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Public Statements

Unanimous Consent Request-S 1839

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. CANTWELL. Madam President, I rise to echo the comments of the Senator from Michigan. I think it critically important that Congress not adjourn for the year without addressing unemployment benefits for Americans who, unfortunately, have been out of work for some time now.

The Senator from Michigan is very conscious of the fact that his State, with 7.6 percent unemployment, has not seen much economic relief in this jobless recovery. I can tell him that the State of Washington has seen very little relief, as we are at 7 percent unemployment rate. The States around us-Oregon is at 7.6 percent unemployment; Alaska is at 7.3 percent unemployment-also continue to suffer.

The Pacific Northwest has been very hard hit by the downturn in our economy. While some people would like to say that is part of the process, I would argue that losing jobs in the aerospace industry after 9/11-35,000 jobs just at Boeing alone-is no fault of individual workers.

I guarantee you, individual workers in my State would rather have a paycheck than an unemployment check. But if they are not getting an unemployment check, if they do not have the ability to take care of mortgage payments and other bills, it affects our overall economy. That is why for a long period of time, not only have people believed that those who pay into unemployment benefits should get a package for taking care of them during downturns in our economy but they also think unemployment benefits are a great stimulus for an economy that is sagging.

My colleagues on the other side of the aisle continue to refuse to bring up an extension of unemployment benefits. That means by that December 31 of this year, some 90,000 unemployed people per week will exhaust their regular benefits. That means in the first 6 months of 2004 there may be as many as 2 million people affected by this loss of benefits.

This issue is so important to me because we were in this same situation last year. This side of the aisle said, given that this country has lost so many jobs, we must do something to take care of laid off workers. We must extend the Federal unemployment benefits program. We were successful in convincing the Senate, with Senator Nickles' help, to pass a bill out of the Senate extending unemployment benefits, but the Republicans in the House refused to take up the measure and people in my State were without unemployment benefits at the end of the year.

If somehow my colleagues think that people didn't make very tough decisions because we left them without any guarantee that the program would continue, they did. I had constituents who took money out of their pension plans-at a 30 percent penalty-at the end of December to live on because they thought their benefits had been exhausted. They were forced to trade off long-term security for short-term economic need, only because the Federal Government did not stand up and do its job.

We had a similar situation in the 1990s in which we had high unemployment. What did we do to act responsibly? For 30 months, the Federal program offered to unemployed Americans a richer benefit than we are offering today-20 weeks in the 1990s, compared to 13 weeks today. Well, guess what was different in the 1990s. During that time period, 2.9 million net jobs were created. Since this recession started, we've lost 2.4 million jobs.

The 1990s recession covered both a Republican administration-the first Bush administration-and a Democratic administration. Both those administrations committed-for 30 months, and with a richer Federal program of 20 weeks-to take care of Americans until this economy recovered. As the economy recovered and 2.9 million new jobs were added, then we ended the program.

How do our actions today compare to that recession? Well, we have only had 22 months of this program, so it has not lasted as long as the previous program of Federal unemployment benefits. It has been 8 months shorter. The benefits are less, only 13 weeks instead of 20. So it is not as rich a program.

The bottom line is what has happened to our jobs during the time period. In this time period, instead of adding 2.9 million jobs, we have actually lost 2.4 million jobs. So if the argument is that it's time to stop the Federal extension program when new jobs have been created and Americans are going back to work, then obviously 22 months has not been enough. People are not going back to work. We have lost 2.4 million jobs. If somebody thinks it is time to cut off this program, they are dead wrong. To do this, going into the holiday season, is just like giving American workers a lump of coal in their stocking. It's like saying, no, thank you, for the hard work you have provided to American companies in the past and for paying into the unemployment insurance system.

It is totally irresponsible for us, as a legislative body, to pass all of these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, do all of these programs for special interests, give subsidies, and then leave American workers without the benefit program that was designed to help them in economic downturns.

This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. We have had a Republican administration and a Democratic administration-the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration-who said this is a great policy, but somehow this policy is now falling on deaf ears. During the 1990s, when we ran this program for 30 months at richer benefits, we had an improvement in the unemployment rate of 1.2 percent before we ended the program. It was yet another sign, in addition to the 2.9 million net jobs added that it was time to end the program.

As I said earlier, we have lost 2.4 million jobs during this time period and the unemployment rate has improved less than 1 percent-only .4 percent. So we do not have the data, we do not have the evidence that things are getting better. And yet somehow now, even though we cannot demonstrate that things are really getting better for workers, some people on the other side of the aisle want to hedge their bets and say, too bad for you. And they want to say this at the end of the year the holiday season, when people are making some of their most important financial decisions and expenditures.

I think it is outrageous. It is outrageous that this body is so cold hearted to the hard-working men and women of America. Let's remember how we got into this situation. Through no fault of their own, and in particular for New York and Washington State, resulting from the unfortunate circumstances of 9/11 and downturns of specific industries as a result of that-laid-off workers are being left high and dry.

Somehow we want to put American workers out in the cold just because a very tragic event happened to us at the national level? We do not want to say to those companies and to those individuals, we understand the hard economic times they have fallen on? That is what the Federal unemployment extension program is about.

There are additional reasons we are crazy not to extend this program. One is that we have yet to see the economic results we want. Unemployment insurance is an economic stimulus. For every dollar spent on unemployment benefits, it generates $2.15 of economic stimulus. I argue that one of the best economic stimulus programs we have had in the last 22 months has likely been Federal unemployment benefits. These benefits have allowed millions of Americans to make their house payments, to pay their medical bills, to pay for the various essentials they need to do to exist. And that is what they are basically doing. They are just getting by. They are just getting by until new jobs are created.

I say to the administration: Where are all of these new jobs? The bottom line is still 2.4 million jobs lost. If the administration wants to curtail this economic program, at least stand up and be as responsive as the last two administrations were and create the new jobs. In that recession, 2.9 million jobs were created and so, of course, Americans could go back to work and, of course, they could get off the Federal program.

We have a big challenge before us. And although this bill does not directly address this, we must recognize that parts of our economy are retooling. Parts of our economy are demanding a more creative approach to jobs that are lost as industries are transitioning. It will take almost 2 years to regain the jobs we have lost. Why not prop up our economy by adding needed stimulus? Why not give American workers a return on a program they paid into, and why not honor them by admitting they would rather have job creation than unemployment checks and get about going back to stimulating our economy with real job creation?

None of that is happening. We are all now about ready to adjourn to some date uncertain. I do not know if it is January or a sooner time, but America was listening last year. At the holiday season, as December 31 rolled around, Americans were furious that this program was being curtailed. People made very serious decisions. Why make them live through those circumstances again and then come back in January or February? After we have all made it clear this was a program that was much needed, why not do the responsible thing now and pass these unemployment benefits.

I ask unanimous consent that the Finance Committee be discharged from further consideration of S. 1839 and that the Senate then proceed to the immediate consideration of that legislation; that the Cantwell amendment, which is at the desk, be considered and agreed, and the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table, and that the bill, as amended, be read three times, passed, and the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table without intervening action or debate.

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. CRAPO). On behalf of the leadership, in my capacity as the Senator from the State of Idaho, I object.

The objection is heard.

Ms. CANTWELL. I do not know how many more objections we are going to hear before we give American workers their right to unemployment benefits. We need to own up to the fact that this body cannot pass tax cuts for the wealthiest, incentivize other programs, and then not take care of our obligation to workers in America-all of whom would, in the end, certainly rather have a paycheck.

I hope this body will come to its senses, address this very important issue, and not leave any Americans at the end of the year without the resources to pay their bills and without helping them be an effective part of our economy.

I yield the floor.

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