Tester: Now is not time for Congress to be against jobs

Senator calls on lawmakers to pass Jobs Bill that puts Montanans to work, not play politics

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester has a clear message for his colleagues: Now is not the time for Congress to vote against creating jobs in Montana.

Tester, a member of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee, is currently working on the Jobs Bill, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  During a forceful speech on the Senate Floor, Tester said Montanans “Don’t need bailouts.  We need jobs.”

“Rather than continuing to lurch from bailout to bailout, we need a good Jobs Bill that will put people to work now and begin to rebuild our economy from the ground up,” Tester said.

Tester praised the Senate Republican Leader for pledging bipartisan cooperation.  But he added he is disappointed that some lawmakers are “playing politics” with the Jobs Bill and even voting against good-paying jobs in Montana.

During his speech, Tester called for transparency and accountability and shared specific examples of Montanans hard-hit by the downturn in the economy.  He said an out-of-work Kalispell resident called asking for a job cleaning Tester’s office.  The Montanan even offered to “sweep streets.”

Tester expects the Senate to take up its version of the Jobs Bill next week.  Earlier this week Tester and the Appropriations Committee, which oversees all discretionary government spending, approved a framework funding plan for the Jobs Bill.

Tester said the Senate Jobs Bill will put Montanans to work by investing in rural America’s critical long-term infrastructure, including highways, transmission lines, schools, energy facilities and water systems.  Specific funding has not been determined, but Tester highlighted several Montana projects as examples of infrastructure in urgent need of repair.

“The Town of Stevensville’s water supply dates to 1909, and there have been no significant or substantial improvements to that water system in 30 years,” Tester said.  “That town alone needs $150,000 to upgrade the system to bring it in compliance with federal drinking water standards and ensure public health.”

Tester noted that that every billion dollars invested in infrastructure projects produces nearly 30,000 good-paying jobs.

Text of Tester’s floor speech appears below.


U.S. Senator Jon Tester
Floor Speech: Jobs, not bailouts
January 29, 2009

Mr. President, I rise today to urge the Senate and the Congress to act now to put people back to work and begin taking the steps necessary to restore economic growth in the near term and opportunity over the long haul.  The House passed the Jobs Bill yesterday.  The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its Jobs Bill out of Committee on Tuesday. As a new member of that Committee, I look forward to working with my colleagues—from both sides of the aisle—to pass a good Jobs Bill and get it to the President so we start to get people back to work now, and lay the foundation for broad-based economic growth and opportunity.

The need for this Jobs Bill is as plain as day.  Each day, brings news of fresh evidence that America’s economy is on the wrong track.  According to the experts, unemployment last month rose by 632,000 workers to 7.2 percent.  Those are the highest levels in nearly 16 years, and the trend line is downright scary.   Even so-called “growth companies” like Microsoft are announcing layoffs while retail companies like Circuit City go belly up in the wake of the meltdown in the financial markets.  Just this week, Home Depot, Caterpillar, General Motors, United Airlines, Pfizer, Sprint Nextel have announced massive job cuts—some 75,000 in one day.  And the numbers continue to go higher and higher.

In Montana we, unfortunately, are not immune from the economic gloom.  Mining companies are experiencing significant layoffs. Car dealers are struggling.  The timber industry is on the verge of collapse.  The Montana Contractors Association said last month that the construction sector employment in our state has fallen more than 7.5 percent in the last year and a half.  And the wild volatility of the worldwide energy markets has left both consumers and producers in the Treasure State feeling the effects of the boom and bust roller-coaster ride.

And let me tell you, when you take away a worker’s job, you take away the family’s hope for the future.  Montanans don’t want an unemployment check. What the want is a job.  And a paycheck.

A recent picture in the Whitefish Pilot explained it well.  A lone man stood on a street corner with cardboard sign that said “WORK NEEDED.”  In the caption he’s quoted as saying, “It’s humbling, but I’m a workaholic.  I will do whatever it takes to pay my bills.”  Another woman from Kalispell wrote me about herself and her husband, both of whom are out of work.  She said, “I’d be happy to clean your office, answer phones or do office work for you.  I will sweep streets.  Just recommend me to the right person that can give me a job.”

The unemployment rate hit 8.7 percent in Flathead County last month.  These are proud working folks, and they are not looking for a handout.  They are looking for a job.  And an opportunity to make a living.  To provide for their families. 

I come to my job in the Senate from our family farm in Montana.  Although we might not register much more than a blip on the radar screen of national statistics, let me tell you that folks in rural America—and our frontier communities—feel the effects when the big picture is out of whack.  We feel the effects of a national downturn in a big, big way.  Virtually every economic recession in American history started in farm country.  This one is no different.  Input costs are high.  Commodity prices are low.  This is a recipe for financial failure.

So, what do we do?  The first thing we need to do is to pass a good Jobs Bill.  And we need to do it now.  Rather than continuing to lurch from bailout to bailout, we need a good Jobs Bill that will put people to work right now and begin to rebuild our economy from the ground up by investing in infrastructure.

Yesterday, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave a report on the efforts to repair our nation’s infrastructure.  That grade was a “D.” And they said the repair costs have grown by more than $500 Billion over the in the last four years.  Specifically, more than 26 percent—that’s more than one in four—of our nation’s bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.  One third of America’s major roads are either poor or in mediocre condition. 

In Montana, water is a huge infrastructure need.  I’ll give you a few examples.  The Town of Stevensville’s water supply dates to 1909.  And there have been no significant or substantial improvements to that water system in 30 years.  That town alone needs $150,000 to upgrade the system to bring it in compliance with federal drinking water standards and ensure public health.  The Town of Dutton, Montana, needs a half-million dollars to rehabilitate wastewater lagoons built in 1946 to avert possible catastrophic dike failure and to serve the citizens of this town in compliance with current standards.  These are just two examples of the need for infrastructure funding that will get people working now, enhance quality of life, and set the groundwork for vigorous economic growth. 

Some may criticize the need to upgrade infrastructure as nothing more than filling potholes.  But I can tell you that after many years of failure at the national level to fund infrastructure, our national “front end” is more than just a little out of alignment. 

If we do it right, investing in infrastructure will be a win-win.  Smart, long-term infrastructure projects will put people to work right now and will also build for the future.   For future generations.  For our kids and our grandkids. We know that every billion dollars in infrastructure investment produces nearly 30,000 good jobs in our communities.

When these infrastructure dollars are spent correctly, they will result are good-paying jobs and improvements that will allow communities and businesses to grow and prosper.  We’ve got sound, local projects in process right now.  All they need is an infusion of capital.  These local projects will put people to work building roads and bridges and water systems, modernizing schools, bringing new sources of energy online.  And the list goes on and on and on.  These federal dollars will produce results that will benefit our communities for generations to come. 

We need an effective partnership on the federal, state and local levels to identify these priority projects with rock-solid merit.  And we’ll work as public servants to get worthy projects money they need to make them happen. 

The Jobs Bill must have first-rate accountability.  We’ve seen enough Bridges to Nowhere to know a boondoggle when we see one.  We need full transparency so the American people can judge for themselves the worthiness of individual projects through a process that is more open than ever. 

This Jobs Bill in the Senate we need to pass for one reason.  We need to get America working again.

Beyond the bricks and mortar and asphalt and concrete, we need to invest in our people.  That’s human infrastructure.  A good first step would be to pass the Children’s Health Insurance bill to ensure that’s on the floor right now, to ensure the youngest and most vulnerable Americans have access to quality, affordable health care.  I hope the U.S. Senate can get that goal done. 

And we need to focus on education and training to equip middle-class families to succeed over the long haul.  We need to modernize our schools with new technology.  And build new ones where necessary.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen some folks playing politics with our country’s future.  They even criticized a proposal to increase Pell Grants for working families to send their kids to college.  Anyone who doesn’t get how important college financial aid is to Middle America is out of touch with the tough decisions that are made around kitchen tables every day in this country.

Mr. President, it is also important to consider how we got here.  Years of trickle-down economics, massive tax breaks for the well-to-do and the well-connected and a complete lack of regulation in the marketplace.  That’s the legacy of greed and abuse that we need to correct. 

Just like the referees on the football field for Super Bowl Sunday, we need to put the refs back on the field on Wall Street.  We need to make sure that crooks never again swindle honest people.  Our Founding Fathers said: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”  And Thomas Jefferson noted in his first inaugural address that among the elements of good government is the need to “restrain men from injuring one another.”  We’ve got our marching orders; we need to get to work.

I serve on the Senate Banking Committee, and I want to make sure that the Treasury Department, the Justice Department, and the Securities and Exchange Commission all have the tools they need in the toolbox.  If they need more tools, we need to go out there and get ‘em for them. 

Over the long haul, we need balanced priorities to rebuild this economy from the ground up.  We need jobs.  We need to put people first.  I’m proud to give a voice to family farmers and ranchers.  I want Washington, D.C., to start seeing the world through the eyes of rural America.  The wealthy special interests have had the run of this place for all too long, and have run this economy into the ditch.

I was pleased to hear the Senate Minority Leader state last week that he intends to cooperate to pass the Jobs Bill and other vital legislation.  Working together always results in a better work product.  I am disappointed, though, that others have decided to play politics at a time when so many American workers are struggling.  And families are worried about how to make ends meet.

We’ve got financial markets melting down, an economy that’s cratered and a future that’s bleaker than any we’ve faced in generations.  We need a new plan. We need a new direction.  We need change.

I applaud President Obama for his leadership in proposing this new Jobs Bill, and I stand ready to work with him and all my colleagues to rebuild this economy from the ground up.  We don’t need bailouts.  We need jobs. 

Thank you, Mr. President.  I yield the floor.