ECONOMIC STIMULUS -- (Senate - February 12, 2009)
Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I wish to state my strong support of the economic recovery plan because the American people and their communities need it to create jobs, to stabilize the economy, and to protect those who have been most hurt by the current global economic and financial crises.
Many Americans, especially my fellow Vermonters who have watched this process, look at the resistance the economic recovery plan has met from many on the other side of the aisle, and they are somewhat dispirited. They remember how readily Congress rubberstamped hundreds of billions of dollars the previous administration earmarked for Iraq. Now they see how difficult it has been to get bipartisan approval for investments here at home that are desperately needed to jump start an economy that is in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
I call on fellow Senators--who were willing and eager to vote for billions of dollars to rebuild the infrastructure of Iraq, who were willing to vote for billions of dollars to create jobs in Iraq, who were willing to vote for billions of dollars to help law enforcement in Iraq--to focus on the needs we have here at home. Let's spend some of that money in America to repair our infrastructure, to create jobs in America, and to help law enforcement in America.
No one disputes the clear fact that we are confronting the most severe economic problem we have had in generations. The U.S. economy has been in recession since December 2007. America's GDP declined 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, the steepest drop since 1982. The United States lost 2.6 million jobs last year, the most since 1945. Last week we learned the U.S. economy shed almost 600,000 jobs in January, putting the unemployment rate at 7.6 percent.
In Vermont, not only has the amount of credit available to small businesses shrunk significantly, but our unemployment rate jumped to 6.4 percent in December. That is the highest it has been in 15 years. Vermont is not alone in this struggle. Workers, businesses, State and local governments all across the country face mounting debt, slumping orders, and sagging budgets.
To respond to this extraordinary crisis, I agree with President Obama and the vast majority of Americans that we have to act quickly and responsibly to pass an economic recovery and job creation plan as bold as the challenges we face. Americans want jobs. They want to work. They want to support their families. We have to help create those jobs. If we act now to strengthen our economy and invest in America's future, we can create good-paying jobs, we can cut taxes for working families, and we can make responsible investments in our future.
Our first priority should be to put America back to work. This economic recovery plan will help create or save over three million jobs, including an entire generation of green jobs that will make public and private investments in renewable energy and make America more energy efficient.
Investing in our country's infrastructure and education will do more than create jobs today--it can put us on a long-term path toward prosperity. Rebuilding our roads and bridges, expanding broadband access to rural communities; making our energy grid smart and more efficient; creating state-of-the-art classrooms and labs and libraries; and investing in job training that Americans will need to succeed in the 21st century global economy will give us tangible assets we can use for years to come to foster additional economic growth.
As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I would like to highlight that the funding for State and local law enforcement in this recovery package will not only help to address vital crime prevention needs, but it will have an immediate and positive impact on the economy, as police chiefs and experts from across the country told the Judiciary Committee in its first hearing this year. Hiring new police officers will stimulate the economy and lead to safer communities and neighborhoods.
Nobody thinks this bill is perfect. We could write 100 different perfect bills based on our own analysis. But America is hurting, and Americans urgently need our help. I believe this economic recovery package will make a timely and constructive difference across the country by creating and saving jobs, making needed infrastructure investments, reducing the tax burden on struggling families, and relieving the strain on State budget deficits.
Vermonters are watching and waiting. Working families across the country are watching and waiting. Time is running out. I will vote aye.
I yield the floor.