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Jobs Ought to be Top Priority

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BLUMENAUER. Mr. Speaker, I certainly agree with my colleague from North Carolina that it is time for us to not just reassess but readjust our policies in Afghanistan, scale it down and bring the troops home.

There's another area of consensus that I hope we can focus on: Most people agree that employment, that jobs, ought to be a priority for this Congress, for the government, for American business. Much of what you hear on Capitol Hill about creating jobs and employment is very, very contentious. Yet what is complex and controversial in Congress is not so hard when you move off the Hill, when you look at what the experts suggest, when you look at what the American people will support, for the shape of a future recovery is emerging in terms of a consensus about what we should do. I think we probably will; the question is when.

First and foremost, it is important that we rebalance our long-term programs and priorities. But in the short term, it is not only important to keep the spending levels where they are, it would be disastrous to cut it further. Chairman Bernanke said just last week that short-term increases can strengthen economic demand with a long-term adjustment to strengthen our balance sheet by reducing the deficit.

One of the first places to start is rebuilding and renewing America. Experts agree we have vast unmet needs; the Society of Civil Engineers suggests $2.3 trillion that should be spent in the next 5 years on repairing our roads and our bridges, extending and enhancing our transit system. There are two dozen cities across America that are looking at reintroducing a modern streetcar which can be done quickly and will spark investment in those communities that have that opportunity.

We have aging and inadequate water systems that leak 6 billion gallons of water a day, enough to fill 9,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools that would stretch from Washington, DC, to Pittsburgh. We have an aging and ineffective electrical grid. We have pipelines that need to be upgraded for safety. There is environmental cleanup, especially expensive Superfund sites that otherwise will continue to put a cloud over the adjacent businesses and governments.

This will create millions of family-wage jobs in the course of the next year. It is important to deal with our health care system, which is creating jobs. But, unfortunately, it's creating jobs now very inefficiently. We pay more for healthcare than anybody else in the world, by far. Compared to what other developed countries produce, we have mediocre results as a whole. Spectacular for some Americans, but overall, Americans die sooner, get sick more often, stay sick longer. By accelerating the health care reforms to provide value instead of volume of health care, we can squeeze more value and the right type of employment that will be sustainable over time and help make Americans healthier.

There is, Mr. Speaker, no question that we need in fact to pay for this over the long term. But the path here is something that most of the American public will in fact agree on, and the experts have a consensus that this is where we start, with tax equity, making sure everybody is paying their fair share adjusting user fees for infrastructure to account for inflation--not anything immediate, but over the course of the next year or two--to be able to have the cash flow to meet our obligations for transportation, for water; reinstituting the Superfund tax that expired in 1995, leaving communities with the toxic legacy.

It's important to consider a financial transaction fee, something that other European countries have--that England has had for over a century--that would in fact give stability to our stock market. This is something that's within our capacity, Mr. Speaker. I hope we do it sooner rather than later.

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