This past Monday, I held an economic roundtable discussion in southeastern PA at the Community College of Philadelphia. Surrounded by leaders from labor, higher education, the business community and local advocates I was able to hear firsthand what their experiences have been in the City of Philadelphia throughout these troubling economic times. I was given feedback on confusion that still exists on accessing stimulus funds, concerns that job training efforts include green, medical, creative and high tech industries and well as traditional fields and suggestions on how to continue the work we've started once stimulus funds have been fully distributed. This roundtable was one of a series of discussions I have been holding throughout Pennsylvania to learn more about what is working and where we’re falling short in our efforts to promote job creation and economic development.
Just a few hours ago, I spoke to Keith Wandell, the CEO of Harley-Davidson, about the troubling news that Harley may consider relocating the York, PA plant. The plant employs about 2,500 highly skilled workers, who assemble the famous motorcycles. In addition to Harley being an icon Pennsylvania and throughout the world, the plant in York is a major manufacturer and economic engine for the southeastern Pennsylvania region. I told Mr. Wandell that I want to actively work with him and the employees at the York plant to keep Harley in business in PA.
Click here to read the letter that Senator Specter and I sent to Mr. Wendell yesterday.
Over the past two weeks, we have all seen the headlines regarding the troubling developments in Pakistan. I am deeply concerned by the gains achieved by Taliban extremists in Pakistan, who seized territory a mere 60 miles from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. These extremists are a threat to the United States because they provide sanctuary to Al Qaeda's senior leadership, who continue to plot attacks against our Nation. Most alarming of all is the prospect that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal could be compromised and nuclear warheads or fissile material end up in the hands of Al Qaeda or Taliban militants. Since joining the Senate, I have highlighted the grave threat posed by a terrorist group acquiring the materials and technology to explode a crude nuclear device, which could destroy a major American city. That theoretical threat is now unfolding before our eyes in Pakistan unless we work with the Pakistani government to reverse current trends.
Pakistani President Zardari and Afghan President Karzai were in Washington last week for a unique "trilateral" session to meet with each other and with President Obama. I had the chance to join them for lunch on Thursday, along with other U.S. Senators. Both men faced a skeptical audience. While the United States can help Pakistan build its capacity to combat extremism, ultimately the Pakistani people must recognize that this war is their war and hence only they can truly win it. My colleagues and I were united, on both sides of the aisle, in delivering that message.
Yesterday, Dick Holbrooke, our special envoy to the region, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which I sit. Holbrooke fleshed out the President's strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think the President's new approach, focused on dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda, has real promise, but I worry that we may not have much time left. That is why it is so important the Congress pass in the next ten days the FY 2009 supplemental measure to ensure that the additional funding requested by our military and the State Department is available for immediate implementation, especially in Pakistan.
Click here to read my floor statement on our strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
We all know how Washington likes to talk and talk about a problem, but never get around to doing something about it. Defense acquisition reform is one of those problems that have been with us forever. To put it simply, the process by which the Pentagon purchases the fighter planes, combat ships, and other advanced weapons systems our young men and women in uniform use every day is broke. Too many weapons systems wildly exceed initial cost estimates and incur multiple schedule delays, not only costing the American taxpayer serious money, but also undermining our national security because we can't spend those precious dollars on things that will help our military personnel. To take just one example, the Government Accountability Office estimated last year that the Pentagon wasted almost $300 billion dollars in cost overruns on major weapons programs currently in development. Defense acquisition reform is a technical and dry subject, but it really matters if we want to modernize our military in a rational and cost-efficient manner.
Fortunately, this week the Senate took decisive action in a first step toward fixing that problem. Thanks to the leadership of Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, and the forceful endorsement of President Obama, the Senate passed the Weapons System Acquisition Reform Act. The legislation focuses on addressing key deficiencies in the early stages of a weapon acquisition, when many of the seeds are planted for eventual cost overruns and schedule delays. However, I didn't think the bill went far enough in forcing real discipline on the Pentagon. So I was happy to join my friend and colleague, Claire McCaskill, in sponsoring a series of amendments to further strengthen the safeguards in this legislation. Those three amendments were adopted by voice vote and are part of the final bill.
What matters, at the end of the day, is not just the dollars we save. We cannot continue paying excess dollars on out of control weapons acquisition programs while we shortchange our troops on time at home from extended deployments and the full range of benefits they and their families deserve. That is why the Senate's action this week was so important, and I am happy to have played a small part in further strengthening the legislation.
A copy of my floor speech is posted here.
This week in the United States Senate, I am proud to host an exhibit called Witnesses to Hunger, a project created by Dr. Mariana Chilton at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. The exhibit is on display in the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building and is open to visitors through the end of this week.
The exhibit documents the lives of 40 women and their struggles to combat hunger and poverty not only for themselves but also for their children.
Witnesses to Hunger reminds us that government programs impact real families in Pennsylvania and across the nation and that by investing in our children, we invest in our future.
I invite you to learn more and visit the site if you are in Washington, D.C. Details can be found below.