Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) took to the floor of the U.S. Senate today urging the single Republican senator blocking action on a temporary extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits, as well as a temporary fix to Medicare reimbursements and a continuation of federal highway funds, to let the orderly process of the Senate move forward. There has been a gap in such benefits since they expired Sunday, February 28. Thousands of workers on federal highways construction projects have been furloughed until the funding is restored.
Following is an excerpt of Senator Cardin’s remarks. Video of his full statements can be found at www.cardin.senate.gov.
“I take this time to first thank the Democratic Leadership for bringing forward a bill that would extend unemployment insurance and COBRA protection that allows unemployed to be able to get health insurance, also to extend our highway program and the reimbursement structure for our physicians under Medicare so that our seniors can continue to receive the health care that they need.
“One senator has exercised his right to object, which has caused major problems for this country. Real people are being hurt by that decision. We need a short-term extension. It's the right thing to do.
“We need jobs. Each of us is committed to bringing up legislation that would create more job opportunities for Americans. The bill that will be on the floor will help us in that effort by extending important tax provisions so that businesses can invest in more jobs for Americans and extending the unemployment insurance.
“For every dollar we spend in unemployment compensation brings back $1.90 to our economy. It’s the best stimulus dollar you can put out there. It's immediate. This is an insurance program where employees and employers put money away during good times to pay for benefits during tough times like the recession were in. We’re in a tough time.
“In my own state of Maryland, 16,405 people were cut off, as of Monday, from their unemployment compensation. Each one of these individuals represents a family. How are these individuals going to be able to feed their families? How they are going to be able to keep their house out of foreclosure?
“As of January, there were 6.3 million Americans who had been unemployed for six months or longer. How can you afford to pay your insurance premiums for health care if you have been unemployed for six months? That’s why we passed COBRA protection for those who have lost their jobs, so they can maintain their health insurance for their families, keep out of bankruptcy, and make sure that if they have an emergency their family can get the needed health care and that it's properly reimbursed. That protection expired Monday, because of the objections of an individual senator.
“And then there is the short-term extension of the highway program. Two-thousand employees of the Department of Transportation just got furlough notices because of the failure to extend that program. I could tell you what it means in my own state of Maryland: a $3.1 million project in Montgomery County stopped as a result of the failure to pass this short-term extension.
“Then there is Medicare. CMS is doing everything it can to make sure that the 600,000 physicians who treat our seniors every day will continue to participate in the Medicare system, but as of Monday, there was a 21.2% cut in physician reimbursement rates. That's unconscionable, unreasonable, and it will deny our seniors access to care.
“I have a feeling that when this comes up on the floor, you will see an overwhelming number of Senators voting in favor of the extension of unemployment compensation and insurance protection for the unemployed because it's the right thing to do. It's the right thing to do as a nation in a recession. It's the right thing to do in order to strengthen our economy and to create more job opportunities. The money is spent in our community and helps keep jobs and expand jobs. It must be part of our strategy in creating more job opportunities for Americans.
“I take the floor to encourage my colleague to withdraw his objection. Let us move forward in a way that is in the interests of the American people and the interests of our economy so that we can continue to see the types of improvements for job opportunity to help the people of Maryland, the people around this nation, and to help our economy grow.”