Executive Sessionby Senator Dean Heller
Posted on 2014-01-06
HELLER. Madam President, I rise today to discuss an issue that
has been in the forefront of the minds of many Americans ringing in the
new year; that is, extending benefits for the unemployed--something
that is important, of course, for a lot of Americans.
Before I begin, I wish to thank my colleague, my friend from Rhode Island, Senator Jack Reed, for his hard work and effort on this behalf as we and our staffs worked together to get this proposal moved forward for today's vote.
I hope that my friends and colleagues in the Senate enjoyed their holidays and that everyone returned refreshed and ready to tackle some of the tough issues we have here in 2014.
Unfortunately, while Congress was in recess, approximately 17,000 Nevadans greeted the new year not with optimistic expectations of a fresh start but with the anxiety of how they are going to feed their families and perhaps even pay their utility bills. When Congress left Washington, DC, in December, a lot of important matters were left undone and expired. As a result, millions of Americans were left with no idea whether their unemployment benefits were going to be fixed retroactively--something that has become, of course, all too common for this Congress to do.
Helping those in need should not be a partisan issue. Providing a limited social safety net is one of the responsibilities of the Federal Government. Unfortunately, instead of planning ahead and figuring out the best way to do that, we are now forced to decide whether to reinstate these benefits after they have expired.
We should provide some relief to the millions of Americans who were left hanging when Congress went home in December and temporarily extend unemployment benefits for the next 3 months. It is the right thing to do. That short period will help these families whose benefits expired abruptly while Congress works out a long-term solution that provides Americans with some certainty and is fiscally responsible.
I understand my colleagues' concerns about the cost and their desire to pay for this extension. I too want to see our Federal debt brought under control. I think my voting record is proof of that concern.
I too believe Congress should be more focused on passing laws that actually help create jobs. Growing our economy should be the primary focus and concern of this body. As a Senator of the State that leads the Nation in unemployment, believe me, I understand the importance of refocusing on jobs. I would rather be down here today discussing innovative ways to create jobs instead of the need to extend unemployment benefits yet again. But because of this administration and even some of the choices of this body, unfortunately, our economy is not growing quickly enough and many Americans are still hurting, including a lot of Nevadans.
My State is struggling. I have repeated often on this floor that Nevada consistently tops the chart in unemployment, bankruptcies, and foreclosures. The statistics are surely revealing. But more startling is the obvious increase in impoverished Nevadans whom I meet when I go home. I would like to share an example.
Every Thanksgiving one or two of my children join me in serving Thanksgiving dinner to folks in Reno who are in need and cannot cook a Thanksgiving meal for themselves. This year my daughter Emmy, who is in her freshman year in college, joined me in this experience. Every year that dinner sees more and more attendees. Every year the number of individuals and families who need help increases. This year the venue was absolutely packed. When my daughter and I arrived, the line outside the venue was four blocks long. It is such an obvious example of how so many Nevadans are unable to provide for their basic needs, and this cannot be ignored.
I know many economists point to a national unemployment rate that is improving, but at home we do not feel it. The unemployment rate in Nevada has consistently far exceeded the national average. In fact, the Silver State has led the Nation for the past 3 years in unemployment. The result is, of course, that people in Nevada are really hurting.
It is difficult to stand here in the Nation's Capital--an area that has largely felt little negative impact of the recession--and describe just how tough times are for so many of my constituents. At these Thanksgiving dinners, I hear about the choices individuals are forced to make--whether to buy gas for their car or pay for heat in the frigid northern Nevada winters or buy school supplies for their children or perhaps save for the future.
These are hard-working individuals who rely on these benefits. They are trying to find jobs. They want to provide for their children. But for these benefits to simply vanish without giving families the time to plan or figure out alternatives to help them get by is just not right.
I too understand the concerns about the cost of these benefits. I would prefer to see them paid for in a manner that does not burden our Nation with more debt. I have previously introduced legislation that would do just that, legislation that would extend unemployment benefits while still paying for them. At the time I introduced my legislation as an alternative to a more costly bill because I think it is important to bring down our Nation's debt.
I am ready to work with my colleagues to introduce similar legislation again this year, but in the meantime I propose that we pass this short-term extension now. That would allow Congress the opportunity to spend the next 3 months debating how to pay for these [[Page S9]] benefits in the future or perhaps how much longer they should be extended. Those are important questions worthy of more debate. But in the meantime, Congress simply must provide some temporary relief for those who are unemployed.
Paying for these benefits would be the best approach. Congress could have taken the harder road to figure out the way to do that before departing for the holiday break and leaving millions of Americans hanging, but it did not. So let's pass this short-term extension and focus on a more fiscally responsible solution for the longer term.
I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.