Transcript: Remarks by Sen. Harry Reid on bill to extend unemployment benefits for 3 months

Partial transcript of press briefing remarks by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) on S. 1845, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, on Jan. 7, 2014:

I think most everyone knows that in America today the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is being squeezed.

I don’t begrudge rich Americans, the success they’ve had. That’s part of our system and I think that’s good. But we have to make sure that we don’t try to grow our economy from the top down. We need to build from the middle out; we haven’t been doing that.

That’s why I’m pleased that six of our Republican colleagues joined in moving forward. I’ve said, I certainly congratulate Sen. [Dean] Heller in bringing 5 people with him. That’s important for America.

Even as our economy continues to show signs of improvement, there’s still only one job opening for every 3 people out of work.

In Nevada, not extending unemployment benefits cut almost 20,000 people from the rolls. These Nevadans and the more than 1 million Americans who’ve lost a way to survive – it’s extremely difficult. This insurance is a lifeline for them.

I don’t think anyone would consider about $300 a week much of a lifeline but that’s the average. But it certainly is $300 a week better than nothing.

These are long-term unemployed. My colleagues say they want to pay for this bill. This is new religion for them because all 5 times that President Bush signed extended unemployment benefits, it wasn’t paid for.

So I say to my Republican colleagues, this is a 3-month extension. Let’s pass this bill so that our fellow Americans – more than 1 million of them – don’t have to suffer and can keep [their benefits] and we can then talk about the long-term plan. It’s the right thing to do.

People across the country are watching us because the vast majority of Americans support extending these unemployment benefits.

Question:
…Will you allow amendments on this?

Reid:
The question is whether I’m open to allowing amendments on this. Well, here’s where we start. Sen. McConnell says he wants to pay for these extended benefits – remember never done with President Bush – he wants to pay for them by whacking Obamacare. That’s a non-starter.

So if they come with something that’s serious, I’ll talk to them. But right now, everyone should understand the low-hanging fruit is gone. We’ve scavenger every place we could go.

I talked to the White House an hour or so ago, talked to Jack Reed. We know how desperate these 1.2 million Americans are. But we have to be realistic too. We know that the Republicans are not going to allow us to close those long-overdue tax loopholes so they’d come up with all of this chicanery like whacking Obamacare and more.

Question:
So Sen. Reid, the answer is no?

Reid:
The answer is we’ll take a look if they have something serious.

Question:
…On the possibility of an unemployment extension offset as well as the agreement itself, the farm bill conference…[inaudible]…could that money be used for unemployment benefits?

Reid:
The farm bill is less than $20 billion. I understand that they’ve cut some of the savings we’ve had before. Sen. Stabenow thinks that sometime this week the conference could be completed. I hope that’s the case. Certainly, that’s a place we could look for some money.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Reid:
We have a bipartisan bill that’s been filed. They’re gathering co-sponsors at this time. I haven’t talked to Secretary [John] Kerry for some time. I haven’t talked in any detail with Sen. Menendez for a week or so. So we’ll wait and see what develops. As you know, it’s an issue that’s important and the Iranians have to understand that we’re not going to let them have nuclear weapon.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Reid:
Well, you’re going to have to talk to Sen. Kirk. I don’t know what he’s talking about. And that’s enough.

Question:
Are you open to paying for unemployment insurance. I know that hasn’t been done. But would you accept it if you have to pay for that?

Reid:
I’m personally am not in favor of it – pay for unemployment insurance. It’s an emergency and I’m not in favor of it. But if they have something, I’ll bring it to my caucus and we’ll take a look at it.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Reid:
I talked to Denis McDonough today before I came to my caucus. The President’s chief of staff – he said they’ll run the tracks on this. You know, it’s really hard to find anything. And as one of my Senators mentioned at the caucus, it’s really doesn’t make a lot of sense to take something out of the economy that’s creating jobs to pay for unemployment compensation. Everyone knows that for every $1 that we put into unemployment compensation, we get $1.50 back.

Question:
So he says he’s going to run the tracks so see if this works?

Reid:
He’s kind of saying like I’m saying. Certainly for this 3 months, this definitely should not be paid for. If they come up with…

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