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Mr. WICKER. Absolutely. I thank my friend for leading us in this colloquy. We ought to be talking about jobs and the economy. We ought to be bringing legislation to the floor and giving our side an opportunity to offer suggestions and hearing if the majority party in this Senate has something to offer other than the 3 1/2 years of failed policies.
Their intentions are absolutely honorable. Everyone wants to create jobs. Everyone wants the unemployment rate to go down. But I think any fair observer would have to conclude that after 3 1/2 years, the policies of the majority party in this body, the policies of the Obama administration, have been an utter failure--forty consecutive months of unemployment over 8 percent. The latest numbers were 8.2 percent. The last time we had a comparable sustained period of joblessness was World War II. It is absolutely unbelievable that the policies of our Democratic friends have been so unsuccessful and such a failure.
To put that in context, in September of 2008, we had a severe crisis because of the subprime loans, because of the excesses of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which a lot of us who have been in the Congress for some time have tried to rein in. Because of that subprime crisis, unemployment went through the roof, the economy crashed.
The other crisis we had earlier than that, of course, was September 11, 2001, when the terrorists attacked the very heartland and soul of the United States of America--the Twin Towers, the Pentagon. In 2001 we had a spike in unemployment and our economy went in the tank.
Between that time, though, I think Americans should realize we did not have exactly everything we wanted in terms of job growth, but unemployment between 2002 and the middle of 2007 actually averaged between 4.5 percent unemployment and 6 percent unemployment. We were not happy with that then, but wouldn't we love to have that level of unemployment now rather than the 8.2 percent and the over 8 percent we have sustained for 40 straight months.
As a matter of fact, Americans need to remember this does not have to be the case, the 8.2 percent. As late as October 2007, the unemployment rate in this country was 4.4 percent. We can do that again, but we will not do it again with the failed policies the President and his party have been imposing on our country during their entire stewardship.
The Senator from Missouri mentioned it has been 8 percent or higher, and the effective rate is 11 percent if everybody who had left the job force came back trying to get a job. Actually, the unemployment rate in the African-American community is 15 percent--an astounding and shameful figure.
The Obama stimulus program failed. It cost us over $800 billion, and we are going to have to pay that back somehow, but it failed. The unemployment rate for 40 straight months remains above 8 percent. Dodd-Frank failed. The Affordable Care Act not only has made health care less affordable and less available, but it has failed to stimulate any jobs.
Then yesterday, as a member of the Banking Committee, I heard testimony, and this country heard testimony, from the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Basically, he said he has lowered the economic expectations. He and the rest of the Federal Reserve now say the economy is going to get worse than they expected in January of this year, and the unemployment rate will be above 7 percent in his estimation, even at the end of calendar year 2014. That would be 6 straight years, under these current policies--unless we change our approach to job creation--that would be 6 straight years of unemployment higher than it ever was during the first 7 years even of the Bush administration.
We have some ideas about how to turn that around: an American-made energy policy; ending this regime of overregulation, which is just such a wet blanket on job creation; and ending the situation we have now of the tax burden on job creators. The tax burden on American risk takers is now higher than on any of our allies in the industrialized world. We hit job creators and risk takers and the people we want to help us with this 8.2-percent unemployment rate. We hit them harder than they do in any other country in the industrialized world.
So we have some ideas. We would like an honest-to-goodness jobs bill, and we would like the majority leader to give us a vote on some amendments. Do not just call up a bill, fill up the tree, offer every amendment you could possibly offer on the Democratic side, file cloture, and call that a filibuster. We need to go back to regular order in this Senate and let's offer some ideas. Let's have a debate again on this Senate floor about some ideas we have about job creation.
So I am glad to join my colleagues. I see my friend from Georgia in the Chamber, and I know he has been very thoughtful about this issue.
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Mr. WICKER. Mr. President, it has been a tough day, a tough week. We could use a little bipartisanship in this Chamber and in this Congress. I don't understand it. We heard the Democratic leadership of the supercommittee come right out the other day and say that it was preferable to her that the fiscal cliff be encountered and that we actually bring our Nation over the fiscal cliff rather than working together in a bipartisan way to avoid it before the end of the year.
Then I was mystified today to learn that the majority leader of this great body proposes next year, if his party remains in power, to forever change the nature of the Senate in terms of being a great deliberative body and to go to the majority-rule 51-vote process that they have in the House. It worked OK in the House, but we have never done that in the Senate.
I am concerned with some of the things I have been hearing, and, frankly, I hope we can come back from the precipice of some of these disturbing proposals I have heard. One way to do that would be to address, in a bipartisan way, this issue of sequestration. So I rise this afternoon to point out to my colleagues that we are now less than 6 months away from seeing sequestration go into effect. This is a grim reality that was never supposed to happen. It is a reality that doesn't have to happen. But it will happen unless we act and unless the President signs legislation. Budget sequestration means defense and nondefense spending will be cut automatically and across the board, without regard to the priorities or the importance of programs. We need to avoid this.
How did we get here? Almost a year ago, Congress voted for the Budget Control Act as a first step toward seriously addressing the national debt. We authorized, in good faith, a supercommittee to produce a blueprint that would reduce the national deficit by $1.5 trillion or more. Our hope and our expectation was that both political parties would come to a reasoned, long-term solution to America's debt crisis. Of course, that hope faded quickly with the announcement of an impasse by the supercommittee.
With a national debt approaching an unprecedented $16 trillion, reining in Federal spending is imperative to our national and economic security. ADM Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it simply: ``Our debt is our number one national security threat.'' Severe, across-the-board cuts to the Department of Defense are not the way to address this security threat, and they are not the way to achieve long-term fiscal responsibility. Federal debt is a national security threat, to be sure, but so is unilaterally cutting key funding to America's men and women in uniform.
Realistically confronting the debt problem means addressing soaring entitlement costs, which are growing at three times the rate of inflation, three times the rate of our economic growth. We can't sustain that. But realistically confronting the debt does not mean gambling with the resources our military needs to protect this Nation and the skilled jobs necessary to supply today's advanced force.
Unless we act, and act soon, $492 billion will be cut from defense spending beginning January 3, 2013.
According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the effect would be ``devastating''--a ``meat axe.'' Our Secretary of Defense, a member of the Obama administration, said it would ``hollow out the force.'' Unfortunately, Secretary Panetta and the White House, so far, have failed to identify the specific impact of these cuts. Clarity is needed as to how these automatic cuts would limit our capabilities. As of this moment, sequestration is the law of the land unless Congress passes--and the President signs--a bill to stop it. The administration needs to get specific about the results of this ``meat axe.''
Our military faces a diverse set of challenges and emerging threats--a nuclear North Korea, a volatile Iran that wants to be nuclear, our commitment to a Democratic Taiwan, and the competition for mineral resources in the South China Sea. All of these and more require the ability to project American power abroad.
This year we celebrate the bicentennial of the War of 1812, and the lessons of that conflict should be remembered. During that war, it was our Navy that reaffirmed America's sovereignty. The United States saw that even the border of an expansive ocean would not fully protect our Nation. The influence of sea power on national security and commerce was clear then and it remains clear today.
As ranking member of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower, I can attest that the Navy Department is the Armed Forces' most capital-intensive branch, and the Navy will be particularly hit hard by indiscriminate sequestration cuts. According to civilian and uniformed Navy leaders, our capacity to deter threats, defend our priorities, and project sea power could be gravely compromised. Sequestration would hurt readiness, fleet size, strategic investment, and the strength of America's workforce.
The projected numbers are striking. The Marine Corps would endure an additional 10-percent cut in troop strength, leaving our marines without sufficient manpower to meet even one major contingency operation. The Navy fleet would drop to 230 ships, well below the Navy's 313-ship requirement. It would drop to 230 from 313, hindering the ability of our combatant commanders to execute their missions abroad. Even now, the Navy can satisfy only half of combatant commander requests for naval support.
Sequestration could affect the quality of future investments and the long-term vitality of America's shipbuilding workforce. Experience has shown that stable shipbuilding rates have a direct impact on the acquisition and operational cost of amphibious ships, aircraft carriers, and submarines. Cuts would prevent the Navy from ensuring new ships are delivered on time and on budget.
The average age of today's shipyard worker is 45, and only 24 percent of our naval shipbuilding workforce is under 35 years of age. Sequestration would drive a generation of skilled shipbuilders from the workforce and would have a prolonged negative impact on American high-tech manufacturing.
I am proud to be from a State with a highly skilled manufacturing base. Mississippi workers produce ships, aircraft, and equipment that our troops depend upon throughout the world. Sharp cuts to defense will have a direct and detrimental impact on Mississippi's families and communities.
The stakes are high for the military and America's economy. These looming cuts are real, they are drastic, and they are just around the corner. Sequestration is real and not a hypothetical threat. It is the law unless we change it. Our national security is on the line, and it is in our interest either to prevent sequestration or prepare for it. Indeed, some defense manufacturers have already begun the process of issuing legally required layoff warning notices to shareholders and employees.
According to multiple forecasts, up to 1 million American jobs are at risk. The current unemployment rate already stands at 8.2 percent, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke projected unemployment rates will remain high, as he testified before the Congress yesterday and today.
There are some faint and hopeful signs this catastrophe can be avoided. Indeed, in the Congress, there has always been bipartisan cooperation to ensure our military remains the best trained, the best equipped, and most professional fighting force in the world. We argue about a lot of things, but bipartisanship has prevailed when it comes to the defense budget. The fiscal year 2013 Defense authorization bill is a hopeful example.
The bill recently passed by the Armed Services Committee, of which I am a member, contains many provisions reflecting Congress's support of the Defense Department's top strategic priorities. It also reflects the challenges we may encounter while outlining ways to reduce spending, and we must reduce military spending, no question about it. But sequestration is not the way.
Also, with regard to the Defense authorization bill, I should mention this is the 51st consecutive year that Congress has passed such a bill. Again, that is testimony to bipartisanship with regard to DOD reauthorization. That is the good news. The bad news is the failure to address our past spending has compounded the situation we now face. Further delays only make the problem worse.
We know tough decisions will have to be made to fix our country's debt problem. All Federal agencies, including DOD, will have to do more with less in today's era of fiscal austerity. But the bottom line is this: We have an overriding constitutional obligation to provide for the common defense, to ensure our country is safe, and that our men and women in uniform are well equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century. I urge my colleagues to work together in a bipartisan fashion toward a solution that achieves the fiscal discipline we need without compromising the ability of our military to protect and defend America.
Addressing sequestration should be our No. 1 priority--this week. We should act before the August break. After Labor Day, after the political conventions, when campaigns are in full swing and we have only 2 months to go before these devastating cuts go into effect, do we truly believe the atmosphere will be conducive to solving sequestration? I don't think so. Is it truly in our Nation's best national security interest to address this during a lameduck session? I don't think so. We should not leave town for an August break if we have not answered this sequestration issue. The hour is upon us.
I yield the floor.
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