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Hakeem J.
Democrat NY 8

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  • Congressional Black Caucus Addresses Unemployment Benefits

    by Representative Hakeem S. Jeffries

    Posted on 2014-01-13

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    JEFFRIES. Let me thank my good friend, the distinguished gentleman from the Silver State and the anchor of today's CBC Special Order for his eloquence, his continued leadership and, of course, for all of the hard work that you have put in on behalf of the people that you represent back at home. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve with you, as well as with all of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who continue to be a voice for the voiceless, the conscience of the Congress fighting hard each and every day to bring to life the American Dream for the greatest number of people possible in this wonderful country of ours.

    Last week we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the war on poverty. In January of 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson came to this House before a joint session of Congress and rolled out a series of initiatives designed to march us toward what he would term the Great Society, a war on poverty to lift people out of their perilous condition and bring to life for them the American Dream.

    His war on poverty produced programs like Medicare and Medicaid, school breakfast, Head Start, the Food Stamp Act, minimum wage enhancement, Job Corps, college work study, program after program enacted between 1964 and 1966, which, taken together, were effective in lifting millions of Americans out of their impoverished condition.

    Fifty years later, we have made a tremendous amount of progress. But, unfortunately, there are many in this Chamber who, instead of continuing the great legacy started by President Lyndon Baines Johnson here in January of 1964, have instead engaged in what perhaps is more appropriately termed a war on the poor, a war on working families, a war on the middle class, a war on senior citizens, and, in its current manifestation, a war on the long-term unemployed.

    Unfortunately, whenever folks identify, set their sights on a government program that they don't like, the operating procedure follows a script that is all too familiar: demonize, downsize, and ultimately pulverize.

    First, the script says you have got to demonize the program; tell things to the American people that don't necessarily hold up to the scrutiny of a comprehensive factual examination. Once you demonize the program, it enables you to downsize it, to reduce its impact, to reduce our investment. Ultimately, the goal of those who are engaged in this war on the poor, war on the long-term unemployed in its current iteration, ultimately the goal is, once you have demonized it and downsized it, in some way, you just want to pulverize it.

    So if you think about this in the context of what we face right now in America, we have heard emanating from this Chamber and other parts of the country this caricature of individuals who supposedly are the long-term unemployed. As the gentleman from Nevada has indicated, we have heard representations suggestive that these are individuals who are couch potatoes sitting at home channel surfing, who only get exercise once a month apparently when they are running out to get their unemployment check and then race back into the house, and that is the only exercise that they get.

    What is the basis for this caricature? What analysis has been done of the 1.3 million Americans who you have unceremoniously thrown off the long-term unemployment rolls to come to this conclusion? You have no evidence to make this caricature.

    In fact, we know that current statistics suggest that here in America, while we have made significant progress since the Great Recession, 8.1 million private sector jobs that have been created, we know that we still have a way to go. For every 2.8 Americans who are looking for a job, only one job exists.

    So the facts are working against those who are unemployed at this point. It is not as if they are not working hard to find a job. The jobs statistically don't exist, simply in terms of the raw numbers. We have an economy that needs to produce more jobs.

    Now, what I found fascinating about this whole situation, in addition to this unwarranted caricature that you have created--folks on the other side of this debate who don't necessarily like unemployment insurance and have been plotting to work against it, perhaps since the moment that it was first put into effect in this great country--is that during the short time that Representative Horsford and Payne and Beatty and Veasey and myself have been here, what folks here in the Congress have systematically done is to undermine our ability to actually recover and produce jobs.

    This is now at least the third meaningful instance in which this type of unproductive legislative behavior has been witnessed. We first saw it in the march toward April 1 when economists subjectively warned that if we allow sequestration to take effect, what would happen is that we would cost the economy approximately 750,000 jobs. Yet folks on the other side of the aisle, many people in this town decided that, notwithstanding the random nature of the $85 billion in sequestration effects, the impact that it would have adversely on the economy, that we were going to allow sequestration to take hold on April 1. That is exactly what was done; an unproductive, unconstructive action that robs the American people of jobs that might have otherwise existed.

    Then in October of this past year, we see another unproductive action taken by those who constantly complain about the alleged slow pace of the economic recovery but then consistently take actions to undermine it. So on October 1, we shut down the government because of this unbridled obsession that some people have with the Affordable Care Act, even though at the time it was the law of the land, it remains the law of the land, passed by a duly elected Congress in 2010, signed into law by President Obama as a first-term President, passed constitutional muster in a decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, and then reaffirmed by the American people with the Electoral College landslide that took place in November of 2012. Yet you came to this floor and decided that you were going to shut down the government for 16 days.

    Why was that unproductive? Because not only did you push hardworking civil servants out of work, but objective analyses of the situation said you cost the economy $24 billion. And then you create this caricature that you want all of us to believe that the unemployed are simply sitting home with this alleged plethora of jobs that exist and they can't find them.

    Now we find ourselves in another situation where, instead of coming together to try and reasonably take steps to put Americans back to work, what you have decided to do, since unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed were allowed to expire on December 28, is that you are threatening to cost the economy an additional 240,000 jobs.

    So for the third time within the last 12 months, legislative malpractice here in the Congress essentially has resulted, or will result, in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars and billions of dollars in lost economic productivity. Yet you create this caricature that there are Americans sitting at home on the couch channel surfing, getting one day of exercise per month racing out to get their unemployment check.

    {time} 2015 There is no basis for that conclusion. That is why we are here on the floor of the House of Representatives, saying that we need to pass an extension of unemployment benefits and that we need to pass it now.

    As I prepare to yield to my good friend, I just want to point out that, at [[Page H181]] this point in time, as the chart reflects, the long-term unemployment rate in America is higher than it ever has been before as a percentage of those who are unemployed, which means that, today, 37.7 percent of those Americans who are receiving unemployment insurance are long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for 27 weeks or more.

    In prior instances, when this Congress and our government had allowed unemployment insurance to expire for the long-term unemployed, the percentage of those who actually had been out of work for 27 weeks or more was much lower--15 points lower when unemployment insurance was allowed to expire for this category of Americans in March of 2004, about 16 points lower when unemployment insurance was allowed to expire for this category of long-term unemployed folks in April of 1994 under President Clinton, and if my math serves me correctly, about 22 points lower in June of 1985 under President Reagan when unemployment benefits were allowed to expire.

    So we are in a very different situation than we have been in the past. It is an urgent situation. Progress has been made. We still have a long way to go, and that is why it is necessary for us to do everything possible to help out those Americans in need and not leave them on the battlefield simply to fend for themselves.

    Mr. HORSFORD. I appreciate very much the gentleman from New York--the coanchor--and the chronology and the facts that you have laid out to make the case that, unfortunately, it is not just the unemployment insurance benefits that have been under attack by the House Republicans to reauthorize or to extend but that there have been other bridges that have helped the middle class--or those who are aspiring to be part of the middle class--in just the last year that this Congress has failed to act on.

    May I inquire of the Speaker how much time we have left.

    The SPEAKER pro tempore. The gentleman from Nevada has 10 minutes remaining.

    Mr. HORSFORD. I would like to use that final 10 minutes then, Mr. Speaker, to close by highlighting the points that my colleague Mr. Jeffries just did a phenomenal job of laying out, one being that this is not the first time unemployment insurance benefits have been extended. In fact, this chart shows that while there is still more work to be done to help the unemployed--and I completely agree that our focus must be on creating jobs and on growing the economy. That is why the Congressional Black Caucus and individual Members like myself have proposed jobs-creating legislation. The first bill I introduced as a Member of Congress was a jobs-creating measure to help people in Nevada's Fourth District go to work, to help bring down our stubbornly high unemployment.

    For those who are in the unemployment calculation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from January 2007 to date, unemployment insurance has repeatedly been extended, including by Republican administrations. It was in June of 2008 that then-President George W. Bush authorized emergency unemployment insurance benefits to be extended. What was the unemployment rate at the time? 5.6 percent. He didn't extend unemployment insurance one time--he extended it five times--and he didn't offer a proposal for how it had to be paid because it was an emergency. It was an emergency then, and it is an emergency now with the national unemployment rate just below 7 percent. When 1.4 million Americans who rely on the unemployment insurance benefit have now lost it, it is an emergency for these individuals, and it is an emergency for our economy.

    So, for those on the other side who don't want to do this because it is the right thing to do for our neighbors, for hardworking Americans who have done everything that they can and at no fault of their own they are still unemployed, if you don't want to do it for that reason, then maybe do it because it is good for the local economy, because the money that is provided for under the unemployment insurance benefit is then spent by those beneficiaries in local grocery stores, and it is spent paying utility bills, paying rent, and that all helps affect the economy.

    Failing to renew the emergency unemployment insurance program will cost the economy, as my colleague from New York said, over 200,000 jobs this year, including 3,000 jobs in Nevada, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The expiration of the Federal unemployment insurance at the end of last week is already taking more than $400 million out of the pockets of American job seekers nationwide and of State and local economies, according to analysis done by the Ways and Means Committee. In Nevada, in the first week from the loss of uninsurance benefits expiring, $5.4 million has been lost. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has found that unemployment benefits are one of the most effective fiscal policies to increase economic growth and to help employment.

    So, if our colleagues on the other side don't want to do it because it is the right thing to do for those four out of five of the beneficiaries who have children, if they don't want to do it for half of the beneficiaries who have gone to some form of college, if they don't want to do it for the veterans who also rely in some part on unemployment insurance benefits, then do it for the local economy, but whatever your reason, do it.

    I would like to ask my colleague if he has any final remarks that he would like to offer. Then I want to close by just debunking this pay- for argument that some on the other side have again proposed, which is that the only way they are going to vote for something is if there is a plan to pay for it.

    Mr. JEFFRIES. I appreciate the distinguished gentleman from Nevada.

    I think that you have identified a subject matter that is important for discussion before the American people as a result of this argument that we have heard related to the need to pass unemployment benefits only if a pay-for or an offset or a host of programs on the GOP wish list is passed simultaneously to our trying to provide some measure of relief to unemployed Americans. I am going to let the distinguished gentleman from Nevada address this argument in the current situation, but I would note that we have seen this type of ransom-like behavior here in this Chamber before.

    We saw it when I first arrived on the floor of the House of Representatives. It was when we were waiting day after day, week after week, month after month for a Superstorm Sandy relief bill to be passed--more than 75 days, unprecedented in the history of our country's response to a natural disaster--for the people I represent back home who were devastated by Superstorm Sandy. The reason for the holdup was that this ransom-like demand of offsets--unprecedented in American history--was put before us. It was the same situation as it relates to the government shutdown, in which we were told that you can keep the government open--that is a proper function for us here in the Congress--but only under circumstances in which you delay, defund or destroy the Affordable Care Act--ransom-like behavior.

    Now we find ourselves in a similar situation, and I yield to my distinguished colleague from Nevada to lay out why we once again find ourselves dealing with unreasonable demands to do what otherwise is our proper duty here on the floor of the House of Representatives and in Washington.

    Mr. HORSFORD. I thank the gentleman from New York.

    As I come to a close, let me just say directly that, President George Bush did it five times and not with a pay-for. On December 14, 2012, during his Weekly Radio Address, he was reminding the Congress that no final bill was sent to him extending these unemployment benefits for 750,000 Americans whose benefits would expire on December 28.

    He went on to say: These Americans rely on their unemployment benefits to pay for their mortgage or rent and their critical bills. They need our assistance in these difficult times, and we cannot let them down.

    As I said, the unemployment rate at that time was below 6 percent, and it is now below 7 percent. It is time for this Congress to act, but if you demand a pay-for, then I have one suggestion: What about eliminating or closing a number of the corporate tax loopholes, such as eliminating the tax incentives for companies that get benefits for shipping American jobs overseas? Right now, the United States loses an estimated $150 billion annually to tax [[Page H182]] avoidance schemes involving tax havens. Many of our largest and most profitable companies paid no Federal taxes in previous years.

    So, for the other side to make this argument is disingenuous. It is unconscionable that you would hold hostage the benefits for 1.4 million Americans for 3 months at a cost of $6.5 billion when you have a Tax Code that is littered with corporate tax incentives for shipping American jobs overseas. If we were to close those tax loopholes, we could re-shore those jobs back to America, putting Americans back to work, reducing our unemployment rate, and growing America's economy. That is what we should be doing. That is why this Congress needs to act, and it is time for this Congress, under the leadership of the Speaker, to do just that.

    General Leave Mr. HORSFORD. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks and to include extraneous materials.

    The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Nevada? There was no objection.

    Mr. HORSFORD. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.


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