A picture of Senator Harry Reid
Harry R.
Democrat NV

About Sen. Harry
  • Unemployment Compensation

    by Senator Harry Reid

    Posted on 2014-01-08

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    REID. Yesterday's vote to advance a measure which is so vitally important to our country--to extend the lifeline to Americans who lost their jobs during this great recession--was a very positive development, but we are a long way from restoring benefits to 1.3 million people who have been looking for work for months, some of them for years.

    The few Republicans willing to even debate this measure have already threatened to vote against even a short-term extension unless it is fully paid for.

    Let me start by saying I am opposed to offsetting the cost of emergency unemployment benefits--I repeat, emergency unemployment benefits. I don't understand why my Republican colleagues can't read the script from the administration of their President, our President, President Bush. Five times during his time in office--the second President Bush--we extended emergency unemployment insurance benefits by declaring an emergency, as we should now. We should realize that today there is only one job available for every three people seeking a job. Think about it.

    This legislation calls for a 3-month extension. That is all. Let's extend this now and give those people their benefits, and then we will work to see whether we can come up with a long-term solution to this issue. I have heard one of the leaders in the House, one of the Republicans, say we need to do something about opportunities for jobs. We agree. Let's see what we can come up with, but let's extend the benefits for 3 months now.

    Through the darkest days of the recession, these unemployment benefits kept millions of Americans from descending into poverty.

    I again urge my Republican colleagues in Congress to pass this 3- month extension. It is what the American people want by a vast majority of all political stripes. We need to do this so we can negotiate a long-term solution to this issue. Any lapse or delay in benefits means 1.3 million people will be wondering whether they need to go to borrow money again or to maybe see if they can figure out a way to buy baby formula or gas for their car to go to a job interview if they are fortunate to have a car or a bus ticket.

    If Republicans are so interested in paying for this measure, they should propose a reasonable way to do so that doesn't attack the Affordable Care Act or punish American children, as the two proposals they presented yesterday do--go after American children or the Affordable Care Act. They should propose an offset that might actually pass. Instead, they propose a string of political amendments, each more doomed to failure than the last one they offered.

    They should also stop masking their reluctance to extend these benefits behind complaints about how many [[Page S88]] amendments they have been allowed to offer on this and other legislation. Everyone within the sound of my voice should understand that is hollow. It has become a common refrain for the minority to blame their own frequent obstruction on me. Two Republican Senators held up progress on virtually everything we tried to do under the first term of this Congress. They wouldn't let any other amendments come up unless they got a vote on their amendment.

    The fact remains that if my Republican colleagues have complaints about my leadership style, they should also have complaints about Senator Frist, my predecessor. He is a fine man, a Republican leader. We still stay in touch, as I do with the other Republican leader, Senator Lott, whom I worked with very closely. I hear no complaints about their leadership style when they were leading the Senate. During my time as leader, Republicans have offered 7 out of 10 amendments on which the Senate has voted. Seventy percent of the amendments we have voted on in the Senate have been Republican amendments. This has been a greater share than either Senator Frist or Senator Lott offered. During my leadership in the 111th Congress, minority amendments represented a greater share of amendment votes than during any single Congress. Think about it.

    So Republicans should stop trying to justify their opposition to helping Americans in need with false claims about what is going on in this institution. Let's start talking about facts rather than fiction-- and there is a lot of fiction going around. Republicans should, I repeat, stop trying to justify their opposition to helping Americans in need with false claims about my leadership.

    It is quite interesting to note that House Republican leaders--and I am sure they sent a copy of it to the Senate--have instructed colleagues in a written memo. It says: Show compassion for the unemployed.

    I say to everyone that we don't need a memo for us to show compassion to the unemployed.

    They also say: Treat them as individuals.

    Oh yeah? That is not a bad idea, but it will be very difficult for Senate Republicans to seem sympathetic to the plight of the unemployed while still opposing a helping hand for 1.3 million job seekers. It shouldn't take a memo to realize that unemployed Americans--and particularly those who have been out of work for months--deserve our compassion. We don't need a memo for that, a memo saying: Show compassion. No wonder Republicans in Congress are out of touch with Republicans around the country. Republicans around the country support extending unemployment benefits because they have compassion for those Americans who are in trouble.

    Being out of work is not only financially devastating, it is heartbreaking. I recently received a letter from a single mother of two who has lived in Nevada all of her life. She is afraid she will soon be homeless--a single mother. She wrote: ``I have no desire to live off the system.'' She is speaking for virtually everyone we are trying to help. This woman is the rule, not the exception.

    To qualify for unemployment is not easy. Someone has to be laid off through no fault of their own, and they have to actively seek work.

    These unemployed aren't gaming the system; there simply aren't enough jobs to go around. For every job there are three people trying to get that job. The longer a person is unemployed, the more difficult it becomes to find work. This is not being made up; this is a fact. The long-term unemployed are half as likely as their recently let-go competitors to be hired. But that doesn't stop them from trying. Rather than encouraging these people who are desperate for help to keep looking, cutting off unemployment benefits actually encourages the long-term unemployed to actually drop out of the job market altogether. That doesn't help them, our communities, our States, and our country. It hurts families, it hurts communities, and it certainly hurts the economy.


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