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Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong SKILLS Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. KLINE. Madam Chair, I rise in strong support of H.R. 803, the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills Act, the SKILLS Act, and yield myself as much time as I may consume.

Despite an increase in hiring last month, our Nation is still experiencing a jobs crisis. Twelve million Americans are searching for work. Nearly 5 million of these unemployed workers have been without a job for 6 months or longer. For many Americans, the hope of a new job grows more desperate the longer they are unemployed.

Jack Walerius has not had full-time work for more than 3 years and has lost count of the number of times he has applied for a job. He recently told CBS News:

From my perspective, from my eyes, I still see that we're in a deep recession.

Today, we have an opportunity to advance reforms that will give workers like Jack a better chance to succeed. Our economy is extremely competitive and constantly changing. Unfortunately, the workforce training system has failed to keep up. It's not surprising when you consider the size of the bureaucracy that now exists.

This chart is a snapshot of the current job training system. It includes more than 50 programs spread across nine Federal agencies. President Obama described it as a ``maze of confusing training programs.'' I completely agree.

The current system is inefficient and ineffective. For individuals served through the Workforce Investment Act, less than one in five completed training. Fewer than half of those who received employment assistance such as job searches and resume writing were able to find work.

To make matters worse, Federal mandates stifle the engagement and innovation of employers and State and local leaders. Onerous rules prevent workers from accessing the training they need when they need it. And taxpayer dollars are being spent with little accountability.

A bloated bureaucracy is standing between workers and the support they need. We've tried the Washington-knows-best approach, and it isn't working. It's time to move in a new direction. It is time for a workforce training system that empowers job creators to meet the demands of a dynamic economy. It is time to give State and local leaders greater freedom to serve their communities. It is time for a workforce training system that spends taxpayer money wisely. It is time to invest less in bureaucracy and more in workers and training.

The SKILLS Act will help us reach these goals. The legislation replaces 35 ineffective and duplicative programs with a new Workforce Investment Fund. No more maze of programs. Instead, workers will get help through one simple and flexible source of employment support.

The bill strengthens the role of job creators, as well as State and local leaders, who know best the needs of their workforce. Doing so will ensure the skills workers receive can be applied to the jobs of today and the future, not the past.

The legislation also makes sure our most vulnerable workers--including veterans, disadvantaged youth and individuals with disabilities--are being served. Finally, the SKILLS Act provides accountability over the use of taxpayer dollars. If a program demonstrates a pattern of failure, then taxpayers will know about it.

Madam Chair, for 10 years, Congress has talked about job training reform but has failed to make reform a reality. It is time to fix the broken job training system and help put more Americans back to work.

I urge my colleagues to support the SKILLS Act, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. KLINE. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

We believe that the SKILLS Act is genuine, commonsense reform addressing a real problem that our Nation has faced for years. This authorization expired in 2003; and so under Republicans and Democrats, we've been unable to get legislation passed into law through the committee, through the House, and move it forward. There have been all sorts of reasons for this. Sometimes it was just recognized that it's too hard; but in any case, we haven't been able to move it. And that includes, frankly, under 4 years when the other side had the majority, chaired this committee, and in fact had a majority in the House and the Senate and the White House and were unable to move legislation forward.

So I appreciate the calls for bipartisanship. I'm not entirely sure why walking out of a markup engenders further bipartisan support. Nevertheless, that's what we're faced with.

This legislation was thoughtfully developed after the committee convened multiple hearings over the last 3 years, examined the testimony of dozens of witnesses, including Governors and State and local workforce investment leaders. This ongoing debate has been open and fair.

When we had this bill in the committee last year, amendments were offered by Republicans and Democrats. Amendments passed, as offered by Republicans and Democrats. We have to move this legislation forward. We can no longer afford the failed status quo that wastes taxpayer dollars and prevents people from getting the skills they need to get the jobs that are available today.

The SKILLS Act will strengthen the workforce training system, make our Nation more competitive in the 21st century, and help put Americans back to work.

I urge my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on H.R. 803, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. KLINE. Madam Chair, I rise to claim time in opposition, but I do not intend to oppose the amendment.

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Mr. KLINE. Thank you, Madam Chair. I appreciate the involvement of the gentleman. He's brought forward a good amendment. It will help veterans translate and hone their wartime skills to civilian use in an important and growing sector. A focus on advanced manufacturing training for veterans will allow our Nation's heroes to get relevant and important training while increasing their earnings potential, so we support this amendment.

Madam Chair, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. KLINE. I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I thank him for bringing forward this very solid amendment.

We know that, under Republican administrations and Democrat administrations, departments are required by law to submit all kinds of reports, but there are no consequences, so they don't do it, and we have to do our job in the dark. I appreciate his recognizing this shortfall and for taking this step, and I support the amendment.

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Mr. KLINE. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Despite the extraordinary mischaracterization of the bill and some pretty amazing straw men that have been put forward today, let's look at what we really have here. This chart shows the situation that we've got today. This myriad of programs, I would call this bureaucracy run amok. I might call it red tape, as one of the colleagues from the other side suggested I might call it. It is confusing at best.

And this is what the President had to say about it. He said: It's a maze of confusing training programs. He said that last year. I thought he meant it. I'm not sure about his statement today. Maybe he has changed his mind, but he called it a maze.

So what are we going to do about this maze, this red tape, this bureaucracy? We recommend simplifying it, making it easier to use, helping people get the training they need, not the bureaucracy for them to wade through. So we took the information from the Government Accountability Office. We looked at the statements coming from the administration and departments. We looked at programs that even the administration had recommended to stop funding, and we said: Let's make this simple. Let's make this easier. Let's let the local workforce boards who know their communities, with the employers in their communities, make it easier for people to get work, and we put together a bill that has one workforce investment fund. Not a maze, not confusing, less red tape, easier to use, something that the people who need work can use so that you don't have less than one in five who show up to that maze actually getting the training they need.

And what have the Democrats proposed? Well, let's take a look at that chart. They took the current system and they boldly eliminated one program that hasn't been funded since 2003, and they added six more. I don't see how that helps us get where we need to go. I don't see how that helps get the millions of unemployed back to work. I don't see how that helps employers who have 3.6 million openings get those jobs filled.

We need action here. That's what we believe our bill does. This is what their bill does. I recommend that we support the SKILLS Act and reject this amendment.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. KLINE. Mr. Chairman, interesting discussion today about what constitutes bipartisanship. I would just note, for the record, that when we attempted to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act in the last Congress and we moved it through committee, amendments were offered by Republicans and Democrats, and amendments offered by Republicans and Democrats were included. In fact, some of those Democrat amendments are included in the underlying bill today.

Look, there have been accusations all morning about how the SKILLS Act is going to stop training for all sorts of people, and we had various straw men here. It was women and people with disabilities and all manner of things that we were just going to shut out.

But as the gentleman from Massachusetts said, sometimes it's helpful to actually read the language. And so in the SKILLS Act, in the underlying bill, it insists that State and local boards put together a plan that has a description of how the local area and the State ``will serve the employment and training needs of dislocated workers (including displaced homemakers), low-income individuals (including recipients of public assistance such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), long-term unemployed individuals (including individuals who have exhausted entitlement to State and Federal unemployment compensation), English learners, homeless individuals, individuals training for nontraditional employment, youth (including out-of-school youth and at-risk youth), older workers, ex-offenders, migrant and seasonal farmworkers, refugee and entrants, veterans (including disabled veterans and homeless veterans), and Native Americans.''

It's in the bill. We believe that we have a choice in front of us today. We brought forth a bill that says we need to address these needs with this program. It's simple and straightforward, allowing these people the opportunity to go and directly get the training they need, to get rid of that confusing maze, to get rid of red tape, and allow people to get the training they need, including all these people.

What has been proposed by the gentleman from Massachusetts to address these needs is this program--the current program, minus one, and six new programs. More complicated, bigger maze, more red tape, harder to use. It serves these very people poorly.

So I ask my colleagues to vote against the gentleman's amendment and support the underlying bill, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. KLINE. Mr. Speaker, I always appreciate the passion of my friend and colleague, the ranking member on the Education and the Workforce Committee, on this and on so many issues.

It's no doubt personal incomes have been flat in recent years and unemployment remains high: 12 million Americans unemployed, some 22 million Americans underemployed. Unemployment among youth is extraordinarily high. People are trying to get into the workforce, and they can't get in. We need jobs out there.

The best approach right now is to get Federal spending under control and government out of the way of the Nation's job creators. Republicans are always willing to discuss responsible proposals that will promote economic growth and help people get to work. Since the motion to recommit would force this committee to advance a proposal that may hurt workers and job creators and increase unemployment, I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' on the motion and ``yes'' on the underlying bill.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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