Videos & Speeches

Madam President, it is April Fools’ Day, but it sure feels more like “Groundhog Day” because we are once again here considering an extension of unemployment benefits for the millions of Americans who have been out of work for months, and some of them even for years.

While assistance to those without work serves an important purpose in helping Americans transition, we are failing to address the underlying and more important issue: How do we grow the economy and create jobs for all of our citizens?

A growing economy creates new opportunities for Americans to find meaningful work, and with meaningful work comes an opportunity for Americans to improve their economic security and advance up that economic ladder.

It is one of the reasons Senator Wyden and I started the Economic Mobility Caucus. We wanted to study the facts and explore policy improvements that can make a difference to increase the likelihood that all Americans can do just that — improve their standard of living and move up that economic ladder to a better life.

According to the monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics, their monthly report indicates that 10.5 million Americans are unemployed; 7.2 million Americans are working part time because they cannot find full-time work; 2.4 million Americans want to work but have stopped searching. What a sad circumstance that is for those folks.

Our labor participation rate is hovering around its 35-year low at 63 percent. While those statistics and the lives these numbers represent are pretty discouraging, I want to talk about a piece of good news. We know we can create jobs and we can create a growing economy, and we know from the facts, from the studies, that entrepreneurship, starting a business, giving Americans a chance to pursue the American dream, is the key.

The Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City has studied entrepreneurship. They make clear that most new jobs come from young companies created by entrepreneurs. In fact, since 1980, nearly all of the net new jobs that have been created in our country have been created by companies less than five years old. It kind of makes sense. Big businesses often are looking for ways to cut costs, reduce their workforce. New businesses wanting to succeed increase their workforce. In fact, these new businesses create, on average, three million jobs each year.

Unfortunately, the number of new business startups, those business formed each year, are around their lowest total since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping track over 40 years ago. So while we know that startup companies have a great opportunity to create jobs, we are creating the fewest number of startup businesses in nearly 40 years.

A couple of authors, John Dearie and Courtney Geduldig — they are authors of a book called  “Where the Jobs Are” — point out in that book that  “the vital signs of America's job-creating entrepreneurial economy are flashing red alert.” John and Courtney spent an entire summer traveling the United States. They met with more than 200 entrepreneurs in dozens of cities to learn about the challenges those entrepreneurs are facing.

What they found is no surprise to anybody in this Chamber. They are the same issues I hear when I am back in Kansas. Those who start a business struggle with access to money, to capital to start that business; a lack of skilled talent; a complex Tax Code; a regulatory burden; and, boy, a lot of uncertainty, most of it, much of it, resulting from the action or lack of action here in Washington, D.C.

A few years back I set out with a bipartisan group of Senators to address the challenges entrepreneurs face. Together we developed legislation that is now called Startup Act 3.0 to help create a better environment for those whose dream it is to start a new business. The Senate majority leader is frequently talking about allowing votes on legislation that has bipartisan support. This bill, Startup 3.0, is such a bill.

I spent time working with Senator Warner and Senator Coons, Senator King and Senator Klobuchar, as well as Senator Blunt and Senator Rubio. We introduced what I would say is a very commonsense approach to addressing factors that influence an entrepreneur's chance of success: taxes, regulations, access to capital, access to talent.

This legislation has been introduced as an amendment to the unemployment insurance extension bill the Senate is now considering. Unfortunately, at least so far, we have been denied having a vote on what is clearly a job-creating measure. I have offered this as an amendment to other bills on the Senate floor, but if the past is any example of what will happen on this bill, the chances of us being able to offer the amendment, have it considered and voted on, do not look very probable.

Startup 3.0 makes changes to the Tax Code to encourage investment in startups and provides more capital for those who are ready to grow and hire. To address burdensome government regulations, this legislation, now this amendment, requires Federal agencies to determine whether the cost of new regulations outweighs the benefits, and it encourages Federal agencies to give special consideration of the impact proposed regulations would have on a startup business.

As any entrepreneur knows, a good idea is essential to starting a successful business. So Startup 3.0, an amendment now to this bill, improves the process by which information that is funded by Federal research, information that is garnered by Federal research, is more readily available to those who want to start a business, so that tax-funded innovations can be turned into companies that spur economic growth.

Finally, Startup 3.0 provides new opportunities for highly educated and entrepreneurial immigrants to stay in the United States where their talent and new ideas can fuel economic growth and create jobs in America.

For more than two years, Startup Act 3.0 has earned praise from business owners, from chambers of commerce, from economic development officials, from entrepreneurs, from economists, and elected officials. Recently, the California state Senate passed a resolution calling on Congress to pass Startup Act 3.0. The President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, when it was in existence, had voiced strong support for several of the bill's provisions.

Unfortunately, none of that support from across the country has progressed in the halls of Congress to see this legislation seriously considered. I can tell you that the reason Congress has not been able to address our economic challenges is not for lack of good ideas. In my view, it is a lack of leadership in the Senate and within the administration, within Washington, D.C., to address the challenges Americans face.

There are plenty of good ideas that can provide immediate relief to Americans, many ideas in addition to Startup 3.0. Some of those examples are a 40-hour workweek. The House is poised to pass legislation. Some of my colleagues are proposing amendments here in the Senate to change full-time employment from 30 hours, as outlined in the Affordable Care Act, back to 40 hours.

Small businesses, restaurants, school districts, and community colleges across Kansas and around the country are already cutting hours to comply with the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act. By fixing this provision, we can make certain that hard-working Americans have the opportunity to work more hours, earn a bigger paycheck, or find full-time employment.

Many of us believe — in fact, a large majority of the United States Senate in a bipartisan way believes — that approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline will help us in two ways: reduce energy costs in the United States, a very important factor in new jobs and expanding the economy, as well as increasing employment during the construction of that pipeline.

A recent poll by Washington Post and ABC News shows that Americans support this three to one. Again 80-some Senators voted in moving forward with the Keystone Pipeline. Yet it has not happened. The President has not made a decision in regard to Keystone Pipeline, has stalled this issue. Nothing in the Senate would suggest the leadership of the Senate is ready to move this ball forward.

The President talks about Trade Promotion Authority, spoke about it in one of his State of the Union Addresses. Yet that is another issue that has not been considered by the Senate. The President apparently has backed off of this issue out of deference to politics. Yet we know — we certainly know this in Kansas — that the airplanes we make in south central Kansas, the wheat we grow in western Kansas, the cattle we grow in our State, that we raise in our State, clearly much of the economic activity that comes from those activities occurs because we are able to sell those agricultural commodities, those manufactured goods around the globe.

Millions of Americans can be better off if there is greater opportunity for what we manufacture, the agricultural products we grow, if they have a wider market. The President and this Congress, particularly the Senate — not this Congress, the Democratic majority here — have focused much of their attention on, for example, the bill we are on, extending the unemployment insurance timeframe, apparently in the near future increasing minimum wage.

Consider these facts. There are 3.6 million Americans at or below the minimum wage level. Minimum wage workers make up 2.5 percent of all workers, and 55 percent are 25 years old or younger. So it is a relatively small portion of the workforce and a young portion of the workforce. I am certainly willing, happy to have a debate about the need to increase the minimum wage, to extend unemployment benefits, in part because I want the Senate to operate.

One of my greatest complaints since my arrival in the Senate is the Senate no longer functions as it has historically, in which issues of importance to the country, whether they are Republican issues, Democratic issues, American issues, middle of the road — this place takes up those issues very rarely. I am willing to have a debate about what is proposed here.

But what I am thinking we are doing is we are missing the real issue if we only deal with those. The minimum wage and extension of unemployment benefits is a symptom of a larger problem. It is that Americans want and need jobs. In my view, this Senate and this President have done nothing to increase the chances that Americans have a better shot at finding a better job.

We have got to grow the economy. By growing the economy — I think that sounds like something that is far removed from the everyday lives of Americans. But growing the economy simply means we are creating greater opportunities for American men and women, for husbands and wives, for sons and daughters, for families to have the opportunity to pursue a career they feel comfortable in, that is satisfactory to their economic needs, and gives them the hope they can improve their lives financially.

So growing the economy is about creating a greater opportunity for every American to pursue what we all have grown up calling the American dream. Unfortunately, the facts, if you believe the Congressional Budget Office, indicate that raising the minimum wage will increase unemployment. In fact, the numbers I saw — this was not the CBO score, but a Texas university study indicated that raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour or more would reduce jobs in my home State by 27,300 jobs.

I doubt that voters care much about CBO reports or about a Texas university study, but they are keenly aware — they see it every day in their own lives — of the lack of opportunity, the dearth of jobs, the reduction in hours, the reduction in opportunity. These reports make clear they are happening because of failed policies and the refusal of the Senate and the President to address the broader issue of what we can do to create jobs for Americans.

I thought the message of the 2010 election, the election where I was brought to the Senate on behalf of Kansans — I thought the message that we all would have, should have received, the message of the election, was the desire for every American to have the chance to improve their lives through a job, through a better job, and through a secure job. In my view, it is time for us to focus on growing the opportunities for all workers everywhere.

With a willing Congress, including leaders who understand these challenges and are willing to address them, I am certain we can create greater opportunities for millions of Americans, including those who no longer or who currently have no meaningful work. The lack of a job is a terrible thing. I think there is a certain moral component, a sense of well-being, a sense of who we are as human beings when we have a job that not only fulfills us financially but gives us a sense of purpose in our daily lives.

As the Senate considers a short-term extension of unemployment insurance, we must not lose sight of that longer term goal of creating an environment for job creation. Again, I would offer Startup Act 3.0, a bipartisan amendment, a bipartisan piece of legislation offered as an amendment, as an opportunity to do that, as part of the consideration of the extension of unemployment benefits. There is no better way to create jobs than to support entrepreneurs and to foster the development of new businesses.

Small business is, as we always say, the backbone of American jobs. So let's stop having this  “groundhog day” moment every few months and let's start tackling the challenges that entrepreneurs across the country are telling us about, that Americans are telling us about, that we learned in the 2010 election mean so much to every American.

Unfortunately, this President and this Senate have done nothing to improve the chances that every American has a better job and a brighter future. Please, Madam President, this is so important. There is so much we can do. Too many times we focus on what we are unable to agree upon. But there is so much we can agree upon, so many things we can do. The American dream depends upon us doing so and doing so now.