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Democrats pressuring House GOP into passing unemployment benefits extension bill

Speaker of the House John Boehner is facing pressure from Democrats in the House, Senate and from Governors to put the unemployment benefits extension bill to a vote in the House, April, 17, 2014
Speaker of the House John Boehner is facing pressure from Democrats in the House, Senate and from Governors to put the unemployment benefits extension bill to a vote in the House, April, 17, 2014
Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

While the Senate leadership is busy negotiating with the Republican House of Representative leadership into passing the long-term unemployment benefits extension bill, the Democrats in the House and Senate are putting the pressure on the GOP. Even though Congress in the middle of a two-week Easter recess Congressional Democrats are busy trying to ensure the bill the Senate passed earlier in the month is brought to a vote in the House by the time Congress returns on April 28, 2014. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA attacked the GOP in a letter released on April 17, 2014, while Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.VA circulated an email petition on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. Nearly 3 million long-term jobless have been left without any benefits since Dec. 28, 2013 when Congress let the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expire.

House Minority Leader Pelosi attacked the GOP in a letter according to Roll Call using the terms "unconscionable," "callous, short sighted and immoral" to describe them not bringing the bill to a House vote. Pelosi wrote; "It is unconscionable that the House has not acted to renew emergency unemployment insurance. Never before has Congress allowed emergency unemployment insurance to expire while long-term unemployment rates have remained so high." Pelosi concluded by stating that "House Republicans' refusal to extend emergency unemployment insurance is callous, shortsighted and immoral."

Pelosi's letter was in response to a letter Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and Rhode Island's Democratic Gov. Lincoln Chafee sent on Tuesday April, 15, 2014 to the House minority leader and Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH asking them to put the bill to a vote, because of the high unemployment rates in their states. The two governors wrote in their bipartisan letter according to Roll Call; "As you know, long-term unemployment remains unacceptably high despite the fact that our economy has been recovering from the worst recession in generations. When our country has experienced similar rates of long-term unemployment in the past, Congress has consistently acted in a bipartisan fashion to extend emergency unemployment benefits."

The governors tried to appeal to the House Speaker's reluctance to pass the bill, because the House Ways and Means Committee indicated that after the time lapse, it will be difficult to determine who is eligible and deserves the retroactive payments set forth in the Senate's bill. The two governors tried to ease the speaker's concern, writing; "Our states are more than capable of implementing this legislation, including the administration of retroactive benefits, which we have successfully done in the past. These unemployment benefits are critical to the families in our states and we look forward to working with you."

Partially Boehner is concerned about backing dating the benefit checks from the time the unemployed benefits were cut off in the end of December until the bill's passage. He believes in the three months, there are some unemployed that found work, and it is difficult to determine who deserves the checks, and until when they actually went back to work. Boehner at his Tuesday morning GOP leadership press conference on March 25, 2014 explained; "The state directors are saying, 'We don't know who went back to work, we don't know who is still out there, so we would have to send checks to everybody. I don't think taxpayers expect us to do that. So I don't see how that is workable."

Boehner was referring to was a House Ways and Means Committee issued a statement from Wednesday, March 26 that recounted that after the unemployment benefits extension program lapsed for such a long time, the states stopped verifying the long-term unemployed that were receiving benefits to see if they continued to qualify. Without that information, it becomes difficult to track who actually still deserves to receive the retroactive benefits the Senate bill plans on giving. This is at least the problem Boehner is insisting the House has with the Senate bill. There have been some states, however, that have continued checking eligibility.

Meanwhile, according to Roll Call Senator Manchin has sent out a petition for Democrats to sign to pressure the GOP into voting for the unemployment benefits extension bill. Manchin has the support of 11 Democratic senators, three Democratic House Representatives, and three Democratic candidates running for Congress in this year's midterm elections.

The email sent from Manchin stated that "Extending unemployment insurance makes economic sense, but it's also just the right thing to do. Our hardworking neighbors paid into the system when they had a job, so it's only fair that they should benefit from those funds when they're down on their luck. That's why I'm asking you to join my colleagues and me in calling on the House to pass an extension of unemployment insurance."

Manchin's email message links to the petition, which specifically blames the House GOP, expressing that "It has been months since unemployment insurance was cut off for millions of job-seekers. Since then, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have reached a bipartisan deal to extend this critical lifeline. It's time for Republicans in the House to stop stonewalling and do the same!"

At this point 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. 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.

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 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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Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.