Despite a procedural victory in the Senate on Tuesday, Congress is still a long way from approving an extension to federal unemployment benefits, and part of the reason is that many Republicans oppose granting the extension without making offsetting spending cuts elsewhere.
Congress has, in the past, frequently granted unemployment insurance extensions in the past without so-called “pay-fors,” and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has argued that it should be no different this time. In addition, Reid has argued, the need is urgent and Congress has already picked all the “low-hanging fruit” when it comes to spending cuts.
But in an interview on MSNBC today, Indiana Republican Senator Dan Coats challenged Reid’s claim that there are no more easy cuts to be made. Coats, one of the six Senate Republicans who broke ranks to allow the unemployment Insurance extension to pass a critical procedural vote Tuesday, said he did so in order to offer amendments to the bill that would pay for it.
In an interview on MSNBC Wednesday morning, he outlined one of them: “In order to get social security disability payments you have to prove you’re unable to work. In order to get unemployment benefits you have to prove you are able to work. We know that many, many people are getting checks for both… That’s a great place to start.”
In an email Wednesday afternoon staff in Coats’ office said that they estimate $6 billion in savings over ten years from making it impossible to simultaneously collect both unemployment and disability benefits. The $6 billion is roughly the cost of the proposed UI extension.
Coats also offered an amendment to address “abuse” of the child tax credit, which he claimed would save $27 billion over ten years by denying (currently legal) payments to parents residing in the U.S. illegally. He also proposed delaying the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate for a year, which he said would save $35 billion, and requiring UI recipients to prove that they are actively looking for work.
Whether these proposals meet the definition of “low-hanging fruit” is a matter of opinion, but Coats isn’t the only lawmaker offering proposals to offset the cuts of a UI extension. Proposals similar to his have come from Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte, of New Hampshire, and Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has proposed ending tax cuts for companies that shift jobs overseas, and other Democrats have proposed offsetting the UI extension by cutting subsidies to agribusiness.
Follow Rob Garver on Twitter @rrgarver
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