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The Economy

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski

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Mr. President, I seek recognition under morning business and wish to speak about the economic crisis facing the Nation. I will be brief because I think we need less deeds and more action.

Mr. President, we do have an economic crisis. We do have a credit crisis. We need to be able to protect our economy, we need to act to protect the taxpayer, and we need to act to protect the distressed homeowner.

I am frustrated and deeply troubled. I am deeply troubled by where we find ourselves when I observe that House Republicans are defying their own President. Our economy is in trouble.

Yesterday, leadership on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the dome went to the White House at the President's request to try to deal with this issue. To my surprise, House Republicans poked their own President in the eye and derailed a plan that we were developing. Now we need action. And I say to President Bush, we need Presidential leadership. We need a situation room. We need a situation room not at CNN, we need an economic situation room at the White House.

I ask the President, while all of this hubbub is going on on Capitol Hill, to be the commander in chief of the economy. We need a commander in chief of the economy. I ask him to do what he has done as Commander in Chief, to listen to his generals. He has Paulson, he has Bernanke, and he also needs to get his Republican troops in line.

Yesterday we had a method and we had momentum for working on this problem. I salute my Senate colleagues, Senator Dodd, the chairman of the Banking Committee, and his Democrats. But I also salute the Republicans in the Senate, on a bipartisan basis. They were working methodically, they were working steadily, and they were acting responsibly. We had a plan.

What happened is the Republican House became afraid of voters. I know we need to listen to voters. I am getting the same kind of e-mails they are. In the last 72 hours, I have received close to 8,000 e-mails and only 30 were for this plan.

I have received over 1,300 phone calls and almost all were against the bailout and why they are against the bailout. They wonder who is on their side, who is looking out for them; who is going to bail them out of their stagnant wages; who is going to bail them out of their rising, escalating health care; who is going to bail them out when they are trying to pay their utility and put gas in their car and buy groceries. Seniors are wondering who is going to bail them out as they try to make sure they do not outlive their income. We listened to them loudly and clearly. Yet what we need to be able to do is not only respond to them, we need to be able to respond to this credit crisis.

Make no mistake, if we do not act we could lose jobs that could affect small business and ordinary homeowners. It could cause massive or significant temporary layoffs.

Now, I am for reform. I absolutely do want reform. I believe we were working to get it. We have to get back on track, and the President needs to get us back on track.

I believe what the Senate was doing protected the economy by putting capital where it needed to go. It also protected the taxpayer by making sure that we had a stake in the outcome. We absolutely also forbade golden parachutes and put a cap on compensation. Again, we made sure that those who created the crisis do not further gouge us by profiting off the crisis. We had methods and we had momentum for both solving the crisis and at the same time bringing reform. But in the midst of it, the House Republicans decided they were going to do their own plan and come up with some kind of insurance plan. Well, where were they 2 days before that?

Then, the Republican Presidential nominee parachuted in, ran back and forth on both sides of the Capitol and huffed and puffed. Huffing and puffing will not do it. We have had too much huff, we have had too much puff, and there is now a need for Presidential leadership.

I am glad the Republican nominee decided to go to Mississippi and debate. That is where we will debate the economic future of the United States of America. Tonight's topic should be on the economy. We should listen to the Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee. We need to hear their ideas on the future of the economy of the United States, how they will be the next commander in chief of the economy; how that will create jobs that stay in the United States of America and pay a living wage, not a survivable wage; how they will deal with the skyrocketing cost of health care.

How are we going to deal with energy? It affects utilities and gas and, therefore, groceries. We need that debate because it is on the economic future, and I am glad he is going.

And here, while they are in Mississippi debating, we should begin to act. I ask that the President create this economic situation room. I am proud of my Senate colleagues. I salute the Republicans on the other side for working. We all worked together. We have all had to set aside, in these last couple of days, the outcome we wanted.

I am at heart and soul a reformer. I wanted more reform. I want more teeth in the Securities and Exchange Commission where they do not just bark, that they bite. I was one of the people 10 years ago who voted against deregulation of the financial institutions. But we could not get that much reform in this package. We can do that on another day.

I stood on the floor of the Senate and said I wanted retribution for those who created fraud and engaged in predatory practices against unsuspecting homeowners. I want them investigated. I want people to go to jail. That is why, as chair of the committee that funds the FBI, we put money into the Federal checkbook so we can now have the FBI agents out there doing forensics, looking at the books of those people who tried to cook the books.

So, sure, I am for reform, and I am for retribution. But right now we have to focus on rescue. So let's get it together. Let's put politics aside. I believe the Senate is acting that way. The House Republicans need to act that way. But the one person who has called us to come together, the President of the United States, has now got to go hands on, to listen to his generals, get his troops in line, and let's win this battle for America.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

The Senator from California.

Sen. Barbara Boxer

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Mr. President, I want to say to Senator Mikulski how much I appreciate her words of passion, of leadership. I think she laid it out for the American people. We are on their side. We want to make sure we address their concerns.

The fact is, it looked as though we had a framework, I say to my friend, that was workable. The fact is, we had brought together people from both sides. Sadly, that was all disrupted when Presidential politics got involved.

Now, I want to say something from the heart. I know all of my colleagues agree with what I say. On an issue such as this one, which is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime--we certainly hope for us--issue, where we are in a crisis situation, where we are being told by the President's men who have not handled this economy with any, in my opinion, skill at this moment in time, it is one of those votes that is going to be a vote of conscience for each of us. It is going to be a vote we think about. A lot of us are already losing sleep about this subject. This is tough stuff. And no Presidential candidate is going to tell me how to vote--with all due respect to John McCain--whether he flies in or flies out or whatever he does. This Senator, and, frankly, I think Senators--Republicans, Democrats, Independents--each Senator will vote their constituents' interests, what they think is best for their families, for the small businesses, to keep the economy going, what is right for taxpayers, what is right to get to the root cause of the problem.

I want to say that as far as I am concerned, frankly, Senator McCain has one vote, and so do I. My vote will be my vote and no one else is going to tell me how to vote for my people. I felt that passion in my friend's remarks. It is very sad that we have lost the momentum that she talked about. But I believe we will get it back.

I know our chairman of the Banking Committee, Chris Dodd, has an open door. I know he is waiting for the Republicans to walk back in and say: Let's get to work across party lines. We hope they will do that.

Mr. President, on behalf of Senator Klobuchar and myself, I ask unanimous consent to move a bill that would be very important for this economy that we know is suffering, very important for jobs, and very important to save lives. It is a bill that would immediately make $1 billion available to rebuild our Nation's bridges.

It passed out of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and it passed the full House of Representatives. Why? Because we do not want to see another bridge go down in Minnesota or any other place. Yes, we believe it is important to move in this direction to save lives, to rebuild our infrastructure, and to create jobs.

I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of Calendar No. 1050, H.R. 3999; that the bill be read a third time and passed, and the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table, with no intervening action or debate.

Is there objection?

Sen. Wayne A. Allard

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Mr. President, I object.

Objection is heard.

Sen. Barbara Boxer

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Mr. President, I am very disturbed and disheartened that our Republican friends would object to such a bill at such a time. During rush hour on August 1, 2007, the I-35 West bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, sending dozens of cars into the Mississippi River. This tragedy, which every American remembers well, claimed the lives of 13 people.

Just to see that bridge go down broke your heart. It served, though, as a wake-up call--at least we thought it did--that we cannot neglect our Nation's crumbling infrastructure. Half of all the bridges in this country were built before 1964, the average age of a bridge in the national bridge inventory is 43 years old, and 26 percent of our bridges are deficient. Yet the Republicans will not allow this bipartisan bill to go through. It shouldn't take a tragedy such as the one in Minneapolis to remind us that the safety of our bridges and highways and other infrastructure can be a matter of life and death.

Senator Klobuchar and Chairman Oberstar have worked to address these problems. That bill I asked unanimous consent to pass today, the National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act of 2008, will begin those repairs.

I beg my Republican friends to wake up and smell the roses. A bridge collapsed. We need to rebuild our bridges and put people to work to do it. If we have enough money to rebuild Iraq, we ought to have enough money to rebuild bridges in this country that are a danger to our people.

The I-35 tragedy claimed the lives of 13 people. It has also served as an urgent wake-up call that we cannot neglect our Nation's crumbling infrastructure.

The National Transportation Safety Board has not yet issued the results of its investigation into the Minnesota bridge collapse, but we do know that additional resources are needed to repair and replace aging bridges and highways across our Nation.

Half of all bridges in this country were built before 1964, and the average age of a bridge in the National Bridge Inventory is 43 years old.

Of approximately 600,000 bridges nationwide, about 26 percent are considered deficient.

This means we need to make significant investments just to maintain our bridges at safe functioning levels, followed by even larger investments over the next 20 to 30 years to completely replace aging bridges.

It should not take a tragedy like the one in Minneapolis to remind us that the safety of our bridges, highways, and other infrastructure can be a matter of life and death.

Senator Klobuchar and Chairman Oberstar have worked together to address problems with our Nation's bridges by introducing legislation entitled, the National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act of 2008.

The House version of this legislation, H.R. 3999, was approved by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 357 to 55 in the House of Representatives on July 24 and was approved the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works by voice vote on September 17.

This legislation makes changes to the requirements set forth in the Highway Bridge Program, while authorizing a one-time additional $1 billion for bridge repair and replacement.

One key provision in this legislation is a requirement for the Department of Transportation to develop a national risk-based priority system for the repair, rehabilitation or replacement of each structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridge.

We have great challenges before us. But at the end of the day it is a matter of setting priorities.

If we are going to keep our people safe and our economy strong and healthy, we need to make a serious investment in our transportation infrastructure.

I ask unanimous consent to have the following letters of support printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

Dear Mr. Chairman Oberstar and Ranking Member Mica: On behalf of the more than 140,000 members of the American Society of Civil Engineers we offer our strong support for the National Highway System Bridge Reconstruction Initiative