Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act—Motion to Proceedby Senator John Cornyn
Posted on 2014-01-08
CORNYN. Madam President, despite the differences between the
different sides of the aisle on the underlying legislation--
particularly on the refusal so far of the majority leader to actually
pay for the $6 billion cost of the 3-month extension of long-term
unemployment benefits and adding that $6 billion to the $17.3 trillion
national debt--I am confident both parties would like to find a way to
deal with the problem of America's long-term unemployed.
There are people who don't necessarily want to collect unemployment benefits because they want a job and they want to work. They want to provide for their families.
Even as we stand here and debate yet another extension of Federal unemployment benefits, it is important that we keep the big picture in mind. Obviously, what we are talking about--just to remind everybody-- is the basic unemployment program, which provides half a year or 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Democrats want to extend that emergency measure, which was enacted after the fiscal crisis of 2008 and now appears to be permanent. We have spent $250 billion since 2008, and to continue to recklessly borrow money from our creditors, such as the Chinese, and others, and leave it for our children to pay back--how responsible is that? The best way to help the unemployed and the best way to help Americans and America is to increase economic growth and increase job creation.
We had a grand experiment known as the stimulus, which was back in 2009 when we had $1 trillion worth of borrowed money. Grand projections were made at that time that if the Federal Government would just spend borrowed money rather than have the private sector do it, we would see unemployment rates plummet, and, of course, that has proven not to be the case. In fact, this economic recovery after the great recession of 2008 has been the slowest economic recovery we have seen since the Great Depression back in the 1930s.
Congress and the Federal Government can't adopt policies that hamper growth and discourage job creation and expect the economy to grow and jobs to be created. Let me say that again. You can't adopt policies that actually discourage small businesses from starting a business or growing their business and creating jobs and expect jobs and economic growth to follow. What that means is that, notwithstanding the good intentions of those who embrace some of these policies, they are actually hurting the unemployed no matter how many times they want to extend unemployment benefits on a long-term basis. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Obama administration has done time and time again.
Let me say that I am confident President Obama would like to help people who can't find work. I am sure the President believes as well that ObamaCare will improve the health care system for 300-plus million Americans. The problem is that we have seen that this experiment in big government and government takeovers--whether it is of the health care system or through a $1 trillion stimulus package--simply has not worked. At some point good intentions have to give way to reality and the facts, especially when those good intentions are not translated into good results.
Let me give one example. Recently, I was in Tyler, TX--which is over in northeast Texas near Louisiana--at a restaurant doing a roundtable on the impact of the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, on employers, such as the owner of the small diner where we met. He told many tales, but one story that stuck in my mind was of a single mother who, instead of working her normal 40 hours a week, was relegated to a part-time job of 30 hours a week, and that is in order for her employer to avoid the penalties and mandates of ObamaCare. So what this single mom has to do in order to compensate for her lost income is to find another part-time job. So instead of working 40 hours at one job, she works 60 hours at two jobs in order to make up for that lost income. Here again, if the President and his allies think we are going to make up for the lost wages this single mom is making by having her workweek cut from 40 hours to 30 hours, I think they need to think again. That is what I mean when I say the policies of this administration have actually hurt the very people they now say they want to help by increasing long-term unemployment benefits.
It is true that facts are stubborn, and there is a mountain of evidence that says if we pay people too generously, it actually discourages some people from actively seeking employment. In fact, several years ago, President Obama's own former chief White House economist said that ``job search is inversely related to the generosity of employment benefits.'' Translated, that means if we pay people too much not to work, some people are going to be persuaded not to look for work.
Indeed, I know there are perhaps many explanations for the slow economic recovery and the high rate of unemployment, which is up around 7 percent, including the largest number of people who simply dropped out of the workforce in the last 30 years, known as the labor participation rate. There are a lot of reasons for why we find ourselves where we are now. But adding benefits for people not to work and not dealing with the underlying problem of slow economic growth and people being discouraged from creating new jobs or making full-time work part-time work--we need to be looking at the root causes of the problem as well as the problems and the policies of this administration time and time again.
The majority leader and his allies want to extend benefits for 3 more months--3 more months. This is on top of the 26 weeks which are part of the basic unemployment compensation package. But my question is, if we want to extend it for 3 months, where will we find ourselves 3 months from now? Will we be met with yet another request for the extension of long-term unemployment benefits that adds another $6 billion to the deficit? What about 3 months later? I hope I can be forgiven for saying this feels like a political exercise more than a sincere effort to deal with the underlying problem of joblessness in our country, particularly since we are $17.3 trillion in debt, something the President seems to not care one bit about. Also, as the Federal Reserve begins to wind down their bond-buying program, we are going to see interest rates go up and we are going to end up spending more and more tax dollars just to pay our creditors for the debt while we ought to be focused on dealing with some of the root causes of unemployment.
Let me get back to my point. Some Republicans have offered to find ways to pay for this 3-month extension. My impression is that if that were done, it would probably happen--for 3 months. But we have also suggested long-term reforms that would make our system of unemployment insurance more effective. Senator Alexander, a former Secretary of Education and former Governor of Tennessee, discussed yesterday at our conference lunch some ideas he has, including making Pell grants--I think they are in excess of $5,000 per person--available so people can study job retraining at community colleges during that 26 weeks of unemployment. So if they can't find a job in their existing field, they can learn new skills that will allow them to get well-paying jobs in another field, using those Pell grants for job retraining.
There are a lot of good ideas about how we can improve the unemployment system if, in fact, the majority leader will just allow it. He remains agnostic, I would say, at this point about whether he is even going to allow us to offer amendments to pay for the 3-month extension or some of these good, solid ideas of dealing with the root problems [[Page S95]] rather than just continuing to treat the symptom with the same lack of success in terms of decreasing joblessness and getting the economy back on track.
I know many of our colleagues on the other side share these same goals. Yet the majority leader has made it clear this week that he is more interested in rhetoric and political gamesmanship than in real reform. That is why I objected on Monday night when 17 Senators were missing. The majority leader wanted to have a vote on cloture that was doomed to fail. Why? Not because he was interested in a real solution but because he wants a ``gotcha'' moment, to say, look, with 17 Senators missing, the 60-vote threshold for cloture was not going to be achieved. What possible purpose could be served by having that vote then instead of doing it on Tuesday? The vote was moved to Tuesday, at which time that 60-vote threshold was met. The only conclusion I can draw is the majority leader was interested in a ``gotcha'' moment instead of a real solution. Fortunately, he reconsidered and moved it to Tuesday.
So far, the majority leader is refusing to pay for this extension of benefits. They are refusing to change the program by modernizing it, making it more efficient, and helping people learn new skills so they can get back to work, and they are refusing to consider any other ideas than those cooked up in the majority leader's conference room behind closed doors.
I have in my hand 11 Republican amendments, many of them are bipartisan or they enjoy bipartisan support. For example, Senator Paul from Kentucky has the Economic Freedom Zones Act. I saw the President announce this morning--I think there were five and he calls them by another name--basically, the same sort of concept, looking at blighted areas and trying to provide incentives for investment and job creation in those areas of high unemployment. So Senator Paul has a bill that would deal with that.
Senator Portman from Ohio has a reform that would prohibit simultaneous collection of disability benefits and unemployment. That is double-dipping, it seems to me, and something we ought to be dealing with.
Senator Moran of Kansas has a bill he calls the Startup Act 2.0, which is a jobs bill.
Senator Coats of Indiana wants to offset the extension of unemployment insurance by delaying individual and employer mandates for 1 year. The President has already done that unilaterally for employer mandates. Why not delay the individual mandate for 1 year and use that to offset this extension for 3 months of unemployment insurance? So there are plenty of ideas out there. I mentioned some of them. Both of the Senators from Oklahoma have amendments that would be good amendments to offer on this legislation. The Senator from Louisiana has one. The Senator from New Hampshire has one. So these are at least 11 ideas. If the majority leader would allow us to actually have a real debate as opposed to a political exercise, I believe we could come up with a bipartisan consensus that would actually help deal with the underlying problem and not just treat the symptoms in a way that ignores those root causes.
Let me get back to what I think is cause No. 1 for the difficulties many small businesses are having and the difficulties many people who work for those small businesses are having; that is, ObamaCare. I realize some people would like us to believe this is all about the Web site and once the Web site gets fixed it is all going to be hunky-dory, regardless of the fact that more people have lost their current coverage by cancellation than have been signed up on the ObamaCare exchanges.
The administration seems particularly proud of the fact that ObamaCare has added hundreds of thousands of Americans to Medicaid. As we all know, this is the safety net program designed to help low-income people. The problem is Medicaid itself is a fundamentally broken program that is failing our neediest citizens. The problems with Medicaid are a stark reminder that access to coverage does not mean the same thing; access to coverage is different from having access to care.
Here is what I mean by that. In Texas only about one-third of doctors will see a new Medicaid patient. Someone might say that doesn't make much sense. It does if we consider the fact that Medicaid--this government program--pays doctors about 50 cents on the dollar of what a private insurance coverage would pay, and because it reimburses at such a low rate, some physicians have simply said: I can't continue to add new patients to my practice and be compensated 50 cents on the dollar. So they have limited their practice. That is what I mean when I say there is a difference between access to coverage and access to care.
Medicaid is sorely in need of reform. All across the country, Medicaid patients have been forced to endure the humiliating experience of walking into a doctor's office and then getting turned away because the office doesn't accept Medicaid for the reason I mentioned.
We have also seen lawsuits brought by providers and patients against their own State Medicaid Program, saying the reimbursement rates are so low, doctors can't actually see patients at that price. In Texas, a 2012 survey conducted by the Texas Medical Association shows that a large majority of Texas physicians agree that Medicaid is broken and should not be used as a mechanism to reduce the uninsured. Despite all of that, there are those who say that ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion will help hospitals cope with excessive emergency room visits. Again, the problem is that flies in the face of the facts. In a recent study in Oregon, Medicaid recipients in Oregon went to the emergency room 40 percent more frequently than people without health insurance. One might ask why in the world would they go to the emergency room for routine care if they have Medicaid coverage? Because they can't find a doctor to see them at Medicaid prices. Again, ObamaCare is creating the illusion of access but with no real access to care but for through the emergency room.
There are much better ways to expand health coverage than simply pushing Americans into a dysfunctional safety net program that is supposed to help the most vulnerable in our society but which does not. Our side of the aisle made that argument consistently 4 years ago, but the President and his allies chose not to listen and decided to go it themselves on a purely party-line vote when ObamaCare was passed. Maybe after voters render their verdict on ObamaCare in November, we will have another chance to revisit this issue.
Rather than asking the States to expand their existing Medicaid Programs, the Federal Government should give each State greater flexibility to design a program that meets those States' needs. What works best in Texas may not work as well in New York and vice versa. What we ought to do is give the States a defined amount of Medicaid funds with very few strings attached so they can create innovative programs that provide quality care. One of the good things about doing that is the States would actually be the laboratories of democracy we have talked about from time to time, where we can actually learn from best practices and innovations, and other States can then use that knowledge to improve access to quality health care at a more affordable price.
I will tell my colleagues that despite all of our differences over ObamaCare, Republicans and Democrats alike both want to find a way to make health care more affordable and more accessible. Unfortunately, ObamaCare has proven not to have worked out as the most ardent advocates hoped or promised.
Republicans believe the best way to achieve these goals is to leave the choices in the hands of patients. That is the fundamental difference between ObamaCare and the alternatives. The President wants the government to choose the plan, to choose the doctor, and to make those decisions for patients. We think it is better to leave those choices in the hands of patients, in consultation with their own personal physicians--a doctor they have come to trust over the years-- to help counsel them on what are wise health care choices for themselves and their families. We can add to that by increasing transparency and enlarging a real marketplace so people can shop, as consumers do day in and day out. We know that kind of transparency in [[Page S96]] terms of price and competition, when it comes to people providing a service, improves the quality, and it lowers costs. That is what our market economy teaches us. We know, I would hope by now, the answer is not to place more people into a broken government program that takes their choices away.
As I said earlier, good intentions do not always produce good results. But I would hope we would learn from our mistakes as individuals, as a Congress. The results of the last 5 years include some pretty miserable outcomes that I would hope would cause us to reconsider, as we go forward together, to try to address the problem of chronic joblessness in our society.
As I said, the last 5 years have given us the longest period of high unemployment since the Great Depression, a massive decline in labor workforce participation. The percentage of people actually looking for work has declined to a 30-year low. It has also given us growing income inequality--the thing the President says he cares the most about, but he does not offer any proposals that deal with the underlying cause, merely treating the symptoms by paying people extended unemployment benefits.
We have seen an explosion of job-killing regulations. I am reminded when I see the Presiding Officer that I think the city with the lowest unemployment rate in America is Bismarck, ND, if I am not mistaken. Close behind that is Midland, TX. The two things they have in common are the shale gas renaissance and the jobs that have been created by unleashing this great American job-creating machine and particularly in the energy sector. So what we need to do is look for ways to avoid some of the job-killing regulations, which make it harder, not easier, to produce those jobs in places such as North Dakota and Texas.
We have also seen millions of canceled health care policies, millions of people with higher premiums, not lower premiums like the President offered and promised. We have seen an unprecedented increase in our national debt and an incredible complacency when it comes to adding $6 billion more to our national debt for a 3-month extension of long-term unemployment benefits.
We have seen, not surprisingly, associated with all of this a huge erosion in the public trust in the Federal Government. That is why this side of the aisle has been pushing, and will continue to push, a new set of policies that address the biggest concerns of the American people and the biggest challenges facing the American dream.
The only question is this list of 11 bills that Senators on this side of the aisle would like to offer on this underlying legislation, not just to treat the symptoms of unemployment, but actually deal with the root causes--whether the majority leader is going to allow those amendments to be taken up, debated, and voted on, and to allow the Senate to work its will on a bipartisan basis. That remains to be seen. If he does not--and recent history does not give me a lot of optimism that he will--then I think it will become even more transparent that this is not an exercise in trying to help people who are out of work. This is an exercise in trying to politicize this in a way that distracts attention from the epic failure of ObamaCare and its wet blanket effect on the American economy and job creation.
So I guess hope springs eternal. You cannot serve in this body and hope to make a difference in the lives of the American people without being an optimist by nature, but, unfortunately, in the case of the majority leader and this, there is some doubt in my mind. I hope he proves me wrong. I hope he will open this up to an amendment process that will allow us to deal with the root causes and will not just be another exercise in gotcha Washington politics.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Indiana.