Debbie A Stabenow

Unemployment Compensation Extension Act Of 2009 - Oct. 28, 2009

Debbie A Stabenow
October 28, 2009— U.S. Senate, Washington, DC
Congressional floor speech
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Mr. President, I have come to talk specifically about the urgency of passing the unemployment benefit extension.

I want to take a moment to respond to my friend from Oklahoma, who was essentially bashing the Government's ability to provide any kind of structure or opportunity for health care, saying that the Federal Government cannot be trusted to provide access to health care for people. I suggest that the 40 million people who receive their health care through Medicare--seniors over age 65 and people with disabilities--would probably disagree with that. I think my 83-year-old mother would wrestle me to the ground if I tried to take away her Medicare card. She has access to choose her own doctor and procedures.

This is a system that involves the public and private sectors, and it was in fact established in 1965 by the U.S. Government to make sure seniors and people with disability have health care. Also, those who are poor in this country and have lost their jobs and are fearful of losing their health care, families, and low-income seniors who need to go into nursing homes would probably disagree with my friends from Oklahoma about Medicaid, even though there are many challenges that we need to work on in terms of rates and so on.

Medicaid is a safety net for many Americans. That is the difference, in some cases, for seniors in nursing homes between life and death.

I am proud the Federal Government also stepped up on Medicaid. I also think the Children's Health Insurance Program, which was started in the nineties for low-income working families to make sure that if someone is working in a job and does not have health insurance, at least their children can be taken care of with a low-cost policy they pay for. But we established and created a way for families to get health insurance. I think those folks would probably disagree with the statement as well.

In many regards, the VA--and while there are certainly challenges and issues and we all push through to make sure our constituents are served--has been in the forefront of health information technology, electronic medical records, and so on. The VA is a system that works for our veterans as it should. When it is not well funded, as it has not been in the past with the previous administration, we stepped up to increase the funding repeatedly to make sure our veterans have what they need through a Federal Government health care system.

Finally, I will just say, there are our military and military retirees as well whom, I am proud to say, our country has supported through providing a health care system.

We can talk more about health care at another time. But I do think this ongoing effort to be critical of anything we do collectively as a country, through a democratic process of government, that somehow that is bad, I find that interesting, when we are saying to those around the world they should go to our system. We, together through our system, have made sure there are opportunities for many Americans, most Americans, if you count the employer-based health care system, the tax credits, the incentives for employers, the government policy. In some way, our government has been involved in incentivizing health care. The question now is, Do we complete the job? I am very hopeful we will complete the job for every American and tackle health care costs that are crippling our businesses, our government, and our families.

I wish to speak about something else that is of tremendous urgency for families. I was very pleased that last night, finally, after 3 weeks of blocking our ability to get to this bill to extend unemployment benefits, we have the opportunity to get to a vote. Eighty-seven Members voted to proceed to the bill. I don't understand, when 87 Members vote to proceed to the bill, why we could not have done this sooner.

Since we started to try to get to this bill, to this point today, 143,000-plus people have lost their unemployment insurance benefits--just in the last 3 weeks, over 143,000 people, who have done nothing but work all their lives, play by the rules, the job goes away, they are trying to find another job and, in the meantime, keep a roof over the head for their family, food on the table, turn on that electric, turn on that heating system, which is going to cost even more to the family budget--just keep things going.

We know 7,000 people today will lose their unemployment benefits; 7,000 people tomorrow will lose their unemployment benefits; 7,000 people the next day. We have been trying to build on what we did in the Recovery Act. I am so grateful our President immediately wanted to extend unemployment benefits. We did not have to struggle, as we did for 8 years, to try to make that happen. President Obama gets it, and it was in the recovery package.

Now we come to a position where we need to extend it. The House passes it, and we spend 3 weeks procedurally trying to get to this bill so we can consider it.

There are amendments that will be offered. There are amendments that are very good amendments that I support, such as extending the first-time home buyers tax credit, help for our businesses in this economy, adjusting tax issues of net operating loss, positive things, bipartisan things. But fundamentally, the question I have is why did it take us so long to get to the substantive discussion on this bill?

That leads me to the second matter about which I wish to talk.

Since the beginning of this year, we have seen 82--yesterday it was 81, now it is 82 times, as of this week, that we have seen Republican objections to moving America forward, forcing us to go to a vote, such as yesterday, where 87 people said yes. Why did it take a vote? Why did it take 3 weeks? If people were sincere about moving this country forward, about solving problems, all the talk of bipartisanship and all our efforts to create that, we would not get no, no, no; I object, I object, I object. That is all we hear as we try to move forward to solve some of the most critical issues facing the country, facing families, facing businesses--the economy, internationally with wars. Over and over again, things that should take 2 hours take 2 weeks.

It is time to say enough is enough. We have done this too long this year. Now is enough. It is time to get on with the business, the people's business, and to, frankly, call it like it is.

I wish to go through a few of the 82--not all of them--a few of the 82 objections because we started the year with efforts to block the President from getting his team in place.

We know there was an election. Somebody won. They have a right to have their team in place to govern. That is how this works. Yet right out of the box, the day after the swearing in, January 22, there was an objection to calling up the Jackson nomination, the Sutley nomination, the Solis nomination, the Rice nomination--objection, objection, objection. We can go on through point by point.

I will jump down to April 21, when there was an objection to scheduling a vote on Christopher Hill to be the Ambassador to Iraq. We are in the middle of a war, years of a war, and there was an objection to moving that nomination for most of April, but then he was confirmed with 73 votes.

This, obviously, was not about the fact that there was not a majority of people--overwhelmingly, over two-thirds of the Senate wanted to have this vote, wanted to confirm the Ambassador to Iraq, but yet there were objections and slow-walking and slow-walking and slow-walking, trying to slow down the business of governing and getting things done for this country.

Two days later, there was an objection to moving forward to the nomination of Thomas Strickland, the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife. Ultimately, he was confirmed with 89 votes. What took so long?

Seconds after that objection, there was an objection to Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services, right as we were first beginning to respond to the H1N1 virus, and we didn't even have a Secretary of Health and Human Services. Yet there was an objection.

Seconds after that, there was an objection to David Hayes to be Deputy Secretary of Interior. They filibustered this nomination. We had to go through all these procedural votes. In the end, he was confirmed unanimously. So even the person who objected to going to this nomination ultimately supported the nomination, which leads one to ask: What is the motivation of what is going on here?

In May, they objected to proceeding to the Family Smoking Prevention Tobacco Control Act. Ultimately, it passed with 79 votes in June. Twice we had to file procedural motions, cloture motions to get the credit card bill in front of the Senate. Ultimately, it passed with 90 votes.

In July, we had to file again. We had to go through the slow process, start the 30-hour clock, another 30-hour clock, waste time on the floor trying to get the Homeland Security bill up, which passed with 84 votes.

The Defense authorization bill, another absolutely critical bill that everyone agrees must move forward for our troops, for our security, was held up on the floor most of the month of July and ultimately passed with 87 votes.

In September, the Interior funding bill, the same thing. It ultimately passed with 77 votes. Finally, last week, Republicans objected to even going to the conference committee.

When we look at this, we have a bill that passes with 87 votes on Defense authorization, goes to conference committee, comes back, another objection, have to do a cloture vote, run the clock, and then the bill passes with 68 votes.

That leads us back to where we are today. Twice there were objections to bringing up the extension of unemployment compensation for millions of American families, middle-class families who are caught in the middle of an economic tsunami. They did not create it.

It is our job to create the economic framework to support the jobs that need to be created. We are focused on that, laser focused on that. Every piece we do relates to jobs, whether it is health care, energy policy or financial reform. Whatever it is, it all comes back to jobs. But we take 3 weeks to get in front of us a bill on which ultimately, last night, 87 people voted to proceed.

We have a new President of the United States this year. There was an election. There is a new Congress. We know there are differences on substance, and that is what a democracy is all about, honest differences. I have differences on specific policy issues. But what we see here is a conscious strategy that has to stop. It has gone on all too long. We have many challenges as a country that need to be addressed. We have families in crisis who need us to act, and this has to stop.

We can no longer continue to see this number go up from 82 to 85 to 90. Who knows where this will end, who knows, in terms of objecting to moving forward, objecting to taking up bills.

We have one of the most important issues that I know I will ever address or have worked on in my time in the House or Senate coming before us on health care reform. We have differences. We have people of good will who have differences. We will have a motion whether to even proceed to the bill and debate those differences. Yet my assumption is that almost all--hopefully not all--almost all the Republicans in the Senate will vote no to even proceeding to discuss it.

We are in one of the most important times in our country's history. We don't have time for this. We don't have time for these ongoing antics that just burn the time on the clock, stop us from taking votes, stopping us from getting the team in place so the administration can do their work, stopping us from solving problems, extending unemployment compensation, focusing on jobs, focusing on health care costs, tackling what we need to do for clean energy. We don't have time. The American people don't have time. Our country doesn't have time to waste on items that are blocked that eventually have overwhelming support.

We know there are times when we all feel passionately about something, when there are divisions in the Senate, when we choose to stop moving forward. We all have been in that position, and I respect that decision. I certainly hold that as a right of mine, as it is for each of us. But what we are seeing over and over are efforts to slow-walk the business of this country, of solving problems, and then when we get to the end, such as yesterday, there are 76 votes or 90 votes or it is unanimous. That is what I am objecting to--the strategy of stopping the people's business from getting done.

I hope as we go forward on health care and go into the new year, we will be able to focus on the substance of things, debate that vigorously--as we will--but stop what is the gratuitous objection over and over and over just for the purpose of saying no.

I strongly urge my colleagues to support the unemployment extension legislation that is in front of us. There is a sense of urgency. As I indicated before, we have a situation where we have over 148,000 people, just in the last 3 weeks, who have lost unemployment benefits--7,000 people, every day we debate this, every day it goes back to the House, every day before it goes to the President. It is time to get this done.

Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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