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John R.
Democrat RI

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  • Unemployment Compensation

    by Senator Jack Reed

    Posted on 2014-01-13

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    REED. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that at the conclusion of my brief remarks, Senator Lee be recognized, and then after Senator Lee that Senator Harkin be recognized.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. REED. Mr. President, as the leader indicated, we are working to develop a response to the 1.3 million Americans who on December 28 lost their unemployment extended benefits. Since that time, the number has increased. About 70,000 Americans a week are losing their unemployment insurance benefits. This number is now approaching roughly 1.5 million Americans and will approach a significantly [[Page S284]] higher number of Americans throughout the year.

    This is an emergency. These people have worked. They are in a job market where typically there are more than two applicants for every job, and we are seeing a job market that is moving sometimes forward and sometimes sideways. The numbers last Friday were quite disappointing. It could have been the weather or it could be other factors, but it does underscore the need to move very aggressively to address the issue of these unemployed Americans. The average benefit is about $300 to $350 a week. The only reason they qualify for the benefit is they did work and they are still looking for work.

    One of the ironies of last week's numbers is even though we had very mediocre job creation, the unemployment rate fell. Why? Because people are leaving the workforce. They are giving up. We can't let that happen. One way we keep people looking for work and we keep them able to look for work is to provide this modest benefit each week.

    So we are looking very hard and we have had a great deal of collaboration and cooperation. I thank Senators Heller, Collins, Portman, Ayotte, Murkowski, and Coats. They voted to keep this process going forward, and I respect and thank them for that. I know, over this last weekend, particularly Senators Heller, Collins, and Portman have been working to try to find a way to move forward. Let me say, though, we on our side have moved very far.

    Typically these benefits are not paid for. Last year's 12 month extension of unemployment insurance was unpaid for. It was an emergency. It probably created on the order of 100-plus thousand jobs, which would not have taken place without that kind of increase in demand in the economy generated by these payments to individuals looking for work.

    We heard what our colleagues said, that this has to be paid for. So we went ahead and proposed a pay-for. Again, many of my colleagues in the Democratic caucus in both the House and the Senate would prefer to see these benefits as emergency unpaid for. We have repeatedly done that.

    We have also changed the duration of the benefits. We eliminated some weeks in the first two tiers so we would be able to afford this benefit and still give people the opportunity to move forward.

    So we have moved from what we have typically done.

    Again, if we look back over the years, the exception is paying for these benefits. Many times during the Bush administration, we provided unemployment benefits unpaid for. Now some of my colleagues are asking to pay for them. We have tried to pay for them. We tried to change the duration so we could afford them but still provide help for people. We have done this because we have heard from the other side: One, they have to be paid for; but, two, we can't use revenues.

    A balanced approach to any public policy solution has to at least consider revenues. But our colleagues have been staunch about saying: We will not entertain at all any revenues to offset this payment.

    There is a long list of egregious tax provisions which have been highlighted by many of my colleagues--particularly Senator Levin in his work--with respect to corporate tax loopholes which not only should be corrected but could be applied to allow these Americans the opportunity to have some support as they go forward looking for work. But because our colleagues said no revenue, OK, we have looked for ways to pay for this without engaging in rhetoric. So I think we have made a significant step forward.

    In turn, my colleagues have come back and proposed variations on some of the things we have talked about. They have done it in good faith. They have done it with great ingenuity. Again, I thank them. We haven't yet come to a sort of meeting of the minds, but we are working.

    Again, let me go back to the original proposal Senator Heller and I made. We said: Let's do this for 3 months without a pay-for. That will give us time to do a lot of the work my colleagues have suggested. They have talked about how training programs have to be changed, how skills have to be matched up with jobs, very intricate programmatic changes. That is not going to be done here on the floor within 24, 48, or 72 hours.

    I would conclude by again saying: There are now approaching 1.5 million Americans who were abandoned on the 28th of December. Their benefits were cut off. They are in some cases desperate, trying to pay their mortgages, trying to keep their homes, trying to put food on their table. They are trying to put gas in their car, natural gas to heat their homes in the cold weather, and I think we have to respond.

    Again, I thank my colleagues who have helped. Tomorrow we are going to get closer to a sort of point of reckoning, and I hope we can come together and move forward.

    Mr. President, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Utah.


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