Keeping to their promise of "not stopping" or "giving up" Senators Jack Reed, D-RI and Dean Heller, R-NV announced on Friday, June 20, 2014 that they are ready to unveil a new long-term jobless unemployment benefits extension bill to the Senate this upcoming week. There is now again hope for the over three million Americans that have lost their long-term unemployment benefits when the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expired on Dec. 28, 2013. Since then the Senate passed a five-month retroactive bipartisan bill the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, which the House of Representatives never moved beyond the committee stage and expired on May 31, 2014, with no planned vote in sight. The National Journal first reported on June 20, that the bill is ready for presentation.
Reed and Heller's new stand-alone bill attempts to comply more with Speaker of the House John Boehner's, R-OH demands. Earlier in the month Heller did not think it was possible for the Senate to add job creation measures to the any bill, however, now he did not indicate now if the new bill does or does not include that almighty job creation element, which was the main roadblock for the first Senate passed bill. Heller previously stated that adding job creation elements is something the House would have to do. Then the two bills can be resolved in conference negotiations with the Senate.
Since the Heller-Reid bill did not include job creation measures, Boehner had unsuccessfully requested from the White House to a list of acceptable job creating provisions to the now defunct bill. Boehner specifically had been pressuring President Barack Obama since after the bill passed in the Senate on April 7, and was transferred to the committee stage in the House. Job creation provisions were a key demand from the speaker in order to put the bill to a House vote. Senate leadership or the White House were not willing to allow Boehner to add any provisions that were appealing to the House Republicans, any suggestions given were part of Obama and Democrats agenda.
Heller is now desperate and wants the House to pass the bill with any provisions added, as long as they pass the bill. Earlier in the month Senator Heller explained his position; "I tell them 'I don't care, just pass something, get it over here, we'll negotiate it in conference,' Get what you want in the bill, do whatever the House has to do." Earlier in the month the House favored the most adding a provision eliminating the medical device tax from the health care law the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans claims is reducing jobs in the industry.
The bill revises the previous Heller-Reed bill to make it more appealing to the Republican House. The new bill will probably cost $2 billion a week and will be paid for by revenue, including "pension smoothing" and "extending Customs user fees through 2024" as was the last bill. The bill will have a five-month extension, lasting approximately until the end of 2014. The new bill however, would not be retroactive, because rates have been falling even slightly, and it was also a roadblock to passing the bill the last time. Boehner believed the states have not been keeping track of eligibility, since the deal was reached months after the EUC program expired.
Although there will not be a retroactive element, those who were eligible when the EUC program expired and did not go back to work, will be allowed to collect the remaining weeks of benefits they were set to receive when the new bill would be signed into law. Reed explained this part of the bill in a written statement to the Washington Post; "This means the benefits will be available going forward for the long-term unemployed, and those that were cut off when the program expired will be able to pick up where they left off. So, for instance, if you were eligible for 6 more weeks of EUC benefits when the program was cut off on December 28, and you are still looking for a job now, you are eligible to receive federal UI help for those 6 weeks. Our goal is to try to help those out of work get the help they need."
Heller and Reed are currently looking for enough Republicans supporters to sponsor it, to ensure passage of a new Senate vote. Sen. Reed and Heller have been consulting with the unemployment benefits extension bill's six Republican co-sponsors about how to move ahead and what measures would appeal to Republicans, but maintain Democratic support. The Republicans senators that were the sponsors of the first Reed-Heller bill; "Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Rob Portman of Ohio" are all being courted to help pass this new legislation, Portman has specifically been involved and consulted through the process; his influence was partially the reason the bill was able to overcome the hurdles it did to pass in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, R-NV already promised to put the completed bill to a Senate vote this summer.
Senator Reed acknowledged that the bill cannot address all the problems that resulted from the program lapsing for nearly six months and wishes he could do more, but is constrained by political realities. Reed continued in his statement to the Washington Post; "I would rather fix the entire problem, but there's not the votes to do everything. I understand that some people will say, 'this is not fair. I was cut off for two months before I was able to find a job and this bill isn't retroactive so it won't cover me.' I agree that this program should never have been forced to expire and it is unfair that partisan gridlock in the House prevented the bipartisan, Senate-passed Reed-Heller fix from ever getting an up or down vote and becoming law."
The first Reed-Heller bill passed in the Senate on April 7, 2014 and provided retroactive benefits for five-months from the time the EUC program expired on Dec. 28, 2013 until June 1, 2014 and was paid full with revenue. If this new bill does not pass, there are still other options being considered including adding the bill as an amendment to popular must pass bipartisan bills. The most probable bill are 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.
Over three million long-term jobless Americans have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks, they need the benefits to survive, and each week around 72,000 keep losing benefits. Although the total unemployment rate keeps falling each month, the long-term jobless rate in May remains high at 3.4 million or 34.6 percent of all unemployed Americans, just slightly lower than in April. Older workers, women and younger workers with in service and blue collar jobs with only a high school diploma are the most affected. The EUC program usually has been renewed as long as the long-term jobless rate is above 1.3 percent.
On the challenges column most states are experiencing lower unemployment rates, which USA Today points out shows that "the country at last regained all the jobs lost in the Great Recession." Unemployment in May fell in 20 states, with employment growth in 36 states. However, there was no change in 14 states in Washington, DC, while unemployment rose in 16 states, and 14 states saw job losses. At the end of the week of June 14, jobless claims fell the most week to week, with 6000 less claims than the week before reaching a low of 312,000, the lowest in seven years.
Additionally, the Federal Reserve's Chairwoman Janet Yellen has determined that unemployment rate will fall to 5.5 percent by the end of the year. That number marks a healthy unemployment rate and Yellen believes the country is on track to meet it a year earlier than originally predicted. On Friday, June 20 Yellen proclaimed that "the economy would be approaching what my colleagues and I view as maximum employment and price stability for the first time in nearly a decade." Now however, the unemployment rate still sits at 6.3 percent. The fact that in general the unemployment rate is falling can deter Republicans, who in general oppose extending benefits from even considering voting for the bill or even getting the bill to a vote in the House.
The new bill faces what can be either as new obstacles or advantages depending how one looks at it with the new leadership line-up in the House. On June 10, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA lost his primary bid and his chance for reelection to Tea Party challenger and economics professor Dave Brat in a shocking defeat. Cantor promptly resigned from his post effective July 31 in a June 11 press conference, which formally commenced the leadership race to replace him. Although Cantor had endorsed his successor to be the Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and the minute of Cantor's loss McCarthy was already jocking for the position, he had some competition, but it was minor.
On Thursday, June 19th the GOP House voted behind closed doors to make McCarthy the new majority leader. The race to replace McCarthy as majority whip was more open, but in the end red state Louisiana Steve Scalise won the race over Chief Deputy Whip Rep. Peter Roskam, R-ILL and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-IND; Scalise is considered more conservative than McCarthy. Both will retain their positions until the end of the term, but will face another vote for the 114th Congress. The majority leader is responsible for setting the House's voting agenda, determining which bills will get a chance to be voted on in the House. Despite the Tea Party's claim that Cantor was not conservative enough, he was, and would not have put the unemployment benefits bill to a vote. McCarthy is considered more moderate, and even supports immigration reform, the very issue that was behind Cantor's ouster. The Democrat House Minority Whip, Steny Hoyer, D-MD is even looking forward to working with him.
The new leadership could be more willing to put the unemployment benefits or reluctant depending if they are more worried about potential Tea Party defeats in the remaining primaries or general discontent in the midterm elections. Most believe however, it will be business as usual in the GOP House, which does not necessary bode well for the unemployment benefits extension, except if a job creation measure is included. First though it will have to pass in the Senate, at this moment the Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-MD is working to pass spending appropriation bills, a process that is scheduled for the next three weeks. Any issues however, regarding adding amendments could derail the process, and leave an opening a space in the schedule for a vote on the new benefits extension bill.
- 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
H.R. 4550: Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, May 1, 2014, Referred to Committee
- S. 2148: Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, March 13, 2014, Reported by Committee
S. 2149: Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, March 24, 2014, Reported by Committee
- H.R. 3979: Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, Jan 31, 2014, Passed Senate with Changes
- H.R.803 - Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills SKILLS Act, 03/18/2013 Received in the Senate and Read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, H. Rept. 113-14, 03/15/2013 : Passed House
S. 1356: Workforce Investment Act of 2013, July 24, 2013, Reported by Committee on July 31, 2013S.
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.