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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, we are coming up to a critical deadline this week once again that touches millions of families across our country who don't have a job, not because they don't want to work but because they have not been able to find one in the hardest hit economy since the Great Depression. Even though things are turning around, we have millions of people yet to be able to find a job, to be able to care for their families and keep a roof over their heads.
Twice this year already, the Congress has missed deadlines for extending unemployment benefits because of Republican obstructionism, basically telling millions of Americans: Tough.
We are now in a situation where today we will offer a temporary extension to be able to continue unemployment benefits and help with health care, as well as support for our doctors whom we are all concerned about maintaining their Medicare payments, and we will ask for an extension. I hope the answer, again, is not: Tough. That is what I am very hopeful of.
Today there are 15.3 million Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, and they rely on an unemployment insurance system to pay the bills and put food on the table. We have also heard from economists that this is an important way of keeping dollars in the economy because when someone is out of work and they have to be able to buy food and put gas in the car and be able to do the other basics, it keeps money in the economy so that when someone gets an unemployment check, they are spending it because they have to spend it, and that is part of what is a stimulus to the economy.
People are trying to find work and trying to support their families during tough times. They want to be working, as I said. They are pounding the pavement every day. They are putting in applications every day. This is not their fault. They have worked all their lives. Many of them find themselves, having worked for companies for 20 or 30 years, now in their fifties and they have played by the rules and they are finding that because of what has happened in a global economy and unfair trade rules and what has happened on a lot of different fronts, they don't have a job. So they are asking that we continue to understand that, understand the real world for millions of people.
We have 15.3 million people who have lost their jobs and who are receiving assistance. That doesn't count the people who are no longer receiving any kind of help or are working one, two, three part-time jobs just to try to figure out how to make it, and, of course, those jobs don't provide health insurance. As we transition to help them, we are not yet there to be able to help those families.
When President Obama and when all of us as Democrats took office last year, we saw at that time a loss of almost 800,000 jobs a month. We have been laser-focused on jobs in the Recovery Act. We have been laser-focused on doing everything we can, and continue to do that. It is critical that we pass a small business bill to create capital for our small businesses that have been hit.
We have another bill dealing with innovation, and the bill that will be coming to us that extends unemployment is a major jobs bill, and we are continuing to focus on that. With what we have already done, we have now gone from almost 800,000 jobs a month being lost when the President first took office, to moving to that being about zero at the end of the year, to being about 250,000 now new jobs being created. That is good. It is not enough. We know that. It is not nearly enough, but at least we have turned the ship around. At least we are not continuing to go down, down, down as we did with the last administration for 8 years when we lost 6 million manufacturing jobs alone.
So we are turning it around. It takes time. It takes way too much time. I am very impatient about that because I know the best thing we can do to help anyone who doesn't have a job in my State is to make sure they can get a job. Folks in my State and folks in Illinois want to work. They know how to work. They are good at working. It is not their fault that there are six people looking for every job that is available right now. But the reality is, because of that, people are looking to us to understand what is going on in their lives, what they are facing in terms of enormous pressures just to keep their heads a little bit above water. They are asking us to extend unemployment benefits as this economy turns around, and understand.
So we come now to another day of reckoning. We have gone through this before. I remember last November when there was a filibuster for--I believe it was 4 weeks--on extending unemployment benefits, and then everybody voted for it. After creating tremendous stress in the lives of families who were trying to figure out what was going on, after 4 weeks of filibustering, then we finally saw people voting for it.
We have seen various versions of obstruction on the floor of the Senate. I hope today is different. I hope today people are going to say they understand that we need to extend for 30 days if we are not able to complete the jobs bill, depending on what happens if it comes over from the House. I hope we will be able to do that.
If there is a continual effort to block the 1-year extension, 1.2 million Americans will lose help right now for themselves and their families while they are looking for work, and over 300,000 people in my great State of Michigan. As I said, these are people who are doing everything we have asked them to do.
Let me just share some of the e-mails and letters I get, and I get many of those.
I get many of those. Let me share this from Rick Allegan, who wrote:
I will not be able to take care of my family at all if benefit extensions are cut. After being laid off, I have not even been able to land a job at local restaurants or fast food places. I am very grateful for these extensions--the help the State is giving me is allowing my children to eat and my family to stay afloat. Please do not take [this help] away. I am confident I will land a job and be back to work. Until then, I just don't want to worry about where I am going to get funds [I need]. I am trying very hard to find work.
Mr. President, I am sure that is true.
Clinton from Battle Creek wrote:
I am a 56-year-old unemployed worker in Michigan. I lost my job at the end of 2008, after a 38-year career in the auto repair industry. When I got laid off, I took advantage of Michigan's No Worker Left Behind program, and I am currently in college working toward a degree in human services. To that end, I work with men at the Calhoun County Jail, and I am a mentor at the newly formed ``Mentor House'' for newly released prisoners here in Battle Creek. When I finish my education, I will be gainfully employed and an asset to my community. To this end, also let me say that if I lose my unemployment benefits, I may not be able to finish college, and we could also lose our home because of the loss of income. Needless to say, we don't want either of those things to happen. Thank you very much for all you do, as I am truly grateful as an American citizen to have all that we are afforded.
That is somebody who is doing what we told him to do--go back and get retrained. But he is only able to do that because of a temporary safety net that will help while that is going on. The rug could be pulled out from under him and his family.
Christopher from Three Rivers said this:
I have been unemployed for 13 months and some days.
I have never, ever been unemployed this long--not ever. And it's astoundingly difficult to find anything--more or less even receive a reply to an inquiry. I am registered with no fewer than four temp offices and have been for some months, and nothing--not a single call, even though they assure me they are in fact looking for me.
And so I do all I can, and daily, trying not to lose hope. But what truly appalls and galls me is Congress' attitude that all is well and the economy is getting better, so, no, there won't be any further extensions of unemployment [insurance].
And let's be clear about something: I detest this. I can't stand living on barely anything, but to then have it implied that I somehow enjoy doing this and thus am lazy and enjoy living on unemployment is quite offensive.
Mr. President, that is offensive to millions of Americans.
I can assure you that I do not, and I have been doing everything in my ability to find work.
People want to work. People have worked their whole lives. It is not their fault that we find ourselves in this situation. It is not their fault that there was recklessness on Wall Street that led to a collapse of financial markets, that closed down credit, that caused small businesses not to be able to get loans to be able to keep business going or manufacturers to be able to get the support they needed. It is not the fault of the American people. It is not the fault of a breadwinner who can no longer bring home the bread.
We have had a collapse on a number of levels. We are rebuilding again. Things are turning around, as slow as it is. The unemployment rate in Michigan is coming down. That is a good thing, but it is not fast enough for the people whom we represent who need temporary help until that job is available, until they are able to get that community college degree, to be able to get that training for the new job we have all told them they should go get. Go get retraining, we say. But how do you put food on the table and pay for a roof over your family's head in the meantime? We have done that through unemployment benefits that allow people to be able to become economically independent again.
That is what we are talking about here--temporary help. That temporary help has gone on longer than any of us would like to have it go on. No one is more concerned about having to come to the floor and talk about extending unemployment benefits, but the reality is, for Americans, this is not their fault. We have to figure out how we can continue to support them in their efforts to look for work, to be able to go back to school so they can, in fact, continue their lives with their families, be productive citizens, and be able to continue to contribute to this great country.
We also know we have millions of Americans who rely on help with health care. We said to them years ago: If you leave your job or lose your job, you can continue your health care benefits. The problem is that it is so expensive when you have to pay both the employer contribution and the employee contribution, most people haven't been able to do it.
Last year, in the Recovery Act, we did something about that. We said we would help so that people could continue their health insurance in COBRA. That expires as well. Just as those jobs have not been there, until we fully see a health reform bill in place, which will take time, as we know, we also need to continue to help with health care.
This bill that will be coming in front of us, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, also includes a very important 1-year fix--actually, it is beyond 1 year now; it will include multiple years--to fix what has been a drastic cut in reimbursements to doctors, a cut that, if it were allowed to happen, would force many doctors' offices to stop seeing Medicare families and military families.
As you know, I believe the payment formula that has been in place and the cuts that have been scheduled for many years should be completely eliminated and we should completely change the system, which is called SGR. But until we can get to that point--and I hope it is very soon--we need to make sure doctors have confidence that those drastic cuts will not happen and that seniors and military families know cuts won't happen and that they are going to be able to continue to see their doctor.
It is critical right now that we work together today to make sure we are allowing these important policies--the help for people who have lost their jobs, whether it be health care or unemployment insurance, the ability to continue to provide the kinds of Medicare payments so seniors can see their doctors--it is critical that we don't let that lapse. We will have an opportunity on the floor today to continue that either temporarily or permanently. Obviously, I would like to see the full jobs bill passed today and see this completed at least until the end of this year. If that is not possible, it is not the fault of the people who don't have jobs, so I don't know why they should be the ones who are hurt because of it.
I am very hopeful that one way or the other we are going to let people in this country know that as we focus on jobs--which is the best thing we can do, and it is what everybody wants--and continue to turn this economy around, as we continue to see jobs being created in the private sector, we will not forget the people who have gotten caught in this economic tsunami through no fault of their own.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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