Bipartisan Bill to Extend Jobless Aid Divides Republicans

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WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 14: U.S. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NH) speaks to members of the media on unemployment insurance on January 14, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The Senate has defeated two votes to renew the unemployment insurance benefits that was expired in December, 2013. (Photo by WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 14: U.S. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NH) speaks to members of the media on unemployment insurance on January 14, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The Senate has defeated two votes to renew the unemployment insurance benefits that was expired in December, 2013. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images))
National Journal
Michael Catalini
March 19, 2014, 1:04 p.m.

A bi­par­tis­an Sen­ate plan to ex­tend emer­gency un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance be­ne­fits is driv­ing a wedge between Re­pub­lic­ans on both sides of the Cap­it­ol.

House Speak­er John Boehner and the Re­pub­lic­an ar­chi­tect of a Sen­ate bill to ex­tend be­ne­fits up to June are clash­ing over a let­ter from an in­terest group rep­res­ent­ing state work­force agen­cies that says the bill would cause delays in re­start­ing pay­ments to eli­gible be­ne­fi­ciar­ies.

“It is ex­tremely dis­ap­point­ing that, no mat­ter what solu­tion is reached, there is some ex­cuse to deny these much-needed be­ne­fits,” Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada said in a state­ment. “I look for­ward to passing this pro­pos­al out of the Sen­ate next week, and stand ready to help the speak­er, as well as any or­gan­iz­a­tion or any in­di­vidu­al ne­ces­sary, in or­der to make this ex­ten­sion a real­ity.”

At is­sue is le­gis­la­tion that Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id ex­pects the Sen­ate will pass when it re­turns from its re­cess next week. The nearly $10 bil­lion ex­ten­sion, which is ret­ro­act­ive to Dec. 28, is off­set by pay-fors brokered over a weeks-long ne­go­ti­ation.

The Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of State Work­force Agen­cies says im­ple­ment­ing the Sen­ate bill could take one to three months, which Boehner said renders the meas­ure “un­work­able.” The group also took is­sue with a key pro­vi­sion of the le­gis­la­tion that would end be­ne­fits for those with an ad­jus­ted gross in­come over $1 mil­lion. The sys­tem is not means-tested, and so it doesn’t col­lect in­form­a­tion on ad­jus­ted gross in­come, wrote Mark Henry, the group’s pres­id­ent.

Des­pite GOP sup­port in the Sen­ate, Boehner is us­ing the let­ter as a cudgel with which to whack Demo­crats.

“We have al­ways said that we’re will­ing to look at ex­tend­ing emer­gency un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits again, if Wash­ing­ton Demo­crats can come up with a plan that is fisc­ally re­spons­ible, and gets to the root of the prob­lem by help­ing to cre­ate more private-sec­tor jobs,” Boehner said in a state­ment. “There is no evid­ence that the bill be­ing rammed through the Sen­ate by Lead­er Re­id meets that test, and ac­cord­ing to these state dir­ect­ors, the bill is also simply un­work­able.”

Heller has been a key ne­go­ti­at­or on the Sen­ate bill, and at least four oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mark Kirk of Illinois, and Rob Port­man of Ohio, have signed onto the agree­ment as well.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Is­land, the chief Demo­crat­ic au­thor of the deal, poin­ted out that Con­gress has passed emer­gency un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits be­fore and that im­ple­ment­a­tion should not be a prob­lem for the states.

“The real ques­tion is will Speak­er Boehner al­low an up or down vote on this bi­par­tis­an com­prom­ise?” Reed said in a state­ment.

Heller and Reed jointly re­leased a point-by-point take­down of the let­ter from the as­so­ci­ation of state agen­cies. Where the group ar­gues that some states’ com­puter sys­tems are too old to quickly handle changes, Heller and Reed called for Con­gress and the states to find a solu­tion, “in­stead of say­ing it can’t be done.”

For his part, Re­id views the prob­lems out­lined in the let­ter as solv­able, and he sug­gests that Boehner come to the table to work them out, ac­cord­ing to spokes­man Adam Jentleson. “It is hard to ima­gine Speak­er Boehner simply walk­ing away from the thou­sands of people in Ohio who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and need this life­line to make ends meet while they con­tin­ue to look for work,” Jentleson said.

House Demo­crats, mean­while, are high­light­ing the GOP split on the bill and pres­sur­ing Boehner to move the le­gis­la­tion.

“Those changes were ad­ded at the be­hest of Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors,” said House Budget Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Chris Van Hol­len of Mary­land.

The le­gis­la­tion is paid for through a num­ber of bi­par­tis­an meas­ures, in­clud­ing so-called “pen­sion smooth­ing” as well as an ex­ten­sion of cus­toms user fees.

Be­sides achiev­ing the policy goal of aid­ing the long-term un­em­ployed, at least through May, the meas­ure has elec­tion-year im­plic­a­tions as well. Demo­crat­ic out­side groups are point­ing to the bill as an ac­com­plish­ment as well as us­ing it to at­tack Re­pub­lic­ans, while some Re­pub­lic­ans are just philo­soph­ic­ally op­posed to ex­tend­ing such be­ne­fits.

For his part, Boehner seems to view the Sen­ate deal as a missed op­por­tun­ity to fo­cus on jobs. “Frankly, a bet­ter use of the Sen­ate’s time would be tak­ing up and passing the dozens of House-passed jobs bills still await­ing ac­tion,” he said.

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