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Obama weighs-in on House opposition to unemployment benefits extension bill

President Barack Obama finally commented on the ongoing problems of getting the Senate unemployment benefits extension bill to a vote in the House of Representatives during the speech he delivered on the failed Senate minimum wage vote on Wednesday afternoon, April 30, 2014. In a blistering midterm campaign styled speech President Obama was criticizing the GOP for not only blocking the advancement of the Senate minimum wage raise bill, but opposing and preventing any legislation that would help America's lower income and middle class. 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.

President Barack Obama commented about the House not taking up the unemployment benefits extension bill to a vote during remarks about the Senate's failed minimum wage vote, April 30, 2014
Alex Wong/Getty Images

In his speech Obama reserved most of his wrath for the GOP, and spent most of his time chastising the Republicans for voting against raising the minimum wage and in general any legislation that will help Americans improve their economic situation including not voting to extend unemployment benefits extension. In his speech the president wanted to make a biased contrast portraying the Democrats as caring and working for the middle class, and the Republicans as only concerned about the wealthy, and that Republicans are focusing so much on politics they are not doing anything to help Americans."

President Obama reiterated that the Republicans recent activities show they do not care for the middle-class, they continue repealing the health care law, the Affordable Care Act, passed a budget that cuts social programs, they refused to pass the equal pay bill and refused to pass the unemployment benefits extension bill. Speaking specifically about the unemployment benefits extension Obama said the Republicans have "stood in the way as we've fought to extend unemployment insurance for parents who need a little help supporting their families while they're out looking for work."

Obama advised Americans than they can use their vote in the midterm election to express their opposition to the GOP refusing to pass helpful economic legislation. The president urged Americans and voters to get involved and pressure their representatives and Senators through any means, personal anecdotes, Twitter. President Obama advised American voters that "while you're at it, tell them to restore unemployment insurance for Americans who are trying to support their families right now while they look for work."

The president urging the House GOP to pass the unemployment benefits extension expressing that the bill will be good for the economy and America's long-term jobless, declaring; "Extending this lifeline of unemployment insurance would actually strengthen the economy and create jobs, and give millions of Americans across the country a sense of hope." President Obama however, did not weigh in on the specifications negotiations, Speaker of the House John Boehner's demand for a list of job measures he approves of that could be make the Senate bill more attractive to the House GOP, nor did he comment on the various job creation proposals being circulated and considered in the Republicans in the House at the moment.

On Tuesday afternoon, April 29, 2014 Senator Dean Heller, R-NV, the co-author of the Senate bill phoned Speaker of the House Boehner 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." Heller is now in discussions with House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-TX to bring the Senate unemployment benefits bill to a House vote.

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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