Just 10 Days to Pass an Unemployment Extension Bill
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The Fiscal Times
April 1, 2014

A compromise bill to retroactively extend federal unemployment benefit payments may not reach a final vote until as late as Thursday, Senate Democrats believe. They say that’s due to Republicans’ unwillingness to grant unanimous consent to waive procedural requirements – while Republicans argue the Dems should allow amendments to be offered to the plan.

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), for example, has called for retraining efforts, while Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), has proposed authorizing Keystone Pipeline construction, which backers say would create jobs. Others have called for repealing the medical device tax that passed as part of the Affordable Care Act, claiming it will save thousands of jobs.

Either way, if the Senate vote does come on Thursday, that leaves only five legislative days for the House of Representatives to act before they leave town for a two-week break at the conclusion of business on April 10.

Related: New Deadline Looms on Unemployment Benefits Extension

The Senate bill would provide relief to the more than 2.2 million long-term unemployed whose benefits have ended. Federal benefits, which take effect when state-level benefits run out – usually after 26 weeks – expired on December 28. The plan in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), would extend benefits for five months and would be retroactive to December.

Since House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has dismissed the Senate bill as not meeting his requirements for bringing it to the floor, if the House votes on it at all, it would likely be on an amended version. That means the bill would then have to go back to the Senate for approval or the two houses would have to work out their differences in a conference committee before it could go to President Obama for his signature.

A document outlining the “way forward,” which is being circulated by Senate Democrats, notes the short window of time. It also points out that last week Speaker Boehner engineered the passage of a controversial “fix” to the rules under which doctors are paid by Medicare without even taking a recorded vote. “If Speaker Boehner wants to pass a piece of legislation he can work with Democrats to do it in one day,” it says.

Related: Boehner’s Unemployment Extension Objection Gets the Boot

Boehner, however, has shown little interest in the issue. In a press conference last week, he said, “The Senate is sitting on dozens of bills that we sent over there. I think it’s time for the Senate to work with the House to help get the economy moving again. That’s the real issue.” 

When a reporter asked if he was concerned that millions of the long-term unemployed and their families have “no money in their pockets,” Boehner replied, “What those people want is a chance at a good job, and I’m trying to get them one.”

In other words, getting something done before Congress leaves town is a long shot.

That’s not stopping House Democrats from moving to step up the pressure on Republicans to act, however. On Monday, Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, released an analysis claiming that the failure to renew the extension had cumulatively cost states $5 billion in lost in Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) checks in the first three months of the year. The analysis breaks down the losses to the state level, showing that some states have missed out on tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars.

Related: Retroactive Unemployment Checks Are Cold Comfort to Some

“Unemployment insurance has played a vital role in our economic recovery and the program’s expiration has drained billions of dollars from state economies during the last three months,” said Levin (D-MI). “Hundreds of thousands of jobs are at stake, as are the livelihoods of millions of Americans laid off through no fault of their own. The Senate is taking another bipartisan step on the long road to extending this critical lifeline today and the House needs to also act to stand with job-seeking Americans.”

House Democratic staffers have indicated that they may start releasing similar data broken down to the district level as a means of pressuring House Republicans to support an extension.

House Republicans, however, were unimpressed. “Despite a dozen extensions the program has not generated the job creation that the unemployed need most,” emailed Sarah Swinehart, a spokesperson for Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI). “It is time to focus on policies that will actually lead to real economic opportunities, like tax reform, so families and individuals can find new job opportunities.”

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A longtime reporter on the intersection of the federal government and the private sector, Rob Garver is National Correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He has written for ProPublica, The New York Times and other publications.