U.S. Senate Discusses Unemployment Benefits Extension - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe News Weather, Video -

U.S. Senate Discusses Unemployment Benefits Extension

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The Senate returned from their holiday break on Monday, and immediately got to work on a bill that would extend unemployment benefits.

The bi-partisan legislation before the Senate would provide checks for an additional three months to 1.3 million Americans at a cost of an additional $6.5 billion.

It's a program that already costs taxpayers $25 billion a year.

Both of Nevada's senators support the legislation.

"Today there's only one job opening for every three people searching, we have never had so many unemployed for such a long period of time," says Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV.)

About 17,000 Nevadans lost their benefits.

Some Senate Republicans from other states say they are open to the idea of extending benefits, as long as Congress finds a way to pay for it.

"One, if we extend it, we pay for it. But, two, we add something to it that would create jobs," says Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY.)

President Obama will make his own push for lawmakers to restore long-term benefits when he meets with unemployment Americans at the White House Tuesday.

Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today marking the beginning of the second session of the 113th Congress and emphasizing the importance of extending unemployment benefits. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

Welcome back. I am optimistic that the New Year will bring a renewed spirit of cooperation to this chamber.

Last year, the United States Senate passed a number of momentous pieces of legislation, including comprehensive immigration reform, a budget agreement and a bill to prevent workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. But there is also a great deal left undone.

Today we will address two pressing matters held over from 2013: the nomination of Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve, and the extension of unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans still struggling to find work.

Instead of celebrating the beginning of a new year on January 1, more than a million Americans – including 20,000 veterans and 18,000 Nevadans – were left wondering how they would feed their families and make their mortgage payments while they continue to look for jobs. Today there is only one job opening for every three people searching. And the long-term unemployment rate is twice as high as it was any other time we have allowed emergency unemployment benefits to end.

What's more, failing to extend unemployment insurance won't just be a hardship for out-of-work Americans. It will also be a drag on our economy. Allowing this important lifeline to lapse will cost 240,000 jobs. By contrast, helping Americans out while they search for full-time employment is one of the most efficient ways to support economic growth. Each dollar we spend on unemployment insurance benefits increases gross domestic product by $1.50, according to leading economists.

And in 2012 alone, half a million children were kept out of poverty by unemployment benefits. That's one reason it's outrageous that Congress allowed this program – which helps tens of millions of American families with millions of children get by each year – to lapse in December. Today the Senate has a chance to correct that terrible omission.

Just before Christmas, my colleague from Nevada – a Republican – joined with the senior Senator from Rhode Island – a Democrat – to propose an extension of unemployment insurance for 1.3 million Americans who lost benefits last week. I commend these two Senators for their compassionate stance on this issue.

The Senate will vote to move forward with the Reed-Heller bill this evening.  I hope a few reasonable and empathetic Republicans will join my colleague from Nevada and help us advance this bill today.

Passing this measure is one of the best things we can do for our economy. And it is a cost-effective way to immediately address some of the worst consequences of growing income inequality in this nation.

Another way to raise millions of Americans out of poverty is to increase the minimum wage to make it a living wage. When a mother or father working two or three jobs still can't afford groceries and rent in the same month, it's a sign something is wrong in this country.

Last year, the top 1 percent of households took home more than one-fifth of the nation's income – breaking a record set in 1928. And over the last three decades that same 1 percent of families has seen its income triple. Meanwhile, wages for middle-class families have actually fallen, while the cost of housing, food and gas has gone up.

The fact is, the rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer and the middle class is under siege. This country cannot afford to allow the gap between the fabulously wealthy and those who are barely getting by to keep growing. That's why Democrats will renew our efforts to address poverty and economic disparities in 2014.

I congratulate wealthy Americans on their good fortune. This is a country of opportunity. But I also believe it is time for the middle class to share in the success of our economic recovery.

Republican Senator Dean Heller made this statement today on the Senate floor:

I rise today to discuss an issue that has been at the forefront of many Americans' minds ringing in the New Year, and that is extending benefits for the unemployed.

I hope that my friends and colleagues here in the Senate enjoyed their holidays, and that everyone returned refreshed and ready to tackle some tough issues in 2014.

Unfortunately, while Congress was in recess, approximately 17,000 Nevadans greeted the New Year not with the optimistic expectations of a fresh start, but with anxiety about how they are going to feed their families and pay their utility bills.

When Congress left Washington, D.C. in December, a lot of important matters were left undone and expired.  As a result, millions of Americans were left with no idea whether or not their unemployment benefits were going to be "fixed retroactively" – something that has become all too common for Congress to do.

Helping those in need should not be a partisan issue.  Providing a limited social safety net is one of the responsibilities of the federal government.  Unfortunately, instead of planning ahead and figuring out the best way to do that, we are now forced to decide whether or not to reinstate these benefits after they have expired. 

We should provide some relief to the millions of Americans that were left hanging when Congress went home in December and temporarily extend unemployment benefits for three months. It is the right thing to do. That short period will help these families whose benefits expired abruptly while Congress works out a longer-term solution that provides Americans with some certainty and is fiscally responsible.

I understand my colleagues' concerns about the cost and their desire to pay for this extension.  I, too, want to see our federal debt brought under control.  My voting record is proof of that concern. 

I, too, believe that Congress should be more focused on passing laws that actually help create jobs. Growing our economy should be the primary concern of this body. As the Senator of the state that leads the nation in unemployment, believe me, I understand the need to refocus on jobs.  I would rather be down here discussing innovative ways to create jobs instead of the need to extend unemployment benefits yet again.

But because of this Administration and even some of the choices of this body, unfortunately, our economy is not growing quickly enough and many Americans are still hurting – including a lot of Nevadans.

My state is struggling. I have repeated often on this floor that Nevada consistently tops the chart in unemployment, in bankruptcies and in foreclosures.  The statistics are surely revealing, but more startling is the obvious increase of impoverished Nevadans that I meet when I go home.

Every Thanksgiving, one or two of my children join me in serving Thanksgiving dinner to folks in Reno who are in need and cannot cook a Thanksgiving meal of their own.  This year, my daughter Emy joined me during her first break home from college.

Every year, that dinner sees more and more attendees.  Every year, the number of individuals and families who need help increases.  This year, the venue was absolutely packed.  It is such an obvious example of how so many Nevadans are unable to provide for their basic needs that it cannot be ignored.

I know that many economists point to a national unemployment rate that is improving. But at home, we don't feel it. The unemployment rate in Nevada has consistently far exceeded the national average. In fact, the Silver State has led the nation for the past three years in unemployment and as a result, people are really hurting.  It is difficult to stand here, in the nation's Capitol – an area that has largely felt little negative impacts of the recession – and describe just how tough times are for so many of my constituents. At these Thanksgiving dinners, I hear about the choices individuals are forced to make: whether to buy gas for the car, or to pay for heat in frigid northern Nevada winters, or to buy school supplies for their children, or to save for the future.

These are the hard working individuals who rely on these benefits.  They have been trying to find jobs.  They want to provide for their children.  But for these benefits to simply vanish, without giving families time to plan and figure out alternatives to help them get by is just not right.

I, too, understand the concerns about the cost of these benefits. I would prefer to see them paid for in a manner that does not burden our nation with more debt.  I have previously introduced legislation that would do just that – legislation that would extend unemployment benefits while still paying for them. At the time, I introduced my legislation as an alternative to a more costly bill because I think it's important that our nation bring down its debt. I am ready to work with my colleagues to introduce similar legislation again this year.   

But in the meantime, I propose that we pass this short-term extension now. That would allow Congress the opportunity to spend the next three months debating how to pay for these benefits in the future, or perhaps how much longer they should be extended.  Those are important questions worthy of more debate.  But in the meantime, Congress simply must provide some temporary relief to those who are unemployed.

Paying for these benefits would be the best approach. Congress could have taken the harder road to figure out a way to do that before departing for the holiday break and leaving Americans hanging.  But they didn't.  So let's pass this short term extension, and focus on a more fiscally responsible solution for the longer-term.

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