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Keep Student Loans Affordable Act of 2013--Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COONS. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.


Mr. COONS. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to speak for up to 15 minutes as in morning business.


Mr. COONS. I rise today to talk about something we do not hear enough about on the Senate floor these days: Jobs, jobs, jobs. During the 2012 election, the monthly jobs numbers were even more closely watched and analyzed than the daily polls, but ever since it is as if Congress has forgotten there are still 12 million Americans looking for work, and from my home State of Delaware alone, 32,000 Delawareans are out of a job.

Sure, we are eager to hear if the unemployed numbers nudged up or down a tenth of a percent. But maybe Washington is all too willing to put the unemployed on the back burner. We are adding nearly 200,000 jobs a month now, according to the most recent jobs report. That is certainly progress. But one of the things I found most chilling was an analysis that said at this pace, it will be 2017 before our Nation gets close to full employment again.

Is that acceptable to the Presiding Officer? That is certainly not acceptable to me. When is Washington, when is Congress, going to get back to working on behalf of those still looking for work?

The jobs numbers that are typically reported mask an even deeper and more concerning structural problem in our economy as well. Almost 40 percent of those currently unemployed, about 4.3 million Americans, are described as the long-term unemployed. These are folks who have been out of work 6 months or more. Short-term unemployment has dropped, but long-term unemployment remains persistently high and troubling. The longer a worker is unemployed, the more difficult it becomes to find a job, whether it is because there is a stigma attached to being unemployed or because their skills need to be updated or because we need something to help lift their spirits and make them successful in job interviews.

Across all of these different reasons, in my view we need stronger, more engaged, more agile interventions by the Federal Government, by State and local governments, in our economy and in support for those seeking work to help them find employment.

I think we need to act swiftly on measures to improve skills training, job placement, and collaboration with State and local labor agencies. The fact is the longer we wait to deal with long-term employment, the tougher it will be to help these folks get back to work. Yet many of us here in Congress apparently cannot or will not focus on unemployment, long term or short term, much less on other measures to stimulate our economy. Is it any wonder the American people think Congress is not even trying anymore?

Here in the Senate, we know that while deeply challenged by filibusters and ideological fights and caucus politics, we are still managing to get big things done. It would be an overstatement to say we are making it all work, that it is easy. But thanks to a contingent of Republicans and Democrats here who are working in good faith together, we have been able to make some meaningful bipartisan progress. The Senate passed a bipartisan farm bill that would have taken steps to modernize our Nation's agricultural system, which supports 16 million jobs, and actually reduce the deficit by $24 billion.

What a remarkable trifecta of accomplishments: supporting one of the world's most cutting-edge agricultural economies, supporting significant job creation, and significantly cutting our deficit. What is not to love in that farm bill? Well, the House passed a series of amendments that eliminated our hard-fought bipartisan compromises and has effectively doomed the bill.

Similarly, the Senate here passed a bipartisan Water Resources Development Act to modernize America's water infrastructure all over the country, including drinking water, wastewater treatment, shipping channels. It got 83 votes here out of 100 in the Senate. It is being slow-walked in the House over ideological objections about the empowerment of the government on environmental authority.

After a historic committee markup, after the Congressional Budget Office said it would reduce the deficit by $150 billion in the first decade and $700 billion the second, this Senate passed an overwhelmingly bipartisan immigration reform bill--I think one of the biggest accomplishments of this Congress. This Senate passed an overwhelmingly bipartisan immigration reform bill, only for it to languish stubbornly in the partisan hunger games that are today's House of Representatives. The headline in Politico from today reads ``Immigration Reform Heads For Slow Death.''

Americans are frustrated with this, and so am I.

The House of Representatives has sadly become wholly dysfunctional, paralyzed by partisan civil war over the fundamental question of whether government should be an instrument of good in people's lives. That is the key here. Sadly, the fighting within the Republican Party is dividing that caucus internally. On the one hand you have genuinely principled Republican lawmakers who believe in this legislative process, who are committed to working collaboratively on the challenges our Nation faces. These folks have worked with me and others and cosponsored many bills I have introduced and others to try to make a difference here. On the other hand you have an antigovernment, frankly anti-Obama faction that took over the House in 2010. Their numbers are small but their voices are loud. It is their core belief that Congress and the Federal Government cannot and should not legislate, that government has no meaningful or constructive role to play in our society.

I worry that that belief informs their tactics of stall and delay, investigate and repeal. The Huffington Post reported this week that this Congress, in particular this House, has had only 15 bills signed into law so far--15. You have to go back a long time to find a Congress that has passed fewer pieces of legislation, between House and Senate, than this one, the 113th Congress.

Democrats and many Republican lawmakers look at this as an embarrassment in a time of enormous challenges overseas and at home for us to take so few actions together. But the tea party and some conservative ideologues look at it as an accomplishment and say that any compromise is a four-letter word, especially if the alternative is broad or

progressive legislation. So what we have is a fight between folks who would, for example, trim the scope of funding for the Federal Department of Education, and folks who would fundamentally think there should not be a Department of Education. That is a fight in which I think the American people do not win.

An opposition party is a great thing, a necessary thing for our democracy. But this opposition party within the opposition party is crippling this Senate, this House, this Congress. By my count it has been 90 weeks since a Republican filibuster blocked a jobs bill that was designed to keep teachers, police officers, and first responders on the job. It has been 87 weeks since a filibuster blocked a bill to put Americans to work through investments in infrastructure, and 51 weeks since a Republican filibuster blocked a bill to give tax breaks that bring jobs home and end a tax deduction for companies that move jobs overseas. Frankly, just 42 weeks ago, a Republican filibuster in this Chamber blocked a bill to help 20,000 veterans find new jobs.

In the other Chamber, it is no better. The House of Representatives has now voted 37 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The New York Times did the math. The House has spent 15 percent of its time voting to repeal the so-called ObamaCare. In May, the Congressional Budget Office, which is the arbiter of what is or what is not necessary, the scorekeeper, actually said the House has voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act so many times it will no longer issue new scores as it attempts over and over to achieve what seems to be its most basic purpose: repeal. That is how much time and energy this House has wasted on this particular project, that could be better invested in finding ways to implement this bill more responsibly.

How much time do we waste here in this Chamber, running out the clock, waiting for 30 hours for cloture to ripen, because we cannot get simple agreements to move forward? I know this is not what our side or our leadership wants. I suspect it is not what most Senators of either party want. It is certainly not what our constituents want. What should be taking days is taking weeks. What should take weeks is taking months or even years.

We are not here to run out the clock. We are here to make a difference, or at least that is why our constituents sent us here. Ideological obstruction has rendered this Washington, this Congress, so ineffective, so inert, that when it comes to helping people get back to work in Delaware, my colleagues Senator Carper and Congressman Carney and I have taken an unusual action for Members of Congress. We have started hosting job fairs. We have used the power of the office to convene when we cannot use the power of the office to legislate. We have had actually 13 job fairs up and down our State in all three of our counties in Delaware. We have watched as hundreds of folks have come and had the opportunity to apply for and pursue new employment.

Congress should be taking a clue from that effort. We should recommit ourselves to helping our innovative small businesses grow, to helping open new markets for American goods, to helping Americans find good jobs, and to supporting those who have not been quite so lucky yet.

I think we need an agenda, an agenda that focuses on five areas where investment now will lead to new jobs, not just for today or tomorrow but long into the future. First should be education. We have to do more, as I said before, to help the long-term unemployed get professional skills to thrive in this job market. We have to do more to prepare young people for the challenges of the modern economy.

I have a bill, the American Dream Accounts Act, cosponsored by Senator Rubio and others, that would help get our at-risk kids through school and into college.

We should also support innovative cutting-edge research. I have a bill that would make the R&D tax credit permanent and open it to startups. It is called the Startup Innovation Credit Act, which has been cosponsored by a wide range of Senators: ENZI and RUBIO, BLUNT and MORAN, STABENOW, KAINE and SCHUMER, a truly bipartisan bill.

I am proud to be working with Senator Alexander of Tennessee on, hopefully, strengthening and reauthorizing the America COMPETES Act.

The third area we should be focusing on is tied to us doing more to harness the resurgence of American manufacturing. There are a dozen smart bills--many with bipartisan support--that have been introduced, taken up, and passed in the Senate that are currently languishing in the House. We should work to make a real difference for America's manufacturers.

Fourth, we have to help grow our economy by growing our markets, by growing our opportunities around the world. As chairman of the African Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I have worked across the aisle to push forward bills that would create new market opportunities for American businesses.

With Senators DURBIN and BOOZMAN, I have reintroduced a bill which aims to triple the amount of U.S. exports to Africa over the next 10 years.

Fifth and last, an area on which I thought all of us would be able to come together, is investing in infrastructure. The BUILD Act, introduced and taken up in the last Congress--which I hope we will soon move to--would create a national infrastructure financing vehicle, an infrastructure bank, if you would, to help bring private funds into vital infrastructure projects. It has had bipartisan support in the past from the Chamber of Commerce to the AFL-CIO.

It is my wish we can take it and use it as a vehicle to help the 12 million people who are looking for work find the jobs they need.

I have a simple question: When is Washington, when is Congress going to get back to work on behalf of those still looking for jobs? How much longer will we wait? How much more clock will we run out? How much more time will we waste?

It is my prayer that this Chamber, this country, finds a way to work together to get over this partisanship that has paralyzed our political process.

In closing, I wish to say a word of thanks to colleagues I have seen who have come to join me in the Chamber, Senator McCain and Senator Flake of Arizona. They are exemplars of the folks who have worked together across the aisle to find solutions to some of the big problems facing us.

They worked tirelessly with Democratic colleagues to put together the architecture of the bipartisan immigration bill that was passed through this Chamber in recent weeks. It is my hope that others in the other Chamber will see that spirit and take this opportunity to take up and pass legislation to put America on a track toward growth. There are 12 million reasons for us to do that, 12 million Americans looking for help getting back to work.

I yield the floor.


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