As Congress returned on Monday, April 28, 2014 after a two-week recess, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV spoke on the Senate floor about the upcoming month of work, and blamed the Koch brothers and their support of Tea Party conservatives as the real reason behind Republicans in the House of Representatives not wanting to vote for the Senate passed unemployment benefits extension bill. During this midterm election year, the animosity between the Senate majority leader and the Koch Brothers and the influence on many races has increased, Nearly 3 million long-term jobless have been left without any benefits since Dec. 28, 2013 when Congress let the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expire.
In this midterm election year, the Democrats are on the edge where they might lose six seats and their control on the Senate. They already realize regaining control of the House of Representatives is virtually impossible at this point. Presidents often see their parties lose seats in the second midterm elections of their terms, and President Barack Obama and Democrats are trying to curb that precedent. Although Reid is not running for election this year, his leadership position in the Senate is in peril. Reid expressed that with the Koch's help the "Republican Party has a newly-adopted campaign strategy to defeat Senate Democrats: they will attack me (Reid)." The Senate seats up for grabs this year are in Republican leaning states, with chances increasing that the Republicans might be able to win control of the Senate, and then Reid would lose his position as majority leader and power in the Senate.
Charles and David Koch are two influential conservative and libertarian benefactors, who have increasingly infusing their money into presidential elections and congressional races, and this campaign year is no different. Reid has equated the Koch brothers and their monetary influence as the path towards the Democrats losing the Senate majority; therefore his constant attacks are an attempt to make them the enemy of the Democrats to lessen their influence in the upcoming elections. According to the Washington Post Reid also wants to excite big Democratic donors to get them to contribute to important races, attacking the Kochs spotlights the need for donors to save the Senate from the Republicans taking over.
On his Senate website Reid has a page entitled "The Facts About The Koch Brothers" on their positions on issues including their opposition to extending unemployment benefits. The Washington Post even commented with an article entitled "The Senate was in session for 7 minutes before Harry Reid started attacking the Kochs." According to the Washington Post Sen. Reid attacks the Kochs in almost every Senate floor speech and the reasons for his constant stream of criticism are both political and personal.
Speaking on the Senate floor on Monday, April 28 after a two-week recess Sen. Reid could not help, but point out that the Kochs' opposition is influencing Republicans in the House and the position on the bill. Reid argued that "Their billionaire sugar-daddies aren't interested in helping middle class Americans get a fair shot. Charles and David Koch aren't concerned with the long-term unemployed families, and so the Republicans that they sponsor in the House of Representatives are content to do nothing for the long-term unemployed." This is at a time when the House of Representatives is going to commence debating the Senate unemployment benefits extension bill, and Reid and the Senate are intending to negotiate with Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH.
Reid attacked the Republicans representatives who are influenced by the Kochs. Reid sarcastically stated; "Some of the most popular performances in Nevada are magicians and illusionists who entertain their audiences by making the impossible seem real. It seems that the Republican Party has decided to follow in Houdini and Copperfield's footsteps and play a bit of misdirection of its own." Sen. Reid is particularly blaming Republicans in the House that completely oppose extending the unemployment benefits extension and leaving nearly three million long-term jobless Americans without benefits they need to survive.
Reid believes he is the focus or "target" as he declared of many of their attacks although he is not running for re-election this year, and has been made a central Senate campaign issue. Commenting, Reid expressed on the Senate floor; "I'm not running for anything for a few more years. As I've said before, being a target of a couple rich billionaires is not going to intimidate me." Reid believes Republicans are focusing too much on campaign attacks against him rather than the issues and passing legislation to help the middle class policies the Kochs oppose. Reid explained that "In Senate races across the country, Republicans will avoid the issues that matter most to Americans, trying instead to focus attention on a Senator who is not up for re-election - me."
Sen. Reid concluded by emphasizing that despite "same smoke-and-mirrors routine" the Republicans and Kochs are using in the campaign he and Senate Democrats are going to continue working for the middle class. Reid stated "Ultimately, voters will see this new tactic for what it is: a distraction that is keeping American families from getting a fair shot at financial stability. In the meantime, Senate Democrats will continue to speak up against the shadowy influence of 2 power-drunk billionaires and their devoted followers on Capitol Hill. But most importantly, Senate Democrats will continue working on meaningful legislation that will get our nation's middle class back on track."
Prior to the Senate's vote passing the unemployment benefits extension bill on Monday April 7, 2014, Senate Majority Leader Reid also attacked on the Senate floor staunch Republican supporters the Koch brothers for their opposition the bill, which Charles Koch called "undignified" in a letter to the Wall Street Journal. Reid stated; "Americans need a fair shot at getting back on their feet and finding work, but Koch groups are opposing benefits for the unemployed."
Sen. Reid is not the only Congressional leader that is concerned with the influence of outside Conservative groups on Republicans in Congress, Speaker of the House John Boehner has also been critical of the same issue, believing that they are hindering passing legislation in the House. Speaker Boehner ribbed his fellow congressmen at luncheon on Thursday, April 24, 2014 at a luncheon held at Brown's Run County Club in Madison Township in Ohio.
Boehner spoke about a number of topics at the luncheon criticizing the GOP controlled House, including the Tea Party, where he expressed his concern about outside groups influencing the House. Boehner stated; "There's the tea party and then there are people who purport to represent the tea party…. There are organizations in Washington that exist for the sheer purpose of raising money to line their own pockets. I made it pretty clear I'll stand with the tea party but I'm not standing with these three or four groups in Washington who are using the tea party for their own personal benefit."
The ball is in the House's court now regarding the unemployment benefits extension since the Senate passed the unemployment benefits extension bill on April 7, 2014. Since then the Republicans in the House of Representatives have been considering adding job creating provisions to the bill to make it acceptable to Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH so that he would put the bill to a vote. At this point the speaker will not put the bill to a House vote without any added provisions. At the GOP leadership press conference on Thursday, April 10 Boehner had asked for the White House and Obama administration to let him know which provisions would be acceptable. The White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded at the daily press briefing on Monday, April 21, 2014 that the White House refuses and objects for the House adding any additional provisions to the unemployment benefits extension bill and President Obama will not negotiate on any concessions on the unemployment benefits bill he wants the House GOP to pass the Senate bill as is.
Among the prospective proposals is the one from two Republican Representatives, Charlie Dent from Pennsylvania and Mark Meadows from North Carolina introduced an alternative to the Senate passed unemployment benefits extension bill entitled the "GROWTH (Generating Real Opportunities for Workers and Transitional Help) Act" (HR 3885). The new bill restructures the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, extends benefits for a year, and adds provisions that would pass the XL Keystone Pipeline, and change two elements of the Affordable Care Act, the health care law.
The most popular provision choice, by the House GOP at this moment to bring the bill to a House vote is the "Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act" (HR 803) sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. and passed by the House in March 2013. Senator Dean Heller, R-NV, one of the Senate co-sponsors and authors of the unemployment benefits extension bill is negotiating for the Senate with the House, agrees that combining job training would be good a fit and he supports that idea just as long as the unemployment benefits extension gets passed. The SKILLS Act "streamlines" job training programs, and would provide job training to 3.7 million Americans unemployed for longer than 27 weeks.
The Senate bill would extend unemployment benefits for two million long-term jobless that lost benefits at the end of last year. The deal will extend the benefits retroactively for five months from Dec. 28, 2013 and last until June 1, 2014. The speaker has already said he will not allow the House to vote on the Senate's bill in the present format. The Senate bill will cost $10 billion will be entirely covered by revenue.
The bill is authored and primarily sponsored by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-NV, who have been leading the charge for an unemployment benefits extension. The bipartisan bill has eight other Senate sponsors, including the support of five Republicans; Heller along with "Sens. Susan Collins, R-ME; Rob Portman, R-OH; Lisa Murkowski, R-AK; Mark Kirk, R-IL" Additionally five Democrats, Reed and "Jeff Merkley, D-OR.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Sherrod Brown, D-OH; and Dick Durbin, D-IL" support the extension bill.
Speaker of the House Boehner opposes the Senate bipartisan bill to extend unemployment for the long term jobless. Boehner thinks creating jobs is more important than extending benefits. Boehner speaking to the press on Thursday morning, April 10 reiterated his position on job creation measures being a part of any unemployment benefits extension bill he would bring to a House vote. Boehner stated; "Listen, I made clear to the president last December that if he wanted us to consider an extension of emergency unemployment benefits, it would have to be paid for and it would have to include things that would help get our economy going. They have not put forward anything with regard to how we would create more jobs. And so the ball's still in their court." The speaker told the press to ask the White House when asked what measures would have to be included for the bill to pass the House. Boehner responded; "You'll have to ask the administration. I made it clear what it would take for me to consider it. They've not had any suggestions."
Boehner still believes that the Senate needs to move on serious job creation bills to solve the economic problems the Americans are still facing. The speaker explained; "Meanwhile, Democrats here in Washington continue to play their usual politics, using their old playbook of pitting one group of Americans against another. And frankly, it's pretty obvious that their efforts have failed. They’ve fallen flat because the American people are still asking the question, 'Where are the jobs?,' and these political votes provide no answers." Job creation and training legislation is a priority for Boehner and the Republican House. Boehner even focused the GOP weekly address on Saturday, April 26, 2014 on urging the Senate Democrats to work with the House GOP on the economy and job creation and passing the House's jobs bills.
Generally Republicans have opposed the extension because they believe it does not motivate the unemployed to find a job as long as they have access to benefits. All throughout the financial crisis and recession Republicans voted with Democrats to extend the benefits, but now with the worst of the crisis over Republicans think the long-term jobless need to find jobs rather than receive benefits.
During the 2008 recession when Republican George W. Bush was President the government enlarged the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) Program to extend unemployment benefits beyond the 26 weeks that the states give. During the recession the "combined" state and federal benefits gave unemployed Americans 99 weeks of relief. The federal government provides "47 weeks" of extended benefits averaging "$300 a week." The unemployment benefits were extended 11 times until now, the last time was a year extension in January 2013. Then benefits were cut from 99 weeks to a maximum of 73 weeks.
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. The total long-term unemployment rate is 2.5 percent, while the total unemployment rate was 6.7 percent a point more the 6.6 percent in February.
Sen. Reid's attacks aside, now with Congress returned from their recess they have the time to dedicate to passing legislation. There are only 55 working days for House Republicans and Democrats before Election Day and a busy agenda ahead. USA Today believes that during this "season of votes," "Democrats - and some Senate Republicans - will also continue to pressure the House to take up legislation to reinstate expired jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed." It in the next two weeks before the Memorial Day Recess that Americans will truly see if the Republicans who have expressed interest in passing the Senate's unemployment benefits are serious about helping middle class Americans and the long-term jobless or that they are truly the Koch brothers puppets or "shadowy influence" like Sen. Reid claims.
- U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Remarks On Senate Republicans’ Misguided Campaign Strategy, April 28, 2014
Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/21/14, April 21, 2014
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.