Rebuild America Jobs Act--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 2, 2011
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. MERKLEY. Madam President, I rise to address our Nation's job crisis and to share some thoughts about why it is important that we proceed to debate on the Rebuild America Jobs Act. It may come as a surprise to some across the Nation that at this point this Chamber is not debating the Rebuild America Jobs Act but that we are debating whether to debate. Only in the Senate could we be engaged in that type of question, when across America millions of folks want to see us act, want to see us create jobs.

It was only a few weeks ago we had a similar debate. That debate was over the America Jobs Act, a broad portfolio of measures to put our economy back on track and create jobs for Americans. To get closure on whether to debate, we had to get a supermajority under the rules of the Senate.

My colleagues across the aisle opposed that and we could not get to the debate of the bill on how to create jobs. Now we have before us a smaller segment of that bill, one that focuses on the construction industry. Again, we find ourselves debating whether to debate rather than getting down to work and creating jobs. So I hope this time the outcome will be quite different.

The jobs crisis has hit hard across this Nation. It hit especially hard in my home State of Oregon, where the job rate has been lowered as the unemployment rate has been higher than in most States across this Nation. One of the main reasons Oregon is hurting is because our construction industry, our residential and commercial construction industry, is flat on its back. More than 40,000 construction jobs have been lost in Oregon since 2007. Thousands more have been lost in related industries such as forest products and nursery stock and grass seed, all of which only thrive when we are building homes in America. Right now, we are not building homes in America.

So we need a boost to get the construction industry moving again. If you do not believe me, just listen to the people in the State of Oregon. A few weeks ago, I asked my constituents to write in and share their stories. Today, I am going to share some of those stories with all of you. Carolann from Marion County writes in and says:

I am a construction cost accountant with 47 years of experience and two masters degrees. I have been widowed since 1996. I am 69 years old. I fully support my 67-year-old sister who has dementia and is in remission from colon cancer. Wall Street and my own bout with cancer just before I turned 65 has wiped out a lifetime of savings, my retirement nest egg. I have to work or we will be homeless in about 3 months. I drive a 16-year-old vehicle that is on its last legs. I have aging parents who are struggling to keep their farm. Those are the facts. In late 2008, for the first time in my career, I was laid off from my construction accounting job. Since that time I have been unable to find another job in any field despite my good references. Currently I work part time for a start-up dot-com. My prognosis for continued employment is shaky. Banks will not loan money to a start-up. This summer I went from June 26 to September 7 without a paycheck of any kind. Last week I applied for a job at Wall Mart for Oregon's minimum wage. I will probably get hired, but I am not kidding myself about job security. That does not exist any more for most of us. Senator, the worst thing about all of this is our do-nothing Congress. Washington, D.C. has lost touch with America.

Her words ring powerfully in this Chamber. She, similar to millions of other Americans, is saying this economy is tough. Family circumstances are rough. Why does Congress not get down to work and debate and pass job-creating legislation? She is frustrated with this do-nothing Congress and we are debating whether to debate a jobs bill. I encourage my colleagues to listen to Carolann from Marion County. Let's get past this point and get down to debating the jobs bill.

Hank from Marion County writes:

Three years ago, I was at the top of my more than 35 years in construction management working as a senior project manager on a large project. As the economy tanked, the projects were terminated. Today I am unemployable after hundreds of applications. I am left able, willing and highly experienced, yet undesired. Our farm was foreclosed and my wife and I had to file bankruptcy. Currently our mortgage lender refuses to complete a home loan modification, although they qualified us 2 years ago for the program. And since then we have been making the required payments each month even without a final agreement. We have met with community groups, written letters, made calls, yet nothing seems to happen. In another year when the bankruptcy period ends, we fear the bank will simply foreclosure again and we will lose our farm.

Again, another voice from a family deeply affected by the collapse of the construction industry and a call to us to help put it back on its feet.

Brian from Yamhill County writes:

I have worked in the lumber industry for 35 years. In 2009 I was laid off for 11 months. I did go back to work in June only to be cut again after only 5 days of work. I went back to work in December for the same company. In September 2010 there was a cutback. More than 70 people lost their jobs. I was lucky. I made the cut. But my pay was reduced by nearly $5 an hour. I went from driving a fork lift to a clean-up position. 6 months went by and then another cut. This time another 60 people lost their jobs. I was lucky again. And I worked at a new position for nearly a year until September 2011, and then came another cut. This time I was one of 42 people to be laid off with no chance of a call back. Now there are rumors that the entire plant is closing. I have been out of work for 1 month now. And in my job search I have been running into the same thing everywhere I go: No work available.

Every industrial area I go into I see many buildings where companies have gone out of business. Windows and doors are boarded up. I want Congress to do the job they are being paid to do so I can go back to work.

That is the line he closes on: that we here in this Chamber should do the job we are assigned; that is, to take on, amend, and pass job-creating legislation so he can find a job, so he can go back to work. I think his sentiment is echoed by millions of American families. There is no substitute for a job. No program can come anywhere close to the important role a job plays in the personal satisfaction, the structure it gives us in our life, in the knowledge we are putting a roof over our family's head and putting food on the table. No program can suffice. A job is the heart of the success of our families. Yet here we are fiddling while Rome burns or, in this case, filibustering while millions of Americans go without jobs. It is not right.

I say to my colleagues, particularly I wish to encourage my colleagues across the aisle who filibustered the last effort to put the jobs bill on the floor: Stop. Talk to the folks in your home State who are unemployed, who expect us to do what every American worker expects us to do, which is to debate and pass job-creating legislation.

The bill which we are debating whether to debate, the Rebuild America Jobs Act, is a commonsense strategy to put people back to work in an industry that needs it, making investments our country will have to make sooner or later anyway. One in four bridges in America is rated deficient.

We get a D grade on our infrastructure from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

This is not the America we know. It is not the America we want. Let's build the America of the future that will have the infrastructure to drive our economy positively. Infrastructure is not an option; it is a necessity. We can build it now when interest rates are low and jobs are needed or we can spend more later when our infrastructure has deteriorated further and it is more expensive. We can do it earlier, with lower interest rates and more bang for the buck, or we can do it later, when it will be more expensive, more difficult, with a higher interest pricetag. It doesn't seem to be a difficult choice. It certainly doesn't seem to be a difficult choice as to whether we should at least be on the bill, debating it.

I know many folks are coming to the Chamber to address the question of how we get a jobs bill actually before the Senate. I hope all of my colleagues will get on the line with folks back home, go to that town meeting, and say: Do you want us to debate a bill or do you want me to keep stalling and preventing a debate on how to create jobs? I am pretty confident 9 out of 10 people--and maybe 10 out of 10 people--will stand up and say: Quit stalling. Let's get to work here so America can get back to work.

Madam President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.