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Recovery Rebates and Economic Stimulus for the American People Act of 2008 -- Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, I first lend my voice to that of the Senator from Washington and the Senator from North Dakota, our distinguished chairman of the Budget Committee. I, too, am a member of the Budget Committee and am extremely disappointed that the President's budget this year is simply more of the same, in some cases worse--higher deficits, more cuts in a number of areas, and certainly the wrong priorities for families in America. It takes us in exactly the wrong direction from where we need to be going.

We are going to do what we have done in other years, which is put forward a very different vision for America, one that focuses on paying down the debt rather than increasing the debt, focuses on health care and education and investing in areas that will clean our water and our air and protect our lands and focus on the economy and good-paying jobs for middle-class families who are being hurt all across this country.

We heard today a larger number than I have even been using about what is being spent on this war. The number now is $16 billion a month, $4 billion a week on this war, and yet at the same time, the President believes we should eliminate funding for the COPS Program for local police officers and firefighters, makes dramatic cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, health care programs, cuts 48 different educational programs, and the list goes on and on.

I am looking forward, as a member of the Budget Committee, to put forward a very different vision. We intend to change the priorities of this country and put them back on those priorities that directly affect middle-class families and help them survive and thrive in an economy that is having a very tough time, where they are being hit on all sides with increased costs.

I wish to take a moment to speak about the stimulus package. As a member of the Finance Committee, I am very pleased with what we have been able to do working together on a bipartisan basis to come forward, again, with something that reflects a stimulus in the short run and focuses on critical areas, and we make sure a number of folks who were left out of the House package are not left out.

We start with 20 million seniors. I should also say we are going to have in this body two votes: a vote on whether to include 20 million seniors or a vote on whether to leave them out. That is the reality. Unfortunately, seniors on fixed incomes, whose only income is Social Security, have been left out of the House package. We, on a bipartisan basis, have put it into the Senate package.

So the question will be: Do my colleagues support and join with AARP and all the senior organizations that have been pushing and advocating and sending cards and letters and phone calls and urging us not to forget them, will you join with them, 20 million seniors, or will they be left out?

We also want to make sure our disabled veterans are not left out.

I am proud of the fact that we, in this new majority, this Democratic majority, have put veterans health care at the top and last year included real improvements in health care funding for the first time since that war began--the largest funding increases to support our veterans since the war began. This is another step in supporting our veterans. Two hundred and fifty thousand disabled veterans will be left out if the House bill is passed.

So we have a choice when we vote. We vote yes on 250,000 veterans--our disabled veterans, who have given more than I will give or most of us will give for our country--250,000 disabled veterans get the rebates and are part of the stimulus or they are not. The Senate package puts them in, the House package leaves them out.

There is another very important piece of this package, and that goes to the question of millions of middle-class Americans, who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves in a situation without a job. I have spoken many other times on the floor about the reasons for that--from not enforcing our trade policies and not investing in the technologies and the infrastructure and the things that we need to be doing to grow a 21st century manufacturing base and to be able to keep manufacturing jobs, middle-class jobs, all across this country.

There are many reasons for the fact that we have millions of people who are currently unemployed, but the fact is we do. We have middle-class Americans who find themselves on unemployment insurance, which pays about 40 percent of the normal wage, while they are trying to keep the house, keep up the mortgage payment, put food on the table, keep the lights on, pay for the kids' clothes that they need, and to put gas in the car so they can survive until they can get that next job.

Now, some have said, well, it is not that bad. I come from a State with the highest unemployment in the country. We have about 7.6 percent unemployment, and we are seeing not only in Michigan and a few States around the country that have been hit first, that this unemployment situation is beginning to creep out into millions of people, millions of middle-class families all across the country. So we are now hearing from Goldman Sachs and from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that while, as of January of this year, the unemployment rate was 5 percent, by next year the prediction is 6.5 percent. That is not Michigan, that is nationally. That is national unemployment.

So one of the things that is important about the Senate package is that instead of being behind the curve--and economists talk about our being behind the curve on a stimulus--we actually are putting in place a way to respond quickly to be ahead of the curve; to be there to extend unemployment compensation for 13 weeks and an additional 13 weeks if you hit this 6.5-percent unemployment, which, unfortunately, too many are saying we will reach. I hope they are wrong. I hope it goes in this direction. I certainly hope it goes in this direction for the great men and women in Michigan who have been working so hard. But the reality is it is most likely to be going in the direction of the 6.5 percent.

So for millions of middle-class families that have done nothing but play by the rules, care about their families, working for the American dream, proud to be Americans, sending their children or husbands and wives off to war, this package in the Senate will give them the dignity of knowing they can keep the household together while they are looking for their next job.

Now, a lot of folks say, well, this is going to discourage--in fact, I heard this from the Secretary of the Treasury this morning in the Finance Committee--that this may discourage people from looking for a job. Well, let us look at the reality of this. Let us look at the reality of what is happening right now in an economy where we have not focused on making sure we have a strong middle class, where we have not focused on enforcing our trade laws, where we are exporting jobs, not just products. Let us look at what is happening right now.

We have 7.7 million Americans--7.7 million Americans--competing for 4 million jobs. That is the reality in America today. So when we talk about the need to support and to help those 7.7 million Americans, this becomes absolutely critical as we look at our economy. The good news is that every economist, from the most liberal to the most conservative, as well as the Congressional Budget Office and so many others, has said that one of the best ways to stimulate this economy, in the short run, is to extend unemployment benefits. For every $1 in benefits, you generate $1.64. For every $1 that you put into unemployment benefits. Why? Because if you are unemployed, you don't have the option of saving. You are going to spend every single nickel you get.

Madam President, I ask unanimous consent for 1 more minute to close.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Ms. STABENOW. So when we look at this package, we have a choice between including or excluding 20 million seniors, excluding or including 250,000 disabled veterans, including or excluding millions of middle-class Americans looking for a job and, in addition to that, create jobs through alternative energy production and efforts to help the home-building industry, which is at the heart of what has been happening in terms of our economy. I am very pleased we have addressed those businesses that have operating losses now, to help them through the tax system and be able to keep going and not find themselves in a vice this year in terms of having fire sales to eliminate their inventory. I am pleased we have been able to include a $10 million revolving loan fund for States and local governments to help with refinancing of subprime loans.

We have a number of very important provisions, and it is very exciting to see the broad coalition that has come together, from business to labor, to seniors, to the environmentalists, to those creating energy jobs, to those in the housing workplace; and from homebuilders to those who are involved with State and local governments, and millions and millions of middle-class families all across this country who are counting on us to do more than provide a check but to create the ability for investments and for jobs that will grow the economy.

So I am very hopeful we will come together with the necessary votes to stop the filibuster that is happening here. I wish we could simply have an up-or-down vote on this. We certainly have the votes. But because of the situation we are in, because of the Republican filibuster, it is necessary to get 60 votes to be able to stop the filibuster. So I am very hopeful we will have enough colleagues joining together on a bipartisan basis in order to be able to do that.

Madam President, I thank the Chair.


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