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The 30-Something Working Group

Location: Washington, DC

THE 30-SOMETHING WORKING GROUP -- (House of Representatives - March 07, 2006)

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. It is a pleasure to join the gentleman for our 30-something Working Group hour.

When I have been home in the community you and I share, I noticed, and this feeling is so palpable among the average voter, the average citizen in America, and I have been to several different cities in the last number of weeks, and to a person, regardless of party, Americana' confidence in their government has been badly shaken, and badly shaken because they look to the leadership here, the Republican leadership, because we do not control a thing. They have the Presidency, the House and the Senate. So when I say that their confidence in their government and leadership is badly shaken, it is essentially the fault of the Republican leadership. It is so disturbing.

I have only been in the Congress a year. I could list countless examples and share with people who have expressed their frustration and their sadness and their angst. My first year in Congress was capped by the bookends, starting 10 weeks into my service here, with the Terri Schiavo case and ending the year with the confirmation of Judge Alito, now Justice Alito, to the Supreme Court who obviously we fear will further erode the right to privacy that we began the year eroding with the Terry Schiavo case.

If you look in between, sandwiched between those bookends, we have Hurricane Katrina, this port deal, we have the deficit. You have the debt, you have now the debt limit that we are struggling with, the budget reconciliation bill, the countless irresponsible budget cuts and the privatization of Social Security, the Medicare prescription drug fiasco, who the senior citizens that the gentleman and I represent, they are just in tears. They do not know what to do. Just in our community alone, there are 43 different plans offered by 18 different companies. It is pure insanity.

So it is no wonder that our constituents and the American people are frustrated. Their confidence in their leadership is badly shaken. Our responsibility over the next several months is going to be to help restore that confidence because we have that ability. We have an agenda and the things that we would do if we were here would restore that confidence, and those are the kinds of things that we talk about on this floor.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. I have another question. In looking over our third party validators, I am wondering if you have got the Secretary of the Treasury setting off alarm bells and really saying that there is fire in the theater, why is it that we have not seen an increase in the debt limit on the floor? Could it perhaps be that that is something that the Republican leadership thinks is unwise to have their Members vote on? Is it that this is not the first time, as I asked you earlier, that the debt limit has been increased?

In looking at this chart just in the last few minutes, I notice that in June of 2002 the debt limit was increased by $450 billion. And who was President then?

Mr. MEEK of Florida. President Bush.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. I believe President Bush was in office then. In May of 2003, the debt limit was increased by another $984 billion, with a B. In November of 2004, the year of the election, $800 billion. We have a $781 billion increase pending now, with a total increase of $3.015 trillion.

When President Clinton was in office, I was in the State legislature then, for a time until you were elected to Congress you were too, we had a system in place called PAYGO, pay-as-you-go, which it is my understanding is similar to the way people prefer in America to run their households, where you do not spend money that you don't have, unlike what is going on under the Republican leadership where they appear to enjoy spending like drunken sailors and "no" doesn't appear to be possible under this administration, unless, of course, it is to talk about continuing tax cuts for the wealthiest. We say "yes" to that. We say "yes" to anything politically that they want to advance. The ``no'' is to people who can't afford health care, cutting Medicaid. The "no" that they propose to say is to people who are struggling to pay for higher education.

So, if we went back to PAYGO rules, which we have proposed time and again and they have rejected time and again, then we would be again in a situation where it wouldn't be necessary to increase the debt limit because we would be only spending money that we have.

Here is another third party validator, which is the Congressional Record. In 2006, in this budget resolution, of course it was defeated, 228 Republicans voted against it, it was defeated 264-165 when we proposed to return to the pay-as-you-go rules. Then again last year, it was defeated 232-194 and 224 Republicans voted against it.

So, to me to break this down in more simple terms, because PAYGO and billions and trillions and debt limit is something that if you are not dealing with it on a daily basis, it is somewhat difficult to understand, one of the things we like to do here is break things down for people that may be listening into regular terms, into the things that they deal with every day.

So I thought, Mr. Speaker, it would be a good idea, because a billion is a very big number, a billion is a hard concept to grasp, because most people don't deal in the billions when they are dealing with their everyday normal activity, so let's try to define what a billion is in the way that people think about things in their daily life.

Broken down, a billion hours ago, for example, humans were making their first tools in the stone age. That is how much a billion hours ago was, if you are thinking about what a billion means.

Let's think about what happened a billion seconds ago. A billion seconds ago it was 1975 and the last American troops had just pulled out of Vietnam. That is how big a billion is. We are in 2006. That was 30 years, 31 years ago.

A billion minutes ago it was 104 A.D., Mr. Speaker, and the Chinese first invented paper. That is how long ago it was, if you think about a billion in terms of minutes.

Then a billion dollars ago, under this administration and under the Republican leadership, a billion dollars ago was only 3 hours and 32 minutes at the rate that the administration and this Republican Congress spends money.

So we have a billion hours ago, it was the stone age; a billion seconds ago, it was 31 years ago; a billion minutes ago, it was 104 A.D. and we were first talking about the invention of paper. But under the Republican leadership and this administration, a billion dollars ago was only 3 hours 32 minutes at the rate of spending under this administration and the Congressional leadership. It is just astonishing, it really is, if you think about it, broken down in this way.

All the American people want is their confidence restored. All they want to see is that the people here in this Chamber are using their heads and applying some common sense and thinking about the budget and the money that we spend in the way they would like to think about their own household budget, spending the money that we have, spending it wisely, spending it on things that they care about, not giving away the store, which unfortunately, it appears to be the direction that we have been going in.

We are giving away the store in so many ways. Like the port deal, for example. We represent Miami, both of us. I represent Fort Lauderdale. I have both Port Everglades and the port of Miami abutting my district.

I went down to the port of Miami, you and I have both been there, it is one of the six ports that the Dubai Ports World deal impacts, and for the people that I have talked to in our community and the calls and communications I have been getting, it defies logic. They really just cannot believe that the President does not understand why people are so deeply concerned that we would have a foreign government-owned corporation running the terminal operations at six of our major ports.

This is not just any government, this is a government that just 5 years ago was involved directly, indirectly, in both tangential and more substantive ways in the 9/11 attacks.

There were 58 references in the 9/11 Commission Report to the United Arab Emirates and their involvement, either through allowing the 9/11 financing to be funneled through their banks, or just the fact that two of the 9/11 terrorists lived in the United Arab Emirates.

But the astonishing thing is that there were no national security reviews triggered under the law when the administration's committee that reviewed these deals took a look at it. There were no alarm bells set off. And that is even more astonishing because it is not even like we are checking the vast majority of containers and goods that come through our ports. Less than 6 percent, if you take a look at this chart, less than 6 percent of U.S. cargo coming through our ports is physically inspected, Mr. Speaker. Ninety-five percent is not inspected, 5 percent is inspected.

And that is in spite of the fact that Democrats have repeatedly proposed increasing the funding so that we can ensure more of the cargo coming through our ports is inspected. Literally what I learned when I went to the Port of Miami, Mr. Meek, is that in the last 5 years we have increased our security funding at our airports by $18 billion, which is a good thing. I mean that is absolutely essential.

And we have increased our port security funding by $700 million. Now, if you remember, I just went over the difference of what a billion means. So $18 billion on airport security, less than $700 million on port security.

I mean, you cannot rest our Nation's security on taking your shoes off as you go through the magnetometer at an airport. That cannot be the sum total of the additional security that we have increased since 9/11. I yield to the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Ryan).

Mr. RYAN of Ohio. Mr. Speaker, I think the point was, and we were all campaigning during the initial vote for the war. But I remember making the argument as I was campaigning, as I think a lot of other Democrats were here in the House, instead of going off to war, the alternative was, now we are spending a billion and a half dollars a week in Iraq, I think one of the alternative proposals was to fund this stuff, take care of the Nation's security, take care of the ports, make sure that we have enough people to do the kind of real inspection that we think needs to be done instead of spending the money elsewhere.

And when you think about it in a logical way, that this money is going to be spent to hire American workers to protect America, it makes a lot of sense.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. It has just been astonishing to me. I literally have had more calls in a shorter period of time on this issue from constituents, and not the organized calls, not the calls that groups generate, that they, you know, send an e-mail out to their members and say, call your Congresswoman, here is her phone number.

This is Joe and Jane Average Constituent who saw the news or read the newspaper or listened to the radio and called me and said, you know, what is going on here? Do these people not get it? How could they not get it? I have had little old ladies crying on the other end of the phone in my district office because the flames that have been fanned so much by this administration on the terror threat and national security, which is understandable because we really needed to raise the level of concern in America about being conscious of our own security. That is understandable.

But for the President to be shocked by the American people's reaction, that is what is so astonishing, that they are really the victims, I guess. Their decision is really the result of their own magnification of this issue. And, you know, that they have not responded with the funding that we need to enhance port security is just truly shocking.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. What is amazing, and you are so right, what has happened in the last several weeks is there has been an effort by the Bush administration since this DPW port deal has come to light to portray this as people who have a problem with Middle Eastern countries and even have gone so far as to say, well, why are you concerned, because Federal agencies control and conduct all port security.

I learned and knew this, but it was illuminated even more clearly when I went to the port that that is not the case. Yes, on the external port properties the government body running the port, in our case, in Miami it is the Board of County Commissioners in Miami, they are responsible for external security. But at a terminal in the Port of Miami Terminal Operating Company and under the five other terminals that DPW would take over, they are responsible for their own internal security. They will have intimate knowledge of the external security on the port property, and they are responsible for security internally.

This is a foreign government-owned company. This is not a private company from a foreign country. It is a foreign government-owned company.

Would it be okay with anyone in this country, not the least of which should be the Bush administration, if the same situation occurred in an airport? Would we let a foreign government-owned company run a terminal in our airports? Would we let them control loading and off-loading passengers or cargo coming into an airport? Not in a billion, no pun intended, years. Really.

Why are they so unconcerned about port security?

Let us look at what the Coast Guard is responsible for. Again, third-party validators. The Coast Guard on a typical day saves 15 lives, assists 117 people in distress, protects $2.8 million in property, interdicts 30 illegal migrants at sea, conducts 90 search and rescue cases, seizes $21 million worth of illegal drugs, responds to 11 oil and hazardous chemical spills, and boards and inspects 122 vessels.

There are 361 ports in this country that they are responsible for, and we have 95,000 miles of coastline. And the difference between what the Coast Guard has said they needed, $7.2 billion to really complete their mission in terms of port security, and what the Republican leadership here has appropriated, $910 million, is $6 billion. There is a disconnect from the top to the bottom here. It is shocking.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. The thing that we did not mention yet that is the most outrageous is the President in his budget that he just proposed actually eliminates direct port security grants. He literally says, no, no, no, we do not need to directly appropriate grant money to individual ports for port security. I have a bright idea. He has a bright idea. He wants to let ports compete for security grant funding with railway stations and airports and have any one of these transportation-related entryways to our country compete for security grants.

I mean, I do not understand that. He proposed it last year, and the response from the Republican Congress was a $910 million appropriations for port security. And now he is proposing it yet again.

Where are their priorities? If we are going to propose cuts to try to get the budget deficit situation under control, do we start with port security? I mean, when they are sitting down around the table in the Roosevelt Room, I really want to be a fly on the wall sometimes. Who in there is saying port security grants, that is what we should, that is how we are going to solve the deficit? Medicaid funding, we have got all the poor people covered with health care; who are the people the most in need, where are our most significant needs, let us cut those. It is astonishing.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. There is also specifically related to this Dubai Ports World deal a way to deal with it. There is the bigger issue of port security, and then there is this deal. What is it that is so darn important about this deal that it caused the President to threaten his first veto that if, God forbid, the Congress would do something crazy like pass legislation to stop it, to slow it down to conduct the national security review that should be done? I have the legislation that I have introduced on the House side and Senators Menendez and Clinton and Bill Nelson from our State that have introduced on the Senate side that would say that we should not allow foreign government companies to own or lease ports from us in this country and we should stop this deal and we should review the other foreign government-owned terminals that currently already are in the United States and give congressional oversight in that area.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. There is a very simple solution: we return to PAYGO rules. We return to the days when we spent what we had, like people in American households try to do every single day and struggle to do. But we have the ability to establish a rule. We have the ability to follow a rule that says we will only spend what we have. We have advocated, as Democrats, restoring the PAYGO rule, and we have been repeatedly rejected by the Republican leadership because they just want to continue to borrow and spend, borrow and spend.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Meek, the point I want to add is this body has openings for people of courage, and we encourage them to apply for those jobs over the next several months.

Mr. RYAN of Ohio. Job openings.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. There are job openings for people of courage. We need a few more people of courage. There are a couple on that side, but we need a whole lot more.

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