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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009--Continued -- (Senate - September 16, 2008)



Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, I come to the floor, as many of my colleagues have on this side of the aisle, to express my outrage and my amazement at the continued comments of one of our colleagues, who is not here but is running for President, Senator John McCain, when even as Wall Street now is crumbling--we have seen the actions of the last couple days--he continues to say the fundamentals of the economy are strong. No matter what caveats he puts on it, he says the fundamentals of the economy are strong. That shows how out of touch he is, as is the President whom he works with, George Bush, and those who support this view that the fundamentals of the economy are strong.

I remember a while back coming to the floor after comments were made, as well, about at that time the chief economic adviser for Senator McCain. Even though this person has now stepped down--also a former colleague--from that position, we know he is still very close to Senator McCain and is involved in his efforts and so on. That is Senator Phil Gramm, whom I served with on the Banking Committee. He was the chairman of the committee when I was first taking my place in the Senate. To hear Senator Phil Gramm, who worked so closely with Senator McCain--we assume, based on their long relationship and the positive things Senator McCain has said, that he would play a major role in a new administration under John McCain, and he has said as well, in addition to Senator McCain repeating that the fundamentals of the economy are strong, we also remember former Senator Phil Gramm's comment that this is just a psychological recession; it is all in our minds. He said it is psychological and Americans have become a nation of whiners--a nation of whiners.

I am wondering if people made it up or if they were hallucinating when they lost their jobs this year; 605,000 Americans have lost good-paying jobs this year, since this past January. Were they hallucinating? Was this a figment of their imagination? Is it a figment of their imagination that they cannot make their mortgage payment or put food on the table or pay their electric bill or go to the gas pump and be able to refuel with outrageously high gas prices? Of course not.

Of course not.

We have seen the economy unfolding in a way so that only those who are very wealthy, who have the ability to take their capital anywhere in the world, can succeed under this philosophy that has been in place, this Republican philosophy of no accountability, no transparency, no one watching in the public interest as people have made decisions that have undermined pensions of working people. Heaven forbid, can you imagine if Lehman Brothers had been managing Social Security payments for millions of senior citizens, which is, by the way, something else Senator McCain wishes to see happen, privatizing Social Security.

What we have seen is an undermining of the fundamentals of what has been the strength of our economy--good jobs, not just supply, but supply and demand, putting money in people's pockets so they can afford to take care of their families and keep the economy going.

In addition to 605,000 people who have lost their jobs since the beginning of this year, we had 3.5 million manufacturing jobs lost, and counting, since 2001, since President Bush came into office. Madam President, 3.5 million people were not hallucinating. It was not a figment of their imagination that they lost their job and that their families have been put into a tailspin as they are now trying to figure out where they go from here to try to keep some semblance of the American dream.

The fundamentals of the economy are strong, says Senator John McCain. We are, in fact, looking at an example of what it means to live under a philosophy of President Bush, John McCain, and the Republicans, and what actually happens if their philosophy comes into being, in terms of actions.

For the first time, in the time I can remember, we saw from 2001 until 18 months ago a time when the House, the Senate, and the Presidency were all in the hands of the same party. We had a chance to see what they believe in, what are their values, what are their philosophies.

What we have seen is a philosophy that has raised greed to a national virtue, that has viewed public regulation and accountability in the public interest, to protect public resources or public funds, as something to be scoffed at and to be unwound, to deregulate, to make sure that the areas of Government that have responsibility, that are accountable for our financial systems, our monetary systems, our energy resources and other areas, in fact, are not held accountable.

We have seen an administration and a Republican philosophy that doesn't work for the majority of Americans. It works for a few. If you are one of the folks who is out there trying to make sure you can make as much money as possible for yourself and your friends, you may have done pretty well. But there has been no willingness to understand the consequences for the majority of Americans or to accept any responsibility to make sure that the majority of Americans can benefit from the resources and opportunities and wealth of this great country.

This culture of greed and corruption, supported by Senator McCain and President Bush and others for 6 years running, has led to Enron. I remember having people sitting in my office who had everything in their company's pension. They worked for Enron. They lost it all. They lost it all because of the schemes and the lack of accountability and oversight. They lost everything in their pension plans and they sat in my office and said: Thank goodness for Social Security because that is all I have left.

The same folks who gave us the Enron debacle want to privatize Social Security, including John McCain. No-bid contracts, such as Halliburton in Iraq; continual tax cuts only for the wealthiest Americans; weak oversight of public industries, regulated industries, regulated in the public interest; a disregard for the Constitution; and now the latest economic crisis we see.

Fundamentally, the question is: Who are we as a country and do we want to continue these failed philosophies? That is not by accident. I suggest this is the result of a world view, a set of values and philosophies that does not put the majority of Americans and our country first, but basically puts in place the idea that greed is good and you should make it while you can, and we are going to make sure we strip away any public protections so your ability is unfettered to do what you want to do for yourself as opposed to what needs to be done on behalf of the American people.

If we don't have a change in this country, we are going to see the same failed blueprint with more of the same failed results, disastrous results. That is why I believe so strongly we need a change in direction and a change of values to put the American people first.

Again, our colleague, Senator McCain, who has said that the fundamentals of the economy are strong, has worked to deregulate markets, has called himself a deregulator. Unfortunately, it is those policies that have gotten us to where we are today.

This is the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression. And what is the plan at this point? To study the problem. Senator McCain has said today we should study the problem.

We don't need another commission. What we need are people who will make sure that the accountability, the oversight, the power that is here to stop price gouging, to bring oversight to what is going on is actually used. It hasn't been used under this administration. For 6 of the last 7 1/2 years there was every effort, in fact, to pull back on who was put on boards and commissions, the regulators, the overseers. They essentially were made up of people who didn't believe in the mission, who didn't believe they were there for the public interest.

Right now we have a situation where there are 84,000 Americans who lost their jobs last month, 90,000 Americans who lost their homes last month. They don't want another study. They don't want another commission. They want leaders who get it. They want leaders who understand their role in this Government of ours, this public trust we have, not on behalf of just ourselves and our friends but on behalf of everybody in this country, to make sure the rules are fair, that they are followed, and that everybody has a chance to make it. That is what it is supposed to be about.

I am also reminded that Senator McCain has chaired the Commerce Committee and oversaw a massive deregulation scheme that gutted our oversight of these markets. Where is the accountability? Instead of protecting consumers and preventing abuse, the special interests ruled. And Chairman McCain oversaw that effort.

The same economic philosophy of the Bush administration joined by Senator McCain for the last 8 years has been to give more and more to those who have the most, ignore the ability of others to make sure they can have what they have earned--their job, their pension, that Social Security is strong, they can afford to put food on the table and pay for the gas and be able to have what we all expect as Americans that will be available to us if we work hard and follow the rules.

We have had the same philosophy in place, the same philosophy that has brought us 8 straight months of job loss, the same economic philosophy that has left incomes stagnant while families find themselves spending twice as much on the basics of their life.

Real household income is down. Imagine, we were lower in 2007 than in the year 2000. Incomes were lower in 2007 than they were in 2000. We are in a generation of having real concerns, and rightly so, that our children's lives and economic circumstances will not be as good as our own.

The same philosophy has led to gasoline inching upwards to $5 a gallon, and the same economic philosophy that leaves 47 million people without health insurance, leaving them worried about whether their children will be cared for when they are sick. The same philosophy has been in place since 2001 with this President with 6 years of no balance and accountability, just one world view, 18 months of our coming in now and slowing the trend down, working hard to bring in some accountability, even though there are unprecedented Republican filibusters to stop us.

But we have seen a philosophy that has failed. We need to be taking actions to stop the fraudulent, risky, and abusive lending practices, and that has been proposed over and over again. I commend Chairman Dodd of the Banking Committee and Chairman Baucus of the Finance Committee and all those who have brought forward proposals that will make a difference.

We need to modernize the rules for a 21st century marketplace that will protect American investors and consumers. We have been proposing those changes. We also know we have in place a series of mechanisms that would hold special interests accountable and be able to make sure that people's incomes and pensions and the economy in general are protected. We just haven't used it.

I stand with another colleague of ours, Senator Barack Obama, who has said if you borrow from the Government, you should be regulated. There should be public accountability, transparency, if you are borrowing from the Government. If we want to stop abuses of the public trust, we need to have openness, we need to know what is going on in the markets, we need to know what is going on. If we want to protect the American people, we need to regulate dangerous practices, such as predatory lending.

We know there is so much that we need to do right now. First is to address the hole we are in economically, and the next is to stop digging, stop making it worse. Stop tax breaks for those who have already done so well, even in these terrible circumstances. We need to make sure we are focusing on those who have worked so hard all their lives, and their families who are looking for the opportunity to be successful in America. They want to know they are going to have a fair chance to do that, that the rules are going to be fair, they are not going to be stacked against them and in the interest of a special few, which is what has been happening since 2001 over and over.

Let me go back to my original comment and look at the 3.5 million manufacturing jobs lost since 2001. Our colleague, John McCain, says the fundamentals of the economy are strong. I beg to differ. The fundamentals of the economy for Americans working hard every day making a paycheck, trying to make ends meet, worrying about whether they are going to have a job, health care, send the kids to college, put food on the table, pay for the gas and all the other things, for them the economy is not strong.

People are working too hard, making too little, and paying too much every day, and we do not need another study or another commission. We need leaders who get it, who have the right values, who understand, who have the intestinal fortitude to stand up and fight for the American people, the middle-class families who are sick and tired of what has been going on.

I can tell you, coming from the great State of Michigan, the people of Michigan have had enough. We have had enough. We can't take more of this. We can't take 4 more years of this. We can't take 4 more days of this. We have had enough. But to change it, I believe strongly that we need to understand this is not just an accident that we are where we are. It is a conscious philosophy. It is actions and inactions that have been taken by those in charge--by this President, supported by Senator John McCain, supported by Republicans in the House and the Senate--that have created the situation that has fostered the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

We can't do this anymore. We need to make sure government works for real people, real people who have had enough. I can't say it more strongly: We have to stop traveling down the road we are on, following this philosophy that has run us into extremely dangerous economic territory.

Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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