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Unemployment Compensation Extension Act Of 2009 - Motion To Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. JOHANNS. Mr. President, I rise this afternoon to speak to the pending issue, which is the extension of unemployment benefits.

The pending proposal basically says we would extend benefits for 14 weeks for all States. There would be an additional 6 weeks attached for those States that had unemployment that exceeded 8.5 percent.

You don't have to look very far around this country to see people are struggling. In fact, just an hour or so ago, I was pulled aside by a member of the media. He said: There are numbers coming out tomorrow that indicate some improvement here and there. What would your reaction to that be?

I said: You know, until we see improvement with unemployment, we will never convince the American people that things are better.

We are hearing 10 percent unemployment. I hope not, but some predict we will actually go over that number around Christmastime or the first of the year.

People across this country are struggling. Jobs are being cut. People are being laid off. As I said, many experts are predicting that unemployment could get into the double digits before we see any improvement.

I am not here to say the extension of unemployment benefits is the wrong course of action. Not at all. I am not here to dispute any of these assertions about how difficult this economy is for people. But what I am here to do today is to say this: If we are going to consider a bill of this nature, of this importance to people, I believe it is important that we, as Senators, have the ability to come to the floor to submit an amendment, to make our best case on the amendment, to ask for a vote on that amendment, and then see where it ends up.

The original stimulus bill--and again I emphasize, the stimulus bill--extended unemployment benefits for 33 weeks. So very clearly the majority of this body, considering the issue of extending unemployment at the time the stimulus was passed, said we should use stimulus funds. I would argue that the same logic applies today. This extension should also be from stimulus funds, and that is what my amendment would simply say.

Here are the reasons why: The stimulus bill, quite simply, did not provide the jobs that were promised. Put forth whatever excuse you want to put forth. Argue that maybe you didn't think the economy was as bad as it is, although I must admit I find that hard to imagine. But whatever the argument, the stimulus bill did not provide the promised jobs. The bill in front of us today would do this: It would levy a tax on our job creators--our businesses--of $2.4 billion to finance it. It is an 18-month tax on small businesses, which are the backbone of our job creators and certainly the backbone of our economy in the State of Nebraska.

The interesting thing about this extension of unemployment benefits is that it would expire in December but the taxes would live on for month after month after that expiration.

So you see, I think it is appropriate to come to the Senate floor to make the case that we should not be taxing the job creators in order to support those who are out of work and looking for a job. We should be encouraging those job creators to do all they can to add another job to bring these people back to employment.

To make this relevant to the citizens back home in Nebraska, this will have a $17 million impact on our businesses. That is $17 million that will not be spent on creating a single new job. It is $17 million that won't be spent to hire new workers.

I have talked to many of these businesses in our State, and they are saying to me: Mike, we are doing all we can to try to keep people employed. I don't want to do layoffs or any more layoffs, they tell me. But what we are saying to businesses is: We know you are struggling, we know you are fighting this brave battle to keep these families with a job, but here is another tax extension, and could you also go out and hire some new workers? This is simply out of touch--exactly what Washington was criticized for during our August townhall meetings.

A lot of jobs could be created if we expand this from my small State of Nebraska to a nationwide phenomena. Think of the jobs that could be created with $2.4 billion spent on salaries instead of on taxes.

I have this amendment which basically says this: A more sensible approach would be to use a very small portion of the unspent stimulus money to finance this extension. Don't tax these small businesses. The stimulus was sold as a shot in the arm. It was going to jump-start the economy. But that goal has proven very elusive. In fact, it has even been very difficult to get the money flowing. And don't take Mike Johanns' word on this. The Congressional Budget Office says that some of the stimulus money won't even be spent until 2018, 9 years from now. CBO predicts $22 billion will be spent in 2014, about 5 years from now. I don't know a single person who could argue that is a shot in the arm.

The Chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, Christina Romer, recently said:

Most analysts predict that the fiscal stimulus will have its greatest impact on growth in the second and third quarters of 2009.

She goes on to say:

By mid 2010, the fiscal stimulus will likely be contributing little to growth.

This baffles and frustrates the American people.

Piling more taxes on people who hire to help those without jobs makes no sense when you recognize that originally a portion of the stimulus money
was set aside to extend unemployment. Why not use a small--very small--portion of the overall sum to provide an extension?

Mr. President, I just want the opportunity to have an amendment that we can vote on, to be able to make the case that my amendment is a better alternative than what we are doing today. It uses unobligated stimulus funds to pay for the extension. It just simply says to the Office of Management and Budget: Go to the unused accounts--and having been a Cabinet member myself, I will tell you that those funds will be found--and allocate that money to help these people instead of taxing the job creators. My amendment requires only 1 percent--I repeat, 1 percent--of the original stimulus to pay for unemployment benefits. Why not use the money parked in these accounts--which literally is years away from being allocated--to stimulate this economy?

I would respectfully argue that my option gives all Americans a break. It allows the unemployed workers to have that important safety net while they struggle to find a job; it helps businesses that are fighting to stay open and to keep their employees in place, to keep that job in the family, and, my hope, to hire new workers; and it allows us to use taxpayer dollars--taxpayers who are tired of seeing their tax dollars wasted--in a way that I believe they would approve of.

Given the opportunity to submit this amendment on the floor of the Senate, I could ask for its support and we could send a message to the American people that we are listening to their concerns. This amendment immediately puts money back into the economy to pay the bills or wages and to put food on the table. Unfortunately, it appears increasingly likely that I will not be allowed to offer the amendment.

Mr. President, I have not been here a long time. I have been here about the same time as the Presiding Officer. But I have to tell you, one of the things that impresses me so much about this great body, this deliberative Senate, is that we have the ability, whether we are in the majority or the minority, to offer an idea, to craft an amendment--oftentimes that we get from a citizen back home--and to come to the floor and offer that amendment, make our best case, and then get a vote. It is a remarkable system. But what is happening these days is that precious right is being taken away from us.

I think this amendment makes sense. There may be many who will disagree with me. There will be many who will agree with me. All I am asking for is that I be given the right to offer the amendment, to make the case, and then to get a vote on this idea.

I yield the floor.


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