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Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, most of us who had an opportunity to get home to our own States and perhaps travel around the country recently have found a number of concerns of working families. It is pretty uniform. I certainly have found it so in my travels in the State of New Hampshire and Iowa, out in the Southwest, Midwest, over recent weeks.

One of the enduring issues, I find, that is uniform across the country is the state of our economy. It is reflected in a variety of different ways. It might be reflected in one family which finds that increased college tuition is putting an extreme burden on a family budget. Maybe another family has the high cost of prescription drugs that is putting an extraordinary burden on those under Medicare and Social Security and the savings of other members of the family. It may be those who have lost jobs and have gotten back in the job market and actually found a job, but they are concerned because their incomes are generally 23, 24, 25-percent less with the new job than the old job.

By and large, the state of our economy is an ongoing concern, and it doesn't have to be this way. We have seen when we have had strong Presidential leadership-and the most recent case was with President Clinton where we had extraordinary economic growth, price stability, virtually free from inflation, and we had the creation of 22 million jobs. I don't think an administration can continuously say that jobs are going to be better, that we are having a military conflict, we inherited a recession, and there is nothing more we can do. I reject that, and I think most economists do, and many political leaders do as well.

We have to look at what we can do in a very temporary way in the Senate. One of the mechanisms that we can provide is to extend the unemployment compensation for men and women who have paid into that fund over the years, and now we are seeing that Republicans are blocking having even a temporary extension of unemployment compensation funds, even though the fund itself is in surplus of some $17 billion. That is being rejected.

As a matter of fact, we are seeing parliamentary gymnastics being used on the floor of the Senate to even prohibit a vote in the Senate to get accountability by Members of the Senate on this issue. Those on the other side say: No way; we are going to use the parliamentary gymnastics so you will not even get a vote, Senator Cantwell, on your unemployment issue, and, no, Senator Clinton, on one of the glaring economic policy issues of this administration, and that is shipping jobs overseas. Can you imagine that? The administration's spokesperson said shipping jobs overseas is to the advantage of the American economy.

Why don't we debate that on the Senate floor and find out who on the other side wants to defend shipping jobs overseas? You cannot travel around this country and go to any community and not hear workers' fear about outsourcing and shipping jobs overseas. You cannot do it. Here, the Senator from New York wants to get a debate and discussion about what we ought to do about that. Members of this body have ideas on what we ought to be doing and they want to express their views. But, no, they are cut off. No. No, you cannot do it. We are going to use the rules of the Senate to prohibit that kind of discussion and debate and prohibit some kind of resolution, some accountability by Members. Maybe there are those who want to do it.

I think the American people would have more respect for us if we vote up or down on that resolution. But, no, our Republican friends say, no, we don't want to-I say this-embarrass our Members by having to take a tough vote on it. I don't blame them. But it is poor solace to those workers when they find out at last what the economic policies of this administration are and they value sending the jobs overseas. That is what we are going to attempt.

Madam President, I want to review what the job situation has been over the period of these recent years and measure where we are with what was actually predicted by President Bush and the Bush administration. I think by looking at this at least we can begin to understand why the Senator from Washington, Ms. Cantwell, wanted to have an extension of the unemployment compensation. Ninety thousand workers a week are losing their unemployment compensation.

I don't know how they get by. You are going to see that real wages have gone down. Most families are having a tough time, and they live from paycheck to paycheck. They are paying the mortgage, putting food on the table, and clothing their children, perhaps putting something aside for higher education. How are they going to deal with the fact that when they lose jobs, through no fault of their own, they are going to be denied a helping hand to deal with the cyclical factors that impacted our economy?

Look at what this chart shows. This says: "Every year, job growth falls short of the Bush promises." This goes back to the year 2001. The difference between what this administration promised in 2001 and where we are today is represented by 5.2 million jobs. Do you understand that? The promise in 2002 was that we would have 5.2 million jobs more than we have today. We missed the prediction by 5 million jobs. Now, in 2003, the President makes a different judgment about where we are going to be in 2003. He is only off by 2.5 million jobs for 2003. This line represents what was predicted by the Bush administration in 2002. This line here is what they predicted in 2003, and this orange line is the reality.

Let's look at it in another way. This chart shows a purple line, what was actually predicted by the Bush administration for 2002 promise. These are the number of new jobs predicted. We heard the other day about the administration predicting new jobs. All you have to do is look at their predictions over time and you can see how much value we ought to give those predictions. Here it is: 2001 is the purple line, and 2002 is the green line, 2003 is the blue line, all going up there. The actual jobs are represented by the red line, showing that we have lost 2.5 million jobs. Those are the facts.

As a result of the fact that we have lost those 2.5 million jobs, let's just look at what has happened in terms of the average wages for the jobs that we have retained in the United States. The jobs gained do not pay as much as the jobs lost, this chart says. This is the average wage-the national average for 2001, which was $44,570. Today, it is $30,410. That is a reduction of 21 percent for average wages for workers in this country.

Not only have we seen the loss of jobs, but even for the jobs that have been retained, we have seen the income going down, headed south. Not only is this the reality of what is happening in the job market, but also our Republican friends want to eliminate any opportunity for these families to gain additional funds with overtime. That is what is happening out there across this country.

Now we hear, well, we have had a recession, but we have come out of the recession and everything is going to be OK. Everything is just going to be hunky-dory in terms of the labor market area and wages for American workers.

Look at this chart. If you compare what happened in the 1990s, up through 1998, and to the year 2000, in the fourth quarter of each of the recessions that took place during that period of time, you will find in the last quarter of the recession during that period of 8 to 10 years, the job was paying $18.30 an hour. The old jobs were paying $16.31 an hour. Now in this last recovery that this administration says is so great, look at this: The average job was paying $16.92 an hour, and the new jobs are paying $15.65 an hour. The new jobs are paying a good deal less. It says just what the other chart says.

So not only are we not reaching the job goals, they missed it by 5 million. Even the jobs that are being created, the pay is 20, 25 percent less.

Let's look at what has happened in terms of the number of those who are long-term unemployed. Look at this chart. Compared to what it was in January 2000, when we had 680,000 people unemployed, it was 1.9 million people in January of 2004. These are the long-term unemployed. These are the men and women who have been looking for jobs, trying to get jobs. This doesn't even measure the number of people who have become so discouraged, they are not even looking any longer.

We have an enormous number of people who are looking for jobs. This chart is probably more reflective of the problem. From 1973 to 2003, the average number of unemployed in January: 151,000. That is through good times and recessions. Today it is 375,000. These figures are from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. It is 375,000, more than double the average. That is why we are asking: Why can't we reach out to these workers? These are hard-working Americans who paid into the fund over a long period and are entitled to those payments.

The fund is $17 billion in surplus. The proposal of Senator Cantwell would cost $7 billion. We have 90,000 workers a week who are losing out on this amount. Look at the contrast between this administration and the previous administration on unemployment compensation to workers. Let's look at the difference.

In the early 1990s, when we were facing a recession, coming into 1990, 1991, and early 1992, we had an increase in unemployment. The previous administration, the Clinton administration, kept the extension on unemployment compensation until we had grown 2.9 million jobs. Then they terminated it, as they should; we were in a period of very significant expansion.

Look at where we are now. We have lost 2.4 million jobs, and we have terminated unemployment compensation.

Do you see the contrast between the two administrations and how they reached out to working families? Nonetheless, we are denied the opportunity to even consider an amendment that was going to be offered by the Senator from Washington to permit some 6 months and have the temporary workers.

This is what is happening as a result: We have a decline in purchasing power for workers; we have an administration that is against overtime, an administration that is against extending unemployment compensation, against any kind of increase in the minimum wage.

There are 7 million Americans who would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage, and this is what has happened:

More than half of the unemployed adults have had to postpone medical treatment-that is 57 percent-or cut back on spending for food. That is happening in America. They had to postpone important medical treatment or cut back on food. One in four has had to move to other housing. We are talking about workers who have worked hard, played by the rules, struggled for their families, and this is our answer to them: Let's do a parliamentary trick so you can't have a vote on extending unemployment compensation. That is the answer of the other side. We are not even going to give you a vote on the issue.

This is what is happening to fellow Americans: 38 percent have lost telephone service; 22 percent are worried they will lose their money; more than a third have trouble paying gas or electric bills. These are real problems. The list goes on.

What is the impact? We have been talking about dollars and cents, but we haven't talked about the quality of life of these workers and what they go through: 77 percent of unemployed Americans say the level of stress in their family has increased. That is understandable. We don't think about it. I don't know how you put a dollar figure on that.

Two-thirds of those with children have cut back on spending on their children. This is an issue not only for workers, it is an issue for their children as well. It is a children's issue. It is a family issue. We heard a great deal on the other side about family issues, family values. We have one right here on unemployment compensation. This is a children's issue, a family issue.

Twenty-six percent say another family member had to start a job or increase hours; 23 percent had to interrupt their education. That is nice, isn't it? The children of these workers had to drop out of school because a member of their family-their father or mother-has been laid off and cannot get the resources to go to school.

We hear a good deal from the other side: Senator Kennedy, you don't just understand. We have a recovery. It is on the way. It is taking place today. You just don't understand it. These problems will all be resolved. Right? Wrong.

Look at this chart. The Bush economy corporate profits ballooned compared to workers' wages. Look in the early 1990s-this chart is 1993-when we were recovering. When we had the recovery, workers' wages represented 60 percent of the economic expansion during this time. The percent that went to corporate profits was 39.74 percent; 60 percent for wages, 39 percent for corporate profits.

We all heard at the time of the President's State of the Union Address those descriptions about how the economy was doing so well, profits were up, expanding the American economy. Look at today's recovery: 87 percent in profits, 13 percent in wages.

I don't know how many other indicators we need to understand what is happening to workers in America. They are hurting, and hurting badly. Many of them need the kind of help that unemployment compensation provides.

At other times, with different administrations, with a Democratic administration, we were prepared, particularly when the fund was in surplus and particularly when these workers have paid into the fund-we were willing to extend that unemployment compensation. There have been 11 times in the last few weeks that Members of this body on this side of the aisle have requested we have an extension of unemployment compensation. The House of Representatives voted for it, including 39 Republicans. But this Republican leadership says: No, no way; fill up the tree; get all kinds of procedural blocks to make sure we don't even bring it up and we don't have a vote.

American workers ought to understand this point. That is against the background of the leading economic advisers explaining to the President of the United States that we are better off if we ship more jobs overseas. And this institution, that should be debating national policy, is being shut down by those who don't want to hear the debate and don't want accountability. That is a great mistake. It is a mistake, most of all, for our workers and their families, it is a mistake for our economy, and it is a mistake for our country.

I join with others who will say these issues are not going away. You may be able to get a little block here and a little block there, but we are going to bring these issues up time and again.

We have that responsibility to these workers and their families, and they should recognize that we are not going to retreat; we are not going to step back. We are going to do everything that is necessary to make sure we are going to get the economic justice these workers deserve.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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