Who’s Playing Games With Unemployment Insurance?

“They actually don’t want to get this done,” Republican Sen. Dean Heller says.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) speaks to members of the press as he is on his way for a vote January 6, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
March 12, 2014, 1 a.m.

It’s been days since a cadre of Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans re­leased their own le­gis­la­tion to ex­tend un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance be­ne­fits, and they’ve yet to get the pos­it­ive re­ac­tion they were seek­ing.

Dis­cus­sions between Re­pub­lic­ans and Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Is­land, who is lead­ing the Demo­crat­ic ef­forts, are on­go­ing. But Re­pub­lic­ans say Demo­crats are show­ing little will­ing­ness to take up their bill.

“I think they’re go­ing to re­ject it and that would be a shame,” says Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who has stood with Demo­crats since late last year in work­ing to find a way to ex­tend the in­sur­ance pro­gram for the es­tim­ated 2 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans who have lost their long-term be­ne­fits since Dec. 28.

The GOP bill “rep­res­ents a great deal of move­ment on our part,” said GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. “It’s com­pletely reas­on­able, and it would provide a five-month paid-for ex­ten­sion with re­forms in the pro­gram. I re­gret to say that so far, the Demo­crat­ic re­sponse has not been as pos­it­ive as I would have hoped and ex­pec­ted. I really don’t see any more ma­jor con­ces­sions com­ing from the Re­pub­lic­an side. We’ve put our best of­fer on the table with a few tweaks.”

Here is the frus­tra­tion for Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans: Most of their le­gis­la­tion is cribbed from pre­vi­ous Demo­crat­ic bills. They ar­gue that the is­sue now seems to be not the con­tent of the ex­ten­sion bill but the party iden­ti­fic­a­tion of those lis­ted at the top of it.

“I think that’s the height of hy­po­crisy, in my opin­ion, that all this clam­or­ing that they have for the un­em­ployed — most who have lost their jobs with no fault of their own — is now bottled up be­cause they don’t like our plan even though it’s a plan that they’ve sup­por­ted in the past,” Heller said Tues­day.

The Re­pub­lic­an pro­pos­al to pay for the short-term ex­ten­sion in­cludes two off­sets that Demo­crats have ac­cep­ted be­fore: pen­sion-smooth­ing, a pay-for cham­pioned by Reed just weeks ago; and pre­vent­ing in­di­vidu­als who col­lect un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance from also re­ceiv­ing dis­ab­il­ity, an amend­ment pushed by Sen. Rob Port­man, R-Ohio, that Demo­crats had already agreed to in­clude as an amend­ment to their new­est bill.

The third Re­pub­lic­an pay-for builds on one in­cluded in the Ry­an-Mur­ray budget agree­ment, which passed both cham­bers eas­ily in Decem­ber. That off­set would ex­tend cus­toms user fees — funds paid for by air­line pas­sen­gers go­ing through cus­toms in the United States to off­set the costs of in­spec­tion — for an ad­di­tion­al year. Un­der the GOP plan, the fee pro­gram would now ex­pire in 2024.

“Every pay-for in there they’ve sup­por­ted in the past, they just don’t like it today,” a vis­ibly frus­trated Heller said Tues­day. “They’ve liked it in the past, but they don’t like it today. We have sev­en spon­sors on that, so we’re giv­ing them all the votes they need — all the votes they need — and they still re­ject it be­cause they don’t want to get it done. They’d rather have the polit­ic­al talk­ing point. This is proof in the pud­ding that all they want is the polit­ics of it, they ac­tu­ally don’t want to get this done.”

Reed spokes­man Chip Un­ruh called foul, ar­guing that Re­pub­lic­ans are for the first time ask­ing for off­sets for a five-month un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance ex­ten­sion, which, be­cause it is ret­ro­act­ive, would ac­tu­ally ex­pire after just two months, giv­ing Con­gress little time to find a longer-term solu­tion. “If they’re frus­trated, ima­gine how the 2 mil­lion people who lost their be­ne­fits [feel].”¦ The bot­tom line is we’ve bent over back­wards to find a way to get this done,” Un­ruh said Tues­day.

An­oth­er Demo­crat­ic con­cern, he said, is that the Re­pub­lic­an bill would re­form the over­all un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance pro­gram. The meas­ure would re­quire fed­er­al or state agen­cies (or both) to de­term­ine why be­ne­fi­ciar­ies have been un­able to find em­ploy­ment; would pro­hib­it “mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires” as well as those re­ceiv­ing dis­ab­il­ity to take in the be­ne­fits; and would re­quire re­cip­i­ents to ac­cept any “suit­able work” offered to them.

Un­ruh ar­gued that the bills’ re­forms would pre­vent mil­lions from re­ceiv­ing the be­ne­fits in the fu­ture, but did not elab­or­ate.

At the same time, Demo­crat­ic out­side groups are send­ing some friendly fire in the way of Re­pub­lic­ans in­volved in the ne­go­ti­ations, which has only heightened their sense that the un­em­ploy­ment talks are more about polit­ics than find­ing a solu­tion.

The AFL-CIO and AF­SCME ran Face­book and on­line ads against Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., hop­ing to prod him in­to sign­ing onto Demo­crat­ic le­gis­la­tion. Amer­ic­ans United for Change, a group that pro­motes Demo­crat­ic causes, re­cently ran a small tele­vi­sion ad against Kirk as well.

“I’ve al­ways been wor­ried that this was largely a polit­ic­al ex­er­cise led by Harry [Re­id],” Kirk said, not­ing the ad and polling that have run against him, even as he’s joined oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans in ne­go­ti­at­ing with Demo­crats to find a solu­tion.

Amer­ic­ans United for Change also sent about two dozen act­iv­ists to Port­man’s of­fice to de­liv­er a pe­ti­tion ur­ging him to sup­port the bill. The group com­mis­sioned a Pub­lic Policy Polling sur­vey on Kirk and Port­man in their home states, re­mind­ing their con­stitu­ents that they voted against “against re­in­stat­ing un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits to 1.8 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans who are out of work.”

Port­man called the Amer­ic­ans United for Change sur­vey a push poll, not­ing that it said noth­ing about his work with Demo­crats to find a solu­tion. The sur­vey was con­duc­ted be­fore the Re­pub­lic­an bill was an­nounced to the pub­lic.

Paul J. Lav­raka, a former pres­id­ent of the Amer­ic­an As­so­ci­ation for Pub­lic Opin­ion Re­search, ar­gued that the sur­vey couldn’t tech­nic­ally be called a push poll be­cause of its small sample size. “The idea of per­suad­ing 500 people is ludicrous,” he said, ar­guing that 500 in­di­vidu­als are un­likely to sway an elec­tion.

But Port­man is more con­cerned about the mes­sage that the sur­vey is send­ing to his con­stitu­ents, even just 525 of them. “I think that was just an un­fair ques­tion,” Port­man said Tues­day. “So, of course you’re go­ing to get a re­ac­tion that’s dif­fer­ent than what would be an hon­est way to de­scribe it, which is that I’m for ex­tend­ing [the be­ne­fits] short-term as long as it’s paid for, as long as we are com­mit­ted to re­form­ing the pro­gram so that it works bet­ter for people to get skills. If that had been ex­plained, I would have felt dif­fer­ent about it.”

Amer­ic­ans United for Change spokes­wo­man Lauren Wein­er dis­puted Port­man’s char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion of the sur­vey, de­fend­ing PPP as “one of the most ac­cur­ate” polling out­fits in the coun­try. “I think that it’s in­ter­est­ing that they’re ac­tu­ally ques­tion­ing the poll and not the res­ults … if they don’t feel that a ma­jor­ity of Ohioans or Buck­eyes sup­port ex­tend­ing un­em­ploy­ment,” Wein­er said.

As for why the group has singled out Port­man and Kirk among their col­leagues — the ma­jor­ity of whom have shown no in­terest in passing an un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance ex­ten­sion of any kind — Wein­er called them the two “most per­suad­able” Re­pub­lic­ans in the Sen­ate. The group is hope­ful, she said, that a little pres­sure could get them to sign on to the next ex­ten­sion that makes it to the floor.

Un­ruh agreed, though he said he was un­aware of any activ­it­ies by out­side Demo­crat­ic groups to in­flu­ence Re­pub­lic­ans on the is­sue. “Sen­at­or Reed has tried to work in good faith; I think some of his col­leagues are feel­ing the heat from back home and for good reas­on. A broad swath of people want to see this done,” Un­ruh said.

But the ac­tions of Amer­ic­ans United for Change, the AFL-CIO, and oth­er groups, coupled with the luke­warm re­cep­tion Re­pub­lic­ans re­ceived after an­noun­cing their own pro­pos­al last week, has many of the sev­en Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors ne­go­ti­at­ing over the is­sue con­cerned that they’re locked in a lose-lose situ­ation.

Though Reed has con­tin­ued to lead bi­par­tis­an talks, and both sides say they are hope­ful that they’ll make pro­gress, the sev­en Re­pub­lic­ans in­volved say they be­lieve Re­id is re­spons­ible for the lack of pro­gress so far.

“What that sig­nals to me is they’re not really look­ing for a deal,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who signed on to the Re­pub­lic­an bill and has sup­por­ted pre­vi­ous Demo­crat­ic fixes in re­cent months. “And it may just be as simple as, those that we are dis­cuss­ing with are really try­ing to make something hap­pen but that you’ve got a ma­jor­ity lead­er who feels that it’s in his best polit­ic­al in­terest or that of his team to keep this is­sue alive.”

“I mean, if I were sit­ting out there and one of those that was im­pacted, my be­ne­fits had been cut off and I kind of watched this back-and-forth, back-and-forth, with no real re­solve in sight, I’d be pretty frus­trated,” she ad­ded.

Still, Port­man and oth­ers are hope­ful that the on­go­ing ne­go­ti­ations will res­ult in some kind of com­prom­ise le­gis­la­tion. As talks con­tin­ue, the pro­spects for a bill that will win a 60-vote ma­jor­ity this week, as Demo­crats ini­tially hoped, is in­creas­ingly un­likely.

What We're Following See More »
PROCEDURES NOT FOLLOWED
Trump Not on Ballot in Minnesota
2 days ago
THE LATEST
MOB RULE?
Trump on Immigration: ‘I Don’t Know, You Tell Me’
2 days ago
THE LATEST

Perhaps Donald Trump can take a plebiscite to solve this whole messy immigration thing. At a Fox News town hall with Sean Hannity last night, Trump essentially admitted he's "stumped," turning to the audience and asking: “Can we go through a process or do you think they have to get out? Tell me, I mean, I don’t know, you tell me.”

Source:
BIG CHANGE FROM WHEN HE SELF-FINANCED
Trump Enriching His Businesses with Donor Money
4 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Donald Trump "nearly quintupled the monthly rent his presidential campaign pays for its headquarters at Trump Tower to $169,758 in July, when he was raising funds from donors, compared with March, when he was self-funding his campaign." A campaign spokesman "said the increased office space was needed to accommodate an anticipated increase in employees," but the campaign's paid staff has actually dipped by about 25 since March. The campaign has also paid his golf courses and restaurants about $260,000 since mid-May.

Source:
QUESTIONS OVER IMMIGRATION POLICY
Trump Cancels Rallies
4 days ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump probably isn't taking seriously John Oliver's suggestion that he quit the race. But he has canceled or rescheduled rallies amid questions over his stance on immigration. Trump rescheduled a speech on the topic that he was set to give later this week. Plus, he's also nixed planned rallies in Oregon and Las Vegas this month.

Source:
‘STRATEGY AND MESSAGING’
Sean Hannity Is Also Advising Trump
5 days ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump's Fox News brain trust keeps growing. After it was revealed that former Fox chief Roger Ailes is informally advising Trump on debate preparation, host Sean Hannity admitted over the weekend that he's also advising Trump on "strategy and messaging." He told the New York Times: “I’m not hiding the fact that I want Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States. I never claimed to be a journalist.”

Source:
×