The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, February 14, 2014

Unemployment benefits extension gets stomped again by Senate GOP

By The Building Tradesman

WASHINGTON – Another effort to revive benefits for long-term unemployed Americans failed in the U.S. Senate on Feb. 6, with a successful Republican-backed filibuster.

The third and latest vote to bring back jobless benefits for three months for 1.7 million long-term unemployed Americans was blocked by Senate Republicans, 58-40. All Senate Democrats voted in favor, but only four of the needed five Republicans joined the Dems to overcome the filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) changed his vote to “no” in a procedural move to give him the right to call for a revote.

“Today the Senate once again failed to approve an extension of emergency unemployment insurance, 40 days after the benefit was allowed to lapse,” said AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka. “The bill fell short by one Republican vote. Just one vote prevented 1.7 million Americans from receiving a desperately needed lifeline.”

Well, the Senate one vote wasn’t the only obstacle. The $6.4 billion extension also has to pass the Republican majority in the U.S. House, where there’s even less appetite for passing the bill. The extension would provide about $300 per week in benefits for long-term unemployed.

“Congress should be doing everything in its power to create jobs and improve our economy,” Reid said. “Restoring these benefits is an imperative. This lack of unemployment insurance is not only hurting those looking for work, it lowers demand so fewer people are being hired. We have to act with a sense of urgency.”

Didn’t happen. In fact, the bill lost ground from a similar vote earlier this year to extend benefits. Two Republicans who voted “no” this time had previously voted “yes.” One of them was Sen. Dan Coats (R-Indiana) who according to The Campaign For America’s Future, complained that Democrats did not incorporate his amendment to “prohibit individuals from receiving Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits if they fail to accept any offer of suitable work or if they refuse to apply for suitable work referred to them by a state employment agency.”

Countered Bill Scher of the labor-backed Campaign For America’s Future: “Such a provision would force family breadwinners to choose between taking massive pay cuts for low-wage ‘suitable’ work or being cut off from unemployment insurance. Yet for Coats, if Democrats won’t agree to put these heads of households in cruel Catch-22s, then he will just cut them off now.”

Other Republicans had been voting no because there was no offset for the cost of the extension elsewhere in the federal budget, but Reid offered them one this time through accounting changes which Republicans had supported in the past. Sen. James Inhofe, (R-Okla.) said after the vote that creating jobs won’t be achieved “by Washington turning a temporary federal benefit into another welfare program.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 3.6 million people have been out of work for more than 26 weeks.

The jobless benefits extension could be taken up again in the Senate this month. If a compromise is somehow reached, the bill goes to the House, where the Tea Party and their ilk will be formidable obstacles to passage. There’s a strong GOP belief that long-term jobless benefits are a deterrent to workers finding jobs. “I believe it is immoral for this country to have as a policy extending long-term unemployments (benefits) to people rather than us working on the creation of jobs,” said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas).

According to Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute: “Almost every story about the Republican filibuster of bills to revive the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program mentions the 1.3 million people who had their benefits cut off on Dec. 28, 2013. But they miss the bigger story: it’s not just those who were receiving checks when the program expired, but also many of the millions of people who are looking for work unsuccessfully right now but haven’t reached 26 weeks yet.

“And millions more will lose jobs in the next few months and exhaust their 26 weeks of unemployment benefits later in the year. When they do reach 26 weeks, and there are an estimated 70,000 new long-term jobless workers every week, they would receive EUC if the program were renewed. But because of the filibuster, they will get nothing—nothing but the back of the hand from Republicans in Congress who think these millions of people aren’t desperate enough to look hard for work at a time when there are roughly three unemployed for every job opening.”