Unemployment Wrangle and Mangle in the Senate

Last Sunday, USA Today published an editorial urging Congress to restore federal unemployment benefit extensions immediately.  About 1.3 million people who had already exhausted their 26 weeks of state unemployment compensation were cut off from federal extension benefits on December 28 when Congress failed to renew the enabling legislation and then went off on a weeklong New Year’s vacation.

Many major newspapers have expressed similar sentiments, as has President Obama.  And things were looking possible there for a while.

No vote occurred on Monday due to the weather keeping seventeen senators away.  On Tuesday, the Senate voted to open debate on the issue.  Promising, particularly since it took six votes from the Republican side of the aisle to accomplish this.

On Wednesday, and even into Thursday, there was talk of a bipartisan deal being reached, perhaps one that would go so far as to provide back benefits to those who were cut off two weeks ago.  Better than that, the plan was to provide federal unemployment benefits for up to 31 weeks (at a cost of 17 to 18 billion dollars) rather than for just three months (at a cost of over $6 billion).  The exact number of weeks of unemployment benefits to which a particular claimant would be entitled would depend on the unemployment rate in the person’s state of residence.

It was thought that a way had been found to satisfy the demand of Senate (and House) Republicans that any benefit extension be paid for by cuts elsewhere.  While there may not be other spending that can reasonably be cut right now, the plan was for the corresponding cuts to be made ten years from now, in 2024 (most of the cuts would have been to Medicare providers).  In other words, buy now and pay later — kind of like a credit card.

But alas, Senate Democrats and Republicans were unable to overcome their differences and things quickly began to fall apart.  At least three of the Republican senators who had voted Tuesday to open debate on the unemployment extension bill indicated that they would not approve the current version were it to come to the floor for a vote.  One complaint among Republican senators was that they had been excluded from the process of hammering out the compromise measure, specifically that they had been denied the opportunity to offer amendments.  Another was that Senate Republicans are not interested in providing long-term unemployment compensation and would only consider a short-term restoration of federal benefits, such as the original three-month plan.

Some senators expressed hope that there may still be a chance for the bill to get back on track on Monday.  Meanwhile, most families who had been receiving federal unemployment benefits through the end of 2013 have now begun to suffer the effects of a missing check.  Many of these families have no other source of support.

The USA Today editorial listed a few interesting tidbits regarding our current unemployment situation:

  • Nationally, the current unemployment rate is approximately 7%.  The last time the rate was this high was 20 years ago.
  • Long-term unemployment is at its highest level since World War II.  Over 4 million Americans have now been out of work for 27 weeks or more.
  • There are currently about three job seekers for every job opening.

Oh, and also, another 100,000 or so American families have now fallen off the federal unemployment rolls in addition to the 1.3 million who were out of luck on 12/28.

And yet, there are Republican senators, who we have elected to be our representatives, who continue to insist that the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act is misnamed because there is no “emergency.”

For real?

 

References

Espo, David, “Jobless Bill Stalls in Senate,” Miami Herald (Business Breaking News, January 9, 2014).  http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/09/3860878/reid-expresses-optimism-about.html

Hunt, Kasie, “Unemployment Aid Deal Stalls Again,” NBC News (First Read, January 9, 2014).  http://firstread.nbcnews.com/_news/2014/01/09/22244801-unemployment-aid-deal-stalls-again?lite

Sargent, Greg, “Senators Close in on Way to Pay for Unemployment Benefits,” Washington Post (The Plum Line, January 9, 2014).  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2014/01/09/dems-close-in-on-way-to-pay-for-unemployment-benefits/

Stein, Sam, Arthur Delaney and Michael McAuliff, “The Senate’s New Unemployment Deal is Already Falling Apart,” Huffington Post (HuffPost Politics, January 9, 2014).  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/09/senate-unemployment-insurance_n_4571118.html?utm_hp_ref=unemployment-extension

 

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