WASHINGTON, D.C. | February 16, 2011 -
Allow me to begin today’s hearing by welcoming Secretary Solis to the committee. The secretary isn’t a stranger to Congress or this Committee. I appreciate the time you have taken to be with us today and look forward to your testimony.
The Department of Labor is an agency whose size and mission have expanded dramatically in recent years. Today, it administers more than 180 federal laws affecting 10 million employers and 125 million workers. The department’s policies are present in virtually every American workplace, and it has a duty to ensure those policies represent the best interests of both workers and employers.
Many of the challenges the country faced one year ago are still at the forefront of our economic concerns today. Getting the economy moving and the American people back to work remain pressing national priorities. Clearly, we have a lot of work to do.
Today nearly 14 million workers are unemployed. The administration promised that an $814 billion stimulus bill would keep unemployment below 8 percent. The Department of Labor received almost $5 billion in these so-called stimulus funds. Yet for 21 consecutive months the national unemployment rate has been at or above 9 percent. Nearly one million individuals have become so discouraged with their search for work, they have abandoned the workforce entirely – a number that has shown little improvement since the secretary was last before this committee. Two years of pouring taxpayer money into the economy has produced these results. Madam Secretary, this is unacceptable.
Recently, President Obama issued an executive order that requires a comprehensive review of the rules and regulations on the books and their consequences for economic growth. It comes not a moment too soon. We are willing and eager partners in that effort. Promoting job creation and American competitiveness will be a leading priority for this committee. I believe that is what the American people sent us here to do.
As we look for ways to encourage investment and hiring, we are mindful that our workplaces require certainty. Workers and their employers need simple and fair rules of the road that promote health, safety, and accountability; they do not need a bureaucracy that continues to grow in size and complexity and stifles the freedom and innovation our economy desperately needs to grow and prosper.
That is why your presence here today, Madam Secretary, is extremely important. Over the last two years we have seen the administration adopt a number of workforce policies that threaten job creation and economic opportunity.
Initiatives such as project labor agreements and high road contracting are clearly designed to favor Big Labor at the expense of small businesses. The president recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that 'Small firms drive growth and create most new jobs in this country. We need to make sure nothing stands in their way.' Yet the administration continues to pursue policies that disadvantage small businesses and their ability to create new jobs.
The administration has also rolled back commonsense disclosure requirements that allow workers to understand how their union dues are being spent; denied workers’ access to high-quality investment advice regarding their 401(k) plans; and adopted an approach to workplace safety that focuses on punishing employers rather than promoting prevention. I question how these changes improve the competitiveness of our workforce.
These policies are not new policies and neither are our concerns. I raise them again in light of the president’s recent executive order and with the hope the department will take a second look at these and similar policies that hinder economic growth. As I noted earlier, this committee intends to be a partner in the effort to find and remove roadblocks to job creation, and I can assure you, we will do our part.
I am also interested to hear in more detail your department’s budget priorities for the next fiscal year. I can assure you a number of my colleagues have questions as well. You are aware, as we all are, of the fiscal crisis we face as a nation. Every dollar spent at the federal level must be accounted for and justified before it is spent. I look forward to learning more about the way in which you intend to spend taxpayer resources in the months ahead.
We have a lot of ground to cover in just a few short hours, Madam Secretary. And so I will now turn to my colleague George Miller, the senior Democratic member of the committee, for his opening remarks.