NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009--MOTION TO PROCEED--Continued -- (Senate - August 01, 2008)
Mr. HATCH. Mr. President, what is the parliamentary state?
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senate is on the motion to proceed to S. 3001, with Senators permitted to speak for up to 10 minutes.
Mr. HATCH. Thank you, Mr. President.
Will the Chair please let me know when 9 minutes has expired.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator will be notified.
UNITED STATES ECONOMY
Mr. HATCH. Mr. President, yesterday the Government released the second quarter performance of the U.S. economy, and I am sorry to say the report looks dismal. I, along with the rest of Americans, am outraged that Congress will depart shortly for a 5-week recess without addressing the most pressing issue of this Congress: our ailing economy and in particular energy.
During this past month, we have passed bills to provide $50 billion for support of international programs to combat HIV/AIDS, for Medicare, and to improve FISA. This past week, we finally passed a bill that addresses a sector of our economy by revamping Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I certainly believe we can and should have done more than that.
In November of 2006, my party lost the majority in Congress, in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate. The Democrats ran on a platform of change, what they called ``A New Direction For America.'' The Democrats pledged to push forward a 100-hour agenda that touted a change in ethics, an increase in the minimum wage, and a rollback in subsidies for the oil and gas industry. Look where that ``direction'' has led us. The price of energy has skyrocketed, the housing market has deteriorated, and the unemployment rate is on the rise. Across the Nation, we are feeling the effects of the crumbling economy. Yesterday, Bennigans and Steak & Ale restaurants have filed for bankruptcy, and Starbucks has recently announced the closing of 600 stores across America. It is time for the majority to wake up and smell the coffee.
Viewing this chart, it is no wonder why the congressional approval ratings are at an alltime low, at 12 percent. Congressional approval: 12 percent. Congress has failed to act when Americans need it the most.
At the end of 2006, when the Republicans controlled Congress, the average retail price of regular unleaded gasoline, according to the Energy Information Administration, was $2.59. Look where it is today.
In June of this year, the average price of regular unleaded gasoline hit an average of $4.06. Our friends on the other side have done absolutely nothing to address the rising costs of energy, and we are going home without having done so. We have proposed increasing the supply off our coasts, extending the expiring energy tax incentives, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil by providing alternative energy resources. The majority refuses to provide any solid bipartisan solutions because they keep insisting on their perverse let's-grow-the-Government, pay-as-you-go rules and combating the oil and gas industry as though they are the evil cause of everything. The fact is the Government does not produce one drop of oil. It does not drill one exploration well. It does not refine even 1 gallon of gasoline, and it doesn't build 1 foot of pipeline. Somehow, though, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle think every answer to dropping gas prices is more Government--more Government moratoria on drilling, more taxes on energy companies, more regulation of the commodity markets, more moratoriums on the development of oil shale, where we have somewhere between 800 billion and 2 trillion barrels of oil that can be recovered. It is doable. Estonia has been doing it for the last 80 years. Brazil has been doing it for the last three decades. We can do it, but there is a moratorium that doesn't expire until September, and now the Democrats want to put another moratorium on it--just on preparing the rules pursuant to which we can develop these vast resources that would help bring prices down. It wouldn't happen overnight, but I tell you one thing, if we went and tried to do all these things and we announced we were going to do them, I believe gas prices would automatically come down quite a bit more than they are right now.
This past week, the majority leader brought a bill to the floor to curtail oil price speculation, and while this was a start, my party tried to amend this bill to provide real solutions, ranging from expanding offshore drilling to boosting oil shale production. We were prevented from offering these various amendments, which was an opportunity to increase energy supply and to send the rest of the world a message that we are going to get serious about helping ourselves instead of sending $700 billion every year off some shore for offshore oil.
Across the Capitol, the House refuses to even bring up legislation involving offshore drilling. I do not know how I can return home to my home State of Utah and explain to constituents such as Bill Howard, a farmer who has to increase the price of his cattle and hogs to combat fuel costs, that we cannot do anything about the soaring gas prices unless it is paid for and hurts the oil and gas industry. Americans need affordable energy now.
If we look at the results of Democratic policies on job growth in our country, we are met with the same disappointment. Here is where we are. The unemployment rate in 2006 was 4.4 percent. Today it is up to 5.5 percent.
Less jobs means people spend less. When we spend less, companies start cutting back, laying off employees, and reducing employee salaries. This causes us to spend even less and the vicious economic cycle continues. We need to put more money back into the taxpayers' pockets over a long period of time in order to create a virtuous economic cycle. Among the tax extenders bill, which has failed to pass the Senate again and again, is the research tax credit. Seventy percent of research tax credit dollars are used for wages of R&D employees. That is creating jobs. I have been the champion of the R&D tax credit, along with Senator Baucus, for years.
We should provide tax relief not through economic stimulus packages or on a year-to-year basis but over a long period of time so the taxpayers can depend on this relief. That is why it is so important that when we talk about economic stimulus, we should look at solutions rather than rebate checks and bailouts, such as repealing the alternative minimum tax and making certain tax cuts permanent such as the research tax credit.
Looking toward the housing market, we still are puzzled why the majority has not provided solutions to help the economy. We have been hit hard by the housing market in my home State. St. George, in the southwestern part of Utah, and Provo, UT, were among the top ten fastest-growing metro areas in the United States between 2000 and 2006, with a growth of 39.8 percent and 25.9 percent respectively. As you can see, our economy has all kinds of foreclosures; in Utah we are up to 141 percent. That is twice the national increase from a year ago.
Last week, my friends on the other side of the aisle pushed through a housing bill that some estimate will provide a temporary financial housing lifeline by benefiting only 13 percent of the estimated 300,000 homeowners who will likely lose their homes in the next year. I supported earlier versions of the bill, but as it moved through the process and took on new provisions, my reservations grew. There is more to be said about the bill than I have time for now, but I have a statement in the Record on the subject. Let me say I think too many people and organizations that do not deserve it will be bailed out by what is now housing law.
I am also concerned that some of the provisions in the bill are shortsighted. For example, we created a new regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which is fine, but then we created what could possibly become a huge taxpayer-funded backstop, to put it nicely. Some have proposed that we cut the Government's ties to Fannie and Freddie, make them truly private companies, and incentivize more competition. Maybe we need to start the discussion now so taxpayers are not on the hook should future crises arise. We are on the brink of a recession and we need leadership.
The Democrats' ``New Direction For America'' has led us down a road to economic hardship and Americans deserve to have the economy driving on all cylinders. With the government-sponsored housing enterprises, high energy and food prices, and the instability of financial institutions, we are in a state of economic slowdown. But there is hope.
Much like today, when I came to the Senate over 30 years ago, the unemployment rate was rising, inflation was accelerating, and the GDP was beginning to decline. The economy was a major problem facing Americans. In response, we provided long-term solutions to our ailing economy by lowering taxes and increasing investment and growth. While the economy today is bleak, I believe there is hope because we have been here before. However, I do not know why the majority has not addressed this dire situation before adjourning.
There are some real problems facing the American economy, and together we can deal with them.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator has 1 minute remaining.
Mr. HATCH. Thank you, Mr. President.
Most of these problems are self-inflicted, due to some major financial mistakes in our country. Congress has passed some legislation aimed at improving our economy, but these short-term, bandaid solutions will eventually exacerbate the increasing deficit, and we will find ourselves back in the same situation. More spending certainly is not the answer.
When we return from our August recess, I encourage Congress to debate how we can fix our ailing economy. I believe we can take steps toward reducing unemployment, slowing inflation, and increasing investment and growth. I also believe we need to look at reforming our Tax Code. Our tax system has become burdensome and overly complicated. It discourages investment at a time when we desperately need it most. For too long we have delayed addressing our economy, and we owe a lot better service to our fellow Americans.
I yield the floor.
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