Unemployment Benefitsby Senator John Cornyn
Posted on 2014-01-09
CORNYN. Mr. President, over the last few days our friends across
the aisle have been telling the American people that we have a choice
when it comes to the extension of long-term unemployment benefits. On
one hand, they are saying we can do exactly what the President, Senator
Reid, and his allies want, which is to extend benefits for 3 months at
a cost of $6.5 billion that we will have to borrow from somebody or we
will do nothing at all.
Well, I am here to suggest that is a false choice, as President Obama likes to say from time to time. We can do better than that. As a matter of fact, several of my Republican colleagues have offered their suggestions. I have in my hand a list of 23 amendments that would deal with everything from improving access to workforce training to finding a way to pay for this money that would otherwise have to be borrowed from the Chinese or other creditors of the United States and added to our $17.3 trillion debt.
[[Page S195]] In other words, there are a lot of good ideas. We just have not been given the opportunity to debate them and offer these amendments and actually do what the Senate used to do. As the Republican leader said yesterday, we actually used to have committees that voted on amendments and then passed bills that came to the floor. We used to actually have an open amendment process where people could offer their amendments, and then we would debate them and vote on them. What a novel idea. That, of course, is called legislating. That is what the legislative branch--Congress--is supposed to be doing. That is not what we have been doing.
The majority leader is basically the traffic cop for the Senate floor. He is the one who determines whether we have an opportunity to have this sort of fulsome debate so we can offer these constructive, bipartisan--in many instances--ideas.
We would like to try to reform our unemployment compensation system in order to help grow the economy, help the private sector create jobs, and get more people back to work so they don't have to depend on extended unemployment insurance. However, if they do find themselves in a difficult circumstance, as many Americans unfortunately do, they can then go back to school by the using Pell grant, for example, to go to our community colleges, which do a fantastic job of helping people learn new skills that make them a good fit for the good jobs, of which there are many. Unfortunately, there are not enough skilled workers in the workforce who are qualified for those jobs.
To give the Senate a flavor for some of the ideas, my colleague from Oklahoma, Senator Coburn, who is always full of a lot of ideas, filed an amendment to ensure that people don't claim unemployment insurance and Social Security disability benefits simultaneously. If there is a case of double dipping, that would seem to be it, and it is an abuse of the system. He has filed an amendment that would prevent millionaires and billionaires from receiving unemployment checks. I know it is hard to believe, but people with incomes of $1 million or more have claimed nearly $21 million worth of unemployment benefits in a single year. That is unbelievable. What an abuse. That is an insult, really, to people who are in dire straits and need help, to know there are people gaming the system either by double dipping or being millionaires and claiming unemployment benefits. Again, we have borrowed $250 billion to pay these extended unemployment benefits since 2008, and there are some millionaires and billionaires who are gaming the system for their benefit. Why wouldn't we want to fix that? Why wouldn't we want to have a vote on those good ideas by our colleague Senator Coburn? Meanwhile, our colleague from South Carolina, Senator Scott, has filed a commonsense amendment that would define full-time employment as a 40-hour workweek for the purposes of ObamaCare. The Presiding Officer--and since he walked in, I will pick on my friend from Maryland--remembers when we had a number of leaders from organized labor who came to the White House and said that ObamaCare is turning full-time work into part-time work. Because of the penalties associated with the employer mandate and the like, many employers are shifting full-time workers into part-time workers. That is not just a concern on this side of the aisle; it is a broad concern which impacts a lot of people.
I remember recently being in Tyler, TX, at a diner, and the owner of that diner said he tragically had to put a single mom on a 30-hour workweek in order to avoid some of the penalties of ObamaCare. So to make up for that lost income, she had to go and get a second part-time job because of ObamaCare and its unintended consequences. So Senator Scott has an amendment that would address that problem.
I hope the majority leader will rethink his longstanding position--at least over the last 6 months--of basically shutting out any other constructive ideas not just on this side of the aisle but on the other side of the aisle as well, as the Republican leader pointed out yesterday.
In addition, our colleague from Indiana, Senator Coats, has several ideas. One would offset the extension of long-term unemployment benefits by delaying the individual and employer mandates under ObamaCare until 2015. We all recall that the President and this administration on its own initiative--I am looking hard to find where they have the authority, but nevertheless they did--delayed the employer mandate for a year on their own. Well, this would take the money saved from delaying the individual employer mandate and use that to pay for the extension of unemployment benefits.
Another amendment would offset the cost of this extension by requiring people to provide a Social Security number before they claim the child tax credit. All it would do is make them provide a Social Security number to make sure that we root out fraud and abuse in the child tax credit claims. It would save billions of dollars, and it would allow us to pay for this short-term extension of long-term unemployment benefits.
I would also add that I think most people need to be reminded that actually the basic program of unemployment insurance covers people for up to half a year, but over the last 5 years Congress has extended that up to 99 weeks, which is about 2 years. Well, this is supposed to be an emergency program, and thankfully the economy is starting to show some signs of improvement and growth. So what we need to do is get off of this temporary emergency measure and get back to normal circumstances and try to find ways to pay our bills and make sure people don't abuse the American taxpayer by gaming the system. We need to continue to look for ways to help people learn the skills they need in order to get the good, high-paying jobs that exist, among other things.
Well, here is another idea. Our colleague from New Hampshire, Senator Ayotte, has filed an amendment that would restore the military pension benefits. This is something, if you will remember, that was taken out of the Murray-Ryan budget deal that passed before we left for Christmas, and I think it is fair to say there is broad bipartisan support for restoring those cuts to the military pensions, and Senator Ayotte's amendment would do that.
All of these amendments deserve debate, which I am trying in some small way to provide here, but others have their ideas and have their way of talking about it, and they also deserve a vote. But, again, the majority leader, Senator Reid, is the traffic cop on the Senate floor. As Senator McConnell pointed out yesterday, the Senate has been dramatically transformed from a place where the Senate was justifiably claimed as the greatest deliberative body on the planet but no more.
We can return to the way the Senate used to be by having this sort of constructive, bipartisan, fulsome discussion and vote on good ideas and make legislation better and not settle for something less. I said--and it is true--that Senators have a right to debate and offer legislation. I am not sure many people across America have thought very deeply about what that means.
This isn't about the Presiding Officer's rights as a Senator or my rights as a Senator. This is about the rights and the voices of the 26 million people I represent, because when I am shut out of the process-- when I can't offer amendments and ideas about how to improve legislation--they are shut out as well, and that is wrong.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator's time has expired.