Videos & Speeches

Madam President, once again, it is that time of year when many proud parents will watch their children walk across the graduation stage to receive their diplomas. Two years ago, I watched my oldest daughter walk across her college graduation stage and it was one of those moments for me in which I realized our country faces tremendous, enormous challenges, and if we fail to act our children's future will be at significant risk.

I believe all Members of Congress, in fact every American, has the responsibility to be a good steward of what has been passed on to us. So at that graduation event, I renewed my commitment to do my part to turn our country around.

My fear is we are not doing enough, that we as Americans and especially we as Members of this Congress are not doing enough to offer our children a bright future. In the last 2 weeks, I have read headlines that catch my attention, would catch every American's attention.

First, the amount of student loan debt has surpassed $1 trillion for the first time in American history. Americans now have more combined student loan debt than combined credit card debt.

Second, the AP recently reported that one out of every two college graduates, one out of every two college graduates, this year will be unemployed or underemployed. Unfortunately, it is not just college graduates that are having trouble finding a job and paying their bills. The Department of Labor reported just last week that more than 12 million Americans are still looking for work and our economy only added 115,000 jobs in April, the lowest number of jobs added in 5 months. This makes 39 straight months of unemployment rate over 8 percent.

Our first priority in Congress must be to strengthen our economy so more jobs can be created, more Americans can get back to work, and more graduates can pursue their dreams. Data tells us that for close to three decades, companies less than 5 years old created almost all the new net jobs in America, averaging 3 million jobs each year. While startups provide the gasoline to fuel America's economic engine, new businesses are hiring fewer employees than in the past and make up a smaller share of all companies than in previous years.

Data out last week from the Census Bureau shows that the startup rate fell to the lowest point on record for new firm births in 2010. While startups are so important, startup companies are so important to job creation, their numbers are now falling too. Given the disproportionate impact new businesses have on the economy, it makes sense to craft policies that help entrepreneurs start businesses and make it easier for these young businesses to grow.

A former NASA engineer now in the technology field gave me a useful analogy. He described the process of designing a rocket or an airplane, in which there are two forces at play that determine whether the rocket will launch or plane will fly: thrust and drag. So much of what we seem to want to do around here tends to focus on the thrust, spending money and creating programs, when what we really ought to be doing is focusing on reducing the drag.

Rather than spend money on government programs, Congress must and should enact policies that create an environment in which many entrepreneurs and their young companies have a better shot at success, and in the process of pursuing success they put people to work--reduce the drag so the private sector can create jobs.

To create this environment where these startup companies can be successful, I have introduced the Startup Act with Senator Warner. The Startup Act reforms the Federal regulatory process to ensure that the cost of compliance does not outweigh the benefits of regulations. The Startup Act alters the Tax Code to create incentives that will facilitate the financing and growth of new businesses. The Startup Act accelerates the commercialization of university research so more good ideas move out of the laboratory and into the marketplace, where they can create jobs for Americans.

Perhaps most importantly, the Startup Act helps America win the global battle for talent. On a recent trip to Silicon Valley, I met with startups, entrepreneurs, and some of the leading technology companies in the world--and they were just startup companies a few years ago. While I heard many encouraging stories of success, their No. 1 concern was attracting and retaining highly skilled employees. One business I met said they had plans to hire dozens--I think the number was 68--foreign-born but U.S.-educated individuals and to hire them here in the United States, but they were unable to get the visas necessary to have these workers work in the United States. Rather than lose that talent, this company hired the employees but placed them at various international offices in countries with immigration policies that encouraged the retention and attraction of highly skilled foreign-born workers.

Another company told me that with the talent increasing overseas, it will soon be easier for them to open offices and plants in other countries rather than have the work done here in the United States.

The last thing we want is for American businesses to have a better business climate in places outside the United States. It is not just the loss of those dozens of jobs to some other country; many of those people in those businesses will become entrepreneurs themselves and create their own businesses, hiring even more people down the road. So we lose this talent, this skill on two occasions--first, the direct jobs today and ultimately the jobs these entrepreneurs will create in the future.

The future of our economic competitiveness depends upon America winning the global battle for talent. Foreign-born Americans have a strong record of creating businesses and employing Americans. Data shows us that 53 percent of immigrant founders of U.S.-based technology and engineering companies completed their highest degree at an American university, and rather than send these talented, highly educated individuals who have been educated in the United States back home once they graduate, we should do much more to allow them to remain here in the United States, where their skills, their talents, and their intellect, as well as their new ideas, can fuel U.S. economic growth.

We are not talking about illegal immigration; we are talking about legal immigration. It makes no sense to educate these talented, foreign-born students in America and then send them to their home countries to compete against Americans for jobs.

The Startup Act will help America win this global battle for talent. The Startup Act creates entrepreneur visas for foreign entrepreneurs who register a business and employ Americans in the United States.   

The Startup Act also creates a new STEM visa for foreign students who graduate from an accredited U.S. university with a master's or Ph.D. in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Our own Department of Commerce projects that STEM jobs will grow by 17 percent in the years ahead. We have to retain more highly skilled and highly talented and educated individuals, the ones we educate in America, for us to remain competitive in a global economy. We  need to make sure our own U.S.-born and educated citizens have those job opportunities as well. We do not want to risk the loss of the next Mark Zuckerberg to Brazil or India. Doing so will fuel America's economic growth and result in the creation of jobs here in America by retaining these folks.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, Congress should address this issue. Conventional wisdom in Washington, DC says not much will get done in an election year. My guess is 80 percent of my colleagues here in Congress would agree with the proposals contained in this legislation. Particularly, 80 percent I think would agree with the aspect of the legislation dealing with STEM visas. But we are told that because we cannot do everything, we cannot do anything. That excuse is no longer a good one and should not be accepted. We cannot continue to operate under the sentence that always says we can't do anything in an election year. Our country desperately needs us to act now, not later. In fact, in the short time I have been a Member of the Senate--about 14, 15 months--six other countries have changed their laws to encourage these types of individuals to work in their countries, to create jobs, to support entrepreneurship, innovation, and job creation in those countries. In just the little over 1 year I have been a Member of the Senate, six other countries have advanced further than we have while we have waited because we cannot do anything because it is an election year.

America cannot turn a blind eye to those developments or to use the upcoming elections as an excuse to do nothing, yet again, on an issue that is so critical to our future. Congress should work to make it easier for companies to grow because in a free market, when people have a good idea and work hard, they not only enhance their own lives with success but the lives of so many others through the products and jobs they create.

If we do not take the steps now to win the global battle for talent, our country's future economic growth will be limited. That means college grads and young people will have fewer opportunities, and higher rates of unemployment may become the norm instead of the exception. Allowing talented, foreign-born U.S. students and entrepreneurs to remain in the United States will create jobs for more Americans.

So I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to implement policies such like those contained in the Startup Act that so more entrepreneurs can turn their ideas into reality, that they will have the chance for success. We owe the next generation of Americans the opportunity to pursue their dreams--that those who this month walk across the graduation stages in high schools and colleges and universities, and technical colleges and community colleges across our country, will have the opportunity to pursue what we all know as the American dream.

 I yield the floor.