Madam President, I’m proud to follow the senator from Michigan, who has done so much to fight for jobs in her state, with difficult economic conditions, and really speaks from the heart, not only as a senator but as a mother when she talks about this checklist for change.

So many of us have come to the floor today and are not just senators but are mothers. And I think about in my family, generations back, the women that have kept checklists. My grandmother, I still think of her writing her perfect handwriting as she made lists throughout the day. Her husband worked 1,500 feet underneath the ground in the mines. They saved money in a coffee can in the basement of their little house that they had gotten -- they brought it over from when another mine closed down and brought it to Ely, Minnesota, and they had that coffee can and that's where they saved the money to send my dad and his brother to college.

Then I think of my own mother who got divorced when I was about 16. My dad was always there for me, but my mother had to decide that she was going to try to stay in her house raising two kids in the suburbs of Minneapolis. And she decided she had to go back to work when they got divorced. When she had her checklist that she would always write on the calendar in blue ink.

In her mind, she wanted to keep that house, raise her kids and stay in that house when she retired. She ended up having to teach until she was 70. She had 30 second graders. At age 80 she's still in that house. And she did it. For me, my husband and I have our own checklist on the refrigerator with all the things we have to buy from the grocery store, and I noticed just last week my daughter, who's 12, added to the checklist to get her a swimming suit for the seventh grade pool party.

So all the women in America, I think, understand what it’s like to have these lists. But what we're talking about today is a checklist for the entire country. And for all of us, for every American family, on the top of that checklist is balancing the family checkbook, protecting each family's checkbook. But as families are sitting down every day at the kitchen table to write their budget and figure out if they have enough to make ends meet, they find out the things on their list cost a lot more and they have to manage to do a lot more with less. In fact, as you can see on this chart, in the last seven years, average family income -- average seven years since this administration took office has gone down $1,175. That's for your middle-class family. That's hard enough.

But at the same time, as we all know, the average family expenses have increased -- and I can tell you this is last year's figures. Last year's expenses increased more than $4,500. What we're talking about is higher mortgage payments of $1,700, higher phone costs, higher appliance costs, higher health insurance costs of $363. It adds up. When you look at the wages lost with the expenses gained, $5,739 per year out of the average American family's checkbook. So families are feeling the hurt. It's not just them. They're not doing anything wrong. This is what we're seeing all over this country.

Why is this going on? Well, I can tell you in parts it is because everyone is nickel-and-diming our families. The oil companies are taking a huge chunk out of the family checkbook every week. I saw family cars wrapped around the block at Costco waiting in line for the discount gas pumps to save a few bucks.

Energy costs are skyrocketing. Grocery bills are climbing. While families are looking for ways to save, every penny big companies continue to nickel and dime them. The drug companies are refusing to negotiate drug prices under Medicare Part-D. The predatory lenders and unscrupulous creditors are taking a chunk out of the family checkbook with credit card scams and scams -- bad loan deals that bring down the values of homes. Cell phone companies nickel-and-dime families with their early termination fees and excessive charges. And middle-class families are being squeezed from all sides, trying to keep up with the costs.

 You heard about the sandwich families. Middle-class families trying to take care of their own kids while at the same time they're taking care of their aging parents. You look at costs of college and child care.

I'm not sure my grandparents could have fit the money for college in a coffee can. The average student graduate has over $25,000 in debt.  We owe our students a better start in life. Meanwhile, while my mom scrimped and saved, many families today do not have that same luxury and are putting every penny into nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Parents maybe want to get a toy for a child’s birthday.  Parents are trying to save a few dollars but are worried that they're going to get a toy that contains lead. They're worried about the tomatoes they bought at the store or that the pool drain in the local pool is going to hurt their child and they worry, is my family safe? This isn't the American dream. And it shouldn't be at this day and age.

American families deserve an advocate for them and the democratic women today of the United States Senate stand here ready to be those advocates, ready to make change that these families so desperately need. We not only need to change the agenda to help our middle-class families, we need to put a little change back in their wallet. This last year we stood up for America’s middle-class families and their checkbooks. We increased the minimum wage for the first time in 10 years, we made it easier to afford college, and we took on the special interests from oil companies to the toxic toy manufacturers. But so much more needs to be done to protect the American families' checkbook.

We need to give tax breaks to the middle class by closing the loopholes that benefit only the wealthy. We must put America’s families first and find the relief that they need from rising prices and falling wages and help them protect the family checkbook. We must put the people of this country first, not the special interests, by enacting comprehensive health care reform to make health care more affordable and by enacting a comprehensive energy policy so instead of spending $600,000 a minute on foreign oil and sending that money to the sultans of Saudi Arabia, we're spending the money on the farmers and the workers in this country.

We must be vigilant in protecting consumer rights as we stand on the verge of passing the most sweeping consumer product reform in 16 years. We must continue that crusade to keep toxic products off of our shores and out of our stores. This checklist for change is from a group of women who all know what it's like to balance the family checkbook and we know that it's time for a change.

The American people know that it's time for a change. As Senator Barbara Mikulski, the dean of our delegation of women senators, said today, as she called on women of the senate to work on this together consider -- and we call on the women in this country -- she said, put on your lipstick; square your shoulders; and suit up and take up this fight for change. We're here today shoulders squared and with a checklist to accomplish the change America’s families so desperately need.