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Reed, Heller still optimistic about unemployment extension, not rest of Senate

Even though the unemployment benefits extension bill is set to expire in over a week if the House does not pass it, Senators Jack Reed and Dean Heller are already working on plan B to ensure benefits are restored to America's long-term jobless
Even though the unemployment benefits extension bill is set to expire in over a week if the House does not pass it, Senators Jack Reed and Dean Heller are already working on plan B to ensure benefits are restored to America's long-term joblessT.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Although time running out on the Senate passed long-term jobless unemployment benefits extension bill set to run out by the end of May, the bills co-sponsors and authors Senators Jack Reed, D-RI and Dean Heller, R-NV remain optimistic about finding a way eventually to extend the expired Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program. On Tuesday, May 20, 2014 Sen. Reed spoke with the Congressional Quarterly's Roll Call about the prospect of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014 passing in the House of Representatives by the May 31, 2014 deadline, the amendment he proposed to add to the business tax cuts extender bill the Senate is negotiating, and the chances in general of benefits being restored and extended for the total 3.5 million long-term jobless.

In an interview with Roll Call Senator Reed said there are two options to pass the EUC program extension bill, adding the measure as an amendment or have the House pass the Reed-Heller Bill; "There are two basic issues. We need a legislative vehicle because the House is refusing to do the obvious and pass our bill, which is bipartisan and paid for." Reed thinks the only way to ensure the employment extension's passage is attaching it to "'obvious' need-to-do bills." The primary candidates are the business tax cut extenders bill and the transportation bill, both which have always been renewed and will mostly probably be renewed even though the tax extenders was filibustered by the Senate GOP for not being able to add amendments and President Barack Obama opposes the Senate's version of the transportation bill. Reed indicated there was another bill with bipartisan support; the Workforce Investment Act, which the unemployment extension could have been added to.

The "reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (PL 105-220)" is the Senate's bi-partisan job training program and bill. 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 are refusing to add the unemployment benefits extension to their bill. Their opposition is mostly because they do not want to add a partisan measure to their bill which has bipartisan support.

There is however, support in the House to pair the unemployment benefits extension bill with their jobs training bill. Earlier in April House Republicans who support the unemployment benefits extension were looking to combine the already House passed job training bill (HR 803) sponsored by Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. The Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act "streamlines" job training programs. The bill would provide job training to 3.7 million Americans unemployed for longer than 27 weeks. Sen. Reed thinks there is definitely a possibility that the Republican House might still agree to combine the bills. Reed expressed; "If someone from [the House] called me up and said "hey guess what, we just agreed to include your proposal in WIA,' I'd say great take the credit for it." However, it all depends on Speaker Boehner agreeing to put the bill to a vote in any format.

The Senate tax cuts extender bill "S.2260 - EXPIRE Act of 2014" is a two-year extension that will renew "over 50 wide ranging tax cuts," will cost $85 billion, and is not offset by any revenue, adding to the deficit. Although the bill has always been extended since it was instituted in 1981 without problems, this time the GOP filibustered the business tax cuts extenders bill, blocking it from advancing from the debate stage with a vote of 53 for and 40 against on Thursday, May 15, 2014. The Senate Republicans blocked the bipartisan bill, because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV prevented the GOP from adding any amendments to the bill, ad he is still insisting that only amendment related to the bill be allowed as negotiations go forth.

Reed requested adding an amendment to the business tax cuts extender bill that would extend benefits for a year, the entire 2014 calendar year. Sen. Reed issued a statement on Saturday, May 17, 2014 announcing the amendment that he is proposing. The amendment is part of Reed and Heller's contingency plans to ensure unemployment benefits are extended despite the fact that their Senate passed bill will expire in less than two weeks on May 31, 2014 if the House of Representatives does not pass it before. Both Reed and Heller promised that they would continue fighting and working for the long-term jobless and would "return to the drawing board" if the bill is not passed in time. Reed and Heller already met on Thursday, May 15 to discuss how to move forward, including planning a new bill that according to Politico would cost $2 billion each month and includes measures that would appeal to Republicans such as preventing the collection of both "disability and unemployment benefits."

Sen. Reed also pointed out that now when he and Heller decide on any new bills and amendments they have decide if there will be a retroactive element included in their next bill or amendments to extend unemployment benefits. Another issue is do they try to get a longer extension of a year for long-term jobless benefits. Reed explained; "We also have to think, because we are running to the end of our five months, whether it is all retrospective, do you reconfigure it to prospective, or do you try to adopt a whole year and even do both." The Heller-Reed bill provided retroactive benefits for five-months from the time the EUC program expired on Dec. 28, 2013 until June 1, 2014.

The amendment proposed for the tax extenders bill actually does both, it is retroactive and applies for a year, 2014 in its entirety. However, removing the retroactive element will remove one of Boehner's concerns that the states stopped verifying who is eligible to receive benefits and it would be "unworkable" to implement retroactive benefits. There are economic benefits of a full year extension according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study is that it 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.

It would be more difficult to convince the Senate to agree and vote on another unemployment benefits extension bill at this point. The rest of the spring and summer session is entirely mapped out, with votes on voter favored legislation, which Politico lists includes students, minimum wage raise, pay equity again and a constitutional amendment for campaign finance. There is no time scheduled to negotiate for another unemployment benefits extension bill. With the midterm elections campaign so close Democrats and Republicans are not interested in bipartisan agreements on any bills, that is was why the bipartisan energy efficiency and business tax cuts extenders bills failed to advance, because Senate Majority Leader Reid wants to prevent debates on any bills, and as result would not allow any Republicans amendments added to the bills as is the usual practice.

The Republican Senators who co-sponsored and voted for the Reed-Heller bill expressed concern that the House did not pass the bill, and what is going to happen to the Americans that relied on the benefits. Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME told Politico, "I'm worried, because with each passing day, it's going to become more difficult to reinstate the program. And in the meantime, we're going to start seeing another wave of individuals who will lose their benefits." Control of the Senate is at stake in the midterm elections, and most polls see the Republicans achieving a majority, which has made Majority Leader Reid and the Democrats more combative with the Republicans. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK shared the same concerns; "I'm not quite sure what the Senate has energy for. Honestly, on our side nobody's talking about [unemployment benefits] right now."

Sen. Reed and Heller have been consulting with 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. They have been consulting specifically with Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH, who knows that if the Senate needs to pass another bill there is enough votes, but it all depends if Senate Majority Reid wants to put the bill to another vote. Portman told Politico; "Harry would have to decide whether that's worth taking time away from other things he'd like to do. He knows he would have the votes, he'd have the same group of us that would be willing to work with him on something that's reasonable." Heller has taken it upon himself to be the chief negotiator for the bill he has and still is negotiating with the House leadership, and met with Labor Secretary Thomas Perez earlier in the month. Heller told Politico about his negotiation attempts; "If there was progress, believe me I'd tell you."

Still Sen. Reed believes that the best solution would be if the House of Representative passed the Hell-Reed bill. The problem is Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH refuses to put the bill to a House vote without job creation measures added, saying it needs to be "fiscally responsible and creates private-sector jobs." Most Republicans believe extending benefits encourages the long-term jobless not to go out and get a job in the improving economy. Boehner has consistently requested with no actual response for the White House to list what kinds of job creations provisions would be acceptable to them to add the bill.

The White House, President Obama, and Senate Majority Leader Reid consistently refused to allow any provisions to be added. The only credible response was from Secretary of Labor Perez, who sent a letter to Speaker Boehner on Wednesday, May 7, 2014 urging the speaker to put the unemployment benefits extension bill to a vote. Perez provided Boehner with a list of possible provisions they were all Obama and Democrat legislative priorities and would not appeal to Republicans.

Senator Reed along with the Republican co-sponsor and author of the bill Dean Heller, R-NV have been working to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless since the EUC program expired on Dec. 28, 2013. This bill was their second effort, the first bill failed to advance in the beginning of February, and it took until the middle of March to come to another bipartisan deal, that eventually passed the Senate on April 7, and moving to the House, where it has been languishing in committee. The Senate bill would cost $10 billion would be entirely covered by revenue.

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. With the April jobs report it will be even more difficult to convince reluctant Republicans to extend unemployment benefits since it appears that jobs are being created and the unemployment rate is lowering and the economy improving. The unemployment rate plummeted from 6.7 percent down to 6.3 percent, the lowest since September 2008, just before the economic crisis.

Meanwhile, the long-term unemployment rate also fell, there are 287,000 less Americans unemployed for longer than six months. Now the total stands at 3.5 million Americans or 35.5 percent all unemployed Americans. 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 get a job.

Even though there are a million less long-term jobless than last year, but still it is extremely difficult for those Americans in the situation. Mostly it is older workers that are having the difficulty finding work, because they do have technological skills to compete with younger workers. Sen. Reed explained; "For the long-term unemployed, it's much worse than previous recessions … these are precisely the people that will benefit. What we're finding with the long-term unemployed: It's a skills gap. Even though they've worked for 20 or 30 years, they just don't have the skills that employers look for."

No matter what Reed pledged that he and Heller are going to keep working to ensure that benefits are restored to assist the long-term jobless who need them to survive. Reed's state of Rhode Island and Heller's state of Nevada have two of the highest long-term unemployment rates, and helping their constituents motivates them. Reed promised; "We are not stopping, I've been talking constantly with Sen. Heller and I'm trying to figure out where to go." Heller seconded the motion, stating; "We're in May now, so at the end of the month things change pretty dramatically. That doesn't mean we're giving up, but there's no answer today."

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.