Mr. FRANKEN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. FRANKEN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to speak for 20 minutes.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. FRANKEN. Mr. President, I rise today to speak about reopening the government. We are now 5 days into a government shutdown that should never have happened. Minnesotans do not want a government shutdown. They want us to do our jobs, not refight the same old political battles over and over. With each day of the shutdown I hear more and more reports about how it is affecting Minnesotans, as I am sure the Presiding Officer hears about how it is affecting the people of Maine.
Minnesotans seeking basic government services are being turned away. Hundreds of people go to the Minneapolis Social Security office each day to get Social Security cards. But on the first day of the shutdown, according to the Minneapolis StarTribune, those Minnesotans--some of whom took time off from work and drove long distances--arrived to find the card center closed.
Minnesota's small businesses are also feeling the impact. Small businesses in Minnesota receive an average of $1.8 million in loans every day under the Small Business Administration's Guaranteed Loan Programs in 2012. With the government shut down, these programs will no longer take new applications and our businesses have to put their plans on hold.
It is not just businesses that are facing problems getting access to loans. Minnesota is home to a lot of great, smaller financial institutions. We have the second most community banks in the country. It is the home of a lot of credit unions, and I talk with them regularly. Earlier this week, I met with folks from some Minnesota credit unions, and they explained to me that as a result of the shutdown, they are having problems approving mortgages because the Social Security Administration can't verify Social Security numbers. That is not just bad for those Minnesotans who are trying to buy or sell a home, it is also bad for the economy.
This week my office heard from one of those Minnesotans who is in the process of buying a home. Jesse is using a USDA Rural Development loan. His banker now has all of the documentation compiled and ready to be submitted to Rural Development for approval, but they are shut down. Jesse was originally supposed to close on October 11, next Friday, and the sellers were scheduled to close on another property right after closing on the property they are selling to Jesse.
Jesse and his family are now living with his in-laws, and they have all of their possessions in storage. He doesn't know whether he will be able to close on his new home--all because some people thought it was a good idea to insist on shutting down the government to repeal the health care law, which isn't going to happen and never was going to happen.
Jesse is really frustrated and disappointed. He felt compelled to let me know how this is affecting him and other people. He asked me to do whatever I could possibly do to end this shutdown quickly.
The shutdown is also affecting other Minnesotans who depend on vital programs, such as Federal nutrition programs. An estimated 125,000 Minnesota mothers and mothers-to-be depend on the Women, Infants, and Children Program, or WIC, so they can buy healthy food for their families. With the shutdown no new Federal funds are available to support WIC. That puts the program in Minnesota, and the women and children it serves, at risk. Hopefully, we can avoid any terrible consequences by getting the government up and running as quickly as possible.
But in some other States, such as Utah--according to Forbes--they have already stopped accepting new participants.
In a shutdown the Administration for Community Living in the Department of Health and Human Services can't fund senior nutrition programs such as Meals On Wheels. Seniors
who rely on Meals On Wheels face uncertainty. If the shutdown goes on, State and local agencies will not be able to replace Federal funding and that will result in an outright inability to access the program. That is why I will be donating my salary during the shutdown to Second Harvest Heartland. It is a great hunger relief organization which works throughout Minnesota to help people who need to get food.
Meanwhile, Minnesota's farmers cannot get the resources they need. Susan Magadenz, a constituent of mine from Eden Valley, MN, works at the USDA Farm Service Agency. She wrote me to say:
This shutdown has cut off services to thousands of American farmers. They cannot get grain checks released and are missing access to funds they require to carry out their operation.
The shutdown is hitting Minnesotans in many other ways as well. The shutdown means that the National Institutes of Health is not awarding any new funds or making payments on recently awarded grants. The Mayo Clinic receives 40 percent of its research funding from NIH grants. By the way, this is one of the many reasons we are going to have to address the sequester. This sequester has hit vital NIH funding really hard, even though this is an agency that some people seem not to have noticed until the shutdown.
Speaking of the effects of the shutdown compounding the damage from the sequester, tribal schools are being hit even harder because they get a substantial part of their funding from the Federal Government in what is called Impact Aid. Impact Aid is Federal money that goes to school districts where Federal property or Federal activities significantly reduce the local tax base. The biggest recipients are the schools on military bases and on Indian reservations. We have 11 tribes in Minnesota, and some of them get about one-third of their school funding from the Federal Government.
I am on the Indian Affairs Committee, and I can tell you that the sequestration has been hitting them even harder than it has been hitting other people. These are some of the most vulnerable kids in the country. Their afterschool programs are being canceled because of the sequester. And now, on top of that, Impact Aid is at even greater risk because of the shutdown. That is not right. It is just wrong.
Some veterans services, through the Department of Veterans Affairs, are already being curtailed, and if the shutdown goes on for very much longer, VA will not be able to process benefit claims and payments, aggravating the claims backlog we have been working so hard to address.
These are just some of the effects the shutdown is having on Minnesotans. People are suffering. Minnesotans who have written and called my office want Congress to get things done, do our work, and not shut down government. More than a week ago, I voted--with the Presiding Officer and a majority of my colleagues in the Senate--to pass the bill to keep the government open and prevent the damage that a shutdown does to our country and to our economy.
The House could take up that bill and pass it in a matter of hours, and it would reopen the government immediately. It has been widely reported that enough Republicans and Democrats support that bill for it to pass in the House if Speaker Boehner would only put it up for a vote in the House. That is all he needs to do. Let the full House vote on the continuing resolution. But the House hasn't done that.
Instead, a faction of the Republicans in the House has decided that rehashing old political fights and political brinkmanship are more important than getting back to the job we were sent here to do, which is putting Americans back to work, improving education, and strengthening our economic recovery.
Earlier this week I was asked what I would be working on if there were no shutdown. I would be working to pass my Community College to Career Fund Act. This legislation is aimed at closing what is called the skills gap. What is a skills gap? Recent studies in Minnesota show that about one-third to one-half of all manufacturers in our State have jobs they need filled, but they can't fill them because they don't have people with the skills to fill them. There are more than 3 million of those jobs across the country that are going unfilled because of the lack of workers with the right skills. My bill would help those companies that have open positions. It would help workers find jobs, and it would help our country be more competitive globally. It would address college affordability. It is the kind of thing we need to be doing.
I have seen partnerships between businesses and community colleges in Minnesota that work--at Hennepin Technical College in Hennepin County, for example. A group of manufacturers worked with the school, Hennepin Technical College, and created a curriculum where students could get credentials.
I went to a roundtable there and they told me they had put over 300 students through this course and 93 percent of them had permanent jobs.
The manufacturers who are involved in this partnership had skin in the game. They gave Hennepin Tech machines and helped design the curriculum. Now they have people filling the jobs that need to be filled. I have seen this model work throughout Minnesota, and I have seen it work throughout our country.
However, we still have a skills gap. That is why my bill would create a competitive grant program to incentivize partnerships between businesses and community colleges. This isn't just manufacturers; it is in health care, it is in IT. It would incentivize businesses and community colleges to create programs targeted at getting workers the skills they need to fill these jobs.
This is what I want to be working on. This is what the Presiding Officer wants to be working on for the people of Maine. This is the kind of thing Americans sent us to do. Americans want us to learn from strategies that are succeeding in our States--in Minnesota and in Maine--and then work together to make our country more prosperous and stronger. What else are we supposed to do? That is why they sent us.
I recognize we have political differences we have to work through, but brinkmanship and crises can't be the rule; they should be the exception. After the debt ceiling crisis in 2011, Standard & Poor's downgraded our Nation's credit rating and they cited the dysfunction in Congress as a main reason. After that, people thought--I thought and I believe most people in this country thought--OK. We have learned our lesson. We are not going to govern by crisis and brinkmanship.
In fact, this year, in March, the Senate passed a budget through the regular process, through regular order. The House passed a budget--a different budget, but that is the way it works--and then we are supposed to get together for a conference. We have sought for months to have a conference with the House to resolve the differences in regular order. But we were blocked by the same Senators who thought it was a good idea to shut down the government and to defund the Affordable Care Act. The House has simply refused to go to conference; instead, they waited for the government shutdown and then sought to go to conference on a 2 1/2 -month continuing resolution that would delay the health care law for 1 year.
That is irresponsible. Minnesotans and Americans want us to govern responsibly.
Brenda Gregorich from Duluth wrote me on Wednesday about her husband, a disabled veteran whose disability benefit is now further delayed due to the shutdown. She says:
We would rather do without, than have you give in to delaying the Affordable Care Act. Please stand strong and do not let anyone change or delay this. We will sit tight without income while you work towards this.
Overwhelmingly, Americans do not want us to shut down the government to stop the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Earlier this week, Minnesota's health care exchange opened and, according to Minnesota Public Radio, received approximately 100,000 Web hits on its first day--the second highest number of hits in any State. Believe me, we are not the second largest State.
So the shutdown is not actually stopping the implementation of the health care law; instead, the shutdown is threatening to do serious damage to our economy.
Today, jobless claims are close to a 5-year low. The second quarter of 2013 marked nine consecutive quarters of economic growth. The private sector has created 7.5 million jobs over the last 42 months. There are more people on private, nonfarm payrolls than at any time since September of 2008.
But the shutdown is putting our still fragile economic recovery in jeopardy. Moody's chief economist Mark Zandi testified before the Senate a few weeks ago that a shutdown lasting just a few days would cost the economy approximately 0.2 percent of GDP, and a longer shutdown could cost it as much as 1.4 percent. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has called on Congress to keep the government open stating:
It is not in the best interest of the U.S. business community or the American people to risk even a brief government shutdown that might trigger disruptive consequences or raise new policy uncertainties washing over the U.S. economy.
This shutdown is painful for our constituents and it is damaging the economy. Everyone should understand this is costing the government money. Some people may think at least if the government is shut down, we are saving money. But, actually, the very opposite is the case. Recently, in the New York Times, they had an editorial that detailed some of the reasons shutdowns end up being very expensive. A shutdown government cannot collect fines and fees, contractors build in the cost of the shutdown and the added probability of future shutdowns to how much they charge the government. Furloughing government workers means lost productivity. Lost economic output means lower tax revenue for Federal, State, and local governments.
This shutdown is unnecessary and it is irrational. Please, let's reopen the government and get back to the work the people elected us to do.
I thank the Chair.
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