Senator Merkley decries hold up of extension of unemployment insurance and COBRA

Senator Merkley decries hold up of extension of unemployment insurance and COBRA

Mr. MERKLEY. First, I would like to know, as we stand here tonight, have we paid for the tax cuts handed out to the wealthiest Americans?

Mr. DURBIN. If you are talking about the tax cuts under President George W. Bush, no.

Mr. MERKLEY. I am a new Senator. I have been here just over a year. But I don't recall, in January of 2009 when I arrived, that any Member stood up and said: I am going to hold up everything right now until we pay for the tax cuts for the wealthiest. Did that happen in January? Did I miss that?

Mr. DURBIN. No, it did not happen. I don't think it has ever happened. It is an indication that when it comes to giving relief to those who are in a pretty luxurious state, we don't pay for it.

Mr. MERKLEY. It sounds as if the Senator shares my memory, because I don't remember it in January 2009. I don't remember it in February 2009. I don't remember it in March 2009. I don't remember it in April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, or January of this year or this month.

I am confused. I am confused that the principle has been put forward tonight that there is a reason to hold up a program that hasn't been paid for. Even if we haven't been here late into the evening having a discussion about paying for the tax cuts, are there Members of this body who have held up affairs over the last 14 months, saying it is time to take care of paying for the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans?

Mr. DURBIN. No. As a matter of fact, there are some who are trying to extend estate tax benefits to even the wealthiest of the wealthy and to give them additional assistance and argue that tax cuts should not be paid for.

Mr. MERKLEY. So the principle being presented tonight is that if you are fortunate to be among the wealthiest Americans, we will give you additional benefits and it doesn't matter if we pay for them. But if you are among the most unfortunate Americans who have lost their jobs--and when you lose your job, you might well have lost your health care that went with your job--if you are struggling, then it matters that it is paid for immediately.

Mr. DURBIN. I agree with the Senator. It is a double standard, and it is one that benefits those who are wealthy as opposed to those who are out of work.

Mr. MERKLEY. It is a double standard that bothers me a great deal.

We here in this Chamber are fortunate enough to receive a paycheck. But back home, I have a tremendous number of families, working families in Oregon who are not going to get a paycheck. I have unemployment in Crook County of 16.8 percent. I have unemployment in Douglas County of 14.9 percent. In Harney County, of 15.5 percent. In Deschutes County,  of 14.5 percent; Jefferson County, 14.1 percent; Lake County, 12.9 percent; Josephine County, 13.6 percent. These are counties where more than one in eight people are out of work.

And am I to say to my good citizens back home that if you are among the most fortunate, we will give you additional benefits, unpaid for, but if you are down and out, that it’s just too bad, we are going to hold up everything and say we are not going to help you?

Mr. DURBIN. That is exactly what has happened with this objection, this objection to extend unemployment benefits for 30 days. That is all we are asking for, 30 days.

Mr. MERKLEY. So if I understand right, there is complete opportunity to have a debate 30 days from now, but we could have had the debate tonight because there could have been a vote tonight. It was offered but turned down. And, there will be opportunities throughout this next month, but we are going to cut people off at the worst moment here in the U.S. Senate because one Senator says: I am happy about unfunded gifts to the most fortunate, but I am determined not to help people who are down and out.