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White House refuses Boehner, GOP unemployment benefits extension bill compromise

Since the Senate passed the unemployment benefits extension bill on April 7, 2014 the Republicans in the House of Representatives have considering adding provisions to the bill to make it acceptable to the Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH so that he would put the bill to a vote. Now White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced on Monday, April 21, 2014 during his daily press briefing that President Obama will not negotiate any concessions on the unemployment benefits bill. Prior to the Congressional recess on April 10 during the House GOP leadership press conference Speaker Boehner stated he was looking for the White House to list what kinds of added job creations provisions would be acceptable to them. Now they have given their indirect response cutting off hope of the bill ever reaching the House floor for a vote. 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.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney refused Speaker of the House John Boehner's request that the White House provide proposals of acceptable job creation provisions to add to the unemployment benefits extension bill, April 21, 2014
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

At the daily press briefing White House Press Secretary Carney was asked about the House Speaker Boehner's request that the White House provide a "proposal" for job creation measures to be included with the unemployment benefits extension bill. The journalist was looking to see if the White House ever formally replied to the speaker. Carney evasively responded with a comment about House Republicans increased interest in passing the unemployment benefits bill, and the White House continuing to urge "action." Carney stated; "Well, I think you've noted that more Republicans have made clear their support for extension of vital unemployment insurance emergency benefits since the last time we discussed this in this room. And we continue to press Congress to take action to restore those benefits."

Then the press secretary gave the administration's position on added provisions, they do not support it and do not want it, as always President Barack Obama is looking for a clean bill from the House GOP, just the unemployment benefits extension, with no provisions. Carney clarified; "I don't have the latest on how that effort is progressing on Capitol Hill, but our position remains very clear, which is that these are benefits that should be extended. Extending them would be, of course, hugely impactful to the families who receive them directly, but also of great benefit to the economy." Continuing, Carney urged the House to pass the bill, saying; "And Congress ought to take action."

The added provisions to the bill would make it acceptable to both GOP members of the House and the speaker. In usual Obama administration fashion, Carney insulted the Republicans, implying they are not serious about passing the bill with added provisions, calling it "throw[ing] spaghetti against the wall." Carney concluded; "I just don't have an update. What we've seen in the past in these kinds of situations generally are an attempt to throw spaghetti against the wall on sort of ideological things that have nothing to do with making sure that these benefits get to the people who need them."

After Carney's remarks concerned Labor Secretary Tom Perez took to Twitter for damage control, pleading with the House to pass the bill, and the White House to negotiate on a compromise, writing; "There is still hope Congress will extend emergency unemployment benefits. I urge both sides to work together - and quickly - to #RenewUI." House Speaker Boehner's spokesperson Brendan Buck responded to Roll Call that the White House has not directly contacted the speaker to negotiate, by simply stating; "Nothing recently."

Even though Congress is out for Easter recess, negotiations have been going on to find a solution and extend unemployment benefits for America's long-term jobless. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV even has become flexible and his staff is speaking with Boehner's staff and he intends to meet with the speaker to negotiate to pass the bill. Reid thinks because the two leaders have a good working relationship some agreement might come between the House and Senate.

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 however, 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.

At this point Speaker Boehner does not intend to put the Senate bill as it is to a vote at all, despite wide public support for the bill, and states with Republican representatives including Boehner's own that are still facing high unemployment rates. Some moderate Republicans want to vote on the bill, others see it as an opportunity to advance their own special interests. Boehner finally commented publicly on the Senate passed unemployment benefits extension bill (HR 3979) on Thursday, April 10, 2014 at the House GOP leadership press conference at the Capitol. Boehner left the possibility of a compromise open whereas the bill could still be voted on and pass the House. The White House however, needs to agree to the job-creation provisions he has been requesting.

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. The speaker explained the types of bills the House are making a priority. Boehner indicated; "So the House is going to continue to focus on the American people’s priorities: creating good paying jobs, increasing wages, and expanding opportunity for all Americans. This means reforming our job training and skills programs, advancing bipartisan charter school legislation, critical water and highway infrastructure bills, expanding exports to our allies, and repealing and replacing ObamaCare – just to name a few."

The speaker's listing of legislating priorities give a good idea what type of provisions need to be added to the unemployment benefits extension to get the bill to a vote and passed in the House. Among those being seriously considered by House Republicans are revising and "streamlining" job training programs or a "business tax cuts" extension. According to Roll Call an official from the White House stated that President Barack Obama and the administration are willing to negotiate with the House Republicans on any bill to extend unemployment benefits that could also pass the Senate.

Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steele commented on the Republican considering provisions to add to the bill. Steele stated; "A lot of members have proposals on economic growth and jobs provisions. No decisions have been made at this point on how we’ll proceed." So far no consensus has been reach among the GOP about which particular provisions they will consider.

Not all Republicans in the House of Representatives agree with Speaker John Boehner's, R-OH position and dismissal on long-term jobless unemployment benefits, and on Thursday, April 3, 2014, seven Republican Reps signed a letter objecting to Boehner, asking him and House Majority leader Eric Cantor, R-VA to pass the Senate's bill or House produced "alternative." Reps. Peter T. King, R-NY and Frank A. LoBiondo , R-NJ sent the Speaker a letter requesting he extend unemployment benefits and put the Senate bill known as HR 3979 or just any unemployment benefits extension bill to a vote. They were joined by five other Republicans Representatives, who also signed the letter they included according to Roll Call; Joe Heck, R-NV, two other New Jersey Reps. Jon Runyan and Christopher H. Smith, and two additional New York Reps Chris Gibson and Michael G. Grimm.

The pressure is on from on Speaker Boehner from fellow Republicans, Democrats, the Senate and the White House to pass the unemployment benefits extension. Supporters are arguing back that not extending the benefits would hurt the economy. Supporters cite a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study that found a full year extension would provide 0.2 growth to the economy, and even the five-month Senate extension would serve beneficial to the economy. If extended for a full year the CBO study concludes extending benefits would add 200,000 jobs and the program would cost $26 billion.

The Senate passed on Monday, April 7, 2014 the full and final vote on the long-term jobless unemployment benefits extension bill with 59 votes for and 38 against with six Republicans joining the Democrats to pass the bill, while three Senators did not vote at all. The bill extends benefits for five months to the 2.79 million Americans that lost them when the program expred on Dec. 28, 2013. According to Roll Call Republican Senators "Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio" voted for the bill and also Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

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 expressed at his Wednesday March 26 press conference; "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."

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.

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.

Now that Congress is on a two-week Easter recess having left on Thursday April 10 and returning on April 28, any discussions surrounding the bill will have to wait until Congress returns. By the time they return it will be four full months that America’s long-term jobless would have been left without benefits since they expired on Dec. 28, 2013.


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.

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