Is It Time to Declare the Death of Emergency Unemployment Insurance?

The odds of a UI extension happening took a serious hit this week.

NORTH MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 07: A job seeker looks at a list of jobs available as the Senate votes on extending the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
Add to Briefcase
Sarah Mimms
July 17, 2014, 4:15 p.m.

Demo­crats in Con­gress and a hand­ful of Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors have strived over the last sev­en months to re­new emer­gency un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits for the mil­lions of Amer­ic­an work­ers who have been liv­ing without a job for more than six months. But this week, once again, House Re­pub­lic­ans pulled the rug out from un­der them, leav­ing pro­spects for the pro­gram’s con­tinu­ation at an all-time low.

Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Is­land and Dean Heller of Nevada, who hail from the states with the highest un­em­ploy­ment rates in the coun­try, re­leased their second draft un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance pro­pos­al last month. As with pre­vi­ous it­er­a­tions of the re­new­al plan, this le­gis­la­tion was paid for — ful­filling a ma­jor re­quire­ment passed down by House Re­pub­lic­ans.

Un­for­tu­nately for UI ad­voc­ates, the House just used those same off­sets — which Re­pub­lic­ans called “gim­micks” when they were at­tached to the un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance le­gis­la­tion — to pay for an­oth­er bill, for the High­way Trust Fund. That move sent Reed and Heller back to the draw­ing board. Again.

“I think it’s very re­veal­ing that, you know, now [the pay-fors are] not a gim­mick [to House Re­pub­lic­ans], but it’s a very prudent way to re­spond to the fisc­al is­sues of the High­way Trust Fund,” said Reed, a Demo­crat.

Asked about the House’s ap­par­ent evol­u­tion of opin­ion, House Speak­er John Boehner’s spokes­man Mi­chael Steel said: “These are bi­par­tis­an pay-fors that have been sup­por­ted by both parties in the past.” He also ad­ded that the High­way Trust Fund in­cluded a third off­set, tak­ing money from the Leak­ing Un­der­ground Stor­age Tank fund (or LUST).

Heller, a Re­pub­lic­an who has been work­ing to get his former col­leagues in the GOP-led House be­hind an ex­ten­sion and met with in­com­ing House Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy to dis­cuss the is­sue last month, ex­pressed frus­tra­tion Wed­nes­day. But, he ad­ded: “This is Con­gress. So some things just don’t sur­prise me. And this one didn’t.”

“You know, it’s nice to sort of be copied, in some re­spects, but then it’s not nice,” Reed said of the pay-fors.

Pro­spects for pas­sage of a new un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance bill ap­pear dim. It’s been sev­en months since the emer­gency un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance pro­gram ex­pired and, so far, no pro­gress has been made in the House. Boehner con­tin­ues to in­sist that he will not bring up le­gis­la­tion without a sep­ar­ate jobs pro­vi­sion at­tached to it, and that’s a no-go in the Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate. And with Au­gust re­cess on the ho­ri­zon and an elec­tion in Novem­ber, the House is sched­uled to work for just 35 more days in Wash­ing­ton this year.

But Reed and Heller in­sist that they haven’t — and won’t — give up. The two sen­at­ors plan to sit down and find new off­sets for the le­gis­la­tion that garner suf­fi­cient sup­port from both parties — no easy task, par­tic­u­larly in the House, where new spend­ing isn’t of­ten greeted with “yea” votes.

Aside from Reed and Heller, however, there ap­pears to be little ap­pet­ite in Con­gress to deal with the is­sue. Even ad­voc­ates for the pro­gram say that Reed and Heller’s work is un­likely to get them any­where this year. “Giv­en where we are in the cal­en­dar, I think it is highly un­likely,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has voted for an ex­ten­sion of the pro­gram sev­er­al times this year, said Thursday.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who has also voted to ex­tend un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, wasn’t very op­tim­ist­ic about the pro­gram’s chances of re­new­al in this Con­gress either. “I think it’s go­ing to be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to come up with a bill that could pass the House. I was hop­ing that our earli­er ef­fort, which was bi­par­tis­an, would have done it. But it didn’t,” she said.

If Re­pub­lic­ans take over the Sen­ate in Novem­ber, the path for un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance be­comes even steep­er. But even if Demo­crats man­age to hold onto the up­per cham­ber, it’s not clear that there will be an ap­pet­ite for re­new­ing the pro­gram in the next Con­gress. “It’s dif­fi­cult to say. I mean, how do we fore­cast the strength of the eco­nomy, the un­em­ploy­ment num­bers?” Murkowski said, of try­ing to bring the pro­gram back in the fu­ture. “I think you nev­er say nev­er. But I think prob­ably for the time be­ing we’re not go­ing in that dir­ec­tion.”

Even if emer­gency un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits are not re­newed, the un­der­ly­ing pro­gram — which was passed un­der Frank­lin Delano Roosevelt as a safety net in the Great De­pres­sion — re­mains un­touched. In most states, it provides com­pens­a­tion for 26 weeks for un­em­ployed work­ers who are seek­ing a new job, though some states cut off the be­ne­fits much earli­er — as in North Car­o­lina, which provides just 20 total weeks of be­ne­fits.

It’s after that dead­line that emer­gency un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits kick in — or they did, un­til the fed­er­ally-fun­ded pro­gram ex­pired in Decem­ber. Al­though the un­em­ploy­ment rate is de­clin­ing na­tion­ally, the rate for the long-term un­em­ployed re­mains stub­bornly high. That’s why, Heller and Reed say, they’re still fight­ing.

Al­though he ac­know­ledges that many be­lieve his task is nearly im­possible, Reed says he’s heard that be­fore. “Frankly, no one thought it was pos­sible — or very few thought it was pos­sible — to get a bill through the Sen­ate with bi­par­tis­an sup­port. We did. In fact, we hoped that would en­cour­age the House to act re­spons­ibly, and it didn’t. So we’re not go­ing to give up,” he said.

“We won’t give up. We’ll just keep try­ing. I think we’ve made that clear now for months where we’ve tried, we’ve suc­ceeded, we’ve been re­buffed, we’ve tried again.”

What We're Following See More »
NEVER TRUMP
USA Today Weighs in on Presidential Race for First Time Ever
45 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

"By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump." That's the message from USA Today editors, who are making the first recommendation on a presidential race in the paper's 34-year history. It's not exactly an endorsement; they make clear that the editorial board "does not have a consensus for a Clinton endorsement." But they state flatly that Donald Trump is, by "unanimous consensus of the editorial board, unfit for the presidency."

Source:
COMMISSIONERS NEED TO DELIBERATE MORE
FCC Pushes Vote on Set-Top Boxes
49 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"Federal regulators on Thursday delayed a vote on a proposal to reshape the television market by freeing consumers from cable box rentals, putting into doubt a plan that has pitted technology companies against cable television providers. ... The proposal will still be considered for a future vote. But Tom Wheeler, chairman of the F.C.C., said commissioners needed more discussions."

Source:
UNTIL DEC. 9, ANYWAY
Obama Signs Bill to Fund Government
6 hours ago
THE LATEST
REDSKINS IMPLICATIONS
SCOTUS to Hear Case on Offensive Trademarks
6 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"The Supreme Court is taking up a First Amendment clash over the government’s refusal to register offensive trademarks, a case that could affect the Washington Redskins in their legal fight over the team name. The justices agreed Thursday to hear a dispute involving an Asian-American rock band called the Slants, but they did not act on a separate request to hear the higher-profile Redskins case at the same time." Still, any precedent set by the case could have ramifications for the Washington football team.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Bannon Still Collecting Royalties from ‘Seinfeld’
7 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at a little-known intersection of politics and entertainment, in which Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon is still raking in residuals from Seinfeld. Here's the digest version: When Seinfeld was in its infancy, Ted Turner was in the process of acquiring its production company, Castle Rock, but he was under-capitalized. Bannon's fledgling media company put up the remaining funds, and he agreed to "participation rights" instead of a fee. "Seinfeld has reaped more than $3 billion in its post-network afterlife through syndication deals." Meanwhile, Bannon is "still cashing checks from Seinfeld, and observers say he has made nearly 25 times more off the Castle Rock deal than he had anticipated."

Source:
×