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Obama needs to insist that GOP House pass the unemployment benefits extension

President Barack Obama has not tried enough to ensure the passage of the unemployment benefits extension; Obama casually attacks the GOP in a Minnesota speech for not passing the bill, June 27, 2014
President Barack Obama has not tried enough to ensure the passage of the unemployment benefits extension; Obama casually attacks the GOP in a Minnesota speech for not passing the bill, June 27, 2014
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Barack Obama needs to do more to ensure the passage of the long-term unemployment benefits extension in order to help the over 3 million Americans that have lost benefits since the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expired on Dec. 28, 2013. Obama's absence in the negotiation process has long been a point of criticism from the Republican Congressional leadership, the news media, and even the bipartisan bill's Republican co-author and sponsor. Now that that a new Senate bill was introduced and a jobs training bill passed in the Senate on Wednesday June 25, 2014 that would have been the perfect companion bill to ensure the unemployment benefits were reinstated, yet the president never made a effort to use the power of the presidency to insist that the bill be included as amendment or face a veto.

Senators Jack Reed, D-RI and Dean Heller, R-NV have been working non-stop to ensure the passage of their bipartisan bill. Their bill the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014 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.

Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, R-OH and the Republican House majority has been insisting that Obama get involved in the negotiations since the first Reed-Heller bill passed in the Senate on April 7, 2014. Boehner has been insisting that in order to put any unemployment extension the bill to a vote it would have to be paired with job creations provisions. Boehner has been demanding that Obama and the White House provide a list of acceptable provisions.

The president never personally responded, sending his press secretaries to relay messages or Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez to answer the speaker's demands. Perez sent Boehner a letter on May 7 that included the administrations suggested job creation measures, a laundry list from the Democratic agenda, the only bill that would have been acceptable to Republicans was adding it as an amendment to the Senate's bipartisan jobs training bill.

The president let another chance pass by the White House this past week when he did not insist that the Senate include the unemployment benefits extension to their jobs training bill. The "reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (PL 105-220)" is the Senate's bi-partisan job training program and bill, which passed on Wednesday, June 25, 2014. However, the Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray, D-WA, and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin, D-IA stated on Tuesday, May 20 that they were refusing to add the unemployment benefits extension to their bill. Harkin revealed on June 24, 2014 the reason behind the refusal to merge the two bills, with an unfair politically based excuse that "We worked five years on it and it's a good bill and we are not going to let it get screwed up by anything."

Congressional Quarterly's Roll Call reported that the "White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy" supporting the jobs training bill, but never used the opportunity to insist that the bill should included the unemployment extension. Roll Call also noted that "Obama also hasn't demanded unemployment benefits extensions on any other bill." Obama allowed Harkin to get away with not adding the EUC extension with an excuse that it unfair to the over three million Americans and their families affected by the program's expiration.

Roll Call has repeatedly questioned why President Obama has not gotten involved and does not directly negotiate with Boehner. The news source has even confronted former Press Secretary Jay Carney on the matter. Sen. Heller also stated that it would be helpful if Obama contacted Boehner about the bill. Heller expressed at the press conference on Tuesday, June 24; "If we are going to make progress … he needs to be more engaged and I'll continue to say that. He needs to pick up the phone and call the speaker and say, 'Hey, how are we going to get this done.'"

White House spokesman Matt Lehrich came to the president's defense, turning it around and blaming the GOP entirely, stating; "President Obama has made a sustained case both in public and in private that Congress should extend unemployment insurance to help Americans who are working hard to make ends meet while they look for a job. The Senate has passed a bipartisan bill. The only thing that's left now is for House Republicans to follow suit." Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill also defended the president, thinking as the White House usually does that Obama's interjection will only push the GOP to not support the bill. Durbin explained; "I'm sure the president would like to do that. There's some automatic reflexive opposition to anything the president supports."

President Obama thought he would quash criticism and make up for his recent lackluster public support and push for the unemployment benefits extension by giving his usual and casual attack on the GOP for not passing the bill during a speech he delivered on the economy in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Friday, June 27 aimed to bolster the Democrats in the midterm elections. This was the first time the president has publically commented on the House letting the bill expire with putting it to a vote. Obama spent much of the speech attacking the GOP for not passing his agenda that would help the middle class.

Speaking specifically of the unemployment benefits extension, he expressed; "They've said no to extending unemployment insurance for more than three million Americans who are out there looking every single day for a new job, despite the fact that we know it would be good not just for those families who are working hard to try to get back on their feet, but for the economy as a whole. Rather than invest in working families getting ahead, they actually voted to give another massive tax cut to the wealthiest Americans." Still Obama's comment does not replace using the strong arm of the presidency to pass legislation important to him. The long-term unemployed need more than a shout out in Obama's campaign speech attacking the Republican House, they need action.

Adding the unemployment benefits extension as an amendment to a bipartisan bill is being considered the easiest way to ensure the bill's passage and that benefits are reinstated. The new Senate bill does not have the five Republican co-sponsors it did the first time, ensuring it would pass the filibuster stage and all the protocol votes, however, Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH has displayed the most Republican support for the bill next to Heller. The Senate has a busy pre-election has yet to schedule a potential vote, however Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV promised he would. The bill still does not a job creation element included, still not satisfying Boehner's and the GOP's demands. Politico believes the House GOP will not pass the unemployment benefits extension without "approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, repeal of Obamacare's medical device tax or redefinition of the health care law's full-time workweek to 40 hours."

Heller and Reed are still trying to added the unemployment extension to either two other popular bipartisan bills; the business tax cuts extenders "S.2260 - EXPIRE Act of 2014" and the Highway Trust Fund bill "S.2322: MAP-21 Reauthorization Act." The highway bill, which is now facing two different incarnations in the House and Senate, the bill must pass this summer with "100,000 transportation projects" and "700,000 construction jobs" on the line. Even with a new Unemployment benefits extension bill introduced, the fastest way to reinstate benefits to the over 3 million and counting long-term jobless would be adding renewal as an amendment.


  • 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.

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