Just before President Barack Obama delivered a speech on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 urging Congress to extend unemployment benefits for long term jobless Americans, the Senate with the help of some Republicans passed the bill's first procedural vote 60 to 37. President Obama gave his speech in the White House's East Room, where he was joined by 18 Americans that have recently lost unemployment benefits, because the extension was not passed before its Dec. 28, 2013 expiration. Republicans failed to include an extension of the 2008 law in the bipartisan budget bill that passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate in December, which the President signed into law on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013.
The Senate has a bipartisan plan which would extend unemployment benefits for another three months. Sens. Dean Heller, R-NV and Jack Reed, D-R.I. are the authors and sponsors of the extension plan; the Heller-Reed bill. The President approves of the short-term plan and would sign such a bill if it passes the House and Senate. On Monday, Jan. 6, Obama spent a part of his day phoning Republican Senators encouraging them to vote for the extension.
The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act will cost $6.5 billion, but Heller and Reed did not outline how the costly extension would be paid for, besides contributing further to the deficit. A majority of Republican oppose the major because of its price tag.
Six Senate Republicans voted with the 54 Senate Democrats on the cloture vote to end the filibuster stage and pass the bill's first major hurdle leading to the debate stage. The six senators that broke from party ranks were; Kelly Ayotte, N.H.; Dan Coats, IN; Susan Collins, ME; Dean Heller, NV; Lisa Murkowski, AK; and Rob Portman, OH. The Senate vote was originally scheduled for Monday, Jan. 6, but was delayed because of the cold and stormy weather plaguing the country.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is also against the bill expressing on Tuesday; "There is no excuse to pass unemployment insurance legislation without also finding ways to create good, stable, high-paying jobs - and also trying to find the money to pay for it. So what I'm saying is, let's support meaningful job creation measures, and let's find a way to pay for these UI benefits so we're not adding to an already unsustainable debt."
President Obama delivered his speech at the White House primarily urging the Republican House of Representatives to extend the benefits minutes after the Senate's first vote. Obama praised the Senate's actions; "The good news is this morning the Senate took a very important step in that direction. We've got to get this across the finish line without obstruction or delay, and we need the House of Representatives to be able to vote for it as well. Voting for unemployment insurance helps people and creates jobs, and voting against it does not."
At the event part of a week-long push to get Congressional Republicans to pass the bill, Katherine Hackett, an unemployed mother of two sons in the military from Connecticut introduced the President. She lost her benefits in December and discussed the difficulties to survive without them including wearing a coat and barely heating her home and cutting down on food.
The President's speech primarily urged Congress to pass an unemployment extension, but also described the bill, its impact on affected Americans and the economy, mixing in anecdotes from those unemployed that were at the White House while he gave his speech, all the while wishing for a bipartisan convergence to pass the bill.
President Obama in his speech emphasized the impact of not extending the benefits describing; "If this doesn't get fixed, it will hurt about 14 million Americans over the course of this year. Congress should pass this bipartisan plan right away and I will sign it right away." On Dec. 28, 2013 1.3 million Americans lost access to benefits, and each week about 70,000 Americans will lose benefits. Obama continued; "We've got to get this across the finish line without obstruction or delay. And we need the House of Representatives to be able to vote for it as well."
Obama explained the ways the benefits helps Americans each day in their quest to find a job; "A lot of our friends, a lot of our neighbors have lost their jobs and they are working their tails off every single day trying to find a new job. As the job market keeps getting better, more and more of these folks will find work. But in the meantime the insurance keeps them from falling off a cliff. It makes sure they can pay that car note, so they could go to that interview. It makes sure they can pay that cell phone bill, so that if someone calls back for an interview they can answer."
President Obama responded to Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, who has spoken out against extending the benefits because it does not motivate the unemployed to find a job as long as they have access to benefits. Paul again stated his position on Sunday morning, Jan. 5 on ABC's "This Week" explaining; "I think it's wrong to borrow money from China or simply to print up money for it. But I'm not against having unemployment insurance. I do think, though, that the longer you have it, that it provides some disincentive to work, and that there are many studies that indicate this."
The President in his response slammed Paul saying that Americans prefer working; "I really want to go at this for a second. That really sells the American people short. I meet a lot of people as president of the United States and as a candidate for president of the United States. … I meet a lot of people. And I can't, I can't name a time where I met an American who would rather have an unemployment check than the pride of having a job."
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH would push for the bill if there was a source to pay for the extension. House Republicans believe spending cuts should offset $26 billion cost for the extension this upcoming year. Boehner reiterated on Tuesday his position again about the bill; "One month ago I personally told the White House that another extension of temporary emergency unemployment benefits should not only be paid for but include something to help put people back to work," Boehner said in a statement released by his office. "To date, the president has offered no such plan. If he does, I'll be happy to discuss it, but right now the House is going to remain focused on growing the economy and giving America's unemployed the independence that only comes from finding a good job."
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."
President Obama concluded his remarks, wishing for a bipartisan effort to pass the bill that it might lead to further bipartisanship in Congress; "Hope is contagious. When Congress passes a bipartisan effort starting here, right at the beginning of the new year, who knows, we might actually get some things done this year."
Although the Heller-Reed bill passed its first step, the Senate still has to pass the bill as well as the Republican House, who still lean against the bill and its costs. The President will have his work cut out for him to get this bill passed, if he does maybe he will get his wish of a more bipartisan and productive Congress to work this midterm election year.
Senate Vote 2 - Advances Unemployment Benefits Extension On Cloture on the Motion to Proceed Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, NYT, Jan. 7, 2014 -- Full text of the bill »
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.