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Economic Policy

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


ECONOMIC POLICY -- (Senate - September 24, 2008)

Mr. BROWN. Mr. President, I appreciate the opportunity to address the Senate today. I second the words of my colleague from Texas of the concerns of this economy and question how we got here. It is pretty clear to me, with 8 years of Bush economics, with deregulation of Wall Street, more tax cuts for the rich, and a trade policy that Wall Street has pushed through the House and Senate, these job-killing trade agreements that have caused literally millions of manufacturing jobs to flee our country, combined with a tax policy that gives incentives for companies to go overseas, rather than passing Senator Obama's, Senator Durbin's, and my Patriot Corporation Act, which gives incentives for those companies that are staying right here in the United States, whether it is in Omaha or Cleveland, whether it is in Houston or Columbus, those companies that play by the rules, rewarding them with tax policy and others that those companies deserve.

Let me, for a moment, Mr. President, take the Senate around on a tour of my State. There are so many good things happening in Ohio. I was with Governor Strickland for a couple days on Friday and Saturday going through eastern and southern Ohio. We were talking with people we met and talking to each other about all that is happening in our State, all the good that is happening, particularly in the area of biomedical research and development and job creation and especially in alternative energy.

Ohio is on the precipice--as many of us have pushed for in my State for many years--Ohio is on the precipice of being the Silicon Valley of alternative energy. It started in Toledo, which has the largest solar energy manufacturer in the country. The research going on at the University of Toledo on wind turbines is the furthest reaching, furthest advanced research in the country.

Go around the State to Akron and you can see what the University of Akron is doing with polymers and the kind of spinoff of jobs replacing lost jobs in the auto industry.

Go to Dayton where we have the National Composite Center that is making major contributions with lighter, stronger, more durable materials that can help with more efficient, better mileage automobiles, not to mention what they are doing on alternative energy with wind turbine blades.

Go to Cleveland and look at what the Case Western Reserve University, in conjunction with the Cleveland Foundation, is doing with plans to be the first place in the world where there will be a wind turbine farm in fresh water off the coast of Cleveland in green Lake Erie, supplying much of the electricity needs of northern Ohio.

Go to Columbus and look at the Center for Automotive Research and the work they are doing for Ohio State. Look at the great university facilities at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and the University of Cincinnati and what they are doing on biomedical research and alternative energy too.

You can see in my State of Ohio, as many jobs as we have lost, this State is coming back.

Now, we can't do what we need to do--and the Governor was emphatic about that, as I am in the Chamber of the Senate--we can't do what we need to do unless we get a little more help from the Federal Government, not so much giving us things but just not standing in our way.

Instead, we have seen, for the last several years in our State and in our country, a betrayal of the middle class. The drug companies wrote the Medicare law, the insurance industry has written health care legislation in this Congress, the oil companies have dictated energy policy, and Wall Street has pushed through these job-killing trade agreements. On issue after issue after issue, the Republican majority in the House and in the Senate, for most of the last 8 years, and the Bush administration have betrayed the middle class and the values that we as a nation and that we as a State find so important.

All you have to do is look at what happened yesterday in the Banking Committee when Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke testified. I have a lot of respect for Chairman Bernanke. I think he has moved as quickly as a Fed Chairman can in dealing with the housing crisis in most cases, certainly compared to his predecessor, who helped to set the table for a lot of these problems. I have a lot of respect for him. He and Secretary Paulson testified before our committee. They had some interesting ideas, as the Senator from Texas, Mr. Cornyn, mentioned a moment ago. I don't buy their solution: Give me $700 billion and a blank check and I will try and figure out how to do it; buying these troubled assets, without any rules to it. It is dead on arrival in my belief.

But what my colleagues don't bring out, when we have this terrible problem on Wall Street, is how we got there. It is this betrayal of the middle class that has been brought to us by the Bush administration--the deregulation of Wall Street. Wall Street people are always going to be aggressive. They are all going to look for money-making opportunities. They are all going to play on the edge sometimes and take risks. But until the Bush years, there have been rules in place that keep Wall Street from going over the line, that keep Wall Street in check, that still capture the energy and dynamism of capitalism but don't allow them to go overboard and do what they did. That is what has brought us to this today, coupled with the tax cuts and the incredible profits of Wall Street firms, the incredible bonuses, eight-figure bonuses. When I say eight figure, that means $10 million and up; bonuses that too many of these Wall Street executives had while they were inflicting damage in Maple Heights, in Garfield Heights, in Norwood, and in places all over my State that are suffering from the home foreclosure crisis.

So we got to this place where Wall Street overreached, where their greed overcame all other sentiments, and we got to this place because of the Bush deregulation of Wall Street, because of the tax cuts, because of this trade policy that has betrayed the middle class. As far as I am concerned, three strikes and you are out. This deregulation, the tax cuts, and trade policy clearly have put us in a place where my State has lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs since George Bush took the oath of office. I see the pain around my State, even though we are fighting back. Even in that initial trip around the State that I took my colleagues on, people in my State are hurting. In the last year and a half, since I was sworn into the Senate in January of 2007, I have held almost 120 roundtables in my State--from Ashtabula to Middletown, from Gallipolis to Toledo--and in these roundtables I will invite 15 or 20 people from the community or 15 or 20 veterans or 15 or 20 farmers, a cross-section of the community, and talk to them about their hopes and their dreams. Increasingly, I see fear. Increasingly, I see anxiety about the future because they know their Government simply hasn't been on their side.

So I think about this deregulation, the Bush-Cheney-McCain deregulation. We know that our colleague, Senator McCain--who has not been here very much in the last year and a half because of the Presidential campaign--has consistently pushed for deregulation. He has, in the last few months, become a raging populist. He almost sounds like some of the great populists who sat in this Senate over the last 100 years. He almost sounds like Paul Wellstone. He almost sounds like Senator LaGuardia from New York, people who fought for the common man. But this is sort of a new John McCain than before when he was for the tax cuts, when he was for deregulation. More importantly, Senator McCain has been one of the prominent cheerleaders for deregulation which got us into this position on Wall Street. Now he is saying the President should fire Chairman Cox. He is saying we should go after these Wall Street executives, things he never dreamed of saying until he decided it was good for his Presidential campaign.

In the past, Senator McCain has said he doesn't know much about economics, and what he does know he learned from one of our colleagues, Phil Gramm. Phil Gramm was the architect--John McCain's mentor in the Senate, particularly on economic issues--Phil Gramm was the prime architect of this deregulation scheme that has so pushed us behind the eight ball and that is so troubling, frankly, to the direction we are now going. I think if we hadn't had this deregulation of Wall Street, we wouldn't be in the position we are. I don't know that Senator Gramm gets it, still. Phil Gramm has said we are not in a recession; that Americans are in a mental recession. When people complained about that statement saying: Look around; all you have to do is look around, Phil Gramm said the American people ought to quit whining. It is easy for him to say. He is a major bank executive. He is a lobbyist--he is a major bank executive and he has made so much money. He is the Senator who supported Enron and all its problems. We know that following his economic advice is not the way the country should go.

I come to the floor today for one more purpose, and that is to sound the alarm on what this privatization, deregulation scheme is all about. Imagine if we had followed what Senator McCain had said in 2005. In 2005, President Bush was sworn in for his second term on January 20. Two weeks before that, the House and Senate began their sessions. We were sworn in. I was sworn in as a Member of the House of Representatives in those days. Soon after our swearing in and soon after the President's swearing in, the President unveiled his major domestic policy initiative, which was to privatize Social Security, to set up these private accounts. Democrats opposed them in a unified way in the Congress. In the House and Senate, almost every single Democrat--maybe every single Democrat--opposed them. People in the country said no. Democrats said no. All over the country, citizens, Independents said no, Republicans said no, this was a bad idea.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent for 3 additional minutes.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?

Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. BROWN. I thank my colleague from Florida.

Imagine what would have happened if we had gone along and if the country hadn't said no to this Bush-Cheney-McCain privatization scheme: Americans now would find that these private accounts weren't quite what they were billed to be. They were, in fact, as risky as many of us said. Because of the promises of: Let's put our private accounts--let's put our hard-earned Social Security dollars in New York; let's have Wall Street manage our private Social Security accounts--we all know what would have happened with the vicissitudes and the volatility of the stock market.

My last point is Senator McCain has recently called himself fundamentally a deregulator and he is sort of the deregulator in chief in the Senate. But he has come up with something else. He wrote in this month's issue of Health Magazine that it would still be a good idea to deregulate the health insurance market: ``As we have done over the last decade in banking.''

I don't get it. I don't know how any Member of this body, if he ever goes home or she ever goes home and talks to voters, how they could think that deregulation of banking, deregulation of health care, let's give more power to Wall Street and deregulate banking; let's give more power to the health insurance industry and deregulate health insurance, it would make any sense at all. I think that, perhaps, more than anything, shows the fork in the road we are at in this country.

In this Senate and in the House and in the elections, we have a choice. Do we want to continue down this path of deregulation and betrayal of the middle class by a government that has turned this Government over to interest groups--the drug companies writing the Medicare law, the insurance companies writing the health care legislation, the oil companies writing energy policy, Wall Street pushing through these job-killing trade agreements--do we want to continue to go in that direction or do we want to go in a different direction that will put the middle class first. I think the choice is clear, and I think we will see that in the upcoming weeks.

Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I thank the Senator from Florida.


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