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Boehner leaves door open to House passing unemployment benefits extension bill

Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner finally commented publicly on the Senate passed unemployment benefits extension bill (HR 3979) on Thursday, April 10, 2014 at the House GOP leadership press conference at the Capitol. Boehner left the possibility of a compromise open whereas the bill could still be voted on and pass the House. The White House however, needs to agree to the job-creation provisions he has been requesting. Meanwhile his spokesman Michael Steele commented on the flurry of activity by Republican representatives who are looking to add provisions that would get that bill to the House floor and a vote. Nearly 3 million long-term jobless have been left without any benefits since Dec. 28, 2013 when Congress let the program expire.

Speaker of the House John Boehner left the door open for a compromise in order to pass the unemployment benefits extension bill at the House GOP leadership press conference, Thursday, April 10, 2014
Graeme Jennings/Washington Examiner

Boehner speaking to the press on Thursday morning, April 10 reiterated his position on job-creation measures being a part of any unemployment benefits extension bill he would bring to a House vote. Boehner stated; "Listen, I made clear to the president last December that if he wanted us to consider an extension of emergency unemployment benefits, it would have to be paid for and it would have to include things that would help get our economy going. They have not put forward anything with regard to how we would create more jobs. And so the ball's still in their court."

The speaker told the press to ask the White House when asked what measures would have to be included for the bill to pass the House. Boehner responded; "You'll have to ask the administration. I made it clear what it would take for me to consider it. They've not had any suggestions."

Boehner still believes that the Senate needs to move on serious job creation bills to solve the economic problems the Americans are still facing. The speaker explained; "Meanwhile, Democrats here in Washington continue to play their usual politics, using their old playbook of pitting one group of Americans against another. And frankly, it's pretty obvious that their efforts have failed. They’ve fallen flat because the American people are still asking the question, 'Where are the jobs?,' and these political votes provide no answers."

Job creation and training legislation is a priority for Boehner and the Republican House. The speaker explained the types of bills the House are making a priority. Boehner indicated; "So the House is going to continue to focus on the American people’s priorities: creating good paying jobs, increasing wages, and expanding opportunity for all Americans. This means reforming our job training and skills programs, advancing bipartisan charter school legislation, critical water and highway infrastructure bills, expanding exports to our allies, and repealing and replacing ObamaCare – just to name a few."

The speaker's listing of legislating priorities give a good idea what type of provisions need to be added to the unemployment benefits extension to get the bill to a vote and passed in the House. Among those being seriously considered by House Republicans are revising and "streamlining" job training programs or a "business tax cuts" extension. According to Roll Call an official from the White House stated that President Barack Obama and the administration are willing to negotiate with the House Republicans on any bill to extend unemployment benefits that could also pass the Senate.

As of Wednesday, April 9, 2014 Republicans in the House of Representatives are coalescing around adding a job training provision to the unemployment benefits extension in order to bring the bill to a House vote. Senator Dean Heller, R-NV, one of the Senate co-sponsors and authors of the unemployment benefits extension bill is negotiating for the Senate with the House, agrees that combining job training would be good a fit and he supports that idea just as long as the unemployment benefits extension gets passed. House Republicans are looking to add the already House passed job training bill (HR 803) sponsored by Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the bill "streamlines" job training programs. The bill would provide job training to 3.7 million Americans unemployed for longer than 27 weeks. According to Roll Call the bill "would consolidate about 35 of 47 federal job training programs."

Heller commented to Roll Call, saying; "That would be a win-win for everybody. I would be comfortable with that. We will have to see if the leadership will allow that to happen." Heller thinks the two bills would complement each other and would work even if passed as either a provision or a package as two separate bills.

The Senate has their own bi-partisan job training program and bill they are working on which is a "reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (PL 105-220)." Still Senate Democrats will have to make concessions on jobs training if they want the unemployment benefits bill to pass. Heller thinks the most important issue is getting the unemployment benefits extension bill passed in the House even if it means agreeing to the House’s version of a job training bill.

After the Senate on passed on Monday, April 7 the unemployment benefits extension bill by a solid vote of 59 to 38, the bill moved to the House of Representatives, where the Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH will not take any action until after the holiday recess, when the House returns from its two week recess on April 28. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-CA told the press that "I don't think the Senate bill is one that can pass the House."

Speaker Boehner does not intend to put the Senate bill as it is to a vote at all, despite wide public support for the bill, and states with Republican representatives including Boehner's own that are still facing high unemployment rates. Some moderate Republicans want to vote on the bill, others see it as an opportunity to advance their own special interests.

Michael Steele Boehner's spokesman commented on the Republican considering provisions to add to the bill. Steele stated; "A lot of members have proposals on economic growth and jobs provisions. No decisions have been made at this point on how we’ll proceed." So far no consensus has been reach among the GOP about which particular provisions they will consider.

Some House Republicans are considering adding provisions to the long-term jobless unemployment benefits bill that moved to the House of Representatives after passing in the Senate. House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-TX expressed interest on Tuesday, April 8, 2014 to add some tax breaks extensions and jobs creation measures to the Senate bill.

Adding these provisions could satisfy Speaker of the House John Boehner's, R-OH requirement to add job creation elements to the Senate bill and it would increase the bills odds of the bill being voted on by the House, and finally restoring benefits to the nearly 3 million Americans that lost that lifeline when the program expired on Dec. 28, 2013.

Just prior to the recess this past week the Republicans informally discussed among themselves and with the Senate about what can be added to the bill that will allow it to be voted on in the House and would still pass in the Senate. Sessions told the press that "I'm engaged in conversation with others about putting accelerated depreciation on… It will depend how reasonable both sides are. We see what their offer is. I think that we could offer back an equally reasonable circumstance."

Although originally Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV and Democrats originally stated he wanted to the Senate bill voted on as it was passed and before the recess. Reid stated late week; "I want them to pass this. They can do whatever they want. ... Find out what they do, then I'll react to it." Reid now seems more open to the Republicans interest in adding provisions. Reid commented that "So, I'm sure we've made some progress."

Although the chances of including tax break extensions in the bill is unlikely, most Republicans want to see job creations measures added to the bill including the Majority Whip McCarthy who expressed; "We would like to see a very robust plan to have economic growth." House Republicans see the Democratic Senate as consistently ignoring their job creation legislation, refusing to move on anything they pass.

Roll Call pointed out that the Speaker does not usually put bill to a vote where he does not have support from the GOP majority. Even there is some support from Republicans and all of the Democrats in the House, because it would put his leadership in peril, and he would be subject to attacks from the conservative wing of the party.

Boehner statement on the bill's passage in the Senate was delivered by his spokesman Michael Steel, and was carefully worded to leave the door open to the bill and imply that the Speaker might be willing to put the bill to a vote if it in fact included the job creation measures he has been asking for since the bill expired. The statement read; "As the Speaker said months ago, we are willing to look at extending emergency unemployment insurance as long as it includes provisions to help create more private-sector jobs - but, last week, Senate Democratic Leaders ruled out adding any jobs measures at all. The American people are still asking, 'where are the jobs?' and House Republicans are focused on our jobs agenda for families and small businesses."

Not all Republicans in the House of Representatives agree with Speaker John Boehner's, R-OH position and dismissal on long-term jobless unemployment benefits, and on Thursday, April 3, 2014, seven Republican Reps signed a letter objecting to Boehner, asking him and House Majority leader Eric Cantor, R-VA to pass the Senate's bill or House produced "alternative."

Reps. Peter T. King, R-NY and Frank A. LoBiondo , R-NJ sent the Speaker a letter requesting he extend unemployment benefits and put the Senate bill known as HR 3979 or just any unemployment benefits extension bill to a vote. They were joined by five other Republicans Representatives, who also signed the letter they included according to Roll Call; Joe Heck, R-NV, two other New Jersey Reps. Jon Runyan and Christopher H. Smith, and two additional New York Reps Chris Gibson and Michael G. Grimm.

Part of the letter reads; "We want it extended. We respectfully request that the House immediately consider this bill or a similar measure to restore unemployment benefits to struggling Americans." Now more Republicans want to join as signers for a new letter to Boehner. While both Democrats and Republican supporters of the bill are wearing stickers with the number of unemployed in their state. The Chair of the Republican Conference Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, R-WA promised the bill will be debated in House, responding; "There will be a conversation."

Just as the Senate Republicans wanted to add a whole host of special interests in either separate amendments to the Senate bill or just one catchall amendment, Congressional Republicans see the bill as an opportunity to add provisions that would force House Democrats to vote for or abandon the unemployment benefits extension which is so important to the party.

Among Republican priorities include tax cuts, curbing regulations and eliminating some of the Affordable Care Act, the health law's mandate. Rep. Charlie Dent R-PA proposed a bill that would add the provisions to the unemployment benefits extension bill including "authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline," and modifying two elements of the Affordable Care Act, the health care law; abolishing the "2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices" and eliminating the definition of full time employment as 30 hours a week, instead making it 40 hours. Many Senate Republicans wanted those same issues added as amendments to the Senate bill. While other Republicans want to include the job-creation measure Boehner stresses. There are though still Republicans who sit in Boehner's camp and believe the unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed should be allowed to expire.

The pressure is on from on Speaker Boehner from fellow Republicans, Democrats, the Senate and the White House to pass the unemployment benefits extension. Supporters are arguing back that not extending the benefits would hurt the economy. Supporters cite a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study that found a full year extension would provide 0.2 growth to the economy, and even the five-month Senate extension would serve beneficial to the economy. If extended for a full year the CBO study concludes extending benefits would add 200,000 jobs and the program would cost $26 billion.

The Ways and Means Committee's Republican members are one group of Republicans that completely oppose extending the unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and they wrote a blog post expressing their opposition on Wednesday, April, 9, 2014. According to Republicans from the Ways and Means Committee the "emergency unemployment compensation program" cost $260 million over its five years. They state that since the program expired on Dec. 28, 2013, long-term unemployment decreased from 3.878 million to 3.739 million, while "employment" rose 1.156 million and also "the labor force" rose 1.29 million.

The Senate passed on Monday, April 7, 2014 the full and final vote on the long-term jobless unemployment benefits extension bill with 59 votes for and 38 against with six Republicans joining the Democrats to pass the bill, while three Senators did not vote at all. The bill extends benefits for five months to the 2.79 million Americans that lost them when the program expred on Dec. 28, 2013. According to Roll Call Republican Senators "Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio" voted for the bill and also Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

The Senate bill would extend unemployment benefits for two million long-term jobless that lost benefits at the end of last year. The deal will extend the benefits retroactively for five months from Dec. 28, 2013 and last until June 1, 2014. The speaker has already said he will not allow the House to vote on the Senate's bill in the present format. The Senate bill will cost $10 billion will be entirely covered by revenue.

The bill is authored and primarily sponsored by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-NV, who have been leading the charge for an unemployment benefits extension. The bipartisan bill has eight other Senate sponsors, including the support of five Republicans; Heller along with "Sens. Susan Collins, R-ME; Rob Portman, R-OH; Lisa Murkowski, R-AK; Mark Kirk, R-IL" Additionally five Democrats, Reed and "Jeff Merkley, D-OR.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Sherrod Brown, D-OH; and Dick Durbin, D-IL" support the extension bill.

Speaker of the House Boehner opposes the Senate bipartisan bill to extend unemployment for the long term jobless. Boehner thinks creating jobs is more important than extending benefits. Boehner expressed at his Wednesday March 26 press conference; "I made clear that if we're going to consider dealing with emergency unemployment, we've got to do something about creating better jobs in America, higher wages in America. 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."

Since Dec. 28, 2013 nearly 3 million Americans lost access to benefits, and each week about 70,000 Americans have lost benefits, by the end of the year 1.6 million more Americans will lose benefits. The total long-term unemployment rate is 2.5 percent, while the total unemployment rate was 6.7 percent a point more the 6.6 percent in February.

Generally Republicans have opposed the extension because they believe it does not motivate the unemployed to find a job as long as they have access to benefits. All throughout the financial crisis and recession Republicans voted with Democrats to extend the benefits, but now with the worst of the crisis over Republicans think the long-term jobless need to find jobs rather than receive benefits.

During the 2008 recession when Republican George W. Bush was President the government enlarged the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) Program to extend unemployment benefits beyond the 26 weeks that the states give. During the recession the "combined" state and federal benefits gave unemployed Americans 99 weeks of relief. The federal government provides "47 weeks" of extended benefits averaging "$300 a week." The unemployment benefits were extended 11 times until now, the last time was a year extension in January 2013. Then benefits were cut from 99 weeks to a maximum of 73 weeks.

Now that Congress is on a two-week Easter recess having left on Thursday April 10 and returning on April 28, any discussions surrounding the bill will have to wait until Congress returns. By the time they return it will be four full months that America’s long-term jobless would have been left without benefits since they expired on Dec. 28, 2013.


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