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Listen to Senator Murray’s Speech

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) spoke on the Senate floor calling on Republicans to end the political gimmicks and allow a bill to pass that will extend unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits to Washington state families who need the support. Currently, one Republican Senator – Jim Bunning of Kentucky - is blocking passage of the bill. In her speech, Murray discusses Washington workers who desperately need this bill to pass. She also discusses the specific repercussions that blockage of this bill is having on Washington state families, critical federal transportation reimbursements to the state, and access to care for Washington seniors on Medicare.

The full text of Senator Murray’s speech follows:

“Madam President, right now families across my home state and the entire country want nothing more than to see us come together and pass meaningful help for the people they see struggling every day.

“They want to see help for people like their neighbors, friends, and family members who through no fault of their own - have found themselves out of a job - and who despite their best efforts - are unable to find one. They want help for the seniors in their community who are being turned away from doctors because of devastating cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates. Or all those struggling to afford health care because they have lost a job and are now facing the impossible task of affording care on their own.

“Americans understand that during these difficult times people need help to make ends meet. They understand that there needs to be a lifeline for people who never thought they would need assistance from the government, but who now have nowhere else to turn.

“But what Americans and those in my home state of Washington don’t understand is why Washington D.C. can’t seem to deliver. Why when they make hard choices every day in their own lives to support their families and help those in need, Washington, D.C. can’t do the same. Why, at a time when needs have never been greater, are the only words they hear out of Washington D.C. - gridlock, stalemate, and standstill.

“Well, Madam President, today we have a clear cut example to show the American people just what’s wrong with Washington, D.C.

“That is because today - one, single Republican senator is standing in the way of the unemployment benefits of 400,000 Americans.

“One single, Republican senator is blocking an extension of COBRA benefits for 500,000 Americans.

“One single, Republican senator is forcing doctors to take a 21% cut in Medicare reimbursement rates that could force seniors to be turned away from the Medicare coverage they rely on.

“One single, Republican senator is blocking an extension of critical highway funds that has construction workers and transportation employees at home today and that has cut critical payments to struggling state.

“One single, Republican Senator has put posturing before people, politics before families, and point scoring before the needs of struggling Americans.

“Madam President, the legislation that we are trying so hard to pass is very straight forward – It’s aimed at helping real families with the real problems they face every day. And the consequences of it being blocked are just as real.

“This bill includes an extension of Unemployment Insurance which in my home state hundreds of thousands of individuals rely on to buy groceries, pay a mortgage, or help pay for school. For years these benefits have been routinely extended in tough times – and times have rarely been tougher than they are now. But today, families in every single one of our states are sitting around their kitchen tables trying to figure out how they’ll make it through the weeks and months ahead without these payments.

“This package also includes an extension of COBRA for workers who lost their jobs - and the health care benefits that come with it.

“In my home state, thousands of unemployed workers have the ability to see a doctor solely because we have provided this important assistance. It’s a provision that is critical because health care is often the single biggest cost unemployed workers face. In fact, on average, a monthly healthcare premium payment to cover a family costs over $1,000, which represents roughly 80% of the average unemployment check.

“Another vital health care measure included in this bill is a provision that would overturn a staggering 21% cut in payments to doctors that accept Medicare. Just yesterday, my office heard from a doctor in the small community of Poulsbo, Washington who is one of very few in his region that are taking new Medicare patient. He said he feared just what this cut would mean for him and his practice. He told my staff that this cut would limit his ability to continue serving the needs of seniors in his area. And he is not alone, in Washington state, this cut would affect over 60,000 employees, 700,000 Medicare patients, and nearly 350,000 TRICARE patients.

“And finally, Madam President, this bill also includes an extension of the federal transportation funding act known as SAFETEA-LU. Allowing SAFETEA-LU to expire not only hurts construction workers and contractors working on major federal highway projects in my state, it leaves state government bearing all the burden for the costs of these projects. In fact, in Washington state a reimbursement payment of $13.5 million for federally-sponsored projects that is due tomorrow is now in limbo.

“Again, all because of one single, Republican Senator.

“You know, last October, I was on this floor fighting for an extension of unemployment benefits and I told the story of a woman from Seattle named Kristina Cruz. At the time, Kristina had been unemployed for 20 months after spending over 10 years in human resources. Kristina had written to my office and talked about going above and beyond in her job search – a skill she has picked up in her career in HR. But even with all her experience, interviews had been few and far between.

“Kristina talked about how she was not interested in living off the government long-term - but how in the midst of this economic crisis she didn’t have any other choice. Well, since that speech, Kristina has stayed in touch with my office. And unfortunately, she still is having a hard time getting back to work. She recently wrote an e-mail to my office that said:

“It's truly devastating to me that I've made choices in my life like getting good grades in school and getting my education, and building up professional experience only to find that I'm unable to get a job.

“I thought I had made decisions to help ensure my success in life, and many times, I barely have enough money for food.

“My family isn't rich and can't afford to support me. I literally do not know what I'm going to do.”

“Kristina went on to voice the frustrations felt by so many about the needless holdups in getting this bill passed on providing assistance to struggling Americans.

“I find it to be really egregious that we live in a Democratic society and yet a few misguided, outlying voices, despite overwhelming bipartisan majority support, can hold up and block a much needed unemployment extension. It really flies in the face of all of the things I've learned about in my history books.

“I'm not sure how I can survive many weeks and weeks of needless hold ups when I have rent and bills to pay. Sometimes I feel that if some of these Senators, were forced to walk a day in our shoes, then maybe they would have a sense of how it is to try and survive in this economy.”

“Madam President, this opinion is not unique to my state, to one political party, or to one issue. Every evening families across the country turn on the nightly news and hear another story about gridlock in our nation’s capital.

“Often times they’ve spent their days scanning through classifieds, going to another job fair with long lines and few opportunities, or working multiple jobs to meet their family’s most basic needs. And when they get home - they wonder just how we’ve spent ours. What they see is this – an entire Congress forced to spend time fighting with one Republican Senator.

“A Congress that is forced to jump through procedural hoops and endure endless delay tactics to get meaningful – and largely bipartisan - legislation passed.

“The obstruction of a single, Republican Senator who voted to extend these same benefits in 2008, but who has now suddenly changed his mind.

“And the entire Republican Party, except for a few, that sits idly by as one of their members slows this entire body to a halt.

“The American people are sick of it – and the backlash to the blockage of this bill is evidence of that.

“It’s time for us to all stop and think about Kristina and all the other Americans who sent us here to work for them. The people who’ll watch the news tonight and think – What about me? What about us?

“You know, Kristina wrote me again recently to say that it just seems like government is broken. And I know that is a sentiment that we all hear all the time now.

“But the truth is - it is only broken if we allow it to be – it is only broken if we allow stunts like this to rule the day. If we can come together and put an end to short-sighted political point scoring that says obstruction is good politics and partisanship trumps progress – we can help struggling American families. If we can join together the way we did to pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program or fair pay for women in the workplace, we can restore the faith of the American people.

“But until we put an end delays like the one we face today, Americans will continue to have every right to be fed up.

“I urge the Senator from Kentucky to allow us to finally move forward with consent on this bill so that Americans can get access to the help they desperately need.

“This is critical. Families across our states are hurting, through no fault of their own, through an economic recession that they did not make happen. We all want our country to get back on its feet. We all want to be strong again. We all want this lifeline for our families so that when our country gets running strong again that they can use the skills that they've been holding in abeyance and go back to work, so that they can get the health care they need for their children and their families until they can get – until they can get moving again.

“So these construction projects across our country don't come to a slamming halt, causing more Americans to sit at home without a paycheck, more Americans at home who can't go to the store to buy something, and restaurants where people can't go because they don't have a paycheck.

“Madam president, we're asking that the Republican colleagues who've worked with us on this bill come to the floor and urge one Republican senator to work with us, to get consent, so we can move past this and get to the job we've come here to do: to get people back to work, to make sure families have health care, to make sure that we do the business of this government in a way that works for American families.

“Thank you, madam president, and I yield the floor.”