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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC




S. 2357. A bill to provide for economic security and prosperity; to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, these have not been easy times for vast numbers of Americans. In many ways, the American dream is in peril for millions of our fellow citizens as global forces have caused the economy to shift against them.

Complacency is not the answer. Few things more affect the way we live than our shrinking and rapidly changing world. Unless we begin to address this immense challenge more effectively, the Nation will pay a high price for years and years to come. Now is the right time to reinvest in America's future, which is why I am today introducing the Right TRACK Act.

American families across the Nation know the problem. It is measured in jobs moving overseas, stagnant or even falling wages and benefits, our schools losing ground compared to other nations, and fewer opportunities to attain the American dream. Indeed, the course we are on today is a course that will make the American dream the impossible dream.

America cannot move forward if we cut back on investments in education, invention, and innovation, as the administration has proposed. We cannot compete in the world if our companies and our workers are saddled with soaring costs for health care. We cannot advance if we fail to invest in our own employees by paying them a decent wage, by taking steps to enable companies to keep jobs here at home, and by investing wisely in our own economic growth.

The 20th century was widely hailed as the American century, but the 21st century is up for grabs. No nation is guaranteed a future of lasting prosperity. We have to work for it. We have to sacrifice for it.

We have a choice. We can continue to be buffeted by the harsh winds of the global economy or we can think anew and guide the currents of globalization with a new progressive vision that strengthens America and equips our citizens to move confidently to the future.

Competing better in a race to the bottom is not the answer. Equality of opportunity--a bedrock principle of our democracy--is suffering already. Today, children born of parents in the bottom 20 percent of income have only a 1 in 15 chance of reaching the top 20 percent in their lifetimes. Also disturbing is the fact that those born in the middle are more likely to sink to the bottom than to rise to the top. And those born at the top are likely to stay at the top.

We cannot and should not compete by lowering wages. Instead, we must open new doors and new avenues for all Americans to make the most of their God-given talents and rekindle the fires of innovation in our society. By doing so, we can turn this era of globalization into a new era of opportunity for America.

As Thomas Jefferson said, ``Every generation needs a new revolution.'' And I believe the revolution for this generation is to master our own destiny in the new global economy.

What is most required is a new vision for America's future in the global community. Our goal is to rekindle the American Dream, so that if people work hard and play by the rules, they can succeed in life, be better off than their parents, live in good neighborhoods, raise strong families in safe surroundings, work in decent jobs with decent pay and decent benefits and a decent retirement.

To do all that, we must make a commitment to lifelong education, to prepare every man, woman, and child for the new world of intensifying competition and increasingly sophisticated technologies.

We must create high-quality jobs for the years ahead by investing in research and development, encouraging innovation, and modernizing all aspects of our infrastructure.

We must level the playing field for American businesses and employees, to ensure fair worldwide competition and preserve good jobs in the United States.

And we must make a fair commitment to assist and care for workers and communities harmed by the forces of globalization.

We can do all that, but only if we make the right choices, and the time to start is now.

I strongly believe that our highest priority must be a world class education for every American. We must seek a future where America competes with other nations, not by reducing our employees' pay and outsourcing their jobs but by raising their skills.

As a Nation, we must invest in Americans by ensuring access to the highest quality educational opportunities. We must make the American worker and manager the best educated, best trained, and most capable in the world. We need to nourish the capacities of every person in the nation.

To do that, we must begin in the earliest years. Research proves conclusively that what we do for children's early education and development does more to ensure their later success in school than any other investment we can make. It is far less costly to society to spend millions to put young children on the right track from the start, instead of spending billions to rescue them from the wrong track later. In fact, one study concludes that in the long run, we save $13 for every dollar invested in the early education of our youngest citizens. Prevention works in health care, and it can work in education too.

For generations, we have treated education as a three-legged stool--elementary and middle school, high school, and college. To create a solid foundation for the future, we have to add a fourth leg--early childhood education.

In elementary and secondary education, the No Child Left Behind Act was a pioneering reform that held great promise when it was signed into law by President Bush 4 years ago.

No Child Left Behind was not just an abstract goal. It was a moral commitment to every parent and every child and every school in America, and I was proud to stand with President Bush when he signed it. It soon became clear, however, that to the administration, it was more a slogan than a promise. Too many parents, too many children, too many schools are still waiting for the help we pledged.

We can't reform education without the resources needed to pay for the reforms. Promises alone won't provide the qualified teachers, high standards in every classroom, good afterschool activities, and the range of supplemental services that every good school needs if it is to provide the right help for students who need it.

No Child Left Behind was also a promise that every child counts--Black or White or Brown, rich or poor. It was a promise that disabled children too will have the qualified teachers and individual support they need to succeed in school and in life.

We must also do more to help students prepare for college, afford college, be admitted to college and complete college. In 1950, when I graduated from school, only 15 percent of jobs required some postsecondary training. Today, the number is over 60 percent and rising rapidly.

However, we are witnessing a growing gulf in college attendance between the rich and poor. The gap is shameful. Each year, 400,000 college-ready students don't attend a 4-year college because they can't afford it. Never before has the financial challenge of attending college been greater for young students.

It is time for America to agree that cost must never be a barrier to college education. Every child in America should be offered a contract, when they reach eighth grade, making clear that if they work hard, finish high school, and are accepted for college, we will guarantee them the cost of earning a degree. The Right TRACK Act authorizes Federal grants to States to support the creation of ``Contract for Educational Opportunity'' grants to cover students' unmet need up to the cost of attendance at 2-year and 4-year public colleges in that State.

Perhaps nowhere is it more obvious that we are falling behind than in math and science. For a nation that prides itself on innovation and discovery, the downward slide is shocking. In recent years, we have dropped to 28th in the industrial world in math education. Each year, China graduates three times as many engineers as we do. Other nations are gaining on us because they give higher priority to education.

The last time America was shocked into realizing we were unacceptably behind in math and science was in 1958, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. Republican President Eisenhower and a Democratic Congress responded by passing the National Defense Education Act, and almost overnight we doubled the Federal investment in education.

In fact, throughout our history, we have remade American education to conquer the challenges of each time. In the mid-1800s, with the Industrial Revolution in full swing, we created free and mandatory public schools before most other nations did. And to stay ahead, we rapidly established public high schools at the start of the last century to keep pace with a growing economy.

Once again, we did something comparable at the end of World War II. We passed the GI Bill of Rights and gave every returning veteran the chance for a college education. The Nation reaped a $7 return for every dollar it invested in their education. The result was the ``greatest generation,'' and it would never have happened without the GI bill.

That is the kind of initiative we need today, because the need is just as great. We need a new Education Bill of Rights, a new National Defense Education Act, for our own day and generation in science and math.

Let's make college free for students training to become math or science teachers.

Let's make college and graduate school free for low- and middle-income math and science students.

Let's see that our standards are internationally competitive, so that our high school graduates can succeed in this new economy. Let's offer incentives and other support for schools to develop and implement rigorous standards and courses in math and science.

The Right TRACK Act responds to each of these challenges. The legislation provides grants to low- and middle-income students studying in science, technology, engineering, and math fields, as well as critical-need foreign languages. The bill provides larger grants to students studying to become teachers in these fields who agree to work in a high poverty school for at least 4 years. It also provides teachers with tax credits, increased loan forgiveness as additional incentives to continue to teach where they are needed the most and invests in teacher training programs supporting their continuing education.

The Right TRACK Act also provides resources to states to create P-16 Preparedness Councils to help States with their efforts to improve State standards and ensure that they are aligned with the expectations of colleges, employers, and the armed services. The bill also provides funding to States working in collaboration to establish common standards and assessments.

The bill also directs resources to high need schools so they can invest in math, science, engineering, and technology textbooks and laboratories to ensure their students have equal access to a curriculum that will provide them with the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century global economy.

It is becoming increasingly important for students to become exposed to and immersed in other languages and cultures. In recent years, foreign language needs have significantly increased throughout the public and private sector due to the presence of a wider range of security threats, the emergence of new nation states, and the globalization of the U.S. economy. American businesses increasingly need employees experienced in foreign languages and international cultures to manage a culturally diverse workforce. Foreign language proficiency is a consideration in 44 percent of hiring decisions and 66 percent of retention decisions. Currently, the U.S. Government requires 34,000 employees with foreign language skills in 100 languages across more than 80 Federal agencies.

The Right TRACK Act responds to these needs by providing grants for elementary and secondary critical-need language programs, summer institutes to improve teachers' knowledge and instruction of foreign languages and international content, and study abroad and foreign language study opportunities for high school students, undergraduate, and graduate students.

We must also continue to invest in our current workforce. The Right TRACK Act builds on existing formula funds for job training with competitive grants to support innovative strategies to meet emerging labor market needs.

From our earliest days as a nation, education has been the engine of the American dream. Our country is home to the greatest universities in the world, and our education system has produced the world's leading scientists, writers, musicians, and inventors. We cannot let these achievements stall now. Slogans aren't strong enough. We have to put first things first and give children, parents, schools, communities and States the support they need to refuel the amazing engine of education and keep our country great in the years ahead.

Beyond education, we must recognize that the foundation of our prosperity in this global world is to remain on the cutting edge of technology and medical and scientific breakthroughs in the years ahead and translate those advances into reliable products and services. A strong and fully developed infrastructure will provide the backbone for that success.

America has always been a world leader in research and development, but we can no longer take our success for granted. Even in highly skilled industries, where our technology and infrastructure have preserved our competitive advantage we are increasingly at risk today. Rapidly growing economies in Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America are now formidable competitors, developing their economies into engines of growth based not just on low wages but on well-educated citizens, advanced infrastructure, and well-run businesses.

In Bangalore, India, a G.E. center employs more than 2,200 Ph.D.s. These workers are not sewing buttons on shirts; they are carrying out advanced research on jet engines and developing mathematical models for investment. An Intel research and development center in the same city employs 3,000 engineers designing the next generation of computer chips.

However, despite increasing international competition, the Federal commitment to research outside the defense arena has declined under the Bush administration. Of particular concern is the drop in funding for basic research. Much of the research conducted by private companies is focused on getting a product quickly to market. That is not the basic research that lays new foundations for new discoveries. Funding for basic research has declined in the past few years at the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and other key scientific agencies. And overall the Federal investment in research which once exceeded one percent of our GDP is now less than half a percent.

We cannot allow this trend to continue. The Right TRACK Act will help America maintain its position as the leader in innovation. The Right TRACK Act will not only make the R&D credit permanent but expand it to encourage small businesses, universities, and Federal laboratories to collaborate on research. And it will increase R&D funding for major Federal research agencies by 10 percent that we double it in 7 years.

Innovation is important for its own sake, but it is also what creates jobs. We are currently seeing our investment in R&D paying dividends in high growth, high technology industries such as nanotechnology. We need to help usher these new technologies out of the laboratory and into the marketplace. The Right TRACK Act would encourage investment in nanotechnology businesses and increase support for critical programs at the Department of Commerce that help manufacturers adopt and commercialize new technologies.

We also must invest in innovation and infrastructure--highways, mass transit, new sources of clean energy, health I.T., and more. The Right TRACK Act will authorize funds for capital improvements to Amtrak and expands and increases tax credits for school renovation and construction that will equip schools with 21st century technology.

These investments not only improve the quality of our lives, but they also create the quality jobs that drive our economy forward.

Broadband infrastructure is a perfect example. Two years ago, President Bush declared that every American should have access to affordable broadband technology by the year 2007. But the administration still has no plan to get us there. In the meantime, we have fallen to 16th in the world in broadband access behind countries such as Japan and the Netherlands that have broadband speeds four and five times faster than ours.

Widespread use of basic broadband would add $500 billion to our economy and create 1.2 million jobs. Clearly, this is the kind of infrastructure we should invest in to produce good jobs and economic growth in the future. The Right TRACK Act also puts us on the ``right track'' to take full advantage of that economic opportunity.

We also live in an age exploding with medical miracles. A generation ago, few could possibly have imagined the advances in science and biology that have revolutionized the practice of medicine. No one today can predict how new discoveries in the life sciences will improve our lives and change the world, but we can be certain the effects will be profound.

Thanks to the genius and dedication of scientists, doctors, and business leaders, the potential of medical research is virtually limitless. Diagnosing a faulty heart valve or blocked artery once meant risky and traumatic exploratory surgery. Today, doctors make the diagnosis with a miniature camera and fiber optic cable, and the patient can walk out of the office moments later.

A few years ago, it seemed inconceivable that anyone could decipher the entire genetic code--the very blueprint of life. But today, doctors across the globe can read that sequence on their computer screens and use the information to search for new ways to treat cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other major illnesses.

Continuing at the forefront of the life sciences may well be the most important way for America to retain its leadership in the world economy in the coming years.

Another of the fundamental challenges of the global economy is that our companies are losing business and our people are losing jobs because they are not competing on a level playing field.

Foreign governments manipulate their currencies to give their products an unfair advantage. They refuse to enforce basic labor protections like a minimum wage. They use abhorrent practices like child labor and forced labor. As a result, these countries can produce goods much more cheaply and dominate the global marketplace.

Our own trade deficit is skyrocketing because we are producing less at home and buying more from other nations. Last year, we imported a record $726 billion more than we exported--an alltime high.

We can't continue down this reckless path. It is too damaging to our economy. Over $2.2 trillion of our national debt today is owed to foreign investors and foreign governments. America has always controlled its own destiny but when foreigners are bankrolling our Government, our destiny is no longer in our hands.

It is not just our companies that suffer--our workers are also struggling because the playing field is so uneven. More and more of our companies are shipping U.S. jobs overseas. Fifty-four percent of America's top companies have already done so. Even governments are part of the offshoring bandwagon. In my home State of Massachusetts, the State government has hired contractors that used workers from India to process Medicaid data and answer questions about food stamps.

The Nation as a whole has lost nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs since 2001. The pain is widespread--48 States have lost manufacturing jobs under President Bush. These are not just blue-collar jobs. Millions of high-paying, white-collar jobs are also at risk of being shipped overseas, especially in the fields of medicine and computers.

The disappearance of these good jobs is reducing our standard of living and threatening the very existence of the American middle class. President Bush's so-called economic recovery has the worst job creation record of any recovery since World War II.

Those fortunate enough to have jobs are finding that their wages are stagnant even though other costs are soaring. College tuition is up 46 percent since 2001. Housing costs are up 49 percent. Health insurance is up 58 percent. Gasoline is $2.33 a gallon--40 percent higher than it was 5 years ago.

The foundation of the America dream is weakening. That is because more of what our economy produces in this recovery now goes to business profits and executive suite salaries, and less to employees, than at any time since such records began in 1929. Wages are down, but profits are up by more than 60 percent.

There is a better way. We need policies that reject the Walmart-ization of the American workforce.

We must level the playing field in the competition for good jobs and demonstrate leadership in promoting fair wages for workers around the world. This is not just an economic issue--it is a moral issue. The Right TRACK Act will help raise living standards worldwide by prioritizing the elimination of forced labor and child labor in U.S. trade agreements and providing incentives for multinational corporations to treat their foreign workers with respect. It will also level the playing field for American businesses by ensuring that countries cannot manipulate their currencies to give their goods an unfair advantage in the global market.

Rejecting the race to the bottom also means reaffirming our commitment to workers here at home. We must stop rewarding companies by giving them favorable tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas. The Right TRACK Act corrects this nonsensical policy by eliminating the tax loophole that allows companies to avoid paying taxes on money they have earned overseas. The act also addresses the offshoring epidemic by requiring companies to give workers better notice when their jobs could be offshored to other countries and ensuring that the Government does not use hard-earned tax dollars to ship jobs overseas.

Our commitment to workers at home also demands that we give them their fair share of the economic growth that globalization brings. In this century, just as in the last, we must ensure that workers can organize and have a voice at work. The Right TRACK Act preserves the basic rights of American workers by protecting employees who try to organize from employer intimidation, supporting the democratic right of a majority of workers to choose a representative through fair and neutral card-check procedures, and requiring employers to come to the table and negotiate a first contract.

We owe a particular duty to those Americans who lose their jobs due to the effects of trade or economic downturns. When workers lose their jobs in the global economy, we should help in the difficult and painful transition to new employment with top-notch job training and income assistance for their families until they get another paycheck. The Right TRACK Act gives workers and communities harmed by trade the support they deserve. It expands the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program to include service workers and workers who lose their jobs due to increased trade with countries like China and India. It also improves funding levels for training programs, provides wage insurance for older workers who lose their jobs, and helps workers to retain their health care coverage during times of transition.

And it is a scandal that the minimum wage has been stuck at $5.15 an hour for the past 9 years, below the poverty line for a family of three. It is the lowest the minimum wage has been in real value in more than 50 years. How can so many Republicans in Congress keep voting against any increase? Why can't we all at least agree that no one who works for a living in America should have to live in poverty? The Right TRACK Act gives these hardworking Americans a long overdue raise by increasing the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour in three steps.

America has to rise to each and every dimension of this challenge. We can do it by creating a new culture of innovation and creativity that keeps our Nation in the lead in the global market place--by equipping every American to compete and win in the new global economy. Only then will our economy continue to grow and prosper. Only then will the good jobs of the future be made in the U.S.A.

The same can-do spirit of innovation, invention, and progress that brought us the automobile, the airplane, and the computer can do it again. Those advances brought the American dream closer for all, and we can't afford to let it slip away now.

The essence of the American dream is the ability to provide a better life for yourself and your family. At its very heart are a good job, first-class education, good health care, and a secure retirement. Some say the dream is out of reach in today's global economy. But I am here today to tell you it doesn't have to be that way. We can revitalize the American dream.

I have full confidence in our ability to meet these challenges and reach new heights of discovery prosperity, and progress. Passing the Right TRACK Act that I've introduced today is an important step towards ensuring that the American dream remains attainable for generations to come, and I urge my colleagues to support it.

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