Unemployment Extension: Brother vs. Brother

Last Sunday, I wrote that the Senate was likely to pass the unemployment extension bill on Monday morning.  It still hasn’t happened.

Now that another week has gone by, I again say that it is likely that the Senate will pass the bill this Monday.  But who cares?  Once more I put it to you that it really doesn’t matter whether they pass it or not.

That crash and tinkle you hear is the sound of the unemployment extension smashing into the brick wall that is the House of Representatives.

So what was the holdup this week?  On Monday, Senate Republicans tried to filibuster the measure again, a last-ditch effort that failed because the Democrats plus five Republican defectors provided the two-thirds vote necessary to close debate.  The unemployment extension was supposed to come up for a vote on Thursday.

Ah, but party politics is always the order of the day in Congress.  Senate Republicans agreed to move the bill forward to a vote if they got some candy out of the deal.  Specifically, the GOP wanted a laundry list of unrelated gimmes tacked on as amendments to the unemployment extension.  These included measures that would have repealed large parts of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), authorized construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and five or six other things that had absolutely nothing to do with unemployment.  Of course, Senate Democrats said “no dice.”

And so the suffering of American families goes on.  Over a million lost their benefits when the enabling legislation for federal unemployment relief expired during the week of Christmas.  Since then, that number has been doubled, with about 3.5 million of us out of work, out of unemployment checks and out of luck.

Now they’re saying that the unemployment bill will be taken up by the Senate again this week and is likely to pass Monday night.  At that point, it will be sent over to the hangman’s noose that is the House of Representatives.

The motley crew of 435 over there is a little like the wild, wild West.  All eyes are on the House, which appears to have transformed itself from the usual whirling dervish into the very eye of the hurricane.  Getting the unemployment extension bill to pass in that body seems a task worthy of the labors of Hercules.

Take, for example, recent comments made by the office of Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio).  He opposes the unemployment extension, citing the $210 billion that unemployment relief has already added to the national debt in recent years.  Stating that unemployment insurance was always intended to be temporary, his spokeswoman stated “it is time for the program to end.”

Well, how about that!  I had no idea that unemployment insurance was a temporary thing.  I mean, golly gee, I was just hoping to be laid off so that the government could support me in style for the rest of my life!

This is the sort of dreck we are dealing with in the House, folks.

There are many in the House (and the Senate, too) who understandably see the unemployment bill as a Band-Aid when a long-term solution is needed.  Well, let’s do something about that then!  Trickle-down economics did not work in the Reagan era and is not working now.  Providing tax breaks to small business is not nearly enough.  Bailing out the big guys so they can move their operations overseas is not helping either.  If you want to create jobs, Congress, then go ahead and create them already. Directly. What we need is a modern-day WPA that FDR used so effectively to put the unemployed back to work during the Great Depression.  Yes, this costs money, but wouldn’t it be better spent on putting the country back to work, giving people valuable job skills and increasing the self-respect that comes from gainful employment?

But Congress doesn’t want to spend money on this either.  We can give money to the Ukraine, increase military expenditures and avoid the fiscal cliff so the government can keep going, but we can manage neither to create jobs nor to provide unemployment checks for those without them.

So here 3.5 million of us sit — no job, no check, no hope.  Foreclosures, families on the street, no vacancy signs at homeless shelters and food banks stretched to the limit are the result.

 

Facing Disaster in the House

Speaker of the House John Boehner appears committed to preventing the unemployment extension bill from coming to a vote, calling it “unworkable.”  It is understandable that he wishes to avoid the wrath of ultra-conservative factions within his own party and thereby hold onto his speakership.  But I think one of the more fascinating aspects of this congressional drama is the brother vs. brother script being played out behind the scenes.  Perhaps not exactly of Cain and Abel magnitude, but reminiscent of many families during the Civil War in which one brother fought for the Union and another for the Confederacy.

The current battle pits Sen. Rob Portman against Boehner.  Both of them are from Ohio.  Both of them are Republicans.  They are reportedly good friends.  But Portman (along with four others) broke ranks with fellow Republicans in the Senate to quash the filibuster, opening a path for passage of the unemployment bill.  This is a huge deal.  Originally, support for the unemployment extension broke strictly along party lines in the Senate.  Even with every last Democrat in the Senate voting for the bill, there were not enough votes to pass it.  Some Republicans had to cross the aisle and join ranks with the Democrats to make it happen.  It took a few months, but eventually Portman and the other four came to their senses and did the right thing.

Now that Senator Portman publicly supports the unemployment extension and admits that our current unemployment benefits system is broken, will he exercise any influence over his recalcitrant Ohio brother in the House?  Certainly not in front of the cameras and microphones, but you never know what’s going on in the background.  Portman says he talks to Boehner all the time.  However, he says that what goes on in the House is Boehner’s business and that he’s not about to tell him what to do.

Despite what Portman tells the media, it’s hard to believe that he hasn’t had some serious discussions with Boehner.  True, Portman is just one in a hundred while Boehner is the head enchilada over in his chamber.  The public outcry is starting to be heard.  Rumor has it that Boehner’s office phone number has had to be changed three times recently after being flooded with calls.

Now it’s time for Portman to make the one call that really counts.  So Rob, take John out for a nice lunch and talk some sense into him, now won’t you?

 

References

Garver, Rob, “Unemployment Insurance Bill Hits Political Snags,” Yahoo! News (The Fiscal Times, April 4, 2014).

Lesniewski, Niels and Humberto Sanchez, “Unemployment Extension Fight Pits Portman Against Boehner,” rollcall.com (March 24, 2014).

O’Keefe, Ed and Wesley Lowery, “The Senate is Going to Pass an Unemployment Insurance Extension. The House is Unimpressed.,” Washington Post (The Fix, April 3, 2014).

Schultze, M.L., “Portman Says He Won’t Tell the House What to Do with the Unemployment Bill,” WKSU 89.7, Kent State University (Ohio, March 27, 2014).

Seattle Times, Congress Must Act to Extend Federal Unemployment Benefits” (Originally published March 15, 2014, reprinted April 5, 2014).

 

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11 thoughts on “Unemployment Extension: Brother vs. Brother

  1. Boehner won’t give in because he’s too hard headed. He just wants to have his own way just like the little 3 year old bully that he is.

    • I fear that you may be correct. My hope is that enough pressure will be placed on him and the rest of his caucus that the bill will be forced to a vote. Even if it fails, and least then we will have a definite handle on who we need to vote out of office in November.

  2. My husband was released from his job after working 22 years at the same place because of health issues now he’s still able to work but the job that he was at was more demanding and he needs to get a job where it’s not the demanding um because of this house so in the meantime by looking for a job he’s collecting unemployment only to find out that his unemployment runs out in 2 weeks it is just me and my husband and my foster son and we have nothing to live on after his unemployment runs out in 2 weeks what are we to do for money these people the Congress the government people they don’t care because they don’t have to live the way people on unemployment have to live they have their not thinking in the way we think the people that a living the life that week that we love the ones that are on unemployment looking for jobs so they don’t care because they don’t have to live it so the government needs to open up the freakin I can see how some of these people are living in that we are struggling from week to week

    • I am so sorry to hear about your situation, Nicile. I do agree that Congress has exhibited a lamentable paucity of caring for those of their fellow Americans who are in the worst positions imaginable. Many of our elected representatives need to open their Bibles and do some reading.

  3. It would be nice to know the real statistics about the employment problem. Governments tend to say one thing and it doesn’t quite fit in with ones experience.
    Leslie

    • I agree. It is easy to lie with statistics, particularly when definitions vary. For example, it is well known that the long-term unemployed (those who have been out of work for more than 26 weeks) don’t count in current unemployment statistics because they are no longer eligible to receive benefits. It is said that the unemployment rate is holding steady at 6.7% nationally, down from 10% at the height of the recession. However, these figures do not include those who have “fallen off the edge of the earth” either because they are no longer eligible for benefits, because they are no longer looking for work, or both. One thing we can know for sure: The problem is a whole lot worse than the government is letting on.

      • That is for sure! Have a listen to my song “Sold Out” in the album, Osaka Time. It’s on my web site. Click on the album cover and it will take you to iTunes. Click on the album cover again and you will find that song and you can sample it for free. That’s what been done to us. We were sold out.
        Leslie

  4. Boehner just needs to be removed from office. He is not a man of the people. Let’s all make sure we vote in November. Maybe they will hear the people when he gets his walking papers. And I say that as someone who has voted republican for 30 years. Never again will I make that mistake. This made me take a closer look at our Government and the republican party is destroying the middle class. They can easily send money without any argument to Urkraine, but God forbid they help the people right here at home.

    • Well said, Larry. I couldn’t agree more. Boehner needs to know that his political future will be in jeopardy if he allows this charade to continue. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

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