Republican senators are pushing controversial immigration and banking amendments to the unemployment insurance measure.
A protracted and very partisan Senate skirmish has left hundreds of thousands of jobless Americans without unemployment benefits — an impasse that Democrats leaders are hoping to break this week.
They have their work cut out.
Almost five weeks after the House passed legislation to extend insurance benefits to the growing rolls of the long-term unemployed, upper-chamber leaders continue to haggle over Republican amendments. Not only do GOP leaders want to alter the way the bill is funded, but they’re insisting that a handful of politically charged amendments also get consideration, including provisions to de-fund ACORN and keep illegal immigrants out of the workplace. Since the start of the deadlock, more than 125,000 Americans have lost their unemployment insurance benefits.
The stalemate has frustrated Democratic leaders, who twice this month have attempted to pass the extension, only to be rebuffed by Republicans on the Senate floor. It’s also left a growing number of jobless Americans and their advocates indignant that lawmakers would make political hay out of their misfortunes in the middle of the worst employment crisis in a generation.
“Unemployed workers across the country are devastated and dismayed by the failure of the U.S. Senate to extend their lifeline,” Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement. “It’s shameful and callous.”
The deadlock has been something of a surprise. When the House brought up an unemployment insurance extension bill last month — a proposal granting an additional 13 months of benefits to high-unemployment states — it passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. The vote was 331 to 83.
Senate Democrats are pushing a more generous bill, extending benefits by 14 weeks nationwide, with an additional six weeks for those in states where unemployment rates have topped 8.5 percent. The bill applies only to the future, meaning those whose benefits expired before passage would not be eligible for backpay. The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday afternoon on a procedural move to begin consideration of the bill.
Standing in their way, however, are GOP leaders who want to attach a series of controversial — some say unrelated — amendments. Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), for example, are pushing separate provisions to ensure that ACORN doesn’t receive federal funds. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have offered amendments related to the Wall Street bailout. And Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) wants to make permanent the controversial E-Verify program, which screens newly hired workers in order to weed out illegal immigrants.
The offices of Corker, Thune, Vitter and Johanns did not respond to requests for comment. A Sessions aide said Friday that the E-Verify amendment is definitely still a part of the discussion.
Whether those provisions have any place beside the underlying bill depends on which side you ask.
An aide for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the amendments are intended to delay the process, just as Republicans tried to do earlier in the year when they offered similar provisions alongside, for example, the economic stimulus bill. “It’s kind of from the same playbook,” the aide said. “If they were seriously trying to do this, they wouldn’t be trying to add unrelated amendments.”
Yet GOP leaders dispute that claim, arguing that the primary sticking point is the proposed funding mechanism, not the underlying push to extend benefits.
To pay for their $2.4 billion legislation, Democrats are proposing to extend a small portion of the federal unemployment tax that employers pay on behalf of workers. That tax — currently eight-tenths of 1 percent of the first $7,000 employers pay for each worker — is slated to drop to six-tenths of 1 percent at the end of the year. The Democrats’ proposal would keep the current rate in place through June of 2011, effectively costing employers $14 per employee annually — or $21 per worker over the life of the bill.
An aide for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the additional tax would prevent small businesses from hiring new workers, effectively undermining the purpose of the bill at the expense of the unemployed folks it’s designed to help. The Republicans want to fund the extension using unspent stimulus money instead.
Complicating the picture for Democrats, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) has offered an amendment to extend the popular $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers through next June, while also expanding eligibility to include folks with higher incomes. Additionally, the Isakson wants to apply the credit to all homebuyers, not just first-timers.
Faced with record budget deficits, the Obama administration has been wary of extending the tax credit. As a result, Democrats have offered a counter-offer to Isakson: a four-month extension of the $8,000 credit, followed by incremental decreases — $2,000 a pop — for each of the three subsequent trimesters. Like the existing benefit, only first-time homebuyers would qualify.
The Reid aide said Friday that no agreement has been reached.
The delay has consequences. Each day the Senate idles, another 7,000 Americans lose their unemployment insurance benefits, according to figures released by the National Employment Law Project this month. By year’s end, the group estimates, roughly 1.3 million people will have exhausted their benefits unless Congress steps in.
In light of the congressional inaction, some states have taken it upon themselves to extend unemployment insurance using emergency state funds. Oregon, for example, tapped into a surplus earlier this month in announcing a 13-week extension. The funds are expected to benefit 6,000 state residents.
Faced with budget crises of their own, however, most states don’t have the luxury of extending these benefits. It’s up to Washington, advocates say, to fill in the gap.
“It’s time for the Senate to do right by the families hardest hit by the recession,” Owens said. “The Senate needs to do whatever it takes, working weekends included, to make this happen.”
Rep. Paul Ryan to deliver SOTU response
Chairman of the House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will deliver the Republican response to the State of the Union Tuesday, according to Mike Allen
Rep. Paulsen allies with medical device industry to relax FDA oversight
Source: Flickr; Republicanconference (www.flickr.com/photos/republicanconference) On the heels of the Minnesota Independent story last week about U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen’s cozy financial relationship with the medical device industry, the New York Times reported Tuesday that some health professionals are alarmed by Paulsen’s push to relax Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight
Rep. Paulsen touts balanced budget constitutional amendment
In a post for the conservative blog True North , U.S. Rep
Rep. Patrick McHenry: Please, Conservatives, Fill Out Your Census Forms!
The conservative congressman from North Carolina, a constant critic of the census -- one of the people who sounded the alarm about politicization when the
Rep. Paulsen, Karl Rove the latest to get ‘glittered’
Rep. Erik Paulsen and former Bush staffer Karl Rove were both showered with glitter at the Midwest Leadership Conference Friday
Rep. Perlmutter to hold constituent meet-up in grocery store
Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter will hold a Government in the Grocery constituent meet-up this evening from 5-7 at the Safeway at 38th and Wadsworth in Wheat Ridge. The address is 3900 Wadsworth. The meeting, where Perlmutter typically sits at a folding table and talks to whomever shows up, is free and open to the public
Rep. Perlmutter criticizes House measure that would eliminate 800K federal jobs
Congressman Ed Perlmutter today issued a scathing statement criticizing the House of Representatives for passing a spending bill that could put nearly a million federal employees out of work. The Colorado delegation voted strictly on party lines, with all four Republicans voting in favor of the bill and the three Democrats voting in opposition. Perlmutter’s statement: “My number one priority is to get people back to work because that’s the best thing we can do to pay our debt and move forward toward economic stability
Rep. Pete Stark Won’t Dignify Constituent by, er, Micturating Upon His Leg
In the tradition of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), California Democratic Rep. Pete Stark revealed at a recent town hall gathering that there are limits to what
Rep. Peace, ACLU seek investigation of soldier’s allegations of racial discrimination in Afghanistan
Both Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) and the American Civil Liberties Union agree: There needs to be an investigation into Spc.
School of Hock
A growing number of college grads are defaulting on their student loans as the economy worsens.