Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress and my fellow Americans:
I appreciate the opportunity to speak before you, the American people and your elected representatives. I come before you this evening, to speak plain words that tell some pretty harsh truths; to, in a sense, take each and every one of us -- myself included -- out to the political woodshed for what might be called "corrective action." I also mean to set forth a number of eminently doable proposals which deal directly with our great nation's number one challenge: creating jobs.
For far too long, the nation's unemployment rate has been right around 9%. When I took the oath of office on January 20, 2009, the rate stood at 7.7%, which was a 14-year high. That more than two-and-one-half years later the rate is even higher -- meaning that even more people are without jobs -- is a failure for which every one of us in this room here tonight must share the blame. Every one of us -- whether Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, Keynesian or Supply-Sider -- have failed in our primary economic mission; to put more than 14 million unemployed Americans back to work and thus back on the road to economic recovery.
Let us be honest: for the past few years America has been at an historic economic crossroads. We no longer have an economy in which a single worker, working but a single job can hope to earn enough to buy a home, raise a family and send children to college. That used to be the goal -- if not the reality -- of the great American middle class. The vast majority of all jobs that involve repitition -- i.e. factory line jobs -- have been exported, and likely never to return to our shores. Most of us are all too painfully aware of how much times have changed; those who are fortunate enough to be employed, do as best they can from paycheck-to-paycheck, use plastic to make up the difference, save next to nothing, and worry lest their job or jobs are about to be sent overseas. And, at the same time, our roads, bridges and schools are grossly substandard, our children's classrooms are overcrowded, and we are privatizing everything from prisons to public health facilities.
Without question, we have been presented with a challenge of historic proportion; to come together as one and repair a fractured economy, or to retreat to our various corners and hide behind the hedges of political rhetoric.
For far too many of us in this historic chamber, the pointing of fingers and scoring of political points has been a greater priority than job creation and the righting of our economic ship of state. For far too many of us, we stare into the looming maw of economic doldrums and neither see the challenge nor hear the call. Instead, for far too many of us -- Republican and Democrat, progressive and conservative, independent, Libertarian and Tea Partier -- we have chosen to hold America's destiny hostage to our political desire rather than to attack and affect a cure over that which is dragging us down as a nation. America -- indeed, the entire world -- looks at the three-ring circus our political process has become and wonders "Whatever became of the United States of America, that light unto the nations?"
Is it any wonder that we in this magificent chamber are held in such low esteem? Our Congress is divided into so many factions; we have Democrats who want a return to the days of FDR; Plutocrats who want to drag us back to the Gilded Age, and Theocrats who would appear to favor a return to the days of the Salem witch trials. Instead of creating jobs -- which was the focus of our most recent election -- we have concentrated on anything but the creation of jobs. Many of our newest Congressional colleagues highlighted their love of the Constitution in their campaigns -- as if their opponents did not. It seems strange that for a group that evinces so much reverence for the Constitution, you spend so much time denigrating the very federal government that is the material expression of the principles embodied in that document.
We have recently come through a bruising battle which pitted the national debt against the debt ceiling -- a false dichotomy if ever there was one. Yes, it is absolutely true that America is reeling under a staggering debt. And yes, it is absolutely true that getting a handle on it is going to only come about through a combination of judicious spending cuts, enhanced revenues -- more taxes -- and an across-the-board program of shared national sacrifice. And yet, because so many of you on the Republican side of the aisle have a Manichaean view of the universe -- seeing a black-and-white world in which there is nothing but absolute good and absolute evil -- compromise is a virtual no-no. In the recent debt ceiling debate many of you were willing to shut down the government and deal world financial markets a fatal blow rather than submit to even a penny's-worth of increased revenue. This is no way to create jobs; this is no way to repair a fractured economy.
Shame on us all!
And so, what is it that I propose we all do about creating jobs and beginning to repair the economy?
First and foremost, I urge Congress to enact Representative Schakowsky's "Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act," a highly cost-effective plan to put over two million people to work over the next two years. Rep. Schakowsky's plan calls for spending $100 billion to create
- 400,000 school construction and 250,000 maintenance jobs;
- 100,000 jobs for youths between the ages of 16 and 25 to staff a "Park Improvement Corps";
- 40,000 health care providers including physicians, nurses and physicians assistants to expand access in underserved rural and urban areas:
- 100,000 Child Care Corps jobs in early childhood and education through additional funding for Head Start.
- 750,000 Community Corps jobs which would provide needed work in our communities including housing rehab, weatherization, recycling and rural conservation.
An alternative version of this proposal would have the federal government spend approximately $2.2 trillion over the next five years to upgrade our roads, highways, seaports, rail lines and bridges -- most of which have been ignored for more than a generation. This alone could provide upwards of 2 million new jobs.
Let's face it: with yields on 10-year treasury bonds at about 2%, borrowing costs are as low as they've ever been which makes this an opportune time to invest in the nation's infrastructure. And for those who, predictably, are going to start moaning about "those tax-and-spend Democrats," and proclaiming that this is far too ambitious in a time of stark fiscal austerity, let me state a single economic fact: each dollar spent generates a minimum of $1.44 in economic output. As a result, about half of the money we propose spending would come back to the government through increased tax revenue.
I am neither as politically naive nor idealistic as to think that any proposal which involves increased spending -- or increased revenues -- is going to be met with open arms. A majority of the members of the 112th Congress have proven themselves to be more concerned about placating their wealthy benefactors than in doing what is necessary to create as many jobs as quickly as possible.
Closing Planned Parenthood Centers does not create jobs.
Cutting funding for the Federal Aviation Administration does not create jobs.
Closing national parks does not create jobs.
Cutting spending alone does not create jobs.
I would remind the American people that during the recent Debt Ceiling/Deficit debate, the White House offered up a $4 trillion deficit reduction package. I would further remind you that it was the Republicans, who have steadfastly beat the drum for reduced spending refused our offer because they could not abide as much as a one-tenth of one percent increase on tax rates for billionaires like the Walton family or the Koch brothers. You may recall that in the end, Republicans finally settled on a deal that had far less deficit reduction -- and even less spending reduction -- than our offer.
I ask this Congress and the voters who elect its members: what are we to do? Are we going to continue expecting middle- and lower-income Americans to carry a disproportionate share of the economic burden? Will we continue rewarding the hyper wealthy by extending their tax cuts while at the same time cutting back the social safety net which protects the most vulnerable? Will we continue sitting idly by as our schools, highways and bridges crumble, our ability to train and educate the next generation of scientists and engineers wanes and more and more people lose jobs, homes and hope?
The future is in the hands of the American public. It is up to us to make demands, and ask questions of our elected representatives:
- Whose side are you on? The rich and powerful or the middle class?
- How can you justify a "No New Taxes Ever!!" position when smart economics demands a combination of spending cuts and additional revenue?
- Why do you persist in trying to cut Social Security and Medicare as if they are programs we really don't deserve? The truth of the matter is that neither one is an "entitlement." Rather, they are both "earned benefits" -- we all contribute to payroll taxes to fund them.
- Are you so very much against any and all tax increases -- especially in light of the fact that taxes are at an historic low -- that you would prefer seeing this country default on its financial obligations? And lastly,
- What is the logic of holding office in a federal government you believe to be the cause -- and not even partly the solution -- to the nation's problems and challenges?
These are the sorts of questions that all of us, as concerned citizens, must direct to our elected officials -- via phone, surface and email, and at town hall gatherings. Make sure they know that unless and until they learn what it means to compromise -- to work together for the good of all and not just the good of their backers and benefactors -- that they will not, under any circumstances, be receiving your vote.
The time for action is now -- not after the next election. Our job as citizens is clear: to make sure our elected representatives do everything in their power to work together in order to put America back to work.
I know we are up to the task, for this is the United States of America; a country filled with people who have a long history of turning dreams into reality.
Thank you. . . . And may God bless us even as we bless ourselves by once again making our dreams come true.
©2011 Kurt F. Stone