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Department of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2004

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. STABENOW. Thank you very much, I say to my friend and colleague and our leader from Nevada.

Before asking a question, I first want to rise on behalf of the people of Michigan to thank you today for coming to this floor and speaking about what is most important to the people I represent.

As you have said so eloquently, this 30 hours we are going to be doing is about four people who already have jobs who want to be promoted.

Well, in Michigan, we, right now, have over 263,000 people without jobs. They are not up for promotions. They do not have work at all because of, primarily, the loss of manufacturing jobs. They are grateful, as I am, that you have come to the floor to speak about this.

I want to just share with you today a few headlines from the papers. I have been traveling around northern Michigan this last weekend, and everywhere I go-Baldwin, MI, Reed City, Lake City-all around the State I hear the same thing about the loss of furniture makers, the loss of tool and die makers, the loss of other auto suppliers.

Here we have a headline from the Grand Rapids Press: "2,700 Jobs in Danger as Electrolux Considers Closing Greenville Refrigerator Plant." The Holland Sentinel: "Ford Sets Timetable for Plant Closings." Also, GM is laying off one shift in Lansing, my hometown.

Here is another headline: "Straits Steel Closing Sad News for Plant's 180 Employees." From the Ann Arbor news: "Eaton Plant to Become Condos." From the Lansing State Journal: "Jobless Rate Could Rise in Winter."

I ask my friend, as we look at what is happening, and as they talk about the change in the growth and the positive indicators in the economy, isn't it true that we are not seeing new jobs created? In many States, such as mine, we are seeing the best paying jobs, manufacturing jobs, evaporating for many different reasons? And isn't that something we should be talking about on the floor of the Senate, the loss of manufacturing jobs?

They cannot just all be in the service industry. We need to make things in this country.

That is what I do. That is what people in my State do very well, and they want to continue. Wouldn't my friend say we should be talking about the loss of manufacturing jobs and the people and the families?

Mr. REID. The Senator is absolutely right. I talked about the State of Michigan earlier today. I talked about my having asked you a question last week, and you responded that 9 million people live in the great State of Michigan. A quarter of 1 million people are out of work that we know of. Those are the people who are still carried on the unemployment rolls. There are probably 150,000 more who have been on so long they are not even counted on the rolls. The Senator is absolutely right.

I finalize my answer to the Senator's question by referring to a letter I received from a woman today from Elko County, NV, a place called Spring Creek.

She wrote that she would work a part-time job or two part-time jobs. She would do anything she could. She has a desperate situation at home. She has a husband who is disabled. He can't move. For every job that opens, 50 people apply for the job. She ends her letter to the President and me by saying:

Gentleman. This is the greatest country in the world. The middle class needs a break. I don't want a free ride. I just want a job or jobs that will supply the basic needs of our family.

That is all that people are asking. They want a job to take care of their families. I am at a loss. I am concerned. What are we doing here, spending 30 hours talking about four people who have jobs, when we have millions, we are approaching 10 million people who don't have jobs? We have millions of people who are not even counted on the rolls anymore because they have been out of work so long.

As I established earlier today, the average person is out of work in America today 5 months. If you lose a job, unless you are real lucky, you are not going to find another job until December, January, February, March, April-if you are lucky. That is the average. But you may have to wait until August or, if you get lucky, you might get one in February.

The point is, why can't we spend time on jobs for people who count, not the four, the big four, so to speak, we are going to spend 30 hours on?

The Senator from Michigan has read the press just as I have: This is something we have to do. We have to have the Senate be the Senate.

What does that mean? Does that mean we have to approve every judge who comes through? If we do that, if we are good boys and girls over here, they will let us go home at night or maybe let us spend a little bit of time talking about the environment. Do you ever think we might want to talk about the environment?

You know the Clean Water Act came to be not because somebody got a bright idea: Wouldn't it be great to have a Clean Water Act. It came to be because the Cayuga River in Ohio kept catching fire, a river kept burning. It was so polluted, it burned. President Nixon and others said: Well, you know-I don't know if he said this, but I am sure they thought it-I don't think that is a good idea to have rivers on fire. Maybe there is something wrong. And we passed the Clean Water Act. A Republican President, Democratic Congress, we passed the Clean Water Act. Why? Because rivers were on fire.

Wouldn't it be nice if we spent a little time on the environment? Pollution is causing kids all across America to have respiratory problems. Asthma is something that kids get. It is something that was rarely heard of in children. Now a lot of them have asthma and all kinds of respiratory problems. I would like to talk about the environment. Maybe not for 30 hours but a few hours would be nice if we had a debate here on that.

Of course unemployment, we need to talk about that. I appreciate very much the Senator from Michigan being as diligent as she is. I have talked a lot today about the minimum wage. Let me give you a few facts about that.

Three million more Americans are in poverty today than when President Bush took office. We are not talking about a few people; 3 million more people have gone into poverty than live in the State of Nevada in the last 3 years. The State of Nevada, if you stretch it, could get up to maybe 2.4 or 2.5 million people. More people than live in the State of Nevada have gone into poverty in the last 3 years. Is that something on which we should spend a few minutes?

Why is there so much poverty? What is going on? Why is the middle class shrinking? And the rich, that class is getting bigger and bigger and the poor are growing bigger and bigger. The middle class is going away. Today more than 34 million people live in poverty. Of that, 12 million are children, babies.

I remember, I wasn't raised with a lot of material things, but I was never hungry. I always had plenty to eat. I can remember in the little town of Searchlight, one of my friends-I don't know how old we were, maybe 11, I think that is about right-was hungry. I never had seen anything like this before. There was a refrigerator. He went into the refrigerator and there was nothing there except a bottle of syrup. And there was hardly anything in the bottle. So he went to the sink and shook that up and drank that. That kid was hungry. There was nothing in the refrigerator. He shook up that little bit of syrup and he drank it. And I am sure it gave him a little bit of energy.

But 34 million people live in poverty, 12 million children. Some of those kids are like my friend was, who had nothing to eat and drank a bottle of weakened syrup. It was not Vermont pure maple, I will tell you that.

Among full-time, year-round workers, poverty has doubled since the 1970s, from about 1.3 million, and now we have an unacceptably low minimum wage as part of the problem. The minimum-wage employees work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, earn $10,700 a year-more than $4,500 below the poverty line for a family of three. And we can't get on this floor even to debate the minimum wage. They won't let us. They stop us.

No, we are not going to talk about the minimum wage. We are more worried about tax cuts for the elite of this country. We can spend a lot of time talking about tax cuts for the elite, what we can do to make things better for rich people.

But poor people, people who live on the minimum wage-if a person works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year of course, they are not getting any vacation time-they make less than $11,000 a year. It is below the poverty line, $4,500 below the poverty line. The current minimum wage fails to provide enough income to enable minimum-wage workers to afford adequate housing any place in the country. Every day the minimum wage is not increased, it continues to lose value and workers fall further and further and further behind.

Minimum-wage workers have already lost all the gains of the 1997 increase. When we raised it, we didn't raise it enough to keep up with past problems. I think it is interesting to note the real value of the minimum wage is more than $3 below what it was in 1968. So whatever the minimum wage was in 1968, we are $3 below that.

The minimum wage today should be $8.15 to have the purchasing power it had in 1968. It is $5.15. Nearly 7 million workers would directly benefit from our proposed minimum-wage increase. And listen to who these workers are: 35 percent are their family's sole earner; 62 percent are women; one-third of these women, that is the money they get for the kids and them, that is all they have; 16 percent are African Americans; 19 percent are Hispanic Americans. A $1.15 increase for a full-time, year-round worker would add $3,000 to their income.

A gain of $3,000 would have an enormous impact on minimum-wage workers and families, even though it still wouldn't give them the buying power they had in 1968. It would be enough money for a low-income family of three to buy 11 months of groceries, 7 months of rent, 14½ months of utilities, and maybe, maybe send one of the kids to school at a community college.

Ms. STABENOW. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. REID. I will without my losing my right to the floor.

Ms. STABENOW. Just one more question for my friend. I thank the Senator again very much for laying out what we ought to be doing, our priorities, all of our debates about values and priorities. The Senator has certainly laid out what the values and priorities should be for our focus of time. As you were reading the list of items, I was thinking about that mom on minimum wage who is caring for her children. She probably has sleepless nights hoping they won't get sick because she is probably not covered for health insurance either.

As we look at the number of people in the country and in my State who have lost their jobs, and the number of people on minimum wage, they are not just losing a job; in most cases, they are losing their health care as well.

In Michigan now, one out of four people under the age of 65 has no health care. Many, as the Senator has talked about, are low-income people; but many of them are high-income manufacturing workers who have lost their jobs.

Would the Senator not agree that what we are seeing now, when people lose their jobs, is not just the loss of the income but a loss of the stability of the families and the ability to care for the health of the family because their health insurance is gone as well? Should we not be talking about what is happening in this country in terms of those who have no health insurance or the businesses that are trying to pay for the health insurance?

Mr. REID. Mr. President, I tell my friend that I read the list of hundreds of companies today that, in the last few months, have laid off people. With rare exception, every one of those jobs is a job where they had health insurance. They are thrown off the rolls because COBRA-that means you can buy the insurance, but they don't have the money to do that. So what happens is they go to an emergency room, which is the highest cost of care in America. That is where they are forced to go. It is a scandal and an embarrassment that we don't do more to help solve the health insurance crisis we have in America.

Wouldn't it be nice, I say to anybody within the sound of my voice, if we had a debate on the Senate floor about health insurance? Why do we have 44 million people with no health insurance? That number is going up. Every day, that number is going up. The first thousand days of the Bush administration should not be days he looks at proudly.

One of the very important issues we have to deal with-I have not talked about it at all today-is, What are we going to do about prescription drugs?

I am very fortunate. We in the Senate have a good health insurance plan. My wife asked me today, when I came to work, if I would call Grubbs Pharmacy-which is on the Hill, and they are very good to work with-if I would call her Las Vegas physician and have him call Grubbs for a couple of prescriptions she needs. We have the money to do that. There wasn't a question of whether we could afford it. I am in a position where we have health insurance.

Most people in America don't have that luxury. Prescription drugs for the elderly and for working-class Americans is very difficult. I want to say before my friend leaves, no one out of the 535 Members of Congress-I hope everybody in Michigan knows this-leadership or nonleadership, has worked as hard and been more devoted to trying to find a solution to the problem of prescription drugs than the junior Senator from Michigan, Ms. Stabenow. She understands the issue. She works hard on the issue. Wouldn't it be nice if, next Wednesday at 6 o'clock, we had a debate between the junior Senator from Michigan and anybody who wants on the other side? You would win the debate hands down. This is an issue we would be happy to debate. Let's take that time and start talking about prescription drugs. Why can we not do that-not only for seniors within the confines of Medicare but do something for everybody?

So we should be, as an institution, somewhat concerned-as busy as we are-with the issues about which we have talked. We have so many different things about which to talk. We have veterans. I have not spent time today talking about veterans. Tomorrow I will spend some time talking about veterans because they deserve some attention, too.

Are we going to talk about veterans on Wednesday at 6 o'clock? Not one word. In fact, Miguel Estrada-and it would not make any difference-is not a veteran. I don't see Pryor's service record, and the two women have not been in the military. So we are talking about four people, as far as I know, with no military experience. We are not going to spend any of the time talking about them from 6 o'clock on Wednesday until 12 o'clock Thursday.

Maybe we should talk about veterans a little bit or about emergency disaster assistance or about homeland security or education for at-risk children. We have not talked about pensions. We need to talk about the Equal Rights and Equal Dignity for Americans Act. That is important. It affects millions of people. There is plenty we need to talk about that will not be allowed to proceed, and we should not be bogged down by 30 hours, covering Wednesday night and all day Thursday into Thursday night, talking about Estrada, who was treated so badly-oh, out of the 30 hours, we will give him 25 percent of the time; we will spend 25 percent of the 30 hours on Owen from Texas; and then we will spend some time on Pickering because we should do that-he is entitled to 25 percent of the 30 hours-and then, of course, we can wrap it up by spending the rest of the time on the attorney general of Alabama, recognizing that every one of these people has a good job.

So we are going to talk for 30 hours about people who have jobs-four people. We are not spending 30 seconds on the 9 million-plus Americans who have no jobs. We are not spending 30 seconds on the 44 million Americans who have no health insurance. We are not talking about the millions who are going into poverty as we speak, about the people I read about on the charts who are losing jobs now, as we speak. As we speak, decisions are being made to lay people off in America. And then we have the budget deficit and the national debt. That is what we should be doing. But no, we are not going to do that.

Finally, Mr. President, completing my statement for minimum wage, I indicated that if we gave a $1.50 an hour increase, we could give a family of three 11 months of groceries, 7 months of rent, 14½ months of utilities, and they could even pay tuition for most community colleges.

History shows that raising the minimum wage has not had any negative impact on jobs, employment, or inflation. In the 4 years after the last minimum-wage increase was passed, the economy experienced the strongest growth in more than 30 years. Nearly 11 million new jobs were added at a pace of 218,000 a month. There were 6 million new service and industrial jobs and a half a million retail jobs.

A fair increase is long overdue. Congress should act quickly to pass a minimum-wage increase to reflect the losses suffered as a result of the shameful inaction of the past. No one who works for a living should have to live in poverty.

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