The House of Representatives left for a recess on Friday May 30, 2014 for a week without any attempt to vote on the Senate passed unemployment benefits extension bill, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, which technically expired on May 31, 2014. The bill co-author by Senators Jack Reed, D-RI and Dean Heller, R-NV would have retroactively provided benefits for five months from the time of expiration on Dec. 28, 2013 until June 1, 2014. Approximately 2.9 million long-term jobless Americans have lost benefits since the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expired over five months ago. Democratic supporters of the bill were still urging the House to pass the bill upon their return on June 9.
Nearly two-months after the Senate passed the bipartisan unemployment extension bill, the House left it languishing at the committee stage though, nearly three million long-term jobless Americans, unemployed for more than 27 weeks desperately need the benefits to survive, and each week over keep 70,000 losing benefits. Although the total unemployment rate keeps falling each month, the long-term jobless rate remains high at 3.5 million or 35.5 percent of all unemployed Americans. The number is much lower than the April 2010 "peak" of 45.5 percent, but not as low as the short-term unemployed rate. The EUC program usually has been renewed as long as the long-term jobless rate is above 1.3 percent. The numbers are high, because the longer a worker is unemployed the more difficult it is for them to find employment.
As the House left for their recess a number of Democratic Senators, including Cory Booker, D-NJ, and Reed and Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez took to Twitter lamenting the House's decision not to pass the bill, but remaining hopeful about still extending benefits. Sen. Reed promised to still extend benefits in any manifestation, writing; "Disappointed House GOP has blocked bipartisan #RenewUI fix. Helping job seekers is still the right thing to do & so we will keep trying. — Senator Jack Reed (@SenJackReed) May 30, 2014."
The House can still vote and pass the Senate bill even if it expired, and Secretary Perez still urged the House to pass it, expressing; "We can’t give up on the long-term unemployed; too many people are suffering. I continue to urge Congress to #RenewUI. — Tom Perez (@LaborSec) May 29, 2014." While Sen. Booker was the least optimistic writing; "Its not over. The fight must continue MT @SantYahoo: Where do we go from here. It’s over I guess. Saddest day of this awful journey #RenewUI — Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) May 30, 2014."
Senators Reed and Heller are planning to "return to the drawing board" and have already started to write a new unemployment benefits bill that would appeal to Republicans and Democrats in both houses. The new bill aims to incorporate all of Speaker of the House John Boehner's, R-OH demands, the $2 billion a week bill will be paid for by revenue and will include a job creation element. The new bill aiming at a year extension will also not be retroactive, because Boehner considered the original bill "unworkable." The speaker has reservations about the states implementing retroactive benefits, believing they have not kept up verified the long-term jobless' eligibility. Despite assurances from Secretary of Labor Perez implementation remained a road black.
Speaker of the House Boehner remains insistent that any unemployment benefits bill put to a vote must include job creations measures approved by the White House and President Obama. The speaker also objects to the Senate ignoring the job creation bills the House has passed. Although President Barack Obama still supports and wants the unemployment benefits extension passed, but except for a few urgings in some speeches and on Twitter earlier in May, the president has left himself out of the unemployment extension debate, at its most critical juncture. Instead he has chosen not to phone and personally urge Boehner to put the bill to a House vote. Instead, Obama has sent his White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez to respond to Boehner's repeated requests.
Senators Reed and Heller also listed out a number of other options to extending benefits, the easiest adding the bill as an amendment to a popular bipartisan bill that Republicans in the Senate and the House usually support and vote for. Among the candidates are the business tax extenders bill "S.2260 - EXPIRE Act of 2014" and the Highway Trust Fund bill "S.2322: MAP-21 Reauthorization Act," both which have always been renewed. Sen. Reed has already proposed adding a one year benefits extension as an amendment to the tax extenders bill.
Some House Republican support extending the EUC program and were open to adding provisions to the unemployment extension bill, particularly the House passed jobs training bill, HR 803 the "Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act" sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. The GOP never put forth their own alternative bill, except for the one Charlie Dent, R-PA and Mark Meadow, R-NC introduced as an alternative to the Senate passed bill entitled HR 3885 the "GROWTH (Generating Real Opportunities for Workers and Transitional Help) Act." The bill restructures the EUC program, extends benefits for a year, adds provisions that would pass the XL Keystone Pipeline, and change two elements of the Affordable Care Act, the health care law. The House Democrats however, started a discharge petition in March to force a vote in the House; they collected 193 signatures, but could not accumulate the 218 needed.
Heller and Reed intend to still have a bill passed before the August recess and the start of the midterm election campaign period. Some of the bill's other Senate Republican co-sponsors are worried however, that as time goes further away from the program's expiration and closer to the midterm elections, the probability of passing the bill lowers. The fact the House did not pass the bill is the Republican fault, but neither are Democrats looking to highlight the unemployment rate with control of the Senate on the line.
The Financial Times pointed out that when the Democrats focus on long-term unemployment benefits as a campaign they bring up the fact that "after six years with a Democratic president in the White House, fairly or unfairly, the public tends to blame the current jobs situation on the President and his party." Additionally, they do not see the long-term jobless as being a major voting bloc, and would prefer to focus on raising the minimum wage as a defining issue between the parties.
The midterm elections is only one obstacle, according to Congressional Quarterly's Roll Call President Obama and the Congress's summer agenda is another one, with Obama and the Democrats making a major push to pass immigration reform before the end of the summer, now the president wants to focus on climate change by cutting cut carbon emissions from power plants. Additionally, foreign policy and the War in Afghanistan again have been taken to forefront with the complete troop withdrawal, and the Veterans Affairs Administration health care scandal.
The ultimate problem is the unemployment benefits extension no longer has the wide ranging support it previously enjoyed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid former spokesman Jim Manley told the Financial Times; "It's wrong but many people have forgotten about this issue. There's a lot of gripping stories out there, but people just aren't paying attention. Republicans aren't feeling the pressure."
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/29/2014, May 29, 2014
- 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
H.R. 4550: Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, May 1, 2014, Referred to Committee
- S. 2148: Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, March 13, 2014, Reported by Committee
S. 2149: Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, March 24, 2014, Reported by Committee
- H.R. 3979: Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, Jan 31, 2014, Passed Senate with Changes
- H.R.803 - Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills SKILLS Act, 03/18/2013 Received in the Senate and Read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, H. Rept. 113-14, 03/15/2013 : Passed House
S. 1356: Workforce Investment Act of 2013, July 24, 2013, Reported by Committee on July 31, 2013S.
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.