The Senate passed a second procedural vote 61 for and 38 against on Wednesday, April 2, 2014 ending the filibuster and debate and advancing the long-term jobless unemployment benefits extension bill to a full and final vote. Six Republicans joined all 55 Democrats to pass the test vote and procedural hurdle in an attempt to extend unemployment benefits to the over 2 million Americans that lost benefits over three months ago on Dec. 28, 2013. This is the fourth time the Senate tried to extend benefits and the first time since the benefits expired that an extension bill has advanced so far in the Senate. The clock is ticking for the Republicans House of Representatives to pass the bill, however, especially with strong opposition from the Speaker John Boehner, R-OH.
With this new vote advancing the bill, four less Republicans voted for the bill than the procedural held on Thursday, March 27. The four Republicans that now decided to vote against the bill according to Roll Call are "Dan Coats of Indiana, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania."
Now the procedural vote came very close, passing with one extra vote than the 60 necessary votes to advance the bill. According to Roll Call only six Republicans joined the Democrats in the vote, including; "Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio"
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV praised the bill's advancement, stating; "We've had millions of people over the last many months who've lost their unemployment benefits. In most instances, it's a real tragic thing. They've had to struggle without these extended unemployment benefits."
Reid is very optimistic about the bill's passage stating on Monday, March 31 that "I'm confident we'll pass this legislation in the Senate this week here, and hopefully, the Republicans in the House will have the soft hearts and strong minds to allow this to pass over there. Perhaps then these struggling Americans will finally get the relief they deserve."
The unemployment benefits extension nearly did not pass this hurdle because on March 27 after the first vote Senate Majority Leader Reid refused to allow Republicans to add amendments to the bill, which would have put the bill at risk from losing Democratic votes. Pusahing forward Sen. Reid "filed for cloture" in Monday, March 31, requiring 30 hours before the second procedural test vote would be held.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY wanted to add job-creation measures to the bill. McConnell complained; "Once again it appears we are back to the old way of operating here. We would like to obviously offer amendments that we think address the real problem, the joblessness rather than the symptoms. But as we speak right now it's unclear whether we are going to get to offer amendments or not." The lack of real job-creation measures is the reason Speaker of the House John Boehner gives for not putting the unemployment benefits extension bill to a vote in the House of Representatives.
Some Republicans however, want to add amendments that might ruin the bipartisan deal that created the bill by adding amendments that have absolutely nothing to do with unemployment benefits. The amendments that might have been added would relate to Republican legislative priorities and special interests under "the guise" of 'job creating' measures" including Keystone XL Pipeline, or suspend the healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate, which would kill the bill immediately.
The Senate reached a deal to extend long-term jobless unemployment benefits on Thursday, March 13 was considered a breakthrough in the deadlock after benefits expired on Dec. 28, 2013 and any Senate votes were stalled from Thursday, Feb 6, 2014.
The Senate bill would extend unemployment benefits for over 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 covered by revenue acquired as ABC News reports through "pensions smoothing", "extending customs user fees through 2024", and changes to private corporate pension funds. The bill ensures that those who made a yearly salary above a million dollars will not eligible for unemployment benefits.
The bill also includes elements to help get the jobless back to work including "skills assessment and referral programs." Previous disagreements with Republicans regarding extending the benefits usually revolved covering the cost without adding to the deficit.
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.
The Senate voted 65 for and 34 against on Thursday afternoon, March 27, 2014 passing a cloture vote ending the filibuster moving the unemployment benefits extension bill forward towards a full senate vote on the legislation.
The bill requires 60 votes to pass the cloture vote, ending the filibuster and a major procedural hurdle. Since the bill had the support of all 55 Democrats in the Senate and five Republicans have committed themselves to the deal, this ensured the 60 necessary votes to pass the Senate. In the end five more Republicans decided to vote for the moving the extension bill forward.
In total 10 Republicans voted for moving the bill forward, five more than was originally believed would vote for the bill. According to Roll Call, the Republicans that voted for the bill included; "Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Dan Coats of Indiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Dean Heller of Nevada, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania."
After the vote the bill's co-author Sen. Reed issued a statement praising the bipartisan vote; "Today's bipartisan vote was a step in the right direction, but it is unconscionable that millions of Americans have had to wait this long for Congress to act and there is no reason this bipartisan solution should be further delayed. The votes are there for final passage in the Senate. People are hurting and need this emergency assistance." While co-author Sen. Heller also commended the bipartisan vote; "Today, the Senate overcame another hurdle and is one step closer to providing unemployed Americans some much-needed relief."
Speaker of the House Boehner, R-OH opposes the Senate bipartisan deal to extend unemployment for the long term jobless. Boehner again expressed reservations about extending benefits in a press conference held on Wednesday, March 26, saying; "The administration wants to crow about this lower unemployment rate. And the fact is, the unemployment rate is coming down. But the American people are still asking the question, where are the jobs?"
Boehner thinks creating jobs is more important than extending benefits, saying the Senate should focus on passing job creating bills than a long-terms benefits extension. Boehner continued; "I made clear that if we're going to consider dealing with emergency unemployment, we've got to do something about creating better jobs in America, higher wages in America. The Senate is sitting on dozens of bills that we sent over there. I think it's time for the Senate to work with the House to help get the economy moving again. That's the real issue."
Boehner made an announcement at his Tuesday morning press conference on March 25, 2014 in the Capitol, where he stated that Senate bill was "not implementable," and not "workable." Boehner again reiterated that he is concerned about backing dating the benefit checks from the time the unemployed benefits were cut off in the end of December until the bill's passage. He believes in the three months, there are some unemployed that found work, and it is difficult to determine who deserves the checks, and until when they actually went back to work.
Boehner explained; "The state directors are saying, 'We don't know who went back to work, we don't know who is still out there, so we would have to send checks to everybody. I don't think taxpayers expect us to do that. So I don't see how that is workable."
What Boehner was referring to was that after the unemployment benefits extension program lapsed for such a long time, the states stopped verifying the long-term unemployed that were receiving benefits to see if they continued to qualify. Without that information, it becomes difficult to track who actually still deserves to receive the retroactive benefits the Senate bill plans on giving. This is at least the problem Boehner is insisting the House has with the Senate bill. There have been some states; however that have continued checking eligibility.
The House Ways and Means Committee issued a statement on Wednesday, March 26 on having the same problem, saying; "This meant that during that lapse, States continued to take claims in anticipation of an agreement. States went about verifying weekly eligibility, as if the program were operating, and then just held the claims without paying them until the President signed the law. This time around, without action from either the House or Senate, States have long since stopped verifying weekly eligibility and holding claims."
Additionally, Boehner expressed he wants further revisions to the bill that will include more "job-creation measures." Boehner stated to the press; "I told the president I would consider this as long as it was paid for and as long as there are provisions that help improve the economy." Still the speaker is ignoring the Congressional Budget Office, who claims extending benefits for all of 2014 would actually create 200,000 jobs.
That was the second time in a week that the speaker has made excuses about bringing the House of the Representatives to a vote about the Senate compromise. Last Wednesday, March 19, 2014 Boehner used first as a an excuse to oppose the extension a letter from the National Association of State Work Force Agencies (NASWA) sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY.
The NASWA letter stated the Senate's bill "would cause considerable delays in the implementation of the program and increased administrative issues and costs," and that "Some states have indicated they might decide such changes are not feasible in the short time available, and therefore would consider not signing the U.S. Department of Labor's agreement to operate the program." The speaker had his aides distribute the letter to reporters and posted it online.
Boehner also issued a statement expressing that the letter demonstrates that the Senate proposal is flawed and that the NASWA letter was a "cause for serious concern." The speaker wrote; "We have always said that we're willing to look at extending emergency unemployment benefits again, if Washington Democrats can come up with a plan that is fiscally-responsible, and gets to the root of the problem by helping to create more private-sector jobs. There is no evidence that the bill being rammed through the Senate by Leader Reid meets that test, and according to these state directors, the bill is also simply unworkable."
Promptly on Friday, March 21, Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez sent a letter to the Senate promising that there would be a smooth implementation, dismissing the NASWA letter. Perez wrote; "I am confident there are workable solutions for all of the concerns raised by NASWA…. We are certain that any challenges pale in comparison to the need that the long-term unemployed have for these benefits."
Fellow Republican Sen. Dean Heller, R-NV, who is one of the co-authors of the bill lashed out at Boehner's excuses, saying; "No matter what solution is reached, there is some excuse to deny these much-needed benefits. I look forward to passing this proposal out of the Senate next week, and stand ready to help the Speaker, as well as any organization or any individual necessary, in order to make this extension a reality."
Heller does not just blame Boehner for this new hurdle to pass the unemployment benefits extension, but state administrators who conveniently gave the House Speaker another reason to rally against a bill he did not want to pass to begin with. Heller speaking to the Huffington Post explained; "I would hate to think that the reason this thing fails is because state administrators aren't willing to do their jobs."
An angry House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA stated at her press conference on Thursday, March 20; "Here we go again, Washington Republicans have painted themselves into the far extreme." The Senate "came to a compromise on a length of time and a pay-for… This is a stimulus to the economy. Ask any economist. … We want to create jobs."
Since Dec. 28, 2013 2.24 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.
Since January the Senate has been working on a compromise bill that would extend the benefits and satisfy Republicans who have been finding excuse after excuse not to agree to extend the benefits. Republicans primarily wanted the bill's price tag covered without adding to the deficit. But since then Boehner has been insisting the bill add an element help get workers off benefits and back to work.
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. Senator John Cornyn, R- TX explained why the opposition is so strong from Republicans now, saying; "When the government continues to pay unemployment benefits for people who are out of work, human nature is such that people are disincentivized to go back to work and look for work."
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."
Senate Majority Leader Reid does not see Boehner's opposition as the end of the extending unemployment benefits, and he plans to work with the speaker and incorporate any changes necessary to ensure the bill passes. On Wednesday, March 19 Reid's spokesman Adam Jentleson stated; "The Senate has forged a bipartisan compromise to reform and extend unemployment benefits. We believe the concerns that have been expressed are resolvable and we look forward to Speaker Boehner coming to the table to find solutions."
CBS News also reports that the "Democrats are filing a discharge petition" to force Republicans to put an unemployment extension bill to a vote. The petition requires a majority of the House to sign to ensure a vote, so far however, over 100 Democrats have signed the petition, but not enough to force the bill to a vote.
Heller expressed on March 27 that after the bill has passed then the Senate will start negotiating with the House to pass the bill. Heller explained; "We'll start that conversation next week. I think the important thing right now is that we get this bill out, get it over there and let them know that there's a real desire for this kind of change. I think we'll be able to iron out whatever their issues or problems are."
Heller is not worried about the House Republicans wanting to change or modify the bill; he just wants them to pass an extension. Heller pointed out; "I knew that [House Republicans] would have some issues with it. It sounds like they want to get something done, in general terms. ... Whether it looks like what the Senate passes or not, that is for them to decide."
Heller speaking after the second Senate procedural vote passed still thinks he can convince Boehner to put the bill to a vote in the House, telling Huffington Post; "I'll have to have a conversation and try to get to 'yes' instead of 'no.' That's going to take some work and energy. I've just got to figure out what motivates the House."
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-OR also thinks the bill and issue is too important for Boehner to ignore, stating; "This is not another bill that you can lock in the basement and throw away the key. This is a fundamental piece of legislation that affects the welfare of our families, the health of our economies, the strength of our communities, and it merits a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives."
Time however, is not on the bill's side; Congress goes on a two-week recess on April 10, and has only 8 business days left until then. This leaves the House with very little time to either pass the Senate's present bill, which is highly unlikely, and is even tighter if the House were to pass their own bill which would then require the Senate to again pass another unemployment extension bill. If action is not taken to pass a bill before April 10, Congress will not be able to anything until April 28, when they return.
The Senate might put the unemployment benefits extension bill to a full and final vote as early as Thursday, April 3, 2014. Before it moves to the House where Boehner does not intend to put the Senate bill to a vote at all, despite wide public support for the bill.
- Senate Session, C-SPAN, April 2, 2014
- Senate Session Part 2, C-SPAN, April 1, 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.