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.
We have a short-term extension that would extend these programs so that there would be no gap in the unemployment insurance protection that Americans are currently receiving or receiving as of February 28 to be able to continue to get the COBRA protections and to be able to continue our highway program.
One senator has exercised his right to object, which has caused major problems for this country. I feel compelled to talk about this because there are real people being hurt by that decision. We need a short-term extension so that we can continue the orderly process. It's the right thing to do.
We all talk about jobs. 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 $1.09 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.
There are millions of Americans who can't find jobs, who are looking for jobs. Americans want to work but can't find work. Many have been looking for work for a long time – for over a year. And now, because of the objection of one senator, the benefits that should be paid this week cannot be paid this week.
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? It's wrong. They can't find work because there are not enough jobs out there.
We're going to extend unemployment compensation, I feel confident we will. But it's wrong for us to have this gap because of the objections of one senator. It's hurting our economy. It's money that should be in our economy where the people who receive this unemployment insurance would use it to buy food to make purchases to help our economy. Well, those dollars are being lost because of the objection of one senator.
The same thing is true with the COBRA protection. The COBRA protection says to a person who is unemployed — who lost their job — we're going to help make sure you can maintain your insurance for your family. Now, because of the objections of one senator that help is no longer available to those who are unemployed.
As of January, there were 6.3 million Americans who had been unemployed for six months or longer. Think about that. 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, to keep them 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. We all agree that should be done and the underlying bill that will be taken up later today will extend it through the year. In the meantime that protection expired Monday, because of the objections of an individual senator.
And then there is the short-term extension of the highway program. I want to mention that because 2,000 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. It halted work on federal lands.
We had a project at Great Falls entrance, road construction. A $3.1 million project in Montgomery County stopped as a result of the failure to pass this short-term extension. I could talk about the situation with Medicare. CMS is doing everything they can to make sure that the physicians, 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.
The extension that the Majority Leader and the Assistant Majority Leader repeatedly have put forward on the floor to allow for the short-term extension that the overwhelming majority of Members of Congress strongly support. We need to move forward with it. Then let's come to the floor and debate the longer term extensions. 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 in America. That should be our priority.
It's not a partisan issue. It shouldn't be a partisan issue. We need to work together, Democrats and Republicans, and it starts by removing the objection. Let us get this short-term extension, and then come to the floor to debate this bill that's on the floor that will extend it through the end of the year as we should. That's what we should be doing today to help the people of Maryland, the people around this nation, and to help our economy grow.