“The American People Urgently Await Action On The Economic Recovery Plan”

Mr. President, for the past week, the Senate has been debating an economic recovery plan introduced by Senators Inouye and Baucus.  I support this plan because the American people and their communities need it to create jobs, help stabilize the economy, and protect those who have been most hurt by the current global economic and financial crises. 

We are confronting the most severe economic problems this country has experienced in generations.  The U.S. economy has been in recession since December 2007.  America’s GDP declined 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, the steepest drop since 1982.  The United States lost 2.6 million jobs last year, the most since 1945.  And last week we learned that the U.S. economy shed 598,000 jobs in January, putting the unemployment rate at 7.6 percent.

In my home state of Vermont, not only has the amount of credit available to small businesses shrunk significantly, but our unemployment rate jumped to 6.4 percent in December – the highest measurement in more than 15 years.  With many more firms announcing layoffs in January and so far in February, the economic numbers are shaping up as even bleaker news for America’s working families, and also for America’s now out-of-work families.  

Of course, Vermont is not alone in this struggle.  Workers, businesses, and state and local governments all across the country face mounting debt, slumping orders, and sagging budgets. 

To respond to this extraordinary crisis, I agree with President Obama and a vast majority of Americans that we must act quickly and responsibly to pass an economic recovery and job creation plan as bold as the challenges we face.  By acting now to strengthen our economy and invest in America’s future, we can create good-paying jobs, cut taxes for working families, and make responsible investments in our future.

Our number one priority should be to put America back to work.  This economic recovery plan we are debating today will help create or save million jobs, including an entire generation of green jobs that will make public and private investments in renewable energy and make America more energy efficient. 

Investing in our country’s infrastructure and education will do more than create jobs today – it also will put the country back on a long-term path toward prosperity.  Rebuilding our roads and bridges; expanding broadband access to rural communities; making our energy grid smart and more efficient; constructing state-of-the-art classrooms, labs and libraries; and investing in job training that Americans will need to succeed in the 21st Century economy will give us tangible assets that we can use for years to come to foster additional economic growth. 

But, Mr. President, it has been interesting over the past week to listen to the impassioned speeches of some members of the Minority party in relation to this economic recovery bill.  Despite all of the pain being felt in America today, it is as if their tax cutting policies, in effect for the past eight years, were a resounding success and built a strong economy, rather than left the American people with a trillion dollar deficit and the highest unemployment rates in recent history. It is as if they have somehow convinced themselves that we should go right on supporting the Bush administration’s policies that the voters soundly rejected last November.

For instance, I have heard criticism about the increased Federal funding for state and local law enforcement in this bill.  Some have called this a “pet project” which will do little to stimulate the economy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Tough economic times create conditions that can too easily lead to a spike in crime.  Just two weeks ago, USA Today reported a study by the Police Executive Research Forum finding that nearly half of the 233 police agencies surveyed had seen significant increases in crime since the economic crisis began.  Maintaining effective state and local law enforcement during a time of budget cutting at the state and local levels is key to our efforts to combat the scourge of drugs and crime. 

The funding the Senate has included in the recovery package for state and local law enforcement will not only help to address vital crime prevention needs, but will also have an immediate and positive impact on the economy, as police chiefs and experts from across the country told the Senate Judiciary Committee in our first hearing of the year, which I chaired last month.  Hiring new police officers will stimulate the economy as fast as, or faster than, other spending.  For construction jobs, only 30 to 40 percent of the funds go to salaries, but in police hiring, nearly 100 percent of the money goes to creating jobs.

We also need to remember that crime and drugs are not just big city issues.  I held Judiciary Committee hearings in Rutland and St. Albans, Vermont, last year to seek solutions to the growing problem of drug crime in rural areas.  Rural areas, which lack the crime prevention and law enforcement resources often available in larger communities, have in many cases been hit particularly hard by the economic crisis.  The Senate bill’s inclusion of such assistance is important and should remain.

I am also pleased that the Senate has chosen to include in its recovery package funding for programs protecting women who are victims of violence through the Violence Against Women Act, as well as for victims of crime – addressing those who are most vulnerable to the likely increases in crime in a down economy.  Law enforcement officials and victims’ advocates have made clear to the Judiciary Committee that, in the current economic crisis, there are more victims than ever in need of more help than before, but funding sources for victim services are scarce.  Those already victimized by crime should not also be victims of our struggling economy.

I have also long held the view that American innovation can – and should – play a vital role in revitalizing our economy and in improving our Nation’s health care system.  I commend the lead sponsors of the economic recovery legislation for making sure that that this bill includes an investment in health information technology that takes meaningful steps to protect the privacy of American consumers.  The privacy protections for electronic health records in the economic recovery package are essential to a successful national health IT system.  Among other things, these privacy safeguards give each individual the right to access his or her own electronic health records and the right to timely notice of data breaches involving their health information, and the safeguards place critical restrictions on the sale of sensitive health data.

Also crucial are funds for fraud enforcement, which is necessary for the protecting the integrity and efficiency not only of the financial system, but also of the spending in this bill – the very concern that critics of the bill keep harping on.  The economic crisis has revealed an epidemic of fraud related to the mortgage fraud crisis and the resulting corporate collapses.  The FBI and other Federal agencies will soon be overwhelmed with new cases.  In the past year, the FBI has received more than 60,000 Suspicious Activity Reports from banks, a number which has doubled in three years, but currently there are fewer than 200 agents assigned to investigate these criminal allegations.  The significant funding included in the Senate recovery and reinvestment bill would help the FBI hold accountable those responsible for contributing to our economic crisis.

Mr. President, nobody thinks this bill is perfect.  Like most bills, there are things in it that I like and other things that I disagree with.  We are part of a global economic recession involving forces that extend far beyond our borders, and nobody thinks this bill will eliminate unemployment completely or solve all our fiscal problems.  It took years to get us into this mess, and it will take years to get us out.  There is no quick fix.  Not this bill, not any bill.

But America is hurting, and Americans urgently need our help. They want action and solutions.  I strongly support this economic recovery package because I believe it would provide a direct infusion of emergency aid to create new jobs, help save existing jobs, make significant infrastructure investments, provide relief for massive state budget deficits, and relieve the tax burden on struggling families.  We have had a long, tough debate here in the Senate, but America deserves nothing less than our best effort.   

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