All the talk is about Speaker of the House of Representative John Boehner, R-OH and the Republican majority in the House preventing the passing of the unemployment benefits extension bill, when a Democrat in the Senate, Tom Harkin of Iowa might have prevented a surefire passage of a bill that would have helped 3.1 million long-term jobless and core Democratic constituency. Harkin as Chairman of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and co-author and sponsor of the bipartisan Workforce Investment Act, a job training bill refused to add the unemployment benefit extension as amendment he explained the reasons why on Tuesday, June 24, 2014 to Congressional Quarterly’s Roll Call. The move would have ensured the extension of Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program that expired on Dec. 28, 2013 in both the Senate and House. House Republicans had been open since the beginning of April of passing the Senate passed the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014 with a job training bill, because it satisfied Boehner’s job creation demand.
Senators Jack Reed, D-RI and Dean Heller, R-NV introduced a new unemployment benefits extension bill in a joint press conference on Tuesday morning, June 24, 2014 in the Capitol building. Senators Reed and Heller’s new stand-alone bill complies more with Speaker Boehner’s demands. The bill will have a five-month extension, lasting approximately until the end of 2014. The new bill will cost a total of $10 billion and will be paid for by revenue, including “pension smoothing” and “extending Customs user fees through 2024” as was the last bill. One of the major benefits of the new bill is that unlike the previous one there is no deadline. The new bill however, would not be retroactive, because long-term unemployment rates have been falling even slightly, and it was also a roadblock to passing the bill the last time. Those who had weeks of eligibility left when the EUC program expired and did not go back to work, will be allowed to collect the remaining weeks of benefits they were set to receive.
As a back-up if this new bill does not pass, there are and were other options being considered primarily adding the bill as an amendment to popular must pass bipartisan bills to ensure passage. Now most probable bills are the business tax cuts extenders “S.2260 – EXPIRE Act of 2014” and the Highway Trust Fund bill “S.2322: MAP-21 Reauthorization Act.” The highway bill, which is now facing two different incarnations in the House and Senate, the bill must pass this summer with “100,000 transportation projects” and “700,000 construction jobs” on the line. In April and May Reed and Heller were considering adding the unemployment benefits extension to a either the Senate or House’s job training bills because House Republicans supported the idea and it satisfied Boehner’s continual request that a job creation measure be tied to the unemployment extension bill in order to schedule it for a House vote.
The “reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (PL 105-220)” is the Senate’s bi-partisan job training program and bill. However, the Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray, D-WA, and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin, D-IA stated on Tuesday, May 20 that they are refusing to add the unemployment benefits extension to their bill. Their opposition is mostly because they do not want to add a partisan measure to their bill which has bipartisan support. Harkin revealed on June 24, 2014 the reason behind the refusal to fuse the two bills, saying “We have a good bill and we are not going to allow it to be tampered with.” Continuing Harking adamancy was in the strong language he used, basically implying the EUC extension was legislation poison. Harkin exclaimed; “No, it’s just that this is a WIA bill. We worked five years on it and it’s a good bill and we are not going to let it get screwed up by anything.” The WIA bill is set to pass in the Senate this week.
There has always been support in the House to pair the unemployment benefits extension bill with their jobs training bill. Early in April House Republicans who supported the unemployment benefits extension were looking to combine the already House passed job training bill (HR 803) sponsored by Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. The Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act “streamlines” job training programs. The bill would provide job training to 3.7 million Americans unemployed for longer than 27 weeks. Senator Reed thought there was definitely a possibility that the Republican House would still agree to combine the bills, despite Senate opposition. Reed expressed; “If someone from [the House] called me up and said “hey guess what, we just agreed to include your proposal in WIA,’ I’d say great take the credit for it.” However, it all depends on Speaker Boehner agreeing to put the bill to a vote in any format.
The first Reed-Heller bill passed in the Senate on April 7, 2014 and provided retroactive benefits for five-months from the time the EUC program expired on Dec. 28, 2013 until June 1, 2014 and was paid full with revenue; it expired without ever leaving the committee stage. Boehner did not put the bill to a vote because he wanted the White House and President Barack Obama to provide him with a list of legislation that could be added as job creation measures. The White House would not sent a list instead they sent Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez who in a May 7 letter to Boehner listed possible suggestions mostly from the Democratic agenda. The only palatable suggestion was combining the unemployment extension to the Senate job training bill. The GOP has been overwhelmingly blamed for allowing the bill to expire and not renewing benefits, but Harkin recent comments shows that not only Republicans have blocked the unemployment benefits so have Democrats. He prevented a certain passage of the bill that would have led to benefits being renewed for the over 3 million long-term jobless Americans that so desperately need the relief.
- 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
- H.R. 4415: Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, April 07, 2014
H.R. 4550: Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, May 1, 2014, Referred to Committee
- S. 2148: Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, March 13, 2014, Reported by Committee
S. 2149: Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, March 24, 2014, Reported by Committee
- H.R. 3979: Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, Jan 31, 2014, Passed Senate with Changes
- H.R.803 – Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills SKILLS Act, 03/18/2013 Received in the Senate and Read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, H. Rept. 113-14, 03/15/2013 : Passed House
S. 1356: Workforce Investment Act of 2013, July 24, 2013, Reported by Committee on July 31, 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. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.