and struggle as it relates to cost, the plant closed.
Why aren't we dealing with issues that will help this Straits Steel and Wire Company in Ludington, MI? Those are the jobs I want to be talking about. Those are the jobs people in my State want us to be trying to fill.
Let me mention a few letters I have been receiving from people in Michigan that say it better than I can. First from a gentleman who says: I am writing you regarding the health of my business. I have a high tech business servicing industrial lasers, much like the ones that are no doubt cutting metal subassemblies for our armed services use as well as civilian businesses. My business has the flu. It is feverish and sluggish almost to the point of no business at all. Our country was initially built on small businesses providing services and employment. Our government encourages small business growth yet at the same time small businesses are being destroyed one by one because our economy is in such dire straits that business orders are essentially flat, which in turn is causing my business to fail. Occasionally I call the few customers I have left and ask questions about how they feel about the economy and what they think will happen in the near future. They say they are very concerned about the future. Some are laying off personnel. Others take pay cuts to keep their jobs. Still others feel they are sinking with no relief in sight. My business is now on the verge of collapsing and the only reason is the economy. I find it extremely difficult to believe that because of a few positive economic reports showing up here and there that our economy is getting better. The only real indicator of an improving, recovering economy, in my opinion, are reports coming in of companies rehiring people and putting them back to work. No other indicators, in my opinion, mean a thing until people start going back to work.
I agree with that. It is about putting people to work and having businesses recover from the flu.
Also from a Michigan resident: I am a tool die maker for over 40 years. I now find myself out of a job and unable to find one in my field. I have no health insurance. Why has America farmed most of our manufacturing jobs out to other countries? I think America has got to be not only the greatest thinking country in the world but we have to also regain our status as the greatest producing country in the world, as we did in World War II. That is, as you remember, the reason we won.
From Bridgman, MI: I would like to say I have worked in manufacturing for 20 years. This is the first time in my career that my hours have been reduced. I have a house payment, utility bills, children to feed and clothe, doctor bills, car payment, insurance, school lunches and preschool. This is just a few of my expenses. We are hanging on by a thread, day by day living. This is not the way Americans should have to live, especially in this day and age.
I agree. If people work hard, they get up in the morning and they go to work and they work all day, they ought to be able to know they are going to be paid a good wage, that they can count on that job being there, that we want them to be able to have health care. We want them to be able to put money aside for a pension, and we want them to know they will have the security of being able to take care of their families and plan for the future as part of the great middle class of America.
Our manufacturing economy has given us that. We are losing that. We are losing that. We need to pay attention. We need to talk for 30 hours on the floor about jobs and how to help our manufacturing sector. We need to talk for 60 hours or 90 hours. More importantly, we need to act to do something so we can level the playing field. As I have said before, I will put our workers and our businesses up against anybody, if it is a level playing field. Just make it fair and we will compete. We need to address issues of health care. We know one of the biggest challenges right now for our manufacturers is the explosion in the prices of health care. I also know from talking to our automakers about half of that is because of prescription drug prices, the lack of competition, and the explosion in prices. We ought to be doing something about that.
We have bills in front of us right now in the Medicare conference where we could do something, if we wanted to, about that to lower prices. I would love to have a 30-hour debate on that because there is nothing right now more challenging to businesses and workers than the issues of health care. Workers are finding they are being asked to pay more in premiums and deductibles or their salary is capped in order to pay for health care increases or, worse yet, they are losing their jobs because of the increases. That is a debate worth having. That is a debate that would result in our focusing on something that means something very important to the people of this country. I would look forward to that debate.
Let me read a couple more letters: I've worked in manufacturing for 23 years, and this is the first time in my career I have had my hours reduced. I am worried about losing my job. My family is suffering because of my reduced income and planning for the future of my trade. I am a mold maker, and this has always been a solid trade. My trade is faltering, not only because of the economy but also because of foreign competition. How can we compete with countries that pay drastically reduced wages with no benefits?
We have to address that, not by saying you have to work for less, Michigan workers. You have to work for less and you have to take no health care and no benefits. We have to be fighting for our middle class and creating a way to raise the standards of living around the world instead of lowering ours, which is exactly what is happening right now. It is probably the most serious threat to our future in terms of maintaining our economy and our middle class. That is worthy of a 30-hour debate.
There are many more letters I could read that are the same. So where are we, when we are talking about 3 million jobs lost and counting just in the last 2½ years, a little less than 3 years. What is the response from the administration to this number? Are we pulling everybody together to figure out what we can do to lower health care costs? Are we figuring out what we can do to level the playing field and stop China and Japan from using advantages and manipulating their currency and creating a situation that is unfair to us? Are we looking for ways to stop the small manufacturers from going and moving their plants overseas? No.
What is the response from the administration? The first thing is to propose to cut people's overtime pay, people who already are working. We are going to cut their overtime pay. That is one of the major points the administration is fighting for right now in the appropriations process. They fight every effort to extend unemployment for the people who are currently unemployed. In the past, on a bipartisan basis, every President from Nixon and Carter and Reagan and Clinton, every President we have during times of recession, we have extended unemployment compensation for those who are unemployed. We have to fight now at every turn on behalf of the unemployed. I have mentioned earlier the administration has not been willing to get tough with China, has not been willing to deal with what is happening in Japan as well, that has so affected our automobile industry and our manufacturing economy.
We need leadership to step up and do more than just words to get tough on them, to create a level playing field. We have seen the administration not be willing to address the high cost of health insurance and do those things that will bring prices down. Earlier today I offered a unanimous consent request to increase the minimum wage $1.50 an hour so 7 million people, a large share of them women with children who are working for the minimum wage and trying to make it and don't have health insurance, paying their child care every day, trying to make it, trying to do what we are asking them to do in this country, could get a raise. It was objected to by colleagues. So we are seeing the people who earn the least can't get a raise. The administration won't support 7 million folks getting a raise. They want to take overtime away from the folks who are already working, not wanting to deal with those who are out of work with unemployment, not wanting to level the playing field so we can keep our manufacturers here and keep those good-paying jobs.
Over and over again, we see efforts that block what we need to turn this number around of 3 million jobs lost and counting.
That is the reality of what is happening. Frankly, I am disappointed we are not willing to spend time. If we are going to ask people to stay up all night and the staff to be here and so on, let's address something that affects them and their families and everyone who is listening and watching, and that is how we move this economy forward, how we protect manufacturing, how we support our businesses large and small, and our workers working harder and harder every day just to make ends meet, so we can make sure the quality of life and standard of living we want for our families is maintained in this country.
We are the greatest country in the world. But we are truly in crisis, I believe, as it relates to what is happening in our economy and with our manufacturing sector.
Let me take an opportunity to read a few more of the letters I get every day, unfortunately, from the people of Michigan. A letter that says: I have never written to a Michigan Senator before, but for me, now is the time. You see, I am one of the discouraged unemployed in Michigan. After over a year of fruitless searching for a nonexistent job in my field as a CAD designer, I have given up. It breaks my heart to leave the field I love. I must just ask you this: Where are all the automotive engineering jobs? Is it true that we in Michigan have lost much of our employment base as it relates to engineering through outsourcing? I know many colleagues who are also out of work and many who have left the field altogether, as I am contemplating. I just want you to know how one of your constituents is feeling about the employment situation here in Michigan.
Of the 3 million jobs that have been lost, over 2.5 million of them are in manufacturing. These are jobs that pay well, that bring health care with them, that bring a pension, that create middle-class America, those folks who can buy the houses and the cars-we want them to all buy them American made-who buy the boats and the snowmobiles and the cottage up north, who send the kids to college and believe in the American dream: that if you work hard, you can be successful in this country and you will have the opportunity to have the dignity of work.
From Union City, MI: I am writing this letter because there seems to be some confusion about our economy. Our government seems to think that a tax cut will help but I don't think so. Since the year 2000, there has been over 3 million manufacturing jobs that have been lost, gone to China. My wife and I own a small machine shop in Union City, Michigan. At one time we had 7 employees. Now my wife, my son and myself are all that is left. Most of the time we don't even have enough work for ourselves. I have watched as many of my friends and competitors have gone out of business and just closed their doors or filed bankruptcy. While we fight the war on terrorism, if we are not careful, we will lose a much bigger war to the rest of the world without a shot being fired.
From Clyde, MI: My husband, a 25-year mechanical engineer, designer of automotive special machines, has been laid off for seven months. The company he worked for was bought by Fiat and within two years, began outsourcing the engineering to countries such as Bosnia where engineers will work for $6 an hour. Our workers can't compete with that obviously. The engineering department is now closed completely, everything is outsourced. He is 55, laid off, 2½ weeks short of his retirement, vesting at 100 percent, can't draw Social Security, and has been unable to find work. The market is flooded with engineers because outsourcing is happening all over. I work two jobs and a third when I can get the work. If we want to maintain the quality of our environment and keep our families fed, we need legislation to address the inequities in manufacturing standards globally, balancing tariffs, something. Our workers can't compete with the salaries outsourcing provides from other countries but for which foreign workers can maintain their own standard of living.
Again, I have received letter after letter after letter saying the same kinds of things. I also receive letters from furniture makers. I have had the opportunity to be in Grand Rapids, MI, and talk with furniture makers who have lost their contracts to Chinese contractors or subcontracting has moved over to China. They say: Well, it is because they can't compete. It is just the way the economy works.
Well, no, it is not. China manipulates their currency and it amounts to about a 40 percent tax on goods and services we send to China. They are not playing by the rules. They don't play by the rules. Why aren't we standing up for us? My constituents are saying: What about us? What about our jobs? We appreciate the fact that four people who wanted to be promoted as judges have not had the opportunity to do that. One hundred sixty-eight, yes; four, no.
But I hear from people representing this 3 million people saying: What about us? What about a marathon for us? What about spending time on the floor debating solutions that will create jobs for the people in this country that represent the majority who believe in this country, who work hard every day, who want to work hard, who want the dignity and respect of work? They don't want a handout. They want to work. They are finding their jobs are leaving, and they need our help.
Our manufacturers, large and small, and the people who work for them, need our help. They are asking us to work on a bipartisan basis. These folks are not Democrats or Republicans. They are Americans. They are Michigan citizens. They are asking us to turn our focus to those families, those people in our country who need our help. What we do is always about values and priorities-always. It is always about values and priorities.
I believe this debate is about misplaced priorities and we need to return to what is most important in the precious hours we have here and the time we have to get something done for the American people, because there is a lot at stake, including the quality of our way of life as a country. We cannot afford to lose our manufacturing base. We cannot afford to lose the middle class of this country, which has made us strong. If we are not careful, that is exactly what is going to happen.
I call on my colleagues to spend this time on how we move forward and take this number of 3 million jobs down to 2 million and to 1 million and get it down to zero, because that is the number that truly counts for all of us.
Thank you, Mr. President.