BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, first of all, I want to thank the Senator from Oregon for those very passionate comments. We have had the opportunity to join in a number of forums to speak out about the importance of creating jobs in America and of helping those who through no fault of their own have lost their job, and I thank the Senator for his eloquence and passion again this evening.
I come to the floor to also add my voice to what I believe to be an outrageous situation. I say this with all due respect to my friend from Kentucky. We work together on a number of issues, and I look forward to continuing to do that. But on this I believe what is being done is absolutely wrong. It is outrageous.
We are in a situation right now where nearly 135,000 Michigan residents will lose the unemployment assistance they need by the end of this month if we do not take action immediately. That is just in 1 month as to people who have been hit by nothing less than an economic tsunami.
We have a sense of urgency when an earthquake happens, when storms come, and the floods come. Well, to families across this country, the storms have come. They have been here--in our case for years--and we need to have the same sense of urgency as any other disaster would call us, focusing not only on helping people who have lost their job but in creating jobs.
I am proud to be a part of a caucus that has placed jobs at the forefront and a President who, last year, started at the beginning of the year with a jobs bill, a Recovery Act, and moving on, and this year with an entire jobs agenda. But the reality is that until jobs are created, we have millions of people in this country who have played by the rules all their lives, paid their taxes, cared about their families, gave back to their communities, and their only sin is the fact that they have lost their job through no fault of their own.
They are trying to keep a roof over their head, keep food on the table, keep the heat on, trying to make sure their kids have what they need. Most of them are receiving $200 or $300 a week to try to hold it together while they go job training, while they look every day for work. People want to work. This is not about people who do not want to work. People want to work. But we have six people applying for every one job in America.
So while we focus on job creation and partnering with the private sector to make that happen, we have millions of people in America who do not understand how something such as merely extending unemployment benefits could be held up. Last night, the unemployment benefits stopped that process now. This month, people are getting notices, afraid about what is going to happen to themselves and their families.
What we have is a misuse of the rules, in my judgment. What we have is an objection, and it is one for which we have been down here many times. We have the charts now. We have had it happen over 116 times this session, where we have seen objections, bringing to a halt the will of the majority, blocking the democratic process of voting--of simply voting--and being able to solve problems and move things forward.
I received an e-mail from a woman in Livonia, MI, who lost her job last year. She took the opportunity to go back to school to get new job skills to become a registered dietitian. But now, as she is doing that, because of this obstruction, this woman is going to lose the help she needs to allow her to make it and keep a roof over her head while she is turning the corner and gaining new skills to get a new job. The rug is, frankly, being pulled out from under her, and I think that is outrageous.
She is not alone. As I indicated before, we have nearly 135,000 people in Michigan who will lose the help they need under unemployment benefits by the end of this month if we do not act, and act immediately.
I received another e-mail from a woman in Greenbush, MI. She and her husband both worked at the same manufacturing plant. It is a common story in Michigan. They both lost their job. She writes:
We are both seeking work and schooling for new careers. We have both eceived a letter from the unemployment office that our benefits will end. We have no other source of income and we fear we will lose our home.
This is real for millions of people across this country, millions of middle-class families who assume that in a disaster, an economic disaster, their government, the people of the country, will step up to help. That is what unemployment benefits are all about.
It is time to act, it is time to stop blocking democracy. If my friend from
Kentucky has an amendment to offer, offer it, debate it, and vote. But just blocking us from exercising our right to vote is not the American way. The American way is to vote, to act, to make decisions, not to block. We have seen way too much of blocking democracy from our Republican colleagues in these last months and months.
I also want to speak to other provisions in this bill because I find it interesting that within hours of the health care summit last Thursday, the blocking of this bill showed us what the health care plan is by Republicans: cut people off from help with COBRA, cut doctors' benefits. That came within hours of the health care summit. We are now getting calls from people who are concerned about whether their doctor is going to be available.
Are senior citizens under Medicare going to be able to see their same doctor because of the cuts that will happen if we do not act immediately? People who one day lost their job, the next day lost their health care--we have been able to help them through the jobs bill we passed last February to be able to continue their health insurance through work. It is expensive to do under something called COBRA, but we have been able to help them do that by helping to pay on a short-term basis for part of that cost.
So the health care summit happens on Thursday, and hours later there is an objection that will stop health care for hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans, and stop the ability of doctors to be reimbursed at a fair rate to be able to care for their patients. This is, in my judgment, an absolutely outrageous situation, and it has to stop.
I thank our chairman of the Finance Committee for his work and advocacy and being here on the floor calling for us to vote. I am hopeful people around the country will speak out loudly between tonight and tomorrow and that we will be able to come to the floor and stop what is effectively blocking the democratic process and blocking our ability to vote, to make decisions, and to move forward.
We have millions of Americans who are counting on us to understand what is happening in real people's lives every day--not political games, not all the partisanship, but real people's lives--who are going to get up tomorrow morning and say: OK, what do I do now? How am I going to keep my roof over my head? And how am I going to continue to go to school to get that new skills I need? How am I going to put food on the table for my family? That is what is affecting people across this country.
In addition to the millions of people who have lost their job and are on unemployment, we have millions of others who are one paycheck away from being in the very same situation--people who could be spending in the economy now to be able to help move things forward, who are afraid of what happens next. Part of that fear is not only will they have a job, but what happens if they do not? And what is the message that is sent if we do not make it clear we will be there for them if that happens? Will they be able to continue to have the basics to keep their family going?
I strongly urge we do everything possible. I know we will stop this obstruction, to allow the democratic process to go forward, to allow us to vote, to solve problems, to move this bill forward, and send a very strong message that we understand what is happening to millions of families who have faced a disaster of epic proportions.
It is truly as much a disaster as anything else any community has ever felt in terms of losing their jobs and fighting and working to get something.
I thank the Chair.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT