Jobless Aid on Thin Ice, but Dems Are Still Skating

US Democratic Senator from Michigan US Congressman Sander Levin talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on September 1, 2013 after a closed members-only security briefing on Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington has proof the Syrian regime used sarin gas in a deadly Damascus attack, as he backed the US administration's call for Congress to approve military strikes. After President Barack Obama asked lawmakers Saturday to vote for punitive military action against the Syrian regime, Kerry warned the world cannot turn a blind eye to chemical weapons use.
National Journal
Elahe Izad
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Elahe Izad
Dec. 10, 2013, 2:56 p.m.

Long-term un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance hasn’t made its way in­to a budget deal, but Demo­crats are still look­ing for av­en­ues to ex­tend the be­ne­fit past the end of the year.

On Dec. 28, 1.3 mil­lion people will lose emer­gency fed­er­al un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, a be­ne­fit that kicks in for the out-of-work after they ex­haust state be­ne­fits, which tend to run 26 weeks. The last time the pro­gram was ex­ten­ded, it was done via the fisc­al-cliff budget deal.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who is lead­ing the ex­ten­sion fight in the Sen­ate, made a un­an­im­ous-con­sent re­quest Tues­day to ex­tend the in­sur­ance for a year. It failed to ad­vance. “We’ve asked, as Demo­crats, that this UI pro­pos­al be part of the budget ne­go­ti­ations,” Reed said. “We’ve had to seek a stand-alone le­gis­lat­ive vehicle” in­stead.

House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an and Sen­ate Budget Chair­wo­man Patty Mur­ray said to­geth­er at a press con­fer­ence that a sep­ar­ate pro­vi­sion to ex­tend the be­ne­fit is not part of the agree­ment.

House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Sander Lev­in, D-Mich., sug­ges­ted a po­ten­tial farm-bill agree­ment as one vehicle to ex­tend the in­sur­ance. An­oth­er: le­gis­la­tion to change the Medi­care Sus­tain­able Growth Rate, aka the “doc fix.”

“I don’t think we should ad­dress phys­i­cian pay­ment without ad­dress­ing the needs of 1.3 mil­lion people on Decem­ber 28,” Lev­in said.

“Some of us will not sup­port the doc fix un­less it has un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance; it’s as simple as that,” Sen. Tom Har­kin, D-Iowa, said. “We’re not go­ing to tell the doc­tors they can make their money but for the people who are un­em­ployed, no, we can’t ex­tend it.”

The doc fix is one of the rare items there seems to be bi­par­tis­an ap­pet­ite to ad­dress by year’s end, and it will be con­sidered by the Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee. But Chair­man Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he’s “doubt­ful” that un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance will be part of those dis­cus­sions.

Ex­pect at least some pro­gress­ives to be lined up against the budget deal be­cause, in part, of its ex­clu­sion of un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits. Rep. Raul Gri­jalva, D-Ar­iz., co­chair of the House Pro­gress­ive Caucus, said in a state­ment that he “strongly” op­poses a budget deal that asks fed­er­al em­ploy­ees to pay more in­to their pen­sions and lets un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance ex­pire. The budget deal does in­clude fed­er­al and mil­it­ary pen­sion pay-ins, but not nearly as high as where ne­go­ti­ations had star­ted.

Earli­er Tues­day, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said he wasn’t com­fort­able with the con­tours of the deal. “Patty Mur­ray is do­ing the very best she can un­der dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances,” he said. But as for wheth­er un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance was a deal-break­er for Sanders when it comes to vot­ing for the fi­nal deal, he said, “I’m go­ing to do everything I can do to see that we get it.”

Giv­en the out­cry from out­side con­ser­vat­ive groups, some Demo­crats pre­dict House con­ser­vat­ives will like­wise op­pose the deal. “It looks like they’ll need our votes [to pass a budget],” Lev­in said pri­or to the budget an­nounce­ment. “And I think there have been some dis­cus­sions between the White House and the speak­er and between our lead­er­ship and the speak­er. He said he was open and we take him at his word.”

Last week, House Speak­er John Boehner said that “if the pres­id­ent has a plan for ex­tend­ing un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits, I’d surely en­ter­tain tak­ing a look at it.” Later in the week, though, he said a strong jobs re­port “should dis­cour­age calls for more emer­gency gov­ern­ment “˜stim­u­lus.’ “

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