Bipartisanship Every Dayby Representative Gerald E. Connolly
Posted on 2014-01-09
CONNOLLY. Mr. Speaker, I salute my colleague for those eloquent
Mr. Speaker, the famed English poet Alfred Tennyson once wrote, ``Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come.'' Indeed, let's hope that this is the spirit that greets us here in the start of the second session of the 113th Congress. Having ended last year on a high note with the passage of the bipartisan budget agreement, we should resolve to keep that momentum going in this new year.
Our first order of business should be delivering on the bipartisan accord reached before the holidays. Thanks to that agreement, we, for the first time, will replace a portion of the indiscriminate cuts of sequestration with a more balanced approach. That is particularly important in communities like my own in northern Virginia which were disproportionately affected because of their strong ties to the Federal Government.
Next week's anticipated appropriations package will increase Federal investments in research, innovation, and transportation. That, in turn, will help unleash business investments and create jobs, which have lagged due to the sense of uncertainty fueled by the political brinkmanship here in Congress. Until those dollars produce results, we need to work together to extend the current safety net, specifically, unemployment insurance and nutrition assistance, to make sure we are not leaving our friends and neighbors behind.
We have made significant strides pushing down the unemployment rate to 7 percent, its lowest point in 5 years. We have added more than 8 million jobs in the past 4 years nationwide. That is still 1.3 million short of the number that were there before the Great Recession.
Equally important, 40 percent of the unemployed are long-term unemployed, 2 years or more. This structural unemployment has been devastating for those individuals and their families in their respective communities. That is why extending emergency unemployment benefits is so critically important. This is a lifeline that families rely on to keep food on the table.
More than 1.3 million Americans, including 9,000 in my own home State of Virginia and another 39,000 in the Speaker's State of Ohio, have already lost benefits because of Congress' inaction. Thousands more will see their benefits cut in the coming months. I remind my friends on the Republican side of the aisle that both unemployment insurance and nutrition assistance provide an immediate and tangible boost to our local economies. Pulling that assistance back now would be devastating in its effects and would undercut the economic momentum we have worked so hard to build these past few months.
Every dollar in assistance provided to the unemployed generates $1.64 in the local economy, and similarly, every dollar provided under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [[Page H81]] has a multiplier effect of $1.79. These programs have helped keep generations of families out of poverty even while income inequality is growing worse.
A recent report shows that nearly half of the Nation's schoolchildren now qualify for free and reduced lunches. Those children, who come from low-income homes, account for more than half of all of the students in 17 States, mostly in Republican districts in the South and the West, I might add. A decade ago, just four States reported a majority of their schoolchildren eligible for free and reduced school lunches.
While I and many of my colleagues remain hopeful that the House will extend these vital supports, we are disheartened to see that the very first legislative action scheduled by the House majority in this new year is a return to the cynical attack on the Affordable Care Act. Ironically, just this week, the actuaries for Medicare and Medicaid released a report showing that in the 4 years since the adoption of the Affordable Care Act, for the first time ever, national health care expenditures have grown at the slowest rate since the government began collecting that data 50 years ago. The growth for insurance premiums in particular has slowed more than 60 percent, which equates to real savings for real workers, real families, and for our government.
I want to work with my Republican colleagues to ensure proper oversight and accountability for the Affordable Care Act, but let's hang up this tired routine of trying to chip away or outright repeal these essential benefits and protections for families.
One of our Republican colleagues was quoted in the paper this week as saying, ``A lot of Republicans think the big, bipartisan deal was the budget agreement'' last year. Working together in a bipartisan fashion is not a limited exercise. It is what our citizens expect of us each and every day.