Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act—Motion to Proceedby Senator Rob Portman
Posted on 2014-01-08
PORTMAN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order
for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. PORTMAN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that Senator McConnell or his designee be recognized from 2 o'clock to 2:45 this afternoon.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. PORTMAN. Madam President, I rise today to address the question that is currently before the body; that is, whether we should extend the emergency unemployment insurance for millions of Americans who are still unable to find work. This is in addition to the 26 weeks that is provided in most States--some a little more, some a little less--and the question is whether we extend this again, as we have done several times since the great recession. The question is, should we extend it and, if so, how should we extend it? Should we pay for it? Should there be some training or other requirements attached to it so it works better? It is a good debate to have. I came on the floor yesterday to say let's have a full debate on this issue. It is one of great importance to folks who are unemployed. It is also important to our Nation as a whole that we deal with this issue, to encourage economic growth, to get people back to work. I was encouraged yesterday that the Senate majority would permit appropriate amendments to this legislation. That is one reason I voted to proceed, of course with the understanding that we would have the opportunity to talk about this issue, and debate it, and offer amendments. One ought to be how we pay for it.
Second, we ought to be able to deal with the underlying problem. Unemployment insurance is more of a bandaid, and we need to be sure we are dealing with the underlying problem of a weak economy and the lack of jobs and the lack of a connection between the skills that are needed and the jobs that are available. Let's really get at this problem in a serious way.
I will be frank. I heard from a lot of people in the last 24 hours-- after the vote on the motion to proceed--that they were surprised that I voted to proceed and that other Republicans did as well because they thought Republicans would all vote against it. In fact, I saw some press reports this morning indicating that some of the Democratic leadership would have been happier had that motion failed last night because then they could say: Well, we are blaming Republicans for being obstructionist.
I do not think my colleagues who voted the other way were being obstructionist. I think their concern was that they were not going to have the opportunity to debate this issue and to offer amendments that are sensible, that are relevant to the issue at hand--like how we pay for it, how we improve unemployment insurance so it works better for those who are unemployed.
But anyway, for my part, I took my colleagues at their word when they said they were serious about actually improving unemployment insurance and taking serious steps to deal with the lack of growth and economic opportunity in our economy today. So in good faith I voted on this motion to proceed yesterday, hoping again that we would be willing here in this body to have real debate, which is what the Senate is supposed to be about, have a debate over the long-term fiscally sound way forward on unemployment. I have come to the floor today in an effort to be sure that people understand there are alternatives out there, offer a specific idea to pay for the insurance, one that deals with fraud and abuse, one that is out of the President's budget actually, one that should be bipartisan.
I have heard earlier today, some have come to the floor on their side of the aisle and said: We should not pay for this extension. We should just go further into debt and deficit. My question would be: If we can pay for it, why would we not? Why would we want to take the country further into deficit this year, bust the budget caps that we just established in the budget agreement? I was one of nine Republicans who voted for that budget agreement. It was not perfect, but it set up a process going forward where we can get back to our constitutional duties here in the Senate of actually appropriating, meaning the oversight necessary of the Federal departments and agencies. There has been none over the last 4 years when we have not had a budget. Then prioritizing spending. That is what we are supposed to be doing. That is our constitutional responsibility.
It also did not raise taxes. It also does have a little bit of deficit reduction--not as much as it should have; it was not perfect, but it enabled us to move forward. So I voted for that budget. Now we are talking about, right after that, putting forward an unemployment emergency extension that is not paid for, that will bust those very caps. I am told a budget point of order is going to lie against this because of it.
That is not the way we should go. Let's pay for it. The debt and deficit are affecting our economy today. It is like a wet blanket over the economy. You cannot have trillion-dollar deficits year in and year out. This year it is $680 billion. People are saying, well, that is great.
Are you kidding? That is the fifth highest deficit in the history of our country. It all adds up to a $17 trillion debt--unprecedented. I believe that is understated given all the liabilities we have as a government. But the point is, we have never had debts of this level. They are historic levels. It is not only the wrong thing to do for our economy today and to help getting people back to work, but it is also clearly unfair to do to future generations. We have some young people on the floor this afternoon. It is even immoral that we are leaving this to them. So let's pay for this.
I was glad to hear Senator Reid say yesterday of our efforts to fund this legislation, ``If they come with something serious, I'll talk to them.'' Well, I have something serious--I think other Members will as well--something that reflects, in my case, reforms proposed in the President's own budget, ideas that should be bipartisan.
My amendment would close a loophole that opens the system to double dipping. What do I mean by that? It is called concurrent receipts, where somebody is getting one Federal program, and then another Federal program they should not be eligible for if they have got the first one, specifically, people who are both on Social Security disability insurance, meaning they cannot work, SSDI, and also receiving funds from unemployment insurance, which means you are looking for a job or you are working. We also add trade adjustment assistance. That is exactly the same theory.
We should not allow double dipping. In fact, we should stop this abuse. This is in the President's budget. This reform makes sense. Social Security disability was designed to help people who are unable to work because of a serious medical condition. As we all know, the law requires those on unemployment insurance to actively seek out job opportunities. So the two do not work together. Let's stop the double dipping. These two programs are mutually exclusive. Those who cannot work should be on disability. Those who can work should be on unemployment insurance if they are eligible. By passing this simple amendment, we can close this loophole and save $5.4 billion, almost enough to pay for the entire 3-month extension that we are talking about on the table here today, which is about $6.2, $6.3 billion.
In addition, I will be adding another provision to my amendments that [[Page S108]] takes the unemployment insurance program integrity provisions directly out of the President's budget. These are programs again in the President's budget to ensure that the unemployment insurance program is working properly, again taking out the fraud and the abuse in it. The President's budget instructs the Department of Labor to implement it. My amendment does too. By implementing the President's own plan to reduce these improper payments and speed reemployment, we save even more money in the long run. This pays for, again, this unemployment extension over 3 months.
I hope we can pass my amendment, pay for this extension, and show that this legislation is not just about politics--what we are talking about here on the floor is not just about politics, it is about actually helping people who are unemployed to get back to work. I hope when my Democratic colleagues say they are ready to take real action on getting our economy moving again, to help Americans who are suffering, they mean it.
By the way, the fact that we are having this debate, the fact that so many Americans are in need of long-term unemployment insurance in and of itself shows that something is not working. In fact, as we have talked about on this floor before, we are now at historic levels in terms of long-term unemployment, people who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks.
The approach taken by the administration and many of my colleagues here and in the other body to bring down unemployment and get this economy moving does not seem to have worked, by their own standards. Recall that we had a stimulus package. It was said that unemployment would be far lower than it is today. So by their own standards, it has not worked. If it had, we would not be debating this today. We would not be talking about the need for an extension on an emergency basis of unemployment insurance.
We cannot spend our way to prosperity. That is what we tried to do, in my view, in the stimulus package. That is one reason it has not worked. We certainly tried that over the last 5 years. If you look at what the government has done, we spent trillions of dollars we did not have, we have burdened the next generation with previously unimaginable debt levels that we talked about earlier. We have now run 5 years of historic deficits--5 years, trillion-dollar deficits the first 4 years.
Before this administration we had never had a trillion-dollar deficit. Last year's deficit, again, $680 billion, the fifth largest in history, is certainly no cause for celebration, particularly when the Congressional Budget Office tells us that we are going to go back to trillion-dollar deficits within 10 years. So we obviously have a huge problem in terms of our debt and deficit.
What do we have to show for all of this spending that we did? Seventy-one months after the recession began, the economy has still not recovered the jobs we lost in that recession. This has never happened in the history of our country. We have never had a recovery this weak. We are down 1.3 million jobs. By comparison, we were up 10.4 million jobs at this point after the 1981-1982 recession. That recession was also deep. In fact, it was deeper if you measure it by the number of people who were unemployed.
Ronald Reagan came in, and frankly he took progrowth policies and put them in place and helped to create millions of jobs. By this time we were up 10.4 million jobs after that recession. We were up 9.8 million jobs after the 1990 recession at this point. We were up 4.8 million jobs after the 2001 recession. Remember that? The recovery was called the jobless recovery. Again, we have not even gained back the jobs at all yet after this recession. We were up 4.8 million jobs at this point after the 2001 recession.
Making matters even worse, 1 out of every 3 unemployed persons has been out of work for 27 weeks or longer. As I said, this rate of long- term unemployment is at levels we have not seen. You would think we would have learned a lesson here in Washington. You would think Washington would want to do something differently. Yet I heard the President and the majority leader just yesterday present an unemployment extension as if it were some kind of economic panacea, a silver bullet justifying their failure to pay for this extension with all of the growth they say it will generate.
Well, the Senate majority leader said yesterday, ``For every dollar we spend on unemployment benefits, it gets $1.50 back to us just like that.'' Just like that? Think about this. If unemployment benefits create so much growth, why would we just do a 3-month extension? Why not a 3-year extension? Why would there be any limit? Money may not grow on trees, but apparently in the eyes of some it grows from government programs.
That is not how the economy works. I know there are economists out there you can cite for just about anything. But the President's own economic advisors have written that unemployment benefits slow down the search for jobs. But we do not need to get into a battle of experts here. History has proven that just spending more money, even on unemployment benefits, is not the solution. It is not the long-term, serious solution to the problems we face as a country.
This extension, if it passes, will be the 11th time we have extended unemployment benefits in the last 5 years. These extensions have cost more than $200 billion. No economic boom has resulted from this spending, just as it did not result, as I said earlier, from the trillion dollars in stimulus money.
If spending were the answer, we would not be standing here today having this debate. We would be celebrating full employment. Our economy would not be better off if we had higher unemployment and we were paying out more in unemployment benefits. That is kind of the logical extension of what has been argued on the other side as to why we cannot pay for this. I cannot imagine anyone actually believes this.
Yet for too long we have treated government spending as if it does create wealth. If I take $1 from the Presiding Officer, take $1 from one person and give that dollar to someone else, that other person may be better off, but I did not add a dollar to the economy. Government programs have to come from somewhere. So that dollar is being taken from somewhere and given to somebody else. Somehow the notion is that is going to add to the economy.
Again, the logical extension is: Let's just continue to provide more and more government spending; everything will be great. That is not how it works. Dividing the pie up differently does not create more pie. It creates real, concrete progrowth policies to do that, policies that mean we are paying out less in unemployment benefits because more people have the skills they need to get good jobs. That is what we ought to be talking about.
Yes, I am willing to extend unemployment insurance and pay for it. But during that period, let's come up with a better unemployment insurance program that actually connects people to the jobs that are out there. Because there are a lot of jobs that require skills that are not being filled. Our employment system ought to, both for the long term and even for the short term, focus on that. How do you create better skills so that people have the opportunity, have the tools to be able to access those jobs? Policies that allow more companies and small businesses to produce quality products they can sell here and around the world, creating better jobs and profits, would help. Implementing these kinds of policies is not as easy as extending unemployment benefits for a few months or raising the minimum wage. We will not be able to ram these kinds of policies through in a week on a party-line vote with no debate and no amendments. But there is a real solution to the chronic unemployment we are seeing in our States, and that is the only way to encourage the kind of income mobility that will close the income gap, not by tearing people down but by bringing people up. Progrowth economic policies obviously need to be part of the solution here. If we extend unemployment insurance, we should do so because people are hurting as a result of the failed policies in Washington. But we should not kid ourselves into believing that this extension alone will somehow solve these economic problems. Again, it certainly will not pay for itself. As I said earlier, you cannot take a dollar away from one person and give it to someone else and create more purchasing power. You are redistributing that across the economy.
[[Page S109]] It does not have to be that way. We can pass these pay-for amendments. I have my own amendments, as I said. Others have also proposed their amendments. I know Senator Ayotte has an amendment I am supporting that, again, gets at fraud and abuse in government programs and says: Let's pay for the unemployment benefits.
She also, by the way, pays for veterans' benefits that were cut during the budget agreement we just passed. I also support that. She has a little left over for actual deficit reduction.
Senator Coburn is going to have a proposal out here. I think Senator Hatch will have one. Senator McConnell will have one. My understanding is that Senator Coburn has one that is also out of the President's budget.
There are plenty of ideas here as to how to pay for this extension, short term, while we look at better ways to have the unemployment insurance system work, to connect people who are unemployed to the jobs that are out there, by giving them the skills they need. That is where the hard work begins.
We have got to get this country moving again. We have got to do things to actually increase economic growth and give people the skills they need to access the jobs that are out there. We need to pass bills such as the CAREER Act, bipartisan legislation I have introduced with Senator Mike Bennet from Colorado.
In Ohio, we have about 400,000 people unemployed. We are told there are about 100,000 jobs right now open in Ohio. A lot of these jobs are high-tech jobs. Some are in advanced manufacturing, some are in bioscience, some in information technology. We need to be sure that the people who are unemployed get the skills they need to be able to take advantage of those jobs, those opportunities.
We can also start by working on tax reform. Everybody seems to talk about it. Let's do it. Corporate tax reform alone would result in a lot more revenue coming into the Federal Government by repatriating profits. It would help expand opportunities, not for the boardroom, for the people who work in those companies.
People who have looked at this at the Congressional Budget Office, the economic experts, have said: If we did corporate business tax reform, over 70 percent of the benefit goes right to the workers: higher pay, higher benefits. It is time to ensure that we have a growing economy, we are growing that pie, not just carving it up.
Let's streamline the regulations in this country. Currently the United States ranks 34th in the world in the time it takes to get a government green light to actually build something. Think about that. This is a key World Bank measure for ease of doing business. We want America to be at the top of that list, not halfway down that list. Unless we do that, we are not going to see the kind of investment we want in this country. How many jobs are lost every year because people cannot get a permit, that a good idea cannot be built? These are jobs that are there if we change the policies here in Washington, DC.
Congress continues to pat itself on the back for scoring political points rather than taking on these challenges that face our country. I can tell you who is not patting us on the back: It is the American people. They are not happy. They are not pleased with our progress. There is good reason. They are actually seeing their take-home pay go down as the deficit goes up, in, as the President talked about, a better economy.
Fifty years ago the United States declared a war on poverty. Yet poverty is still a major problem. The goal was noble, but the tools we used were not up to the challenge.
Since the recession began, 9 million more Americans have fallen into poverty and the median household income is down more than 8 percent. Poverty rates have actually increased during this administration with the policies we have.
It is time for a change. For decades we have exported to the nations around the world these principles that have allowed us to enjoy so much prosperity and success. We have said: Follow the American way; the free enterprise system works. We have preached to them this gospel, as well as our belief that by removing the shackles of government interference from the market--whether in the form of overregulation, overspending, or overtaxing--everyone can prosper.
As U.S. Trade Representative I had the opportunity to travel all around the world representing our great country. It was a great honor to tell people the benefits of liberalizing trade, knocking down barriers to increase economic growth and opportunity. It works. Entrepreneurs and job creators have lifted more people out of poverty around the world over the past few decades than any government program ever could because the free enterprise system does work. We need to get back to that.
Let's do something we can be proud of in this Chamber today. Let's empower the American people instead of the American Government. Let's not kick the can of spending down the road any longer. Let's take some votes. Not all of them are going to be easy votes, and they shouldn't be. After all, that is what we are elected to do--take tough votes. These votes we take today, though, can make a real difference in people's lives.
Let's start today. Let's pay for this legislation. Let's use these pay-fors we just talked about that are bipartisan, that are sensible, that can be supported on both sides of the aisle and in both bodies. Let's ensure that we put in place the progrowth policies so that we aren't just giving people a little more unemployment insurance for a few more months but giving them the opportunity to get a job and the dignity and self-respect that come with that.
I urge my colleagues to support my amendment, pay for this legislation, put politics aside, and get to work for the American people.
I yield back my time.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Heinrich). The Republican leader.