Reid Remarks on the Need to Extend Emergency Unemployment Benefits

“I am opposed to offsetting the cost of emergency unemployment benefits. The five times President Bush extended emergency unemployment insurance, we never offset the cost. And we should not offset it now, when there is still only one job available for every three people seeking work.”

“Democrats are… willing to discuss reasonable ways to pay for a long-term extension of emergency benefits. But in the meantime, Republicans should not punish 1.3 million Americans still struggling to find work.”

“If Republicans are so interested in paying for this measure, they should propose a reasonable way to do so – one that doesn’t attack the Affordable Care Act or punish American children. They should propose an offset that might actually pass. Instead they proposed a string of political amendments, each more doomed to failure than the last.”

Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding the importance of restoring emergency unemployment benefits. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

 Yesterday’s vote to advance a measure that would extend a lifeline to Americans who lost their jobs during the Great Recession was a positive development. But we are a long way from restoring benefits to 1.3 million people who have been looking for work for months. 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 that I am opposed to offsetting the cost of emergency unemployment benefits. The five times President Bush extended emergency unemployment insurance, we never offset the cost. And we should not offset it now, when there is still only one job available for every three people seeking work.

That said, Democrats are not unreasonable. We are willing to discuss reasonable ways to pay for a long-term extension of emergency benefits. But in the meantime, Republicans should not punish 1.3 million Americans still struggling to find work.

Through the darkest days of the recession, these unemployment benefits kept millions of Americans from descending into poverty. I urge my Republican colleagues to help us pass this three-month extension so we can negotiate a longer-term solution to this issue. And any lapse or delay in benefits means 1.3 million people are wondering how they will buy formula for their baby or fill the gas tank to get to a job interview.

If Republicans are so interested in paying for this measure, they should propose a reasonable way to do so – one that doesn’t attack the Affordable Care Act or punish American children. They should propose an offset that might actually pass. Instead they proposed a string of political amendments, each more doomed to failure than the last.

They should also stop masking their reluctance to extend these benefits behind complaints about how many amendments they have been allowed to offer. It has become a common refrain for the minority to blame their own frequent obstruction on me. But the fact remains, if my Republican colleagues have complaints about my leadership style they would also have had complaints about Senator Frist and Senator Lott’s leadership styles.

During my time as Leader, Republicans have offered seven out of 10 amendments on which the Senate has voted. That is a greater share than when either Senator Frist or Senator Lott was leader. And during my leadership of the 111th Congress, minority amendments represented a greater share of all amendment votes than during any single Congress during either Leader Frist or Leader Lott’s tenure. So Republicans should stop trying to justify their opposition to helping Americans in need with false claims about my leadership of this institution.

I read that House Republican leaders have instructed colleagues in a memo to “show compassion for the unemployed.” It will be difficult for Senate Republicans to seem sympathetic to the plight of the unemployed while opposing a helping hand for 1.3 million job seekers. And 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.

Being out of work is not only financial devastating – it’s heartbreaking. I got a letter recently from a single mother of two who has lived in Nevada all her life. She’s afraid she’ll soon be homeless. This is what she wrote: “I have no desire to live off the system.” This woman is the rule, not the exception.

In order to qualify for unemployment, you have to be laid off through no fault of your own and you have to actively seek work. These folks aren’t gaming the system. There simply aren’t enough jobs to go around. And the longer a person is unemployed, the more difficult it becomes to find work. 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. And rather than encouraging them to keeping looking, cutting off unemployment benefits actually encourages the long-term unemployed to drop out of the job market altogether. That hurts families, it hurt communities and it hurts the economy.

 

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