On January 7th, the U.S. Senate voted 60-37 to advance discussions about extending emergency unemployment compensation for the 1.5 million long-term jobless who exhausted their state benefit. In this surprise vote, the Senate agreed to extend the federal jobless benefit for an additional three months although there was disagreement among members about what part of the budget would be trimmed to provide the $6.4 billion needed to fund the benefit. Regardless of their disparate ideas about which programs would be cut and causes to advance, lead Senate members agreed that the benefit should be continued at the very least for a few months and promised to meet later in the week to negotiate terms. Many Republicans were reluctant to continue funding emergency unemployment compensation, but pressure from constituents compelled them to reconsider entering into talks with Democrat members who were in favor of the extension.
Absent Congressional action, the federal jobless benefit ended on December 28, 2013. Over 450,000 Pennsylvanians who would have been eligible for continued emergency benefits received their last unemployment check as their legislators were out of the office on holiday break. Last week's Senate vote gave hope to the people who relied on unemployment to pay their bills that they would receive a reprieve only to see the promise of help pulled out from under them. The crux of the matter is money and politics. Republicans who were against the extension but voted for the proposed three months were put on the spot when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Dem) submitted a $17 million revision that increased the benefit another 12 months. As reported by CNN Politics, Reid does not want to see the proposal become buried among other legislation that fails to advance past the discussion stage. Also in controversy is the proposed method to fund emergency unemployment compensation which essentially was a reduction in payments to Medicare providers and extending sequester cuts. Additional revenue for the benefit would be acquired by changing unemployment eligibility criteria. A cost savings would be acquired by limiting the benefit to people who receive monthly disability payments through Social Security which eliminates double-dipping into two federal programs.
On Monday, January 13th, Reid proposed delaying the vote about emergency unemployment compensation for at least another day to allow Senators with opposing political views additional time for negotiations. According to a report in The Washington Times, Congress will be out on an 11-day vacation starting next week which only leaves them three days this week to resolve issues with an extension of the federal jobless benefit and other problems within the Congressional budget that must be addressed to avoid a second government shut-down. For a vote to pass in the Senate, 60 votes or more would have to be attained. Even that bill were to pass there, that does not mean checks would be issued to people eligible for the extension. Unless the House signs off on new legislation, any bill signed in the Senate would sit until it was voted on by both houses. As it was reported by Fox News, House Speaker John Boehner (Rep) would be in support of a fully-funded unemployment extension bill that does not add any new perks.
One thing that Congressional leaders and President Obama can agree on is that something else needs to happen to get people back to work. Boehner agreed that emergency unemployment compensation needs to be extended but cautioned leaders not to forget that the focus should also be on helping people find employment. Reid and other Democrats are open to unemployment reform efforts which include job retraining programs which for many long-term unemployed are integral to finding and getting them jobs. According to MSN News, President Obama announced that he will be meeting with his Cabinet today to brainstorm ways the executive branch can address economic problems facing the middle class. In addition, he is expected to meet sometime within this month with a number of CEOs from big businesses to court them about employment prospects that would get people working in jobs that would support them and their families. Operating under the commitment to attack the country's economic problems, the Executive vowed not to wait for Congress to act and will do what he can to help people get jobs. Contrary to public opinion, the long-term jobless do want to find jobs and to work for a living. Finding jobs that will pay them a decent wage to work is another matter. Much for Congress to ponder while they are away on vacation. Meanwhile, the long-term jobless will have to continue to hold their breath.