Last night, I joined my Democratic colleagues on the Senate floor in an effort to pass an extension of unemployment assistance to millions of Americans who have been hurt by the current recession. This bill would have also fixed the cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates for physicians and extended access to lending for our small businesses.
I was hoping that we would be able to reach an agreement but we did not. Unfortunately in today's Senate, it only takes one objection to stall progress, and last night the Republican Senator from Kentucky blocked a bill to help working Americans, our seniors and our small businesses.
In attempting to justify his actions, Senator Bunning made the case that any program needs to be fully paid for. This explanation falls short in two ways: first, he was given the opportunity to put such an amendment before the Senate and declined to have a vote on his amendment. Second, when he repeatedly voted for the Bush tax cuts that benefitted the richest Americans, he never argued for any such similar hurdle.
This really symbolized the difference whether you're in the senate to fight for gains for the most powerful and wealthy among us or to fight to make America work for working families.
And, that point was driven home even further while I was in the middle of speaking to the challenges faced by our working families and our seniors, when the Senator from Kentucky exclaimed, "tough luck".*
These challenges faced by our workers and our families are very real. Unemployed Americans need to feed their families. They need to take their kids to the doctor. They need to pay their rent and their mortgage. It is truly shameful for anyone to wage an attack on unemployed Americans who are struggling in this troubled economy. This 30 day extension of unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits is a very modest and reasonable proposal - and we offered the Senator from Kentucky plenty of time to debate.
In my state of Oregon, there are counties with 14, 15, 16 and nearly 17 percent unemployment. People want to work; there just aren't available jobs. In partnership with the Oregon delegation, I am fighting to create those jobs but in the meantime, I will not turn my back on my fellow Oregonians and Americans around the country who are just trying to make ends meet and put food on the table for their families. We in the Senate are fortunate to have a paycheck. But for those who don't, we need to stand up for them. I can promise you this, I'm not going to give up on this fight. I won't stop fighting to make life better for working Americans and give those who are just trying to find a decent job the opportunity to do so.
*I chose not to post the actual phrase which was a cruder version of "tough luck".