Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act—Motion to Proceedby Senator Sherrod Brown
Posted on 2014-01-08
BROWN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent the order for the
quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Sanders). Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. BROWN. Mr. President, President Johnson 50 years ago, as Senator Harkin was talking about, declared a war on poverty down the hall in the House of Representatives in his State of the Union Message. A little later he visited Athens, OH, in the heart of Appalachia, and he said: I came out here today to see you because we can't always see poverty from the Capital in Washington. But you can see it when you get out and ride the rivers and the range, the mountains and the hills.
When President Lincoln was in office, even though his staff said stay in the office, win the war, free the slaves, preserve the Union, President Lincoln [[Page S124]] would say, no, I need to get out and take my ``public opinion baths''-- I need to see the people and talk to them and understand their problems.
Pope Francis recently exhorted his parish priests to go smell like the flock, obviously using the allegory of the sheep in the Old Testament and New Testament, but also saying to his parish priests: Understand how people live, talk to them about their issues and their problems and their lives and live among them as much as you can, something perhaps none of us in this body--I know the Presiding Officer from Vermont possibly does more townhalls and meetings with people than anybody in the Senate. All of us need to do that more to understand better.
But as we debate the extension of unemployment benefits, $500 a week is the average benefit; 52,00 people in my State were cut off from benefits at the end of the year, tens of thousands more will lose their benefits if we don't act. It is not just what this means to parents so they can feed their families and continue to look for work. But as the Presiding Officer knows, they need to continue to look for work in order to get this $300 a week on average. We also know it helps the economy.
One hundred years ago this week, Henry Ford made an announcement that stunned the country. He said: Everybody in my auto plant is going to receive $5 a day. Whether it was the young man sweeping the floor or the autoworker, they were all going to receive $5 a day.
Whether it was done out of generosity or not, what Henry Ford knew was putting money in workers' pockets--just the same as when you put money in people's pockets for unemployment benefits, which is the insurance they paid into--the money that they get will help grow the economy. It will help people be able to do things they would not otherwise be able to do. That is the importance of the extension of unemployment benefits, and that is the importance of passing minimum wage legislation, which Senator Harkin also spoke about.
The fair minimum wage would raise the minimum wage 90 cents upon the signature of the President, 90 cents a year later, and 90 cents a year after that. At the same time it would raise the subminimum wage for those people who work in diners, push wheelchairs in airports, and for valets in restaurants. Those workers often make less than the minimum wage. The subminimum wage--the tipped wage--is only $2.13 an hour. It hasn't been raised since 1991.
The Harkin, Sanders, Brown--and others who are part of this legislation on the minimum wage bill--legislation will increase the tipped minimum wage over time up to 70 percent of the real minimum wage.
I will close with a letter from Karen in Columbus. She said: I had to come out of medical retirement because I couldn't make ends meet.
I have now worked at a department store for four years and still don't make $9.00 an hour. My salary goes entirely towards rent and utilities.
My water bill just went up $8.00-- For those of us in this Chamber, if the water bill goes up $8, you deal with it. It is not that big of a deal. She is not even making $9 an hour. The increase in her water bill is 1 hour of pay at this department store.
My water bill just went up $8.00--as it goes up every year--just like the electric, food, and gas.
Heaven forbid my car would break down or I would fall victim to a serious illness.
I hope that our colleagues are getting their public opinion baths. I hope our colleagues are out among people listening to these stories.
I close, again with a quote from President Johnson's speech in Athens, OH, which was 50 years ago this year.
Poverty hides its face behind a mask of affluence. But I call upon you to help me get out there and unmask it, take that mask off of that face of affluence and let the world see what we have, and let the world do something about it.
We have an opportunity today to do something about unemployment insurance and help people get back on their feet. We have an opportunity in the months ahead to raise the minimum wage. To restore it to something close to what it was back in 1968 in real buying power, that should be our obligation, our duty, and our mission in the months ahead.