NEW DIRECTION FOR ENERGY INDEPENDENCE, NATIONAL SECURITY, AND CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT AND THE RENEWABLE ENERGY AND ENERGY CONSERVATION TAX ACT OF 2007--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - February 29, 2008)
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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, in listening to my friend from Missouri who just spoke, I was surprised that this is all being debated now in the context of the fact that yesterday our Republican colleagues stopped us from proceeding to the very measure everyone is now talking about and wanting to make changes and improvements to. There are ideas my friend from Missouri talked about that I think are worthy of discussion and debate. Some we may very well support.
The reality is that we are here today because colleagues on the other side of the aisle stopped us from even proceeding to have a debate. So it seems to me it is a little disingenuous to say we want to be doing all these measures--and we agree there is an incredible sense of urgency about what is happening now to families--yet, at the same time, rather than proceeding to the bill and offering amendments, such as an amendment to remove a provision if there is concern on bankruptcy on which I happen to disagree--I think it is very difficult to explain to people why their vacation home, which I hope to have some day in beautiful northern Michigan, would be covered by bankruptcy provisions, but my home, my primary residence where my children grew up, where I raised my family, would not be protected. So I do not understand that difference. That is a debate worth having. If our colleagues had allowed us to go to the bill, we could have had that discussion, we could have had that debate about whether that provision should be in the bill.
I come to the floor today to urge colleagues--and Senator Reid has renewed his motion to go to the bill--we cannot begin to deal with an issue which colleagues are saying on both side s of the aisle is incredibly important, which has a great sense of urgency to it, if we are not allowed to go to the bill.
This reminds me of time after time in the Senate where we as a majority have brought forward urgent issues that affect American families and American communities and asked that they be considered, that we have an opportunity to debate and take action, and we have been blocked time and time again--in fact, a record 72 times now, which is more than the 2-year average of any Senate 2-year session. We now have 72 times that our Republican colleagues have blocked us from being able to proceed to do the American people's business on issues that are incredibly important.
I welcome colleagues to come to the floor next week, to support Senator Reid's motion to go to the debate, and to look at a variety of ideas that need to be addressed on this critical issue.
We all know that for a majority of Americans--Mr. President, I know in West Virginia as in Michigan--when folks want to get into the middle class, the first thing they do is go out and buy a home, to have that equity in a home, to be able to save equity in their home--no more renting; they are going to buy a house. I know in Michigan that is step 1 for people who are working very hard to get that home for their family, to be able to save for the future. That is the primary way that people, in fact, in this country do save for their future: build up that equity so they can use it to offset the cost of college for their children, to save for retirement, to use it in a medical emergency, which is happening way too often now in our country.
Equity in the home, knowing that you can invest and have your home, is a basic part of what we all call the American dream in this country, and that is in great jeopardy right now for too many families.
Mr. President, 87,000 people went into foreclosure in this last year just in Michigan, and we have one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country right now. That has happened for a variety of reasons. We talk a lot about the financial mortgage arrangements, ARMs--adjustable rate mortgages--that are coming due and interest rates going up. That is certainly part of it. We also have another piece that is very true in Michigan and my guess is around the country that relates to predatory lending practices.
I have a very large number of great Michiganians who are African American or from other minority communities who could be in a prime-rate mortgage right now but were sold a subprime mortgage . They were put into a much more fragile situation with less accountability.
We know of situations where senior citizens have been followed home from church in Detroit, forming relationships with our seniors where they have been talked into totally refinancing their home. They paid for their house, had no mortgage payment, but were told that if they wanted to refinance, they could get that new furnace they needed, they could fix the roof, or they could pay for those medical bills, and they were placed in a situation through predatory practices that has now jeopardized their ability to even have their home.
Then we have another factor which I believe is the largest factor going on right now, which is the underlying fundamentals in the economy and the fact that too many people are losing their jobs or seeing their incomes go down. Certainly, for us in Michigan, it is different than these ARMs resetting. For us, it is about the fact that families are losing their jobs. Families are going from a middle-in come job of $25 an hour to $14 an hour and trying to figure out how they are going to pay the bills and keep a roof over the heads of their family.
I happen to believe the best stimulus is a good-paying job, and that is something also of great urgency on which we need to be spending our time. I am very proud of the fact that as we move forward in the next 2 weeks in the discussion of our values and priorities through the budget for next year, they will be laser focused on jobs and what we can do to help people keep and get the American dream by working hard and having a job and creating opportunities for themselves and their families.
We have in front of us the opportunity to do something immediately to help people. We have a bill that includes a number of provisions. Some of them the President talked about in his State of the Union Address. That is a good idea; we incorporated it.
We are talking about adding to the number of preforeclosure counseling offices. We have heard from lenders, we have heard from families and communities that the most important thing is to help people before they lose their house, before they are 90 days behind, when someone thinks they might be having a problem, or they know in 6 months they are going to be faced with this situation of their payments going up--start now and work with lenders.
We also know that most people--not most but many--do not answer the phone when the lender calls. They are worried about what is going to happen and do not think they have any way out , so they just wait. By helping people with counseling, we can stop a lot of this on the front end and help people refinance. For people trying to do that, it is tougher now because we have this complicated situation going on where they go to a lender, they get their mortgage, and that loan is then sold, and they don't know who owns it.
So who do you talk to when you are trying to figure out how to make some accommodation to refinance? So, having counselors will help.
We put money in the budget this year because it was a priority for our majority, adding $200 million to help people on the front end, so they could work their way out of this. That is very important. Also, we allow State housing agencies to issue $10 billion more in refinancing bonds so State and local communities can help refinance homes. That is incredibly important, and something that ha s been widely supported on both sides of the aisle.
We also have said that community development block grant money should be able to be used to purchase and rehab foreclosed properties, again, to help communities. We have to stop this. We have to stop this where it is. I think we can help create some certainty in the markets by helping families right now and creating also some confidence in the markets going forward. That can be done by using the CDBG dollars for communities to refinance and help families stay in their homes.
Also, in a balanced approach, we have addressed what is happening on the business side for home builders. We agreed to include in our original package in the Senate--with the help of our distinguished Presiding Officer on the Finance Committee, one of our top leaders on the Finance Committee--a tax issue, net operating loss, to allow home builders to go back a couple of years to a better time and address some of their issues so there is not the pressure to sell their inventory, the unsold homes at the moment, and allow them a little breathing time. We have included that in this provision as well to support the industry itself. This is a very balanced package that took the input of the leadership on the Banking Committee and the Finance Committee which looked at proposals that were bipartisan--by the President, by a number of people--that had brought forward something that will help. We don't pretend it is a magic bullet. I wish there were one; I don't think there is. But it is a very reasonable approach that has been put forward.
So here we are. We have this situation where colleagues now on the other side of the aisle, the leader on the other side of the aisle, comes forward with a package and says, this is what we want to do; we need to be able to pass these measures. Yet he has blocked us from even getting to the housing issue, to the bill itself. He has blocked us from getting there.
I have to say, this reminds me of one other issue that is very related, and certainly is critical for me in Michigan, that has also been blocked time and time again, and which was a part of our original stimulus package we did in the Senate, of which I am very proud. I think it was a very good proposal, and I was proud of the work we did. In that proposal, we did something else that is very important right now for middle-class workers and families. We extended unemployment compensation benefits for families. It is viewed as one of the top two ways to stimulate the economy.
If you are unemployed, you are going to take every dollar that comes in the door to pay the mortgage, to keep the lights on, the heat on, pay for food, and do the things you need to do for your family. We know it is stimulative. We also know, from a moral standpoint, it is the right thing to do to help families. That has been blocked as well. I see them related because we now have people who have been unemployed for longer periods of time than they ever wanted to be and who are in these situations. Maybe to keep going they did a home equity loan, and now that is not working and they find themselves in a situation of foreclosure. One of the ways we can help on housing is to give people some stability in their income.
I heard colleagues, when we debated this on the other side of the aisle, saying, well, it is encouraging people not to work. I would love to have the President or the Secretary of the Treasury or colleagues come, if they have not talked to folks in their own State, to Michigan and talk to folks who want desperately to work, and are working at very minimal wage jobs right now to try to keep going.
Nationally, we know there are 7.7 million unemployed people today who are competing for 4 million jobs, which is why I say the best long-term stimulus is a good-paying job. I am glad our budget is going to focus on jobs, but the reality is we want to help stabilize families right now because there are hundreds of thousands of people--millions, actually--in a situation where extending unemployment benefits for 13 weeks, and an additional 13 weeks for high unemployment areas, is exactly what needs to happen. I hope we are going to address that as part of what we are doing here as well.
In 2002, there was an extension of unemployment benefits, and the national unemployment rate is roughly the same right now. It was 5 percent then, and it is nationally 4.9 now. We hear from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and from Goldman Sachs that by the beginning of next year the national rate is going to be 6 1/2 percent--6 1/2 percent nationally. I am in a unique situation because I will take that. Our rate right now is 7.6 percent in Michigan, so I would take 6 1/2 percent. The reality is we are seeing a dramatic rise in unemployment, and more and more families are going to find themselves in a situation of not being able to pay the mortgage, not being able to do what they need to do for their families.
I think this is a fundamental issue for families--for middle-class families. We are talking about people who work and who find themselves in a situation, because of a multitude of issues--where the job is not there anymore--where they need help to continue to keep their family together, and keeping their house is incredibly important. I have 72,000 people in Michigan who are scheduled to lose their unemployment benefits by June. I have over 10,000 people a month who are losing their unemployment benefits, and we don't have the jobs for them. This is incredibly serious.
So I am, one more time, asking my Republican colleagues not to block that when it comes to the floor. It is a very important part of the economic picture for people, and it is time for us to get about the business of fixing the economy, of supporting efforts that are going on in the economy for businesses, for individuals, for families, and for communities. There is a great sense of urgency that we need to have, because that is what families feel every single day. I am hopeful that when Senator Reid brings the next motion in front of us to be able to go to a b ill to deal with housing, colleagues will have that same sense of urgency and join us in being able to do that.
Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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