Jobless Benefits Stalled Even With U.S. Senate PassageKathleen Hunter
U.S. House Republicans are showing no sign that they’ll move forward legislation the Senate passed restoring benefits for the long-term unemployed.
House Republican leaders “are willing to look at extending emergency unemployment insurance as long as it includes provisions to help create more private-sector jobs,” though Speaker John Boehner remains opposed to the Senate measure, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
Senators voted 59-38 yesterday to pass the bill restoring benefits that expired late last year. It’s the product of a bipartisan agreement struck last month by Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed and Nevada Republican Dean Heller, who was among six Republicans who voted in favor.
Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, called on House Republican leaders to bring up the measure. “If our bill was put up for a vote in the House, there is no question it would pass,” Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat, said in a statement. “The House needs to extend unemployment benefits to millions of Americans right now.”
The benefits extension is part of Democrats’ election-year focus on income inequality, which also includes a push to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and to pass legislation aimed at ending the gender gap in pay.
President Barack Obama has pressed lawmakers for months to reach a compromise on extending the jobless aid. The measure would be retroactive to Dec. 28, when the emergency benefits expired for about 1.6 million Americans.
Obama praised the Senate for acting “in a bipartisan way.”
“Washington needs to put politics aside and help these hard-working, responsible Americans make ends meet and support their families as they look for a job,” the president said in a statement yesterday. “I urge House Republicans to stop blocking a bipartisan compromise that would stem this tide, take up the bill without delay, and send it to my desk.”
The Senate bill would reauthorize emergency unemployment benefits for five months. The cost of renewing expanded jobless benefits would be covered by extending so-called pension smoothing, which was set to phase out this year.
That maneuver would give companies more time to make payments to pension funds, meaning short-term taxable income would rise as they claim fewer deductions.
Other ways to cover the measure’s costs include extending customs user fees through 2024 and allowing single-employer pension plans to prepay their flat-rate premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
Heller, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio joined with 53 Democrats in voting to pass the measure. Democrats Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri didn’t vote.
The Senate voted 61-38, with 60 votes required, on April 2 and again a day later to advance the bill, clearing the way for yesterday’s vote.
Other Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, balked at not being allowed to offer amendments that they cast as better methods for promoting job growth. McConnell, whose home state is a major coal producer, wanted to offer a proposal that would blunt the influence of the Environmental Protection Agency.
McConnell, who is seeking a sixth term this year, said his proposal would prevent “unelected bureaucrats from blocking desperately needed jobs in Kentucky by sitting on surface-mining permits.”
The Congressional Budget Office said in a preliminary estimate that the emergency jobless benefits would cost almost $9.9 billion in forgone revenue while reducing the deficit by almost $9.4 billion through 2019. That’s because prepayment of Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. premiums would generate almost $18.4 billion in extra revenue over five years.
Earlier this year, Democrats pressed for a three-month benefits extension. The bill, S. 1845, stalled when backers didn’t have enough support to cut off debate. The Feb. 6 vote was 55-43, with 60 needed.
The current Senate bill number is HR 3979.