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Public Statements

District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA HOUSE VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 2009 -- (Senate - February 26, 2009)


Mr. BROWNBACK. Madam President, I appreciate the debate on several key
amendments. I also want to recognize my colleague from California and her strong support--indeed, key position--on the voucher program, the DC scholarship program that she has been one of the primary architects of and wants to get measurables on it. It is in the subcommittee on appropriations on which I serve, and she has been a key person on that. It is my hope we can work that out, whether it is going to be at a later time for reauthorization or if we can pass it here today. It is a key program, and I want to recognize what my colleague has done on that historically. That is what I come to the floor to talk about, as well as a couple of other things that are coming up but particularly the DC scholarship program. It is an amendment. We have it appropriated in the appropriations bill, but it is required for reauthorization. It needs to be reauthorized. My hope is that the majority leader will say, yes, we will bring this up for reauthorization and give us floor time to do that. I understand the manager of this bill has said he would bring it up in his committee and do a markup in committee.

I have worked for this program for some period of time. I have worked with the students and parents in this program. They love it. They appreciate the chance to succeed in a failed school system. The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program has received applications from over 7,000 low-income students, has served over 2,600 of these children. We have far more applicants than we do slots. When these students entered the program, they had average math and reading test scores in the bottom third of all test takers. Recent evaluation by the U.S. Department of Education--this goes back to last year--affirms academic gains among scholarship students less than 2 years after receiving a scholarship. Last year, after less than 1 year in the program, two subgroups of students, representing 83 percent of participating students, showed positive results in math, and both years showed overwhelming parental satisfaction. Parents like it. Students are doing better. It is working.

I certainly wish to salute Mayor Fenty and DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee for making education reform and support for this program something important in the District. They made this a high priority.

Certainly, we have to get the schools functioning in the District of Columbia. This is a piece of it that is working for 1,700 students. We need it reauthorized to be able to continue to move it forward. It would be heartless for us not to do it.

I recognize a number of people have a problem with it on this bill. I understand that. If there is a chance we can get an agreement that the reauthorization would take place later, that would be a wise route to go, and then follow through regular order. But this one is working and is working well. It is being well received by parents and students. It has an odd sort of support base where it has both left and right. It has a lot of people in a low-income situation supporting it. It is one of those pieces of legislation that have a broad base of support ideologically and practically. People want to see it moving forward and have it succeed as an overall program. I am very hopeful this Congress can do that.

Two other quick points. One is coming up on the fairness doctrine that will be considered. The fairness doctrine, to educate my colleagues--I am sure everybody is familiar with it--was promulgated by the FCC in 1949 to ensure that contrasting viewpoints would be presented on radio and television.

In 1985, the FCC began the process of repealing the doctrine after concluding that it actually resulted in broadcasters limiting coverage of controversial issues of public importance.

Now we are hearing from some voices saying this doctrine should be put back in place. I urge colleagues to not do that. This isn't the way for us to get a good discussion going in the public marketplace. Indeed, the results in the past, and I believe today, would be that the doctrine would actually result in less, not more, broadcasting of important issues to the public. Airing controversial issues would subject broadcasters to regulatory burdens and potentially severe liabilities. They simply would say: We will not put anything on.

Just think about the changing landscape in broadcast radio and television that has taken place since 1949. These numbers are startling. In 1949, there were 51 television stations in the country and 2,500 radio stations. Maybe a lot of people wish we would go back to that era of less media, but we will not. In 1958, there were 1,200 television stations and 9,800 radio stations. Today, there are 1,800 television stations and 14,000 radio stations. There is simply no scarcity to justify content mandates such as the fairness doctrine that would be a regulatory nightmare for radio and television stations. Plus, we have all the new media, social networking, and individual citizen access to information on the Internet that does not warrant this being put back into place.

Finally, to comment on the second amendment rights, the Supreme Court, in a historic ruling, has found that second amendment rights apply to the individual, and that applies to individuals across the country, that applies to individuals in the District of Columbia. I think those should be continued and guaranteed and supported by this body as well. I think it would be appropriate for us to support that and support that in this legislation.

Madam President, in conclusion, I would like to have printed in the Record two editorials in agreement from two publications that frequently do not agree. One is from the Wall Street Journal and the other is from the Washington Post. Both are in support of the DC voucher program, saying it works--it works for kids, it works for parents--and is something that should be continued. I have never had printed in the Record before editorials from those two publications at the same time agreeing on the same topic, particularly in education. I think what it says is that this one is working and should be continued.

So I ask unanimous consent that the editorials be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:



Mr. BROWN. Mr. President, we are in the worst recession since the Great Depression. We have been in a recession in my State longer than the official 13 months that economists have noted. With the economic recovery package signed into law last week, we took a major step toward getting our economy on the path for success and toward rebuilding and strengthening the Nation's middle class. The economic recovery package means billions of dollars to help shore up State budgets and help States pay for essential programs such as Medicaid and unemployment insurance. The economic recovery package means money for job-creating efforts from shovel-ready projects to long-term investment in new technology.

In this economic crisis, we have seen demand for manufactured goods slow to a crawl. Coupled with the unavailability of credit, many manufacturers have ceased or idled operations. American manufacturing shed 800,000 jobs last year, nearly one-third of all job losses. Last week many people probably missed the bad news on manufacturing released by the Federal Reserve. The Fed reported that output in manufacturing fell 2.5 percent in January. That means manufacturing lost 207,000 jobs in January alone. That is on top of manufacturing falling nearly 3 percent in December. This puts manufacturing's decline over the last 3 months at a shocking 26.7 percent.

That is why this recovery package is so important. The recovery package has two key objectives: stimulate the economy and create jobs. The Government is investing billions of tax dollars in infrastructure, in safety net programs and alternative energy development. It is common sense to ensure that Federal funds for this recovery are used to buy American products and to help promote manufacturing and job creation.

Studies across the board say more jobs are created when we have strong domestic sourcing requirements. One recent study estimates 33 percent more manufacturing jobs will be created with ``Buy America''. When we utilize domestically manufactured goods, the more jobs we will create and the greater the stimulus will be to our economy, an economy that has been the engine of growth for the world. The American people clearly have spoken out that they want this ``Buy America'' provision. ``Buy America'' is common sense. The majority of Americans know that. Some 84 percent favored strong ``Buy America'' provisions in the stimulus.

Last week in Cleveland I visited ArcelorMittal Steel, a steel manufacturer that employs lots of people but is a foreign-owned company. I met with the plant manager and his staff. I met with union workers, including some who were recently laid off. This company, similar to all steel companies, is down 45 percent of its capacity. They are forced to lay off workers because the demand for steel has declined--steel for autos, steel for household appliances, steel for infrastructure projects. We talked about ``Buy America'' provisions and how that can help the plant get up and running again. It is important to note that ArcelorMittal is an international company. Its headquarters is not located in the United States. Yet that company believes ``Buy America'' provisions make sense, a foreign-based company that are more foreign-based companies with American factories such as ArcelorMittal that can benefit from the stimulus. I hope ``Buy America,'' if properly implemented and properly enforced, will help manufacturers such as ArcelorMittal and even attract new foreign investment in the United States. We need to make sure these provisions are properly implemented. We need to make sure that when a State or local government requests a waiver on ``Buy America'' provisions, the agency makes the request known. We need transparency so that, at the very least, the taxpayers know if dollars are going to domestic or foreign manufacturers.

There are good reasons on occasion to have waivers. Sometimes domestic steel or iron or cement might be too costly for a project to make sense. Sometimes the right product in the right quantity may not be available at the right time. Waivers are fine if implemented correctly, fairly, and with transparency. But that has not always been the case. Since 2001, the Federal Highway Administration has granted 54 ``Buy America'' waivers. The Federal Transit Administration has granted more than 40 waivers. Most were granted based on the product not being available in the United States. When the waiver request is not known by anyone except the Federal agency that receives it, how do we know the products are not made in America? Waivers can be fine but not if they are granted without transparency. We have a responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure that these dollars are creating American jobs.

Americans, whether they are in Denver or Columbus, have supported ``Buy America'' in large numbers. We know that, when the President spoke down the hall in the House about this stimulus package and about our efforts. We also know, if we are going to ask Americans to reach into their pockets and spend tens of millions of dollars on infrastructure projects, as Americans have said they would, we also need to know this will create the jobs we promised.

The American people want three things: Accountability, which we give in this package; they want to know that this infrastructure is done by American workers; and they want to know their tax dollars are used to buy materials made in America for these projects that American workers are building.

We have a responsibility to give American manufacturers the opportunity to bid on the steel and iron and cement and the concrete that will be in demand for these massive investments. ``Buy America'' is significant because it helps ensure we have a diverse and strong manufacturing base.

Textbook trade theory says that making companies more and more specialized in one sector is an unquestionable good, but that is not always true. We have seen countries such as Great Britain overspecialize in finance while neglecting manufacturing. Some might say that has happened here. The people screaming bloody murder about ``Buy America'' are the same people who oversold the benefits of free trade. These are entrenched interests, companies that, for instance, outsource their manufacturing, move their manufacturing plants abroad. They import products back into the United States, and they use cheap labor. That is so much of the story. In opposing ``Buy America,'' companies would say: We want to be able to sell our products overseas. That is not the real story. The real story is these companies want to outsource their production to China, use very inexpensive labor, take advantage of no worker safety rules in China, take advantage of very weak environmental rules in China, make those products there and then import them back into the United States, outsource the jobs to China, make the products there, and bring the products back to the United States. We know what that does to American employment. We also know what it does for food safety, toy safety, vitamins, all the things we have seen, contaminants in the food and toys. We cannot afford this any longer. We cannot be a healthy economy without strong manufacturing. A healthy economy is a balanced one, not overly dependent on one sector.

Let me be clear. ``Buy America'' is not about slowing international trade. The editorial boards and pundits may scream trade war when the Congress considers how it will spend taxpayer dollars, but there is no danger of a trade war. There is no danger of protectionism. We are a country with the most open markets in the world. We are a country with an $800 billion trade deficit, $2 billion a day going out of the country rather than money coming into the country. How can we be called protectionist when we have that policy?

The United States will continue to have the most open market in the world, and we should. The United States is a signatory to the World Trade Organization and other trade deals that actually limit policies that countries can use on things such as ``Buy America'' or on climate change or on food and product safety. That, in itself, is a subject matter for further debate.

This is about using tax dollars in the best way to create jobs in Illinois, Colorado, and in Ohio. Now that the provisions are in the bill, Congress will work with the Obama administration in implementing them with transparency and accountability. It is the right thing to do. It will put Americans back to work. Americans demand that their tax dollars be spent on American workers using American products to build this infrastructure to make a better economy.

I thank the Chair.


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