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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Oklahoma.
Mr. President, we are here today because Republicans are objecting again to critical legislation and critical problem-solving efforts that are going to help middle-class families, that are going to help move us forward as a country.
We have seen, over and over, a pattern in the last year and 2 years ago when they first began to move this kind of a strategy forward, of blocking, blocking, blocking, saying no, saying no, saying no, rather than working together to solve critical issues.
People are facing some of the most daunting challenges right now, more than they ever have in their lifetime--either trying to hold on to their job, trying to find a job, trying to make sure they have medical care for their families--and we have taken a very critical step this week to be able to ease some of those challenges and fears. Americans are struggling in an economy they didn't create, and when we look over this pattern, I am compelled to speak for a moment about it.
Over the history of our country, we have never seen such obstruction, efforts to block what we are doing, as we are now seeing. In the last 2 years, there were a total of 139 filibusters and efforts to block. That was in a 2-year period. Today, barely into the new year, after a little over a year, we are at 130 different times that the other party has said no to doing things that would help middle-class families, that would help small businesses, and that would help us move this country forward. One hundred thirty times. Unheard of, never happened before.
I know for people watching, they probably wonder: What in the world is going on here, and why should we care about procedure? We just want you to solve problems. But it is the effort we saw in the past with the Senator from Kentucky, who blocked for days our effort to move forward and extend unemployment benefits for families who are out of work through no fault of their own. People want to work, Mr. President, as you know, and they work hard. It is not their fault this economy went into a tailspin, which, quite frankly, in my judgment, was caused as a result of the policies of the previous administration that for 8 years chose to focus on just a few people. So the people in Michigan are saying: What about the rest of us? What about the rest of us? We are not the Wall Street fat cats. We are not the CEOs with the big bonuses or the people who got the big tax cuts. We are just working every day. We just want the American dream for our kids. We want to know things are going to be better. We want to know we can send our kids to college so they will have a great opportunity to be the best they can be.
That is who we are fighting for, and that is why we took subsidies from banks this week and gave the money directly to students, to create opportunities for those who want to go to college. That is why we have focused on lowering costs for middle-class families and small businesses on health insurance. But we are back here today because, unfortunately, our Republican colleagues are trying to score political points on the backs of people who have lost their jobs.
Now, I know a great way to bring down the deficit, and one that hasn't been tried. The 8 years that our colleagues were in control, along with President Bush, they focused on the people at the top and said that was going to do it. If it had worked, that would have been great, but unfortunately they left everybody else behind, and we saw what happened. So I have a great idea. Let's focus on putting everybody back to work so they can contribute to our economy by paying their taxes, and that will pay down the deficit. That is what President Clinton did. That is what the Democrats did when we were last in control. That is what we are focused on doing now--putting people back to work--because that is the formula for bringing down this deficit.
The challenge we have is that we have one job for every six people who are looking right now. So we aren't in a situation yet where we have the jobs available for every person who wants to work and is able to work. That is what we are laser-focused on here in the Congress. But we need to continue to understand, as Senator Harkin has said, that too many families are caught in this economic tsunami. Whether it is a flood, a hurricane, or the fact that your community got wiped out because a plant closed, it is an economic emergency.
We have always stepped up and funded the extension of unemployment benefits as an emergency with emergency funding. We have always done that, and now we are being asked to change that. We weren't asked to change it for Wall Street and the bailout. We weren't asked to change it for the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. But we are being asked to change it on the backs of working people, and I believe that is wrong.
We are still recovering from the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, but we are recovering. When President Obama took office, we were losing 800,000 jobs a month--too many of them in my great State of Michigan. We are now, at the end of the year, down to losing close to zero a month. That is better--not good enough, so we must stay focused, but we are hearing that we are going to have some pretty good numbers from March, where people are actually going back to work and jobs are being created. I don't want to stop and I know the Presiding Officer doesn't want to stop until every single person who is able to work and who wants a job has the dignity of work so that we give breadwinners the ability to bring the bread home. And that is what this is about.
So we are in a situation where we are in transition, and too many families are caught. In my great State, the unemployment rate is still the highest in the country--14.1 percent. It is coming down slowly, but it is still way too high. We have almost 700,000 people who have lost their jobs and are looking for work. But that is only the official number. That doesn't include the people who are working one part-time job, two part-time jobs, three part- time jobs trying to hold it together or people who have been out of work so long they no longer qualify for any kind of help. Those numbers are much bigger.
Every day, the unemployment insurance agency in Michigan gets 13,000 to 15,000 phone calls from people asking for help--every day. Every single day, up to 15,000 phone calls come in from people in Michigan who are desperate about what they are going to do in this situation. Well, we can help them. That is what this is about. That is what we are trying to do.
If this isn't an emergency, I don't know what is. The other side says: No, it is not an emergency. But for families who have lost their jobs and who are trying to find work, trying to put food on the table, I can assure you, this is an emergency. It is an economic disaster. When 14.9 million people around the country are unemployed, to me, that is a disaster. And those are the people we are fighting for today, yesterday, tomorrow. Those are the people who, when Wall Street got bailed out, said to us: What about us? Well, part of the answer is, to make sure they can keep a roof over their head and food on the table, to allow them to receive unemployment benefits. And these aren't huge numbers. They do not begin to match the Wall Street bonuses. We are talking about $250, $300 a week. But it may be the difference between being able to keep your family going or not.
In this legislation, we have a very important provision on health care--on COBRA. When COBRA was put in place, it was a great idea. If you lost your job, you could pay to continue the health insurance your employer was providing. The problem is, it is way too expensive when you are paying both the employee and the employer side. So last year, in the Recovery Act, we put some help in place: 65 percent would be paid for by the Federal Government to help families keep their insurance going. That is also a part of this--to keep that going so families can keep their health care. That is extremely important.
We need to focus on the real challenges families are facing today and work together across the aisle to tackle those. People are so tired of the games. They are so tired of it. They watch what is happening here, and they say: What are these people thinking? What are they doing?
I know that politically folks may gain points by objecting, blocking, filibustering 130 times, but it makes the whole process look messy--terribly messy. It causes people to lose faith in their government. That may seem to have some short-term advantage, but I believe that is a disastrous direction for our country. People want to know we are going to work together. People are going to want to know we put priorities in the right place so that we are focusing on the majority of Americans, not an elite few.
The great thing about our country is the middle class. That is what has always differentiated us from other countries--the fact that we make things, we grow things, and we add value to it. And by the way, we make things and grow things very well in Michigan, Mr. President. We will take on any State. We will take on anybody. We know how to do things. We know how to work, we know how to make things.
But we have not had this focus over the last decade on strengthening that middle class. We are turning that around now, and I am very proud of the fact that we are seeing manufacturing begin to turn, that we are seeing efforts that we put in place through the Recovery Act putting people back to work.
Too many families are not yet feeling that economic recovery, and this is for them. This is about saying to the American people, middle-class families across the country: You know what, we get it. We are sorry you are having to go through this, and we are going to do our part. We are going to do whatever we can to make sure you have the resources to keep things together while you are going out and looking for that job or going back to job training and holding things together with bits and pieces--odd jobs, part-time jobs--until this economy turns around.
We know, ultimately, that it is about jobs. We know, ultimately, it is about the private sector creating those jobs. But there is a partnership we need to have between the Federal Government and our industry so they can successfully compete in a global economy. Rather than focusing on Democrats versus Republicans, who can score the next short-term gain in the election, we should be coming together and realize that this is an economic race between the United States and China, it is the United States versus Japan, it is the United States versus Korea. We are in a global economic race. Instead of spending time objecting, playing games, filibustering at an unheard of rate in our history--absolutely unheard of; never before have we seen this kind of obstruction--we ought to be coming together and be laser-focused on China, which is spending $288 million every day--$288 million every day--to beat us on clean energy technology. Let's make that the fight. Let's make that the fight together.
This is the wrong place and time to be obstructing and playing games. It is the wrong place to say that suddenly we want to balance the deficit on the backs of people who are out of work through no fault of their own; that we are going to change the rules now; that it is no longer an emergency and no longer emergency spending. We shouldn't be changing the rules now and doing it to people who are out of work. That is not fair.
I say to my colleagues: Don't block democracy. Just vote--today. We can vote on this up or down. We can vote on it. Don't obstruct; just vote. You want to make a motion, you want to vote, a majority vote, fine. Let's vote. But don't force a filibuster and don't object and don't threaten a filibuster. Just vote. We are happy to vote.
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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I thank my colleague for his extraordinary leadership on the Armed Services Committee and his efforts to make sure we have the staff, the leadership in our Department of Defense, our military, on behalf of our troops. It is very regrettable that once again we are seeing obstructionism, blocking us from moving forward.
I do not know the exact number now, but I know we have over 70 different positions that are being held up. They have been held up, many of them, for over a year now in the Obama administration--many related to jobs, to commerce, to trade, to the Department of Defense--and it continues to be part of what we are seeing over and over and over again in efforts to just function, have government be able to function.
Mr. President, for so long--I know there are all the politics of people believing they can gain points because of debating whether government is good or bad, whether it is the problem, whether it is the solution--I think the majority of the American people just want it to work well. They want us to work together, and they want the services that are to be provided, whether it is supporting our troops in the military, whether it is providing education for our children, whether it is police officers on the street, whether it is making sure the water our children drink is safe, or whatever it is. They want it to work well and make sure every dollar we are spending on their behalf is spent with them in mind and it is done well and we are doing it efficiently and effectively.
I do have to say, in looking at the beautiful picture of the child my friend from Oklahoma held up--talking about children and the future--this week, we completed a process that will make sure it is illegal to block that child from getting health insurance because of a preexisting condition. I wish our colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle had chosen to join with us in that very important effort to make sure every child can receive the health insurance they need, that every parent can have freedom from the fear that when they go to bed at night they are not going to have to say one more time: Dear God, please don't let the kids get sick because I don't know what I am going to do.
So we do care about those children. We have put into place a health insurance reform plan that is going to make sure every pregnant mom gets prenatal care and has maternity care, which in a majority of private-sector insurance plans you can go out and buy for yourself, they do not cover it. I am happy to have a discussion about children and about making sure they can afford to go to college, which was also in the bill we passed this week--providing more opportunity for children. I am happy to have that discussion.
But it is amazing to me we continue to be lectured by the people who got us into this mess because of their economic policies. We are now lectured on probably a daily basis about the size of the deficit. We understand that. I was very proud to be in the House of Representatives when President Clinton and the Democrats balanced the budget for the first time in 30 years. When I came into the Senate, the big debate was what to do about the surplus. We were looking at almost a $6 trillion surplus over 10 years. Well, unfortunately, under President Bush, under a Republican Congress, that went away pretty fast: by not paying for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans--somehow that was OK--by not paying for two wars, by not paying for a prescription drug effort under Medicare. During those 8 years, somehow it did not matter there was a credit card being run up, that a huge surplus that had been accumulated through tough decisions, very tough choices, in the 1990s was somehow squandered away. So I have a hard time hearing over and over again about the deficit and being lectured as if somehow President Obama or the Democrats caused that deficit.
I am not saying we do not have a challenge right now and a huge hole, and that we are not in a situation where we need to do emergency spending because of this economic disaster that has gone on. I understand that. I understand we are currently in a situation to be forced into a position because there are no savings to help people. Now we are in a deficit position. But I find it interesting that all of a sudden, when we are in a situation where middle-class families need help--all of a sudden, when working people in this country need help--this is an issue, when it was not an issue for 8 years during the Bush administration. That is what I find difficult.
We have put back in place the budget rules that were in place during the Clinton years, and we are going to dig ourselves out of this deficit. We passed a health insurance reform bill that over the next two decades is going to decrease the deficit by over $1.2 trillion. We know there is a hole. We understand that. But we also understand that middle-class families--who are under the crunch, who are losing their jobs, who are trying to figure out how to pay the bills--did not cause that, and the solutions being proposed now would put it right on their backs. That is what we say no to. Because it is about time, as people in my State say, we focus on the rest of us. What about the rest of us in this country--not just those in the privileged, few powerful positions, the people on Wall Street? That is what this is about. This is fundamentally a debate about that. That is what we are talking about today.
I also want to indicate what we are talking about is extending an emergency program put in place in 2008 because of the economic disaster that families are facing. It is not the regular unemployment program. It is what was put in place in 2008 because of job loss, because of the fact that we got to a point where we are losing 600,000, 700,000, 800,000 jobs a month. That is a disaster as much as a hurricane, a flood, or anything else that could happen to families and communities.
Since that time, we have extended it--as we are asking to extend it--on four different occasions. We are asking right now for at least 2 weeks until the long-term extension gets passed by the House. For 2 weeks let us extend it, or 30 days. Let us extend it so there is not a gap in coverage, so we do not have families, who are feeling stress already, now reading in the papers that the unemployment extension is going to stop and trying to figure out what in the world they are going to do during this period of time. We are asking for 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 4 weeks to be able to extend it until the House is able to pass the long-term extension.
We are right back where we were again: objection, objection, objection on being able to do that--more objections than we have ever had in the history of our country in terms of process. We find ourselves in a situation where, even though we have not adjourned--I will emphasize that: Senator Reid, the majority leader, did not adjourn. We could have votes. I realize people have left. We could have voted last night. We wanted to vote last night. Our only option to overcome this was to start a process to stop a filibuster, which takes 2 days and voting and 30 hours, and all of this, and they know that. So we could have voted last night: yes or no. We could have done that last night. But, once again, as we have had 130 different times, we are in a situation where there has been objection, objection, objection.
This is very much about priorities. My friends on the other side of the aisle talk about priorities. Yes, this is about priorities. It is about values. And it is about who you are fighting for. Fundamentally, it is about who you are fighting for. I can tell you, the people in Michigan--hard-working people, middle-class Americans, families who care deeply about this country; they love this country--are tired of decisions being made for a few at the top. They are tired of the games and the obstructionism that has gone on and on and on. They want us to get things done--real things that affect their lives. That is what they want to have us get done.
I see my distinguished friend from Rhode Island on the floor--a champion on this issue, a fighter for Rhode Island, working men and women, and someone who has been on this floor over and over again fighting to make sure people who are out of work through no fault of their own have the opportunity to receive some help, some short-term help.
I now yield to my friend from Rhode Island up to 10 minutes.
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