Despite rumbles otherwise Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-NV expressed on Wednesday, May 14, 2014 combining the unemployment benefits extension bill and the business tax cuts extenders bill is still an option. Reid's comments give hope for the bill that has been languishing in the House of Representative's since the Senate first passed it on April 7, 2014. Earlier, on Tuesday, May 13, Senator Jack Reed, D-RI, one of the co-authors and sponsors of the unemployment extension said that the Senate balked at adding the unemployment benefits extension to the tax cuts extenders bill that is now being debated in the Senate. The Senate unemployment benefits extension bill, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014 would have retroactively extended the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program for five months helping the nearly three million Americans who rely on them, but the bill needs to be passed by the House before the end of May deadline.
The Senate has already overwhelmingly passed the first step for the business tax extenders bill, voting to open the debate on Tuesday, May 13, 2014 with a bipartisan vote of 96 to 3. 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. The Senate Finance Committee passed the bill in the beginning of April. The tax cuts have been renewed each year since 1981, but this year expired in January prompting the renewal vote in the spring to be retroactive from 2014 through 2015.
Senator Dean Heller, R-NV was considering combining the tax cuts extenders bill and the unemployment benefits extension bill to ensure the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program is extended. Senator Heller told the press on Thursday, May 8 that he is 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." Heller thinks the merger is a win a win situation for President Obama, the Democrats and House GOP.
Now it seems according to both Reed and Heller, that the combination of those bills might not be an option especially after the enormous failure of the energy efficiency bill in the Senate. Senator Reed, the Democratic co-author and sponsor for the unemployment benefits bill spoke to the press on Wednesday, May 14, 2014, and expressed concern that that he and Heller might have to go back and create a new bill, saying that they could have to go "back to the drawing board."
Reed does not think it will either get attached to a bill that will guarantee its passage or that over a month later the House will vote on the Senate's bill and pass it before the May 31, 2014 deadline. The recent filibuster of the energy efficiency bill was a prime example of why Reed is worried. The bill failed with a 55 to 36 vote on Monday, May 12, 2014, because Majority Leader Reid would not allow GOP amendments to be voted on, which led to even some of the bill's sponsors to balk at it in the vote. Reed pointed out; "We couldn't get the bipartisan Shaheen-Portman bill through. I think we have the same old dilemma here."
Senator Reed believes the unemployment extension bill's last hope lies with Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH and the rest of the GOP House conference. Reed lamented; "I was honestly hoping that the House would make some movement on their side to reinforce what we did." At this point Speaker Boehner refuses to put the bill to a vote, because it does not include job creation measures. The speaker has been pushing for the White House to provide him a list of acceptable provisions to be added to the bill. President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Reid do not want any provisions added to the unemployment extension bill; they want it passed as it is. Obama and Reid's objection has prevented Boehner from negotiating with Sen. Heller about adding any provision that would make the bill acceptable him and Republicans in the House.
Meanwhile House Republicans have expressed interest in passing the bill, but they to want to add provisions including the job creation measure that would appeal to Boehner and convince him to put the bill to a House vote. Among the provisions still being considered are a business tax provision or passing the XL Keystone Pipeline along with modifying two elements of the health care law, and the job training programs restructure bill, which had the support of many Republicans.
Sen. Heller thought that the GOP would pass the unemployment extension bill with the tax cuts extender bill, because it was on the list of desired provisions. This time however, it was the Senate Democrats that opposed merging the two bills. Senator Heller also spoke to the Washington Examiner about the prospects, saying; "That's not going to happen. There just isn't the appetite I had expected on the Left to address the issue. I've been told we are not going to this time, either."
The fact that the Senate Democrats refused the bill's merger was news to the Democratic Senate leadership. Majority Leader Reid's spokesman Adam Jentleson responded that there was no refusal to add the bill and the possibility is still open. However, the majority leader still thinks pressuring the House GOP and especially Speaker of the House Boehner to pass the Senate's bill will be a better bet to get the bill passed. Jentleson stated; "Nothing has been ruled out on the extenders bill, but anyone who wants to pass UI should be focused on pressuring Speaker Boehner, who has the Senate-passed bill sitting in his lap." While Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. also said that Heller had not even asked him to combine both bills, and that he is not refused the idea. Schumer stated; "I certainly want to get UI done - we have to see how it affects both bills. He hasn't come to me, so I haven't … plotted it out. I haven't thought about it yet."
Tax cuts extender bills have bipartisan support, which is why both Heller and Reed thought it would be perfect to them with the unemployment benefits extension bill, it would force the Republicans in the Senate and the tougher GOP controlled House to pass the bills and extend the EUC, because the GOP would want the tax cuts extended. The tax cuts receive wide support; Senate Majority Leader Reid spoke on the Senate floor on the importance of the tax cuts extension for the economy, saying that "Our constituents are depending on us to extend these provisions. We will not pull the plug before our nation's recovery is complete. By passing this tax extenders package we will build our nation's economy more quickly." The group of business tax extenders has been continually renewed by Congress, Republicans and Democrats since 1981. The extenders bills in total consist of 60 business tax cuts.
At the same time the House has also been working on their own business tax cuts extenders bills, and intends to work with the Senate to "reconcile" the two Houses different bills to ensure the cuts are passed by the end of the year so they can be applied for 2014. This past week the House Ways and Means Committee advanced the bill, which includes only six tax cuts extenders, including the pricey Research and Experimentation Credit. The bill over all costs $310 billion and is not offset by any revenue, adding to the deficit and will make all six tax credits permanent.
Among the six tax credits in the House tax extenders bill is the Research and Experimentation Credit ("R&D credit") known as H.R. 4438 - American Research and Competitiveness Act of 2014 and sponsored by Rep. Kevin Brady, R-TX, which would cost $156 billion for 10 years, and is to be made permanent. The bill also has bipartisan support with nine Democrats co-sponsoring it, and aims at creating high tech jobs. The R&D credit tax extender is becoming a major issue this time, because its cost in not being offset through additional revenue or closing or revising tax loopholes and the entire price of the bill will be added to the deficit, and it is set to pass in the House.
President Barack Obama has been vocally opposed to the tax cuts extenders bills. Obama promised to veto the House's bill and the R&D credit, if the House does not pass the unemployment benefits extension. The president has been almost been as opposed to the Senate tax extenders bill, but has cut short of promising a veto. A statement was issued on Tuesday, May 13, by White House spokesman Bobby Whithorne, which read; "The Administration supports the extension of many of the tax provisions in the Senate bill, such as those that support America's small businesses, help unemployed veterans find jobs, and promote clean energy production and research and development. The President in his budget has put forward a way to pay for these tax provisions so they don't add to the deficit and hopes that as legislation moves forward, Congress will offset their cost by closing tax loopholes."
President Obama has been especially concerned, because neither of the two bills provides revenue to pay for them, and instead they both add to the deficit. The Senate will even have to vote to raise the deficit to pass the tax extenders. The business tax credits however, usually has bipartisan support, it only this particular circumstance with the GOP not providing revenue to pay for the bill, and ignoring the extending the EUC that has made this routine tax cuts extension newsworthy. The White House issued a sharper rebuke of the House bill, because it makes the tax cuts permanent, a permanent addition to the deficit. Obama and the White House issued a "Statement of Administration Policy" on the tax credit on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 indicating they are upset with the high cost being added to the deficit when the House instead could have passed the unemployment benefits extension. The Senate bill is a temporary extension according to CQ Roll Call does not affect the Congressional Budget's Office's (CBO) revenue calculations for "potential tax reform."
The Democrats have been using the Republicans opposition to certain middle class issues; minimum wage raise, equal pay for equal work and the unemployment benefits extension to contrast the parties in the midterm elections campaign. The stark opposition on the unemployment benefits extension has been an emotional point meant to show the Democrats are the caring and compassionate party, while showing the Republicans concerned for only the interests of the wealthy, corporate America. The House GOP support the pricey R&D credit versus the unemployment benefits extension seems to prove the Democrats point.
Senator Heller however, is still looking to attach the unemployment benefits extension to another bill before the May 31, deadline. Heller commenting about the Senate Democrats refusal, expressed; "They haven't lost the enthusiasm on the issue. They just think this isn't the vehicle by which to get it done." But Sen. Reed thinks the unemployment benefits extension bill will have to be started over again, and accused of the House of using a delay tactic, waiting for the deadline to pass; "I think that was part of what the House was about, delaying it. Now we have to go back to the drawing board and figure out a new strategy, which we will do."
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. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.