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Public Statements

The Economy

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

THE ECONOMY -- (Senate - September 17, 2008)

Mr. BROWN. Mr. President, since I took office last year, I have held more than 115 roundtables in nearly all of Ohio's 88 counties--from Ashtabula to Cincinnati, from Bryan the Gallipolis--as I bring together 15 or 20 people from a community and listen to them talk about their hopes and their dreams and what we can do together to make Ohio a better place and to move this country forward. But more than anything else, as I listen to people in communities such as Bucyrus and Mansfield and Wauseon, I hear about widespread economic anxiety and a betrayed middle class.

Ohioans have understood that for years, especially in the first 6 years of the Bush administration, this government allowed the drug companies to write the Medicare laws, allowed the oil industry to dictate energy policy, had allowed Wall Street to push through job-killing trade agreements through the House and the Senate.

They feel the middle class was betrayed by our Government. I hear from Ohioans worried about record high gas prices, worried about food prices, worried about good-paying jobs continuing to move overseas, worried about health insurance that costs more and covers less.

Some of these worries can be blamed in part on our current recession, but that misses the larger point. For the last 7 years, the labor force workers have worked harder and harder, leading to huge gains in productivity. The productivity of workers in our economy has gone up like this. Yet CEOs' salaries and bonuses went through the roof while middle class Americans' wages stagnated and more families slipped below the poverty line. Again, productivity has gone up like this, meaning workers are creating more wealth for their employers, but wages have been stagnant for 80 or 90 percent of the workforce.

In other words, as workers have produced more, as workers have been more productive, as workers have made more money for their bosses, if you will, they simply have not shared in the wealth they created. They are not getting raises. They are paying more for health insurance, they are seeing their pensions begin to disintegrate, as they are making more and more money for their employer.

At the same time, while China manipulated its currency and ignored labor and environmental standards, corporations took the bait and abandoned American communities. While hedge fund managers irresponsibly leveraged real estate holdings, millions of Americans lost their homes to foreclosures. In other words, while Wall Street enjoyed an inflated stock market and a so-called economic expansion, most Americans actually became worse off.

In the last few weeks, we know things have gotten worse. The Government has been forced to seize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Lehman Brothers, an institution on Wall Street for 150 years, filed for bankruptcy on Monday. It is also reported that for the 8th straight month, our Nation has lost jobs. The national unemployment rate is now 6.1 percent--a 5-year high. We know what happened to AIG today.

Mr. President, 9.4 million Americans are officially unemployed, 2.2 million more than a year ago--tens of thousands in my State of Ohio. In fact, you have to go back more than 15 years, to December 1992, to find a time when more Americans were forced to rely on the Government for their income.

In my State of Ohio, middle class workers are facing even more bad news. DHL, the cargo express carrier, has announced that more than 8,000 workers at Wilmington Air Park, the largest privately owned airport in the United States, will lose their jobs. Norwalk Furniture halted operations earlier this month, sending 500 employees home. General Motors is closing its plant in Moraine, a decision that will cost 1,200 Ohioans their livelihoods.

Do you know what. The worst part is this: The administration is proud of this record. They are proud of the free trade agreements that have protected corporate interests, that have eliminated good-paying manufacturing jobs, that have brought unsafe food, drugs, and toys into American homes. They are proud of these free trade agreements, and they want more of them.

They are proud of the tax cuts that went overwhelmingly to the wealthy and ignored the plight of the middle class. We know what that has meant. It has meant budget deficits as far as the eye can see. It has meant more money for the wealthiest people in this society, paid for by the middle class, and paid for by our children and our grandchildren of the future. Yet they are proud of these tax cuts that go overwhelmingly to the rich. The administration is proud of the financial deregulation that allowed greed on Wall Street to run amok.

These days, Republicans respond to critics by saying: Things aren't so bad. John McCain, our colleague from Arizona, said: The foundations of the economy are strong. Former Senator Phil Gramm, the mentor of Senator McCain, the chief economic adviser to Senator McCain, said: The recession is in our heads. It is a mental recession, he said.

I guess if you think things are going well, you advocate for more of the same, which is why Republicans continue to push for more tax cuts for corporations that outsource jobs overseas, pushing more energy policies that enrich oil companies and reinforce our dependence on foreign oil, pushing for more subsidies for private HMOs participating in Medicare, pushing more antiunion policies that undercut workers' power to bargain collectively and join the middle class, pushing for more hypocrisy that says we can afford to spend $10 billion a month in Iraq; we just cannot find the money to help uninsured children in Columbus or Zanesville or Dayton or Chillicothe or Springfield or Xenia.

In fact, since we had our last vote, about an hour ago, we have spent some $19 million on the war in Iraq. In the last hour, we have spent about $19 million on the war in Iraq. Think what that could do for health care, for education, for rebuilding our infrastructure in Lima and in Portsmouth and in Chillicothe.

Perhaps most troubling of all, Republicans are still, unbelievably enough, pushing for the privatization of Social Security. Can my colleagues imagine--Senator Sanders and I were talking about this a moment ago--if 3 years ago, when George Bush, DICK CHENEY, and John McCain were fighting to privatize Social Security, and people in this institution, including Leader Reid and Senator Sanders, when he was in the House of Representatives, and many of us fought against that privatization of Social Security--can my colleagues imagine if that had passed in early 2005? If the President and Senator McCain had had their way on the privatization of Social Security, can my colleagues imagine what this week would look like? Can my colleagues imagine, if 50 million retired Americans had had their entire life savings locked up in the stock market--can my colleagues imagine 50 million Americans opening their Social Security records, their mailing they get from Social Security and looking at what happened to their private accounts; money they had put in the stock market because George Bush and John McCain insisted on this risky scheme to privatize Social Security? Can my colleagues imagine what that would do to seniors in our society? Can my colleagues imagine what that would do to their future--if you are 65 and already on Social Security, if you are 50 and your mother is on Social Security, if you are about to join the ranks of Social Security? Can my colleagues imagine what one would think with food prices going up, with gas prices going up and all of a sudden, because you have these John McCain-George Bush privatized Social Security accounts, can my colleagues imagine what would be happening to their lives this week and the weeks ahead?

Despite 7 years of this tired thinking and of the wrong-headed economic policies that betray our middle class, American workers are standing strong and continuing to fight for a better future.

At my roundtables--as I mentioned, I have done some 1,500 roundtables in most of Ohio's 88 counties, in Cambridge and in Steubenville and in Defiance and in Miami County, all over--I still hear the hope and determination that defines this great Nation. I hear from community leaders. I hear from entrepreneurs with exciting plans for the future. What is happening with the incubator in Youngstown? What is happening with small business in Delaware? I hear about what people in Mansfield, my hometown, are doing to fight back. I hear from small business owners who are continuing to do the right thing. I hear from their loyal workers who take pride in their work and are valued by their employers. They tell us we need a government that similarly values loyalty and work ethic.

For too long, those in power have simply turned their back on American workers. They have ignored their needs and their dreams--the dreams of the middle class. They have instead catered to the wealthiest Americans. We know that a strong middle class builds a prosperous society and is the engine that makes this country go. But it doesn't have to be the way we have seen in the last few years where this Government in Washington--that allowed the drug companies to write the Medicare law; that allowed the oil industry to write energy policy; that allows Wall Street to push through job-killing trade agreements--all of this betrayal of the middle class from George Bush to Dick Cheney to John McCain, to far too many of my colleagues in this body and down the hall in the House of Representatives--people have had enough of this betrayal of the middle class. It doesn't have to be that way. The sooner we change direction, the sooner our economic woes will be behind us.

I yield the floor.

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