Murray said she is troubled by a series of decisions made in Washington, D.C. that are out of sync with the needs and priorities in Clark County on issues like jobs, transportation, healthcare, and economic development.
"I see things happening in Washington, D.C. that are not the priorities we need here in Southwest Washington," Murray said. "And I am fighting everyday to move things in the right direction – because I know that as we try to drive Vancouver's economy forward our government needs to step on the gas instead of the brake."
Murray spoke of her personal connections with Southwest Washington, going back to her first days in the Washington state legislature in 1988, when state Senator Al Bauer showed her the ropes in the Capitol.
When Murray was elected to the United States Senate in 1992, her knowledge of Southwest Washington helped her see how a proposal in President Clinton's budget would have hurt Clark County. In 1993, she led the fight against a proposed tax on barge fuel that would have crippled commerce on the Columbia River.
"It's been 11 years since that first fight in the U.S. Senate, and I'm doing the same thing today whether it's channel deepening, or providing money to preserve the Vancouver Barracks," Murray said. "I've got the same standard today that I had on my first day on the job: Is it good for Washington state?" Murray continued, "Unfortunately, today, I see a lot of things happening in Washington, D.C. that are not good for our state."
For example, she noted that:
- Congress is refusing to extend unemployment benefits while 16,400 people in Clark County are jobless.
- Congress is cutting funding for job training programs while hundreds of Washington workers are on waiting lists for job training.
- Congress is blocking a critical transportation bill while Southwest Washington battles the worst traffic congestion in Washington state.
- Congress is blocking a bipartisan bill to provide immediate relief for doctors and hospitals facing soaring malpractice insurance rates.
- The President's budget provides zero funding for channel deepening, a top priority for economic development.
Murray outlined her plan to restart the economy in Southwest Washington, which includes:
- supporting local businesses like the proposed Bay Bridge Fabricators,
- funding channel deepening,
- investing in workforce development,
- helping laid-off workers,
- and extending tax incentives to improve the business climate.
Senator Murray was introduced by Beth Quartarolo, chair of the Vancouver Chamber.
BETH QUARTAROLO: It is a tremendous pleasure to introduce this lady. Patty Murray was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992 and has distinguished herself as a member of the Democratic leadership team.
Originally best known for her work on educational and children's issues, the Senator has become a leading figure on transportation, and thank you, Senator, for the millions you have delivered to Southwest Washington on that score. Border and port security, heath care, the R&D tax credit and economic development, and that is just part of the list. I was asked also to thank her particularly for getting local companies the chance to bid on the Oakland Bay Bridge Project.
The Senator was born in Bothell, educated at WSU. She is known among her colleges for her down-to-earth, determined Northwest style. Please join me in welcoming U.S. Senator Patty Murray.
SENATOR MURRAY: Thank you Beth, and thank you all for that warm welcome. I'm so excited to finally be here at the Vancouver Chamber. I had planned to come in November, but the Senate never adjourned. We rescheduled for January, and but then you had 5 straight days of snow and ice. So, I told Addison that I would be here today even if I had to crawl. When my flight was cancelled this morning, I was afraid that we might have to do just that. But fortunately, we rebooked and arrived here today. I want to thank all of you for coming, and I really want to thank Addison, John and Beth for making this luncheon finally happen.
What I want to talk about today is even more urgent now than it was back in November. This is a tough time for Clark County. All of you – as business, civic and elected leaders – are working hard to drive the local economy forward. And you deserve support.
Our state is on the cusp of moving ahead. The Boeing 7E7 contract was let, and Washington state got it. We have a wine industry that's being created in Southeast Washington. We have exciting new opportunities in energy production, biotech, nanotechnology, but to succeed we need the right investments here now to make that happen – investments in education, infrastructure, transportation and research.
Unfortunately, the powers-that-be in Washington, D.C. today have their foot on the brake instead of the gas pedal when it comes to these investments, and that's making your economic recovery a lot slower and a lot more difficult. I think things would be much better here in Southwest Washington if people making decisions in Washington, D.C. shared your priorities.
So today I want to talk about what I'm doing – and what we can do together – to fix those priorities and get our economy back on track.
I want to talk about jobs, transportation, and healthcare, and then I want to hear from you and take your questions so we can get things moving back in the right direction.
First, I want to share with you a story about my personal relationship with many of you in Southwest Washington. Years before I was in the United States Senate, I served in the Washington State Senate. I represented Shoreline, a suburban area north of Seattle.
As you may know, I did not have experience in the "political" world. I'd been a pre-school teacher, a PTA mom and a school board member. So when I first arrived in the State Senate, I had a lot to learn.
One of the first people who came up to me and helped me understand the process was one of the great leaders from your community, Senator Al Bauer. Back in 1988, Al took the time to show me the ropes and helped me learn how to be an effective legislator. He really became a mentor to me. In doing that, he got me interested in what was happening here in Southwest Washington back in 1988.
When there was something that Clark County needed – even though I didn't represent this area – I was always happy to help Al because he had reached out and helped me. I learned a lot about Vancouver from Al – a lot about what's critical for jobs and your economy. That was really important, because years later -- when I stepped up to run for the United States Senate I already knew a lot about this corner of the state. And the proof of that came in my first months in the United States Senate.
Because of Al, I knew about the critical importance of the Columbia River to the economy here in southwest Washington. I knew that the Columbia River is the gateway for our ag products and our exports, and I knew that anything that hurt commerce on the river would hurt your economy.
A few months after I joined the Senate, the Clinton Administration was trying to balance the budget, and they were looking for ways to get more revenue. President Clinton sent us his budget with the suggestion to raise the fuel tax for inland barges by 526 percent. Frankly, a lot of people in the Senate didn't even know what that meant, but I knew it would throw a wrench in your economy. I knew it had the potential to push ag. exports off the river and onto to trucks – causing more congestion on your roads, and hurting your businesses and farm families.
I knew that it was bad for Clark County, so I stood up and said, "No way." I took on my own party -- and my own president. I spoke about it on the Senate floor, worked in budget meetings and caucuses, and I helped organize a group of senators who represented other inland waterways. We went to the White House, and we pushed back.
Finally, I helped pass a resolution that blocked that tax increase, and that was a victory for jobs here in Southwest Washington. So because of leaders like Al Bauer, I started fighting for Clark County very early and I haven't stopped. Al is with us today, and I want to say thank you to someone who is a friend and mentor.
Al - because of your leadership, because you took me under your wing in Olympia, Clark County got another supporter in the State Senate, and an advocate in the United States Senate who will always stand up for this community. Thank you, Al.
Al's style of leadership – reaching out to others and building partnerships – is something that continues today with local leaders like – Mayor Royce Pollard, Craig Pridemore, Betty Sue Morris, Judy Stanton, and the many state elected leaders who are in this room. I wish I could name everyone, but I know that by reaching out and working together they have produced good results for this community.
It's been 11 years since that first fight in the U.S. Senate, and I'm doing the same thing today whether it's channel deepening, or providing money to preserve the Vancouver Barracks. I've got the same standard today that I had on my first day on the job: Is it good for Washington state?
Regardless of which party controls the Presidency and the White House, when legislation comes before me the question I ask is: Is it good for Washington state?
Unfortunately, today, I see a lot of things happening in Washington, D.C. that are not good for our state.
This afternoon I want to talk about them, and I want to hear your concerns and questions so we can continue the dialogue about how to help Southwest Washington that Al Bauer started with me 16 years ago.
Frankly, today the priorities in our nation's capitol -- and what you need here in Clark County -- are out of sync. Let me give you some examples.
In Clark County, we have 16,400 people out of work, but in Washington, D.C. they are refusing to extend unemployment benefits.
Here in Vancouver, we have hundreds of workers on a waiting list for job training, but in Washington, D.C. they're cutting job training programs.
Here we've got the worst traffic congestion in the state – worse than Seattle, but in Washington, D.C. they're blocking a transportation bill that will provide millions of dollars for your bridges, highways and roads.
Here in Southwest Washington, we have a broken malpractice insurance market. Doctors are facing skyrocketing insurance rates, but in Washington, D.C., they are blocking a bipartisan bill that will stop frivolous lawsuits and provide immediate relief for our doctors and hospitals.
Here we've got veterans who need healthcare, but in Washington, D.C. they tried to close the Vancouver VA which serves thousands of local veterans.
Here we have the opportunity to make the Columbia River even more productive for our economy, but in Washington, D.C. they're not putting aside a penny for Channel Deepening.
So on issue after issue - from jobs to healthcare to transportation – I see things happening in Washington, D.C. that are not the priorities we need here in Southwest Washington. And I am fighting everyday to move things in the right direction – because I know that as we try to drive Vancouver's economy forward our government needs to step on the gas instead of the brake.
So we've got a lot of work to do to get the people in Washington, D.C. to understand what's really happening here in Southwest Washington. Unfortunately, it won't be easy, because this is an election year. This year, a lot of people are trying to tell us that everything's fine – that our economy's turned a corner. Well I look around, and things sure don't look that fine to me, yet. Go over to the One-Stop career center on Mill Plain Boulevard. The folks there tell me that every single day 500 people walk in for assistance. 500 walk-ins for job help every single day.
Today, Vancouver has the busiest One-Stop career center in our whole state. We don't want our neighbors waiting for assistance at the unemployment office. We want them coming into your stores, buying your products, using your services, and rebuilding our economy.
So I am not satisfied with our economy or healthcare or transportation, and I'm gonna call it like I see it. I'm going to keep on working to do the right thing to get our state back on track.
Let me start with the economy. Right now the unemployment rate in Clark County is 8.8 percent. I know something about that 8.8 percent because my niece and her husband moved here last September after he was laid-off from Boeing. My niece is a teacher, and she's been trying to get a job here since last fall. But she can't find a job here, and like many families, they need two incomes. So she is commuting from Vancouver to Everett because that's where she can find work. The idea that you would have to leave your family and your community because you can't find a job where you live is unacceptable to me, but that's the reality a lot of families are facing today.
In Clark County 16,400 residents are unemployed. In January, there were 2,401 new claims filed for unemployment benefits in Clark County. The reality is that things are tough here, but if you listen to some people in Washington, D.C. you'd think we're in recovery. The reality is that last month there was no net gain in private sector jobs created in this country.
But because it's an election year, some people want us to think things are going well. So they’re calling it a "jobless recovery." That’s like no-calorie chocolate. It's not the same thing. In my book, if we are not creating jobs, then we are not in recovery, and we need to be a lot more aggressive to get our economy moving again.
That's why I'm working to do a number of things:
- First, I'm working to support local projects -- like the brand new Bay Bridge Fabricators – and many local defense companies – that hold the potential to create hundreds of new jobs here in Southwest Washington.
- Second, I'm working to make the Columbia River Channel deeper – because it's critical for economic development.
- Third, I'm working to fix our workforce development system so it meets your needs.
- Fourth, I'm working to extend unemployment benefits to help laid off workers.
- Fifth, I'm working to extend tax incentives – like the R&D tax credit – to make Washington companies more competitive in the world marketplace.
- And finally, I'm working to address issues like transportation and healthcare –so we can make Washington state a place where businesses are coming to set up shop and create new jobs.
These are the positive steps we can take to get our economy moving forward, and I want to say a word about each of them.
1. Spur Businesses
First, I'm working to support local business – both new and old – that are critical to the economy. Just last week, we had a great victory with the Vancouver-based Bay Bridge Fabricator group. As you may know, in California, they're building a new Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. It is a massive, $2.9 billion project. Well we've got great companies here – like Oregon Iron Works, Thompson Metal Fab, and Universal Structural – that could really contribute to the bridge project – and create new jobs here in Vancouver.
Last week, I announced that these local companies working together under the name Bay Bridge Fabricators had reached an agreement to locate a manufacturing facility at the Port of Vancouver. I've been working with these companies – using my status as the senior Democrat at the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee – to ensure that this team of manufacturers from Southwest Washington and Portland can compete for work on the Bay Bridge project. The Bay Bridge Fabricator consortium is working to secure a $300 million contract to make the steel deck plates for the new Bay area bridge. If they succeed -- and I'm doing everything I can to help them -- that contract will create at least 300 new direct jobs and $75 million in wages and benefits to the local economy. Well those 300 new jobs -- paying about $50,000 a year -- would have a tremendous impact on this community. That's why I will do whatever I can to give our local companies every opportunity to win this contract.
These are some of the many local businesses I'm proud to support. In fact, I'm going to be touring Oregon Iron Works later this afternoon. So I'm using my position in the Senate to support local businesses and help them get off to a strong start.
2. Channel Deepening
Let me turn to another priority – Channel Deepening. It's one of my highest priorities because it means jobs and competitiveness. I'm proud to work with leaders like Larry Paulson at the Port of Vancouver, and Glenn Vanselow at the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.
We had our work cut out for us last year. The President's budget didn't provide a dime to deepen the channel. Not a penny. But we worked together, and we got great Republican and Democrat support both here in Washington and in Oregon. At the end of the day, I was able to secure $3.5 million to fund the Channel Deepening project this year.
Now you would have thought that the White House would have realized that this is something we're all going to fight for. Well, when the President's budget for FY 2005 came out, it was very interesting. It had a line in the budget that said "Columbia River Channel Improvements" and that may seem like progress but if you follow that line along to the right edge of the page, you'll see that the dollar amount is zero.
Maybe they thought we wouldn't notice that – once again – they weren't providing a dime for channel deepening. Well I certainly noticed, and I'm doing something about it. This week, I'm sending a bipartisan letter with the Senators from Washington, Oregon and Idaho, asking the appropriate Senate committee to give Channel Deepening the funding it deserves.
It won't be easy when you look at the entire budget. The President cut overall funding for the Corps of Engineers, which makes it very difficult to move forward on the channel project. In fact, we just passed the Budget off the floor of the U.S. Senate and I'm here to tell you - it's not a pretty sight - deficits for as far as the eye can see and extremely low levels of funding for all of our domestic priorities.
It won't be easy, but I know how important this project is, and I'm going to work with Democrats and Republicans. If we speak with one voice, I believe we're going to make progress once again.
3. Boost Job Training and Workforce Development
The third thing I'm working on is workforce development and job training. I'm not satisfied that local employers here in Clark County can't find the skilled workers they need while –at the same time – the local workforce board is forced to turn away people who want job training.
In the Senate, I am the Ranking Member of the Senate's Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training. I helped write the bill that updates the Workforce Investment Act. I'm using my position to make the workforce development system more responsive and more supportive of our local businesses.
I'm not satisfied with a workforce system that trains people with skills if those skills aren't the ones you need. That's why my workforce bill rebuilds our training system around your needs.
I'm not satisfied with a workforce system that tells our small and medium-sized companies that they're going to have to make massive investments in training before the federal government will pitch in. That's why the bill I wrote lowers your training costs, cuts red tape, and ensures we’re meeting your needs for a trained workforce.
So in the Senate, we have a very strong bill that will help local companies. The House bill unfortunately does not provide the support and flexibility our bill does. Right now, the House and the Senate are trying to reconcile their bills, and I am pushing the House of Representative to do the right thing and let us retain the business-friendly provisions of the Senate bill.
4. Extend UI Benefits
I'm also working to help the families who can't yet find work in this slow economy. Our country has always provided unemployment benefits to help workers through recessions – no matter which party, Republican or Democrat, was in charge -- because it makes economic sense. We know families put that money right back into the local economy.
In fact, in January alone here in Clark County workers received $12.5 million in U.I. benefits. That's $12 million dollars that families are spending at the grocery store and the dry cleaner, and using to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.
But there's a big problem today with U.I. benefits. The recession is lasting much longer than the benefits. Federal UI benefits ran out on December 31st. Since then, about 16,000 Washington state residents have seen their unemployment insurance benefits expire. Here in Clark County, nearly 2,800 workers have seen their UI benefits expire. Today, only about half of the unemployed in Clark County are receiving benefits [8,829].
The solution is simple. We extend the benefits as we've done in past recessions.
But this is an election year, and extending benefits belies the story that the economy is fine. So there's real resistance in Washington, D.C. to doing the right thing. Last July, I introduced a bill that will help workers in every state and will provide extra support for high-unemployment states like Washington. Families and businesses here in Southwest Washington need that help. Even Alan Greenspan says we should extend benefits.
But my bill and other attempts to extend UI benefits have been rejected more than 20 times in the Senate. And today many families here are paying the price. I'm not giving up on this, and I will keep fighting so that local families get the support that allows them to buy the things they need here in Clark County.
5. R&D Tax Credit
Another way to help our economy is to make wise choices when it comes to our tax code. This month, we had a giant victory related to tax incentives for companies. Two weeks ago, I introduced a bill with Republican Senator Orin Hatch of Utah to extend the Research and Development tax credit. R&D is critical to help keep American products competitive in the world marketplace.
Other countries are offering all sorts of incentives so that American companies will do their R&D work outside the U.S. Well we need to keep those jobs here, so my bill would extend the R&D tax credit for 18 months – and expand it -- so more businesses are eligible. This will create jobs, and it will make American companies more innovative and competitive in the global marketplace. It's a great incentive for companies like HP to keep good paying jobs here in the U.S.
I'm proud to report that our amendment passed the Senate, and now we need the House to follow suit. If the House of Representatives blocks my tax credit, this job-creating incentive will expire this summer. Let's hope the House does the right thing.
So I'm working to restart our economy by
- supporting local businesses,
- funding channel deepening,
- investing in workforce development,
- helping laid-off workers,
- and extending tax incentives to improve our business climate.
Let me turn to another critical issue for Southwest Washington – transportation. As the Ranking Member on the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, I am in a great position to continue to meet your transportation needs.
Let me just give you a sense of what a difference it is being a senior leader on that committee. Back when Senator Slade Gorton and I were both on the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee – together -- we secured a total of $68 million for Washington state.
This year -- alone – I secured $245 million.
- $68 million versus $245 million.
My senior leadership position means dramatic results for our state, and we certainly need that help today in Southwest Washington.
According to a recent study, the Portland/Vancouver region now suffers from greater congestion and traffic than the Seattle/Everett corridor. That's why in August, I held a hearing in Vancouver to hear from all of you about your top transportation priorities. Senator Hatfield - a friend and great Senate leader - and experts from both sides of the river came to share their ideas on how we can improve transportation in Southwest Washington. That hearing is already generating results. One of the things you told me is that we need to better planning and coordination between Washington State and Oregon. That would require a study, but there was no money for any study in the House or Senate bills.
But you told me it was important, so in final negotiations I put $3 million in Omnibus bill to address your transportation needs. And let me tell you, when that study is done and we've got a list of the projects you need I will use my seat on the Transportation subcommittee to finish the job.
Transportation Authorization Bill (TEA-21)
Right now, Congress is deciding how much to spend on transportation over the next six years, and Vancouver has a lot at stake. The Senate has passed a $318 billion transportation reauthorization bill. It's estimated to create 1.6 million jobs, but the White House doesn't want to spend that much on transportation. The President has threatened to veto any transportation bill that's over $256 billion.
Today the White House is pressuring the House of Representatives to produce a small bill – one that will create fewer jobs and provide less of the infrastructure you need.
If we can get the Senate version passed, it will mean more money that's available for the things you need here in Vancouver like the I-5 bridge replacement, the rail bridge, Delta Park improvements, and transit improvements.
Congressman Baird is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He's been working very hard on this transportation bill to get the House to do the right thing. Even with Representative Baird's support, there is a real battle between the high funding in the Senate bill and the lower funding that the White House is pressuring the House to produce.
The decisions Congress makes this year about the Transportation bill will impact whether our companies can compete for projects like the Bay Bridge. If the House yields to the President, the bridge project may be delayed and Caltrans will be under even more pressure to award this work to low-cost foreign competitors.
So, I encourage all of you to send Washington's House members a message.
If they fail to adequately fund our transportation infrastructure, they jeopardize our ability right here at home to create jobs.
If our House members allow reduced transportation funding, or if they pass a short-term, under-funded extension, we could lose the opportunity to compete for these 300 new jobs right here in Vancouver. As I see it, it's a vote for Washington state or for Washington, D.C., and I want Washington state to win. I'm proud that on transportation in this state we have in this state always worked together to do what's right for our state. I want to thank leaders like Commissioner Craig Pridemore, and our Portland neighbors for working very closely with me on transportation issues. Together, we can make the transportation investments that will create jobs and improve our business climate.
Before I stop and take your questions, I want to say a word about healthcare. There are so many challenges – from the growing number of uninsured to low Medicare payments to the rising cost of care. I'm using my position on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to address all of those, and I want to focus on one healthcare challenge in particular.
We have a broken medical malpractice insurance market in our state today. Every time I meet with doctors, and every time I visit a hospital, I hear about it. It is broken, and we don't have time to waste on political games or on trickle-down proposals that won't solve the problem now. I support and worked to help create a bipartisan bill that will provide immediate relief to doctors and hospitals, and will stop frivolous lawsuits. It's called the Graham-Durbin bill, and I'm a cosponsor.
Dick Durbin is a Democratic senator from Illinois. Lindsey Graham is a Republican senator from South Carolina. Those two don't agree on much, but they sat down together and came up with a solid, effective, bipartisan bill that will fix the problem.
Our bill does four things.
- It provides tax credits for doctors and hospitals to help them cover their insurance rates.
- It imposes penalties on people who file lawsuits that don't have merit.
- It limits liability for doctors with high Medicaid caseloads.
- And finally, it will have the federal government underwrite the risk of malpractice insurance – just as we’ve done with terrorism and flood insurance.
I'm a cosponsor. I've spoken about it, and I'm ready to bring it up for a vote in the Senate. If all of us – Lindsey Graham, Dick Durbin, and Patty Murray -- can agree on a bill, you really have to wonder why the leadership in the Senate refuses to let us even bring our bill up for debate. But I'll keep fighting because I know we don't have any time to waste.
Finally, let me say a word about one group that's facing some real health care challenges – our veterans. Overseas, our soldiers are doing a remarkable job in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every day our troops are making us proud under very dangerous circumstances. I voted for the $87 billion to support our troops so they have the resources to complete their mission safely and successfully.
As they fight for us, we've got to make sure that they come back home to an economy that's growing – a place where they can find jobs and support their families. We also have special obligations to our veterans when they return home.
My father was a disabled World War II veteran, who earned the Purple Heart as one of the first G.I.'s to land on Okinawa. As a senior in college, I interned at the VA hospital in Seattle, helping to treat soldiers my age who were returning home from Vietnam. These experiences helped shape my commitment to veterans and my belief that we can never forget their service and their sacrifice.
Today I have the honor of being the first woman to serve on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. And I'm proud to report that next year I will be the Chairman or the Ranking Member of the Veterans Affairs Committee. So just as we have thousands of troops coming home, I will be at the head of the table making sure they get the help they need.
Already in the past few months, we scored a big victory for veterans in Southwest Washington. As you may know, the Department of Veterans Affairs planned to shut down the Vancouver VA facility – affecting health care for 13,000 veterans in this community. But we fought back. We took the fight right to the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs. Mayor Pollard, Representative Baird and local veterans mobilized here on the ground. We spoke with one voice here Vancouver and in Congress, and we won. We protected healthcare for local veterans. In fact, after the racket we created the VA is now considering expanding services here in Vancouver.
So, as you can see, there are some very significant issues before the Congress and the Administration. These issues will all have an economic impact on Clark County. I'm working every day to get results for you. We’ve made a lot of progress together, and if we continue our partnership and speak with one voice, we can make this a banner year for the people, businesses and families that call Clark County home and help turn the corner and get this state back on track.
If you want to stay up-to-date on the issues I've mentioned today, you can sign up for my email newsletter. Just visit my webpage. The address is http://murray.senate.gov Or you can give your business card to my staff. I'll send you an update every week on what's happening so you can follow the action as the year heats up.
In closing, I want to encourage all of you to make your voices heard. You're standing up for a great community, and I'm proud to be on your side. It’s going to be a busy year, but I know that by working together, we can again make progress for everyone in Southwest Washington.