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Middle Class Economics

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. WELCH. Thank you for doing this.

One of the things that we have to recognize in Congress is that
policies really make a difference.

Wages have stagnated; people haven't had a raise in 15 or 20 years;
and there are a lot of reasons for that. Some of it is globalization. A
lot of it has to do with the weakening bargaining power of unions that
were so helpful in improving living standards for everyday Americans,
not just for the members of the union but for others who benefited by
the commitment of unions to good jobs, good wages, and safe working
conditions.

There are pressures with globalization that have reduced bargaining
power. It has made things cheaper to buy but has really helped
contribute to lower wages. The bottom line is that we need policies in
order to focus attention, as you are saying, on the middle class and
improving their purchasing power, giving them what the middle class has
always had: a wage or a salary where, at the end of the month, they can
pay their bills, set aside a little money for college, set aside a
little money for a vacation, set aside a little extra money for
retirement. That is a basic contract that we should be making.

We have got a variety of things where we have created policies and
undercut the capacity of the middle class to sustain itself.

The tax policy is out of control. It is really outrageous when we
have been passing these Bush tax cuts that are skewed very heavily
toward high-end folks with the notion and the assertion that it will
create jobs through trickle-down economics. It hasn't worked.

When we have entered, in some cases, into trade agreements, it didn't
take into account the environmental and labor standards that are so
essential to having a level playing field. American workers are willing
to compete, but it has got to be on a level playing field.

Then basic things that a confident nation always invests in, even in
tough times, like education and the future. We grew up, and those ahead
of us had the GI Bill. They came back from serving their country and
got a free education. But you know what? They paid it back, and then
some, with their productivity.

We established Medicare and Social Security that has provided a
safety net for older people. We are trying to make inroads now into
providing a secure health care system for everybody through the
Affordable Care Act, but we have a big challenge in bringing down those
costs.

We have an opportunity to invest in, as you were saying, not just the
higher education, but job training for people so that they have the
skills that we need to compete in a modern economy.

And the infrastructure that you mentioned, how is it that in this
country, where we have extraordinary engineers, extraordinary needs,
and bipartisan agreement that we have to rebuild our roads and our
bridges, extend broadband throughout the country, including in rural
areas of Vermont and, by the way, rebuild our schools, rebuild our
hospitals, all of these are institutions that are essential to the
well-being of local communities that are where the middle-class people
live, so I really appreciate your focus on this.

What is frustrating, I think, for America and for a lot of us in
Congress is that our focus on policy is how many more tax cuts should
we give to folks who don't need them, how much more should we spend on
things that don't reward investment and hard work, and for how long are
we going to continue this disinvestment in science, in research, in
medical research, in infrastructure, and in education.

I am pretty amazed, as I know you are, that young people getting out
of college, on average, have a $30,000-plus debt. Many have accumulated
debts in the range of $100,000, and a lot of those debts are shared by
their parents who have cosigned. They pay higher interest rates. A lot
of those parents who have finally paid down their house and were
looking forward to maybe taking a 2- or 3-week vacation, maybe a
cruise, suddenly find themselves saddled, along with their kids, with
these very high monthly payments for education.

So there is a bipartisan desire, I think, to help the middle class,
but we are in a debate about what the solutions are. Essentially, one
argument is that no taxes, no regulation, will somehow lift all boats.
I don't think I have seen evidence that that is the case. Another
argument is you have got to make sensible, prudent, disciplined
decisions about how and where to invest in the future of this country.

So, Mr. Garamendi, I salute you for your advocacy here and for
speaking so eloquently on this issue that I think is the issue of our
time.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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