American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
Delivered on the floor of the United States Senate
I know from your state of New York and my state of Illinois what this recession really means. In December the recession really hit my home state of Illinois hard. We lost 1,200 jobs a day in December. 36,000 jobs. And that is a hit that continues, I'm afraid, in the month of January and maybe in the early part of February. The overall unemployment rate for America is 7.6%. 3.6 million jobs lost since the beginning of the recession just several months ago. Clearly, that is the element that is driving our discussion now about what to do.
There are some who argue in Congress on the other side of the aisle that the best thing to do is nothing. Let the economy solve its own problems. But, sadly, many of us are meeting the casualties of this recession. And many of us know them personally because they're in our families. I talked to a lot of my friends who are struggling. It doesn't sound like much when they say, my hours have been cut back. A friend of mine, a lady raising three kids, a single mom raising three kids, she had her hours cut back at the agency she works. Her agency counsel counseling for drug a—her agency does counseling for drug addiction. As a result of the cutback, she couldn't pay her rate. And, sadly, she is now facing some of the hardest decisions of her—some of the hardest decisions of her life. As a result of the cutback, she couldn't pay her rate. And, sadly, she is now facing some of the hardest decisions of her -- some of the hardest decisions of her life. There are those who have lost their jobs all together, and many of those people find that they stand of possibility of losing their home; they can't make the mortgage payments. They’re facing foreclosure. The savings that have been devastated by the decline in the stock market have now become the only place to turn. They've had to make serious decisions.
I talked to groups of college presidents who came to see me from Illinois. Some of them from community colleges. The colleges and universities are struggling because a lot of students are sitting there saying, I keep going to school. Dad just lost his job, mom's working, and I’m a big drain on their savings at a time when they don't have it. Colleges and universities are scrambling all over the campus to try to get people in school or they will lose them. Community colleges who came to visit me said, incidentally, our enrollment is up. Because a lot of students say I can no longer go to the expensive school. I will go to community college and keep up with it. People are making decisions, some we hope are temporary, and some are now.
That's what troubles me when you look at the debate in Congress here. There are so many people, who, I’m afraid, are removed from this. It would really do a lot of senators some good to get in touch with the real world out there and what people are going through. We're somewhat insulated in the life that we lead and we have to overcome that. The people who are the casualties and victims here are the ones I think should be remembered when it comes to these votes. President Obama inherited this. I'm not going to get on the mistakes and miscalculation of the previous administration. I mean, I think that that is a record of matter. There is no point of going into that. That's yesterday. We need to talk about today and tomorrow.
What are we going to do about this? What the President wants to do is make sure that we don't stand back as spectators and watch this collision that is occurring, destroying a lot of lives and a lot of people's hopes. He's come to us and said we have to breathe some life into this economy. We think that this year in America $1 trillion less will be spent on goods and services. $1 trillion taken out of the economy. What happens? Shops close. People are laid off if there isn't economic activity. What the President said let us infuse back in the economy government spending now to try to make up for that and to get us back moving forward. I understand and we all have to be honest about this, the money that we spend on the stimulus is money added to our nation's debt. But failing to do anything and allowing this recession to continue to go downhill will increase our nation's debt anyway. And, of course, will add to a lot of suffering from families and businesses.
So the President came forward and said let's focus on—forward and said let’s focus on several things. Let's provide tax relief to struggling families. They need a helping hand. Let's provide a safety net. A little more money for people who are unemployed. $25, by the way. For anybody who thinks it is a huge amount of money. For most of it—most of us it doesn't mean a lot. For people struggling to get by, it could mean a lot. Also continuing health insurance. That's one of the first things that happens when you lose your job, you lose your health insurance. The COBRA program helps with that but it is darned expensive if you have to pay the employer and employee share. We’re trying to provide a helping hand when it comes to folks who lost their health insurance. Give them a little bit of help so that their families are not left defenseless until the next diagnoses or disease. Then we add to the poorest of the poor, those struggling the hardest, and help with food stamps. If you keep track in your own community, you will find that a lot of pantries and church-run efforts to help feed people have more folks showing up more than ever, even those working part time are struggling to put food on the table. So we provided additional help when it comes to this supplementary feeding program to help families struggling the hardest. I often used the statistic, but I marvel at the fact that one out of eight people in the state of Michigan are on food stamps. It shows you what is happening. Investment for families. It's a great investment for schools too. That's money well spent.
The President wants money to go in as well to health technology, so that we start computerizing the medical records across America. That's the first step in bringing our medical care into the 21st century, because with computer records, doctors and nurses are less likely to make mistakes. They're more likely to have all the information they need before they make a diagnosis and suggest a treatment for a patient. So, it will reduce the cost of medical care and reduce the number of mistakes that are made, which is very important. So that's money well spent. And the President really focuses on energy, and I think he's right to do it. We have to understand that as long as we're dependent on foreign nation force our major energy sources, we're at their mercy. We saw it happen when gasoline went up over $4 a gallon, and it could happen again. So we have to be thoughtful in the way that we move forward in this economy, creating jobs but looking for more energy efficiency, more energy independence. And that's part of the goal that the President has.
Now, yesterday Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Geithner, came forward with a plan dealing with the banking institutions. It's a complex problem, and it is a multifaceted response. But it really tries to get the heart—get to the heart of these banks that, sadly, have portfolios that are riddled with mortgages that have been overvalued. And we have to get to the bottom line here so that these banks have solid balance sheets and that the people have more confidence in them and importantly, that the credit being offered by these institutions starts coming forward, so that businesses large and small, individuals buying homes or automobiles have a chance.
So it's a big agenda when you look at it, and there are a lot of people on the other side of the aisle who say, we shouldn't do any of this. What are we doing this for? You know, the economy will fix itself. I disagree with that. I think the American people expect us to find solutions, do our best to come up with good-faith efforts to find solutions. They expect us to work together and not squabble, and try to find give-and-take that leads to a good solution. They want to make sure there's accountability. They're mad—I am too—that $350 billion was spent several months ago for the so-called tarp, and at the end of the day a lot of people said, well, how much did they spend and what did it do? That’s taxpayers' dollars. We have a responsibility to be transparent and be held accountable. That's part of that. And they certainly expect us to do this on a timely basis. They don’t want Congress chewing over this issue for weeks and months while economy continues to decline.
Now, some have suggested, well, are you—some have suggested are you saying this is going to work? The answer is, no, I’m not sure. But I say if we do nothing, it is going to get progressively worse. More people lose their jobs, more businesses will fail, more families will suffer, and we will see this spiral, head downhill and continue to not just in the United States, but around the world. And that is why what we're doing in the stimulus program is so important that we get it done.
As we speak on the floor—and I can only stay a minute or two and I'll yield to my friend from California. As we speak on the floor, the last-minute negotiations are underway for the stimulus bill. I hope we can get it done, even done today, to send a clear message across the United States and maybe to the rest of the world as they're paying attention that we take it seriously. We're not going to buy into this Herbert Hoover mentality that everything will get well if we just leave it alone. It's not going to happen. This patient—the American economy—is in serious need the after—serious need of attention right now. We need to apply a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and order the medicine and treatment that is essential. That has to be timely. It has to be done in a timely fashion.
I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together on this. Fortunately for us, three republicans stepped forward on the republican side of the aisle in the senate and joined us in this effort. We couldn't have done it without them. We have listened to them. We have accepted their counsel. We have made changes and compromised. We have tried to work together. And I invite even more to finally realize that just standing back and saying, "no, I'm not going to do a thing," isn't going to solve this. We're expected to work together. And we understand what led up to this. We don't want to dwell on the past. But we want to look forward to a new America that gets back on its feet using the spirit of this country to restore this economy and get us moving forward again.
I yield the floor.
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