As the Senate is negotiating another business tax cuts extenders bill, which would include Republican added amendments Senator Jack Reed, D-RI is sticking firm to his commitment to helping the nearly three million long-term jobless Americans that lost benefits in December. Reed plans to request adding an amendment to the bill that would extend benefits for a year, the entire 2014 calendar year. Sen. Reed, the Democratic sponsor of the unemployment benefits extension bill, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, issued a statement on Saturday, May 17, 2014 announcing the amendment that he planning to propose, but still indicating the best solution would be if the House of Representative passed the Hell-Reed bill.
Senator Reed along with the Republican co-sponsor and author of the bill Dean Heller, R-NV have been championing extending unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless since the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (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.
Reed has decided to propose an amendment that will retroactively extend the EUC program for an entire year. Reed expressed in a statement about the amendment that "I am committed to helping job seekers." Reed's state of Rhode Island and Heller's state of Nevada have two of the highest long-term unemployment rates. The amendment is part Reed and Heller 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.
Still Sen. Reed optimally would like to see the Reid-Heller bill version passed by the House, and in his statement continued to urge them to take up a vote of the bill. Reid stated "The House just needs to do its job and take an up-or-down vote." The Democratic Senator does not care if any Republican provisions are added to the bill or what they are just as long the bill get passed. Reid continued; "They are free to attach any measures they wish to the bill. They just need to take a vote so we can work out a bipartisan agreement."
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH has consistently requested that job creations measures be included in the bill before he puts the bill to a House vote. Boehner 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 Barack Obama, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV consistently refused to allow any provisions to be added.
The only credible response was from Secretary of Labor Thomas E. 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. The secretary looked to alleviate concerns and reservations Boehner has mentioned he has regarding passing and implementing the unemployment benefits extension bill. Additionally, the labor secretary included a list of suggested job creation measures that could be added to the bill, just as Boehner had been requesting from the White House, but they are were all from Obama and Democrats agenda, not appealing to the GOP House. Boehner has not responded to Perez's letter as of yet.
The unemployment benefits extension bill would have provided retroactive benefits for five months from the time the EUC program expired in Dec. 28, 2013 until June 1, 2014. It is because the bill technically ends on June 1, the bill is only valid until that date. If it is not passed until then the bill will expire. Reed concluded that; "The clock is ticking and every day that the House fails to act will make it harder to provide emergency help to those who need it most."
Reed and Heller originally wanted to pair their unemployment benefits extension bill with the tax extenders bill, because of the bipartisan support. They thought the tax extenders bill's passage was a sure thing, and then it would be passed also in the House of Representatives, and adding unemployment benefits extension bill to it would ensure the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program is extended. Although the tax extenders bill did not pass the first time around, it still has wide bipartisan support and once Reid is forced to add amendments it will be passed.
Senator Heller told the press on Thursday, May 8 that he was considering negotiating with the House GOP and Senate leadership about amalgamating the two bills. Heller stated that "Yes. We are taking a look at favorable pieces of legislation out there that we can attach something to." When Reid declared that he would not add amendments to the bill on Wednesday, May 14 both Heller and Reed announced separately the Democrats were refusing to add the bill. Later Harry Reid and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. stating that Heller had not even asked him to combine both bills, and they still would consider doing so if a proposal was submitted.
Senate Republicans however, rebelled on Thursday, May 15, 2014 and they filibustered the business tax cuts extenders bill, blocking it from advancing from the debate stage with a vote of 53 for and 40 against. The Senate tax cuts extender bill 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 blocked the bipartisan bill "S.2260 - EXPIRE Act of 2014", because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV prevented the GOP from adding any amendments to the bill.
Time is running out for the EUC Extension Act of 2014, there are very little options left available. Even if the unemployment benefits extension is added as an amendment to the tax cuts extenders, that bill might be passed until after the midterm elections, and the House still might balk at voting the bill with the unemployment benefits extension added. There are some more immediate options such as President Barack Obama intervening, Roll Call believes that it could force a vote if Obama threatens to veto the tax cut extenders bill like he did with the House's proposed bill or simply if Obama could phone and negotiate with Boehner so that the Heller-Reid bill gets put to a vote.
With this being a midterm election year neither party seems willing to negotiate or compromise and in the end partisan bickering could cause a total of nearly four million Americans to lose benefits by the end of the year and unless the benefits are reinstated or they get jobs, they will hard pressed to financially survive. This would leave President Obama's economic opportunity target demographic will be forgotten and out in the cold.
- 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
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.