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House introduces first bipartisan unemployment extension bill pressures Boehner

Eight Representatives introduced the first bipartisan unemployment benefits extension bill in the House as a companion to the Senate bill, June 25, 2014; they hope it will press Speaker of the House John Boehner to put the UI extension to a vote
Eight Representatives introduced the first bipartisan unemployment benefits extension bill in the House as a companion to the Senate bill, June 25, 2014; they hope it will press Speaker of the House John Boehner to put the UI extension to a vote
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For the first time the House of Representatives has introduced their own bipartisan bill extending benefits for the long-term unemployed. Meant as a "companion" bill to one introduced in the Senate by Senators Jack Reed, D-RI and Dean Heller, R-NV on Tuesday, June 24, 2014 Representatives Frank LoBiondo, R-NJ-02 and Dan Kildee, D-MI-05 introduced on Wednesday afternoon, June 25 their bill in a press conference where they discussed the importance of restoring benefits to the over three million Americans affected and the troubles their specific states are experiencing because the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expired on Dec. 28, 2013.

The bill intends to "strengthen reemployment and eligibility assessment (REA) and Re-Employment Services (RES) programs." Additionally, those receiving benefits would be allowed to have access "enhanced, personalized assessments and referrals to reemployment services" to help them in the efforts to find employment, a task that is far more difficult for the long-term unemployed since they face discrimination. They will able to received those services at "27th week of UI (Tier I)" and then again at the "55th week of UI (Tier III)." The bill does not include a job creation element that Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH demanded and deems necessary. However, Boehner also has been against retroactive benefits, he finds that "unworkable," because he does think the states have monitored eligibility that diligently since the program expired six months ago. Like the Senate bill the House one is entirely paid for with revenue.

At their press conference unveiling the House bill, co-authors Reps. LoBiondo and Kildee discussed the hardships their constituents are facing, and urged the House to find a bipartisan solution that would help the families that need the benefits. They also commended Sens. Reed and Heller for the continued efforts to push through legislation. The bill has a bipartisan line-up of six representatives supporting it, including; David Cicilline (D-RI-01), Jon Runyan (R-NJ-03), Steven Horsford (D-NV-04), Peter King (R-NY-02), Dina Titus (D-NV-01) and Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ-04), who were present at the bill's introduction.

Rep. LoBiondo recounted at the press conference the problems his constituents are facing in New Jersey, because the EUC program has been expired for so long; "There is a clear need to help those seeking employment get through this very stubborn, unstable economic recovery. Across South Jersey, I've heard from residents desperately looking for work as they struggle to feed their families or pay their bills. Their stories have motivated my countless conversations with House leadership and concerned colleagues hoping to bridge this divide." LoBiondo remains puzzled as to why the House cannot find a bipartisan agreement; "I see no reason why a bipartisan solution cannot be found that provides a critical lifeline to those in need without adding to the deficit. I applaud Senators Reed and Heller in drafting this new offer and will work with Representative Kildee and other House members to finally pass the extension."

In his remarks, Rep. Kildee also described the hardships and personal stories he has heard from his constituents; "Through no fault of their own, more than three million out of work Americans, including over 115,000 Michiganders, have lost their unemployment benefits as they actively look for work. Since this vital lifeline lapsed, millions of families have struggled to put food on the table, keep a roof over their head and pay their bills." Continuing, Kildee discussed the battle in the House to bring an unemployment benefits extension to a vote; "I have been fighting for months to get a vote in the House to extend unemployment insurance This new bill, which is fully paid for, is the latest attempt to find bipartisan compromise to get this done. It is my hope that the House can vote on this important issue immediately to alleviate the suffering of those struggling every day to get by as they look for their next job."

The Representatives co-sponsoring the bill have been promoting and urging the restoration of benefits in the House throughout the six months since benefits expired. Of the Republicans Reps. Lobiondo, King, Runyan and Smith defied the GOP majority by actively urging the speaker to pass the Reed-Heller bill even before it passed in the Senate on April 7. Reps. King and LoBiondo sent a letter to Speaker Boehner on Thursday, April 3, 2014, asking him to pass the Senate's bill or House produced "alternative." 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. Runyan and Smith, and two additional New York Reps Chris Gibson and Michael G. Grimm.

Additionally, one of the bill's Democratic co-sponsors Rep. Cicilline sent at letter co-signed by nine other House Democrats to House Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy on June 25, where he asked to meet with the GOP leader to discuss the unemployment benefits extension. The letter urged the new leader to consider passing legislation, and stated in part that; "We hope that you will take advantage of this opportunity and sit down with us to discuss how we can work together to provide relief to the long-term unemployed. At a time when so many families all across the country are struggling to make ends meet, we should be doing everything we can to provide assistance to Americans who continue to look for work." Earlier in the week Sen. Heller already stated that McCarthy is standing with Boehner on the importance of having job creation measures included in any bill the GOP leadership would put to a vote in the House. Heller pointed out that McCarthy's "message was very clear. It was very similar to Boehner's-very similar to Boehner's-and that is, 'We want job provisions.'"

In a statement after the House bill was introduced, Rep. Cicilline emphasized the monumental element of the bill, that it is the first bipartisan effort on the House. Cicilline indicated that; "This bipartisan House bill could represent a potential breakthrough in an effort to extend unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. This is the first time since benefits expired in December 2013 that House Republicans have joined Democrats to introduce bipartisan legislation to address this growing problem. I'm cautiously optimistic that this may lead to a bipartisan solution to this problem so we can finally help millions of Americans who are struggling to find work. Over 3.1 million Americans, including more than 13,000 Rhode Islanders are struggling to pay their bills, provide for their families and find work. It is long past time for the House to act and provide much needed relief to these jobseekers."

Rep. Cicilline has been actively working to help those whose benefits expired since January, when he "introduced a bill to extend unemployment insurance." He had signed the House Democrats discharge petition that came up short in signatures and aimed at forcing the Senate bill to a House vote despite the Speaker's objections. Rep. Cicilline also launched his "'Faces of the Unemployed' project in April" where he places "photos and quotes of constituents who have lost their benefits outside his Washington office."

Rep. Cicilline along with House bill co-sponsor LoBiondo participated in this past week's "Witness Wednesdays." Each Wednesday in June and July at lunch time, 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. "members of Congress and faith, labor, civil rights, and nonprofit leaders" read personal stories submitted to the Democrats' Ways and Means Committee website of those suffering from losing their unemployment benefits. On the third weekly event on June 25 the two representatives emphasized the "plight" of over "300,000 veterans" that have lost benefits. Rep. Joe Crowley, D-NY also commented on the need to pass the extension at this week's event, stating; "I can understand that to my Republican colleagues, this is not an emergency for them, But for the people who are suffering right now, this is the ultimate emergency."

In general House Democrats widely support and "applaud" the new Senate Heller-Reed bill. The Deputy Minority Staff Director at House Ways and Means Committee Josh Drobnyk told the Financial Times; "[The Heller/Reed] legislation would provide prospective benefits. It addresses all of the concerns that Speaker Boehner has laid out. The Senate has acted in a bipartisan way in the past. It's very clear that they would do so again if there was assurance that the House would actually take up the measure." Drobnyk hopes the renewed spotlight on the unemployment benefits extension will force the speaker's hand; "We hope he will feel an urgency now that he's in a better position to bring legislation to the floor. The harm just continues to grow across the nation."

Rep. Sander Levin, D-MI-09, the ranking member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee also co-sponsored the House bill. Levin issued a statement afterwards praising both bills; "The bipartisan House and Senate bills meet Speaker Boehner's demands that any extension of unemployment benefits be paid for and be provided only on a prospective basis." Levin also thinks the bills could paired with popular bipartisan supported bills business tax cuts extenders "S.2260 - EXPIRE Act of 2014" and the Highway Trust Fund bill "S.2322: MAP-21 Reauthorization Act" to ensure their passage in Congress; The bill could be easily combined with upcoming legislation to fund transportation improvements or to extend tax breaks to meet the Speaker's final demand that any UI extension be part of larger legislation that will create jobs. The time for excuses is long over. We must act now."

Rep. Levin has been tirelessly involved in the House in the efforts to renew the EUC program Previously on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 Levin personally pressured Boehner to pass the Heller-Reed bill by sending him a letter that featured over 50 personal anecdotes submitted and chosen to be included "describe how getting cut off of benefits has affected them." Levin also instituted the Witness Wednesdays events on the steps of the Capital highlighting the personal stories of long-term jobless Americans, which first launched on June 18 and lasts until July 30, 2014, unless the unemployment extension is passed by Congress before that date.

The bipartisan interest in the House definitely helps the prospects of the new Reed-Heller bill in the Senate as Sen. Reed the co-author of the Senate bill pointed out that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, R-NV promised to put the new bill to a vote, but has not yet scheduled one, however, as Reed explained on June 24; "If we saw some real interest on the House side, certainly he would respond." The efforts of the eight Representatives from the House also did not go unnoticed by Sen. Reed who also thinks the joint efforts just might be the pressure the Speaker and GOP House leadership needs to put the bill to a vote. Reed expressed; "Hopefully the House Republican leadership will start paying attention to the American people and will finally allow an up-or-down vote on this bill." Still rumblings from the GOP House do not indicate that the House bill can pass or even be put to a vote, the Senate bill especially added as an amendment has the best chance of passing before the August recess.

RELATED LINKS

  • S.2260 - EXPIRE Act of 2014, Sen. Wyden, Ron [D-OR] (Introduced 04/28/2014), 05/07/2014 Motion to proceed to consideration of measure made in Senate. S. Rept. 113-154

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. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.