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House GOP Reps introduce alternative unemployment benefits extension bill

GOP Reps Charlie Dent, PA, Mark Meadows, NC introduced an alternative unemployment benefits extension bill entitled GROWTH (Generating Real Opportunities for Workers and Transitional Help) Act, which would extend benefits for a year, April 14, 2014
GOP Reps Charlie Dent, PA, Mark Meadows, NC introduced an alternative unemployment benefits extension bill entitled GROWTH (Generating Real Opportunities for Workers and Transitional Help) Act, which would extend benefits for a year, April 14, 2014Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Two Republican Representatives, Charlie Dent from Pennsylvania and Mark Meadows from North Carolina introduced an alternative to the Senate passed unemployment benefits extension bill entitled the "GROWTH (Generating Real Opportunities for Workers and Transitional Help) Act" (HR 3885). The congressman introduced the bill to the public in an opinion piece published on Monday, April 14, 2014 on Roll Call entitled; "Link Pro-Jobs Policies to a Responsible Extension of Unemployment Benefits" The new bill restructures the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, extends benefits for a year, and adds provisions that would pass the XL Keystone Pipeline, and change two elements of the Affordable Care Act, the health care law. 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.

Dent and Meadows originally introduced the GROWTH Act on January 15, 2014, but are reintroducing it to the public and Republicans in the House as alternative to the Senate passed bill. The bill that they introduced restructures the entire the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program. The program now will only provide 14 weeks of extra federal benefits in addition to the 26 weeks the states provide, giving the long-term unemployed 10 months of unemployment benefits. Dent and Meadows explain that "This approach prudently continues the practice of scaling back the number of weeks available under the federal EUC as unemployment rates gradually decline." The bill also "provides for a full year, retroactive extension of Tier I of EUC," as opposed to the five month extension in the Senate bill.

The new bill would provisions to the unemployment benefits extension bill that are considered job creating measures including approving the Keystone XL pipeline, and modifies two elements of the Affordable Care Act, the health care law; abolishing the "2.3 percent" medical device tax and eliminating the definition of full time employment as 30 hours a week, instead making it 40 hours. Dent and Meadows bill was introduced before the State Department decided on Friday, April 19, 2014 that they are extending the deadline to decide on the Keystone XL pipeline to indefinitely. The congressmen estimated that the pipeline would have created "42,100 direct and indirect jobs" while ending the medical device tax saves "43,000 manufacturing jobs," while the extended work week saves undetermined number of workers from having "slashed hours and reduced wages."

Dent and Meadows concluded that their proposal "is both a responsible and conservative solution, which highlights the need for policies to spur real economic recovery while assisting families who are struggling through difficult times." Many Senate Republicans wanted those same issues added as amendments to the Senate bill. Although Dent and Meadows' proposal would see Republican support in the House and Senate, the Senate Democrats would never pass the extra measures, although they would have found the year extension appealing without provisions.

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.

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. Some moderate Republicans want to vote on the bill, others see it as an opportunity to add provisions and advance Republican special interests. The provisions would force House Democrats to vote for or abandon the unemployment benefits extension which is so important to the party. Among Republican priorities include job training, tax cuts, curbing regulations and eliminating some of the Affordable Care Act, the health law's mandate.

As of Wednesday, April 9, 2014 Republicans in the House of Representatives are according to Roll Call 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. Nearly 3 million long-term jobless have been left without any benefits since Dec. 28, 2013 when Congress let the program expire.

House Republicans are looking to add the already House passed job training bill (HR 803) sponsored by Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act "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." Additionally, it increases the number seats businesses would be allotted on "state and local workforce investment boards" to two-thirds.

Sen. Heller has taken over negotiating with the House GOP to ensure the bill's passage. Heller sees hope in the prospect of that they are considering a provision and he thinks the jobs training bill would work well with the already passed unemployment benefits extension 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.

Michael Steele Boehner's spokesman commented on the Republicans 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. According to Roll Call 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 Easter recess 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 on Thursday, April 3; "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." 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.

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.

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. 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."

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.