CONSUMER-FIRST ENERGY ACT OF 2008--MOTION TO PROCEED--Continued -- (Senate - June 10, 2008)
Mr. REID. I move to proceed to S. 3044.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The motion is pending.
The Senator from Michigan is recognized.
Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, before our leader leaves the floor, I thank him for his patience and tenacity to continue, despite objection after objection, as we try to govern on behalf of the people of this country--whether it be addressing issues of global warming, whether it be gas prices, whether it be what just happened, which is to bring forward a Medicare bill that will stop a large cut to physicians all around the country and affect our ability to have access to health care. It is a bill that includes the ability to focus on rural health care and telehealth and e-prescribing and a number of things that will increase access to health care.
To emphasize what just happened one more time: There was an objection to moving ahead on something that is important to the American people: to expand, under Medicare, health care for communities and our seniors. This goes back to my original point now: 75 Republican filibusters and counting. It is going to continue and continue, unfortunately, because there is not the willingness to work together to get things done.
Let me mention two other issues. I mentioned what is happening in terms of blocking our Consumer-First Energy Act, which focuses on a number of ways to go after price gouging. The bill would stop manipulation by greedy oil traders and give the Attorney General the power to stand up to OPEC nations that are price fixing--a number of different ways for us to immediately address what is happening to gas prices on behalf of the American people. That was blocked.
The second thing that was blocked was the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008. This is about jobs. This is about jobs in my great State of Michigan, in New Jersey, all across this country, based on the new green economy--production tax credits to build those wind turbines and solar panels and new vehicles and, again, the consumer tax credits and investing in the ability for businesses that use the R&D tax credit to have that continue, to be able to invest in other economic development tax credits. That is what was blocked--jobs focused on alternative energy.
So we went after the oil companies. No. We want to put forward a proposal that will invest in new jobs. No. That is what we are hearing every day. And every day that is happening, more and more people in my great State are finding themselves without a job, trying to keep the lights on, keep food on the table, trying to be able to put gas in their automobile. And they are looking and saying: What is going on here? Each month, tens of thousands of people across the country, not just in Michigan--I mean, we were hit the hardest first, but this is across the country--are losing their jobs. Hundreds of those are losing unemployment insurance benefits they paid into.
There seems to be a notion that somehow, if someone is required to go on unemployment insurance benefits, they will not look for work. Well, that is about 40 percent of what the average wage is for an individual. You can barely keep things together. In many cases, you cannot keep things together. I would suggest that the unemployment insurance benefit is not a disincentive for folks to work. And obviously people in my State work hard. They work. They work very hard. Too many are working two jobs, three jobs, four jobs, trying to piece it together.
But we have never had an economic situation like we have today under a Republican or Democratic President where there has not been a willingness in a difficult economic situation to extend unemployment benefits. Yet President Bush has threatened to veto an extension of unemployment insurance which we have already passed here in the Senate.
As I indicated before, the numbers are high--324,000 good-paying American jobs have been lost since January of this year. We also know there are 8.5 million unemployed workers in America competing for 3.7 million jobs. That is why the bill that was blocked earlier that invests in new taxation and new technologies, production tax credits to build new plants, to create new processes, is so important, because right now we have more than twice as many people looking for work as there are jobs available. We as a Democratic majority understand that. We understand that so much of what is happening right now for families goes to the basic foundation of this economy, which is the ability to have a good-paying job and to be able to pay those costs that come at families day after day after day.
In May, the number of Americans who have been out of work for at least 27 weeks--right now, unemployment goes to 26 weeks--rose to 1.6 million workers; 1.6 million middle-class workers as of May who saw their benefits exhausted and in most or many cases were not able to find a job. What happened? What happens to those families? In the past year, 2.75 million people who are unemployed have exhausted their benefits.
American families are running out of time. They want us to take action. There needs to be a sense of urgency about what is going on for families in this country. It is not that we do not have the ability to act; there is not the will to act, not the will to join with us in a bipartisan effort to act. We as Democrats come to the floor every day, our leader comes to the floor every day, multiple times a day, making motions to proceed to solve problems through legislation that is critical for our families. Time after time, all we hear is: I object. I object. I object.
People in Michigan know what the pain of inaction is like and the effort to try to hold it together when help is not there. Over the last year, more than 150,000 people have exhausted their unemployment benefits, over 10,000 people a month now looking for work but do not have the support anymore to at least be able to keep things going a little bit.
But you know it is not just Michigan anymore. Unfortunately, other States are now catching up. We heard as of last Friday that the national unemployment rate is now 5.5 percent. When we first started talking about this, it was 4.9. Now it is up to 5.5, and the experts tell us they expect it will reach 6.5 percent by January. Alaska, California, Rhode Island, Mississippi, Nevada, Missouri, Oregon, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Ohio all have unemployment rates at or above 5.5 percent.
We need to act, not only because it is the right thing to do, the moral thing to do for our families, but we know that for every $1 that is spent on unemployment benefits in the economy, the dollars turn over and the economy is stimulated by $1.64. So there is an opportunity to not only do the right thing for Americans, which ought to be enough, but it is also an opportunity to stimulate the economy and one of the top ways we are told it can be stimulated. In other words, for every $1 we invest to help struggling American families, we get a 64-percent return on our investment. I would take that. That is a deal worth making.
So I close by once again calling on the President to join with us at this critical time in American history where families are being hit in so many different ways and to say yes to extending unemployment benefits for those who are out of work but looking very hard to find a job and are counting on us to do the right thing.
I would love it if we did not have to stand up and change this Velcro anymore. I would love it if we could just frame this right here--75 Republican filibusters--and stop. But that is not what is happening. We can do better than that. Certainly, the people in Michigan expect us to do better than that. I am going to do everything in my power--I know the Chair will as well--to be able to make good on what people are asking of us.
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