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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, first I thank my friend from Pennsylvania for his leadership and passion on this issue, and I am very pleased to join him in this amendment. I also thank the chairman of the Finance Committee for many hours on this floor working very hard to put together this very important jobs bill that we need to get done as quickly as possible.
I want to spend a few moments talking about the gulf and what has happened and what it more broadly represents--both in terms of what is happening on the Senate floor and in our country.
When I flip on the television and see what is happening in the gulf, like all of us, I know this truly is a tragedy. To see the workers who have lost their jobs, who can't go out on their fishing or shrimping boats, who haven't seen any tourists come their way in over a month; to see the environmental devastation, I know it is a terrible crisis that is testing our Nation and our government. The Obama administration inherited a perfect storm--an oil company known for a history of egregious safety violations, being given permits to drill a mile down under the ocean with no credible public oversight, and a public agency that believed oil companies should basically police themselves, even if there was a risk to American families. That is what they inherited.
The tragic events in the Gulf of Mexico started with an explosion that killed 11 workers onboard an offshore oil rig operating in waters deeper than it had ever operated before, with technology that wasn't designed for drilling that deep. It happened because the company operating the oil rig took risks with the lives of the workers. They cut corners, and they ignored the interests of millions of Americans in the gulf who would be affected by their actions.
This is a tragedy that was allowed to happen by an agency that was transformed by 8 years of Republican policies urging them to look the other way, an agency whose employees thought they worked for the oil industry rather than the American people, an agency that allowed the oil industry to fill out their own inspection reports.
There was a belief articulated by a current Republican Senate candidate who said it was un-American for President Obama to criticize BP.
Well, I don't think it is un-American for our President to stand up for the men and women who work in the Gulf of Mexico, whose livelihoods and lives have been jeopardized by this catastrophe. We are seeing millions of barrels of oil being spilled into the waters--waters that are owned by the American people--and I think it is the duty of the American President to make sure BP cleans it up and does everything possible in the gulf to make the people whole.
Just this morning, during an ongoing Congressional hearing, we heard another example of this belief in the words of a senior Republican House
Member who apologized--apologized--to BP for the President's actions in demanding that BP set up a fund to reimburse the losses of local small businesspeople and families in the gulf and for their tremendous hardships caused, I might add, by BP. This Congressman called it a shakedown, a slush fund. Mr. President, I call it leadership and standing up for the American people. That is his job, and that is our job as well.
But there is a larger issue represented in this disaster. Public accountability and commonsense regulations do matter. That is our job as well. My colleagues know that as a Senator from Michigan, there is no one who will fight harder for the auto industry than myself. But even while I will fight tooth and nail--and I have--for this industry and the success of this industry, I still support safety regulations.
When I put my grandkids in a car, I want the car to have seatbelts and airbags, and I want to make sure that automobile has gone through a rigorous crash test. Our economy and our quality of life depend on vibrant successful businesses, but our quality of life also depends on public accountability, on commonsense regulations to protect the health and safety of our families.
Someone has to stand and protect the water and the air we breathe. Someone has to stand for our children and for our elders. Someone has to stand for the safety of workers--the 11 workers who were killed on that rig or the 29 workers who were killed in the mine collapse in April or the millions of fishermen and shrimpers and tourism workers whose livelihoods are at risk today on the gulf coast.
When we look at our record in this Congress, we have seen this same debate played out time and time again. Even this week, two different beliefs, two different sets of values. The first bill that President Obama signed into law was named after a woman named Lilly Ledbetter--the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act--to require equal pay for equal work. On that very first bill, we saw two different views and beliefs: the Republican view that essentially said corporations should be able to discriminate against women or people with color if they choose to and on our side we stood with a woman, Lilly Ledbetter, who for years had gotten paid significantly less than her male coworkers for doing the exact same job just because she was a woman. We passed that bill, and it was signed into law so that women, so that people of color would not have to go through that in the future. We happen to believe in fair play. We happen to believe in equal pay for equal work.
Then there was the Recovery Act. There, again, we saw a very big difference. After the biggest bailout of Wall Street in the history of our country, on one side was a belief that government shouldn't get involved to help the American people hurt by the financial crisis in the face of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; that the proper course would be to sit back and let the economy fix itself, even though those who caused the financial crisis were, in fact, being helped. Never mind that millions of people who used to live comfortable middle-class lives lost their jobs, their entire life savings and their homes to a bunch of traders on Wall Street who made some bad deals with no public accountability.
But we believed something different, Mr. President: that when the economy is on the edge of a cliff and millions of middle-class families have been hurt due to no fault of their own, you don't just sit back and hope for the best. That is not leadership; you do something. So we passed a historic Recovery Act focused on the American people--focused on jobs, on helping small businesses grow by building clean energy technology, schools, bridges, and roads--and making investments in our future and, yes, helping people who had been caught in that economic tsunami so they could keep the lights on at home and have a roof over their head and take care of their families.
When President Obama took office in January of 2009, we were losing 750,000 jobs a month. Today, thanks to this Recovery Act and other work done here, we are creating jobs. It is not as fast as I would like, certainly coming from Michigan, where we have been hit harder than anyone else, but we are moving in the right direction. It wouldn't be the case if we had done nothing last year.
We heard for years that Wall Street needed less regulation, more freedom to innovate, and for nearly a decade there were policies in place that took a hands-off approach. What we saw was an over-the-counter derivatives market that grew to be worth over $500 trillion, completely in the dark, completely unregulated, with no oversight and no transparency. There were many people who thought this was great. Here was an example of a market with no public oversight at all, and it was making money hand over fist.
Then the bubble burst, and it turned out the whole thing was smoke and mirrors. Because there was nobody there speaking out for the American public, it was the American families who paid the price, and we paid a heavy price. That is why we recently passed Wall Street reform, and we need to get it to the President to create public accountability and commonsense regulation to protect investors and consumers. That is our job.
We passed a bill to give consumers the power to get their mortgages modified so they could stay in their homes and prevent foreclosures from emptying out entire communities. We also passed a law giving new tools to law enforcement and prosecutors to help them crack down on mortgage fraud and securities fraud. On each and every issue our Democratic majority has been fighting for the people of this country. Our Republican colleagues believe and have expressed--and I assume this is sincere--that the old policies of deregulation and no public accountability are better. They believe that large corporate interests--mining companies, oil companies, Wall Street, big banks--should police themselves and things will be OK.
But for the 11 workers on the oil rig in the gulf and the millions of people who live in that region of our country, those policies just didn't work. For the 29 miners who lost their lives in West Virginia, those policies just didn't work. For the millions of Americans who lost their jobs or their life savings because of Wall Street's recklessness, those policies just didn't work. I can't believe the American people want to go back and relive all of that again. I certainly don't.
When President Obama took office, we saw the wreckage left behind after 8 years of deregulation and, frankly, it was time to put people first. So that is why we got to work. From day one we have seen unprecedented obstruction--the Republican leadership using every trick in the book to stop us from making the changes the American people want. But we have kept on fighting, we have passed now 242 bills, 175 of them signed into law to move our country forward.
Frankly, though, this isn't about numbers. Numbers don't matter. What matters is whether things are getting better for people. But let me just review some of what has been put in place to begin to turn things around.
The Recovery Act I mentioned to focus on jobs, the expansion of health insurance for children so that working moms and dads can know at least the kids are going to be able to see a doctor, protection of our public lands and national parks so our kids and grandkids can enjoy our beautiful land and our beautiful parks in this country, credit card reform, veterans health care so our troops coming home get the care they need and the care they deserve, that is the least we can do.
We have increased support for our disabled veterans. We have enacted tobacco regulation to keep our kids from smoking. We have stood up to the tobacco industry on behalf of our children's health. We also passed the Serve America Act to support our young people and seniors and help get them involved to give back to the community--a very important value that we believe in as Americans. We also passed an FAA bill to modernize our air traffic control systems so that we have safer air travel; a national Defense bill that gives a pay raise to our men and women in uniform, which is the least we can do, and that helps our veterans who don't have a home;
a jobs bill to help our small businesses expand and local communities have the tools they need to create jobs; a health care bill that saves families money, makes sure that every family can have a family doctor and improve the quality of care in this country; student loan changes to stop subsidies to banks and putting more money into making sure students can get some help to go to college and that it costs less so they can afford to go; and major financial industry reform so we never see another Wall Street bailout.
As I said, we know none of this matters if you do not have a job and if you are fighting to keep your home. We have to make sure that all of this--and we are working hard to make sure--adds up to real improvements in people's lives and economic security.
We are beginning to see things turn around because we have changed the values, we have changed the priorities back to what is best for the American people, what is best for middle-class families--the people we all talk about who are playing by the rules and want to know they will have a fair shot to be able to care for their families and be successful.
At every issue we run into roadblocks and opposition from the other side because they believe--and I believe it is an honest belief; we hear it over and over again--that more tax cuts for wealthy Americans and less regulation is always the answer. If that were true, given what has happened in the former administration when they controlled the House and Senate and the White House, things would be great. I wish things were great. But that view has not worked for the majority of Americans.
Today, every American with a television set can see the results of those beliefs. We had 8 years of that and we cannot go back. But this is not only about the past, it is also about the differences we debate every day in the Senate. It is about this week, last week, and I am sure next week. It is about the future. We need someone to be a check on the mining and the oil and the banking industries. We need commonsense regulators who do not think they work for the industry they are supposed to oversee. That is what this new administration is about and what we are about. We have to hold companies accountable when they ignore the rules and put the public or their workers at risk. We have to move America forward and continue making the changes this country needs. That is what we have been fighting for. That is what all of the actions we have taken have been about. That is what we will continue to do.
But it is not about growing the government. We know that overregulation is not the answer either. But we want the government we have to work. That is the question: Who should our government work for? The special interests, those with great wealth and power, or families working hard to make ends meet and hold onto the American dream--small businesses and entrepreneurs with a great idea; people who want to know that the rules are fair for them, that if they work hard they will be able to have a job and they can be successful in our economy; families who want to know that somebody is making sure the rules protect their 401(k), their pension, their savings; that they can drink the water and breathe the air and eat the food they buy without getting sick.
We all want to be able to trust that the safety rules are enforced. If you or a loved one work on a mine or on an oil rig--or if you are getting in the car to take your kids to a soccer game--we all want to trust that when you get permits to drill in our precious waters, we will be looking out for the fishing jobs and our Nation's tourism industry and that we will not allow risky drilling without strong, commonsense regulation and accountability.
Our country cannot afford to go back to the previous beliefs that created the crises that President Obama and this Congress have been forced to deal with every day. We believe, the majority believes, it is our public responsibility to be on the side of the American people and that is what each of these legislative battles here in Congress is all about.
I yield the floor.
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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, reserving the right to object, let me say I very much understand and appreciate the concerns of the Senator. This is in the bill we have in front of us today that we hope will be passed today. The complete language is in the bill. I understand his concern. I feel the same about extending unemployment benefits which usually is overwhelmingly supported on a bipartisan basis but has been held up as well. I have been in the same situation on that. To me it is a ``no brainer.'' I would love to see that extended as well. I would have loved to have seen that extended a month ago. But the reality is these items have been put together in a package and we will have the opportunity, hopefully later today or tomorrow, to vote on that. So on behalf of the leader, I object.
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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I did not intend to speak again, except after hearing my colleague, I do feel it is important to say--I am not speaking to the specifics at all in terms of a proposal--but I do feel it is important to talk for a moment about how we got to where we are with the deficit. Because it is pretty hard to listen to folks who were involved in policies that got us where we are and are now talking to us about how terrible it is as to where we are.
I want to stress, when I came to the Senate in 2001, we were trying to figure out what to do with the largest budget surplus in the history of the country. I was in the House when we made the very tough vote to balance the budget under President Clinton.
Unfortunately, for all of us--I mean that sincerely--rather than doing what many of us had proposed--which was to take that large budget surplus and take a third of it to do strategic investments in tax cuts and a third of it for investments in things such as health research and education and jobs, and a third of it to prefund the deficit for the future; that was a proposal we had--instead, all of it went to top-down tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country. It put us in a situation where we had no backup, no surplus. Then we went to war with two countries and put it on the credit card, which we have now used for 10 years.
Then we saw a huge new Medicare entitlement. I certainly believe strongly in providing prescription drug help for seniors, but that was not paid for either. There was item after item after item--until President Obama inherited now the largest deficit.
So as we are trying to dig our way out of this now, it is very disconcerting to hear over and over, with all due respect, about how deficits matter. Deficits did not matter when it was the Republican agenda. And my guess is, if we were talking about another round of huge tax cuts, it would not matter either. It matters now when we are talking about things that middle-class families want. It matters now when we are talking about jobs or the cost of college or whether we are going to be able to have families be able to have a family doctor for their kids--or all the other things. Now it matters. It did not matter--the Wall Street bailout? OK. A people's bailout? A families bailout? Oh, no, no, no, no, that is deficit spending.
I will say this, with all due respect: with over 15 million people on unemployment benefits right now and another how many--who knows--working part time or who completely had to leave the labor market--millions and millions of people--we will never get out of deficit until people get back to work. We will never get out of this deficit ditch until people get back to work and they are back contributing and being a part of the economy and being able to care for their families and being able to get this economic engine going again.
That is a basic philosophical difference we have. It is a basic difference
in beliefs that I was talking about earlier today: about whether it is important to focus on people and putting people back to work on things that middle-class families need or now--when it is a different agenda, when we have different priorities and different values, and we are fighting for different people--now, all of a sudden, despite the former Vice President's claim that deficits did not matter, now they matter.
I believe they do matter. I believed they mattered in, I think it was 1997, when I voted for a balanced budget under President Clinton. I believed they mattered in 2001 when I was a member of the Budget Committee. I voted for efforts to have us be fiscally responsible. And I believed they mattered when we voted to reinstate rules that were taken off for 8 years--that you should pay as you go when you do something. I know we have to make sure we are actually living up to that.
But with all due respect, we have a very different view of the world. Coming from the great State of Michigan right now, our folks would say it is about time somebody focused on them and their jobs and what is happening to their families. That is what this bill is all about that is on the floor.
That is what we are all about. I think it is the right course.
I thank the Chair.
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Ms. STABENOW. I would be happy to.
Mr. LeMIEUX. Your State has high unemployment and my State does too. I think you are at 14-some percent, and we are at 12 percent. Everybody cares about trying to get folks back to work, but shouldn't we find a pay-for on this bill? Everybody wants to extend unemployment compensation, but why should we put it off on our kids and our grandkids? Is there not $55 billion we could find to pay for this bill?
Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, with all due respect to my friend, the reality is that we have an economic emergency in this country. If 15 million people out of work isn't an emergency, I don't know what one is. So I would just fundamentally disagree with the Senator.
In order for something to be an economic stimulus every economist--from Reagan economists to Clinton economists to Bush economists to Obama economists--has said by funding this as emergency spending, we jump-start the economy. For every dollar we put into a family's pocket, we get $1.60 in economic turnaround, economic benefit because families who are out of work are forced to spend the money that is put in their pockets.
So, no, I would fundamentally disagree. We have had economists testify who would fundamentally disagree with that premise. It sounds good. It sounds good. I wish we had paid for the huge tax cuts that were done a number of years ago. I wish we had paid for that. But right now what we are saying is, where we ought to focus our energies is on taking away the stimulus that comes from unemployment benefits, and somehow we have to get our focus back on people who have lost their jobs. So I fundamentally have a disagreement.
Mr. LeMIEUX. Mr. President, if I could just ask one more question. I don't disagree with the Senator about spending the money; I would like to extend unemployment compensation. But would my friend not agree with me that there is $50 billion we could find somewhere in this government, money that has not been spent that is sitting in accounts, wasteful spending, programs that aren't working? Why can't we as a body get down to the business of looking at government and all of the trillions of dollars we spend and find money and set priorities and pay for this?
Ms. STABENOW. I guess I would ask my friend back, would you agree that rather than decreasing the estate tax for less than one-half percent of the public, maybe we should make sure any dollars there should go back to somebody who doesn't have a job and maybe help create a partnership with a business to create a job? Would you say that is a better priority than what is going to be coming up not too long from now on the Senate floor to try to help folks who already make millions of dollars a year?
Mr. LeMIEUX. Respectfully, I think the estate tax issue is a different issue, but I will address it.
Ms. STABENOW. I don't think it is a different issue, with all due respect.
Mr. LeMIEUX. Ma'am, I let you finish. If I may, we don't have an estate tax right now. The joke is, don't go hunting with your children because right now there is no estate tax in this country this year. So we all agree that needs to be fixed.
We have a difference in belief on taxes, but I am talking about just this spending issue. You and I and many of us in this Chamber all agree that we should continue unemployment compensation. People in your State are hurting; people in my State are hurting.
My question is, Is there not $55 billion we could find somewhere in the more than $2 trillion that we are going to spend this year--actually, more than $3 trillion--could we not find an offset so we don't put this upon our kids and our grandkids?
Ms. STABENOW. Finally, I would say before having to leave the floor, I appreciate that in theory. I guess I would ask my colleague to come up with what your list would be of priorities, because----
Mr. LeMIEUX. We will do that.
Ms. STABENOW. From my standpoint, unfortunately, what I see over and over again are middle-class families and folks who are out of work are the ones who get hit over and over again. That is my concern. That is my concern when we get into tax policy, about who we are going to give a tax cut to, who is going to get money back in their pockets. Not too many folks in my State believe it has gone to them. So that is why I raise the estate tax.
In general, I would just simply say we know President after President, Republican and Democrat, has extended unemployment benefits as emergency spending for decades. I am just very disappointed that now, suddenly, that is trying to be changed.
Thank you, Mr. President.
Mr. LeMIEUX. I thank my colleague for the good conversation, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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