Since President Barack Obama announced his economic opportunity program during his State of the Union address in January 2014, and he has signed nearly 30 executive actions to help the economic plight of lower income and middle class Americans, but there is one area he has not done any action to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. With Congress out on recess until after Labor Day in September, there is a lot of speculation as to what executive action Obama might take, including possibly one for the long-term unemployment benefits extension.
President Obama is considering executive action on a number of issues, primarily regarding immigration reform, to curb deportations. There is talk that the Republican House might impeach Obama if takes action on immigration himself. Learning and Finance first reported on Aug. 12, 2014 the possibility that President Obama might sign an executive order to extend long-term unemployment benefits, writes that "If the President takes action on any of these issues without the consent of Congress though, some critics will contend that he violated the Constitution."
President Obama promised to make 2014 a year of action, tasking action on legislation when Congress does not. The president stated back in January and February when first introduced his "Year of Action" and Economic Opportunity program that he would be "using my pen and my phone to make a difference for middle class Americans and those working to get into the middle class."
It is debatable as to whether President Obama still considers the unemployment extension a top priority as part of his economic opportunity program. The president barely mentions Congressional Republicans not taking up and passing the bill anymore in his speech attacking Republicans for their inaction for domestic legislation that would help Americans. Instead Obama is praising the economy recovery and the fact that "the unemployment rate is at its lowest point since September of 2008."
Still the White House acknowledged that the long-term unemployment rate is still high in a blog post entitled "The Employment Situation in July" and published on Aug. 1, 2014. Jason Furman writing the post stated; "the long-term unemployment rate, which more than quadrupled as a result of the recession, still has the furthest to go to recover to its pre-recession average. In contrast, short-term unemployment has fully recovered."
Senators Jack Reed, D-RI and Dean Heller, R-NV have been working non-stop to ensure the passage of their bipartisan unemployment benefits extension bill since the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expired on Dec. 28, 2013. Their bill the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014 passed the Senate on April 7, 2014. The bill provided 5 months of retroactive benefits from Dec. 28 to June 1, even after the first one passed its deadline without being put to a House vote they promised to create another bill, which they did. On Tuesday, June 24, 2014 they unveiled a new bill, extending benefits for five months without a deadline and the retroactive element.
The House also introduced its own bipartisan unemployment extension bill Representatives Frank LoBiondo, R-NJ-02 and Dan Kildee, D-MI-05 introduced on Wednesday afternoon, June 25, 2014. The House bill has even less of a chance of passing than the Senate bill, but it was considered a message to the Republican House that this issue has bipartisan support and worthy of a vote for either bill.
President Obama has faced criticism for not taking a more active role to ensure the bill's passage. Sen. Heller has blamed the White House and President Barack Obama, for the bill's failure, because they refused to negotiate with and provide Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH an acceptable list of job creating provisions to add to the bill as he requested in order to put the extension to a vote. Congressional Quarterly's Roll Call has repeatedly questioned why President Obama has not gotten involved and does not directly negotiate with Boehner. The news source had even confronted former Press Secretary Jay Carney on the matter.
Neither have the Senate nor House bill had much success, both bills lost their funding sources with the passage of the GOP House authored Highway Trust Funding bill on Aug. 1, which used the same funding source of pension smoothing and increasing customs fees. Since "100,000 transportation projects" and "700,000 construction jobs" on the line, the bill had the reluctant support of Democrats and President Obama. All the must pass bipartisan bills that Reed and Heller wanted to add the unemployment benefits extension as a supplemental either failed to pass in the Senate or passed without adding their bill. The authors of the House and Senate bills are still trying to find a new source to fund their bills.
Despite the improved short-term unemployment situation and decrease in applications another reason President Obama might consider executive action to extend unemployment benefits is that it still enjoys wide support among Democrats in Congress. Democrats in Congress might not be able to fix the unemployment extension alone, but President Obama possibly taking executive action to extend benefit could possibly solve this problem and help a get the extension for the over three million Americans who desperately need it.
- July 2014 Employment Situation Summary, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Aug. 1, 2014
- S. 2532: A bill to provide for the extension of certain unemployment benefits, June 25, 2015, Referred to Committee -- Full Text -- Video of Press Conference
- H.R. 4970: To provide for the extension of certain unemployment benefits, June 25, 2014, Referred to Committee
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.