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Public Statements

The United States Economy and Jobs

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HIGGINS. I want to thank my colleague from California for his leadership on the infrastructure issue.

I think the problem that we see here in Washington is that the discussion is focused on the wrong thing. When you have a recession--an economic contraction--what your objective needs to be in terms of public policy is growth, growth in the economy. What we are experiencing now is anemic growth. For example, our growth rate is about 2 percent or less. That current rate of growth is not enough to sustain the current level of employment. In other words, if we don't grow this economy, our unemployment rate will necessarily go up.

We talk about debt and deficit in this Chamber, but if we remember, less than 12 years ago, we had a budgetary surplus of $258 billion, meaning that we were taking in $258 billion more in each year than we were spending. How was that possible?

It was made possible by having created 22 million private sector jobs in the previous 8 years. What was the policy then? The policy was to invest in the American economy, to invest in the American people, in education, scientific research and infrastructure. So I think the lessons from our most recent past are very instructive today as to what we should be doing in Washington to promote growth.

The gentleman from California spoke of a plan that I was working on, and that is a $1.2 trillion investment in rebuilding the roads and bridges of America. That plan, advanced by the New America Foundation, would create 27 million private sector jobs in 5 years. The first year alone, over 5 million jobs which would reduce the current unemployment rate from where it is today to 6.4 percent and in the second year, 5.2 percent.

Now, public infrastructure as we know is a public responsibility. It's never a question as to whether or not we're going to rebuild our roads and bridges. The question is when does it make most sense to undertake that responsibility. And I would submit to you, the time to do it is now. Money is cheaper than it is ever going to be. Equipment is cheaper because it is idling, and labor is cheap because of the high unemployment rate.

We need to do nation-building right here at home. And when you consider we just spent as a nation $89 billion rebuilding the roads and bridges of Afghanistan, we just spent $67 billion rebuilding the roads and bridges of Iraq, nations of 30 million and 26 million respectively. And for this Nation, for America, a population of over 300 million people, and the American Society of Civil Engineers puts the quality of our infrastructure at a D, when the World Economic Forum rates us 24th in overall quality when in 2001 we were number two, we are going to spend less than $53 billion. That's not only weak; it's pathetically weak.

Mr. GARAMENDI. Mr. Higgins, thank you so very, very much for bringing this issue in very stark terms to our attention. You caught my attention earlier when we were talking about this; but here on the floor, this is a $1.2 trillion program that could create 27 million jobs in the next 5 years, and those are economic analyses that have been done by the New America Foundation.

Mr. HIGGINS. That's correct.

Mr. GARAMENDI. How do we pay for this again?

Mr. HIGGINS. Well, you pay for it as you pay for transportation improvements at the local, State, and Federal level. You issue debt to finance the life of the project.

Mr. GARAMENDI. The same way we build and own our homes. We borrow the money to build that personal infrastructure, our home.

Mr. HIGGINS. That's right.

Mr. GARAMENDI. Now, the borrowing rate for the Federal Government on a 10-year note is a little over 1 percent or hovering around 1 percent now?

Mr. HIGGINS. A little over 1 percent for a 5-year Treasury note. It's one-half of 1 percent.

Mr. GARAMENDI. That's virtually free money.

Mr. HIGGINS. It's virtually free money.

Mr. GARAMENDI. Now, it does run up the debt; but we are using that money to create infrastructure, a necessary investment for the economy to grow and to protect ourselves.

Mr. HIGGINS. That's right. And according to Transportation for America, there are 69,000 structurally deficient bridges in the United States. There are over 2,000 structurally deficient bridges in New York State. There are 99 structurally deficient bridges in my community of western New York. Every second of every day, seven cars drive on a bridge in this Nation that is structurally deficient.


Mr. GARAMENDI. How correct you are to look back to those heroes of the past that laid down the infrastructure. You can actually go back a little bit further. George Washington, in his first year as President of the United States, instructed Alexander Hamilton to develop an industrial policy. One part of that industrial policy was the development of the infrastructure for America's commerce. And it was canals and it was ports and it was roads.

Mr. Higgins, so, how are we going to make this happen? You've got $1.2 trillion you want to put out there.

Mr. HIGGINS. Well, I think you made a very good point, particularly with your leadership on the Make It in America initiative. Keep in mind, when you invest in American infrastructure you're buying labor from American businesses. You're buying supplies and material from American businesses. You're buying engineering and design services from American businesses.

And we also forgot a very important element of our economy. It's the thousands of returning veterans who've been serving our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. The unemployment rate today for those returning veterans under the age of 24 is 19 percent.

There was a program started by the Department of Defense, it's now a not-for-profit called Helmets to Hardhats, and what it basically does, it identifies 60,000 American businesses and some of the trade unions. They collaborate to get together to identify veterans who have already had extraordinary training and discipline and leadership and teamwork, and it accelerates their apprenticeship program. So these individuals could be making 60, $70,000 a year, if there was work to be had here.

So it's an investment in America. It's an investment in American businesses, and it says to our returning veterans in a real sincere and genuine way, thank you for your service.


Mr. GARAMENDI. As you were talking so enthusiastically, I was thinking of some of Carl Sandburg's incredible poetry on the power of America and all that was done there.

Mr. Higgins, you brought this to how we can finance our infrastructure, how we can Make It in America, create jobs. Why don't you carry on with that discussion--or take that anywhere that you would like to.

Mr. HIGGINS. Well, I would just say, back to the power of America, you hear in this Chamber a lot of tough talk about China. The best way to respond to China is to stand up to them, to compete with them. They cheat on their currency, they treat their workers poorly, they destroy their environment. But whining about China is not going to resolve this problem; investing in America and the American people will.

You also mentioned the issue of austerity, and I think it's important to bring up. Historically in this Nation, the economy went into recession. We had the Great Depression in the early thirties. The American economy was starting to show signs of anemic growth right after the Great Depression in late 1936. Congress and the President pulled back with austerity measures; the economy went into recession again.

In Japan, in the 1990s, they were experiencing financial problems. They imposed comprehensive austerity measures. That economy remains in a recessionary mode and has been for the last decade. You see what's going on in Europe today; austerity doesn't work. Again, I go back to our recent history. The year 2000, budgetary surplus in this Nation of $258 billion made possible by having created 22 million private sector jobs by investing in infrastructure, scientific research, and education.

The best tax policy is not right or left; it's bringing lost taxpayers back to productivity. That's the best, quickest way to do it, and you're helping American businesses in the process.


Mr. HIGGINS. Again, I want to thank you for your leadership on these issues and for bringing us together tonight to discuss this important issue. Hopefully it will be the first of many or a continuation of this discussion.

But even groups like the United States Chamber of Commerce, they put out a report stating that we will lose $336 billion over the next 5 years because of bottlenecks, because of inefficiency in our infrastructure. You can't identify the problem without supporting a solution.

My point is that Democrats and Republicans in this Nation should come together to support a robust nation-building program right here in America. It benefits American small businesses; it benefits returning veterans; and it has a measurable influence on improving this economy.

The New America Foundation, as I mentioned previously, has a report, ``The Way Forward.'' It's not a right or a left group. It's a centrist group that is very prestigious and basically says, a $1.2 trillion investment in infrastructure--roads and bridges, sewer systems, water systems, the electricity grid--will create 27 million jobs in a 5-year period. It will create 5.2 million in the first year alone. That's 433,000 jobs every month for the first year.

Can you imagine what the stock market would do if the jobs report came out next month and said that we created 433,000 jobs? Our economy is consumer confidence. We are all economic actors. When we're confident, we move; when we're not, we don't.

So I just think it's very clear that what's worked in the past is what will work in creating the kind of economy that everybody in this Nation wants very desperately.


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