Mrs. MURRAY. Mr. President, this morning on the Senate floor I spoke at length about the importance of the Senate's role in confirming judges for lifetime appointments and talked of the success in the Senate confirming 98 percent of the judges sent to the floor. We have, I remind our colleagues, confirmed 168 judges on the Senate floor. That is pretty impressive. But all the Senate action that is important to occur before the end of the year is now being held up over four judges .
I also talked this morning about the success we had in Washington State using a bipartisan commission to select and confirm qualified judges . This morning I noted that we should be spending our time on much more pressing issues like helping the many unemployed workers who are about to run out of unemployment benefits.
We are wasting 2 days of the Senate's very limited time left in this session on four judges . We certainly have more important things to do. We were supposed to pass 13 appropriations bills by October 1. We did not. Today, more than half the bills that fund the Federal Government are incomplete, waiting for congressional action. We have a lot of work to do that affects millions of families. But instead, we are wasting 30 hours of the Senate, precious hours of time talking about four judges.
What we are not doing is we are not helping laid-off workers in these 30 hours. We are not improving health care. We are not fixing roads across this country. We are not improving the economy. We are not helping our troops. And we are certainly not improving veterans care. We are not doing anything for the millions of Americans who need help today because the other side is tying the Senate in knots so nothing can get done.
What we are doing right now reminds me a little bit of the behavior back in 1995 when the other side did not get exactly what they wanted on the budget, so they shut down Government. Boy, we really heard from people across the country when the Government was shut down. Federal services were shut down, people could not get their Social Security check, agencies were shut down. The needs of every American were set aside at that time so Republicans could complain about a budget with which they disagreed.
The same thing happened here today. The needs of every American are being set aside so Republicans can complain about four judges they want confirmed. Forget the laid-off workers, forget health care, forget education. The other side wants to make a point, and they are shutting down the Senate and the needs of the American people so they can make that point.
Each passing hour on this floor feels more and more like the Government shutdown of 1995. We cannot work on critical needs because the other side is holding things up. After 30 hours of hearing about this, the American people will get it. They will see that we are not working on the things that really do matter to them. I am sure many Americans are scratching their heads, wondering what is going on in the Senate. The answer is, we are not working on jobs. We are not working on education. We are not working on health care because the majority is upset we have confirmed only 98 percent of President Bush's judicial nominees.
As I mentioned this morning, there are much more important things we need to be doing. We do need to extend unemployment benefits for laid-off workers. I tried to bring up the bill to help laid-off workers get unemployment benefits, but when I bring it up the majority says it is not the right time to discuss helping laid-off workers.
I invite the majority to explain to laid-off workers in my State who are going to exhaust their benefits on December 31 why we are talking about judges instead of helping those laid-off workers? These hours that we are wasting on this manufactured crisis could be much better spent on the real crisis facing so many Americans.
Two weeks ago I introduced legislation to extend unemployment benefits to workers who will run out of benefits on December 31, right after Christmas. For millions of Americans who cannot find jobs, the clock is ticking and every day counts. Unless this Congress acts, those families are going to start the new year without a job and without any help paying for the basics like housing and food and medicine.
Two weeks ago I introduced the amendment in the Senate. If the majority wants to vote against helping laid-off workers, that is their choice, but we are going to force them to take a vote because working families should not be punished any more than they already have been in this tough economy.
Congress cannot leave town for the year--and many people are talking about ending next week--we cannot end next week without extending the benefits on which these many families rely. We have extended benefits in past recessions and we need to do it in this recession because the clock is ticking.
In my home State of Washington, we have the third highest unemployment rate in the Nation. It is 7.6 percent. Since President Bush took office, we have lost more than 70,000 jobs in Washington State. Those laid-off workers want jobs. They are eager to work. In King County alone, 10,000 people are on a waiting list for job training. They want to provide for their families, but they are about to get cut off unless the Congress does the right thing and extends unemployment benefits. If Congress does not extend those benefits, another 124,000 in my home State, Washington State, will exhaust their benefits by December 31. These families are draining their savings accounts just to hang on. Many of them have run out of options. But they still have to pay their mortgage. They still have to pay their medical bills. They still have to pay college tuition. That is why they need these unemployment insurance benefits.
The bill I introduced will do three things. First, it will help families as they try to get back on their feet. These benefits simply will help them buy groceries, pay the mortgage, keep their kids in college. It will give them a little bit of cushion as they try to find work.
Second, extending benefits will help stimulate the economy in every State and every Member wants their economy to be better in their State because when we send the unemployment insurance, people then have the money they need to buy things for every day. That will be a shot in the arm for the hard-hit States, for our hardware stores, for grocery stores, and all of our businesses like that. It means these people will have the money they need to keep those businesses going as well.
Finally, extending benefits will help stimulate our Nation's economy. Every dollar invested in these benefits generates another $1.73 for our economy.
Laid-off workers deserve a vote on this bill. They deserve a debate on this bill. They deserve time in the Senate on this bill. They need our help. We should be using 30 hours of time to talk about the unemployed workers, the difficulties facing them, and how we in this Congress are going to get them back on their feet. That is what we should be spending 30 hours on.
It seems to me at a time when we are spending $1 billion a week in Iraq, the very least we can do is give unemployed Americans a few hundred dollars a week. Congress cannot leave town without providing a life line to laid-off workers. The clock is ticking, time is running out, and we should be helping laid-off workers instead of squandering our limited time on the judges issues.
To understand how serious this is, I will read some letters from the people I represent.
Let me read a letter from Laura Perry in Battle Ground, WA, a small community in southwest Washington. Laura wrote:
I really need to know what is being done not only in the State of Washington, but in Congress to acknowledge workers who have lost their jobs. Millions of us are going to lose our homes! Throughout my life, I have done all the right things to stay current with the job market. In spite of this fact and having a college degree, I lost my job after 9/11 when my company closed the northwest branch office due to the economic downturn. Now, a year and one-half later, I find that I do not fit in all the niches for acquiring employment retraining because I am not on welfare, I haven't been employed by Boeing, I am not a dislocated homemaker, and I am not a veteran. Please let me know what is being done to help the unemployed in this country when the unemployment insurance runs out. For the first time in my life, I am also without medical benefits.
I think Laura Perry deserves 30 hours of time on the Senate floor.
Let me read a letter from Marshall Dunlap of Kent, WA, a suburb out of Seattle. He writes to me:
Please support the upcoming bill to extend unemployment benefits to those who have lost our jobs. It doesn't help the economy when millions of us are about to become homeless. I would prefer a job but until the economy recovers I am finding this impossible. I am a high tech worker and have no other skills. I am 53 years old and have very few options. For every job I apply for there are hundreds of other applicants. Once the economy comes back, I'm sure I'll be able to support myself but without help until that happens I will lose my house. I know I am not alone so imagine the problem multiplied by millions. There are over 97,000 people unemployed in the Puget Sound are alone. Please help.
That is from Mr. Marshall Dunlap, in Kent, WA. I think Marshall would prefer we were spending 30 hours talking about how we are going to help him get back into the workforce and able to provide for his family.
Here is a letter from Ronnie Harper of Kingston, WA:
Thank you very much for working to extend UI benefits in the state of Washington. I moved here 6 years ago to enter the technology market, which I did immediately upon my arrival. Unfortunately, things turned sour at Hasbro last year because people stopped buying toys, and I was laid off after 5.5 years of exemplary service. I have been working extremely hard over the past year to find another job; a job that is in the IT industry with a competitive compensation package. My efforts have been practically fruitless, with most employers even refusing to discuss their reasons for not considering me for their open positions, and many filling posted positions internally. At this point, I am on my last week of unemployment insurance, and I have mouths to feed. I hope very much that this bill is successful, please keep us posted!
That is from Ronnie Harper in Kingston, WA.
Unfortunately, I need to add that since he wrote this letter to me, Mr. Harper has now exhausted his benefits. That is why I think this Senate needs to act and why we should be spending 30 hours of debate time talking about how we are going to help Mr. Harper.
Mr. President, let me add one final letter before I turn it over to my colleague from South Dakota who has been waiting in the Chamber.
This is a letter from Bill Gilbertson of Sequim, WA. He says to me:
Dear Senator Murray:
That is Bill Gilbertson of Sequim, WA.
We are talking about real people facing real problems. I think it is essential that this Senate deal with this issue now.
NOTE: Senator Murray then asked for unanimous consent that the Senate bring up S.1853, her bill to extend unemployment benefits for laid-off workers. Unfortunately, a Senator from the Majority Party objected, and Murray was not able to bring up her bill
Mrs. MURRAY. I am deeply disturbed to hear that. The Senate is going to be out of session shortly. Everyone wants to finish by Thanksgiving. I am sure the letters I have read from a few of the people in my State reflect a lot of people's concerns that these people are going to be facing Thanksgiving without knowing how they are going to be paying for their mortgage, their food, and their basic necessities.