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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 - Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - July 31, 2008)

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Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, a little earlier this afternoon, our leader came to the floor with colleagues and offered six different opportunities for the Senate to bring before it bills that include responsible drilling, investments in alternatives, investments in areas that will create jobs right away, which relate to my great State of Michigan, which is investing immediately in advanced battery technology research and development and retooling our plants for the new vehicles, which will create, within 2 years--not 15 years--changes that will allow us to move aggressively to hybrids and plug-in automobiles. We saw legislation put forward to deal with energy speculation and what is going on in the marketplaces.

Each of those times, there was an objection to even moving ahead to consider those bills. Twice this week, we have tried to move forward on tax incentives for production, for alternative energy, and other options that will get us off foreign oil and bring down gas prices for good.

Each time there were objections. In the month of June, two other times--we can go back a year--objection, objection, objection.

Frankly, people watching the Senate get sick of this because they want action. They want something to be done. The question is: Who benefits by this blocking continually, by this stopping of us moving forward to alternatives to compete with oil companies or to tackle oil speculation or windfall profits tax proposals that would require you to pay an extra tax if you don't reinvest in alternatives or in drilling in America to create more supply? Who would benefit by these things?

I think it is very clear from the announcement in the paper today. Today ExxonMobil reported second quarter profits of $11.68 billion, the highest ever for an American company. It did that last month--the last quarter: highest profits ever--ever--ever for an American company. All together, since President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, two oilmen, have been in the White House over the last 8 years, all together ExxonMobil has reached $212 billion in profits. That is a lot of zeroes: $212 billion in profits.

I wonder who benefits from the inability of the Senate to get agreement to move to bills that would create competition with this company or deal with oil speculation or deal with other policies that would hold them accountable? It is right here. It is right here. This is very clear. As my kids say, it is as clear as the nose on your face of what this is all about. This is about an oil company agenda that has run wild for 8 years, and the American people are paying a huge price. Our economy is paying a huge price.

Along with ExxonMobil, Shell has also reported profits of $11.56 billion, bringing their grand total since this administration took office to over $157 billion. The total combined net profits of the big five oil companies since President Bush and DICK CHENEY took office are upwards of $641 billion.

What have they done with those profits? Well, oil companies have spent $188 billion in stock buy-backs and other spending, rather than investing it in supply here at home and abroad. We have heard so many times on this floor that there are 68 million acres available right now for exploration that are not being used. I have supported responsible drilling as part of the solution. We know there is no silver bullet, but we also know we have to be aggressively moving to the future and not stuck in what is an oil company agenda for this country.

We also know we are in a global marketplace. Nobody knows that more than the people in my great State of Michigan. We are competing in a global economy. So that as there is supply created, as there is drilling, it goes into the global marketplace. If they drill in Alaska, it goes to China. To add insult to injury, we don't even know where the oil will be going.

However, here is what we do know: In February of this year, according to the Department of Energy, shipments outside this country were 1.8 million barrels a day--1.8 million barrels a day. Overall, in the first 4 months of this year, the shipments of American oil outside this country--drilling here, going somewhere else in the world--were up 33 percent.

So clearly, the great oilman who has been all over our television sets, T. Boone Pickens, is right. We are not going to drill our way out of this in a global economy where you can drill here and it can go anywhere to the highest bidder.

Here is also what we know: We know we have to get extremely serious--and quickly--about those things that will make a difference, such as bringing accountability to the energy markets and addressing speculation, and focusing aggressively on those areas that will give us real alternatives and competition for these guys who have been doing so well.

To add insult to injury, we take a look at the other ways in which this industry has received so many benefits from this administration. Eighteen months ago, we heard in the New York Times that the Bush administration was allowing oil and gas companies to forgo royalty payments. They didn't have to pay their royalty payments on leases in Federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. This decision by the Department of the Interior can cost up to $60 billion. They were supposed to make payments. Those payments were waived, for whatever reason, costing us up to $60 billion. Sixty billion dollars is the equivalent of 38 days of free gas for every American. Right now, I know a lot of folks who would take that gladly.

The reality is we have seen at every turn efforts to support this industry for the last 8 years, and where has it gotten us? Where has it gotten us?

I wish to share with my colleagues some stories of folks from Michigan in terms of where it has gotten us--not only $4 a gallon at the pump, but when we look at what has happened to real people, it is an outrage, where this 8 years of a policy that has put oil companies first has gotten us. We know that everybody is affected. The folks going to work are affected. Yesterday I read a letter from a young woman who works after school and was concerned because she takes the bus to school and now the buses are being cut because they can't afford to put gas into the schoolbuses. What an outrage in the United States of America.

Let me share today an article that was in the New York Times. Older poor people and those who are homebound are doubly squeezed by rising gas prices and food prices because they rely not just on social service agencies but also on volunteers. We have heard from our home health care agencies that do such a wonderful job in this country helping people to be able to remain at home and allowing them to receive services. In a survey of home health agencies, more than 70 percent said it was more difficult to recruit and to keep volunteers. We have heard that from Meals on Wheels. We have heard that from other kinds of volunteer programs that go into homes to help seniors, to help the disabled, to help those who need some assistance.

Let me share with my colleagues one letter. Mrs. Fair, who has limited mobility because of diabetes, lives on $642 a month of Social Security widow's benefits, and relies on care from her son who often works odd hours, especially during blueberry season. We grow a lot of blueberries, and they are terrific, they are the best, in Michigan. It says: ``You belong in a nursing home.'' This is what her son said. ``I can't take care of you.'' The delivered meals she has been receiving have allowed her to eat at normal hours which helped her control her blood sugar levels. Last year, she lost her balance during a change in blood sugar and spent a month in a nursing home. With no meal delivery in her area now, she is going to have to find someone to pick up the frozen meals from the center in the next town. She says: ``If my aide can't get the meals''--a person who has been helping her--``maybe I can get my pastor to pick them up. I can't travel even to the drop-off center.''

In Union, MI, a town among flat corn and soybean farms near the Indiana border, Bill Harman, who is 77, relies on a home health aide to take care of his wife Evelyn, who is 85 years old and she has Alzheimer's disease. Mr. Harman has had to use a wheelchair since 2000 because of hip problems. Unfortunately, the person who has been coming to their house, Katie Clark, who is 26, may have to give up her job. She lives 25 miles away and drives 700 miles a week to provide twice daily visits, helping Mrs. Harman dress in the morning, get to bed at night, feeding her, doing chores around the house, and then she laughs, saying ``putting up with a grumpy old man.'' I am sure he is not that grumpy. Her weekly income of $250 is being eaten up by gas expenses, which come to $100 a week. ``Some weeks I have to borrow money to get here,'' says Ms. Clark, a single mom of two, ``but they are just like family to me.''

For her work she receives $9 an hour and if she leaves, Mr. Harman has said he will not be able to care for his wife. He said when they married, she raised his five children as if they were her own. Mrs. Harman started to develop Alzheimer's 8 to 10 years ago. He said, ``I promised her, don't worry, I will take care of you as long as I can.'' But without a home health aide, he said, he was going to have to put his wife in a nursing home and he probably would need to live there himself.

In the greatest country in the world, we have folks who are not able to get their Meals on Wheels. They are not able to get their home health aide now. Why? Because they can't afford gas. We have school buses that can't run because they can't afford gas.

Let me share with my colleagues one other story. Sandra Prediger, who is 70 years old and who still drives a car, said higher gas prices hit her every time she needs to go to the doctor. From her senior apartment in South Haven, MI, she was barely able to pay her bills because gas prices rose. She said: ``I try to help some of the ladies around here, driving them to the doctor or to the store.'' But a round trip to her doctor or the beauty shop now costs $26 in gas. She has had to ask her friends to pay half. She said, ``I hate to ask because they have less than I do.''

Her Social Security check arrives on the 3rd of the month. For the first few days before, her local gas station lets her write a postdated check to fill up. On July 2 she had no money and owed money to the gas station and she knew that in a few minutes her friend would be calling saying, could you please take me to the store to get the meals for my diabetes. What am I going to do?

There is something wrong when we are in a situation where we have seen an agenda benefiting a special interest in this country, and in the world right now, where we have seen the highest profits in the history of the country that are creating numbers such as $641 billion in profits and we have seniors who have to write a postdated check at a gas station so they can pay for gas to get themselves and their friends to the doctor.

The reality is that to be able to change that, we have to do more than drill more so the oil companies can make more of a profit in a global economy. We have to be able to create a situation where there is competition with other kinds of alternative energies so we have more than a choice of whatever price they put up at the pump. That is what this is about. That is what the crux of this is about, because if it weren't about this, we would have a compromise. We would have a solution. If it weren't about this, there wouldn't be objections going on day after day after day to be able to take up legislation on this floor, because under normal circumstances, if there weren't this huge amount of money at stake, people would come together. If they weren't backing up these huge interests, people would be willing to come together to be able to solve this problem.

There are things we can do. I am very proud to be part of a group of people in the Democratic majority who have been working very hard to create an alternative vision for the future. Yesterday the Senate leadership, including Senator Byrd, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, laid out a jobs stimulus that we intend to bring forward for a vote in September. In there is a major investment of $300 million in advanced battery technology research and development. We are so close to having the electric vehicle on the road and mass produced. We are so close. There is work that needs to be done, but we are so close. Within 18 months to 2 years, we can have a real alternative to oil on the road.

Part of this package also includes a commitment to Americans and American jobs by helping to retool and make capital available, make credit available to companies to retool our plants for these new vehicles, so that we keep those jobs here.

Our companies are competing with countries right now. Come to China, we will build a plant for you. Come to Korea, we will build a plant for you. We want those jobs here.

I am very proud that the stimulus that has been put forward shows a commitment to American jobs and American manufacturing. I am very proud that is part of the stimulus package we will be working on and voting on in September.

Around the world, everybody else gets it that it is not just about oil and drilling. Everybody else understands. Every other country is racing to alternatives. Germany announced the great advanced battery alliance that will invest over $650 million in advanced batteries to help German automobile makers. South Korea spent over $700 million in advanced batteries and developing hybrid vehicles. We are in a race with them to get to the future, not the past. China has invested over $100 million in advanced battery research and development.

In the next 5 years, Japan will have spent $230 million on this research, as well as $278 million on hydrogen research for zero-emission fuel-cell vehicles. That is the future. That is the real competition, so when you go to the pump and look up and see that price for traditional gas, you have another choice. That is the future. We are working very hard to get us to that future. We need a White House that will help us get to that future. We need support from the other side of the aisle, not just to talk about it.

In conclusion, part of what is talked about on the other side of the aisle in terms of supporting advanced battery research is a prize. If you go out and spend all this money--and Germany spends $650 million--but if you, an individual or a business in America, figure out a way to get the capital to do this, we will give you a prize at the end. It is insulting that the presumptive Republican nominee and his colleagues on the other side of the aisle have decided to run our economy like a game show.

We have said we have to invest upfront in America, in American jobs. That is the future. That is the only way to create the opportunity for schoolbuses to be able to run, for seniors to be able to get to the doctor, for folks to be able to get home health, for folks to be able to get to a job, and to create the jobs we need in the future in advanced manufacturing.

I hope before this week is out, our colleagues will come to the floor, stop objecting, and work with us. What we know is right in front of us--what we know can be done to bring down gas prices and create jobs in America.

I yield the floor.

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