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House Republicans want provisions to pass unemployment benefits extension bill

Now that the Senate passed the unemployment benefits extension bill Speaker of the House John Boehner will have to decide if he will put it to a vote since Republicans are considering adding provisions to support the bill, April 8, 2014
Now that the Senate passed the unemployment benefits extension bill Speaker of the House John Boehner will have to decide if he will put it to a vote since Republicans are considering adding provisions to support the bill, April 8, 2014
J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

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.

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 Boehner 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, R-OH does not intend to put the Senate bill 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.

The Republicans are planning in the few remaining days before the recess to informally discuss 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."

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.

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 wants 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. We're waiting to see what the Senate actually passes."

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, by adding the already House passed job training bill (HR 803) sponsored by Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., but the Senate has their job training program and bill they are working on. 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 bill's co-authors Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-NV held a press conference on Thursday afternoon, April 3 after the Senate passed their final procedural vote on the bill. Sen. Heller believes Republican Sen. Rob Portman's strong support for the bill will persuade Boehner that he needs to take action on the bill, because they are both Republicans from the same state, Ohio. Heller stated; "I think with Portman's support on the legislation, that is good for Ohio, and the speaker being from Ohio, maybe that sends a message there also." Although Reid does not want to discuss the bill will Boehner, Heller intends to discuss the bill with the House Speaker.

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-OH, however, does not think Boehner would be swayed by Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH staunch support for the bill, stating in an interview; "I don't anticipate that there's going to be a lot of support amongst most members in the House as far as doing anything about the unemployment insurance, unless we're assured that it actually is going to create jobs. On its own, I don't think it does that." Rep. Chabot himself, would consider voting for the bill if it included a provision authorizing the Keystone Pipeline.

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.

Despite additional Republicans voting for the bill during the test and procedural votes, the number dwindled with each passing vote and now only six voted for the bill including the five Republicans that sponsored and brokered the deal to extend benefits.

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. Three Senators did not vote for the measure according to Roll Call they were; Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO.

The Senate finally reached a satisfactory deal to extend long-term jobless unemployment benefits on Thursday, March 13 was considered a breakthrough in the deadlock after benefits expired on Dec. 28, 2013 and any Senate votes were stalled from Thursday, Feb 6, 2014.

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 covered by revenue acquired as ABC News reports through "pensions smoothing", "extending customs user fees through 2024", and changes to private corporate pension funds. The bill ensures that those who made a yearly salary above a million dollars will not eligible for unemployment benefits.

The bill also includes elements to help get the jobless back to work including "skills assessment and referral programs." Previous disagreements with Republicans regarding extending the benefits usually revolved covering the cost without adding to the deficit.

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, R-OH opposes the Senate bipartisan deal to extend unemployment for the long term jobless. Boehner thinks creating jobs is more important than extending benefits, saying at a press conference held on Wednesday, March 26,the Senate should focus on passing job creating bills than a long-terms benefits extension. Boehner expressed; "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."

Boehner made an announcement at his Tuesday morning press conference on March 25, 2014 in the Capitol, where he stated that Senate bill was "not implementable," and not "workable." Boehner again reiterated that he 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 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."

What 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.

Additionally, Boehner expressed he wants further revisions to the bill that will include more "job-creation measures." Boehner stated to the press; "I told the president I would consider this as long as it was paid for and as long as there are provisions that help improve the economy." Still the speaker is ignoring the Congressional Budget Office, who claims extending benefits for all of 2014 would actually create 200,000 jobs.

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.

Since January the Senate has been working on a compromise bill that would extend the benefits and satisfy Republicans who have been finding excuse after excuse not to agree to extend the benefits. Republicans primarily wanted the bill's price tag covered without adding to the deficit. But since then Boehner has been insisting the bill add an element help get workers off benefits and back to work.

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. Senator John Cornyn, R- TX explained why the opposition is so strong from Republicans now, saying; "When the government continues to pay unemployment benefits for people who are out of work, human nature is such that people are disincentivized to go back to work and look for work."

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.

CBS News also reports that the "Democrats are filing a discharge petition" to force Republicans to put an unemployment extension bill to a vote. The petition requires a majority of the House to sign to ensure a vote, so far however, over 100 Democrats have signed the petition, but not enough to force the bill to a vote.

Time however, is not on the bill's side; Congress goes on a two-week recess on April 10. This leaves the House with very little time to either pass the Senate's present bill, which is highly unlikely, and is even tighter if the House were to pass their own bill which would then require the Senate to again pass another unemployment extension bill. If action is not taken to pass a bill before April 10, Congress will not be able to anything until April 28, when they return.

Sen. Reed is still hopeful that the House might pass the bill in the short period of time so there can be relief for the long-term jobless before the recess and four months after the extension expired. Reed told the press on Thursday, April 3; "The best result for the 2.3 million and counting Americans [who lost benefits] is timely action on the legislation that we passed or minor modifications that."

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. They cite a Congressional Budget Office 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.

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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.