THE STATE OF THE ECONOMY -- (House of Representatives - January 16, 2008)
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Mr. YARMUTH. Mr. Speaker, will the gentleman yield?
Mr. WALZ of Minnesota. I yield to the gentleman from Kentucky.
Mr. YARMUTH. Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague and thank him for his comments and also Mr. Walz for his leadership as well.
I will say, no, the situation in Kentucky is not much different than it is anywhere else in the country, and throughout the campaign 2 years ago and before that, as I talked to people in my district and around the State of Kentucky, what I heard was the same message you have heard. You know, we're working harder and harder, we're struggling, we're doing the best we can, and yet we're falling behind. We're not making progress. Our standard of living is not getting better, not improving.
And I know that we don't want to burden the audience with too many statistics, but Mr. Walz talked about productivity, and one of the most astounding statistics I've heard recently is that 25 years ago, when there was a productivity gain in the United States, workers benefited to the tune of 70 percent of that productivity gain. So for every dollar increase in productivity, workers got 70 percent, owners got 30 percent.
In the current era, that number is down in the 20s. So while American workers are working harder and harder, most of the gain in their productivity is not going to them. It's going to owners. It's going to the corporations, and the workers working harder and harder are not getting the benefit of that.
And we're seeing it day in and day out. And not only that; we're seeing instances in which people who have worked their entire lives, because of emergencies, because of businesses going out of business, are losing their life savings.
I will never forget being at a Catholic picnic one day in 2006 and talking to a man who had worked for Winn-Dixie Corporation. He had worked 28 years for Winn-Dixie, and he had accumulated $150,000 in his retirement plan. Winn-Dixie had gone into bankruptcy. He was left with $30,000. He lost 80 percent of his life savings because of the problems inherent in his corporation, and they had not planned adequately to secure his retirement benefits.
So these have ripple effects. These are stories that are heard by relatives, by friends, by neighbors, and that increases the anxiety throughout society. And this is what I sense that we face in this country today is not just the actual fact of people's standard of living not increasing despite the fact they're working harder and harder, but their faith in the future is declining and faith in the future of their neighbors and their friends because they see the threats to them, and they say what am I working for, what am I trying so hard to accomplish.
Then we had the added specter, as I know one of our colleagues will discuss this evening, of the incredible crisis in the health care system where 50 percent of the bankruptcies that we now experience in this country are due to health care costs and people, again, who have done everything the right way and have lost everything because of bad luck of the draw. They've come down with cancer. They've come down with a serious injury that's preventing them from working.
So as we go across the entire spectrum of American society that's what we find day in and day out. I like to think of government as the way we organize our responsibilities to each other, and in this day and age we do face these very serious choices and very clear choices in how we perceive our economy and what government's role should be.
And the question is, do we reward wealth versus work? And I think this group that was elected in 2006 has a clear position on that; we want to reward work and not necessarily wealth. We want to make sure that when people work harder, they benefit. And we want to make sure that the economy is fair to everyone and works for everyone. And if we can't do that, then we don't deserve to be representing the American people because we have let them down. And I know that this group is not going to let them down; I know that's why we came here. And I'm proud to be here for that reason, and I'm not going to stop fighting as long as I'm here.
So, I thank all of you for your collegiality and all of your efforts in this behalf. We are part of a great cause for the working families in America, and I'm very proud to be a part of that.
With that, I will yield to my colleague from out west, the site of this year's Democratic convention, Mr. Perlmutter.
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Mr. YARMUTH. Thank you. One of the things that I want to follow up on what you were talking about was we were sent here to solve problems. And I think one of the reasons that we have gotten into the predicament we're in is because a lot of people in the White House and in this Congress thought that you can govern by dogma. And when people say the free market's infallible or that regulation is bad or government should get out of the way and we hear those kinds of dogmatic philosophical statements, a lot of people bought into those. And what we see time after time, and I guess we are all slow learners in this country, but what we see time after time, whether it's with the subprime mortgage, whether it's with Katrina, or in all sorts of areas, with our health care system, is that dogma doesn't do very well when the rubber meets the road. There are real facts that we have to deal with.
So we come here, and I know a lot of people, when we try to suggest that the disparity between rich and poor has gotten too great or that corporations have too much power, think we are playing at class war or we are trying to pit one part of society against the other. And that's not at all what we're doing. And I hope the audience has understood that everybody tonight has talked about fairness and, dare I say it, balance, and we are talking about the fact that in this country over the last couple of decades the economic pendulum has swung way too far to one side. And the marketplace works where there is some kind of balance in power, and now there is no balance in power because the rules are all stacked against every working American.
So we're not trying to say that corporations are evil. I don't think anybody would say that, or that the rich are evil and that they don't care about the working class. But we have a situation in which that pendulum needs to be moved back to the point where everybody shares in the growth of this country.
So as I look at this group, all of whom are committed to solving problems and not necessarily to advancing a dogma, I think that's what the American people expect us to do and I think that's what we are going to continue to work to do.
I would like to yield to my distinguished colleague and friend from Vermont (Mr. Welch).
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Mr. YARMUTH. I would just like to add as maybe a closing remark that one of the things in the area of dogma we talk about, or cliches, we want government out of our lives. Everybody hates government until they need government. That is from the richest to the poorest. We know there's a lot of subsidy to the wealthiest people, the wealthiest corporations. They say they don't like government, but they are always coming here to ask for help when it suits them.
This is one of those times when everyone needs government in this country. Everyone needs the stimulus that we are about to try to provide. It's the right thing, it's the smart thing, and it's the moral thing to do. I think that if we can convince enough people on the other side of the aisle, we will strike a great victory for this country and for the American people. I look forward to doing that in the next couple of weeks.