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Feb. 19--SAN FRANCISCO -- To climb out of its economic doldrums, America must restore long-term unemployment benefits, raise the minimum wage, ensure that men and women are paid equally, rebuild infrastructure, develop green jobs and enact immigration reform, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer said Wednesday.
"Nobody who works full time should have to raise their children in poverty," said Boxer, D-Calif., who in essence laid out the Democrats' economic manifesto before a packed crowd at the Commonwealth Club of California.
She cited President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1932 speech to the same club, in which he made a case for updating the nation's social contract to combat the Great Depression. "We must do so, lest a rising tide of misery, engendered by our common failure engulf us all," she said, quoting FDR. "But failure is not an American habit, and in the strength of great hope, we must all shoulder our common load."
She also blamed Republicans for the nation's slow recovery from the Great Recession, saying that the GOP pared down the 2009 stimulus package and "prevented us from making the investments we needed in job-producing activities" and later forced across-the-board cuts to the federal budget.
Boxer said extending the long-term unemployment benefits that began expiring for 1.7 million Americans in December "is the morally right thing to do for the economy."
Previous Congresses and administrations controlled by both parties haven't hesitated to do so without cost offsets in the past, she said, knowing it would both keep food on families' plates and stimulate the economy.
Republicans first refused to enact an unemployment insurance extension unless cuts were made elsewhere in the budget to offset it. But more recently, they've sought to tie an extension to the restoration of a cost-of-living increase for military retirees.
Democrats also are trying to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016, and to index it to inflation from then on, because "we owe it to our working families at least to get back to the buying power that the minimum wage had in 1968," she said. And after that, Boxer said, Congress must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure that women and men are paid the same wages for the same work.
The Congressional Budget Office issued a report Tuesday that estimated raising the minimum wage would cost the nation about half a million jobs by late 2016, but would lift almost a million Americans out of poverty.
Boxer, who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said rebuilding the nation's infrastructure will stimulate the economy by creating jobs and providing better means of moving people and goods. Noting that a water resources bill is now in conference and a highway bill will be marked up in April, she said: "I'm determined to get them done despite the obstacles."
Boxer said she's also working on clean-energy initiatives. But that, she said, is even more of an upstream swim because conservatives in Congress continue denying the human impact on climate change.
"Green industries are made-in-America jobs and they will keep the world from destruction," she said, exhorting her Republican colleagues to "open your eyes, look out the window, look at the extreme weather all over this nation including the terrible drought in parts of the West."
Finally, she said, comprehensive immigration reform will have massive economic benefits, including $8 billion per year injected into California's economy and a $1.5 trillion increase in the nation's gross domestic product over a decade.
Taking questions from the audience, Boxer said she supports Gov. Jerry Brown's determination to stay the course on California's high-speed rail project because it's a job creator and cleaner transportation alternative. She also said she supports former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 -- and is actively encouraging her to run.
Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.
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