2/12/2014 — 

Mr. Reed: Madam president, I want to turn to another key issue that requires urgent action.

That is the renewal of unemployment benefits for millions of people.

It's now been 46 days since unemployment insurance expired for many job seekers and today their ranks have swollen to 1.8 million Americans, including 20,000 veterans who've lost their emergency unemployment insurance benefits.

Getting Americans back to work and accelerating job growth should be congress's top priority -- our number-one job.

We all understand the answer to this is having a situation where there are not three applicants for each job; there is a good job for each applicant. And we have more to do.

But in the meantime, we have to address the crisis of these families who have worked hard all their lives. They only qualify for unemployment insurance if they've lost a job through no fault of their own and are looking for work.

But in that search, it's difficult.

And it's certainly difficult to get by, pay the rent, put gas in the car, keep a cell phone operating to take a call from a potential employer when we cut off the modest benefits of roughly $350 a week.

Doing this has historically been a bipartisan endeavor. We've all recognized in our communities, regardless of where they're located in this country, people who've worked hard, who are struggling and need assistance to make the transition from unemployment to reemployment.

And I am particularly troubled today by the way some people are commenting about the unemployed, suggesting that they don't have the backbone or the character to work. That this is a great deal for them – getting $300 a week – when in fact, one of the obvious points, to me at least, of this crisis of unemployment is it's not young, entry-level workers. Too often, it's middle-aged individuals who have done extremely well in their lives and now for the first time are coming into unemployment situations because of technology, because of changes in the workforce.

They are good people and they deserve our support. But instead they're being mischaracterized, dismissed, ignored - perhaps the most dangerous aspect of this problem.

We were only one republican short of breaking a filibuster that would allow us to at least temporarily help these people out. And I want to thank all my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who have worked very conscientiously, consistently and thoughtfully on this critical matter.

If one more of our colleagues can recognize the need to do this, then we can do it and we should do it.

We are, I believe, on the verge of addressing the issue of military COLA reductions.

That is something important that we have to do. But let me point out that does not go into effect until December 2015. There is no veteran that has lost his or her COLA yet.

But they are -- there are 1.8 million Americans and growing that have already lost their benefits for unemployment insurance, their extended benefits.

So the immediacy of this problem is compelling and we have to deal with it. We've never turned our back when long-term unemployment was so significant. We've always stood up and said "we'll help you." Not indefinitely. In fact, in 2012 I was part of the conference committee that made significant reforms to the unemployment system. One reform was to cut back the weeks from 99 to 73.

We provided the ability of states to have innovative programs in terms of putting people in jobs, in terms of making sure that job search was being thoroughly conducted by recipients. These reforms have been made.

What we have asked for is a short extension of the program, and I think that's what we should be asking for at this juncture.

But as we progress and as we get close to the point where the three months has expired, I think we have to think more about what are we going to do in the long run because we're still going to have millions of people that do not have work.

We have, I think, and we've demonstrated by these votes, members on both sides that want to get this done. We need one more vote to procedurally move forward.

I hope we can get that vote.

And, madam president, with that…I yield the floor.