WASHINGTON, D.C. | February 12, 2009 -
Thank you. We’re here today for the first hearing of the Education and Labor Committee in the 111th Congress. Last week, we learned that nearly 600,000 Americans lost their jobs in the month of January. About 3.6 million jobs have been lost since the recession began just over a year ago. Stock values are down, and with them, the value of millions of workers’ retirement savings.
I could go on about the grim economic circumstances before us, but I think we’re all well aware of the challenges we face, and particularly the impact on the American workforce.
Any of these challenges would seem an appropriate topic for the first hearing of this panel. Unfortunately, we’re not here to examine our nation’s dire economic straits today. Instead, the majority has decided that the first order of business for this committee – the committee that oversees job training and retirement security and health care – is an examination of the circumstances of workers in Colombia.
Don’t get me wrong. I am troubled by reports of the violence in Colombia, and I personally believe that one of the best things we can do to stem the violence and improve conditions in that country would be to enact to the stalled Colombia free trade agreement.
But here in this room, where we have a responsibility to look out for the concerns of American workers, American students, and American families, I find it baffling that we’re setting those issues aside to look at the situation facing workers in a foreign country.
Certainly, this Congress has a role to play in protecting human rights around the world. And to that end, we have an entire committee dedicated to foreign affairs.
To the witnesses who are here today, I do want to thank you for joining us. While I clearly believe we should be focused on issues impacting American workers, I know that you have compelling stories to share and insight to offer. As long as we’re here to examine this topic, perhaps we can expand the scope of the discussion to reflect the need for free trade to help put an end to the unacceptable pattern of violence in the nation of Colombia.
Once again, I want to thank the witnesses for being here today. I hope that the next time this panel gathers, the topic will hit a little bit closer to home. I think we owe that to the 600,000 workers who lost their jobs last month.
# # #