Thank you. Mr. President, I would first like to acknowledge Senator Coons of Delaware for his leadership and certainly Senator Mikulski, the powerful head of the Appropriations Committee, who has put together a group this hour to talk about public safety and infrastructure and what a government shutdown would mean and what sequestration means when it comes to the progress of this country.
You have heard from Senators from different parts of the country. Senator Landrieu from the great state of Louisiana talking about the importance of FEMA. No one knows that better than she does after Katrina. What would a government shutdown mean to Louisiana? You look at Colorado. Senator Bennet was here. Where they are right now experiencing the horrible aftermath of these floods.
And then you look at the state of Massachusetts, Mr. President, Senator Markey, what happened there with the Boston Marathon. What happened there if we were in the middle of a government shutdown and we didn't have the resources that we need? That's what my focus is going to be about today. Do we want the head of the FBI worried about who he can lay off and who he doesn't? Is that what we want them doing right now? Or the head of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that investigated that bombing in Boston, do we want them looking at what are we going to do if we have a shutdown right in the middle of that bombing?
No, that's not what we want happening. That's not how this country runs. Mr. President, I sat and watched the last hour of this debate and I saw Senator Corker come to the floor and do a fine job of explaining that it's not every Republican in this chamber that is trying to slow this vote down so we don't even have it today. He focused on two republicans that were doing that, and I think it's very important for the American people to know that the Senate has tended to work in a bipartisan way. We want to move forward. We want to get this bill voted on, and we want to give the chance to the house to come back. No more delay. We need to get this done.
Now, much of the focus has been oftentimes what a shutdown would mean in Washington, but my job today is to talk about what it means in states like yours and mine. As someone who spent eight years as the chief prosecutor for Minnesota's largest county, I know the pain of this shutdown would be felt by state and local level officials, by state and local people right down the line, and not least of all by the first responders and law enforcement officers who rely on federal funding for everything from crime prevention to community corrections programs to drug courts and to simply keeping cops on the beats.
There are some who are willing to hold these first responders hostage. There are some who are willing to hold our country hostage just to score political points, Mr. President. The fact of the matter is that a government shutdown would be painful and it would be expensive. These men and women go to work every day protecting the people. While most people may run away from disasters and calamities and tragedies, they bravely run toward them, and they do it selflessly, not because they are looking for fame or glory but because they are simply doing their jobs. Well, we in Washington have a responsibility to do our jobs. We have a responsibility to ensure that our cops and firefighters and EMTs have the tools to protect the public safely and effectively, and we have a responsibility to pass a resolution that prevents the government from shutting down.
We simply can't afford another self-inflicted wound to our economy, as Senator Bennet was pointing out, especially not a time when things are finally turning around. At 7.3%, our national unemployment rate is at its lowest point since December, 2008. In my state, Mr. President, it's at 5.1%. The housing market is bouncing back, retail sales are up, and so far this year, we have added 1.5 million private sector jobs. We're not where we need to be, but we are headed in the right direction, and we need to keep moving forward and not move backwards.
And yet here we are again facing another manufactured crisis that threatens to shut down the government. Last week, House Republicans sent us a continuing resolution they knew had zero chance of passing the Senate. When House Republicans passed a budget tied to defunding the affordable care act, they decided they were willing to risk shutting down the government just to relitigate a law that both the House and Senate passed, the President signed and the Supreme Court upheld. Will there be changes to that law going forward? I'm sure there will. There always are with large bills. But the answer is not to defund it on a must-pass bill.
Even members of their own party agree that this is the wrong thing to do. Senator McCain has called defunding the health care law as part of the CR the height of foolishness and not rational. Even a poll conducted by the conservative Crossroads GPS headed by Karl Rove found that independents overwhelmingly oppose shutting the government down just to defund Obamacare. It was a margin, Mr. President, of 58% opposition to 30%. That is independent voters in a poll conducted by Karl Rove's group.
In the short term, a government shutdown lasting more than a week would have an immediate effect on economic growth as the federal government would suspend all nonessential spending. Shutting down the government for three or four weeks would reduce real GDP by 1.4 percentage points in the fourth quarter. And a shutdown longer than two months would likely precipitate another recession. My colleagues in the House like to talk a big game about reducing the deficit and doing what is fiscally responsible, and yet they are willing to mortgage our economy on a political gamble. Pardon me, but that's not how we define fiscal responsibility in my state.
Here's something else Minnesotans don't call fiscally responsible -- closing our national parks which generate billions of dollars in tourism revenues every year. If the government shuts down, so will all 368 national park service sites. And how about the visa processing centers? During the 1996 government shutdown, more than 500 visa applications and 200,000 passport applications were put on hold. You might say how will that affect me? Well, it does. It affects jobs in the United States of America. In a state like Minnesota where tourism is our fifth largest industry and the source of 11% of our private sector jobs, we simply can't afford to let that happen. We simply can't afford for this critical industry to be hamstrung by political pos touring on the other side of the aisle in Washington.
In addition to the impact on our tourism sector, a government shutdown would also have serious repercussions for industries like medical technology, something that Minnesota and Massachusetts share. Without funding to keep the lights on at the Food and Drug Administration, the process for approving medical devices and other biotech products would grind to a standstill. These are just a few examples of the industries that would be hurt by a government shutdown. If we use the 1996 impasse as a guide, we can also expect to see delays in the Small Business Administration financing, a suspension of Federal Housing Administration insurance for people buying new homes, new patients denied access into clinical research trials at the National Institute of Health. You heard correctly.
If we can't reach a compromise, we will all feel these negative results. Now, I want to get back to the focus of my earlier remarks, and that is law enforcement programs. We must be willing to do the right thing for the safety of our people. When it comes to homeland security, counterterrorism and federal law enforcement, rest assured those protections will continue, but in the event of a shutdown, the federal officers who continue going to work, protecting the public from violent crimes, gangs and terrorists won't be getting a paycheck. Instead they will be getting an IOU.
So basically what we will be saying to these people is thanks for putting your lives on the line, we can't pay you right now, and if you're lucky, maybe you will get back pay when Congress sorts this all out. Is that what we want to say to the people that showed up first at that Boston Marathon bombing? Hey, we got an IOU for you? I don't think so. The strain of a shutdown on law enforcement would come at a time when agencies are already struggling to make ends meet in the wake of sequestration. The new head of the FBI just talked about how sequestration would put him in the place of laying off 3,000 FBI agents. I don't think that's where we want to be in this country. These are cuts to some of the most successful crime prevention and crime-fighting programs out there.
Even more frustrating is that Chairman Mikulski and the Senate Appropriations Committee worked across party lines to draft spending bills for 2014 that would provide additional resources for grant programs important to law enforcement. Under sequestration, the COPS program has been reduced by 22 million compared to the funding level the Senate approved. Funding for drug courts has also been slashed despite the fact that drug courts actually save money to the tune of $6,000 per person. For every $1 spent on drug courts, more than $3 are saved on criminal justice costs alone, and when you factor in the other things like cost to victims and health care, they can save up to $27 per person. Local law enforcement also relies on Byrne grants which have been cut by $20 million due to sequestration.
As a former prosecutor, I have always believed that the number-one job of government is to protect people, it is to keep people safe, it is to have safe roads and bridges. If we continue to cut, to delay and to deny critical funding for programs like COPS and Byrne grants, we will be failing in this most basic duty, and I refuse to let that happen.
Instead of threatening critical services in our economy with poison pill partisanship, we need to focus on real solutions. This means agreeing to go to conference committee on the budget. For many, many months, Senator Patty Murray, the head of the Budget Committee, has been asking permission to just simply bring our Senate-passed budget to conference committee where it can meet up with the House budget and where we can at least try to work out a long-term solution. Senator McCain and Senator Collins have joined us in this call to be allowed to bring a long-term budget to a conference committee, but we have been met every step of the way with opposition from the other side. That is where we should be working these things out. Instead, we are on the floor today to try to end the brinkmanship on simply keeping the government going.
Secondly, we have another problem, and that is that our country will hit its legal borrowing limit as soon as mid October, and when this happens, we will be asked to do what Congress has routinely done 70 times over the past 50 years, and that is to pay our country's bills. Let me be clear. This is about making good on commitments that we have already made. This is about doing what regular Americans do every month when they pay their credit card bills.
As Vice Chair of the Joint Economic Committee and the Chair on the Senate side, last week I held a hearing and released a report examining the economic impact of this brinkmanship. The results weren't pretty and they are based on history. Let's remember what happened the last time when we had a showdown on the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011. The United States experienced some of the costs of protracted brinksmanship on the debt-ceiling. As Congress struggled with this issue the Down Jones dropped more than 2,000 points and Standard & Poor's downgraded the US's credit rating and we were out over one billion dollars in borrowing costs. That is on the backs of the taxpayers of this country.
That happened in 2011, Mr. President, and if we face another impasse this year, there could be real ramifications for businesses and for people. Interest rates could rise on everything from credit cards and home mortgages to borrowing costs for businesses, putting a real strain on families and small business owners and stalling the economy just as we're at a time when we can stand it, just as a time we're starting to see that stability grow to real growth.
Mr. President, our country can't afford to deep lurching from crisis to crisis. It's time for both parties to come together and focus on real solutions. You know what I learned the last 24 hours, the last two days watching what was going on on this floor? That there are a few of my colleagues that see this place as a battleground. I see it as a place to look for common ground, and that's what we're supposed to be doing on behalf of the American people. The battleground has to give way. We need to do the work of the American people, find that common ground, come together. We are going to pass a good, clean bill so that we can continue the united states government and move on to work out the details of the the budget. That's what we need to do for our first responders, our police, our firefighters, the people who put their lives at risk every day.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.