Although Sens. Jack Reed, D-RI and Dean Heller, R-NV just released their own new version of a bill to extend long-term unemployment benefits for over 3 million Americans, they have also been looking to ensure its passage by attaching it to a popular bipartisan bill. Sen. Reed believes he now found the best bill to pass the extension, President Barack Obama's $4.3 billion emergency spending to deal with the immigration and border crisis. Reed however, will again be facing opposition from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, who does not want amendments added to the spending bill to complicate matters. Sen. Reed discussed the ongoing problems with getting the unemployment benefits extension passed in a short interview with Congressional Quarterly's Roll Call published on Thursday, July 10, 2014.
Sen. Reed issued a statement emphasizing that the unemployment benefits extension is important and vital enough that it should be added to the emergency spending bill. Reed stated; "There is an emergency supplemental coming down the pike that seeks to deal with immediate threats like wildfires and the humanitarian situation on our border. Helping Americans who've been hit hardest by the recession is an urgent priority and restoring UI should be part of that conversation and part of that supplemental package. I am going to work with my colleagues to try to find a way to get this done and get people the help they need."
On Tuesday, July 8, 2014 President Obama asked that Congress pass an "emergency immigration supplemental spending bill" to deal with the "child migrant crisis" with the influx of children from Central American countries predominantly Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras crossing the border. The $4.3 billion bill will be divided with $3.7 billion going to the border crisis including $1.8 billion going Department of Health and Human Services to care for the migrant children and $1.6 billion to the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to boost border patrol and speed up deportation proceedings. The bill also includes $615 million to fund wildfire prevention in the Western states.
Since it is an emergency spending bill the White House is asking that the funding not be offset, House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-KY is open to passing the bill, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH has not "committed" to the bill preferring "deploying the National Guard." Senate Majority Leader Reid wants to "limit" amendments added to the bill. Neither does Reid plan to include a vote for the new Reed-Heller unemployment benefits extension bill as part of the Senate's busy and July agenda.
The best options now for the unemployment benefits extension include adding the bill as an amendment to popular must pass bipartisan bills including the business tax cuts extenders "S.2260 - EXPIRE Act of 2014" and the Highway Trust Fund bill "S.2322: MAP-21 Reauthorization Act." Sen. Reed already submitted in June the unemployment benefits extension as an amendment to the tax extenders bill. 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.
The first Reed-Heller benefits extension bill, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014 passed the Senate on April 7, 2014, but since it included a retroactive element with a five-month deadline valid only from Dec. 28, 2013 to June 1, 2014, the GOP House could choose to ignore it and it would expire. The new bill Reed and Heller introduced on June 24 does not have a deadline, and attempts to comply more with Speaker of the House John Boehner's, R-OH demands. The bill will have a five-month extension, lasting approximately until the end of 2014. The new bill will cost a total of $10 billion and will be paid for by revenue, including "pension smoothing" and "extending Customs user fees through 2024" as was the last bill.
The benefits extension bill is facing a problem with the ways it is being paid for; House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-MI wants to use pension smoothing and expanding custom fees to pay for the Highway Trust Fund bill, which would take away the method Reed and Heller indicated their bill would be offset. Many have questioned pension smoothing a legitimate way to pay for the bill, Dan Holler, a spokesman for the Heritage Action criticized the method, saying; "This 'spend now, pay later' bailout is not serious." Reed commented about Camp's proposal in his interview with Roll Call saying if necessary he and Heller will find alternatives; "Well, if the pay-for is not there then that will require us to look for another pay-for, but we hope we can get some traction on UI." Still if the House Republicans are taking away the extension's payment method, they have no plans to pass the Reed-Heller bill.
The House Republicans' inaction and hypocrisy upsets Reed, and he disapproves that this is the second time they are paying for a bill through those methods, but they would not even consider voting on the first Reed-Heller bill. Reed explained; "This is now the second time they've taken offsets intended to help the unemployed and used them to pay for other priorities. First it was the sequestration extension for mandatory spending, which was good enough for Paul Ryan to use, but when it was proposed to help the unemployed, House Republicans said no. Then they turned around and used it as part of the agreement on military COLAs."
The unemployment benefits extension was a bill with bipartisan support including five Republican co-sponsors, which passed a number of procedural votes before passing in the full Senate yet the Republican House let the bill expire on June 1, 2014. Sen. Reed is especially troubled that the GOP is making sure the bill can never pass, by taking away the way to pay for it. Reed stated; "Then, the Senate came together and broke filibuster after filibuster, repeatedly overcame the 60-vote threshold, and passed a bipartisan, fully offset plan to renew emergency UI, and House Republicans refused to act. They refused to take a vote or lift a finger to help job seekers. Now they are again taking UI's offset and using it to pay for something else."
Despite his anger, Reed admits that the Highway Trust Fund bill is important to the economy, but so is the unemployment benefits extension and he believes it should be given consideration, and that there should be bipartisan support. Reed concluded; "Plugging the hole in the Highway Trust Fund is absolutely essential. We need to keep our economy moving and save jobs, so I support a bipartisan fix, but there should also be bipartisan support for helping job seekers and renewing emergency UI."
- S. 2532: A bill to provide for the extension of certain unemployment benefits, June 25, 2015, Referred to Committee -- Full Text -- Video of Press Conference
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.