The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 26, 2010

Risk is real for delay or denial of jobless benefits

By The Building Tradesman

The thin economic lifeline that is unemployment benefits could end for 3.2 million Americans by the end of December if the lame-duck session of Congress doesn’t result in the passage of another extension.

The Wall Street Journal said that with a packed agenda for the lame duck session through the rest of the year, “Congress is unlikely” to extend benefits initially for two million jobless workers before benefits start running out next week.

“Republicans opposed an extension last summer on the grounds it would have added to the deficit, a concern that has grown more prominent since the midterm elections,” said the Journal on Nov. 16. “But the party’s current position is still taking shape, with most arguing for now” that any extension would have to be offset with cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

The matter came to its first vote Nov. 18, when the House failed to adopt  H.R.6419, which would have extended UI through February 2011 for those who have exhausted 26 weeks of insurance provided by states. According to the AFL-CIO, House Democrats tried to speed the extension through by calling for a suspension of voting rules, a procedure which requires a two-thirds majority. Although 258 members – a significant majority – supported the bill, the final vote fell short of the needed margin.

A total of 143 Republicans and 11 Democrats voted against suspending the rules. Twenty-one Republicans voted for it. Democratic leaders could bring the bill back to the floor under a rule requiring only a simple majority. “I don’t see how we can go home for Thanksgiving,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin (D-Mich.)  “When… hundreds of thousands of people may not have a turkey on their table because they can’t afford it.”

The federal jobless benefit program currently provides unemployment for up to 99 weeks after workers are laid off, and has been extended seven times during this economic downturn. Last summer – the last time an extension came up for debate – Republicans managed to block passage and hold up benefits for a month before they were restored.

“With the unemployment rate stagnant at 9.6 percent, it’s no wonder people are angry, frustrated and disappointed,” said AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka. “Despite a welcome increase of 151,000 jobs in October, nearly 15 million Americans are still unemployed.  The unemployment rate has been essentially unchanged since May.  Over 40 percent of the unemployed have been jobless for more than six months and hundreds of thousands will lose benefits at the end of the month. We must move immediately to take up solutions that will rebuild American and put people back to work.  That starts by extending jobless benefits.”

Another Republican strategy during the lame-duck session – with Democrats still in power but needing a few GOP votes to override a Senate filibuster – is to tie passage of jobless benefits to a proposal to extend all Bush-era tax cuts, including those benefiting the rich.

Said Richard Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate: “It really strikes me as hard to explain why we would give charity to the richest people in America with additional tax cuts of $100,000 a year and deny the basic necessities of life to people who are out of work through no fault of their own.”