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Reid open to adding unemployment extension to Obama's emergency spending bill

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After Senator Jack Reed, D-RI issued a statement on Thursday, July 10, 2014 that the long-term unemployment benefits extension should be added to President Barack Obama's $4.3 billion emergency spending to deal with the immigration and border crisis, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV responded that he would be open to the arrangement. At a press conference on Thursday, July 10, 2014 Majority Leader Reid indicated that despite what Sen. Reed previously thought he would want that unemployment benefits extension added as a supplemental to the spending bill.

The bipartisan duo of Senators Reed and Dean Heller, R-NV have been working to renew the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program since it expired on Dec. 28, 2013, leaving 1.8 million long-term jobless Americans without benefits. That number has now risen to over 3.1 million. Besides working on three bills to renew benefits, with only one passing the Senate, before being ignored by the House of Representatives, they have been trying to get the bill added as an amendment or supplemental to popular bipartisan bills. The emergency spending bill seems to be the best opportunity to renew benefits after a stream of roadblocks for the bill.

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 and also includes $615 million to fund wildfire prevention in the Western states.

At the press conference Senator Reid responded that "Well, there's a chance" when referring to Sen. Reed's suggestion and request to add the unemployment benefits extension to the emergency spending bill. Continuing, Reid expressed that "I would hope so, he deserves that. He and Heller deserve that." The majority leader however, is concerned that Senate Republicans are no longer interested in the unemployment benefits extension. Reid commented; "We are losing some of our enthusiasm when the Republicans simply, other than Dean Heller, just turn a blind eye to these people who are suffering."

The first Reed-Heller benefits extension bill, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014 passed the Senate on April 7, 2014. The bipartisan bill had five Republican co-sponsors and passed with five Republican votes. Since the bill 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 was planned to be paid for by revenue, including "pension smoothing" and "extending Customs user fees through 2024" as was the last bill.

Initially, Speaker Boehner refused to put the bill to a vote without the White House and President Obama including a list of acceptable job creation measures that can be added to the bill. Although Republicans have always objected to the EUC program because they believe it deters Americans from finding a job. Now the majority of Republicans object to the benefits extension because the decreasing unemployment rate, including the long-term unemployment rate. Sen. Heller has been working to rally the elusive Republican support for the bill. Heller told CapRadio on July 7; "They've been very positive to me. They understand where I'm coming from and the state of Nevada and the situation, the economic situation, in the state of Nevada."

The June jobs report found that the unemployment rate fell by 0.2 percent, from 6.3 in May to 6.1 percent, lower than pre-Great Recession numbers, with 215,000 jobs were added. While weekly unemployment benefits applications are also declining. Long-term unemployment also fell by 293,000 and in total has dropped 700,000 in the past three months since March; however they still compromise 32.8 percent of all unemployed Americans. Republicans are now claiming the unemployment rate decreasing is because they did not renew benefits for the long-term jobless.

Senator Heller however, places most of his blame for the bill's failure for President Obama refusing to be involved in negotiations with Speaker Boehner, and for not providing that list of job creation measures he has been requesting. Heller commented; "Just ask them what will it take and I know they want job creation portions added to the legislation, which I agree with, but let's move forward." Except for one line critical comments in his recent speeches on the economy placing all the blame on Republicans Obama has not actively done anything to ensure the bill's passage. Options are running out for the unemployment benefits extension, maybe it will have the chance it deserves if added to the emergency spending bill.

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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.

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