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White House speaks out on unemployment extension urges House to pass bill

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Congressional Quarterly's Roll Call pushed White House Press Secretary Jay Carney at the daily press briefing on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 to comment on the White House's views on the Republican controlled House of Representatives not moving to pass the unemployment benefits extension bill with only days left until the bill's deadline on May 31, 2014. Roll Call asked Carney about Speaker of the John Boehner's, R-OH request that the White House provide a legitimate list of job creating provisions, legislation to accompany the Senate passed unemployment benefits extension bill, known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014. Boehner has repeatedly made the same request to the White House throughout the five months since the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program lapsed on Dec. 28, 2013, and he has consistently given the White House's reluctance to credibly respond as the main reason he will not put the bill to a vote in the House.

The press secretary started his response by again urging the House to vote on the bill, based on the rational that the House has done continuously so since the EUC program was instated in 2008 at the start of the financial crisis while President Barack Obama's predecessor George W. Bush was still president. Carney expressed that; "We continue to call on Congress to provide emergency benefits to Americans who are looking for work, much as they did repeatedly at earlier stages of the recovery and during the previous administration."

As the Obama administration always does, Carney was quick to lay the entire blame on the House Republicans. Carney called it a "shame" that the bill has not been passed and the program not reactivated. The press secretary used the Democrats' and administration's midterm campaign rhetoric to contrast both parties, the Democrats as the ones who care for the lower income and middle class Americans and the Republicans who care only about the wealthy and corporate America. Carney lamented; "You know, it's a shame, because these are folks who are out there looking for work and need assistance to pay their rent and to feed their families." At this point there are 3.5 million Americans classified as long-term jobless. Since the EUC program expired on Dec. 28, 2013 nearly 3 million Americans lost access to benefits, and each week about 70,000 are added to that total, by the end of the year 1.6 million more Americans will lose benefit.

As the Democrats and supporters of the unemployment benefits extension insist, extending the EUC program is a job creating measure in itself. Carney responded with that same argument, stating the benefits will infuse money back into the economy, since those receiving the benefits will have money to spend. Carney explained; "And I think any economist can verify that that assistance has a direct and positive benefit to the economy and immediate benefit to the economy, because that unemployment assistance - unemployment insurance is assistance that immediately gets funneled back into the economy and helps create jobs and drive growth."

The White House is basing their logic on a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study is that determined that if the benefits extension would for a year it 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.

Roll Call also asked about President Obama possibly interceding and calling to speak to Boehner, negotiating first hand to get the legislation passed. Carney, however, downplayed that the president could influence Speaker Boehner's decision. Carney stated; "I think it's a novel supposition that Speaker Boehner would suddenly embrace the idea of extended unemployment insurance if the president would just call him and ask for it." The response at the same time deflected blame away from a president who is very detached in negotiating or compromising with the Republican House, but also made Obama appear weak, not having enough power to convince the House to pass legislation that is important to his economic agenda and opportunity program.

Speaker Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel promptly responded about the importance of passing job creation legislation for the economy, saying; "Measures to create more private-sector jobs - like the dozens of House-passed jobs bills awaiting action in the Democrat-controlled Senate - are not 'cynical.' They are a serious effort to address the American people's number-one concern."

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH has consistently requested that job creations measures be included in the bill before he puts it to a House vote. Boehner requests went with no actual response for the White House to list what kinds of job creations provisions would be acceptable to them to add the bill. The White House, President Obama, and Senate Majority Leader Reid consistently refuse to allow any provisions to be added to the bill to make it more attractive to the Republican House.

The only direct response the speaker received from the Obama administration was from Secretary of Labor Perez, who sent a letter to Boehner on Wednesday, May 7, 2014 urging him to put the unemployment benefits extension bill to a vote. Perez also provided Boehner with a list of possible job creation provisions, which were all Obama and Democrat legislative priorities, and most would not appeal to Republicans. Although there was one exception, the jobs training bill, which is still being considered as viable option to combine with the unemployment benefits extension.

It has been a month and a half since the Senate finally passed the bipartisan compromise bill to extend the EUC program on April 7, 2014. The retroactive five-month extension laid out in the Senate bill starts from Dec. 28, 2013 and lasts until June 1, 2014. The Senate bill expires in the end of May, the House of Representatives has until then to pass the unemployment benefits extension.

This is the second time Carney has been asked during the daily press briefing about the unemployment benefits extension since the bill passed in the Senate. The press secretary's first response a month ago on Monday, April 21, 2014was the only direct answer Boehner had from the White House or President Obama about adding any job creation provisions. Carney's comments were not much different than those he just made; he urged the House to pass the bill, touted the benefits to the economy, but also insulted the Republicans implying they are not serious about passing the bill with added provisions, calling Boehner's request "throw[ing] spaghetti against the wall." Carney stated; "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."

Senators Dean Heller, R-NV and Jack Reed, D-ME, the bill's co-authors and sponsors have promised to go back write another bill should the House not pass this one by the deadline. They have already begun working on a new bill, and adding it the unemployment benefits extension as an amendment to Senate's business tax cuts extenders bill. Some of the other Senate Republican co-sponsors are worried that as time goes further away from the program's expiration and closer to the midterm elections, the probability of passing the bill lowers. The easiest and best option would be if the House votes and passes the unemployment benefits extension before May 31, which would help the three and a half million long-term jobless Americans to survive until they finally find a job.

RELATED LINKS

  • S.2260 - EXPIRE Act of 2014, Sen. Wyden, Ron [D-OR] (Introduced 04/28/2014), 05/07/2014 Motion to proceed to consideration of measure made in Senate. S. Rept. 113-154

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. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.

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