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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I wish to take a few moments to talk about what is currently happening in the Senate, in my judgement, representing a State with now the second highest unemployment rate in the country--Michigan. We are glad not to be No. 1, but we sure would like to be No. 50. We have an awful lot of people right now who are waiting for us to complete action on extending unemployment insurance benefits.
I continue to be appalled at the lengths to which the Republican minority will go to stop people who are out of work from getting some help. We are in a situation where we finally, after eight different votes and weeks and weeks of trying, had enough votes to overcome a filibuster. As we all know, that takes 60 votes. I am very grateful to our Republican colleagues from Maine for joining with us to make that happen. We had a vote yesterday that was a supermajority vote. We know extending unemployment benefits is going to pass because we had 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and the vote on the actual bill only takes 51.
We know we have the votes, but under the procedures of the Senate, technically, unless there is a bipartisan agreement, we have to wait 30 hours before we can actually vote. It used to be that once we secured the votes of a supermajority, then everyone would agree: OK, the votes are there, and they would agree to yield back time so we would not have to wait; we could go on to something else.
That is not what is happening now. While people in Michigan and around the country are waiting, trying to figure out: OK, can I pay the rent tomorrow, can I get gas for my car to look for another job tomorrow, can I put food on the table tomorrow, what is going to happen on Monday, what is going to happen on Tuesday--while people are waiting, we have nothing happening on the floor of the Senate. We are just burning time, 30 hours of time. In my judgment, it is just mean, because when we look at what has to happen yet--we will pass the bill. We know we are going to pass the bill. It has to go back to the House and then to the President for signature. This, at least, is the difference between families getting some help on Friday so they can feed the kids for the weekend or whether they are going to have to wait until Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday. For a lot of folks, for a lot of us--we have a salary, we have a job--that may not seem like much. For over 2.5 million people in this country who have lost their insurance benefits--and these are insurance benefits. You pay in when you are working to get some temporary help if you lose your job through no fault of your own. Mr. President, 2.5 million people think waiting from Friday to Monday is a big deal. They, in fact, think Thursday and Friday is a big deal. We have a situation that, frankly, I cannot characterize any other way than saying it is just plain mean.
Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, will the Senator yield for a question?
Ms. STABENOW. I will be happy to yield.
Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, first, I thank the Senator from Michigan. Her State more than any State in the Nation has been hit harder by this recession and high employment. I am sure, as I have found and the Presiding Officer has found back in Illinois, that many of these people who are out of work are desperate; that in the Senator's State of Michigan, it has been rough for a long time.
I wish to ask the Senator from the State of Michigan, for those who may not follow where we are at this moment in the Senate, if she could help refresh my recollection. Is it not true that we tried three or four times to get the Republicans to go along in a bipartisan way to extend unemployment benefits to those who lost their jobs through no fault of their own so they could keep their families together while they are searching for work?
Isn't it also true that this historically has been something where we put the party labels aside and say: This is an American emergency, just like a tornado hitting Chicago or Springfield, IL, or flooding hitting some part of Michigan; that we will stand behind the people of our country, the 8 million unemployed people who are struggling to get back on their feet? Isn't it true that historically we have done this without this kind of political rancor and argument?
Finally, yesterday, when we got the breakthrough--we have our new Senator from West Virginia, Carte Goodwin, who came in to succeed the legendary Robert C. Byrd. He cast the deciding vote, with two Republican Senators, I might add, who richly deserve credit for it. At that point, we could have moved forward to send these unemployment benefits, give these people in Detroit and Chicago peace of mind, and instead the other side of the aisle is insisting that we burn 30 hours off the calendar and even consider amendments on such issues as the immigration law in Arizona, the future of the estate tax--all these unrelated issues. Is it true that is where we are in this moment of time, where there are no votes taking place on the floor of the Senate?
Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I say to our distinguished leader in the Senate--and I thank him for his advocacy--he is exactly right. We have waited--I am not sure now if it is 10 or 11 weeks--trying to extend unemployment benefits. We have had multiple votes. We finally get the votes through all kinds of different means. We finally get the votes yesterday, and it is unheard of that we would be in this spot, after getting a supermajority of 60 people and after having this go on as long as it has. It is unheard of. Never before with a Democratic or Republican President have we ever seen this, but now we are stuck again, and I don't understand why. I cannot fathom the motivation of why the folks on the other side of the aisle, the leadership on the other side of the aisle, would say: Let's wait another 30 hours, which for most people means it is on into next week, and most people have already been without that little bit of $250 or $300 a week. We are not talking about a lot of money.
Mr. DURBIN. That is right.
Ms. STABENOW. But it is a difference between having a roof over your family's head, food on the table, and not. So now we are pushing into next week.
Mr. DURBIN. If the Senator would yield for a question, through the Chair.
I have a chart given me by my staff that says in my home State of Illinois--and the State of the Presiding Officer--137,600 people in Illinois have had their unemployment benefits cut off because of the filibusters on the Republican side, and our numbers show 104,000 people in Senator Stabenow's State of Michigan.
Ms. STABENOW. That is right.
Mr. DURBIN. Not to mention the State of the Republican minority leader, Kentucky, with 32,200 people who have had their unemployment benefits cut off.
I would say to the Senator from Michigan that I am contacted by these families, and they describe to me what life is like when they lose that $250-a-week check and they are out of work. First, they exhaust their savings, then they start putting off paying bills, and then they pray to God they don't get sick because they have lost their health insurance. Then comes the day of reckoning. One lady called and said: They are cutting off my gas to my home, and the electricity is next. Another said: I am 1 month away from moving out of my little efficiency into my car. That is where I am going to have to live.
That is the reality of life, and that is while these people are looking for work. Imagine those burdens--and anyone facing them would be preoccupied by them--at the same time trying to dress up nicely, put on a happy face, and fill out the forms to find a job.
I ask the Senator from Michigan what she is finding with these people who have been cut off from basic unemployment benefits because of the Republican filibuster.
Ms. STABENOW. Well, you are exactly right. I also hear, on top of that, about people who have done what we have told them they should do--they should go back to school and get retraining. So they go back, and the only reason they can actually afford to go back to school to go through one of the job training programs is that small check that has allowed them to have a little income for their family while they do what we have told them to do, which is to get a different skill to go into a different career and then hope there will be a job there.
I have had so many e-mails from people not only about losing their homes and what is happening to their families but that they have had to drop out of school. Well, how does it make any sense, when we are trying to make sure people are productive in the workforce and are able to find a job that people are dropping out of school because of this as well?
Mr. DURBIN. Let me ask this question of the Senator, through the Chair.
I have had heard an argument from the other side of the aisle that says these checks make people lazy; that they don't go out and look for work. With $250 a week, they take it easy.
These aren't the people I am talking to in Illinois. I would ask the Senator from Michigan, who sees thousands of people who have been out of work for long periods of time, what she thinks about this Republican argument that unemployment checks make people lazy.
Ms. STABENOW. Well, people in Michigan are extremely offended by this, and I am very offended on their behalf. The people we are talking about have never been out of work in their lives. They are mortified. The idea of having to go get food assistance is unbelievable to them. These are people who built America. They built the middle class. It is not their fault Wall Street had the crisis.
We had the good fortune to be with the President signing a bill that will change that, but it is not their fault what happened. It is not their fault there was recklessness on Wall Street and then the financial system collapsed so small businesses can't get loans and manufacturers can't get loans.
It is not their fault we went through a decade of policies where the previous administration was not enforcing trade laws so our jobs went overseas. It is not their fault they find themselves in this economy. So they are saying to me: I want to work. Hey, I want a job. I don't want to extend my unemployment benefits. Give me a job.
That is what we are focusing on too. I say to the distinguished Senator from Illinois, one of the things I find doubly insulting about wasting this time is that the legislation we are trying to get to is a small business bill so small businesses can get loans to hire people. So we are trying to create jobs and, instead, all this time is being wasted on an effort just to try to help people get by.
Mr. DURBIN. Let's get to the hot-button issue--the deficit. Because every Republican who comes to the floor tries to explain why we should change the rules when it comes to unemployment compensation, why we should deny to millions of Americans that basic unemployment check to get by while they are out of work, by saying it is all about the deficit.
I would ask the Senator from Michigan if she would reflect on the fact that many of the same Republican Senators making that argument were Senators who, when they had a chance under the previous President, added to our deficit by waging two wars without paying for them, who added to our deficit by giving tax cuts to the wealthiest people in America without paying for them, and in fact doubled the debt of the United States in 8 years' time with that economic policy and those decisions.
These same Republican Senators--such as Senator Kyl of Arizona--now argue that if we give more tax cuts to the wealthy people in America and take that money out of the Treasury and add it to the deficit, it doesn't count because tax cuts for wealthy people don't count when it comes to this deficit discipline they want.
I ask the Senator from Michigan: How do you reconcile this; that all of a sudden now this is all about a deficit, which the Republican Senators virtually ignored for 8 years while we reached the stage of today.
Ms. STABENOW. Well, the Senator is absolutely correct. That is the fundamental question. It goes to a question of values and priorities. We will never get out of deficit with over 15 million people out of work, and that doesn't count people working two or three or four part-time jobs or who are underemployed. If people aren't back to work, aren't able to purchase as consumers, aren't able to contribute, we will never get out of deficit, which is why we start with jobs in the beginning.
But to add insult to injury, we hear that giving another round of tax cuts to the only part of the American public that has dramatically increased its income--those who are at the very top; the top 1 and 2 percent--doesn't matter if it adds to the debt. Adding to the debt for tax cuts for wealthy people doesn't count, but changing the rules, such as we have never done before, and focusing on helping out-of-work people does count. That counts. We can't do that, if it is somebody who is out of work. But we don't worry at all about deficits when it is helping the privileged few.
I can't imagine that. That is not the America I know and the majority of Americans care about right now.
Mr. DURBIN. I would say to the Senator from Michigan, by way of a question in closing, that it would seem to me a person who is unemployed, who doesn't get the basic check they need to survive and is forced to live in their car, that is a more compelling argument to me than giving a tax break to someone who needs to buy a newer car. That is what is being argued on the other side of the aisle. It is a complete mismatch of priorities.
What I struggle with is the notion of how many times the Senator and I have been called on, as Members of the House and Senate, to stand by some part of America that is struggling--farmers who are struggling because of drought or flood, people who are victims of flood and tornadoes or our friends in the Gulf of Mexico whose lives are changed because of BP. How many times have we said, as an American family, we stand together? When it comes to something as basic as food on the table and utility bills for the poorest people in America because they are out of work--when there are five unemployed people for every available job--why in the world our Republican friends want to take it out on them at this point in time I don't understand.
If there is anything this Congress should do, it is to rally behind those who have lost their jobs and are worrying about losing their jobs--those working part time, the Senator just referenced, and who want to work full time. If we can't stand together as a Senate behind those families, I think we have lost something very basic. I know I had to put that in the form of a question, so I am going to hazard a guess: Does the Senator?
Ms. STABENOW. Well, I absolutely agree. I wish to thank the Senator for his continuing leadership and passion on this issue.
I would simply say, if over 15 million people out of work in this country isn't an emergency, I don't know what is. Those are the folks we are fighting for right now--the people who want to work, the people who have been part of this great middle class in our country and who now find that slipping through their fingers because of a global economy, where we have not understood the rules should be fair, where we have had policies put into place that affect only the privileged few, with the theory that it will trickle down to everybody else.
You know what. I wish it had. I wish the policies of the former President and my friends on the other side had worked. I don't want people to be out of work. If trickle-down economics would work, I would celebrate it. But my folks are still waiting for the trickle down. They are still waiting. Instead, what is happening to them is they have lost their jobs or they are finding themselves with fewer hours or they are finding themselves in a situation where they are working two jobs, three jobs just trying to hold it together. I mean I have seen numbers that show almost half the families in Michigan have somebody in their immediate family who has lost their job.
The idea of saying that somehow that is all because people are lazy, well, I would not say the words I would truly like to say, but I would just say that is a bunch of bunk--the idea that somehow Americans who have worked all their lives and are caught up in this are somehow just lazy. But this goes to a broader pattern that is extremely concerning to me, and it is the difference in world view and how we view what should happen and what is important in our country.
When we had a bill in front of us--the President just signed it today--to put back some commonsense regulations on Wall Street so there are no more big bailouts and consumers can get good information to be able to protect themselves and their 401(k)s and their savings and to be able to address all the jobs--the 8 million jobs lost since the financial crisis started over a year ago--and when we have a bill on the floor that takes on the big banks, the big bonuses, the recklessness of some on Wall Street, our colleagues on the other side of the aisle vote no. Almost every single one of them sided with the big banks and the big bonuses.
We are going to have a big debate about whether to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, whether we should give even bigger tax cuts to the top couple hundred families with huge estates in this country--to do even more than President Bush did on tax cuts for the wealthy and the wealthy estates that are literally only 200 or 300 families in the country. Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle will argue for that. They will argue that is the right thing to do. That is a different view. It is a different view than we have about what is happening in this country and where the priorities ought to be.
Middle-class families in my State are saying: What about us? What about us? The big banks got their bailout, what about us? That is why we have been focused on jobs and on innovation. While we aren't out of the hole--we are nowhere near out of the hole--we are at least digging our way out. There were 750,000 a jobs a month being lost when President Obama took office. We changed the focus to working families, to middle-class families, and by the end of the year that was zero. Now we are gaining 100,000 or 200,000 a month, but we are at least gaining.
I am not happy at all about the unemployment levels in Michigan. But when President Obama took office we were looking at 15.7 percent--unbelievable--and that is just the people being counted. Now it has come down a little bit, a little bit, a little bit, and now it is 13.2. That is still way, way too high, but at least it is moving in the right direction. We had 8 years of it moving in the wrong direction and we have turned the ship and it is beginning to turn around.
The problem we have is that while it is slow in terms of job creation, too many families are caught in the middle on this, waiting for that next job, wanting that next job that is going to pay enough so they can care for their family. They are caught in a situation they never thought they would be in, in their life and they are embarrassed and they are mortified and they are angry. They are looking at the Senate and saying: What is going on here?
You can't even get it together to do what every other President, Democrat and Republican, has done in the history of our country to come together and to understand this is an emergency--15 million people plus is an emergency--and that we ought to be extending the small unemployment insurance benefits to families who are caught in this.
That is what this is all about. We find ourselves in a situation where we are wasting time right now on the floor of the Senate that we could be using after voting to extend unemployment benefits to go on to small business, which is also absolutely critical for us. The No. 1 concern from businesses is the inability to get a loan, to get the capital they need to extend their line of credit to do business or be able to expand, to get the loans they need. That is the bill we have waiting in the wings. That is the one we are trying to get done.
Instead of focusing on that, which is jobs and small business, which is the growth engine of the country, we wait. We watch the clock--30 hours. For whatever reason I do not know. But I think it is a shame.
I want to close reading a letter. I get thousands of e-mails. I am sure my colleague does too. I find them very heartbreaking. I want to read a little bit to put it in the Record, from Philip, from Belding, MI:
I have just learned I exhausted my unemployment benefits. I am going to school under the worker retraining programs through Michigan Works. I have a mere 5 months left until I graduate. I am raising my daughter on my own. My life has been a rough ride, trying to do this on the limited funding already.
Now I have to make a choice. This is an incredibly hard choice. I have to quit training to get a job or continue training and live with no income whatsoever. My decision must be made in the best interests of my child. I worked tremendously hard to be at the top of my class in my training and now I am faced with the fact that it was all for nothing.
The last year of hard work and study is lost. The grants I received for Michigan Works were used fruitlessly. I know you are fighting for me and all the others in my position but I feel I need to let someone know ..... what is happening.
There are so many people who have sent letters and e-mails and who have called me. They are just trying to play by the rules and care for their families and get another job or go back to school or do the things we all want to do for our families to be able to live a good life, be able to have that American dream as we define it. It is extremely unfortunate that we find ourselves in a situation where we continue to see objections and blocking and efforts just to stop something as basic as temporary assistance for people who have lost their jobs.
We will get this done. We will get it done. It will pass. The difference between what is happening here and what could have been if we had gotten it done yesterday is it is going to be a few more days before somebody gets the help they need. I do not know how many people will lose their houses because those few more days mean they can't make that payment in time and they end up on the street or how many missed meals, how much hunger, how many times their kids go to bed at night hungry because we are wasting all this time on the Senate floor.
I can tell you there are many of us, those of us on our side, who understand what this means for people. We are deeply sorry families are in this situation. They need to know we are going to continue to fight, we are going to continue to be there, we are going to continue to do everything we can to support them and their families until everybody in this country who needs a job and wants a job and is able to work has one and can get themselves back on their feet and have the kind of life they want for themselves and their families.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I wish to thank our colleague from South Carolina for giving us the opportunity tonight to decide whose side we are really on. We are talking about upward of $1 trillion in spending to help a few hundred of our wealthiest Americans. We would not be helping small businesses or family farmers, all of whom we support helping, but the wealthiest Americans--close to $1 trillion--or helping 2.5 million people who lost their jobs, are out of work through no fault of their own.
The crash on Wall Street, the crisis on Wall Street, which, unfortunately, colleagues chose not to vote to repair and to fix, has caused a situation where families are hurting.
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