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Default Prevention Act of 2013-- Motion to Proceed--

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. FRANKEN. I ask unanimous consent to speak for up to 20 minutes.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. FRANKEN. Mr. President, I rise today to talk about the cost of the Federal Government shutdown, including a cost we don't talk about--the opportunity cost. The fact is we are paying a huge price for what we are not doing here in Washington while so much of our time and energies are spent on this totally unnecessary shutdown.

Americans are rightly looking at Congress and saying: What are you guys doing? Why are you hurting people? Why are you hurting families? Why are you impeding our economic recovery? They are also asking: Why aren't you working on what we send you there to do--on creating jobs, on improving our educational system, on addressing our Nation's long-term fiscal sustainability?

Last weekend, I came to the floor to talk about the effect of this shutdown on individual Minnesotans. I receive e-mails from people who are hurting. Let me read from a few. I will not read them in full because of time.

Charlotte from Duluth writes:

Senator Franken: Veterans' benefits are important to me, and I want to tell you my story. I have three children and my spouse who currently attends college, we just got into the hud-vash program.

The HUD-VASH program is a program that provides housing assistance and support services for homeless veterans and their families.

Charlotte continues:

We thought it was a miracle to not be homeless. Now we are facing the same thing, no check, no schooling. My family will be homeless without food, clothes, a vehicle if this government shutdown is not resolved. I am praying for a miracle in this situation; my son is turning 1 year old next month, I don't want to remember his first birthday with us losing everything we have worked so hard for. My daughter just started head-start. She loves it, but it is the last thing on my mind now. I am thinking, how will I get her to school? How will I provide a home for her to live in? What is she going to eat? This is not a joke. I have never been one to take a hand out from anyone. These are things I have earned; and are now being taken away from me because someone in Washington wants to prove a point. What point is everyone trying to make? That you have the power to do this?

Timothy from Bloomington writes:

My daughter is a single mother who cannot afford her home. She has wisely decided to sell the house. She has persevered and now has a sale pending. She is in a financial crisis and needs this sale to go through or she will risk falling into foreclosure. And now the government shutdown is threatening to prevent the sale from going through because a branch of the IRS that prints income tax transcripts is closed. At the very least the situation will cost my daughter more than $1,000 if she has to continue making payments, at worst she may fall into foreclosure.

Last weekend, I also talked about the way the shutdown threatens to deprive our seniors of vital nutrition programs, such as Meals-on-Wheels. Here is what Millie Hernesman from Hibbing, MN, told the Hibbing Daily Tribune about Meals-on-Wheels:

I'd hate to see it disappear. It offers a variety of important meals that cover every facet--from protein to fiber--and it comes right to my door. I like it a lot.

Sandra, a Head Start director in southern Minnesota, wrote me about Head Start. She writes:

Dear Senator Franken, Thank you for your ongoing support for Head Start. If the federal budget is not settled by November 1st, the HS programming in Olmsted and Freeborn Counties will have to shut down. Our federal grant is from 11/1-10/31. As the HS Director, I know the devastating impact this would have on our families and staff.

Now let me talk a little about Head Start. Because of the sequester, we have seen children in Minnesota lose slots in Head Start. If this shutdown continues through the end of October, programs serving about 2,500 children could be affected by the lack of Head Start funding.

You know, kids are only 3 years old once. They are only 4 years old once. The learning experiences they would be missing at that age because their Head Start Program is shuttered due to this shutdown or that they are missing now because their program has already been shuttered because of the sequester can never be replaced. We are just hurting our communities and our Nation when those little children lose that opportunity.

We know from study after study that a quality early childhood education such as Head Start returns between $7 and $16 for every $1 invested. Why? Because a child who has had a quality early childhood education is less likely to be referred to special ed, is less likely to be left back a grade, and has better health outcomes. Quality early childhood programs can help reduce the rates of adolescent pregnancy. Kids who have had a quality early childhood education are more likely to graduate high school, more likely to go to college, more likely to graduate from college, more likely to have a good job and pay taxes, and they are less likely to go to prison.

If we really cared about our Nation's long-term fiscal sustainability, we would be investing more in Head Start, not less. And we have been investing less because of the sequester and are now because of the shutdown. So that is just an example of the entirely counterproductive nature of this shutdown and the tremendous price we are paying for it.

But I rise today also to talk about the price we are paying for what we are not doing here in Congress, for the unmet needs which we are not turning our attention to because of the time we are wasting with this shutdown and the threat of default on our debt.

We have a skills gap in Minnesota. What is a skills gap? Well, recent studies have shown that between one-third and one-half of manufacturers in my State have at least one job they cannot fill because they can't find a worker with the right skills to fill that job. This is a nationwide phenomenon and it is not just manufacturers, it is information technology, health care, and other businesses that have jobs sitting there waiting for skilled workers to fill them. There are more than 3 million jobs in this country that could be filled today if there were workers who had the right skills--more than 3 million jobs today.

The thing is, we know how to train people for these jobs. We know it because we have done it. We have done it in Minnesota and we have done it elsewhere in this country. I have seen partnerships in my State between businesses and community and technical colleges that have been wildly successful.

Take, for example, Hennepin Technical College in Hennepin County. A number of manufacturers needed workers skilled in precision machine tooling. They worked with Hennepin Technical College to create a curriculum, and they then donated machines for the students to work on. At a roundtable at HTC I learned they had graduated over 300 students from the program and 93 percent of those graduates had permanent jobs.

One of the manufacturers at the roundtable was Erick Ajax, CEO of EJ Ajax and Sons. It is a metal stamping and sheet metal fabrication company in Fridley, MN, that was founded by Erick's grandfather in 1945. I love what Erick has done with his company and how he has worked with HTC--Hennepin Technical College--and the University of Minnesota to train his workforce and provide them with good high-tech jobs and pays for them to continue their education.

Erick gave me an example of one of his workers that I find so exciting--not because it is extraordinary but because it is something we can duplicate over and over in this country. He hired a guy who had completed a certification program at a community and technical college. The guy was really good at his job, so Erick sent him back to continue his education and get his associate's degree. The guy continued to work for Erick, continued to be a star, and a few years later Erick paid him to go to the University of Minnesota to get his bachelor's degree, and he got it. Now the guy is head of quality control for EJ Ajax, an incredibly high-skilled job at an advanced manufacturing company.

Now, understand, this guy graduated from college with no debt--zero debt--and with a great job. This brings me to what I want to be working on here.

A number of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle know how enthusiastic I am about incentivizing partnerships between businesses and community and technical colleges to fill the skills gap. As I said, I have seen many successful models in my State.

I have seen it at Alexandria Technical and Community College in Alexandria, MN, which is sometimes referred to as the Silicon Valley of packaging machines. I have seen it at South Central Community and Technical College in Mankato, MN, where about 8 to 10 manufacturers, who had helped fund and had given machines to the school's Right Skills Now Program, sat with me and told me that between them they had about 50 job openings they could fill that instant.

In the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, of which I am a member, we had a hearing a couple of years ago on workforce boards that had successfully responded to the great recession and created jobs in the face of it. We had four workforce boards testify from four different States: Virginia, Wisconsin, California, and Washington. Every model had been essentially the same: A business--manufacturing, IT, health care--had worked with a community and technical college to train unemployed workers for jobs they needed to fill. These are public-private partnerships. The businesses have skin in the game.

Where do we come in here in Congress? Well, I have gone around Minnesota to community and technical colleges and talked to businesses, and I have talked to national experts in our State and around the country, and the fact is we aren't doing this fast enough. Sometimes these partnerships could do a lot more, train a lot more people with some extra funding--maybe to buy a very expensive machine or to hire an instructor with very specialized skills.

What I am proposing is a competitive grant program. Businesses and community colleges would apply for grants based on how many jobs their partnership would create, what the value of those jobs would be to those hired and to the community, and how much skin the businesses have in the game.

Let me tell you why I think we have to do this, just in terms of global competitiveness. Manufacturing is moving back to the United States. That is because of a number of factors. Manufacturing these days is a lot more capital intensive because of the investments in machine and technology. So labor as a piece of the pie has gotten smaller, but skilled labor as a piece of the labor pie has grown. It is a much bigger piece. That is why, if we are going to be competitive with the rest of the world, we need skilled labor. Filling the skills gap is a national imperative.

I go to high schools, junior high schools, and middle schools with manufacturers all the time. I let the manufacturer describe what the work is like at their factory. It is not dark, dirty, and dangerous, as people think it is, or as it used to be. It involves advanced technical skills, critical thinking, creativity, and teamwork. These jobs, good, skilled, well-paying jobs, are available with the education you can get at a 2-year community and technical college.

One of the concerns I hear is that people often think of a 2-year education as a ceiling, and I understand that. But a 2-year education doesn't have to be a ceiling. That is not how they think of it in some European countries. They think of a 2-year education as a platform. And if you think about it, with the pace of technological advancement accelerating as it is now, and no doubt will continue, the idea that you will have the same job in the workplace for the 40 or 50 years of your working life is kind of ridiculous, especially in any field involving technology.

So it makes perfect sense to go to a 2-year community technical college and get an education that trains you in the kind of skills that will get you a good-paying job. Then, as Erick Ajax does with his employees, the business you work for can send you back to school and pay for it, often while you continue to work and draw a good paycheck.

We just came through a big debate in Congress about student debt. Think about getting a job after 2 years or even after a credentialed degree and then having your continuing education paid for by your employer. Think about that as a piece of an evolving approach to the issue of college affordability.

Jobs, economic growth, global competitiveness, college affordability, how we think about education, aren't these the things we should be spending our time on in the Senate, in Congress? That is why I came here. That is what I get excited about. That is what I get excited about working on. Let's end the shutdown. Let's commit to not defaulting on our debt. Then let's discuss how we strengthen our economic recovery. Let's talk about which investments we make that are smart and will lead to economic growth and which ones have outlived their usefulness.

Every day the government stays shut down, every day we wake up under the threat of default, every day we spend focused on something that isn't working together to create jobs and rebuild the middle class is, in my mind, a tragedy. It is an insult to all the people who are struggling and it is a huge missed opportunity for our country. This nonsense would be ugly enough even if we didn't have work to do, but we do. We have so much work to do. It is time for Congress to stop creating problems and start solving them again.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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