House Dems Dreaming of Extending Unemployment Insurance by Christmas

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 23: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) answers questions during a press conference October 23, 2013 in Washington, DC. Pelosi answered questions on the problems surrounding the website for the Affordable Care Act during her remarks. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
National Journal
Elahe Izadi
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Elahe Izadi
Dec. 5, 2013, 3:27 p.m.

Stan Os­now­itz has been out of work since his last job as an elec­tri­cian ended in Ju­ly. The 67-year-old from Bal­timore says he still wakes up around 4 a.m. every day to look for work, while re­ly­ing on state un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits that are sched­uled to run out in Janu­ary.

“I hate be­ing un­em­ployed. It’s a waste of my time, my abil­it­ies,” Os­now­itz told the House Demo­crat­ic Steer­ing Com­mit­tee on Thursday, which in­vited a hand­ful of long-term un­em­ployed Amer­ic­ans to talk about un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits. “If Con­gress lets the un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance shut down, I won’t even be able to put gas in my car to look for a job.”

After his state un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits run out, Os­now­itz will join 1.3 mil­lion people who will no longer re­ceive fed­er­al emer­gency un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance on Dec. 28, un­less Con­gress ex­tends the pro­gram.

But as of this week, the be­ne­fit doesn’t ap­pear to be mak­ing its way in­to a budget deal. That could change, of course; the budget con­fer­ence, which hasn’t reached a deal yet, has a Dec. 13 dead­line. And a week is a long time on the Hill.

A House Re­pub­lic­an staffer with know­ledge of the budget talks said he would be “very sur­prised” if the ex­ten­sion was in­cluded in a fi­nal budget deal, giv­en wide­spread op­pos­i­tion among the GOP — al­though he couldn’t rule any­thing out.

“If the pres­id­ent has a plan for ex­tend­ing un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits, I’d surely en­ter­tain tak­ing a look at it,” House Speak­er John Boehner told re­port­ers Thursday. “But I would ar­gue that the pres­id­ent’s real fo­cus ought to be cre­at­ing a bet­ter en­vir­on­ment for our eco­nomy and cre­at­ing more jobs for the Amer­ic­an people. That’s where the fo­cus is, not more gov­ern­ment pro­grams.”

Asked wheth­er he thinks it should be ex­ten­ded for ad­di­tion­al weeks, Boehner re­spon­ded: “I’m not the ex­pert. Talk to the chair­man of the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee.”

House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor said ex­tend­ing the pro­gram would “lead to a great­er de­fi­cit,” and he cited a Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice re­port to ar­gue that some who are eli­gible for the be­ne­fit would re­duce the in­tens­ity of their job searches and re­main un­em­ployed longer. The re­port es­tim­ated mod­est neg­at­ive ef­fects.

Ex­tend­ing the pro­gram has be­come a ma­jor pri­or­ity for Demo­crats. House Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er said his caucus would op­pose the House ad­journ­ing on Dec. 13 if it hasn’t been passed. Demo­crats point to a re­port re­leased Thursday by the pres­id­ent’s Coun­cil of Eco­nom­ic Ad­visers show­ing an­oth­er 3.6 mil­lion stand to lose the in­sur­ance by the end of 2014. The CBO also es­tim­ated that ex­tend­ing the cur­rent pro­gram for an­oth­er year will add 200,000 jobs and 0.2 per­cent to the gross do­mest­ic product, as well as in­crease the de­fi­cit by $25 bil­lion over 10 years.

“We are mak­ing a very clear state­ment that we can­not, can­not sup­port a budget agree­ment that does not in­clude un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, in the budget or as a side­bar to move it all along,” House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi said Thursday morn­ing. By the af­ter­noon, she ap­peared to walk that strategy back a bit, say­ing that she hopes it can be part of a budget deal but that it doesn’t have to be: “It could be its own vehicle as we go for­ward,” she said. “But I still do want to see an un­em­ploy­ment bill.”

Re­pub­lic­an House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an is ne­go­ti­at­ing the budget deal with his Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate coun­ter­part, Patty Mur­ray. Ac­cord­ing to Mur­ray spokes­man Eli Zupnick, the sen­at­or “would like to ex­tend [un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance] in the budget con­fer­ence, has made it clear that she will be push­ing for it, and it re­mains an open item in the dis­cus­sions.”

In Oc­to­ber, the un­em­ploy­ment rate was 7.3 per­cent, and about 4.1 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans were clas­si­fied as long-term un­em­ployed — mean­ing for 27 weeks or more, ac­cord­ing to the Bur­eau of Labor Stat­ist­ics. The fed­er­al emer­gency be­ne­fit kicks in once state be­ne­fits are ex­hausted, which is 26 weeks in most places.

House Re­pub­lic­ans are op­posed to ex­tend­ing the be­ne­fit. House Ways and Means Chair­man Dave Camp, R-Mich., has said he hopes it ex­pires. Re­pub­lic­ans have ar­gued that it in­creases the de­fi­cit and keeps people from look­ing for jobs. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a mem­ber of the budget con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily that “my view is still it’s very un­likely to garner the votes to pass.”

“That’s a pretty big item to fig­ure out how to fund,” Cole later said. “The pres­id­ent would need to sub­mit a plan and sort of tell us how he en­vi­sions pay­ing for it. This stuff which at some point was sup­posed to end, … at some point it has to stop; if there’s a real eco­nom­ic re­cov­ery, you don’t need un­em­ploy­ment [in­sur­ance] at this level for this ex­ten­ded peri­od of time.”

House Ways and Means rank­ing mem­ber Sander Lev­in, D-Mich., told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily that the be­ne­fit, which first passed in 2008, has tra­di­tion­ally been ex­ten­ded as an emer­gency meas­ure without a pay-for. Con­gress last ex­ten­ded it as part of the fisc­al-cliff deal.

Lev­in said his side has tried to en­gage Re­pub­lic­ans. “At this point, they don’t have a clear po­s­i­tion. I take what the speak­er said today as en­cour­aging.”

Pres­id­ent Obama has called on Con­gress to ex­tend the be­ne­fit, but the ad­min­is­tra­tion is not sig­nal­ing the is­sue as a make-or-break on a fi­nal budget deal. White House press sec­ret­ary Jay Car­ney de­clined to say wheth­er Obama would sign a budget deal without the ex­ten­sion. “What I can’t do is ne­go­ti­ate budget com­prom­ises from here,” he told re­port­ers Thursday. “The pres­id­ent strongly sup­ports the ex­ten­sion of un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance be­ne­fits.”

Sarah Mimms contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
Obama: Michelle Will Never Run for Office
17 minutes ago
North Dakota Pipeline Protests Turn Violent
2 hours ago

The protest over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline turned violent overnight as the police and National Guard sought to remove the protesters, surrounding them with assault vehicles and officers in riot gear. The law enforcement officers used pepper spray and fired bean bags for more than six hours. In response, the protesters "lit debris on fire and threw Molotov cocktails in retreat." One woman pulled out a gun and fired at officers, narrowly missing before being arrested. The protesters claim the pipeline would be constructed on land belonging to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

House Leadership Elections Slated for Nov. 15
2 hours ago

The House has scheduled leadership votes for Nov. 15, the day after members return from their election recess. "Since mid-September, members of the House Freedom Caucus have weighed whether they should ask leadership to push back the elections so they can see how House Speaker Paul Ryan performs at the end of the year," but leaders don't seem inclined to grant their request.

Feds Announce Rapid GDP Growth in Q3
2 hours ago

Gross domestic product "expanded at a 2.9% annual clip from July through September. That’s a marked improvement from the first half of the year when the U.S. grew just barely over 1%." The robust numbers make it more likely that the Federal Reserve hikes interest rates at its next meeting.

Oregon Militiamen Found Not Guilty
2 hours ago

"A federal jury on Thursday found Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy and five co-defendants not guilty of conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs through intimidation, threat or force during the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The Bundy brothers and occupiers Jeff Banta and David Fry also were found not guilty of having guns in a federal facility." In a strange "coda" to the decision, Bundy's attorney Marcus Mumford was tackled and tasered by marshals in the courtroom as he argued that Bundy should be free to go.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.