AMERICAN RECOVERY AND REINVESTMENT ACT OF 2009 -- (Senate - February 09, 2009)
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Mrs. BOXER. I thank you so much, I say to the Presiding Officer, the chairman of the Finance Committee, the Senator from Montana, for giving me this time and also for your very strong leadership on this very important bill.
I think, as I listened to the Senator from Montana this morning, he laid out the case for this bill better than I have heard, frankly, from anyone in
the most clear fashion. When somebody tells you something is very complicated and you do not understand it, do not believe it.
There is a very simple, cogent, important, urgent reason for this bill: We need to save jobs, we need to create jobs, because if we do not, at the rate we are shedding jobs in this country, we are going to be headed for not a deep recession but perhaps even worse than that. My friend who is presiding pointed out that 3.6 million jobs were lost last year. How can anyone possibly turn away from that fact?
Saturday, I spoke on this bill and the need for it, and I had a picture of 1,000 people in Florida showing up at a job fair for 35 firefighter jobs--1,000 people. It looked almost like a rock concert--all these young people trying to get in line and fill out the forms for these jobs. The police had to come in--everyone was calm--just to make sure it was an orderly process.
My friend from Montana pointed out that history will judge us on how we act right now. Again, just to keep it simple and focused, there are three things we can do. One, do nothing. Doing nothing, to me, is action. It is action for the status quo. Doing nothing, to me, is a hostile act on the American people. Doing nothing, from my mind, is closing our eyes to the election that was just held, an election that said: We need change.
Now, what else could we do? We could pass a perfect bill. Trust me when I tell you, I can write one perfect for me. The Senator from Montana can write the bill perfect for him. The Senator from Arizona, who is leading the opposition--and, by the way, Senator McCain, I am pleased he is out here doing that because I think the people in America understand the difference between Senator McCain's approach and President Obama's approach, and this debate is about that, make no mistake. So Senator McCain could write the perfect bill.
(Mrs. HAGAN assumed the Chair.)
I see Senator Hagan has come to the Chamber. She could write the perfect bill. Each of us could write the perfect bill for us. And guess what. If we each stood up here and said: My way or the highway, there would be no bill, and therefore we would have nothing. Nothing is, in my mind, a hostile act on the American people.
Then there is a third choice: a compromise, a compromise plan that has been put together by Democratic Senators on our side and several Republican Senators on the other side. Now, for the life of me, I do not understand how anyone can say that is not bipartisan. Of course it is bipartisan.
Let me be clear, our Republican friends are filibustering this bill. We could get 58 votes for this bill. We know that. That would be a strong majority. We do not have 60, and we need Republicans to help us. Several have stepped forward, and I thanked them so much the other day, and I repeat it again.
So the three choices we have: do nothing is one choice, in the face of these horrific job losses and layoffs continuing--and in my State of California, I put in the Record Saturday company after company after company laying off, pulling in, fearful--we could do nothing; we could have the perfect bill, which means that each of us will fight for that perfect bill--maybe we can get one or two others to agree it is perfect--or we can have a compromise bill. That is what is before us.
So just remember, if someone tells you this is not bipartisan, they are not telling you the truth because if they did not filibuster us, we could pass a bill with 51 votes. They are forcing us to get 60 votes; therefore, we must get Republicans to support us.
Passing this compromise means we get to conference with the House. Now, that is going to be a very tough conference, and my friend from Montana knows better than anyone how tough it will be.
I want to send a message to my friends in the House of Representatives: I know how you feel. I know things were left out of this compromise that you desperately want in this bill. But I will say, you should fight for that, but at the end of the day, again, go back to the three options: doing nothing, doing the perfect bill, or doing the compromise.
My kids always say to me, "You are where you are.'' And we know where we are. We are in the middle of a filibuster. We have 58 Democrats, and we need to pick up Republican support, and we have done so.
Now, I have to again point out to my colleagues why I feel my Republican friends are being just a little bit disingenuous when they shed bitter tears about the debt. Let's face facts. I didn't see those bitter tears during the Bush years. We went from $5 trillion in debt to $10 trillion in debt. Now they are very worried about another $800 billion. I understand they are worried. We didn't like the debt either, and we don't like the debt. When we were in charge with Bill Clinton, we got that debt down. We turned deficits into surpluses. We know how to do that, and we will get our economic house in order. We have done it before. When the first President Bush handed us billions of dollars in deficits and trillions in debt, we worked on balancing that budget, and we handed George Bush a budget surplus--we Democrats did--a budget surplus. Now the debt is $1 trillion, and our friends on the other side cry about it.
There is a cartoon in the paper today that was given to me, if I can find it. I remember it. Oh, here it is. It is called ``Deficit Patrol.'' It is frame after frame of Republicans sleeping through the increase in the debt. They slept through billions of dollars in tax cuts; never said a word about the debt. Those tax cuts were to their friends, the highest earners. They slept through billions in debt to invade Iraq, billions more for oil and gas subsidies, billions more for Iraq, and this thing goes on and on. They kept snoozing through the debt. The debt doubled. As a result of their action, every man, woman, and child in America carries an additional $17,000 of debt because of the war in Iraq, subsidies to oil and gas, and because of tax cuts to the very wealthy. Suddenly, now--when it is time to help working families and invest in them and in our schools and rebuilding our infrastructure and creating jobs--suddenly they wake up and say: Do you have any idea what that will do to the debt?
Look, I support my friends on the other side having the right to do whatever they want to stop this bill, but I will tell my colleagues what is hard for me: to have these tears about the debt when all through the Bush era we had an open checkbook for Iraq, an open checkbook for the wealthiest Americans, and nobody cared about the debt. Nobody cared. Nobody cared about the deficits on the other side. We never had this conversation.
What I want to say is, we certainly learned from the depression era; that when times are as rough as these times are, we must act. We must act. Now, it is sad to say we don't have a surplus, that we don't have the debt on the way down, but that is the way it is. You are where you are. So we can either do nothing, do the perfect bill, or do the compromise.
So I would say to every Member of the Senate and every Member of Congress that we need to work together. I watched President Obama and just a little bit of his townhall meeting. He is out there and he is answering questions--some tough ones too--about why this is necessary, and he makes the point. He said: People go to the floor in Congress, in the House and the Senate, and they say: Oh, my goodness, we are spending in the face of this recession. Well, that is the whole point. There is no money in this economy. The banks won't lend. We have used the monetary policy to bring interest rates to the banks way down. We fed money to the banks and perhaps we forestalled a complete crisis. However, I will tell my colleagues, they are still not doing what they should in terms of lending. People are fearful. They are not spending. So it is a vicious circle, and we need to stop this vicious circle. The way to do it is to save jobs from being lost and create new jobs.
Now, we know this all started with the housing crisis. Believe me, we tried on this side to pass housing legislation. Seven times we were filibustered--seven. Seven times we were filibustered. We must address housing, and I am glad to hear my colleagues on the other side coming up with some very good ideas on how to do that, and I agree with some of those ideas. This is a three-legged stool. We have to pass this jobs program, this jobs plan--and by the way, these jobs will be created in the private sector as we go out to rebuild our roads and our bridges and our schools and make them energy efficient. Private sector jobs will be created. These will be contracts. So the first leg of that stool is jobs, jobs, jobs. That is what we are talking about.
Next we have to deal with the housing crisis, as I said, belatedly so. I would like to see mortgages down, mortgage rates down for folks who will get a boost from that, an economic stimulus in their pocket from that. We have things we can do. Senator Durbin's plan for the bankruptcy courts is very important. If someone is underwater with their house, and they go to bankruptcy court, let's have the judge restructure their loan. These are things we should and must do. That is the second leg.
The third is the financial crisis. I know the Obama administration is looking at some new ways, not just giving a blank check to these institutions, to these banks, but ensuring that they don't use it for big high salaries for the people at the top, for golden parachutes, and that in fact taxpayers have a stake in those institutions so we get paid back. That is a refreshing change. We are going to see that coming. That is going to be a very tough vote. I don't know how I am going to wind up voting on that. It depends on how much of that is aimed at the housing sector.
But that is tomorrow, and this is today, and we are where we are. There have been more than 3 million jobs lost. Imagine that. In the State of Delaware there are less than 1 million people. So figure, it is almost four States of Delaware where every single person has lost their job. These are no ordinary times.
Around here, I learned after many years the easiest vote was no. Vote no. It is so much easier. You could point to something in the bill you don't like--I say to my friend who is sitting in the chair, a wonderful new Member--you can vote no and say: You know, on line 7, page 240, there was something in there. It just brought me to a ``no'' vote. I couldn't take it. I disagreed with it.
It is easy. It is the easiest way to vote because we don't know at the end of the day whether this package is going to do every single thing we hope it will do. But I will tell my colleagues it will do some of those things. It will create jobs. It will save jobs. It will help our States. It will help our communities. It will help make us energy efficient. It will help make us energy independent. It will lead us on the road to clean energy. It will unleash the technological genius of a lot of our people looking at clean energy.
I want to close by again thanking those Republicans who joined with us. I know how hard it is. I have been in situations where I have stepped out, done something not popular with my caucus. It is very difficult. It is really hard, but at the end of the day we have to put country first. Country first. If you line up every economist in this Nation from the left to the right, except for a few on either end of the spectrum, they are all telling us to do a package about this size. Don't make it too small or it will be inefficient.
I think the Senator from Montana was very instructive when he pointed out that the tax cuts will kick in--certainly almost 100 percent of them--in 2 years, and overall, 75 or 76 or even 80 percent of the package, spending and tax cuts, will kick in, in the first 2 years. Larry Summers, a great economist working for President Obama, has said he believes if a few dollars kick in 2 years out, that is not all bad because this is a deep recession. We are going to need those dollars as well.
So to those three colleagues who came forward--I think I should say the two who came forward with BEN NELSON, Senator Collins and Senator Specter, taking the lead--thank you. I know it is hard. You are reaching out to this new President. He has everything on his shoulders. This is what he promised. He promised he would not sit back and allow the policies of the past to dominate: bickering, bickering, bickering, never getting anything done, and finding fault just for the sake of being able to vote no.
Saturday I read into the RECORD a story about one of my constituents who has been out of work and out of work and out of work. He worked in the high-tech sector. He can't find a job. He is just desperate. He had to place his children into foster care. We cannot do nothing. When my friends on the other side say, oh, they are for doing something, at the end of the day, it seems to me, by making us reach a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority, they are making it tough for us to do something. Let's not forget that. They are filibustering this bill. That is why we need to get 60 votes. So they are slowing it down and slowing it down and slowing it down. As a matter of fact, they stand here and say: What is the rush?
I will tell them what the rush is: people being laid off every day, people losing health care every day, people losing confidence every day, people losing housing every day, people losing hope every day, economists telling us to move swiftly every day. So don't say you are for something when you are making us get a 60-vote supermajority, because people are smart in this country. They get it. They know what you are saying when you all of a sudden are afraid of the debt because we are doing things you don't like. You didn't mind going into debt for the war in Iraq--open checkbook. Rebuilding Iraq? Fine. Tax cuts for the wealthy few? Wonderful. No problem. You should look at that cartoon. It says it better. It just happens to be in Politico.
So don't say you want to do something and then set up a 60-vote hurdle. Don't say you want to do something, but you are afraid of the debt when, for 8 long years, you have doubled the debt from $5 billion to $10 billion. Say the truth. Say the truth. I think I know what the truth is. You don't really like investing in schools.
You don't like investing in workers. You don't really think it makes sense at this time to build more infrastructure. You don't like helping our cities. That is the truth.
But we believe that is the way to stimulate this economy and grow it, stop it from sliding, reverse it. We are going to try to do it. We still have a long road ahead of us, no question about it. This isn't easy, but we are on the path to do it. I hope the American people will listen to our President both today and tonight when he holds his press conference. I hope the people will listen to this debate because it is very clear where the sides line up.
What we need to do is the right thing for America. Those choices are clear: Do nothing, hold out for your perfect bill, or embrace the compromise. I am embracing the compromise, and I urge my colleagues to do it. I hope more will do it from the other side. I think it will be such a vote of confidence in the future and confidence in this President and confidence in this country if we can pick up more votes on the other side. I hope we will. I am very pleased to have had this opportunity to speak.
I yield the floor.
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