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Obama still hopeful House will pass unemployment extension bill after deadline

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Although the chances of the House of Representatives passing the Senate passed unemployment benefits bill is dwindling to nil, President Barack Obama still remains optimistic that Congress will extend benefits for the 2.8 million long-term jobless Americans that lost benefits in December 2013. At his daily press briefing on Thursday, May 29, 2014 White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded to a question about the Senate's Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014 and the House of Representative's "inaction" to be put the bill to a vote answering that President Obama "has not given up" about the unemployment benefits extension bill and still hopes Congress will "act." The bill, which extended benefits retroactively for five-months from December 28, 2013 when the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program ended, is set to expire on June 1, 2014 unless Congress decides to put the bill to a vote and passes it.

The Senate passed the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014 on April 7, 2014. The bipartisan bill was written and co-sponsored by Senators Jack Reed, D-RI and Dean Heller, R-NV and received the votes of six Republicans when it passed. The bill provided a five month extension with retroactive benefits, to ensure the unemployed received the help the needed. To satisfy the six Republican sponsors the $10 billion was completely paid through with revenue.

At the time of the deal in March it was hailed as a bipartisan victory, however, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH opposed it from the started calling it "unworkable." The speaker had reservations about the states implementing the retroactive benefits, believing they have not kept up verified the long-term jobless' eligibility. Despite assurances from Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez implementation remained a road black.

The biggest obstacle to getting the bill to a vote however was Boehner's insistence that any unemployment benefits bill put to a vote must include job creation measures. Boehner has been requesting a direct response from the White House, and a list of measures approved by the White House and President Barack Obama. Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel on Thursday, May 29 again firmly stated the speaker's position and opposition to the bill; "The speaker laid out the criteria for considering another extension in December… The ball is in the Administration's court and it hasn't come up with a plan to meet our requirements." The president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV are only open to Democratic favored provisions being added.

President Obama has not personally phoned the speaker in the nearly two months since the Senate passed the bill. The president has urged the speaker and the House to pass the bill briefly in some speeches and remarks and Twitter. Obama has sent Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez to negotiate with the speaker and has relayed messages through the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. Obama has and continues not to use the power of the presidency to persuade Boehner to put the bill to a vote.

Proving the Speaker's point again a representative of the president's was urging the House to put the bill to a vote, not President Obama himself. At the daily briefing on Thursday, May 29, 2014 Carney was asked about President Obama's thoughts on the bill being passed; "Regarding unemployment insurance, there was a five-month extension passed by the Senate. That five months would be up in a couple of days, and there's been no action in the House. Has the President given up on an unemployment benefits extension? And what should the long-term unemployed be thinking at this point?"

Carney preemptively responded that Obama and White House does not have sway of the House GOP or the Speaker; "That they don't have a lot of friends among the House Republican leadership, first of all." Continuing Carney expressed "It's certainly a shame that they have refused to bring this up and to pass it." The press secretary however, pointed out that is seems a partisan move on the House GOP's not to pass the bill because "They were ready and willing to do it when the previous President asked for it to be done in circumstances less severe than the long-term unemployed find themselves in now. So that's a shame." Carney relayed President Obama's optimism followed by a quick statement urging the House to still act, saying; "But the President has not given up. He believes that Congress ought to act, and he hopes they do." 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.

Technically, the House can still pass the unemployment extension bill after the May 31, deadline, and therefore all payments to the long-term jobless would be retroactive. The window of opportunity however, is very narrow and would need to be done soon. Congressional Quarterly's Roll Call still believes that President Obama's active involvement would have helped, particularly reaching out and speaking to Boehner as he has been continually pleading the president to do. Another incentive Roll Call thinks would be effective, President Obama threatening to veto legislation important to the House Republicans, still he refuses to do that even to push a vote. President Obama did not do everything he could to get this bill passed; the blame will sit on his shoulders as well as the House GOP when all deadlines pass for this bill.

Sens. Reed and Heller who have promised to do anything they can to extend benefits and already started working on a new bill. Heller's spokesperson Chandler Smith promised on Thursday, May 29 that Heller will "work on a path forward" for the unemployment extension. Continuing Smith stated; "Senator Heller is working with [Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack] Reed to explore all viable options in order to get this legislation done, and they continue to discuss a wide variety of ideas."

Part of the senators' plan to get the EUC program extended is to attach the unemployment benefits extension as an amendment to a Senate bill with bipartisan support. The main contenders are the business tax cuts extenders "S.2260 - EXPIRE Act of 2014" and the transportation bill S.2322: MAP-21 Reauthorization Act, both bills will have to be passed in the near future and are issues that have bipartisan support in both Houses. Heller and Reed would have liked to have added the extension to the Senate's jobs training bill "the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (PL 105-220)," but the sponsors already refused to add it as an amendment.

The fact that the unemployment rate keeps falling does not help Reed and Heller's argument to extend benefits. In April, the economy added 288,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate plummeted from 6.7 percent down to 6.3 percent, the lowest since September 2008. Meanwhile, the long-term unemployment rate also fell, there are 287,000 less Americans unemployed for longer than 27 weeks or six months. Now the total stands at 3.5 million Americans or 35.5 percent all unemployed Americans. The number is much lower than the April 2010 "peak" of 45.5 percent, but not as low as the short-term unemployed rate.

The results gives reluctant Republicans an argument that the economy is improving and no longer under the recession where emergency measures needed to be in place, jobs are there and they will expect the long-term unemployed to go out and get them. Both Fortune and the Washington Times have lamented the waning political importance of pass the unemployment benefit extension blaming political irrelevance as a major midterm elections issue for one of the reasons the Republican House to pass the extension.

It is not so simple for the long-term unemployed to find work, the longer they are unemployed the harder it is to get a job, any job, with the job finding rate at only 10 percent for each month. The long-term jobless are usually highly educated and older workers, who do not have technological edge over their younger counterparts. The economy has only improved the employment chances for the shirt-term unemployed. While ending unemployment benefits have only made life more difficult for long-term jobless or as FiveThirtyEight concluded; "The end of extended benefits hasn't spurred the unemployed back to work; if anything, it has pushed them out of the labor force altogether." Since extended benefits ended the long-term jobless are finding it more difficult to get a job not easier.

The Senate remains on a two-week recess until June 5, then as they pledged Reed and Heller and going to make sure benefits are extended this summer hopefully and possibly for a year. The time until the summer recess in August is the last chance Congress will have to extend benefits, once fall arrives, so does the midterm elections campaign season and any chance of bipartisanship will be impossible as both parties fight for control of the Senate.

RELATED LINKS

  • 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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