May 13, 2021
Senate GOP Press Conference Unemployment Benefits Transcript May 13
Marco Rubio and other Republican senators held a press conference on May 13, 2021 to discuss opposition to continued unemployment benefits. Read the transcript of the news briefing here.
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Senator Rubio: (00:00)
… Orlando, the villages, the Tampa Bay region, Southwest Florida and of course, back to South Florida where I live. Everywhere I went, everywhere I went as I interacted with small businesses, we did a lot of focus on recipients of PPP and how the program had helped them. Everywhere I went, I heard the same thing from people that didn’t know each other. There’s no way that they coordinated on this message. It went something like this. “We have 50 job openings. We can only get five people to even respond. Only one will come in for an interview and then they didn’t take the job when I offered it.” Over and over and over again, hearing that from small businesses in various sectors. Not just restaurants and hotels and hospitality, but various other sectors as well, including one manufacturer. When I asked, “Well, why is it, why are people telling you that they’re not going to do it?”
Senator Rubio: (00:46)
The answer that people gave them was, “Look, I’m receiving unemployment benefits. It pays maybe not as much as I was making working, but pretty close. When those run out, I’m going to go back to work.” That’s what we’re being told by small businesses. It’s not what I’m saying. I’m not having a press conference here with you today to tell you that’s what I believe. It’s what I’m being told. I’m here to tell you what small businesses are telling me, and I believe we’re telling everyone that’s here. That is an enhanced unemployment benefits are creating an incentive for people not to return to work until they expire. It’s not because people are lazy. Not accusing anyone of being lazy. It’s because people are logical, because it’s logic that if you’re going to make close to or as much in some cases more than what you do when you’re at work, you’ll go back to work when that expires.
Senator Rubio: (01:32)
We have a labor crisis in this country. I have a small business owner, owns a handful of restaurants in Miami who has put up a sign on the door that says, “Due to the labor crisis, wait times for an hour,” or something along those lines. Guy calls every day. We’re having a labor crisis, just like small business in particular, got hit hard during the pandemic when they were shut down. They’re now being hit hard again by a labor crisis that’s not allowing them to open up to the levels that are allowed by local authorities. I heard the arguments that some make and a lot of people contort themselves into a pretzel to try to come up with some explanation that has nothing to do with the benefits. People are afraid of getting COVID. People have nowhere to put their kids.
Senator Rubio: (02:11)
I can’t speak to the rest of the country. I can tell you in Florida, schools have been open since October and you can literally walk into various retail establishments throughout the state and get a vaccine without an appointment. We now have probably more vaccines than willing recipients. I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that we have a labor crisis, that a government program has exacerbated it, and it’s time to address it because we are doing significant harm to the ability of these small businesses to survive to the point where some of them, by the time people are ready to go back to work in these cases, some of these small businesses won’t be there to take them because they won’t make it there, given what they’ve already lost.
Senator Rubio: (02:46)
[foreign language 00:02:46] … [foreign language 00:02:51].
Senator Rubio: (02:50)
Dr. Marshall, I think you were next.
Dr. Marshall: (03:30)
Okay. Good afternoon, everybody. I appreciate you coming out and covering the story. We have 8.1 million open jobs across this country right now, 8.1 million, that’s 500,000 more jobs than we’ve ever had opened before a record going back to 2018. Sat down, done over 20 town halls, visited with hundreds, maybe thousands of business owners. Their number one concern, the number one challenge for the economy now is getting people to come back to work. In the state of Kansas, they have a maximum of a $500 per week state benefit. Then we’re adding the $300 from the federal government, $800 a week, that comes out to about a $40,000 a year job. Then if you have a spouse, maybe they’re getting another $40,000 a year as well. That’s $20 an hour in case you haven’t done the math yet. Just frankly, there’s a lot of jobs that weren’t paying as much of that.
Dr. Marshall: (04:23)
I’ve talked to multiple owners, they raise the wages 10%, 20%, and even paying childcare workers to come back so we have childcare, so people can go back to work. They’re just being paid more to stay at home. I also just want to share though, that I have some empathy and concern about some of the other challenges for America. It’s not just about decreasing the unemployment insurance. There’s also other issues that we can face as well. One of them is just getting, making sure all of our kids are back in school. I used to sign a paycheck for 300 nurses. If one of those kids was sick and they had to go home, it was a huge problem for the rest of the hospital. I understand that we need kids back in school and we need definitive leadership from the white house and the CDC.
Dr. Marshall: (05:07)
They’re very ambiguous. They need to be very clear that it’s safe for kids to go back to school. The next thing I hear about is childcare. Once upon a time, we were living 1,500 miles from our nearest relative. I was an obstetrics resident working 100 hours a week. My wife was a neonatal intensive care nurse working 12-hour shifts. We had a one-year-old and a four-year-old. I think even after 37 years of marriage, my wife and I would say childcare was still the toughest challenge that we’ve ever had. Solving childcare at the federal level, very, very difficult. I know that some of the folks up here have tried to help with that. We doubled the tax credit for childcare back in the 2017 Republican-led tax cuts bill as well. The other thing we’ve tried to focus on the ag committees is making sure there’s extra nutritious opportunities for preschool kids, breakfast for children at school, backpacks to go home with the weekend.
Dr. Marshall: (06:02)
There’s things we can do at the federal level, but I’m proud of those people back home, trying to solve this problem on their own. One great example, [inaudible 00:06:09], Kansas, the YMCA, hooking up with local business owners, other folks performing co-ops for their childcare. That’s a hard nut to crack from the federal level, but I certainly have empathy towards that challenge. Next question I hear about people concern is they don’t have the training for the jobs that are out there. Listen, move to Kansas. We got the best community colleges, technical colleges in the world. In two years, we’ll have you a job making 50 or $60,000 a year. The cost of living is it inexpensive, and we’ll get you a part-time job as well. What else is going on?
Dr. Marshall: (06:42)
I think this is the last one. I want to talk about why people aren’t going back to work. They’re they’re living in fear. They’re anxious, the biggest mental health crisis I’ve ever seen in some 30 years as a physician is going on right now. Part of the challenge right now is the message from the national meeting is a message of fear and doom. We need, again, we need White House leadership. We need CDC leadership to step forward and to truly lead. It’s time to take the mask off. We need our president. We need Dr. Fauci to take their mask off. If you’ve had the vaccine, it’s 95% effective, 99% of the people will never be even hospitalized if they’re exposed to the virus. The vaccines work, but people don’t have confidence because they’re seeing the leadership live in fear and the national media playing that fear card. We need leadership as well. Our bill that we’ve introduced will help solve part of the problem. It’s going to pay people more to go to work than to stay home. These other issues need to be addressed as well. That’s what’s challenging in our economy right now. Thanks for being here.
Steve Daines: (07:47)
About a week and a half ago, my wife and I were driving through a town in Montana and we saw balloons surrounding a small business. I thought, “Well, this must be some kind of big promotion going on.” It reminded me when we sometimes see in car lots to get the attention of people driving by. We turned in, it turns out it was all about hiring. They were trying to get people to come to the small business because they needed to hire more people. It’s the number one issue I’m hearing from my small businesses across Montana. We can’t get enough people to fill the jobs. It is truly a labor crisis, not a job crisis. In any time you’re paying people more to stay home than to go back to work, it’s going to create this perverse incentive.
Steve Daines: (08:28)
As Marco said, this is not about laziness, it’s about logic. You do the math. There’s no reason to come back to work. I’m very proud of our governor in Montana, Governor Greg Gianforte. Nine days ago, he boldly stepped out and said, “We’re going to end the federal unemployment benefit of $300 a week.” He also said, “We’re going to pay a $1,200 bonus if you come back to work.” I’m pleased to report nine other states, now 13, we just found out this morning had joined Montana in stopping this $300 a week additional supplement that’s causing people to stay home. We firmly believe that people are better off to now get a paycheck versus a government check. We just heard a report this morning from a motel in my state of Montana, who said prior to Governor Gianforte’s action in Montana, they were getting one applicant a week. In the last 72 hours, they received 60. It’s starting to work.
Joni Ernst: (09:31)
Kudos to Operation Warp Speed. Because of Operation Warp Speed, we now have vaccinations. I saw an ad on the television the other day, doesn’t matter what age, you can get a vaccination. Thanks to those schools that are opening back up. Iowa actually has had their children in school since August. My nephews have the benefit of going to school and being educated. We see coronavirus cases decreasing. We see hospitalizations going down. People need to go back to work. We hear from Iowans every single day, Chuck Grassley and I, when we’re out on that 99 county tour, doing those business visits, stopping in those schools, visiting our hospitals, we hear about the challenges the employers have. They cannot get people to return to work. Why? Because of the expanded unemployment benefits.
Joni Ernst: (10:34)
I am so proud of our governor, Governor Kim Reynolds. She has joined Montana’s governor in pushing back on the additional federal dollars for the expanded unemployment benefits. Iowa is joining that March to get our economy back up and going. We will have people returning to work. We’re really excited about this. It’s the right thing to do. I’m really proud to partner with Senators Marshall and Rubio on their bill. Making sure that we are pushing back against the federal government incentive for people to stay home. There is dignity in a job. Right now, we are depriving our citizens of that opportunity to work and provide for their family. Thank you.
Speaker 5: (11:29)
Thank you. I’ve been here four months. You can’t make this stuff up. I thought the federal government was supposed to help the people, but we’ve got the government versus the people. I go to Alabama, and I usually go back and get patted on the back. I’m getting chewed up now because we’re up here giving money out. We don’t need to be giving money out. We need to go back to work. We need go back to school. Government versus the people. Last week, I go back and heard from three groups. We had job fairs last week, coach. We had job fairs in our cities. Nobody showed up. We got hundreds of jobs. One guy said, “I got 200 jobs. I’ll give $1,000 bonus to start, $20 an hour. All healthcare. We can’t get anybody to apply because they’re sitting at home.” Now, some people need a check, but we have done this absolutely the wrong way.
Speaker 5: (12:26)
You don’t write a blank check for everything. You do it the right way. Our unemployment offices have jobs to do. If they’re at a job, you go and you apply. Right now, we’re just writing checks. I feel sorry for the people in small business, because they are going down every day, every day. It’s embarrassing to me that I’m up here in Washington DC, and people are trying to get their lives back together, but we got President Biden last week gets on national television, says these checks are not hurting people going back to work. President Biden, go back with me this weekend to Alabama, and I’ll show you. I’ll show you, people are not working because the checks. You need to get your advisors to get out of those offices and go to South or go West or go North and go East and go to these places and listen. Quit listening to people telling you the wrong things. It’s embarrassing that we run a country like this. It’s embarrassing. Thank you.
Senator Blackburn: (13:25)
Well, as you can hear, we have a problem in this country and in our office, we call it the Biden bucks. The Biden bucks are keeping people from going back to work. In Tennessee, we have 255,000 jobs that are available right now. We have 49,000 people that are still getting that plussed up, plussed up unemployment. That is five jobs for every person. Take your pick. There are plenty of jobs there. Now, I want to thank my colleagues for coming up with a way to address the Biden bucks, to put this in to wind down, so that we do get people back to work. We get life back to normal. That is what people are wanting to see. It is the right thing to do. To encourage people to return to work. To go to these jobs, to get life back to normal. As I said, 255,000 available jobs in the state of Tennessee, 49,000 who are still taking unemployment. It’s time to end this and get people back to work.
Mike Braun : (14:57)
A week ago we were on recess and I think I of any Senator, I’m the most recent off the street of running a business. I spent most of that week, traveling around the state. I’m not going to repeat what’s been said here, coach said, he’s been here a little over four months. I’ve been here about two and a half years. This place will surprise you in terms of some of the stuff that is done that is so counter to what common sense says to do and just by listening to people on the street. The other thing pre-COVID, we had the hottest economy that I’ve ever been a part of, and it’s been 37 years. The business that I had to step away from, asked my son, my daughter, what’s the biggest challenge we’ve got? Well, we got about 65 job openings that we can’t get anybody to come to, and we pay the highest wage in the lowest unemployment county in the state of Indiana. Something is wrong.
Mike Braun : (16:05)
The federal government, I think for reasons much broader than addressing COVID, tried to step in, change the dynamic in this country where you can sell the idea that you live better through government than you do through the productive economy. In places like Indiana, has a balanced budget, has a rainy day fund, does all the things that makes the government work, and now we deal with this bizarro world or where this place is trying to create a new paradigm. Here’s the solution. Thank goodness you got the bill out there. Every governor, especially Republican governors, my state included, pull the plug so that we don’t need to legislate. Blue state governors, if you want to keep people in your state, businesses in your state, they’re leaving in certain places, do the same thing.
Senator Rubio: (17:03)
[inaudible 00:17:03]. One more crisis. You can’t get a yogurt parfait at Starbucks now for six days. I don’t know what’s happening. What shortage it is. I don’t know that there’s a hackers that did it, but we’ve got to get to the bottom of that as well. All right, yeah.
Speaker 8: (17:16)
[crosstalk 00:17:16], I was wondering, so one of the Biden administration poses to combat this problem is to make people cut their unemployment benefits if they get a job. Saying they’ll take away their unemployment benefits if they refuse a job. Do you think that’s enforeceable?
Senator Rubio: (17:30)
I think it’s very difficult to enforce. I mean, it had to be enforced at the state level. Florida’s putting in that requirement, has it now, but that’s a hard one to enforce. Look, ultimately, this was an issue of timing and the timing there wasn’t … A year ago, you could make a very different argument, but now those jobs are there. What I’m telling you is that ultimately what I fear most of all, is that these businesses that are now operating under capacity, because they can’t get people to work, they need this time to make up for all that loss of revenue of being down for a year or six months or eight months. By the time folks are ready to go back to work as this expires after Labor Day, there may not be a business for them to go back to. I’m worried about a second hit against our economy. I’ll let my colleagues add to that.
Dr. Marshall: (18:07)
It’s not working now, right? It’s obviously not working. Brian, you had one.
Senator Marshall, a number of your colleagues have referenced their governors are going to [inaudible 00:18:18] benefits. Are you calling on Governor Kelly in Kansas to forego those or as long as they’re available, would you like Kansas to have access to [inaudible 00:18:24]?
Dr. Marshall: (18:25)
I’m absolutely calling on her to end the federal unemployment extra benefit. People will still get their $500 a week, but this would end the extra $300. I would just encourage that-
You won’t get Kelly to do it on her own before the Biden administration acts? That’s what I’m trying to [inaudible 00:18:41].
Dr. Marshall: (18:41)
I would love for Governor Kelly to make the announcement today. I would suggest following our plan, we’re going to cut the federal benefit in half in June and by July 1st, be end with it. There’s two components to this. Number one is it’ll help the economy, but I’m really concerned about as people’s mental health as well. Joni kind of talked about this a second ago. The greatest thing we could give a person right now is a job that brings dignity and purpose to their life. If you want to solve the mental health crisis, number one, people need to go to a Royals baseball game, but number two, they need to get back to work as well. Yes, I sure hope that she’ll give in here and do the right thing for the state.
Speaker 10: (19:18)
Senator Rubio, following up on that, 11 states have already starting to close out their unexpired plussed up benefits. Is it now a state issue where the governors … Should you be talking to our governors about ending this program?
Joni Ernst: (19:35)
Well, and I can address this a little bit as well, but there are so many entities that are operating in multiple states. Not all of them are going to be red states or blue states, but eliminating that federal government portion or stepping it down, it makes it an equal playing field across the board. I would say this should be a state issue, but there are many governors that aren’t doing the right thing by those businesses that might be located in different areas. You may have some people that are returning back to work in one entity, but they’re not able to fill the jobs in another state. Let’s even that out. Let’s make sure that all the states are across the board playing on the same field. I think that’s the best-
Speaker 10: (20:22)
[crosstalk 00:20:22] different problems and different situations and [crosstalk 00:20:26]-
Joni Ernst: (20:25)
That’s exactly why you have state unemployment. We’re talking about the federal portion and those states can deal with those issues, but I would say large in part, some of those are self-created issues. As long as they have state unemployment, they still have that support network available. What we’re saying is the federal government is going to start stepping down. We will see people going back to work in those states where it makes sense to go back to work and honest to goodness, I would say most states now can go back to work.
Speaker 11: (20:59)
That’s it, thanks guys.
Speaker 12: (21:00)
If I could just respond to President Biden saying there was not enough jobs, and there’s not enough good-paying jobs. What about making sure that these individuals have a well-paying job to go back to?
Senator Rubio: (21:11)
Well, because of the labor shortage, most of these places are paying more than they’ve ever paid before. The problem is if you’re the cafeteria bakery that I know, they used to pay people at nine and a half dollars an hour, and now they’re paying $13 an hour. When you’re selling pastries at 50 cents and 20, 75 cents, there’s a limit to how much you can pay, but they’re all paying more. Some are actually giving bonuses to employees that can attract other workers to come because they’re so desperate for the labor need, but the labor numbers are there. One of the first things that dies in modern politics is common sense. We had a pandemic. We had an enhanced benefit because unemployment insurance exists as a short-term bridge between the loss of a job and finding a new one. We had a pandemic.
Senator Rubio: (21:51)
We didn’t let people open up. You couldn’t find a job, even if you wanted to. People had to live and probably for an indeterminate period of time. Therefore, we had this enhanced benefit, but now we have jobs available. That’s the moment in which you start to tailor it down. That’s the moment in which you do, what we should have done, and that is … This thing is right now in the law and in late August, early September, right after Labor Day, irrespective of conditions. This should be conditions-based. Once you get to a point where you have a massive number of job openings and not enough people to meet them, you it’s a pretty good indicator that on a macro level, the economy is in a place where that benefit is no longer needed.
Senator Rubio: (22:29)
I’m just telling you guys, look, it’s not me saying this. All my staff in my office came back to work and they’re all working. They never lost their job. They’re working from home. In this particular case, it’s people telling me this. All I’m telling you is what dozens and dozens of small businesses, frankly, every business I interact with is telling me. That’s all I’m sharing with you. It’s a real problem. All right. Thank you. Give me an answer on the parfait though, yogurt.
Speaker 13: (22:55)
Senator Rubio: (23:14)
Oh, sure [inaudible 00:23:14], but that’s not going to change the fundamental fact that the [inaudible 00:23:19], that it is supported by [inaudible 00:23:20] Iranians. [inaudible 00:23:23] is an Iranian product, and so we are in active negotiations [inaudible 00:23:26] sanctions on a government that actively supports a group that has now launched over 1,500 rockets [inaudible 00:23:33] …