Right now our nation is facing two grave economic threats: a jobs crisis and a death spiral of debt, and we simply can't ignore either one. While our first focus should be on job creation and putting people back to work, I do not believe we can try to accomplish that by simply handing out money with no strings attached.
In our state of West Virginia, we didn't have major layoffs of teachers or first responders during this brutal recession. As difficult as it was, we balanced our budget based on our values and our priorities. We made difficult decisions, but we kept ourteachers in the classroom and our firefighters protecting our citizens.
In West Virginia we knew how to fix things, but this week in the Senate was a good example of Washington's dysfunction. We were supposed to debate a bill that would give $35 billion to states to pay their teachers and first responders, and I thought there were some good suggestions to make the bill better. For my part, I suggested that my colleagues use a bit of West Virginia commonsense to find a better way to preserve teachers and first responders' jobs without digging the country even deeper into debt.
As the bill stood, the taxpayers of West Virginia would be expected to foot the bill for other states, even though we made difficult budget decisions in our state without cutting teachers or first responders.
So this week, I unveiled an amendment that would transform the $35 billion worth of grants to a loan program. This loan program would allow any state to borrow, at very low or no interest, the money they need to keep teachers and firefighters employed and pay it back over time.
It would ensure that states have their own skin in the game, and that they make decisions based on how much money they actually need, and not the federal government's willingness to put us further in debt by giving more money away. And it would ensure that states make smarter and more responsible decisions about what they can and cannot afford to do.
I believe there is usually a better way we can fix things in Washington. It this case, I thought we could have done a better job balancing the fiscal constraints that states face with the need to protect these vital jobs. But instead, politics once again got in the way of producing results for the American people, and the bill never made it to the Senate floor.
Right now, this country is looking to Congress to do what is right. Americans have lost confidence in our legislative bodies, and in a process they see as entirely incapable of working. Some folks in this town are so busy trying to make the other side look bad that they don't even realize they're making us all look bad.
I don't believe for one minute that anyone in Congress Democrat or Republican is rooting for our economy to fail or jobs to be lost. We just all have different ideas. While we should question each other's ideas and policies, we should never question each other's convictions.
It is time for us to stop with the bickering, and remember one thing we may be members of different political parties, but we are all party to this great nation. We are all Americans.
As difficult as it may seem, America and the future of the American people are more important than politics or an election.
I hope my colleagues will be willing to work with me in the future on commonsense, bipartisan ideas to get this country on a responsible financial path that will strengthen the economy, create jobs and make America's future brighter for the next generation.