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Rubio, Coons Deliver Joint Floor Speech On AGREE Act
Senators Marco Rubio and Chris Coons
U.S. Senate Floor Speech
November 16, 2011
RUBIO: Thank you, Madam President. We’re going to start today by talking about job creation in America, and I’d like to turn it over to Senator Coons to begin this conversation about a very important piece of legislation we filed jointly yesterday.
COONS: Thank you, Senator Rubio and thank you, Madam President. Senator Rubio and I have come to the floor today to talk about our shared experience. In my home state over the one year that I’ve been a Senator and over the years before that I’ve served on county government, I have heard from hundreds, even thousands, of families and individuals looking for work, deeply hurt and challenged by the ongoing slow economic recovery, folks who have come to us asking for opportunities, for assistance, for promise and hope. And in reality, I think one of the things that is causing some real concern in this country, in my state and most likely, Madam President in yours, and I think most likely in Senator Rubio’s as well, is a broadly shared concerning that we here in Congress are not capable of getting past the partisan politics and making real progress in tackling the job creating challenges before us.
Let me, if I could, quote from a couple of letters that I have received from Delawareans just in the last few months. Lawrence from Milford wrote my office, “Congress needs to stop the political arguing and take positive action to make America and our economy strong again.” Janet from Wilmington wrote, “I am the owner a very small business. I’ve been in business for 29 years, and I have never seen it as tough as it is today.” And Joseph in Smyrna summed it all up in a letter he wrote, “Our economy needs jobs now.”
Delaware is a great place to grow a business, to raise a family, to achieve success but we have the toughest economy we’ve seen in generations. Madam President, the folks we represent expect us to act and they expect us to find ways to work together and to get past the partisan divide that has made it so difficult for us to make progress.
Senator Rubio, what sorts of things have you heard from your constituents in Florida and how has that motivated you to act?
RUBIO: Thank you, Senator Coons. Let me just point out a couple things before we begin, and that is that there are a lot of issues in this process that we’re not going to agree on. And there is an ideological divide about a lot of major issues – the role of government, how do we get the economy growing again and what government can do about it – and the people of America recognize that. And they recognize that issues of that magnitude ultimately are solved at the ballot box. You elect people. People run for office on their competing visions of government’s role and use it to decide those elections. And we’re going to have one in November of 2012.
But what do we do over the next 12 months? Do we just stand around and do nothing? Do we just stand around and continue to bring up pieces of legislation from both sides of the aisle that we know are going to fail just to make political points? Or do we actually begin to act?
And there are a lot reasons why I think we need to act. And I want to share with you an e-mail that I received from Stephanie, who lives in Vero Beach, and it just breaks your heart. I think it is very typical of the ones, Senator Coons, that you’ve probably gotten and I bet you all of the other members of this institution have gotten.
She writes, “I’m not sure who to turn to with this question. I’m a true Floridian, I was born and raised in Florida. As you know, the unemployment rate is horrible. I had to file for unemployment benefits for the first time ever, and I was just informed that I exhausted my benefits. Where do I turn for help? There are no jobs available. I search for a job daily and get excuses such as ‘you don’t have enough experience’ or ‘you’re overqualified.’ Or I’m suggested to go back to school. How am I going to go back to school if I have no money to pay for school or have no job and no money to pay my bills?”
It goes on to outline other problems but at the end it says, “Many people like myself have nowhere to turn. Hopefully you can help me or at least suggest what I can do. Thank you for your time.”
This is the voice of real desperation, of real people in the real world who want to work, have always worked and cannot find a job. This is the number one issue in America. There are a lot of issues floating around here and they’re important issues. But this is the number one issue in America, of everyday hardworking people who cannot find a job.
Now, can government create jobs for them? In government. But by and large there are things government can do to help create an environment for job creation.
And so what we have done is we have sat down and we have analyzed what things have we agreed on. There are things that are in the President’s plan that are also in the Republican plan that the House has passed, that our colleagues have filed. And what we came up with was this piece of legislation that Senator Coons is going to describe in a moment. It is literally a collection of bills that we have agreed on. And what people want to know, “I understand you’re going to have arguments about the things you disagree on, but why are you arguing about the things you agree on?”
And so Senator Coons, maybe this is a good segue to start describing some of the measures that are in this bill – the things that we agree on, the things that we can act on and do right now to help people like Stephanie, people in your home state, and people in every one of the states in this country who are struggling to find a job and are looking for some ray of hope that this process here in Washington has an understanding about what they’re going through and are actually willing to do something about it.
COONS: We together yesterday announced the introduction of the AGREE Act, the American Growth, Recovery, Empowerment and Entrepreneurship Act, which conveniently spells out agree. The core principle, as Senator Rubio described, was for a real Republican and a real Democrat to look through all the different ideas that have been put out there in the president’s jobs bill, by the president’s Jobs and Competitiveness Council, by members of the Senate and the House from both parties that we could come to agreement on, and to put them into a bill packaged to assemble all of these ideas and put them out and hope that we will pick up cosponsors, hope that it will pick up steam, and hope we can demonstrate to the American people, to the families that Senator Rubio and I have heard from in letters, e-mails and tweets who have expressed real concern.
The basic big picture proposals in this bill, first, extending tax relief for small businesses: there’s three different provisions that have already been in law that would be extended by this bill. For capital gains exclusion, for five-year investments in qualified small businesses, for accelerated depreciation, and for increased expensing, all of which would help small businesses invest in growth.
Encouraging cutting-edge research and innovation by making permanent the R&D tax credit and by adding something to it that I think has real potential: an added incentive for companies who invent something here, to manufacture it here.
Another commonsense regulatory relief, for fast growing businesses that seek to go public, another an idea originally championed by Senator Casey providing incentives to the tax code for veterans to become franchise owners and entrepreneurs, and last are reducing some immigration barriers that prevent highly skilled workers who’ve studied here, from staying here.
Now really to the last point, protecting American businesses from intellectual property theft. Strengthening our ability to prevent counterfeit goods from coming into American markets by fixing a small but real barrier to effective border protection against counterfeiting.
All of these provisions, Madam President, are provisions that have already enjoyed bipartisan support in other settings. We’ve simply assembled them together, put them into a commonsense package and want to move them forward.
Senator Rubio, what sort of response has our action gotten so far from people in Florida, around the country, who might have contacted about this initiative?
RUBIO: Thank you. It’s been a very positive response, and I’ll tell you why for a couple reasons.
Number one is every time people open up a newspaper or turn on the television what they get from Washington is bad news. A week ago in a speech I gave, I said it resembles professional wrestling to them. It seems like there’s people from the Republican side and Democrat side that go on TV and scream at each other about what’s happening. And people watch it and they get it that there are differences between us. But is there anything [we agree on]? I mean, don’t we all live in the same country? Aren’t we seeing the same economic conditions? Are there things we can work together on, and why are they not hearing from that?
Let me tell you the impact in the real world of all that bad news. The impact is that people get scared. So imagine for a moment, you are a job creator and you’ve got some money to invest this year. And you have to decide: do I leave it in the bank, or do I take this money and use it to grow my business?
Well, the safe thing to do is to leave it in the bank. But what job creators and entrepreneurs want to, what they really want to do is they want to create new jobs, they want to grow their businesses. Who doesn’t want to grow their business? Who doesn’t want to add customers? So now you have to make a decision. Is now the right time to grow my business or the wrong time?
And one of the things people look at is the political climate. Are the people in charge of government, in Washington especially which is the one that gets the most attention, what is their mind frame? How are they working? Are they getting things done? Is it positive things that are happening or negative things that are happening?
And I believe the measures here are meaningful. We’re not claiming that this bill solves all of our economic problems, but they are meaningful. If you’re a small business that’s looking to invest next year in buying some capital investment in your business, this is a real incentive to extend these tax credits that help you to do that.
But more importantly, something else people will look at, they will be able to open up the newspaper one day and actually read that Republicans and Democrats came together and passed a piece of legislation that they agreed on. And I don’t think you can underestimate or, quite frankly, really measure the kind of psychological impact that could have on job creators to actually have some optimism that the future will be better than the present, that tomorrow may be better than today.
And I think that, as much as anything else, is critical. The United States Senate is a big deal. People pay attention to what we say here, the good stuff we say and the bad stuff we say. They pay attention to what we do here, and they pay attention to what we fail to do here. I think it’s important for all of us to recognize that our actions have consequences and the way we speak and comport ourselves in these debates. And I think we need to recognize that some of the rhetoric and some of the noise that has been made in this process over the last six months to a year have hurt job creation because they created an air of negativity around the economics of this country. And we have an opportunity with passage of legislation like this to send a message that, on the things we agree on, we can actually get things done. That’s been the impression I’ve gotten from people – a little bit of surprise, but a lot of it is some sense of optimism that before this year is out we’ll be able to pass a piece of legislation that is both meaningful and bipartisan. Is that the same reaction you’ve gotten?
COONS: That’s right, Senator Rubio. I have gotten an almost immediate response from Facebook, from Twitter, from emails, from phone calls to my office. I’ll just quote a couple of them for a moment, if I might. I got a tweet from @JasonFebrey, who wrote: “kudos for introducing job-creating legislation. Good to see detailed plans rather than the endless partisan bickering.” @WI_LADI tweeted, “if agree is a jobs act that can get passed, I, an American who cares deeply our unemployed says thanks.”
I got an e-mail from Mary June from Delaware City, “I think it’s great to see a bipartisan approach to solving the jobs crisis. Thank you for getting past party lines and coming together to propose commonsense solutions.” Last, Maria from Middletown emailed me, “I think it is time for both parties to come together. To bring our country back to where we have people working again and families believing in the American Dream. The same dream I had growing up. The dream I thought my sons and granddaughter were going to live. Business as usual in Washington has to stop. Through this bill, you will both prove to your fellow senators that if you all work together, anything can be possible.”
To be clear, as Senator Rubio said earlier, there are real differences. There are things that divide the parties.
There is time ahead for an election to resolve those fundamental differences in values, in approach, in priorities. But while we can, we should come together with commonsense proposals that demonstrate to the American people, that we can take ideas from Republicans, Democrats, from the House, the Senate, from the states, and the president, and put them in a package and pass them. Because 12 months is too long for us to wait.
As we all wait this coming week for the outcome of the super committee, I know that confidence is one of the major things we have some concerns about. The confidence in the marketplace, the confidence to take risks and invest, the confidence to grow.
And in my view, Madam President, this bill, this initiative shows that both parties can and do have confidence in American inventors, American investors, American veterans, and American entrepreneurs.
I’m grateful for a chance to work on this.
Senator Rubio, what’s the next step and where do we go from here?
RUBIO: I hope the next step is to get as many people in this chamber and in the House to sign on to this legislation, and let’s get it done. Obviously we’re open to suggestions about how to improve it. Maybe there are some things we left out that should be in there. We’re open to that. Maybe there are some questions involving how some of these particular measures would work. So we’re open to suggestions now. I think what we wanted to do is get the ball rolling. And I know that our time is short here and is about to run out. And I want to recognize what you’ve recognized.
You know, one of the ways you lose credibility is when you exaggerate things. Let’s not exaggerate things in terms of the differences between our parties. They’re real. There are real ideological differences about the role of government, about what the tax code should look like, about how to get out of this debt situation, and we’re going to debate those things. To my friends on both the right and the left, the Republican side and the Democrat side, we have real differences and this is the place to do them.
We are fortunate and blessed to live in a republic where we can debate our competing points of view as to what the proper role of government is. But there are things we do agree on, and these are the kinds of things we should work on. And so I think today is an open invitation to all of our colleagues here in the Senate to join us, to look at this bill, analyze it, see if there are things in it you’d like to add that you think belong there. Maybe there are things we left out that should be in there. The more, the merrier. We’re looking forward to that. To those who think there are things that are in this bill that maybe should be changed or improved, we’re open to those suggestions as well.
But we want to get this done. We want to deliver something to the American people as soon as possible that shows that here in Washington, D.C. we can agree on the things we agree on. I think that would be a positive first step in the right direction on behalf of job creators.