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Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

SAFE, ACCOUNTABLE, FLEXIBLE, AND EFFICIENT TRANSPORTATION EQUITY ACT OF 2003

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I thank Chairman Shelby and Senator Sarbanes for their bold transit proposal that is before us. Throughout this process, they have been resolute in their defense of mass transit and the result is the proposal that benefits cities across this country. Simply put, mass transit, subways, commuter rail, and rapid transit is the lifeblood of metropolitan economies. We cannot expect our cities to remain the enormous economic engines they are today unless we make the critical investments.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors recently released a study that shows U.S. metropolitan areas have accounted for 87 percent of the Nation's economic growth and have generated over 85 percent of the economic output, labor, income, and jobs over the past 10 years. Eighty-seven percent of the Nation's economic growth was from the cities.

When we consider statistics like these, I think my colleagues will agree this Senate should invest in transportation resources in a manner that benefits America's metropolitan areas.

I am particularly happy to report that the package crafted by Senators SHELBY and SARBANES does just that, and all of us in the Senate are truly in their debt.

On another matter, I strongly support the Public Safety Employer and Employee Cooperation Act amendment. I commend my colleague of the HELP Committee, Chairman JUDD GREGG, for sponsoring the Public Safety Employer and Employee Cooperation Act, and for offering it as an amendment on this bill. I am a cosponsor on this bill which was reported out of the committee last fall. We are joined by 25 other sponsors of the Senate, including a number of our Republican colleagues.

Our public safety workers play a tremendous role in protecting our communities and families. I remember the extraordinary courage we saw among those rescue workers, among those firefighters, and among those police officers on September 11 in 2001. They entered those burning buildings, risking their lives, and after the buildings fell, they raised an American flag amid the ruins. That image captures perfectly what these brave men and women do. They not only protect homes and our lives, they represent the very best that is in us. The courage and the sacrifice of ordinary working Americans is our Nation's greatest strength.

We were prepared to call on these men and women on 9/11, and they answered the call. It is time to honor them-to honor their service and their sacrifice-by giving them collective bargaining rights.

For more than 60 years, collective bargaining has enabled labor and management to work together to improve job conditions and to increase productivity. These productive relationships also help workers to obtain better wages, better health benefits and pension benefits.

Collective bargaining in the public sector, once controversial, is now widely accepted. It has been common at least since 1962 when President Kennedy signed an executive order granting these basic rights to Federal employees. Indeed, over 30 States already recognize bargaining rights for these employees. Unfortunately, public safety employees in many States still lack the right to bargain collectively. They lack a voice on the job. By giving them this voice, we will not only help these brave workers, but we will also increase the safety and effectiveness of our public services.

This amendment guarantees the fundamental rights necessary for collective bargaining-the right to form and join a union, the right to bargain over working conditions, and the right to legally enforceable contracts.

The benefits of this legislation are clear and compelling. First, this amendment will improve public safety. Our firefighters and police officers are better equipped than anyone else to know how to improve our public safety.

As the former president of the Fraternal Order of Police testified at a congressional hearing in 2000: "Public safety service is delivered by rank-and-file officers. Therefore, it is their observations and experience which will best refine the delivery of service. To exclude them from having any input relating to their job, particularly when their lives are on the line, is not only unfair to the officers, but the public they are sworn to protect."

Unfortunately, many public safety officers do not have this right today. They risk their jobs when they speak out about working conditions that are a danger to themselves and the public. Take, for example, the firefighters in Springdale, Arkansas, who testified to the city council about the need for better equipment in staffing. He was fired for insubordination. Or the firefighters in Odessa, Texas, who set up a Web site and newsletter publicizing the fire department's failure to provide them protective masks in the case of a chemical attack and were interrogated and disciplined for their actions.

There are too many examples like this of public safety workers who see inadequate staffing and equipment, placing themselves and the public at risk, who do not have the right to bargain to change the problems in a contract. Our public safety employees know best what is needed to keep us safe. Under this amendment they would have the right to negotiate these workplace conditions with cities and towns they serve. This will lead to greater cooperation, improved labor-management relations, and better service.

One example of this success can be found right here with the Capitol Police. When the Capitol Police were granted collective bargaining rights, their contract provided for a joint labor-management relations committee to review police practices, equipment, and officers' safety. As a result of these discussions, the United States Capitol Police were given greater access to body armor and upgraded weapons. Over a year before September 11, 2001, our officers were already aware of the need for increased security in the Capitol buildings, something we are reminded of every day, particularly this week.

Collective bargaining is also more cost effective. A study by the International Association of Firefighters shows some States and municipalities that have given firefighters the right to discuss workplace issues have lower fire department budgets than States without such laws.

Not only would collective bargaining benefit the public, it would help these employees who do so much to protect us. Every year more than 15,000 police officers and 75,000 firefighters are injured on the job. On average, 160 police officers and nearly 100 firefighters die in the line of duty each year. This amendment gives these workers the opportunity to discuss the on-the-job safety concerns with the management. It would also give workers a chance to improve their wages and benefits.

Public safety employees without collective bargaining rights are often paid less than their representative counterparts. In some of these States, it is not unheard of for firefighters to earn less than $18,400, the Federal poverty level for a family of four. Many of these workers have to pay for their own health insurance. This costs thousands of dollars a year they cannot afford.

Some of my colleagues have previously expressed concern that this legislation affects States rights and public safety. This amendment would preserve States rights. Each State would maintain and administer its own collective bargaining law. States would have the ability to decide how they want to provide the collective bargaining rights. Indeed, the majority of the States already meet the amendment's criteria.

This amendment also recognizes the importance of community security. I strongly believe our police officers and firefighters will always act to protect the safety of the public first. However, in order to ensure there is no possible risk to this, this amendment expressly prohibits the right to strike. My colleagues should, therefore, have no concern that this would in any way compromise the safety of our cities and our neighborhoods.

The Federal Government recognized the right to collective bargaining more than 60 years ago. Public safety workers are one of the largest sectors of the workplace who do not yet have that basic right. Our Nation's police officers, firefighters, and emergency rescue workers have earned that right. I urge my colleagues to give them that right by supporting this amendment.

MEDICARE

Mr. President, on another matter, the administration is robbing the Medicare Program to finance the Bush reelection campaign. That is wrong. Today, we call on the Comptroller General of the United States to investigate the legality, propriety, and accuracy of this unprecedented and improper use of taxpayers' money. The Washington Post describes the ads the Bush administration is running as designed to build public support for the new Medicare prescription drug law, seeking to counteract Democratic criticism that changes to the program will harm older Americans.

The $12.6 million of Medicare money the Bush administration will spend on these ads is on top of the $10 million they plan to spend on a deceptive mailing to all 40 million Medicare beneficiaries touting the new law. There is no purpose for these advertisements except to convince senior citizens the Medicare bill is good for them. They are nothing more than propaganda for the Bush reelection campaign, using $23 million of senior citizens' own Medicare money.

The merits of the new law are a legitimate subject for political debate. Democrats intend to keep talking about this issue all the way to November. We will be fighting to rewrite this deeply flawed and destructive bill. President Bush will be claiming credit for it, defending it, as he did in the State of the Union Message. He is entitled to do that. But he is not entitled to use senior citizens' own money, the taxpayers' own money, to sell this bill like a car or a cake of soap so the President can improve his fading chances of reelection.

For those who have not seen the advertisement, it features actors pretending to be Medicare beneficiaries. Every question the actors ask is answered with a variant of a simple-minded slogan which is shown throughout the advertisement: Same Medicare, more benefits.

The advertising campaign is managed-listen to this-the advertising campaign is managed by the same firm that works for the Bush reelection campaign and for the drug industry. If there is anyone who thinks the sole purpose of these ads is not to promote President Bush's reelection, they must come from another planet, maybe Mars.

There is a lot the ads and mailings do not tell the senior citizens because the Bush administration understandably does not want them to know the facts of the new law. Its bland assurance that the elderly can keep their Medicare does not tell them the administration's own estimates project over $50 billion in excess payments to Medicare HMOs in order to prevent Medicare from competing on a level playing field and ultimately privatizing the whole program.

It does not tell them up to 6 million senior citizens will be forced into a vast demonstration program that will require them to pay higher premiums if they want to keep their Medicare.

It does not tell them if the insurance company offering the drug benefit in their area charges a premium that is too high or does not cover the drugs doctors prescribe, the only way they can get the drug benefit is to leave regular Medicare and join an HMO or other private insurance plan. It does not tell them that.

There is a lot more this ad leaves out. It does not tell senior citizens the bill has provided over $100 billion in windfall profits for the pharmaceutical companies and that the Government is prohibited from negotiating better prices for senior citizens.

It does not tell them almost 3 million senior citizens will lose good retirement coverage and be forced into the inadequate Government program.

It does not tell them if they are poor and on Medicaid they will have to pay more for drugs they need and have less access to the drugs their doctor prescribes.

It does not tell them if they wait a year or two and see how the program turns out before they join it, they have to pay higher premiums. In fact, it does not even tell them they will have to pay a premium.

It does not tell them they are prohibited from using their own money to buy supplemental coverage to fill in the gaps in the inadequate Medicare benefit.

It does not tell senior citizens the Bush administration misrepresented to their own party and to the American people the costs of the bill.

The more senior citizens learn about this program, the angrier they become. I predict when they learn this misleading ad, designed to help the President's reelection campaign, is paid for by their own Medicare money, they are going to be even angrier.

UNEMPLOYMENT

Finally, I bring to the attention of the Senate an excellent report, the Economic Policy Institute report that talks about the wage and salary income for workers in this country. It is an ominous report and is something all Members who have been traveling around our States certainly have found out in talking to any of the workers.

I ask unanimous consent to have the document printed.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

[From the Economic Policy Institute Economic Snapshots, Feb. 4, 2004]

WAGE AND SALARY INCOME YET TO SHARE IN GROWTH

The Department of Commerce's advance release on gross domestic product (GDP) estimated that the U.S. economy grew 4% in the last quarter of 2003. This is a solid growth number, although well off the extraordinarily high (and unsustainable) 8.2% rate of the third quarter. However, the rise in GDP has not yet translated into higher wages and salaries for many U.S. workers.

Despite solid GDP growth in the second half of 2003, many Americans continue to rate addressing the economy and jobs as the nation's highest priority. One possible reason for this continued anxiety in the face of rising GDP is shown in the figure below: the current recovery remains the single worst on record in terms of generating the real (inflation-adjusted) growth in wages and salary income that is the economic lifeblood of most American families.

In the 25 months since the recession ended, total wage and salary income is up only 0.4%. It should be emphasized that this is growth after the recession ended and does not include income losses incurred while the economy was contracting. This is the slowest wage and salary growth of any recession since 1959, the first year in which monthly data on total wage and salary income is consistently available.

Wage and salary income after the previous five recessions was an average of 9.4% higher by this point in the recovery. Prior to this recovery, the worst post-recession spell for wage and salary growth was the last jobless recovery of the early 1990s, which still saw wage and salary income rising nine times faster (3.6%) than in the past 25 months. The current slow growth of wages and salaries means that many U.S. workers are not reaping the benefits of the recent GDP growth.

Mr. KENNEDY. This is the first time in over 50 years that long-term joblessness has reached such high rates. Mr. President, 22.3 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for more than 6 months. Without workers being offered any Federal job benefits, every week 90,000 workers are running out of unemployment benefits.

In the Senate, we have tried more than a dozen times to extend the unemployment benefits to ensure that those workers can continue to support their families while they look for a job. More than a dozen times our Republican colleagues have said no.

The White House has been silent on the issue claiming "mission accomplished" on the economy while millions of Americans remain out of work. The Bush economy continues to create only one job for every three people out of work.

But yesterday we finally had some good news. Our colleagues in the House recognized the unemployment crisis and voted, 227 to 179-including 39 Republicans-to reinstate the Federal unemployment benefits for 6 months. Workers have paid into the unemployment insurance trust fund. The trust fund is now $17 billion. The extension would cost $6 billion to $7 billion. This is a matter of fairness.

In December, only 1,000 new jobs were created. Tomorrow we will find out how many jobs were created in January. I hope it is good news. But I can assure you right now, it will not be enough to restore the 2.4 million jobs lost under President Bush or enough to ensure that every worker who wants a job can have one.

That is why we need to reinstate the unemployment benefits. Americans are suffering. They are struggling to pay their mortgages and keep food on their families' tables.

If the House of Representatives can accept this, in a bipartisan way, with 39 Republicans, you would think we would be able to accept it and not have it continually blocked.

I will just show a chart. This chart shows the average number of out-of-work Americans running out of unemployment benefits without finding a job from 1973 to 2003. For 30 years it has averaged 151,000. In January of this year, 375,000. Our Republican friends refuse-absolutely refuse-to permit the continued help and assistance which those workers have paid into the unemployment compensation fund, which today is $17 billion in surplus.

The House of Representatives has accepted it. Thirty-nine Republicans went along with it. I wait, as many of our colleagues, for the amendment that will be offered by our friend and colleague, a leader on this issue, Senator Cantwell, who will offer that amendment; and it will give an opportunity for the Senate to address this issue.

But I also point out-I see my leader in the Chamber-the Economic Policy Institute, on February 4, issued a presentation of which I cite a chart entitled "Real growth in wages and salaries, 25 months since recession's end." They go back to 1961, 1970, 1975, 1982, 1991, and 2001. In the 25 months since the recession ended, wages and salaries have only grown 0.4 percent. It is the lowest in the history of any economic recovery that has ever been recorded.

Mr. REID. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. KENNEDY. I am glad to yield.

Mr. REID. I had to step off the floor, but I did come back and heard part of the Senator's statement regarding Medicare.
It is true, is it not, that the taxpayers of this country are paying for political advertisements to talk about how good the bad Medicare package is? Is that true?

Mr. KENNEDY. Well, the Senator is absolutely correct. A total of $23 million will be money that is paid in for our seniors. It is taking that money that was to be used for the protection of our seniors, and it says $12 million-$6 million will be spent on the television. That is on top of the $10 million that will be done for a mailing to all 40 million Medicare beneficiaries. The ad house that is handling this is in charge of the Bush administration's reelection campaign.

Mr. REID. May I ask another question.

Mr. KENNEDY. Please.

Mr. REID. So the Senator is saying, not only are taxpayers' dollars being spent to promote a bad Medicare program, but that the advertising is being done by the President's own reelection media team?

Mr. KENNEDY. The Senator is absolutely right. I know the Senator is in disbelief of the gall the administration would have to take $23 million out of Medicare to use it with their own ad agency for mailings to 40 million seniors and to use on the airwaves in support of a bill and in misrepresenting the bill itself.

I took a moment of time to show how the ad itself is so misrepresentative of what is in the bill. But the Senator is correct.

Mr. REID. Will the Senator yield for one other question?

Mr. KENNEDY. Yes.

Mr. REID. Is it also true that in the mailings and the television they do not bother to tell what is going to happen after the election that takes place in November with Medicare? Because I believe-and think the Senator from Massachusetts believes-most of the bad stuff happening in this bill comes after the election. Is that true?

Mr. KENNEDY. The Senator is quite correct, although he is not entirely correct. The bonuses that are going to the HMOs-some $12 billion now will go to the HMOs to treat any person who would qualify for Medicare. They will get a 25-percent bonus over Medicare with direct subsidies, which is not a level playing field, of which we hear so much from the other side, but direct subsidies. Those subsidies start in March of this year.

So you are right, the benefits are way down the road. The benefits that will affect the poorest of the poor are going to be after 2006. But the payoffs, the bonuses to the HMOs of $12 billion will start in March. In fact, the Administration's own internal estimates, that were kept secret from the American people, and have just been released, indicate that the payoffs will be more than $50 billion.

So I thank the Senator.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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