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Levin, Democrats push Boehner for unemployment benefits extension House vote

Rep Sander Levin sent Speaker of the House John Boehner a letter filled with personal anecdotes from Americans who need the unemployment benefits extension passed, April 30, 2014
Rep Sander Levin sent Speaker of the House John Boehner a letter filled with personal anecdotes from Americans who need the unemployment benefits extension passed, April 30, 2014
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Although Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH refuses to put the Senate passed unemployment benefits extension bill to a House vote, it is not stopping Democrats in the House of Representatives to try and push the speaker on the important legislation. The Ranking Democratic Member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee Sander Levin, D-MI stepped up the pressure on the speaker on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 by sending him a letter that put a personal face on the Americans the House would be helping if they pass the unemployment benefits extension. The letter featured over 50 personal anecdotes submitted and chosen to be included "describe how getting cut off of benefits has affected them." 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. The clock is ticking for the House of Representatives to pass the unemployment benefits extension as the Senate bill has an end of May best before date, or else Congress will have to go back to the drawing board.

Levin started the letter by describing the stories he encountered, writing; "The stories of job-seeking Americans whose unemployment insurance was cut off December 28 are gut-wrenching. And more and more Americans are describing their ordeal every day that the House fails to renew these benefits." Continuing he recounted, how many stories were submitted; "During the course of just a few hours last week, more than five dozen Americans submitted their stories to the Ways and Means Committee after simply being asked to describe how getting cut off of benefits has affected them. I share a sample of these stories because they inspire a sense of urgency as Congress reconvenes."

The personal stories appearing at the end of the letter that were selected were mostly of Americans from all over the country, Republicans and Democrats. They had worked for a long time, much of their careers, some at the same jobs or companies and have never experienced being on unemployment benefits, and never imagined that they would jobless for so long. A majority were women, single mothers, some young with small children, but also many stories were from workers in their fifties who, are increasing having a difficult time finding work, because of age discrimination. They described the benefits as a "lifeline" they use it for basics, utilities bills, food, and their rent, many now worried about being evicted without having the money to pay their rent. Too many have been out of work for over a year, and have applied for hundreds of jobs with no avail.

Levin wrote the letter and amassed the stories, to demonstrate the personal suffering Americans are enduring because of political disagreements; "I hope that you will receive them as if they were here in person because if they were able to walk the halls of Congress and tell their stories I am confident this institution would not turn its back on them." Rep. Levin hoped adding a face to many would make the make the situation more urgent in the speaker's eyes and he would put the bill to a House vote, but also to show these are hardworking Americans in a difficult situation, not lazy loafers looking to live off the government.

Bringing up a quote of Speaker Boehner's from Thursday, April 24 where he delivered remarks at a luncheon held at Brown's Run County Club in Madison Township in Ohio. The speaker criticized his fellow congressman for not taking up immigration reform, because they find it to difficult a task. Here Levin used Boehner's words to apply it to the unemployment benefits extension issue, stating; "You said recently that "we get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems." Levin then pointed out the huge percentage of unemployed Americans are the long-term unemployed that need the benefits to survive, writing; "Our nation has a long-term unemployed problem, with 35% of the unemployed out of work for more than six months."

Levin concluded as most Democrats and moderate Republicans have by urging the Speaker to put the Senate bill to a vote; "I urge that these stories illustrate the need for the House to act so that a financial lifeline can be restored to 2.8 million Americans, keeping them tied to the labor force they so desperately seek to return to and benefitting the American economy. Mr. Speaker, I urge you to permit a debate and vote on the Senate-passed bill."

Levin's letter is not the first one sent to the House Speaker and will not will it be the last urging him to put the Senate unemployment benefits bill to a vote. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA attacked the GOP in a letter released on April 17, 2014 stating that "House Republicans' refusal to extend emergency unemployment insurance is callous, shortsighted and immoral." While Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.VA circulated an email petition on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The letter writing is not just limited to Democrats; Boehner is receiving his fair share of objection mail from Republicans. Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and Rhode Island's Democratic Gov. Lincoln Chafee sent a letter 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.

Also not all Republicans in the House of Representatives agree with Speaker Boehner's 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.

Senator Dean Heller, R-NV, the co-author of the Senate bill phoned Speaker of the House Boehner Tuesday afternoon, April 29, 2014 where they discussed the speaker's need to have job creation measures added to the Senate passed bill to put it to a vote in the House. Apparently according a statement from Boehner's office Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV is refusing to have any job creation provisions added to the bill, despite the fact that he seemed in recent comments more open to idea to be able restore the benefits.

In the 15-minute phone call Boehner reiterated his demands that the White House list what job creation measures the House Republicans could add to the bill. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney already told Boehner on Monday, April 21 that the administration refuses to negotiate on the bill. Boehner has consistently placed the blame on President Barack Obama and the White House for the House for not taking up the unemployment extension rather that insult or criticize fellow Republican Heller. After the call Heller stated Boehner wants "to know and believe the White House is serious about it." Continuing, Heller emphasized that Boehner "was very adamant about that."

The ball is in the House's court now regarding the unemployment benefits extension since the Senate passed the unemployment benefits extension bill on April 7, 2014. Since then the Republicans in the House of Representatives have been considering adding job creating provisions to the bill to make it acceptable to Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH so that he would put the bill to a vote. At this point the speaker will not put the bill to a House vote without any added provisions.

At the GOP leadership press conference on Thursday, April 10 Boehner had asked for the White House and Obama administration to let him know which provisions would be acceptable. The White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded at the daily press briefing on Monday, April 21, 2014 that the White House refuses and objects for the House adding any additional provisions to the unemployment benefits extension bill and President Obama will not negotiate on any concessions on the unemployment benefits bill he wants the House GOP to pass the Senate bill as is. Carney clarified at the press briefing; "I don't have the latest on how that effort is progressing on Capitol Hill, but our position remains very clear, which is that these are benefits that should be extended. Extending them would be, of course, hugely impactful to the families who receive them directly, but also of great benefit to the economy." Continuing, Carney urged the House to pass the bill, saying; "And Congress ought to take action."

Among the prospective proposals is the one from 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 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.

The most popular provision choice, by the House GOP at this moment to bring the bill to a House vote is the "Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act" (HR 803) sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. and passed by the House in March 2013. 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. The SKILLS Act "streamlines" job training programs, and would provide job training to 3.7 million Americans unemployed for longer than 27 weeks.

Boehner speaking to the press on Thursday morning, April 10 reiterated his position on job creation measures being a part of any unemployment benefits extension bill he would bring to a House vote. Boehner stated; "Listen, I made clear to the president last December that if he wanted us to consider an extension of emergency unemployment benefits, it would have to be paid for and it would have to include things that would help get our economy going. They have not put forward anything with regard to how we would create more jobs. And so the ball's still in their court."

Boehner still believes that the Senate needs to move on serious job creation bills to solve the economic problems that Americans are still facing. The speaker explained; "Meanwhile, Democrats here in Washington continue to play their usual politics, using their old playbook of pitting one group of Americans against another. And frankly, it's pretty obvious that their efforts have failed. They've fallen flat because the American people are still asking the question, 'Where are the jobs?,' and these political votes provide no answers."

Job creation and training legislation is a priority for Boehner and the Republican House. Boehner even focused the GOP weekly address on Saturday, April 26, 2014 on urging the Senate Democrats to work with the House GOP on the economy and job creation and passing the House's jobs bills. The speaker explained on April 10 the types of bills the House are making a priority. Boehner indicated; "So the House is going to continue to focus on the American people's priorities: creating good paying jobs, increasing wages, and expanding opportunity for all Americans. This means reforming our job training and skills programs, advancing bipartisan charter school legislation, critical water and highway infrastructure bills, expanding exports to our allies, and repealing and replacing ObamaCare - just to name a few." The speaker's listing of legislating priorities give a good idea what type of provisions need to be added to the unemployment benefits extension to get the bill to a vote and passed in the House. Among those being seriously considered by House Republicans are revising and "streamlining" job training programs or a "business tax cuts" extension.

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 long-term jobless unemployment benefits extension bill with 59 votes for and 38 against with six Republicans joining the Democrats to pass the bill. The bill 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.

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.

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.

The Senate unemployment benefits extension bill expires at the end of May, with less than a month left, Boehner and the House Republicans will have to pass the bill as is, or a compromise has to be reached with the White House and Senate. If not the Senate or House will have to start over and the chances of any unemployment benefits be extended will be slim at best. With a packed agenda, and only 55 working days until the midterm elections, lines will drawn deeper between the Democrats and Republicans will deepen in a election year where the Republicans are close to regaining control of the Senate.


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.

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