SHAHEEN: STOP PLAYING POLITICAL GAMES WITH THE LIVES OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE

March 02, 2010

(Washington, D.C.) - U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen today took to the Senate floor to urge her colleagues to help end partisan obstruction and extend critical programs that affect millions of Americans, including federal unemployment benefits, highway funding and small business loans, and to prevent slashing Medicare reimbursements to doctors.

Shaheen's remarks as prepared are as follows:

"Mr. President, last week, Senate leadership reached agreement on a short term extension of federal unemployment benefits and other critical programs that were set to expire. 

"But, when we tried to pass the bill, sadly, a single Senator objected.  Because of that one Senator and his filibuster, federal unemployment benefits and health care subsidies for people who have lost their jobs have now expired.  This Senator also single-handedly halted highway projects across the country and put workers' futures in jeopardy.  The obstruction of this bill has brought to a standstill small business lending programs that have been successful at boosting the number of SBA guaranteed loans since the Recovery Act was passed. Because of this Senator's actions, physicians will see their Medicare reimbursements slashed by over 21 percent, threatening seniors' health care.

"Now, there may be some people who don't realize the damage caused by these lapses.  So I want to point out what is happening to too many people because of this filibuster. 

"First, this is about the struggles faced by individual workers and their families.  Right now, with a record number of unemployed workers competing for each job, it's become harder than ever for people who lose a job to get back to work.  Of the 15 million Americans who are out of work today, nearly six million (more than one in three) have run through the benefits provided by their states.

"These six million people are the ones served by federal unemployment, a critical safety net that helps families buy gas and groceries, heat their homes, and pay the mortgage while they look for that next job. 

"Now, because of the actions of just one member of this body, actions that I believe are irresponsible, more than 1.2 million people will get their last check during the month of March. 

"My office has heard from hundreds of constituents in the last week who are on the verge of losing their benefits. Their stories are heartbreaking. Let me tell you about just one. Linda wrote: ‘I've been unemployed for the first time in my life since August. I'll be 60 on March 14, and I've not been able to find another full-time job. I own an older mobile home in Epping and don't have a retirement plan, a nest egg, or anything of that nature. The prospect of my unemployment benefits going away very soon (I may only have two-three weeks left) because of one Senator digging in his heels makes me feel sick. Please, please do everything you can to get an extension for unemployment benefits passed. God has a plan for us all; I just pray that I don't lose everything, as many others have, and that one Senator isn't playing the partisan card just because he can. I'm not sure that America is the land of opportunity it used to be.'

"While some may think that it's no big deal to make people wait a week to get another unemployment check, even short term expirations have damaging results.  When state workforce agencies are forced to shut down and restart complicated federal benefits programs, they experience huge backlogs in their systems that delay getting checks out the door.  Phones lines at call centers are jammed with claimants, holding up others from filing for benefits - and lines at One Stop Centers get longer and longer.   In the best of circumstances, individuals who see their benefits lapse while this filibuster continues will have to wait weeks before they begin receiving checks again.  That's a long time when you're living on unemployment.

"Then there's the uncertainty and the fear that comes when someone opens the mail to find a notice that this check is the last one they'll receive.  Families cannot make responsible budget choices when we abruptly interrupt safety net programs.

"This filibuster isn't just holding up benefits to those who are already out of work, it's causing more Americans to lose their jobs.  By cutting off highway funding, one Senator has put thousands of more Americans at risk of losing their jobs.  For the first time in 20 years, construction projects across the country have been halted.  Without an extension of highway programs, construction companies in New Hampshire can't plan ahead.  Workers in New Hampshire don't know whether there will be a job for them when construction season starts back up in the spring.  Due to the actions of just one Senator, the future of these workers is uncertain.

"This filibuster is an especially egregious abuse of the Senate rules, but, unfortunately, abusing the rules in order to prevent us from addressing the needs of families and small businesses has become routine. That's why I believe we need to take a very hard look at changing the Senate rules.  

"It's time to stop playing political games with the lives of the American people.  I hope that, at least on this bill, every member of the Senate can come together to support the millions of people who are counting on our leadership."

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